Toby Manhire 's Opinion

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: Final Act - and the tea party's over

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John Banks will not stand again for Epsom and will resign as leader of the Act party. Photo / Mark Mitchell
John Banks will not stand again for Epsom and will resign as leader of the Act party. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The Act Party: A sort-of obituary.


And so the cabbage helicopter launches through the clouds for the last time, into the final, unforgettable lemony-blue horizon. This week, the Act Party left this Earth, drawing its final breath after a long and anguished illness. The account is overdrawn and must now be closed.

Act's twilight was long and painful, its final years dependent on life-support, intravenously plumbed into an enormous tea bag. And while the humiliation of that protracted final act will linger in the memory, there is value and worth in recalling those heady early days.

Here was a vigorous and able child, free of spirit, sure of foot and full of backbone. Contemporaries recall Act's mother, Roger, as a "strict but devoted" figure. She bore the child shortly after a bitter divorce that ended a long and rancorous marriage, but mystery remains as to paternity. The birth certificate reads simply, "Father: immutable truth."

The young Act evinced steely commitment and exuberance, together with an intellectual confidence that many ascribed to an impressive Austrian-American (Chicago, mainly) ancestry.

For all its ambitions, however, Act soon became conflicted - enmeshed in a power struggle between an overweening mother and a circle of new, fashionable friends. That dynamic would come to define much of Act's cruelly short life.

As rival forces demanded its fealty, the pressure began to tell. Medical experts professed bewilderment at the biochemical entanglement of free radical molecules with reactive species and antioxidants. It all manifested in a series of unpleasant, frankly revolting ailments.

Blighted by jaundice and caught with its invisible hand in the cookie jar - "Hoist by its own perk-tard", read headlines at the time - Act found itself short on friends, exhausted.

Swapping the Hi-De-Hi replica jacket for the tweedy cast-offs from a circle of new, fashionable friends, Act began another chapter of decline, characterised by a series of public self-immolations. It was all very unpleasant to watch, said everyone who watched.

The physical and psychological repair work exacted a savage toll. A succession of organ transplants, shock treatment and lengthy foot massages left Act in a constant flux. Social awkwardness led to a series of dramatic cosmetic surgeries. Like grandpa's axe or Michael Jackson, Act was almost completely recomposed from its original form.

As the downpour of a global economic crisis leaked into the homes of the world, Act tore off its clothes and splashed about in the puddles, demanding an end to all roofs. Its doctors were not happy.

But no reservoir of medicine could ultimately save Act. Like tracks on the forearm of a heroin junkie, the rusty stains on its thumb and forefinger betray its own terrible addiction. Acquaintances speak of "mummy issues", of years in the tea houses of East Auckland, gasping for a sip of "the good stuff".

It was a craving Act seemed unable to shake, even on its death bed, where it is reported to have mouthed the wistful word, "Rosehip".

The world had turned sour, feral, septic, nasty. The final, lethal blows were delivered by a large German man named after a website address, who was upset about his mattress in a prison, and a retired accountant living in a Miramar bedsit. These are the facts. It was time. Death trickles down to us all.

Today Act has found a peace of sorts. The charred and distended body lies in state - a bloated, nanny state, no less - surrounded day and night by a bevy of elderly gentlemen, who mutter strange words, scowl and poke the piteous corpse as if it were a number pad on an ATM.

They long for a sign of life, for some kind of miracle. They plait its hair, paint its nails, polish its novelty cufflinks. From time to time they shoot high-voltage charges into its temples, and perform wild bursts of CPR, mumbling "unfinished business, you bastards".

They simply cannot bring themselves to bid farewell to their talisman. Some demand blood transfusions, insisting they have old Fanta bottles full of any type you like, stacked "down in the shed".

Others insist that Doctor John will find a pulse, or that Doctor Colin's experiments with crystal-and-leather holistic medicine might somehow reanimate the wilted kauri.

It is an articulation, of course, of profound grief. They cannot let go what is plainly gone. And yet - do you see that? The little toe on the right foot. A twitch.

- NZ Herald

Toby Manhire

Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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