Chris Carter, you might think, would be feeling a bit battered just now. I suggested, more bluntly, that his reputation as an MP might be stuffed. Not a bit of it. He's not on a charm offensive. He doesn't have to win the public over. He's about to go canvassing for the local body elections in his Te Atatu electorate after he's seen me and "I don't anticipate there will be anybody saying, 'What about those credit cards, Chris?"'

Somebody sent him a fax calling him "a big poofter", which in comparison to some of the emails he showed me seemed almost affectionate. He's said - or implied, in answer to a question, according to him - that he's been picked on for being gay so it seems reasonable to ask if anyone has ever said, "You big poofter", when he's out door-knocking. They haven't, of course - people who send such messages do so anonymously. But if they did? "Well, to be honest, Michele, I'd just laugh."

He hasn't seen the TV3 clip of him being chased by reporters through Parliament so I suggested we might, like Oprah and Fergie, watch it together. "No, Michele," he said, "no, no, no." I thought he might just laugh. He says he'll never watch it. He's not that silly. "It would just make me angry."

We had just spent an hour talking about him being angry, in a mostly good-humoured way, although his grin seemed at times grimly plastered on and I shouted a bit and sighed rather a lot (he had the effect on me of channelling Phil Goff).

He certainly wasn't about to end up "where we arrived: at two weeks off Parliament and having to'fess up to being angry and stubborn."

So, today he is being resolutely sunshiney and attempting to be the easy-going person he says he usually is. We had a tour of the broad beans and the cauli in the organic vege garden he tends behind his electorate office. This was after we met everyone in his office but before we met the budgies. If you ever meet him, do not express the remotest interest in budgies, because he'll probably try to give you one if he's got one spare.

He wanted to show another side of himself, I suppose. He made a point about driving a 1996 Suzuki Swift. Well, so what? It's his car and why should anyone care as long as we're not paying for it. "Well, I'm not driving around West Auckland in a Mercedes convertible." But what point is he trying to make? "Well, I guess, the point I'm trying to make is that I'm actually a very ordinary person." As opposed to, presumably, the image he says people have been trying to paint of him and his partner Peter Kaiser as "these luxury-loving gay boys ... swanning about ... flowers to the boyfriend ..." That may or may not be the intended image, but why point it out?

He said: "Can I tell you about the flowers?" He is still, I think, in a barely concealed rage about this, partly because he says he's told the story to media but nobody has given his side of the story. So, all right, he can tell me about the flowers. It is that his staff had a whip-around for flowers for Peter on his birthday, once only, because Peter's son, then 11 (Peter has one son; Carter has two), had been diagnosed with cancer and had begun chemotherapy. His staff gave the credit card details to the florist over the phone. He then "almost certainly" paid the money back, from the whip-around. "So I guess those sorts of issues got my back up."

All issues which get his back up tend to lead to TV3 political editor Duncan Garner.

He asked, when I phoned, how much would the interview be about Duncan Garner? I said that while I'd have some questions, the interview would be about him, obviously. I did my best.

The Garner questions were: did he call him the c word during a row in the Koru Club lounge? He says he didn't but he did swear at him. "But of course he swore at me." I may have sighed at this point. Honestly, why didn't he just ignore him? "Ha, ha. I lost my temper and it was a stupid thing to do."

Later, when I got bored (as I'm sure he did) with talking in circles about that belated apology for the travel, I said: "Did you feel like punching him?" Now, he's been an MP for 15 years and a teacher before that, so he should have just said, "Don't be silly." He said, "I think it could have reached that point."

There is rather a lot of Garner, so he might come off second best. "Yeah but Michele, I'm pretty fit! I would suggest that perhaps I'm probably the fittest member of Parliament, actually." He does yoga, and body attack and pump (whatever those last two are). This is not vanity. "No, it's arresting old age ... and it makes me feel good. You can see I'm tight!" He slapped his chest as he said this. Blimey! Watch out, Garner. "No, it'll never come to that. It was two silly boys ... doing the sort of thing I used to lecture children about when I was a teacher."

