THE new year seems to have started out with not so much a hiss and a roar as an eerie post-Keyxit lassitude.

After so many years of John Key filling up every available media lens with his cat-got-the-cream grin, Alice-style it's as if he suddenly disappeared down a parallel reality rabbit hole, leaving not so much as a shimmering Cheshire smile.

In his place, we now have Farmer Bill II (the first one was Farmer Bill Massey), late of Double Dipton of the Deep South, and just back from a stomp around Europe.

Rugged up against their winter chill in what looked like a World War I trench coat dyed black, we had the statutory photo ops of him outside No10 doing the post-press conference schtick with British Prime Minister Theresa May (both marvelling at the wide-rangingness and frankness of their discussions), and laying the wreaths at assorted cenotaphs.

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It was all a bit nostalgic; reminiscent of the regular expeditions that various Kiwi Ministers of Trade and Agriculture used to embark on to the Old Country back in European Economic Community (EEC) days, trying to wheedle a better deal for our cheese and butter.

In fact, just to complete proceedings at the press conference, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Australia's Minister of Cheese to the Court of St James, Sir Les Patterson, enter stage right, and our own ex-Minister for Wine and Cheese and UK High Commissioner, the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, join the party from stage left. Say "cheese", the photographers could have appositely requested; a task for which Farmer Bill shows much natural aptitude.

Mr Key's rabbit hole, as we know, has Hawaii as one of its exits where, no doubt, he's been working hard on refilling the tank he assures us was empty when he left.

I'd be very surprised if another exit hadn't been arranged to take in a clandestine trip to Lake Wanaka for Richie and Gemma's nuptials, where his famous three-handed handshake could have been showcased in a worthy setting.

Security would have had to be extremely tight.

Lake Wanaka isn't too far from Pike River, home country to a rightly-riled coterie of West Coasters with a collection of very sharp axes to grind, preferably, one has the distinct feeling, on the back of the neck of a certain Mr Key.

Whatever the technicalities, to the Coasters he'll forever be the man who made big-time promises in front of the cameras and then piked equally big-time.

Perhaps it was no accident that Cryonic Man Winston Peters was also lurking. Maybe a little bird had tweeted in Winnie's ear that a certain Cheshire cat was going to be flying in for a spot of bubbly, and what a great opportunity to stir a bit of borax.

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Winston has staunchly put his hand up to be in the first party to re-enter the Pike River mine drift.

But despite the tragedy of the situation, as Winston addressed the Pike River families and Grey District mayor Tony Kokshoorn, I couldn't help cogitate on which of that other mining gang, the Seven Dwarves, Winston most resembled. Bashful? Definitely not. Happy? Definitely not. Dopey? No, Dopey's too happy, too. Grumpy? Who else!

But I suspect Mr Key's rabbit hole may also debouche somewhere in the vicinity of his old employers, Merrill Lynch, in Manhattan. I can imagine him triumphantly striding down the trading floor aisle lined with cheering, high-fiving dealers -- the dealer home from the deal, the hunter home from the hill.

It was almost as if he'd been given a "Your mission, should you accept it ..." And it was mission accomplished.

And the mission was, get elected down there, and then hit them with more lashings of neo-lib: tax cuts for the top bracket; privatise public assets; cut public spending; pump immigration to inflate house prices and get lower-sector wages down.

Also, root for TPP and don't try too hard to get multi-nationals of no fixed abode to cough up some tax ... and just change the law if anything gets in the way.

Cripes. Maybe he was even still on commission.