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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Remember to smell the roses

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Common sense prevailed at least twice in the year, when the kibosh was put on the Wellywood sign and on Telecom's World Cup abstinence campaign. Photo / File
Common sense prevailed at least twice in the year, when the kibosh was put on the Wellywood sign and on Telecom's World Cup abstinence campaign. Photo / File

A not-too-bad year for most was punctuated by the high of Cup glory and the low of ongoing quake misery

There's a country and western song, made famous by George Jones and revived by Elvis Costello, in which the singer looks back on a year with precious little to recommend it: "As you turn to walk away/As the door behind you closes/The only thing I have to say/It's been a good year for the roses."

For most of us 2011 wasn't that bad. For starters, the All Blacks won the World Cup, thereby lancing the gigantic boil on the national posterior which has flared angrily since 1987 at four-yearly intervals, receding to a dull, throbbing pain in the arse between times.

Furthermore, and perhaps slightly to our surprise, we staged an outstanding tournament and were excellent hosts, although Quade Cooper may beg to disagree.

Sadly, the pride and relief at having shown our best face to the world was replaced with shame after a 5-year-old visitor to this country was subjected to a horrifying assault.

There were victories for common sense and people who know a silly idea when they see it when Wellington Airport's bid to erect a "Wellywood" sign was thwarted and Telecom canned the Backing Black abstinence campaign.

While one can only wonder at the mindset that progressed the abstinence campaign past the back of an envelope, at least Telecom came to its senses relatively quickly. In contrast, the Wellywood backers pushed their tacky barrow for over a year, adopting approaches ranging from arrogance to unctuousness via condescension to get their way.

In hindsight, Wellywood was doomed from the moment in May when the airport's chief executive proclaimed the sign would put the capital "on everyone's bucket list" and former mayor Sir Michael Fowler dismissed its critics as "dumb, humourless and totally irrelevant". New Zealanders will put up with a lot, but they were never going to wear either of those propositions.

John Key led the National Party to a predictably comfortable election victory thanks largely to his remarkable ability to sustain a perception of himself that seems impervious to setbacks, missteps or the facts. Thus he's persuaded the electorate he's a safe pair of hands, even while appearing more interested in things like rugby and Liz Hurley than running the country, and that he's one of them, just your average Kiwi bloke, despite being a Prime Minister and probably the richest one we've ever had.

The low turnout showed that, like sports contests, elections that are forgone conclusions don't pull a crowd. But politics wasn't all ho-hum: Damien O'Connor and Hone Harawira got our attention with claims the Labour Party was ruled by self-serving trade unionists and a gaggle of gays, and Osama bin Laden was a freedom fighter.

The tactic seemed to work for them: O'Connor regained the West Coast-Tasman seat while Harawira, having been forced out of the Maori Party, held on to Te Tai Tokerau in the byelection and subsequent general election. Whether the wider causes they purport to represent and seek to advance benefited from these controversies is another matter.

While New Zealand politics is essentially a turf squabble over the middle ground, the US Republican Party seems to have decided that neck of the woods is about as desirable as the real estate adjoining Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.

I tried to send up the drawn-out and self-defeating process of choosing a Republican candidate to take on Barack Obama by pretending it's actually a reality TV show called America Lacks Talent. Having "quoted" the show's creator Lucifer Fink at some length, I received an aggrieved email from a reader who'd googled Mr Fink to no avail and accused me of lazy journalism for highlighting the opinions of an obvious nonentity.

The power of celebrity culture was never more evident than in the transformation of Kate Middleton from the unremarkable, ever so slightly dull, middle-class young woman of the "Waity Katie" years in to the style icon and global star she became upon uttering the magic words "I do".

Whether sister Pippa's buttocks can maintain their vice-like grip on the media remains to be seen.

If anyone's entitled to think 2011 was a good year for the roses but little else, it's long-suffering Christchurch residents. Like the townsfolk and tourists on Amity Island who thought it was safe to go back into the water in the Jaws movies, they must have started to dare to think their torment was over, only for it to roar back into life on the cusp of Christmas.

We wish them the happy New Year they yearn for and so deserve.

- NZ Herald

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