He has certainly looked childish and bad- tempered and foul-mouthed lately and he was sent home from school by headmaster Goff, on two weeks' leave. This wasn't stress leave, he says, it was "anger management leave", and he is in any case very grateful to Goff for packing him off, because he needed time to reflect.

I imagine it was lovely for Peter to have him at home kicking the cat - if they have a cat - or the poor budgies. I'm not quite sure why he thinks it a better look to admit to having a temper than to being stressed.

But he says he doesn't get stressed, that he is a "pretty easy-going person", except when his Irish genes get the better of him, or if he thinks "somebody's been unfair to me or picking on me" and he loses his bottle.

I suppose it is better, or tougher at least, to be seen to be foul-tempered and stubborn than it is to be an MP who has had a meltdown. He said, emphatically, "I didn't have a meltdown but I felt angry and I felt as though I was being picked on."

This being "picked on", or saying that he feels it, makes him sound whingey. "Absolutely. I agree with you, Michele. And I regret getting into that frame of mind and if it had just been about me, I wouldn't have. But when your partner's attacked, you lose your perspective. It's not an excuse; it's an explanation."

He spent a lot of time telling me that Peter isn't a public person, and that no other MP has been singled out for taking their partner with them on taxpayer-paid trips. But he asked if I'd like to interview Peter. "Well, I just wondered if you wanted his perspective on it." But (sigh) the thing he got so angry about was Peter being in the media. "Well, when you point out the logic, you're quite right. It is inconsistent, absolutely."

As is this: He's easy-going and "a stubborn and difficult person". So it's that other, second, guy who wouldn't make the apology immediately. And the reason he did apologise is "because we live in a different age, Michele. We live in an age where people are losing their jobs, where people are concerned about money, where our economy is declining ..." That is an absolutely sincere apology, and not a bad party political statement, either.

He knows very well that it's a bad look when everyone thinks Goff had to strong-arm him into apologising. So, why, oh why, did he tell me that he was "summoned to the leader's office" after the Koru Club row, to give an account of said row to Goff and Annette King? And "they suggested I should apologise and put the issue to rest, you know. If he was out to get me, it wasn't good for the team ... So I sent a text while I was sitting there with them."

The text said: " 'We both behaved rather badly ... What about a kiss and make up?' Because that's how you talk to Duncan."

Is it really? I'd have thought not, and so it proved. He said, "I said, 'What about I buy you a coffee?' and a couple of minutes later I got a rather sharp reply that certainly wasn't going to be me buying him a cup of coffee."

We are not, remember, supposed to be lengthening our discussion of Garner. This was almost the first thing he told me, which was nuts, or perhaps just inconsistent, given he now appears to have been told twice to make an apology.

I meant about now to ask whether he'd sought Goff's permission to do an interview. I forgot, so later sent a text to ask. He replied: "Didn't think I needed to." I do feel for that Mr Goff.

They have been friends for 20 years and "while we certainly had a rough few weeks, we're back on good terms". Of course they are. He likes everyone, even most Nats. "No, we don't hate Nats. Some Nats are quite nice." Even at his most sunshiney, he can't like everyone. Who doesn't he get on with? "Ha, ha, ha. Duncan Garner."

He has been seen to be petulant, or so I thought, but this is quite wrong. "I'm not petulant." Then he's in trouble isn't he, if that's the perception? "Well, I guess, Michele, we'll see how your story reinforces or demolishes that." I said it's nothing to do with me how he comes across. He said, "I know. It's about me."

And how did he come across? I suggested that his reluctance to apologise could have looked, politically speaking, like either arrogance or incompetence or that he was a bit thick. It was his turn to shout, with laughter, and he said, "Well, I could be all three, Michele! Who knows?"

All I know is that was the least-thick thing he said, but what that might reinforce or demolish has nothing to do with me.