More tea, vicar?

While Labourites continue to fixate on the weighty issue of which poor Buggins should try to lead them, the Nats have dusted off their momentarily-stalled agenda and bounded back into the legislative fray with gleeful gusto.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which would have passed its final hurdle in the last parliament if John Banks hadn’t been such a naughty boy, promises to tinker around the edges of employment law and inject some workplace flexibility and choice; or, it’s another vicious slap in the face for workers’ rights. Pop on your red or blue shirt, pick your side and join in the fight.

Predictably, because it makes for good cheesy headlines (even I couldn’t help myself), the media have focused on one aspect: the threat to that sacred shibboleth of the laconic, hardworking Kiwi – the morning smoko. And it’s not even a smoko these days unless you’re prepared to stand in the rain. The 10 minute tea-break, like the kiwi, is now endangered. Except, of course, it’s not. Employers must provide “reasonable compensatory measures”, which could be anything, ’tis true. But in most workplaces, common sense and flexibility will probably prevail, as it probably has under the current regulations.

Tradies prefer Royal Dulton - and it has to be Yorkshire Tea.
Tradies prefer Royal Dulton – and it has to be Yorkshire Tea.

This is no mere storm in a teacup for the left, though, who have turned all their water pistols on the rest break changes – you can sign the petition here. The trouble is, this is risibly easy for National to bat away, given their current levels of popularity. And if the worst comes to the worst, John Key can just smilingly step in to save the smoko for plucky Kiwis, while the rest of the proposals, which are more concerning, sail through into law.

I’m not going to analyse these changes in tedious detail, as other sites have done so far better than I could, suffice to say that a leading employment lawyer concludes that while it hardly mirrors Franco in 1939 or Hitler in 1933, it certainly “shifts the balance of power towards employers and away from unions”. In short, collective bargaining will get tougher for unions and employees, and there are more obstacles to negotiate before any industrial action.

The indignation and polarised views of both sides have been so tediously predictable. Neither side can ever ‘win’ the perennial conflict between labour and capital. In any co-dependent, two-horse race, too much success one way will inevitably result in a backlash: hell, the Kiwis finally got one over the Kangaroos after a long enough wait.

The stereotype of the union firebrand, incapable of using his inside voice, and strutting the picket line like a peacock in a donkey jacket, has ossified among the public; but this is because the only time we hear about unions is when they are embroiled in industrial strife. Ditto the corpulent, ruthless boss. Most of the time, relations are civil and cordial, and negotiation rarely becomes protracted and nasty. And a union does much more than rant about pay – it ought to be (and certainly is, in the case of my own) an advocate for individual members, and a source of ideas for better work practice, health and safety and more.

It's not your money or labour I'm after, it's your pies.
It’s not your money or your labour I’m after, it’s your pies.

In Germany, union representatives even sit on company boards. Stop laughing at the back there – it’s true! And here is the issue in New Zealand. There is a historic lack of trust from both sides of the divide which merely prolongs the pendulum of legislation swinging from one side to the other as the government changes. Perhaps it’s time for this adversarial attitude to stop: I’m not holding my breath. While the PPTA are about to nod through the government’s Investing In Educational Success programme (in which a right-wing government appears to be offering a sizeable number of teachers the opportunity to increase their salaries), the NZEI has rejected them outright. And do you remember the petulance of NZ Bus when they responded to a threat by the Auckland bus drivers’ union to work to rule? They simply locked them out completely, in a fine fit of petulant grandstanding, and to hell with the hapless commuters. The silliness is not confined to one side.

If there were any comments on this blog, those of a right persuasion would argue that this is all very well, but it’s the unions that have to change, and the left would say the opposite. QED. There is a grown-up, joined-up approach to industrial relations, but these laws (and too many stakeholders) don’t have the balls to consider that.


Last orders, Jesse

Jesse Ryder rode into town. Jesse Ryder clobbered a century. Off 39 balls. Jesse Ryder likes a drink or two as well. Or several. He has been known to break a window or two reaching for another beer, accidentally. Or on purpose. He’s a renegade, but a supremely talented one. A bad boy but an entertainer.

Enough with the wayward genius clichés. There’s a Jesse Ryder-shaped hole at the top of New Zealand’s limited overs order, and the man who could fill it keeps mullering the ball to all corners of the park. His relentless form and bumptious self-confidence would surely be a huge asset to a good NZ team, but one which still feels to be dangerous outsiders at best. The World Cup favourites served up another challenging total at the Mount. Last wicket heroics aside, it never looked like being chased. If Ryder had set up the chase with a frenetic 50 at the start, who knows?

Jeez, I'm misunderstood: my favourite shot is actually the delicate nurdle to fine leg.
Jeez, I’m misunderstood: my favourite shot is actually the delicate nurdle to fine leg.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem likely. Unlike Kevin Pietersen, whose desire to play for England has never abated, but whose toxic ructions with fellow players and coaches over the years has led to his downfall, Ryder’s exile is in many respects self-imposed. While he has endured numerous suspensions due to alcohol-related issues, the pressure of top-level cricket has never been an easy mantle to bear.

In 2012, he opted out of international cricket, in an effort to get his emotional and mental state back on track. He also lost weight. Yet a successful return to domestic colours was blighted by a horrific assault outside a Christchurch bar, and then he was later suspended for unwittingly taking a banned substance as part of a weight-loss supplement. His woes have been misfortune and misdemeanour in equal parts.

