Editorial: Heat wave better than crime wave

By Mark Story

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I was feeling sorry for myself for working the new year period, wondering how we were going to fill the paper with breaking news during the traditionally quiet silly season.

Sorry that is, until the crime stories streamed into the newsroom like late Christmas presents.

And sorry that is, until hearing the local constabulary were tackling - at times literally - a wave of crime in a Hawke's Bay heat wave.

The signs were there as I biked to work on New Year's Eve at 1.30pm for the newsdesk late shift. Stereos were pumping, tents were being erected, and boozed voices were peppered with the unmistakable clink of beer bottles.

And that was just the newsroom.

While I wish I wasn't joking, I am. These were the sights and sounds I passed on St Aubyn St.

Which, incidentally, is also where I heard the first police siren.

In the fourth estate there's an unwritten rule - never disclose your sources. So, I won't say how, but for two days I've been privy to almost every police job in the region. Suffice to say, for the past 48 hours the Bay was awash with sirens.

In addition to the expected New Year's Eve revelry, there were scores of miscellaneous jobs: welfare checks, curfew calls, coastguard assists and a hunt for a pensioner who'd strayed from his resthome.

Yet the bizarre incident that met with a collective rolling of the eyes was a high-noon brawl on New Year's Day. In the process of quashing the biffo, police discovered a meat cleaver, axe and hammer; three Christmas symbols used the week before to carve the ham, fell a Christmas tree and crack chestnuts respectively.

While I wish I wasn't joking, I am.

Tools of the trade - but no tradesmen in sight.

Instead, seven gangsters decided to welcome in the new year by donning blue and red bandannas and beating each other up in residential Hastings.

In the same day we ran that story, we also published an archived article that made front page news in the Hawke's Bay Tribune, on January 1, 1913:

Some person or persons, possessing a queer notion of what constitutes a practical joke, turned off the Hastings town water supply at the Havelock reservoir late on New Year's Eve or early on New Year's morning. The foolish trick was discovered early on Wednesday morning and the pumps at the powerhouse were quickly put into action.

As fate would have it, Hastings Senior Sergeant Luke Shadbolt, who personally attended the violent fracas on Tuesday morning, had five days beforehand bravely opposed his own police minister and publicly called for all frontline officers to carry arms.

Maybe he was wondering the same thing I was.

That is, if a "queer notion" in 1913 consisted of tampering with water tobies, and 100 years later consists of our young men brawling with axes, one can only wonder what will make New Year's Day headlines in 2113.

Despite myself, it's difficult to regard the sergeant's call to arms as a queer notion.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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