My editor asked me to write about what I've learned in my fight with the town of Ngaruawahia. It feels like an essay set by your teacher as punishment after a naughty incident: "The things I have learned from fighting with the town of Ngaruawahia".
Lesson One: Ngaruawahia (and the rest of the country) doesn't want Auckland's crap. By crap, I mean Auckland's opinions - like the one I fired off. Or Auckland's prisoners who are shipped to what Waikato locals call Springhill Hotel. Or Auckland's homeless, being shooed down to Ngaruawahia by Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett.
Auckland is like a big sister, stealing all the pocket money and commandeering the new colouring-in pencils until the lead is broken in a dozen places. After a while, that gets a little tired. And then when the big sister gets smart as well, little Ngaruawahia punches her right in the mouth.
Lesson Two: Don't judge a town from a State Highway 1 drive-by. One of the glass cages on the imitation Victorian street lamps down the main street has fallen on its side . The windows in the place next to the post shop are as much plywood as glass. The Waipa Hotel desperately needs a buyer and a lick of paint. That is what you see from SH1.
I should have known better. I come from Tuakau. It's a small Waikato town SH1 doesn't even pass. There was a time when families wouldn't stop in Tuakau on their way to rowing training on the Waikato river. Then some guys opened a cafe in the middle of town. Someone else spruced up the tavern at the end of the main road. A new shopping centre popped up on the other side of the railway tracks. It started looking pretty flash.
But you wouldn't know that from SH1. And you wouldn't know that if you last visited Tuakau 15 years ago.
So, before you judge a town, take a turn through the place and make sure you've done it within a time frame you could defend as reasonably recent.
Lesson Three: It's not about buildings, anyway, it's about people. One man stopped me to tell me this. He told me of a time his son was sick. His wife went up to Starship Hospital to be with the boy, and he, the father, was left by himself in Ngaruawahia. All over town people asked after his family and invited him to dinner.
I went to Waikato to apologise. Before I arrived, I imagined how badly things could go.
Someone would definitely yell the c-word from a passing car. An old person in a cardigan would stop his morning walk and flail his cane in my direction. A crowd would gather, encircling me and taking turns at handing out a verbal thrashing.
None of that happened. Every person I met - barring the young woman in the hoodie who wouldn't shake my hand - forgave me.
In the bathrooms I disparaged, someone had left a bunch of freshly cut flowers sitting in a jar on top of the hand dryer. I asked around. The flowers aren't ordinarily there.
They reminded me of that Banksy graffiti showing a stencilled man with a bandanna wrapped around his mouth throwing - not a molotov cocktail - but a bunch of flowers.
Ngaruawahia won the fight with a fierceness to defend its people, its generosity and a bunch of flowers.