The possibly occasionally controversial headmaster of Mt Albert Grammar School, Dale Burden, said I was not to put his address in the newspaper because he would "lose the bloody letterbox, and I'll blame you".
Obviously I had no intention of putting his address in the newspaper. I just wanted to have a nosy at his house because he lives a street away from me. It is, by the way, a very nice house in a very nice street and in any case everyone in Mt Albert already knows where he lives.
He doesn't think he's a particularly controversial headmaster but he does seem to appear in the media rather more than any other school head I can think of. He said: "You know, I don't think people sort through my rubbish bin, but I'm beginning to wonder."
I had better make clear that this was a joke. He is sometimes given to making jokes that come across a bit strangely in print. He says he is a clown when he is not being the headmaster, but he is the headmaster almost all of the time.
He would like to be able to put on his funny hat more often, but his is a big and serious job and so he has to be serious. Perhaps that is one reason he sometimes says some rather odd-sounding things. Perhaps he gets sick of not being funny and so he sometimes is, with mixed consequences. He once said, after a story about how he appeared to have lifted some lines from a The West Wing episode for a speech, that he was hoping there might be another series and that he might be offered a cameo. Oh, ouch. I remember reading that and thinking: What was he thinking?
He wasn't, probably. It was a throwaway line, he says, and went on to give me another. He said the worst thing about that story was that it appeared with a picture of him next to a picture of Rob Lowe. "Now that was your classic extreme makeover: Before and after." Yes, ha, ha.
But you'd think he'd have been mortified - by the similarities in the speech, not the pictures. He wasn't, and isn't; not a bit. Why not? "Well, it was an honest mistake, to be perfectly honest." It looked like a cut-and-paste job, to be charitable, but he says he had used that speech many times and originally had attributed the quotes but somehow along the way, the attribution had dropped off. So he then forgot where he'd got the quotes from in the first place? "No! You're not going to accuse me of brain fade."
I am not about to get into any such argument with a headmaster but I still can't believe that he wasn't embarrassed. "Well, no, I wasn't embarrassed. Most people thought it was quite funny and they couldn't quite see why it was on page 3." That was telling me.
Actually, the really interesting part of the story is that he was dobbed in by a former student. Perhaps people are going through his rubbish bin, because there do seem to be rather a lot of leaks from his school. There was the infamous YOUR KIDS HAVE B.O., GIVE THEM A WASH, newsletter. I am exaggerating wildly (for which I got ticked off) but there was an email that went out to parents about smelly kids and it was littered with capital letters. He said it should never have been sent in that format and that he didn't write it and anyway the message about good hygiene was perfectly valid.
Then there was an email, sent to the Herald recently, about a speech he gave at an assembly in which he said (according to the email) that people who spent money sending their kids to private schools were mugs. His daughter goes to Dio. That is another story I have failed to get right and what he said was in the context of a sports win over a private school. And I wasn't to put this in the paper because he has friends who teach at this private school. But didn't the gist of the message make him look hypocritical? Not a bit. His daughter goes to a private school because she is an only child and didn't like the rowdy boys at her pre-school and so they wanted her to go to an all-girls school and be happy. Also, he and his wife like the smaller classes. Irony might not be his strongest subject.
He says she will be coming to MAGS for her secondary education, if she wants to. He wants her to, but he must be mad; it would be ghastly to be at a school where your father was the headmaster. "Why?" he said, looking genuinely amazed at the idea. Honestly! Anyway, I am fairly sure no kid wants to go to a school where their father is headmaster (and mother is a deputy head) but I might be wrong. Either way, he'll have to stop making comments about mugs who spend all that money sending their kids to private schools. "Oh, it was only a little remark," he said, airily. My real point was that somebody emailed the paper about his little remark. "Of course they would," he said.
He doesn't care whether he's a popular headmaster. He's not in the job to be liked; as long as the school is, he couldn't care less what people think of him.
