For a firebrand blogger- the emphasis is on the brand - whose reputation is for vitriol and anger, what dead eyes Cameron Slater has.

It's impossible to know whether this is because of his much-blogged-about (by him) mental illness or because he really only comes to life when he is blogging on his Whale Oil Beef Hooked (which is rude when said in an Irish accent and funny or not depending on your sense of humour.) Possibly a bit of both.

He has been in court this week, defending nine charges of breaching suppression orders.

I spoke to him during the lunch break on Wednesday and, during that phone conversation, he said he thought the judge would reserve his judgment, which proved to be the case.

He then proceeded to say, mildly for him, rude things about the judge.

When we met on Thursday (he'd suggested we meet at the zoo, which was tempting but he would have enjoyed being photographed outside the monkey cage far too much) I asked whether it was clever to slag off a judge to a journalist.

He said: "He's been rude to me!" But was being rude about him clever?

"Probably not. But then again, you know, do I trust ... the justice system and that the judge will put aside personal feelings ... ? Am I stupid? Probably."

He's not at all stupid, and nobody appreciates this more than he does. So, he grinned when he said this.

He doesn't mind being called stupid, or a bully, or vicious. The only things you could call him that would bother him - bothering him sends him into a hissy-fitting cyberspace rage - would be a liar or a hypocrite.

I asked if he was a bully and he said: "Yep. I admit that." That's not an attractive trait to admit to. "No, it's not." He says the drugs he was taking for his depression caused the "self-limiting mechanism" that most people have to "disappear".

Some people also say he's a misogynist. He says he isn't but that another public figure is (I'm not giving him any help by giving air to any of his glib jabbing. I'm certainly not going to name the person he called a "corpse fiddler". )

He said: "Who says I'm a misogynist? Do you think I'm a misogynist?" How the hell would I know? "We're sitting here over a coffee. Have I displayed any misogynist behaviour?"

He likes to answer questions with questions. In answer to his question: No, of course he didn't. But that doesn't answer mine. I don't expect misogynists to be wearing T-shirts saying "I hate women".

I'll give him the benefit of that doubt. His wife has stuck by him, much to his amazement. (They've been together since they were 18; he is now 41 and they have two children, a boy of 14 and a girl of 12).

He used to earn, he says, probably $150,000 a year and did so for years and now he's on a sickness benefit and the family home has gone.

He is in a prolonged battle with his insurance company over a cancelled income protection policy.

He says he has been "a complete arsehole to live with" and "rude, abrupt, thoughtless, uncaring" to his wife.

He hasn't been happy and hasn't liked himself for years now. He is working on happiness and is now off the drugs he says his insurance company "made" him take and which he believes made him madder.

He said, perhaps hopefully, that he thinks the blog has become more temperate. "I'm not using nicknames and derogatory terms." (He was still calling North Shore mayor Andrew Williams a "clown" last time I looked, but that's almost affectionate for him.)

I'm not sure most people would term "corpse fiddler" temperate, but that was off-blog.

He was having a hot chocolate. You wouldn't want him anywhere near coffee. He's already, he says, "hyper- vigilant". He was coping sitting with his back to people in the cafe, but he didn't like it. The effect of depression on his personality is not the "nice, fluffy, soft lens approach to depression".

His is the "brutal, smashing in the face" form. "I have the fight response that is always on guard, always looking out, ready to fight the tiger ..."

This sounds exhausting. "It is exhausting." It's exhausting to be around because he's so combative. He told me he can't cope with going to a mall for longer than 40 minutes and then he has to go home and sleep for three hours.

He went to the mall to buy a new shirt. "I need a new shirt because I have to have a Michele Hewitson interview."

Did he really buy a shirt for the interview? I asked. I was thinking: that's rather sweet to buy a shirt specially, and that he would tell me this. He said: "Ha, ha. Not for you."

He still sees a psychologist but he won't tell me what he talks about in his sessions.

"Why would I tell you that?" He wouldn't tell me whether he got on with his father, former National Party president, John Slater: "I don't really want to comment on that."

