Posts tagged ‘Auckland’


Consumer’s choice: how I bought a car from the UK over the ’net and shipped it home

01.10.2017

Originally published at Drivetribe, but as I own the copyright it only made sense to share it here for readers, too, especially those who might wish to buy a car from abroad and want to do the job themselves. It was originally written for a British audience.


Above: The lengths I went to, to make sure I didn’t wind up buying a car with an automatic transmission: source it from the UK and spend ten months on the process.

One consequence of Brexit was the pound falling, which makes buying out of Blighty very tempting for foreigners. When it comes to buying a car, the savings can be substantial enough for a buyer in the antipodes.
   My situation in New Zealand was neither driven by politics nor currency: it was the lack of manual-transmission cars. When I last bought a car for myself in 2004, the market was roughly 50–50 between manuals and automatics. Today that figure is 90 per cent in favour of automatics, meaning those of us who prefer shifting gears ourselves face a major difficulty. We either limit ourselves to the few cars that come on to the market that are manuals, or we switch. Considering it was my own money, and a five-figure sum at that, I wasn’t about to contemplate getting something that I didn’t like. Britain, it seemed, would have to be the source of my next car.
   There were certain circumstances that made this a lot easier.
   First, you need friends in the UK.
   Secondly, you should browse Auto Trader, Parkers and other sites regularly for months on end to get a feel of the market.
   Third, you should be looking for something that’s relatively new, to ensure compliance with the laws of both the UK and your own.
   When my old Renault Mégane I Coupé was written off in an accident, the logical thing would be to buy the Mégane III Coupé. However, if you live in a right-hand-drive country and you’re not in the UK, Ireland or South Africa, you’re out of luck, unless you fancy going to an RS. And I simply didn’t need 250-plus horsepower to go to the post office or up the coast.
   There were two powerplants common to Renaults in New Zealand: the 110 bhp 1·6, and the 2·0 automatic. That left me with one choice, and 110 bhp was sufficient for what I needed. I also looked forward to the better fuel economy, even if New Zealanders pay less at the pump than Brits.
   I was fortunate that I didn’t need a replacement car in a hurry. For years I had a “spare car”, one that my father had bought and I could use now that he had developed Alzheimer’s. The other stroke of luck was that I had contemplated getting a newer Mégane III Coupé anyway, and had been browsing UK sites for about six months at that point. I knew roughly what a good deal looked like. Finally, the esteemed motoring editor, Mr Keith Adams, and one other school friend, Philip, had offered to check out cars should I spot anything in their area.

I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. That’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in

   While my circumstances were unique, there are plenty of other reasons to look to the UK for cars.
   A friend looking for a Volkswagen Eos reckoned he would save NZ$10,000 (£5,850) by sourcing one from the UK. This is largely fuelled by the greater depreciation on UK second-hand cars, and the savings potentially mount on flasher motors, such as Audi Q7s or Bentleys.
   While Japan is closer, and the source of many used cars in New Zealand, some buyers have had to buy new radios to match New Zealand frequencies. There’s also the disadvantage of dealing in a foreign language with a very different legal system should you choose to do it yourself.
   The disadvantage of a UK import is that speedometers will be in mph, whereas New Zealand adopted the newfangled metric system decades ago. However, on a more modern car with a digital dashboard, the switch shouldn’t be an issue, and that was the case with the Mégane.
   For a Kiwi buyer, the first step is to check the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) website, which has useful worksheets on private car importation.
   In summary, the car must comply with New Zealand standards, and it helps—for now—that cars that have EU type approval will. The car must have a vehicle approval plate or sticker, or a statement of compliance. The NZTA worksheets and website are detailed and go through further specifics.
   You should, for peace of mind, order an AA or Dekra inspection. AA members in New Zealand can expect a discount from AA in the UK, and this shouldn’t exceed £200. Any faults need to be remedied before you purchase the car, or you should walk away.
   Of course, you need to be able to prove the ownership of the vehicle: that means an invoice showing that you’ve purchased it (this should have the VIN on it), plus the V5 registration document. Since it’s being exported outside the UK, the relevant part of the V5 noting thje car will be leaving the country will have been sent to the Department for Transport by the seller. The seller needs to put this in the courier to you.
   I advise strongly that you use a company specializing in the importation. You can do a lot yourself, but it pays to have an extra pair of eyes to ensure you’ve dotted the is and crossed the ts, and in New Zealand, that’s where Jake Williams and Dan Hepburn at Online Logistics of Auckland came in.
   Online Logistics isn’t interested in profiting based on the price of your car, unlike some services. They set standard fees for shipping, and arrange insurance, which it’ll need on the way to New Zealand. They do ask that the car departs from Felixstowe, and they will ship it to Auckland.
   They will require the VIN, so they can double-check that the car meets the required standards, the invoice, and the original copy of the V5.
   Once it’s on New Zealand shores, it has to go through several inspections.
   The first is an inspection by the Ministry of Primary Industries, which makes sure that there aren’t any bugs. It could order that the car be fumigated, and this can set you back around NZ$400. Once done, you’ll get an MPI sticker saying the car’s passed the biosecurity inspection.
   Customs will then sting you GST (the equivalent of VAT) on cost, insurance and freight.
   An NZTA-approved organization will then inspect the car to check for structural faults. Online Logistics took care of this part, so you don’t need to hunt for an approved one yourself. Once that’s done, you’ll get a pink sticker from NZTA.
   The fourth step is getting the car certified. Again, Online Logistics has a company it contracts to do this, and this is where you’re likely to see your car for the first time. Certification will confirm that the car meets safety and emission standards, gets the VIN recorded into the database, gives you a registration form so you can get the car registered in New Zealand, and issues a warrant of fitness (MOT). Certification can be strict: cars that have had a poor repair job done in the UK will not pass until it is redone in line with New Zealand standards, and this is where the importation process can fall to pieces. That’s why it’s important to have that check done in the UK before purchase. Stay well away from category D cars, and aim for low miles.

