Personal Elsewhere

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HERALDING A NEW CAREER: And who are you?

28 May 2023  |  6 min read  |  1

I no more expected to be a journalist than I did being a teacher. But there I was in 1987 leaving a teaching career after about 12 years in classrooms to start as a senior feature writer at the New Zealand Herald. Journalism had some distant appeal, largely because I'd loved Lou Grant on television and a newsroom seemed a cool place to work. But it wasn't journalism so much as just... > Read more

THE BREAKDOWN: The sound of lives falling apart

21 May 2023  |  4 min read  |  4

We were away when it happened but watched it from a distance. It was early 2022 and even in Sweden and Scotland the unravelling of our distant country was evident: the screaming and shouting, accusations and anger, schisms and divisions, inchoate rage, smoke and fires . . . By the time we got back in April after three months away it was to a country we didn't recognise: ram raids,... > Read more

MADRID AND BARCELONA: Putting in the hard yards for art's sake

14 May 2023  |  6 min read

We should expect to suffer for our art. God knows I have for mine -- although standing in the rain outside Madrid's famous art gallery the Prado on a bitterly cold day might just have be taking it too far. It was. I quit the queue and headed back to my tiny hotel room for a warm shower, then jumped puddles to the nearby bar where I cheerfully wasted both myself and a wet Sunday. That... > Read more

A CLASS ACT: Kicked out of school on the first day

7 May 2023  |  2 min read  |  1

I never intended being a teacher. But there is my name in the list of graduates of North Shore Teachers College at the end of 1973. Not a career I chose but . . . I'd been kicked out of Auckland Uni for “failure to make satisfactory progress”, which was hardly surprising. With no career advice at all from my school – which didn't have such a thing as careers... > Read more

A CITY IN PERIL: But who's to blame?

3 May 2023  |  4 min read

One golden afternoon in August, coming back from the Arsenal district of Venice by vaporetto, I saw it looming up behind the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Salute: an enormous, gleaming white cruise ship perhaps 10-storeys high. And in that moment, standing on the vaporetto with dozens of other tourists, I recognised the problem all around me. Like the many millions who visit... > Read more

COME STAI, NEW YORK?: Eat, drink and smoke 'em if you got 'em

30 Apr 2023  |  2 min read

New York City in the mid Nineties and we – my then-partner Jenni and I – are staying in a cheap but serviceable hotel downtown. It's noisy at night with car alarms constantly going off but it is just around the corner from Chinatown and Little Italy, where we want to be. I do some interviews (notably Ornette Coleman), see some gigs (in the original Knitting Factory, the Blue... > Read more

BOOK 'EM: Reid, all about it

27 Apr 2023  |  4 min read

About a fortnight after I took over as editor of the Herald's Books pages in the early Nineties, I was approached by Terry Snow of the Listener offering me the Arts Editor job. It was tempting but . . . In addition to the Books pages (reviews, editorial by me, interviews and so on), I was also immersed in the Herald's Entertainment pages and writing most of the stories and interviews.... > Read more

WHEELS KEEP TURNING: More to life than cars and girls?

23 Apr 2023  |  6 min read  |  1

A couple of weeks ago a strange sound came from our modest Mazda Demio so I confidently popped the bonnet. As I stood looking at the unfamiliar coils of metal and rubber it occurred to me it had been over a year since I had needed to peer into that mysterious engine -- and probably four decades since I knew what I was looking for in there. When I was at school -- approximately the time... > Read more

NGA TRANG BY NIGHT: The long lonely sea

16 Apr 2023  |  2 min read

It happened in the coastal town of Nga Trang in southern Vietnam. It happened at a time before the place became awash with monied tourists and big hotels. And it happened the same night I had spent with Mama Thiu whose sad story I have told here. After I left her, I walked to the beach and in the absence of much ground light the sky was heavily dusted with stars and the moon shone... > Read more

WHEN STARS ALIGN: Fame is not contagious

9 Apr 2023  |  3 min read  |  1

Not to put tickets on myself, as the Australians say, but I've met Arnold Schwarzenegger twice. The first time was in Hollywood when he was in a round-table with a composed George Clooney, the beautiful Uma Thurman who had a hacking smoker's cough and the upcoming young star Chris O'Donnell. It was for the awful Batman and Robin movie. Also at the small table for the interview were... > Read more

