In case you’re wondering, although probably you’re not, getting a gong is a process that in itself has as many twists and turns as the lifetime it recognises.
For a start, you have no idea who put you up for it, and there’s no way to find out without potentially embarrassing likely suspects.
There was another initial conundrum in my case: I thought it was a hoax.
An email that first arrived on November 1 to ask if I would accept appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to journalism purported to be from Parliament’s Honours Unit, and it certainly looked official.
However, I was in the middle of dealing with nasty aftermath to a column about the anti-vaxxer brigade, including the creation of a false Jim Tucker Facebook page. Was this more mischief?
The email had the name and phone number of an official in the honours unit, so I rang. He was taken aback, but understood (I think) when I explained my uncertainty. No, this is for real, he said.
I hung up and started to feel excited. Lin whooped (gracefully, of course). We weren’t allowed to tell anyone, so that’s as far as it went – a mixture of surprise and delight, shared by two. Neighbours might have heard the sounds of animation, but no details.
I was surprised because I’ve never entertained the idea for a second that those in power would want to acknowledge, let alone reward, a constant, sharp critic of their goings on, someone who’s been harping on about them for more than a half century.
My upcoming memoirs are entitled “Flair and loathing on the front page”, the “loathing” a reference to the scepticism and outrage I’ve sometimes felt at the behaviour of some – but not all – politicians I’ve observed over the years since I began in journalism in 1965.
Our delight, though, was a much stronger reaction.
Delight not for myself but for journalism, and for an army of practitioners of this oft-reviled occupation who have shown spirit and courage and resourcefulness and, yes, absolute flair in the face of public and political diffidence.
Not many gongs are given to journos. In my time, I can recall the only knight being NZ Herald rugby writer Sir Terry McLean, with lesser medals going to photographer Peter Bush, Metro editor Warwick Roger, NZ Woman’s Weekly editor Jean Wishart, Pat Booth, Geoff Chapple, Dr Gavin Ellis, Lance Girling-Butcher and, a year ago, Jim Tully.
There may have been a few others I’ve forgotten. Some might have turned it down, given the pressure on journalists to at least appear to be independent of governments.
I had a similar view, if I’m honest – that being recognised by a regime of any hue carried the risk of being labelled something I have always tried to avoid.
Nothing gave me greater pleasure than having readers of my column variously accuse me of being left or right. That was a measure of success.
However, when it came to that unexpected moment when the offer arrived I didn’t hesitate for long. Yes, I was flattered. Few can claim to have no ego whatsoever.
But more crucial is the official recognition that the people willing to go to the back of the cave to check out the origin of the bad smell do indeed have a value to society, no matter how unwelcome is the news they bring back.
The process of being gonged is still revealing itself to us.
After saying yes, I was sent some forms to fill in, one of which included the citation written by whoever put me up for it. Was it accurate, I was asked.
Being someone who never reads instructions properly, I rewrote the biographical notes into a detailed essay of several thousand words, to which I attached the long version of my CV.
A polite reply came back: sorry, Mr T, but we want only 200 words.
Right. That done, a long silence followed. I started to wonder again. Lin said for goodness’ sake be patient.
Then, two letters came, one from Governor-General Cindy Kiro, the other from PM Jacinda Ardern.
On Xmas week I got calls from the media, in advance for the preparation of coverage for announcement day, 5am on December 31.
Many thanks for the kind notes.
The challenge now is to find something to wear to the pinning on. I haven’t worn a suit since 1987.
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