He was happy to tell me he gets on very well with his mother but "I'm not a mummy's boy. Just in case you were thinking of writing that." It would never have occurred to me. Goodness, he really is paranoid. He says he probably is.

He also won't tell me who his friends are because that would be betraying their confidence. He told me that people, some of whom are presumably his mates, ask him to slag me off on his blog after a "hatchet job" on them.

As he wouldn't tell me who any of these people were either, there's no way of knowing. But, really, what a cheek! He doesn't bother with a blunt, old hatchet; he lobs grenades, dozens at a time, at whoever annoys him - a long list.

He calls people - his most-liked targets are politicians followed closely by journalists - all sorts of terrible names. A selection: rooters and liars and runts, just some of the printable ones. His best-known and ongoing campaign is against the North Shore mayor, Williams, who lobs the odd grenade right back. He's standing against Williams in Albany for the Super City council. This is a joke, but a serious one.

He's going to go to meetings as a candidate and say rude things. The mayor has, according to Slater, been very offensive to the mentally ill, and ought to apologise. But he has called the mayor, among other offensive things, mad.

So, I argued, he can't possibly be offended by anything Williams has said. We had a circular debate about this, which ended with him saying that he may have called Andrews "mad" but didn't sink to his level. Then he said he meant mad as in angry. "You can take mad any way you like."

At which point I said - once I'd recovered the power of speech: "Don't you get tired of yourself?" He took that graciously. "Yeah! Ha, ha, ha. I do. Utterly tired."

He is a Christian who goes to meetings at a Seventh Day Adventist church. If you accuse him of not behaving in keeping with the tenets of Christianity, you have the wrong idea of what Christians are supposed to be like. Which is "that there's a whole lot of nice people running around hugging each other".

He's not a sissy sort of Christian, then. He gave me a lesson on the disciple Paul who was a "zealot, an enforcer". He said: "I'm not comparing myself with Paul, just in case you're thinking about writing that."

Most of his arguments are with himself, you feel. That way he usually wins. He was, the day I saw him, much obsessed with a campaign he was running against a "win your weight in champagne" competition being run by the National Business Review. The details are complicated, but the gist of it is that the Whale Oil blog got someone called Busted Blonde to enter because she weighs 100 kilos. The winner was supposed to be the person whose quip got the most thumbs-up.

Busted Blonde had the most at the close of the competition, which was then extended, and then she didn't win. Something like that. Slater was outraged by this and was running an anti-NBR and anti-the-bubbly-brand campaign on his blog and, he told me, was going over the road to a wine shop after the interview to tell them all about it. (Did he? Of course he did.)

I said - we'd sat down two minutes before and already he was making me tired - "Cameron, how can you be bothered?" "It was all about winning 100kg of booze," he said. He doesn't even drink. "No. I'll have the occasional glass, but I don't drink. I can. I can drink spectacularly. But I don't."

He's competitive, even about something he doesn't do.

He has never, he says, suffered a moment's nervousness about anything he's said or done. This must mean he's tough. He isn't at all, he says. He's "fragile" while "being quite literally not scared of anyone".

He has no empathy. Even before he became ill he "wasn't known for it". This doesn't bother him, of course. "No. It is who I am."

But is it? He wanted to correct the misapprehension that I'd been labouring under: that he and Whale Oil are the same person. Whale Oil is the brand. He says there's a "disconnect" between "the character on the blog", who is a caricature and a construct, and him.

I said that sounded like a cop-out. "No. I'm not making excuses for it. I'm saying that the character exists on the blog. You're confused now because you're sitting across the table having coffee with someone who is not Whale Oil."

I suspect that only his wife, his psychologist, and possibly Cameron Slater, can tell them apart. As I wasn't sure who was across the table, I didn't ask the question I had for one of them: "Is yours a sad story, so far?"

I'd hazard that neither of them recognises empathy and so might have confused such a query for pity - and both, or either, of them would much prefer a hatchet in the head.