Having identified the model I wanted, I had to trawl through the websites. The UK is well served, and some sites allow you to feed in a postcode and the distance you’re willing (or your friend’s willing) to travel.
   However, if you rely on friends, you’ll need to catch them at the right time, and both gentlemen had busy weekends that meant waiting.
   VAT was the other issue that’s unfamiliar to New Zealanders. GST is applied on all domestic transactions in New Zealand, but not on export ones. This isn’t always the case in the UK, and some sellers won’t know how any of this works.
   One of the first cars I spotted was from a seller who had VAT on the purchase price, which logically I should get refunded when the car left the country. I would have to pay the full amount but once I could prove that the car had left the UK, the transaction would be zero-rated and I would get the VAT back. I was told by the manager that in 11 years of business, he had never come across it, and over the weeks of chatting, the vehicle was sold.
   Car Giant, in London, was one company that was very clued up and told me that it had sold to New Zealanders before. They’re willing to refund VAT on cars that were VAT-qualifying, but charged a small service fee to do so. The accounts’ department was particularly well set up, and its staff very easy to deal with long-distance.
   Evans Halshaw, however, proved to be farcical. After having a vehicle moved to the Kettering branch close to Keith’s then-residence after paying the deposit, and having then paid for an AA inspection, the company then refused to sell it to me, and would only deal with Keith.
   Although the company was happy to take my deposit, Keith was soon told, ‘we will need payment to come from yourself either by debit card or bank transfer as the deal is with yourself not Mr Yan,’ by one of its sales’ staff.
   I wasn’t about to ask Keith to part with any money, If I were to transfer funds to his account, but not have the car belong to me, and if Keith were to then transfer ownership to me without money changing hands, then the New Zealand Customs would smell a rat. It would look like money laundering: NZTA requires there to be a clear chain of ownership, and this wasn’t clear. Evans Halshaw were unwilling to put the invoice in my name.
   I’m a British national with a UK address—again something a lot of buyers Down Under won’t have—but Evans Halshaw began claiming that it was ‘policy’ not to sell to me.
   The company was never able to provide a copy of such a policy despite numerous phone calls and emails.
   Essentially, for this to work and satisfy Customs on my end, Keith would have to fork out money, and I would have to pay him: a situation that didn’t work for either of us.
   Phil, a qualified lawyer, offered to head into another branch of Evans Halshaw and do the transaction exactly as they wanted: head there with ‘chip and PIN’, only for the company to change its tune again: it would not sell to me, or any representative of mine.

The refund from Evans Halshaw never materialized, and I found myself £182 out of pocket