STRANGE CUSTOMS: Yep, packed it myself sir

2 Apr 2023  |  4 min read

My father always used to say that, as far we know, we’re only here once so we might as well look around. And so I have -- with increasing urgency as I have become older. I call it cramming for my finals. You never know, there might be a God who could ask, “So, what did you enjoy most in the world I created for you?” So my passports have carried stamps from China and the... > Read more

LAUGH ACTUALLY: Chinese philosophy and me

26 Mar 2023  |  3 min read

When I studied Chinese Philosophy at the University of Auckland I was at a disadvantage. After a young European woman bailed in week two I was the only non-Chinese student in the small class – about a dozen of us – and the lovely professor (Chinese, of course) would sometime lapse into excited Mandarin for a few sentences which went straight past me. I also seemed to be... > Read more

GETTING HIGH IN CHINA: Don't look down

19 Mar 2023  |  2 min read

To be honest, I didn't know it at the time, all I knew was I was incredibly high. It was at the borders of Guizhou and Yunnan provinces in the western China and on the bridge spanned the Beipan River valley below. Way, way below. More than 550 metres below in fact, that's higher than the Empire State Building. Beipanjiang – sometimes called Duge Bridge – is the highest... > Read more

THE LOOK OF MEMORIES: India in the rearview mirror

12 Mar 2023  |  2 min read

In early 1970, when I was 18, my dad and I were flying back to New Zealand from a few weeks around England and Scotland. We stopped off for a few days in beautiful Beirut (this was just before the civil war destroyed large tracts of it) and then flew on to Calcutta (Kolkata these days). Just as we were descending the pilot pulled up and announced we couldn't land so were flying on to the... > Read more

Khwaab, by Niraj Chag

SHOTS FROM ALL SIDES: The art of sensible souveniring

5 Mar 2023  |  2 min read  |  2

Many decades ago when I was traveling in interesting places I would sometimes spend time in record stores. What a waste. When I could have been at odd museums, wonderful art galleries, interesting bars or simply seeing beguiling sights (and sites), I would be flicking through boxes thinking, “got it, got it, don't want it, hmmm but it's expensive, got it, wow but it's not... > Read more

LEAVING THE HERALD: Good-bye to all that

26 Feb 2023  |  4 min read

Aside from the speeches, a big card and drinks at the Shakespeare Tavern afterwards, I don't remember much about my last day at the Herald in late 2004. But I can certainly remember why I left after 17 years. The Herald was very good to me. When asked about it I would tell people that it was like going to university and studying a new course every week. You had to pick up a topic and... > Read more

THE TRUTH ABOUT TAIWAN: The room I might die in

19 Feb 2023  |  13 min read

In 2001 I traveled to Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, on serious Herald business. The background was interesting: the Kuomintang party (KMT) which was mired in corruption (“black gold” in the local parlance) had governed for 50 years but had recently lost the election to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party). I suggested to my editor someone – me – should go up... > Read more

WINDOWS ON WORLDS: Just point and shoot

12 Feb 2023  |  2 min read

I can't remember when I started doing it, but certainly in 1995 when I first went to Vietnam – the year after it opened itself to foreign tourists – I was taking a photo out the window of every room I stayed in. On a few occasions there hasn't been a window – an underground backpackers in Stockholm, a death-trap dump in Taipei – and certainly there were some views... > Read more

NO WAIT AROUND MY NECK: A lanyard in the works

5 Feb 2023  |  2 min read  |  1

I can't recall how it started but it probably happened like this: I came home from some event and hung it on a hook in the corner of a room. And the next time was probably much the same, a kind of unthinking action. The result of years of doing that means that in a corner of my office I have about 200 lanyards from various concerts, festivals, events, meetings, exclusive film screenings... > Read more


29 Jan 2023  |  3 min read  |  1

In mid-2009 as we were preparing to leave for a trip to London, Liverpool, Scotland and Ireland we got a distressing phone call. It came from Chris Knox's partner Barbara who told us Chris had had a stroke. As soon as he was in a state to see visitors – a couple of days later – we went to the hospital. Chris was paralyzed down the right side (he was right-handed) and had... > Read more