Noelle McCarthy
Noelle McCarthy is a Herald columnist

Noelle McCarthy: Wellington's great, shame about the hair


Noelle McCarthy writes that Auckland wants your money, honey, but where's the love? Our capital knows how to express itself.

Even Prime Minister John Key can't do anything about the wind in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Even Prime Minister John Key can't do anything about the wind in Wellington. Photo / Mark Mitchell

I went to Wellington over Easter. You'll be wanting to know how it's getting on. Here's a progress report: Wellington is still cooler than Auckland. Auckland doesn't care.

We're all too famous and loaded up here to give a toss what they're doing in the capital. It's been that way since I got here, if you believe what you read in the papers, at least.

The rivalry between us and Wellington is mostly a lot of old hat, I know. The shorthand that writes off Wellington as smug and pretentious and derides Auckland as vulgar and venal is a media construction, a predictable competition between two metropolitan centres on the same sheet of Pacific rock, but it's impossible to go from one to another without experiencing the difference in sensibility between the two.

With apologies to L.P. Hartley, Wellington is another country, they do things differently there. I've believed this for a long time, and I got what I thought was proof of it my first night there. I jumped into a taxi by the Beehive and the radio was tuned to a late session in the House.

"Gosh, I'm really not in Kansas anymore", I thought, thrilled with myself for picking such a politically engaged taxi driver. He turned up the volume and I congratulated myself even more.

You wouldn't get Auckland taxi drivers tuning into Parliament, they're all up there listening to Lovesongs 'Til Midnight and right-wing talkback.

How wonderful Wellington is! I'm so glad I came! "Do you listen to this every night?" I asked him, ready for a full and frank discussion of the pros and cons of the parliamentary process.

"Yes, so I can hear when they finish up and get a fare," he said. He didn't tell me off for being a patronising bint, but he should have.

Cab drivers are cab drivers the world over, but there are many things that are done differently in Wellington.

Haircuts, for one thing. It's universally acknowledged that women who live in Wellington have terrible hair. Women who move to Wellington from somewhere else have especially bad hair.

They get down there, and the wind maddens them, and they get tired of trying to do their business in a Force 5 gale, and so they cut it all off, and they style it into a short sharp bob, regardless of the fact that throughout history, the short sharp bob has been proven to suit precisely two New Zealand women - Katherine Mansfield, and Rosemary McLeod.

Katherine and Rosemary aside, it's a look that is best left to women who are either teenaged or French, or preferably both. On the women of Wellington, the effect of the short sharp bob is less Josephine Baker, more prisoner cell block H.

And yet they press on gamely with their bobs, compounding the offence usually, with resin jewellery and sensible shoes. The men of Wellington, by contrast seem to be luxuriating in ever-more elaborate coifs. This must be a new thing, I didn't notice it the last time I was there.

The manes on display in the Matterhorn restaurant would have kindled the envy of Madame de Pompadour, and facial hair is on the rise as well. There'll always be the whiff of the travelling circus around such blokes, but, more power to them I say, a full head of hair does it for me.

Unfortunately, most of the male population of Wellington seems to be in the same band, so flirting can be a fairly boring pastime, unless you like Fly My Pretties, in which case you deserve all you get. Shallow sartorial differences aside though, Wellington distinguishes itself on a deeper level. I went to see an exhibition in the City Gallery that moved me to tears.

The only thing that makes me cry in Auckland is the other people who live here.

I walked along the waterfront with the seagulls, and the silly public art and the wonderful poem etched in the walls; "it's true you can't live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb", and I thought about how easy Wellington makes it all look. A glorious promenade, rolled out as easily as a ribbon, inviting me, you, whoever to come and take a walk.

There's none of that in our flashy, trashy Viaduct. Auckland wants your money, honey, but where is the love? I sat in bars and cafes late at night, talking politics and newspapers with journalists and flunkies and policy wonks. There was even mention of Chomsky at one point.

We lost the run of ourselves, I know. But that's what you do in Wellington, isn't it? You get amongst it. You talk, you walk, you get along, you imbibe all that's on offer of city life.

That relentless spirit of joiner-ism might grate up here in Auckland, where an expression of enthusiasm is the ultimate social faux pas, and we're all over it before it's even begun, but there's no shame in being part of something in Wellington. I like that. I could almost live there, if it wasn't for the hair.

- NZ Herald

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