   This farce went on for a month and involved a great deal of calls from me into the small hours of the morning.
   The matter eventually went to the group’s lawyer, David Bell, and between him and me, it was sorted in 10 minutes.
   Evans Halshaw did indeed have a policy not to sell to a foreigner, never mind that he was also a Briton. What their first staffer should never have done was take my deposit in the first place.
   Despite knowing it was me who paid the deposit, the Kettering dealer began believing it was Keith who was the buyer.
   When Mr Bell knew all the facts, there was a moment when the penny dropped for us both: he had been told that Keith was the buyer all along, and advised accordingly. Once I knew where the mix-up was, everything made sense.
   It wasn’t helped by belligerent staff who refused to answer questions directly.
   However, on knowing of their error, Evans Halshaw refunded my deposit (albeit minus the credit card fees I had paid) and offered to refund the AA check, in exchange for the report. I willingly gave them the report, but the second refund never materialized. Neither the dealer principal at Kettering nor Mr Bell responded, despite reminders, and I found myself £182 out of pocket, along with goodness knows how much in long-distance phone charges. I still wonder how this is one of the country’s largest dealer groups, with this blatant disregard for the customer.
   Two weeks later, the perfect Mégane popped up. It was all a blessing in disguise. It was the colour (Cayenne orange) of the car I had on my computer wallpaper years before. The mileage was very low. And another friend, Andrew, was willing to pop by and look at it, sold by a very easy-going seller, Andy Mudge of Thames Fleet Purchasing. In fact, he proved so amenable I referred others to him, and he was more than happy, as with many other dealers I had spoke to in the UK since the Evans Halshaw affair, to sell to a British national based abroad.
   The car passed the Dekra check with next to no issues, and Andy was willing to cap the freight charges of the car from his Maidenhead property to the port for £100. (It’s advisable to have the car transported, rather than driven, to the port, as I won’t have paid for the tax as the new keeper.)
   The car was non-VAT qualifying, making life easier for both parties. I paid Andy the amount by wire transfer, added a pony on top to cover the courier of documents (V5 and handbooks) and the spare key.
   The one feeling I hadn’t expected was to see thousands of pounds leave my account and have nothing to show for it. The car took just under two months before I witnessed it for the first time, having flown up to Auckland to collect it (another NZ$100), with a 600 km journey south back to its new home in Wellington.
   Many months later, I’m thrilled with my purchase. There are, to my knowledge, only two non-RS Mégane III Coupés in New Zealand, both in the same colour. It has an engine for which I can get parts, and there are sufficient commonalities with the Méganes sold here when it comes to brake pads and other items. It had taken a considerable amount of time but it was eventually worth it. After all, if it’s your money, you should get what you want. If you don’t want to drive the standard New Zealand car—and looking around that appears to be a Toyota Auris Automatic—then the UK is a very ready source of cars.

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Posted in business, cars, globalization, internet, New Zealand, UK | No Comments »


The fall and rise and fall of Kim Dotcom, and why, according to the US, watching YouTube makes us all criminals

26.12.2015

In response to a friend’s Facebook post applauding the possibility that Kim Dotcom would get extradited, two days ago. It’s unedited, other than the inclusion of a link and a note, and I apologize for the grammatical errors.

Surely this remains the only case in the history of humankind where copyright is a multi-jurisdictional criminal matter? And if getting rich off copyrighted material is a crime, then YouTube has a longer history of letting this happen and rewarding users for it. The principal difference that I can see is that YouTube (through its parent Google) dodges paying New Zealand tax,* which seems to be a position our government is comfortable with. I’m not saying I like Dotcom—who I think is only out for himself and yes, he comes across as a dick—but fair’s fair. Nor am I saying I support copyright infringement, but under New Zealand law that’s a civil matter that should be fought by the infringed, not by governments. (In the US there is a criminal provision but the guy hasn’t ever been there nor was his company based there.)
   When I read the prosecution’s case it falls down at some basic hurdles. They say the defendants infringed. But they don’t say what they infringed. You’ve got to have this, especially if you’re going to prosecute this as a crime. The guy has a right to know exactly what’s at issue. And Megaupload stored stuff, they weren’t the infringers. Even if they knew about it, there’s no crime knowing about criminal copyright infringement. If the US position holds true, then when we go to YouTube to view a full-length movie or TV programme that someone has uploaded in order to make money for themselves, it would actually make us criminals. I’m not comfortable with this.
   I see an appalling double standard when it comes to how this bloke is dealt with, e.g. he is dissed for spending money funding a political party but Colin Craig gets a pass for doing the same thing at exactly the same time. He is dissed for showing us how our government monitors us by bringing in Glenn Greenwald yet we all applaud Greenwald when he does it overseas. I find it interesting how he went from Public Enemy No. 1 when he was first arrested, to admired underdog for quite a lengthy period when Kiwis realized copyright law was on his side, and now he’s back to Public Enemy No. 1 again after exposing the flaws in our security services and trying to do us a favour with the flop that was ‘the moment of truth’. Guess we really hate it when a foreign-born New Zealand resident tells us how things should be, but we love telling foreigners about gun laws, imperialism and inequality.
   If the guy is to go to prison, then let it be for an actual crime.

* PS.: Yes, it’s technically legal to run things through a Bermuda tax haven and pay yourselves back for stuff.