Still, he is the head of the school and the face of it. He could try not getting into the news so often but as he said a little pointedly, if people ask him a question he answers it because he is open and is not about to be a "fake". He also said, even more pointedly, that he didn't seek a profile: "No. I'm not the one who phoned you."
He is back in the news for taking what is inevitably called a "hard line" on cannabis use by students caught smoking it. They will be allowed back at school if they agree to submit to random drug testing. I thought that sounded a bit fascist, which might have been pushing it a bit, but he said, mildly: "Well, it gives those kids a choice: Drugs or MAGS. The other option is to be excluded."
Still, it seems a strange business for a school to be in. "No, it isn't core business and it's not something that, you know, we have as a sort of optional extra to parents: "'Come here and (your kids) can be drug tested."'
It goes without saying that he is bossy, according to me. He is not allowed to be bossy at home because his wife, Yvette Williams, who is a deputy principal at the school, and his 7-year-old daughter don't let him put on his "headmaster's hat".
The first thing he does when he gets home is take off his suit. He wears a suit and a tie every single working day and always has. He is the only man I've ever met who likes wearing a tie every day.
He has 2,700 pupils and about 170 staff to boss around. Boss around? Whoops. That was a slip. He is only suitably bossy, of course, but I think the sort of people who want to be headmasters must be bossy. It's implicit in the job title. MAGS has a headmaster, not a principal, and when he got the job, eight years ago, it was made clear that "I was the sixth headmaster, not the first principal". But he likes, I think, being a headmaster. He likes "structure and boundaries", and socks pulled up nicely, and wearing his suits and ties.
He has only ever been drunk once in his life, when he was about 16. "I like to stay in control." He is younger than me (people go on about the horror of discovering that a constable is younger than they are, but it is much more horrifying to discover that headmasters are now younger than you); he is only 46. But I bet he was pretty much the same person he is now at 16.
The reason I asked if he'd ever been drunk was because of the random drug testing. I thought almost all teenagers would have had a puff on a joint at some stage (if he had been my headmaster, he'd have expelled me in whatever the third form is these days). But I am quite wrong about this (the puff on a joint, not the expelling me.) He has never had a puff on a joint and he was horrified at the idea.
You'd think curiosity might have kicked in but, no, not with him. "No. I didn't want to go there." Go where, exactly? "Well, to the place it was taking everyone else."
He said: "I'm not Mr Goody Two Shoes." And: "Do you think I'm Persil Pants?" It wouldn't have occurred to me to put it quite that way, but as he asked: Yes, I do. "Nobody's perfect," he said. That is quite another thing. He might, for example, be thought to be arrogant. "Oh, I think I can be. But there's a fine line between arrogance and self-confidence."
He says his self-confidence might, at times, have been taken to be arrogance. As he has already noted, there is a fine line. And as he has also already noted, his personal popularity or otherwise is irrelevant.
He says he wants to see stories in the paper about MAGS' academic achievements (not just the sporting ones) and not about him, and that he was relying on me to make this happen. You see? Not a bit bossy. But as I asked and as he was obliging enough to see me he did humour me.
If he is less than comfortable with the personal, it's another fine line, or the same one: He has to be seen to be promoting his school; if he's seen to be promoting himself, he'll look like a headmaster with an enormous ego.
He has an ego, of course. This might be another word for self-belief and you couldn't run a school without that. I did manage to drag that out of him. And also: That his politics are centre-left, (he thinks Hekia Parata's "heart is in the right place" but that she may well be selling policies her heart isn't in), he's still a union member.
He believes in God - he and his family attend the St George's Anglican church in Epsom, "not as regularly as I should" - and in Heaven but not in the Devil or in Hell. That seemed extraordinary. He believes everyone goes to Heaven? "Yeah." What about the really bad buggers? "Oh, there's good in everyone." He really, "absolutely" believes this. God could be a woman - "or a soccer player!" He is a soccer nut. He does all the housework. He doesn't know how much he gets paid; about $140,000, he thinks. The naughtiest thing he's ever done is to get a speeding ticket. He is not bossy. He is not Persil Pants. I believe almost all of the above.