I don’t ‘do’ politics – I have totally no interest in it, not even if somebody wanted to revive the McGillicuddy Serious Party and promise free beer and French taunter insults every Friday night.
Still, every so often something pops up that draws interest, as the other week when I discovered that the deputy leader of one of our political parties had been issued a warning for doing her own plumbing. It turned out she and her partner had installed a new toilet in their house themselves, accidentally contravening a local Auckland bylaw.
Of course this can only happen in Auckland – it’s perfectly legal to do DIY bog repair everywhere else. If I wanted to replace ‘the John’ in my house, I could do it without fear of legal censure (there are laws here, I think, against triggering an effluent volcano, which is likely given my plumbing skills, but that’s by the by).
What intrigued me was the fact that a politician was able and willing to fix their own household dunny.
We’ve come a long way from the 1980s, when politicians held themselves so superior that even normal etiquette towards strangers was beneath them. It was spelled out to me around 1991 when I jumped on a plane and found myself sitting next to a former Minister of Finance. He promptly unfolded a newspaper, opened it wide to completely roger any view I had out the window, and blocked himself off, also rogering my personal space along the way – and that was how he sat for the whole flight, utterly contemptuous of everybody around him. In hindsight I imagine that I might have read occasional random letters in headlines showing through the pages of his newspaper – “c” perhaps, maybe a “u”, and then an “n” and “t”.
So the idea that politicians might do their own home renovations these days is heartening. Maybe we’re heading back to the days of ‘Kiwi Keith’ – Sir Keith Holyoake, the 1960s Prime Minister who regularly painted his own holiday home in Taupo and had his home phone number in the book. Yup – back in 1965, if you wanted to ring up the Prime Minister of an evening to talk about something that you wanted the government to do, you could. Why did he do that? Because he believed he was a servant of the people and had to be on hand.
Norman Kirk – elected in 1972 – was another PM who had his home number in the phone book. ‘Big Norm’ was incredibly popular – even the subject of an admiring song in 1974 that got to No. 4 in the hit parade and won the band, Ebony, a music award that August. Kirk, who was seriously ill in hospital, congratulated them – the last telegram he ever sent, for he died the next day. He was New Zealand’s third serving Prime Minister to die in office. The nation mourned. And I still wonder how different New Zealand might be now, had he lived.
Of course, New Zealand was traditionally a place where politicians brushed shoulders with the hoipolloi, and nobody blinked an eye. There was the time in the 1950s when my father regularly walked to work down Wellington’s Sydney Street from his house in nearby Tinakori Road. Every so often he’d fall in with a near neighbour, also walking down the street to work. They didn’t know each other but, as strangers do, often chatted about matters of idle interest. And when they got to the bottom of the street my father would turn right to head to his work, and the Prime Minister, Sid Holland, would go into Parliament buildings. New Zealand was like that, back then.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017