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Posted in internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA | No Comments »


Everything’s perfect with those Auckland systems, nothing to see here

28.11.2014

I contacted Auckland Airport through its Facebook on Tuesday over the matter in my previous post, and got an immediate reply from someone monitoring its social media. She tells me that she will ask them to furnish me with an urgent response. I am still waiting. It’s a bit of a worry when this is an airport’s definition of urgent. If your plane is three days late, don’t worry.
   Maybe I am very behind the times when it comes to Auckland. After all, this is the biggest city in the nation and its conventions must drive the rest of the place. I began seeing a lot of red-light runners there some years back, and this novel custom has made it down to Wellington now, where we are ignoring red lights with increasing frequency. Dunedin, watch out: we’ll be exporting it your way soon, as it is the new way of doing things. My Auckland friends all kid me when I observe the no-intersection-block rule from the road code: ‘Ha ha, we can tell you’re from Wellington.’ Get with the programme, Jack: the road code is optional.
   Today, I was asked by one Auckland-based organization about whether I attended an event or not in May, which had a cost of NZ$30, and this was, naturally, overdue.
   I don’t understand why this organization fails to keep records of who attends its events. But apparently this failure is my fault.
   I responded, ‘I don’t recall if I attended but I can tell you that I never received an invoice.’
   Their response, ‘As per below, I note an invoice was sent to you on the 19 June 2014.’
   Well, no.
   I never received it. And I can prove I never received it.
   It is not my fault that they use MYOB and, from an earlier experience, they have trouble sending overseas, where our server is located. It is not my fault that their (and presumably, others’) DNS servers in New Zealand are woefully behind the times—something else we already know. Do they seriously think I would hold back $30?
   My response: ‘I’ve attached a screen shot of the emails that arrived around that period with attachments. This is the first I’ve seen of your invoice.
   ‘I see your invoice is generated by MYOB. From what I understand, their server does not resolve some email addresses outside New Zealand correctly, so that will explain why it has never arrived.’
   Now, folks, remember the modern custom is never to take the other party at their word, and fire back something where they can visualize you are sitting on a much higher horse.
   Always believe in the superiority of your technology over the word of a human being, because computers are perfect. We know this from Google, because Google is honest and perfect.
   This will ensure greater stress, because remember, stress shared is stress doubled, and we can all get on the Auckland bandwagon.
   Incidentally, I have offered to pay because I support the principles of this organization. I realize they could forward invoices willy-nilly to people, but I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt. We’re nice like that in Wellington. I’m such a sucker, keeping those intersections clear and stopping at red lights. How very quaint of me.

The above was the most sarcastic blog post I have ever written, so no, I don’t believe Auckland has a monopoly on this behaviour.
   Recently, however, I’ve been wondering what’s the etiquette when you receive a bit of bad news.
   I had received some from Hastings recently, and my response was along the lines of, ‘I quite understand. All the best to you,’ albeit with a bit more embellishment.
   I did not know of the context to this person’s change of heart, and there was no point to force the issue when a decision had been made.
   I found myself on the other end recently when a very good friend asked me to help a friend of hers (in Wellington). I initially was enthusiastic—till it dawned on me that if I took on yet another company in a mentoring role, it would be very unfair on two that I was already helping, one of which was a recent client at Business Mentors New Zealand.
   That time really should go to people who are earlier in the queue, and I had to draw the line.
   I wrote back, explaining the above in as polite a fashion as I could.
   I haven’t heard back. This could be due to an email issue, which is always possible, or the silence is intentional. Given that prior emails were working, then I’m going to lean toward the latter, but without shutting my mind to the former.
   Would you reply? I’d like to think that one’s paths could cross again within our very small nation, and you may as well keep the blood warm. Or should we not waste our time, given that that one further email really is of no practical, immediate purpose, and it’s implied, within our very casual, laid-back country, that “it’s all good”?

In the meantime, I got in a submission for the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. As it was under urgency, and I only finished reading the bill after 11 p.m., after getting back and eating dinner late, it’s not the best submission I’ve done (and probably the briefest). However, I was somewhat buoyed to discover the following day that my concerns were the same as those of former GCSB head, Sir Bruce Ferguson. Rest assured my day is not spent pondering the etiquette of modern electronic correspondence.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Bypass Auckland when you can

21.11.2014

It’s a shame I had to write this to Auckland Airport today (salutation and closing omitted):

I’d like you guys to know that on Monday night, your inter-terminal bus never came. Passengers (around 20) were waiting at the stop at domestic from 9.45 to 10.15 p.m. The airport staff I spoke to were really surprised at this, too.
   I don’t mind the walk but there was an elderly lady among the passengers who didn’t enjoy the gales blasting through that night. I helped her with her huge bag to international, and I am sure another passenger would have helped her if I wasn’t there, but it’s a shame this had to happen.
   During our walk, we never saw the bus pass us, so it looked like the 10.30 p.m. finishing time that you advertise was not observed that night.
   I hope you can look into it.

   And Novotel, no, it is not cool that if someone orders a drink at the restaurant, pays for it, and decides to finish the remainder in his room, that you would try to charge him again the following morning (note: at 6.30 a.m., before any cleaning crew came) for consuming an ‘in-room beverage’. Thank you for not charging when I disputed it, but, again, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. (Having no free power outlets by the desk but two where the kettle is also seems a bit odd.)
   It’s more reason for travellers to come to Wellington, where we’re fairer.

