One of the aftermaths of Cyclone Dovi after it passed over Taranaki on Sunday, February 13, 2022, were huge seas that broke in spectacular fashion along New Plymouth’s coastline.
Here’s some photos I took of the 5m surf as it pounded the Port Taranaki main breakwater and the reef off Kawaroa Park. The sheltering seagulls shot was taken near East End Reserve looking beyond to Fitzroy Beach.
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.
I just got my driver’s licence renewed, but it wasn’t easy. That was my fault…entirely. Instead of doing what a lifetime of journalism taught me – proper research – I listened to what others said. Bloody nightmare, was the consensus. The problem is we’re all different at that moment when society rightly demands to know whether advancing age has made us a menace on the roads. There’s a lot of potential impediments to driving when you’ve got kilometres on the clock – fading eyesight, wobbly heart, diabetes, arthritis, strokes, dementia, et al. I could have found all that out by consulting the NZ Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) website, which has a plain and simple rundown. But no. I preferred to consult friends my age. One in particular had a helluva time. A retired bus driver who’d driven safely all his life, he was declined by his GP for medical reasons, and failed both the road code and practical driving tests. He missed the driving one for going too slow on the open road. After hearing all that (he got there in the end) I was more than a bit worried my driving days were about to end this coming February 15, after 60 years without an accident and only one recent speed camera fine for letting our overly lively little car hit 58 in a city street. I started the process by going on the Automobile Association website and attempting the road code test. What a shock – I scored 21 from 35 (a pass is 33). I bought the 20-question pack ($20) and after four goes got my score up to 30. It’s an ingenious and useful refresher. Each new test repeats the ones you got wrong last time and after each attempt you start to absorb such obscure rules as how much your trailer can weigh with a load and what’s signified by a yellow cat’s eye. There’s also a blue car whose options in a variety of traffic situations must be correctly chosen from four or five suggested answers. If you get it wrong, the correct answer comes up, too. The next step was a trip to the GP for a medical. Our med centre has a specialist who puts you through basic tests like eyesight, diabetes and dementia (my score was 30/30, so that was reassuring). That was followed by a thorough going-over from the doctor. She said I was fine to drive, filled out an elaborate form and signed me off. Next stop was the Automobile Association office in central New Plymouth, where my first move was to pick up a frighteningly thick copy of the NZ Road Code and get in a deceptively short queue. The cramped and busy office has two queues for licences and one for “other”, attended on the day I went by three extraordinarily patient and skilful women (with a backup to support them). Each member of the public in the queues seemed to have a different version of getting a licence or some kind of transport issue that needed sorting out, and each took a long time. The women were not only helping people fill out forms, but also checking their credentials and sitting them down to take headshot photos, each time with advice that “it’s okay to smile “ (in contrast to that familiar passport photo edict to play it sombre). Even though I stood at the head of my queue for what seemed like half an hour, the system was complicated by people returning from having filled out their forms and thinking it was okay to jump to the front. I was tempted to say something to one guy, but he stood at least seven feet tall and looked determined to brook no objections, especially from a pensioner. In the end, the woman at “other” had no takers, so came around to ask me what I was after. Her response changed my life. When she saw the medical certificate from the doctor, she told me to return the road code to the book stand: “You won’t be needing that. You won’t be doing any tests. We can issue your licence now.” No road test? Nup. Your doctor says you’re fine to drive for the next five years. We’ll issue a temporary licence until the agency sends out your new one. My blood pressure – which had been up a bit at the doctor’s – returned to normal. As did my life.
It probably won’t get any kind of result, but a week or so back I made a complaint to that great faceless behemoth, Facebook, my first.
I reported an anti-vaxer. I got sick of a constant stream of messages from this person, each laden with emotive prose about the grave risk of getting the jab, “backed up” by strings of website links that supposedly supported her argument.
I told FB I not only didn’t want to hear from her again, but they should take a look at her activities, which seemed to breach the social media company’s rules about…well, something.
There’s been no news back, and I haven’t inquired. The block I put on Ms Anti-vaxer seems to be holding. I’m hoping she’s given up on me and is pestering somebody else.
You’ll have worked out where I stand on Covid-19 vaccination. Lin and I – and every other person we know – have had both jabs.
In case you’re wondering, we approached it with caution. We’re old enough to remember the thalidomide disaster, to recall as kids getting injections against polio (and knowing other kids who caught it), measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and other once-rampant afflictions that swept society periodically last century.
I was a medical reporter and columnist back in my Auckland Star days in the 1970s, and for three years from 2010 I spent two or three hours a day writing a blog about prostate cancer, my project being labelled one of the world’s best lay information sources by the Harvard Medical Library.
So I believe I know how to research medical stuff. And my reading (and Lin’s) supported the idea of getting the Pfizer vaccine as soon as it was available.
In case you’re wondering, the first prick had no noticeable impact, but the second last month left us both feeling a bit crook (strong Kiwi medical term) for a week.
