Our People: Brian Holden

By Jill Nicholas

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Our People. Brian Holden
Our People. Brian Holden

OUR time with Brian Holden left us pondering if Shakespeare had him in mind when he penned: "One man in his time plays many parts."

With Brian being a man of so many parts the association "kinda" comes naturally. One difference between the Bard's words and the multi-faceted Brian is that there's no play-acting about his roles, he does them "for real".

To put him in a context more modern than Shakespeare, he's "been there done that": any accompanying T-shirt proclaiming so would have to be XXXOS-sized to list the lot.

Take a deep breath, you'll need it as we enumerate. In no particular order he is, of course, this newspaper's And Another Thing columnist, recently marking 10 years of non-stop weekly contributions.

He's a versatile guitarist, photographer, shooting more than 1000 weddings before deciding "enough was enough", the district's go-to weather expert, has sold cheese at Selfridges, worked at Rotorua's first supermarket, run his own grocery store, held a commercial pilot's licence, graduated with a BSc after studying psychology and earth sciences as an adult student, volunteered at Hospice and "the Sallies" - "you learn a lot about yourself doing that", is a self-confessed Francophile, technophobe, eclectic collector and passionate traveller.

Then there's his day job of more than three decades: tuning pianos.

How the heck, we ask, has he shoehorned in so much?

"I have a lovely, patient wife." That's Ngaire, the dental therapist he met over the phone; Brian dialled the wrong number, she answered. "We just clicked, your partner's always a huge part of your success."

With so much material to draw from we're blowed if we know where to start so let's begin with his Rotorua arrival in 1953 "the year of the Queen's coronation". Brian was 7, his brief OE apart, the city's been his home since.

His first job out of Rotorua Boys' High was with photographer, the late Peter Fenwick.

At school, he'd joined a band that continued into adulthood. "We called ourselves The Rottweilers, playing all over, Irene Oliver's dance classes included." When an offer came to play on the passenger liner Ellinis, Brian swapped the darkroom for sunshine.

"It was a great six-week gig ending in Southampton."

Brian headed for London, doing what most Kiwis of the time did, taking up residence in a "grotty and terribly cold" Earl's Court bedsit. "I wanted a job as a photographer but nothing doing so it was Selfridge's cheese counter instead, not at all glamorous like the TV series. For me, London was a pretty miserable existence, after a few months I came home via Spain; conveniently my sister, Lesley, was teaching English there."

Rotorua's first supermarket, Durrants, hadn't been open long. "They took me on, the grocery trade was the last thing I'd thought of doing but Reg [Durrant] was the best of bosses."

Through Reg, who died this week and was the subject of an Our People profile in March 2010, Brian secured an IGA scholarship to run his own shop on the corner of Otonga and Springfield Rds, but popular as it was, being "Brian the grocer" didn't make him happy.

"It was a lot of worry, stressful, for me that was one of those dips you have in life."

He continued to photograph reunions and weddings and play with various bands "at popular places like the RSA, Palace Tavern, the Barbeque restaurant, I got a lot of pleasure from that." His pleasure extended into the workplace, finding an instrument-repairing job at Metro Music.

Five years on, his piano tuning days began. "I'd see this piano tuner coming into the shop, liked what he was doing and the lifestyle it offered, I've been at it 34 years now."

Our remark that he must have an extremely well-pitched ear brings an unexpected answer. "It's not so much that you're born with a good ear, you instinctively know what sounds right."

Piano tuning gave him time to rack up another achievement - his pilot's licence. "Flying's always interested me, when I was a kid I made model aeroplanes." Not content with being a hobby flyer, Brian qualified as a commercial pilot, taking tourists on scenic flights.

Meanwhile, he continued to remain behind the lens, as a part-time Daily Post news photographer - "far less stressful than weddings".

In 1989, the time was right to pursue his taste for things academic. "I'd always loved science, anything to do with Darwin, creation, I enrolled at Massey as an extramural student going backwards and forwards to Palmerston North for lab work, it took me six years to complete 23 papers."

Flying nurtured his interest in the weather, "obviously to fly I had to understand meteorology", but it was his degree that turned him into a semi-professional weatherman; providing this newspaper with Rotorua's weather stats since 1992.

"People say I'm a weather guru, that's not really true, I make mistakes like anyone else, there are times I've been 100 per cent wrong."

His degree led to lecturing at the then Forestry Research Institute (now Scion).

After going "off the boil" musically for a number of years, he's re-embraced it, currently producing his second CD in his high-tech home studio.

"Heck", we say, "this really is some line-up of achievements, how come your life's so varied?"

"I've no idea, my brain's wheels are always spinning, you can't be idle, can you? There are people who've done a lot less than me but have achieved a lot more - like ambulance officers saving lives."


Born: Dannevirke, 1946

Education: Feilding and Glenholme primaries, Rotorua Intermediate and Boys' High, Massey University

Family: Wife Ngaire, two sons

Interests: "All of the above, travel, we take a big trip every couple of years, been to the UK 10 times, France four, we stick a pin in a map finding wee gems." Reading "preferably New Science journals and restaurant menus", "little bit of gardening", collecting.

Personal philosophy: "Stay young."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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