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Posted in business, culture, New Zealand | 1 Comment »


When it comes to convention centres, it pays to think ahead

13.05.2013

The New Zealand International Convention Centre has been announced in Auckland. In 2010, my campaign team proposed a convention centre for Miramar Wharf, which would include a technology complex, in a format that could have been licensed to other countries, earning royalties for the Wellington business that came up with the idea. The location was to address concerns from the hospitality sector about taking business away from the centre city, and the proximity to the airport could have helped some of our visitors. (This is a matter of record and was briefly covered by The Dominion Post.)
   I felt that the project fitted in with our city’s image. I was drawn to the idea of royalty incomes for a New Zealand business, which would have showed that Kiwi ingenuity and intellectual property could be exported in a frictionless fashion. There was also a concern that we could not attract international conventions here, even in the late 2000s, and this complex could have solved it. I had been to enough conventions and conferences overseas to have seen first-hand the sort of numbers involved—and how we needed something ourselves. It was to preempt similar moves by other cities, long before the Sky City deal was announced.
   I know there are issues with this—including whether residents would want a complex there, and there would be a great need to consult with the public first. Nonetheless, it was worth raising it, and I’m grateful that it received a tiny bit of coverage, so you know I’m not engaging in revisionism today.
   With hindsight, it would have respected the memorandum issued by WCC in the 1990s that a casino was not desirable for our city. I note that at the mayoral debate for the hospitality sector in 2010, opinions on a casino were divided roughly 50–50.
   The Dominion Post is covering this topic today, and it highlights to me that this city has been caught on the back foot again.
   Wellington still strikes me as a more desirable location, with Auckland and Queenstown, for instance, a stone’s throw via an air link. It’s the same with our airport. We have an opportunity to put ourselves on the map in the next few years, while Christchurch is still rebuilding, because they will come to threaten Wellington’s position as an innovative hub within the next decade. More importantly, we need to be positioning ourselves to a global audience, something that 20th-century political thinking still prevents us from doing.

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Posted in branding, business, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Is super-city opposition super-softening?

31.05.2012

Earlier this month, I attended a session on the potential of a Wellington super-city, and was interested to note that the mood, that was so dead set against one in 2010, had begun to shift. In fact, in the previous month, the outgoing chairman of Price Waterhouse Coopers (I can’t bring myself to write that as a single month), John Shewan, presented a session where he outlined the pros and cons. Super-city is in the Zeitgeist for Wellington now, and where the moves have come from, I don’t know.
   The concerns in Wellington seem to surround the issue of representation, as the popular image of super-city seems to be a tall managerial structure where a super-mayor (God help us if that term is used) sits over earlier structures. I don’t think the Auckland experience has borne this out, but there are definitely concerns over the unfunded community boards, something that Wellington might learn from.
   Judging by the responses from the session, those for a super-city seem to be around the 40 per cent mark, while those sceptical of one hover around 60—and this is a totally unscientific count. But the fact that proponents have moved from under 5 per cent to around 40 in the middle of Mayor Celia Wade-Brown’s first term is probably heartening for the super-camp, who might wish to extrapolate it heading further north come 2013.
   Our table seemed to be more pro- than anti-, and we were the last to report in. I was asked to speak on the table’s behalf and I noted to Garry Poole, CEO of the Wellington City Council, that if there was one thing worse than coming third, it was coming last. However, the efficiency argument held some sway among our participants, and that Auckland itself, according to John’s figures, was forecast to make some real savings in administration. The present system, it might be argued, is flawed anyway (what system isn’t?) so should we really wait till Wellington is in crisis mode before we consider change?
   I did add one note about the efficiency argument, perhaps lost on the audience. I pointed out that Slater Walker, the corporate raiders in Britain of the 1960s, got away with a lot because of the same argument—that its actions were necessary for the efficiency of British industry. As it turned out, it led to the demise of British industry (if I were to generalize). But, as long as we were talking about true efficiencies forced into being through legislation—for getting two councils on to the same software system is hard enough without a concerted effort—then that might be a good thing for ratepayers.
   The popular image of the super-structure might not be that relevant, and this is where technology could serve us for a change. Representation is the biggest concern of those who are against the super-city, so why not adopt technological measures, such as capturing ideas and intel electronically from around the Wellington region, so they can be used by the council? (As in 2010, I maintain that 130,000 voters are far smarter collectively than a single council.) Flatten the structure so mayor and council can hear the concerns of citizens—and keep it flattened, just as we were taught at business school. If Auckland’s biggest mistake was in community board funding, is it possible to investigate how they can remain funded properly here?
   There are way too many issues to discuss in a single blog post, but I’m just flagging some for discussion. What are your feelings out there? Is the mood shifting? Can I stop prefixing words with super-?

