Friday, June 5, 2009
On a cold Thursday night, people normally have better things to do, like watch television, huddle under the covers, crank the heater up to eleven and dream of Summer; however, for a political junkie like myself, the prospect of meeting the current front runner for the Mt Albert electorate was too good a opportunity to pass up and so I battled the cold, waltzed two streets over to my friendly neighbour’s house for what those in political circles call a “cottage meeting.”
Being that this was my first journey into a cottage meeting there was a certain amount of trepidation I felt as I turned up at the house - being the first person to arrive shows a level of keenness that most people find hard to understand. I was greeted courteously at the door by two people, one was Paul Chalmers, a friend of David Shearer’s, an active Labour party member and someone who ran for Labour in Whangarei in 2005 and 2008 - both times losing by a substantial margin.
“Come on in,” he said, followed by the words, “we have another body,” said in jest as he looked over at his friend Ainsley, who offered me a cup of tea. I was shown my seat on a plush red couch and asked about my political affiliations; this much I expected but what I didn’t expect was to be the youngest person at the meeting, and the only person not wearing Labour colours. Ten minutes passed as the impending arrival of David seemed to be an unlikely event - he was fifteen minutes late. But just as I was swallowing my last sip of tea he arrived dressed in tight-ish black jeans and a grey Kathmandu polar fleece - if there is one thing that can be said about David Shearer, it is that he certainly knows how dress casually. Handshakes were dispensed and Shearer was offered a cup of tea, which he takes black and weak, “the weaker the better,” he said as he was handed a birthday card to sign by Paul - apparently Phil Goff had already signed it. Then after taking time to sign the card Shearer shook my hand and sat down next to me as dips, sandwiches, fudge and crackers were placed on the coffee table in front of us. The one thing that struck me about Shearer was the incredibly relaxed attitude he seemed to exude: after this meeting there was another meeting he had to go to in Sandringham to discuss Plunket, which he admitted to being ill prepared for as well as nervous, he laughed and shrugged his shoulders in a way that the under-achieving generation Y chromosomes in me responded to affectionately.
I felt myself warming to Shearer, but then remembering the man next to me is a hopeful politician I cranked my cynicism up a little and opened my ears in the hope of catching him faking it. Three more people arrived and suddenly the lounge seemed a lot smaller. Paul Chalmers lead the conversation into the right avenues, the talking points of the electorate: the super city, the 1.4 billion dollar - un-costed - motorway National is proposing, the Westfield mall expansion, pollution around Meola Creek, what the electorate is saying, the National agenda to get their hands on the 28 Billion dollars in assets Auckland holds: water, ports, the Auckland Airport et al. Shearer described the super-city process as rushed with conflicts of interests arising from the “tight five” business elite composed board not having any accountability - except to Rodney Hide. Shearer then went on to describe the super-city as a “good thing for Labour,” and an, “albatross” for National. Then came an explanation on how the super-city was supposed to function; I went dizzy from the confusion I was experiencing from trying to understand all the ins and outs of the plan but managed to pick up the bottom line costs that would be associated with it: $700 per bill payer for the transitionary council, plus the costs associated with running for Mayor, $150,000 to $200,000 to do the simplest of campaign mail outs.
