Well, how did it get to this? After decades and decades and billions and billions of dollars it turns out about a million New Zealanders don't have the numeracy and literacy skills to make a living or make a go of life.

And the learned education experts, the principals, are doing their damnedest to undermine their minister who simply wants to introduce a national standards system so that a parent in Masterton knows how their child is doing in relation to a child in Kerikeri.

I can think of only one reason they want to fight it. They are alarmed that we may be on the point of finding out.

But surely, something has gone terribly wrong. How can New Zealand kids come out of school not being able to read properly or write or add up and multiply basic figures? Of course, sad to say, bring it up with the education experts, like teachers (many of whom have amazed me over the years with their dedication and their workloads) and it's as if you have desecrated an altar.

And, of course, many of the unfortunate kids - who can neither write nor add up nor sling more than a few spoken words together in a sentence and therefore have no easy available vehicle for self-expression - are biding their time in our prisons, learning nothing, fagging their lives away in a fug.

I was lucky. I loved reading and the more I read, the more I read. And the more you write, then the more you'll write and the better you will get.

Every week, for example, an empty screen looms up at me demanding to be filled with words. Now I can feel fairly sure that in three or four hours this blank screen with be adorned with neat, well-spelled, well-punctuated words, phrases, sentences and nicely contained paragraphs. I hope there will be order. They words might even say something with, I hope, minimal impediment of clumsy construction.

Years ago I read an interview with Mel Brooks - the film producer, writer and actor - who for a while was the funniest man in America. Mel said he was having a bad day sitting at home trying to write.

When Mel was in the zone, Mel could write comedy like a crazy dream. His movie The Producers was based on a brilliant idea whereby, if he raised a fortune to put on a Broadway show that was bound to fail, then all of the money invested by the punters could be hidden away as already spent. Anyway, the show he comes up with opens on Broadway with its vile lead song.

"Springtime for Hitler and Germany, winter for Poland and France ..."

The audience is at first aghast and then suddenly realises that the show is so bad it has to be great comedy and the next thing they leave the theatre splitting their sides all the way down Broadway. So, against all the odds, it is a hit. The investors have to be paid. But there is no money.

Anyway, Mel is having a frightful day without the muse. Not a joke makes its way through the typewriter, no progress on plot, nothing. His wife, the movie actress Anne Bancroft, comes home and flops on the couch.

"My God," she sighs, exhausted, sipping from her large vodka and tonic, or was it vodka, lime and soda? I am unsure because this boozy bit I am making up entirely as I go along. And maybe she didn't sip from it but lunged at it.

I imagine that after a long day as a movie star on the set the first one goes down without touching the sides. And I am just imagining that no matter what you did for a living, if you lived in an upper-level Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Central Park, that you would pour yourself a highball the moment you came through the door.

I am also making a dangerous presumption that they were doing well enough to own an upper-level Fifth Avenue apartment so please do not take my word for it.

They might have been star local creative celebrities at Tent Village for all I know. But Mel, by then, had finished The Producers and Anne had probably been paid for The Graduate. So, with her income, they might have been flush.

Anyway, Anne comes in, lies back on the couch, sips the highball - go with me - and says: "God! Acting is such hard work!" Mel looks at her, his face aching with frustration, rushes over and throws a blank sheet of white paper down in front of her.

"No!" he cries. "This is the hard work! Writing it is the hard work! Fill up a page, making it up, this is the hard work!"

But that year, 1968, when Mel made The Producers, it was Anne who made the money. I would think. The Graduate, in which she starred with Dustin Hoffman, was a worldwide runaway success.

The Producers itself was a flop. But Mel found eventually success with the The Producers when it became a Broadway musical, remade as a film in 2005. But in the 1960s those who knew comedy, however, like Peter Sellers, managed to see it and loved it.

Back in the United Kingdom, Sellers went on Parkinson wearing a German battle helmet and did the famous speech by the film's insane Nazi, Franz Liebkind, who wrote the terrible script, certain to flop, that old Max Bialystock was looking for.

They found Franz living in a crumby loft in New York City surrounded by his filthy beloved pigeons. Franz launches up and proceeds to address Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder in his heavy, mad German accent: "Hitler, there was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in an afternoon. TWO COATS! Churchill! He couldn't even say 'Nazi'! He would say 'Noooo-zeeeeh. Noooooooo-zeeeh'! It wasn't Noses. It was Nazis! Churchill!

"Let me tell you this - and you're hearing it straight from the horse - Hitler was better looking that Churchill! He was a better dresser than Churchill; he had more hair! He told funnier jokes! And he could dance the pants off Churchill!"

But Mel knew something very true. It is a lesson for broadcasting interviewers and I learnt it myself during those bitter months back in 1986 when the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was exciting the most extreme debate up and down the country.

The Happy Clappy churches and the awful, proscriptive Dutch Reformed Church were passionately, almost fascistically, opposed.

They put up for interview on radio and television programmes all kinds of preachers and visiting "experts" who spoke with hellfire authority about the evils and what men would start doing to one another if the bill passed into law, as if it were going to make homosexuality compulsory. They quoted great tracts of scripture to back it all up. It was insane.

But I realised one morning in 1986, when I was interviewing one of these frightened, hate-filled types, that there was no point arguing on his territory.

Come up with a piece of scripture to counter his and you got slapped straight back down with more scripture. This fellow was always going to win if you played the game on his territory. Rather, let him talk. Encourage him to explain.

Let the idiot talk. Let him get dirtier about his hatred of the gays. Let him get dirtier and dirtier about what men might do to each other. Lead him further in. And the people at home start to see how weird the man is.

Mel said: "Debate with a fascist, you lose. Trade rhetoric with a dictator, you never win. That is what they do so well. They seduce people.

"But if you ridicule them, bring them down with laughter, they can't win. You show how crazy they are."

Either that or, like Vera Lynn, you sing them to defeat.