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Posted in business, leadership, New Zealand, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Storm in a teacup on tape

23.11.2011

The ‘tea tape’ that’s been on the news for the last week or so seems like, if you’ll pardon the analogy, a storm in a teacup.
   PM John Key and Epsom candidate John Banks invited the media to record them chatting, then dismissed them. One cameraman, Bradley Ambrose, left a recorder on the table. From what I can gather, he did so accidentally. I believe him, and this country, the last I looked, believed in a presumption of innocence. Except when it comes to the internet.
   Unfortunately, the PM didn’t see it that way, and because, by his admission, the police have so much time to investigate matters these days, claimed that the recording was illegal. Four media outlets were searched by police over the matter, and over interviews with Mr Ambrose.
   The PM has his right to advance his opinion and I will defend any citizen’s right to do so. However, I’m not that convinced that both Messrs Key and Banks could expect that their conversation took place in private.
   The submission in court yesterday—the time-worn one of the reasonable person’s expectation that they would be overheard—would have got a nod from me, though Winkelmann J. has declined to rule on the matter.
   Both men are public figures, and while we Kiwis are generally very good at giving people the space they need to chat, it’s reasonable to assume portions of the conversation, though not the whole thing, would be overheard by a bystander, with or without a tape recorder.
   I ran for a much smaller office than the PM and for the duration of the campaign—and even a year before it began—I watched myself over what I talked about in public places. I still do. And I didn’t even win.
   When you put yourself out there, sadly, you sacrifice a little of your privacy. The two Johns have put themselves out there for a lot longer, and with a much greater profile, than I ever had.
   During the campaign, one of my advisers warned me that if I were to chat to any opponent, I must do so in private, because you simply never knew who could hear you. That’s for a local body election. You’d reasonably expect the stakes to be higher for a General Election.
   I am reminded of one private conversation from a public figure that took place in Wellington, which was shared with me by a member of the public. He revealed that that public figure was a potty mouth, complaining about a family member. He was, consequently, shocked to notice that such a discussion would take place in a café setting.
   To me, that’s the typical sort of thing you’d reasonably notice of a recognizable public figure.
   It is only reasonable that we would have been interested in what they had to chat about. If we were there, not as a member of the media, the odd key phrase would have caught our attention. If we walked by, we might have been accidentally picked up a bit ourselves.
   The issue, for me, is whether a recording made of the conversation in its entirety is private—but I think back to the Wellington incident where the member of the public overheard the whole thing.
   If it were anyone who had never run for office, then the reasonable expectation is that the conversation was private. But we are talking about two men who have plenty of experience—and who should know that private conversations take place in private forums. You don’t invite the media along, and once things get sensitive, follow the same rule as with uncomfortable public displays of affection: get a room.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


A whinge about whinging

19.06.2011

I’ve seen this lament on a few more places now: why bother having a comment box?
   We’ve just had someone tell us at Lucire that there is no such person as Princess Catherine. Well done. We all know that technically there is no such person, if one is referring to the wife of Prince William, but was it worth a comment, when common usage overrides the technical aspects of heraldry for publications like ours? (How often did anyone see the Queen Mother referred to as the Princess Albert?) Am I meant to be impressed that someone possesses everyday knowledge, were we expected to succumb to the whinge, or does this simply highlight the writer’s intolerance?
   If in communicating, you create a problem, then you haven’t properly communicated. And in the communication business, Princess William could create a problem.
   Was the writer not alive when the European media insisted upon Lady Di right up until her death, or, for that matter, unaware that Princess Di and Princess Diana became the everyday convention, even though both were technically incorrect? Or did (s)he approach every medium to inform them of Princess Charles?
   A fellow New Zealander ignored the point of one post on this blog to tell me that it’s not Reuter, but Reuters. Funny, considering he and I are roughly the same age, and would have grown up in an age when ‘NZPA/Reuter’ was commonly in our newspapers (and in those days when people read daily dead trees, the form Reuter became conventional in New Zealand). Reuters, as we know it today, long after it formalized its company name, still made products such as Reuter Textline into the 1990s—and given that this person is also in the media, you’d expect he’d know. (Even the Reuter Textline terminals said they were Reuter Textline.)
   The appending of the s to establishments has frequently been a bugbear. Not enough to write to people about (unless one is the Apostrophe Protection Society), but the disappearance of the apostrophe in Harrod’s, Selfridge’s and Debenham’s, and the confusion of the shops that were branded Woolworth in some countries and Woolworths in others, surely would lead to a 2011 where any form is acceptable depending on the experiences of the writer and personal preference. The exception to this, of course, would be a direct citation about the company itself, where presumably one would follow whatever was on the Companies’ Register, in which case the information service would be Thomson Reuters Corp.
   I used to think I was a bit of a smart-arse, but I don’t go around American blogs telling them they misspelled defence (though Americans have quite publicly complained to me in their role as self-appointed guardians of the language), telling people that Prince Harry does not exist, or write to the Financial Times on the continued misuse of the word billion. (Note: milliardaire is very hard to say.)
   I have pet peeves, but I deal with them in my own little world and in my own publications. I make fun of some mistakes out of humour (Font Police surely is evidence), and I will get on my high horse about house styles and spelling when either happens to be the topic. If I’m responding to an article or a blog post, then isn’t it more productive, in furthering knowledge, to address the point, presume reasonable intelligence on the other party’s behalf (till proved otherwise), and not get stuck on minutiæ? Errare est humanum, after all, and no, I never studied Latin.

