For six long days the miasma of paranoia hung over the Parliamentary complex as NZ First, National and Labour trudged to and from a room on neutral territory for powwows.

On the very first round of talks, the parties had agreed to absolute confidentiality. No phones were to be taken into the meeting room.

The secrecy was such that staff were too petrified to talk to anyone - or even to look at Peters and the NZ First crew.

Those who came across Peters round the traps would quickly look away again as if he was the basilisk or Sodom and could turn them to a pillar of salt. Staff seen having perfectly normal civil exchanges with a journalist were interrogated afterward. Even the loquacious Shane Jones was silent.


It was wartime Britain. They may as well have put the posters up. Tittle tattle lost the battle, loose lips sink ships. Beware of female spies, keep mum: she's not so dumb and all that.

For the media this meant long days of inviting haemorrhoids to visit by sitting on cold tiled floors. Some resorted to counting those tiles to pass the time.

At least there was a deadline - the October 12 date Peters gave back before the election and stuck to determinedly since then - although it eroded from a deadline for the final decision, to a 'target' to the days the talks proper would end and talks occasional began.

With nothing to report on, the tedium was punctuated by the most trivial of events.

The escalator that went upwards in the tunnel between Bowen House and Parliament House was broken on day one. It stayed broken and became symbolic of the talks, the electoral system, the country. It left Peters with one slow juddering lift to make his way to and fro with his team. By Friday even Australia's Parliament had learned of the broken escalator and tweeted "all our escalators are working perfectly."

The most transparent event of the week happened on Tuesday when Labour leader Jacinda Ardern took biscuits into the meeting - ginger nuts and chocolate wheatens. She carried them openly, on top of a folder. It seemed she too was taking tips from the old wartime posters: 'Help win the war on the kitchen front.'

By the next day, even baked goods were classified information.

Ardern took a ginger loaf into the meeting, baked by a staff member - but she carried it in her case so no media could see it.

When this reporter learned of it anyway and dared to tweet it, an Inquisition was mounted into how the reporter had known of it. Was someone Speaking Out of Turn on sensitive matters such as baked goods?

When Ardern was also sprung going Peters' regular haunt - the Green Parrot - suspicion of a spy in the camp reached fever pitch.

"You can't even have a schnitzel in peace," Ardern sighed after her dining experience was reported on. Not if you go to Peters' second home you can't, no.

The same reporter could also have told Ardern her baked goods diplomacy was futile anyway. Peters had previously revealed he very, very rarely ate cake, having forsaken it years ago. He preferred savoury food.

On another day, a staffer was seen delivering a pot of tea to the room for National's Gerry Brownlee, prompting debate about whether Steven Joyce's much vaunted tea making skills were up to scratch.

It was gruelling for staff as well. The poor staff in Bowen House, where Peters resides, were subjected to a phalanx of cameras pointing at them every time the lift doors opened in case Peters was in the lift.
Popping out for lunch required extra fortitude.

Sometimes the parties involved tried to make up for the lack of information with snacks. The Greens were most generous, delivering on one day packets of biscuits and on another slabs of chocolate. On the very first day Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson dropped off lolly cups. After that day, he was in the negotiating team and steered clear.

NZ First learned of this, and its chief of staff David Broome appeared on the final day with L&P chocolate biscuits, gloriously old-fashioned Milk Arrowroots and the positively whacko coconut and lychee Tim Tams. Even Sky News Australia dedicated some time to analysing this choice.

Having forbidden everybody from talking about anything at all, Peters first berated journalists at length for trying to get him to talk about the government formation talks. When they instead asked about trivial things such as the ginger loaf in the hope of getting any answer at all, he berated the journalists for asking about that instead of about important things such as the government formation talks.

Then on Thursday it ended, just as Peters had prophesied* (*actual contents may differ from those described). Returning from his final, final (*actual contents may differ from those described) talks with Labour, Peters wandered into the waiting media pack and sighed.

How sad he was that he had not been able to tell reporters more on these trips back and forth, 10 times a day.

Alas, he had been subjected to a confidentiality agreement that forbade it. He had, he said, found it all very "embarrassing" being asked questions that he could not answer.
He was mortified by his need for silence, even though he had imposed it himself.

After it had ended, it continued.

On Friday, Peters turned up with a tie that had 'TGIF' [Thank God it's Friday] on it. The media returned to the piles-inducing tiles. There were no snacks. Some clutched photos of the NZ First board members Peters so they would recognise them if they passed. Soon after lunchtime, Peters announced he was reinventing weekends. The board would not meet until Monday. When it met, who knew how long it would meet for? The tiles would be put through a few more stakeouts yet.