Comment

By Bryan Gould

As we near the end of 2018, we can reflect that the year has brought us no shortage of sad or disturbing stories, culminating perhaps in the tragic fate of a young English backpacker and including of course the continuing failure of President Trump to live up to the responsibilities of his office.

But we have also enjoyed those programmes on our television screens that have brought us some light relief and an enjoyment of human relationships. My own favourite in this genre has been 800 Words, an Australian/New Zealand joint production which last week reached (sadly) its last episode.

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It may be that, as the writer of a weekly column, I developed a fellow feeling for George Turner, the principal character of 800 Words, who - as the title of the show suggests - had to write a column 800 words in length every week - though George had the advantage (in my terms) of having space for 100 words more than my own column's specified length of 700 words.

In case you think that the advantage lay with me, rather than George , let me remind you of the famous story (among many) concerning Winston Churchill. He had stayed up all night in order to finish a memo for his Cabinet colleagues - and when it was finished, he sent it to them with a little note attached.

"If I had more time," he said, "this would have been shorter", neatly making the point that expressing oneself briefly takes more work than letting it all flow just as it comes out.

But back to 800 Words. The show's success (and it seems to have been a hit with a wide range of viewers and not just with fellow columnists) depended on its clever and always interesting account of George's search for the ideal woman to replace his much-loved first wife who had sadly died.

Throw in the romantic adventures of his two teenage children and you could enjoy the exploration of a whole succession of road bumps of various kinds in the path to true love.

But the love interest was not what made the show unusually good viewing. The main storyline was the move made by George and his children from Australia (Sydney to be exact) to a small (and fictional) New Zealand seaside town called Weld.

The great strength of the programme was the affectionate and sensitive handling of how the two cultures interacted and learnt from each other.

At a time when trans-Tasman relations have had their ups and downs, it was good to see each side showing such appreciation for each other.

The programme was shown, I understand, in both countries and our future relations will undoubtedly benefit greatly from the mutual warmth and genuine liking for each other shown by both Aussies and Kiwis.

They discovered how much they had in common and learned to like the points of difference.

From the Kiwi viewpoint, one of the show's particular strengths was the (somewhat idealised, no doubt) portrait it provided of the ease of inter-racial relations between Māori and Pakeha.

My guess is that, for an Australian audience, this would have been one of the most noticeable aspects of life in New Zealand.

Whatever the truth of that, the makers of the programme and all those involved in it deserve congratulations, not least because it was a welcome reminder that the world is not condemned to tragedy but that there are people and situations in it that bring a genuine smile to our lips and a warm feeling to our hearts.

I've now used nearly 600 of my allotted 700 words - if I were George Turner, I could let my mind and words wander a little further afield. But unlike George, I have to exercise some self-discipline.

At least I can reflect that, unlike George, and luckily for me, I really do live in a small New Zealand seaside community, and my wife and I are still happily married after 51 years of matrimony.

The fictional Turner family, however, still had the capacity - appropriately enough at Christmas time - to show us that life's problems can, even in a world with so many of them, still be overcome with a little understanding and love.

- Bryan Gould is a former British MP and Waikato University vice-chancellor