Incidentally, checking our visitor stats, Princess Catherine is the most searched-for way to refer to the former Kate Middleton after April 29; Duchess of Cambridge is second; and no one to date has searched for Princess William among the 1·1 million monthly pageviews, just as no one searched for Princess Charles to get to stories on our websites in the 1990s. So call all of us common. As long as do not refer to the Queen and Prince Philip as ‘Their Majesties’, which the 43rd American president did, I think we should be given a pass.

BMW 650i Cabriolet launch

Over this last week, the Lucire-mobile has been the BMW 650i Cabriolet, a car I had the honour of seeing at the same time as four press colleagues at its New Zealand launch in March. (LaQuisha Redfern has asked me to note that there is sufficient headroom for 6 ft 5 in drag queens.) Cabriolets do turn heads, even in winter, and I thank whomever it was for writing a note that made me smile and leaving it under a windscreen wiper: ‘Nice ride, Jack.’
   The car buff question here is: would I have received the same note in the previous-generation 6-series?

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, humour, internet, marketing, media, New Zealand, publishing, UK, USA | 3 Comments »


Be vigilant and don’t look

13.02.2011

This most recent trip to Auckland was marked by plenty of drama. The first experience was getting a virus the second I hooked up to the internet. The second was, having accidentally bumped the light into beam in my rent-a-Falcon on Ponsonby Road, a very interesting gentleman in a Toyota Picnic in the next lane flipped the bird, shouted, ‘You f***ing idiot, you’ve got your f***ing beam on,’ and proceeded to swerve his car into mine, then cut me off in my lane, before running a red light. The dude was angry. Running red lights seems to be commonplace there, having witnessed an average of one incident per diem, and once again, I seemed to receive confirmation that the page on intersection block is missing from the Auckland edition of the Road Code. (This last one has haunted me for years: every time I leave the gap in the intersection, my Auckland passengers consistently say, ‘I can tell you’re not from here.’)
   I know the strange motoring habits of Auckland I report are isolated examples as I have not really seen too much of this extreme behaviour on my previous trips. There are some oddities such as the inefficient motorway, where no lane is the quickest one, or the fact that travelling at 10 km/h above the speed limit is de rigueur, but then, you find quirks here in Wellington with our one-way system and less than clever signposting (which has, in our defence, improved).
   The reason I make these remarks is a concern where it will all lead. An Auckland friend, who was a witness to the Toyota Picnic’s driver’s extreme sense of drama (I wonder: what more does he do when something bad actually happens?), once said to me that he was surprised that in Wellington, a person spotting a friend on the opposite side of the road would shout out to him.
   Apparently, this does not happen in Auckland.
   So if the everyday gesture of friendship in society is now deemed inappropriate in our largest city, what is next? Could it be this?

London Underground, no eye contact

   These signs were not around last time I visited London, and I had to head to Duck Duck Go to search whether it was just a joke. A few people have reported them, so either they are connected by prima facie unrelated individuals who are coordinating a clever marketing campaign, or they are genuine.
   If genuine, then this is a sign that civilization has left Great Britain faster than the gold reserves under Gordon Brown’s watch.
   I’ve made eye contact with strangers before on the Tube in a friendly fashion, given up my seat for ladies and insisted they take it (they usually react as though it is a prank), and joked with friends and noticed Londoners chuckle at our conversation.
   (Female New Yorkers, incidentally, are still flattered that a gentleman gives up his seat on the Subway, and the elderly are always grateful. In Paris, meanwhile, giving up your seat to the elderly is expected, as well as to members of the armed forces.)
   The latest Underground sign makes me wonder if London has descended into the world of Harry Brown, where making eye contact with someone will lead to a fight. I suspect such signs have been put up after incidents of eye contact leading to violence. And that means the most basic aspect of human civilization—the ability to refrain—is now lost on an increasing number of citizens in the occident.
   It seems to run counter to the expectation that people stay vigilant, on the look-out for suspected terrorists, after years of the Troubles and, more recently, July 7, 2005. If you don’t look, how do you know?
   ‘I’m sorry, guv, I never got a look at his face. I can tell you he was wearing Doc Martens. Shoes with Martin Clunes’s image transferred on to them.’
   I think it’s a cautionary warning that if we don’t teach our own lot to get some perspective on life—a high beam on a car is not the end of the world, Mr Picnic—we’re looking at cities that are going to reflect the lack of civility that this sign suggests.
   What an appalling advertisement for modern Britain, undoing anything that the Tourist Authority might wish to do. It’s as bad as Britain’s apartheid policy.