Things in the world of vaccination development and application have moved on a lot, to say the least. Our study of how Covid vaccines were developed so rapidly convinced us the risks were no greater than they have ever been when it comes to applying medical treatment on a broad scale.
Someone, somewhere, will have a bad experience. Bad enough to kill them. But the chances are so remote as to place the risk factor below those generally in play every time we get out of bed in the morning.
My anti-vaxer acquaintance may have given up on me, but you can bet she’ll still be spreading her earnest message to others.
People like that never give up, because to do so is to concede a wrong turn somewhere, the weakening of a leap of faith that if questioned would bring their philosophy on human existence out into the glare of reason.
Those words are too grand to describe why some people are like that. In fact, they’re simply dumb. They’re as easily persuaded as religious fanatics, and greatly reinforced by endless opportunities offered by the internet to rotate within a silo of like-minded people.
If my language here is strong, then forgive me. I had a lot to do with the anti-vaccination brigade a decade or more back when I joined the Sunday Star-Times as acting chief reporter for a six-month stint.
I was first defence against anyone approaching the paper looking to pitch a story. Most came from public relations hacks, whose emails could be binned after a single glance at the first paragraph. But the anti-vaxers were different.
They mustered screeds of evidence to support their belief that not only does mass vaccination run counter to freedom of choice, but long-term risks from introducing any foreign substance to the body can never be predicted.
You can see how such vague but compelling arguments needed careful consideration, before – as invariably happened after I’d read the screeds, checked their origins, and compared them to my own research (in effect, lay person v lay person) – I would politely tell them to bugger off.
I don’t feel so polite these days. I’m with US columnist Leonard Pitts Jnr who writes of what’s happening there as the government introduces mandatory vaccination for its employees, like ours is now.
We’ll see the same whining here, the same complaints we saw when wearing a seat belt became mandatory last century, the laments about loss of freedom.
Goodbye, then. I don’t want you teaching my grandkids.
My new book – Random Thoughts: Jim Tucker revisits favourite columns – was formally launched at the Hospice Taranaki shop in Westown, New Plymouth, on the evening of October 13.
A crowd of about 50 hospice supporters, New Plymouth District Councillors (including Deputy Mayor Richard Jordan and his wife, Anne) and friends of the author and wife, Lin, gathered at the shop at 5.30pm to hear speeches from hospice CEO Paul Lamb and me.
The occasion ended with book sales and signings. The book, proceeds from which go to Hospice Taranaki, went on sale the next day at the five Taranaki hospice shops.
There will be more book signings next week at the shops in Waitara, Waiwhakaiho Valley, Stratford and Hawera, and at Westown.
The book republishes about 40 of the 237 columns I wrote for the Taranaki Daily News/Stuff between 2016 and January this year. Each is illustrated and followed up to see if anything eventuated.
Printing of the book was paid for by Dr George Mason from his charitable fund. Many thanks, George.
Anyone wanting a copy can buy an e-book version on the BOOKS page of this website, or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org (if you’re out of Taranaki) to order a printed copy, or buy from one of the shops or the hospice Trade Me account. The book is not on sale at any bookshop or through any book publisher (other than JimTuckerMedia).
Take a look at my third photo essay on New Plymouth’s renowned Pukekura Park, this time a two-parter assembled from a couple of thousand cellphone pix taken over the past couple of winters.
Winter Park (Parts 1 and 2, You Tube below) shows how nature changes everything in the park, but also how quickly the plants and trees regather themselves for spring. I’m taking spring shots now for the next essay.
While the NZ Government is showing due concern for the welfare of the country’s aged during the Covid pandemic, something has gone wrong with its funding for those vital end-of-life places about to be overrun by dying Baby Boomers.
Hospice Taranaki, for example, has seen its government funding drop from 70 percent a decade ago to 47 percent now.
My latest column (October 9, 2021) writes about this discrepancy in State care, as well as my latest book, whose proceeds will go towards helping our hospice survive.
I’ve just eaten the best toasted sandwich in my 60 years of working and travelling the world as a journalist (lived off them, believe me). It was a good old ham/cheese/tomato at New Plymouth’s Kitchen Table café in Brooklands yesterday.
That old cliche “to die for” just doesn’t cut it when it comes to describing the sophisticated qualities – taste, looks, smell, generosity of filling – of that sandwich.
Roadworks in Taranaki – not much progress. DN Photo
During this second term of the Labour-dominated government one thing that has become apparent is its quest to gain central control over more of the country’s basic functions.
We’ve got all the polytechnics now merged into a single administrative entity, the regional health boards are going to be reorganised into a small number of new mega-boards, and now there is a plan to take over what is being called the “Three Waters” – drinking water, sewerage and stormwater drainage.
The government is predicting large ratepayer savings with this plan, but now our many councils are questioning the numbers. The rest of us can only wonder if we’re going to get another version of the roads board system, which has left our main highways patchy and neglected.
Have a read on my thoughts about Three Waters in this recent column I wrote for the Taranaki Daily News and Stuff.