After the main talking points were hit the conversation was skewed to student allowances, training allowances, scholarships and grants, all of which had Shearer saying, “I don’t know, but Labour was committed to a Universal Student Allowance in 2012,” then the conversation moved to Shearer and why he had moved back to Auckland for the Mt Albert electorate, what followed was a carbon copy of his statement before he received the Labour nomination. This is where I noticed what I interpreted as a sense of insecurity. As Shearer’s eyes darted around the room occasionally fumbling over his answer his eyes always returned to mine; I felt that he was very unsure of his answer and he was looking at me to for some sort of validation or approval that he was getting it right. It was an odd experience to say the least, and then as he wrapped up his answer someone asked, “How are we doing out there David?” And with that, I saw some other emotions, anxiety and fear, which surprised me - especially after learning Labour supporters were flying in from all over the country to help with the final push, twenty students were flying up from Dunedin, people were flying up from Wellington, add to that the incredible presence of young Labour on the streets and you'll understand my surprise. Shearer shrugged his shoulders and said, “Um… well… we… honestly we don’t know what’s going to happen. Russel might take a few votes off us, we really don’t know.” I looked around the room to see if anyone else was surprised to hear that kind of doubt coming from a Shearer, the front runner, the odds on favourite, but the question of why he wanted to go into politics was asked, of course the clichéd answer of “wanting to make a difference” was offered, and then it was more smiles and handshakes as Shearer made his way to leave. There was a quick photo with all the guests next to Shearer - I tried to take a photo but unfortunately Shearer was going to have to rush to get to the next meeting on time - and then he disappeared along with everyone else.
I’ve met a few politicians in my time, but none have ever struck me as being human. Helen Clark was an impenetrable woman, Phil Goff is almost alien like, but Shearer - possibly, because he hasn’t been in politics long - seems to exude a true commonality that I imagine many people will notice and gravitate towards. I can see Shearer being a very important MP for the Labour party and can imagine him rising up the ranks very quickly; although the level of humility he has wouldn’t allow him to admit that before the by-election is done and dusted, and he knows just as his friend Paul said that, “one can’t expect all this attention to last.”
Monday, June 1, 2009
Long weekend's for someone of my age bracket tend to be a cliched affair of booze filled late night's, domestic travel to a rural area - which triples in size upon my arrival - parties and bands, which are all followed by the inevitable Monday morning hangover combined with a sense of failure for not doing those pesky tax returns, for being broke at the start of the week, for wishing you had done something worthwhile; and as the day goes on, reality eventually pierces through the smell of stale tobacco and mildew and one comes to the realization that the bill for their weekend extravagance is yet to be paid: the empties need to recycled, the kitchen needs to be cleaned, the house needs to be aired out and vacuumed, plus the preparation for the entry level job - if one is lucky enough to have one - has to be done: the brutal, menial task of washing clothes, the buying of cheap convenience foods, the returning of video tapes, and as the fog of the mind begins to lift one comes to the conclusion that, "I'm too old to be doing this," or the question, if one is being particularly reflective, "is this really what I want to do with my life, is this all there is?" which is always followed by the exclamation, "I'm never drinking again!"
My weekend has been a kind of anti-long weekend, the bare minimum of alcohol consumption, the smallest amount of correspondence between friends, the sojourn outside my warm room into the dirty, cold, empty streets of Auckland was done only to engulf some culture. The Academy has a rather good documentary on graffiti art called, "AlterEgo," showing right now and I highly recommend the documentary to any art lover, or anyone looking to get a further insight into one of the most oft' talked about art forms of this century. I was expecting a superficial look at the world of graffiti but was surprised to get an international, all encompassing look at graffiti with some rather interesting theories, our own Askew, some incredible graffiti coming from Brazil, and Berlin - which seems to be over run with graffiti. The doco touches briefly of tagging, and whilst it posits a particularly slanted and un-objective view, it actually makes the viewer reappraise their understanding of tagging and why it exists. There's some amazing artists on the documentary like DAIM, whose work shown in the last photo, SMASH 137, who has a website www.smash137.net showing all his work, and finally Herbert Baglione, who is an incredibly interesting artist that uses an ordinary brush and paint for his street art and has just had a few gallery exhibitions, of which, a sample of his work is shown in the photos above. The trailer for AlterEgo is below but go for a google of the artists I just mentioned and have a look around.
At the Academy screening of AlterEgo there was also a short doco called "Sand Dancer," which is awfully made, and contains no real information, but does have images of some amazing work by Christchurch sand artist Peter Donnelly, check it out below.