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Posted in culture, France, New Zealand, UK | 6 Comments »


Paul Henry is only the tip of the redneck iceberg

08.10.2010

Yesterday, I began watching the Indian media get hold of the Paul Henry story. Indians are, rightly, up in arms with the TV host’s insult of Chief Minister Smt. Sheila Dikshit’s name—this, plus the incident questioning whether Governor-General HE Sir Anand Satyanand was a New Zealander, shows a pattern where Henry thinks poorly of people with Indian ethnicity.
   The Indian people might want to know that the insults to their people are not restricted to Mr Henry: his colleague Paul Holmes has been rubbishing New Delhi and India in the weeks leading up to the Commonwealth Games, using the fact that few New Zealanders have been there, and pushing unfair stereotypes about hygiene. Mr Henry is also not alone in making fun of Chief Minister Dikshit’s name, with sportscasters giggling about it like children.
   Henry has received the flak because he perhaps had more of a profile, and is already down after the comments about Sir Anand. Isolated incidents we can probably forgive. But, collectively, it shows our media still have plenty of representatives from the redneck sections of our society—and I am happy to tar those members with the same brush as the one I have used on Henry. Right now, I hope there are many broadcasters feeling at least a little shame for joking about the Chief Minister’s name.
   And we wonder why politics is under-represented in New Zealand by minorities, how Parliament—or even the local body elections that I contested—do not reflect our rich cultural mixture. This week, we did not have to look very far: one of our institutions, the fourth estate, is quite prepared to treat Chief Minister Dikshit with little respect; and one of its members is willing to imply that a Governor-General, who speaks with a New Zealand accent, does not sound ‘like a New Zealander’ because he has Indian roots.
   It’s not as though we begin on the best footing when we go to India. When I spoke in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, two years ago, one question asked of me by a member of the local business community was why New Zealand had cooperated with China over free trade prior to considering India as a trading partner. I answered him frankly, ‘Follow the money.’ To me, even being someone of Chinese ethnicity, I see benefits working with India, with its proficiency in English, its common law heritage, and its respect for intellectual property. Of course China is important—but not at the exclusion of a fellow Commonwealth country. The gentleman justifiably felt India had been sold out.
   The Indian Government has rightly summoned our High Commissioner asking for an explanation. Our nation has had to apologize to India for Paul Henry. Yet one thing remains very clear to the Indians: Paul Henry is a civil servant working for state television. Words are not going to mean an awful lot to Indians, if they are not backed up by action by our government. Read between the lines of the Ministry of External Affairs’ official protest: they want him fired. Their words:

It is hoped that the government of New Zealand would take immediate demonstrative action against the said individual to send out a clear signal that such behaviour is totally unacceptable.

They mean that a 14-day suspension isn’t going to cut it. And that was for the Sir Anand issue, not for the Sheila Dikshit humiliation.
   Having been to India, I know the industry of the Indian people—and I know that they can do whatever they put their minds to. If they begin crying boycott, we are in such trouble that even a smile from the Prime Minister cannot cover.
   Paul Henry has done one good thing: expose some of the unacceptable thinking that he and others harbour. But just as Sir Peter Jackson strengthened our national image, one man has now weakened our country’s image as a progressive, multicultural and embracing nation.
   TVNZ, which has flip-flopped between defending Henry and giving him a light slap on the wrist, needs to do more soul-searching than CEO Rick Ellis, or Henry sympathizer and spokeswoman Andi Brotherston, has done so far. Does the network truly condone this sort of behaviour? A mere suspension, and the use of the Dikshit clip for days after the Sir Anand affair, are saying that it does. And in such a case, Paul Henry is being unfairly targeted as the sole offender: the circumstantial evidence is that TVNZ has a far sicker culture than even I had imagined.
   To think: usually, I go abroad holding my head up high because I come from New Zealand. People are willing to help me out because they respect our nation. I’m going to brace myself for a much harder time when next working in India, because some of our country’s less palatable members have been able to get away with pushing their agenda for too long.
   I initially thought that the Facebook page demanding a TVNZ boycott was going too far, given that there are responsible TVNZ staff, too. However, I have not watched a single second of TVNZ programming this week, as an unconscious decision. (Commonwealth Games coverage on Prime has helped.) Maybe the supporters of that Facebook page have a point, because as the days pass, and there continues to be inaction from TVNZ, it is becoming apparent that more heads need to roll. My idea of getting Henry to meet with the New Zealand Indian Central Association is looking more meaningless by the day.

Image credit: Map of India by Umesh Rai.

PS.: TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston has tendered her resignation.JY

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Posted in business, culture, India, media, New Zealand, politics, TV | 5 Comments »