However, Mark Reason and other pundits have bemoaned the inflexibility of coach Mike Hesson and captain Brendon McCullum, and the anal modern team ethos which supposedly dictates that players must subsume their individuality for the greater good of the team. Tellingly, such articles end up by pitying the poor paying punters who are bereft of another sporting entertainer.

Except I think they are missing the point. I suspect Jesse may just be reluctant ever to play for NZ again. He is probably aware of the effect the added pressure has on his brittle self-control. Ryder turned down the option of playing in the North v South match due to domestic commitments, and he has signed a Big Bash T20 deal for January which further reduces his availability for Black Caps duties. And questions really have to be asked of a guy, who after a moderately successful ODI series against India last summer, had the opportunity to replace an injured Ross Taylor for the deciding Test match. Ryder, alas, rolled in at 3am on the morning of the first day. Lessons clearly had not been learned.

Without wishing to twist the knife further, a closer examination of his record suggests he does not necessarily deserve the marquee player status the New Zealand public have bestowed on him. His all-rounder credentials have always been a myth: in ODIs, the only format which suits his rather innocuous dobblies, he has just 12 wickets in 48 matches at an unhelpful economy rate of 6.08. As for his explosive batting, well, his stats put him on a par with his rivals, but no more. He averages 33.21 in ODIs. The much-maligned Martin Guptill, his main rival for the opener slot, averages 38.33 over nearly twice as long a career.

There have undoubtedly been moments of majesty and brilliance, but on reflection the majority of these have been for Wellington, or Otago, or in the Big Bash. He has been a hero for Essex in 2014, but they are in the English 2nd Division. Give Ryder the less-pressured atmosphere of domestic cricket, and he is often irresistibly good. Deep down, he may well know that the step up to international level is just too much for him, hence his drinking and his doubts.

We often fail to appreciate that there can be a stark contrast between the on and off field personae of sportspeople. We expect Ryder to be a boisterous chap because his batting is, well, boisterous. Yet he is rather quiet and gentle, by all accounts, and undoubtedly a sensitive soul whose upbringing was far from settled. Mitchell Johnson is another player whose snarling aggression with ball in hand is the total opposite of his general shy demeanour away from cricket. Michael Vaughan put it best when he said that Kevin Pietersen just needed a hug and a reassurance about his ability from time to time, despite his brimming self-confidence and swaggering ego.

Who does not fantasise about Ryder bludgeoning his way to a blistering ton at the MCG in the World Cup Final in March? Yet although many have tried to reassure Ryder and keep him on the straight and narrow over the years, the chances of him enjoying such a career-making finale get slimmer by the day.

When celebs go bad

The petition against Ched Evans is at 153,000 and counting. As a footballer convicted of rape, he has already plumbed a particularly low circle of hell in the eyes of many – and is proof to some that the violent misogyny of his sport’s more odious exponents and fans is alive and well. Pundits on both sides of the ideological divide have weighed in with their tuppence-worth, and there is not a skerrick of pity for his plight: the Telegraph is dismissive of the feeble argument being put forward by his few supporters that, having done his time (well, half of it), he should be entitled to the same rehabilitation into employment as any other ex-prisoner; Hadley Freeman in the Guardian similarly scoffs at his breathtaking lack of contrition, managing to excoriate him alongside Oscar Pistorius’s crocodile tears.

But what will happen to my all my endorsements now?
But what will happen to all my endorsements and sponsorships now?

And it is hard to disagree. His victim was deemed so drunk as to be incapable of giving consent, and even were one to accept his protestations to the contrary, his actions were a very long way from classy. Rape convictions are notoriously difficult to secure anyway, and the facts of his case do not look good. Furthermore, although friends, fans and relatives have set up a supportive website, others have kept up a torrent of online abuse and threats towards his victim. Charming. As a privileged, richly-rewarded professional and hero to many adoring fans, it would be monumentally stupid and the quintessential PR own goal for his former club Sheffield United to re-employ him. Of course he should not be punished beyond his sentence (although his victim will doubtless feel otherwise), but that does not entitle him to the perks and accolades of a footballer. There are countless other careers he can pursue with youth on his side in anonymity.

And yet, I feel the tiniest shred of sympathy for Evans. Not because I believe his declaration of innocence, but because of a curious inconsistency that seems to be displayed when famous people are guilty of serious or repugnant crimes. Remember Leslie Grantham – Dirty Den from Eastenders? His roguish charm made him a housewives’ hit in the 80s. Yet he was sentenced to life for murdering a taxi driver while stationed as a teenage soldier in West Germany in 1966. He was released in 1977 and then forged his successful acting career. He has always refused to discuss his crime in interviews but has never suffered any real opprobrium from the public since his convictions came to light.

Perhaps Grantham gets a pass because he did not abuse his fame in committing his crime, and indeed battled to make the transition from ex-con to actor. Then there is the case of Plymouth Argyle goalkeeper, Luke McCormick, if it’s further footballing shame you are looking for. He killed two young boys in 2008 while speeding on the motorway, and was well over the drink-drive limit. Yet there was no petition against him, and he resurrected his mediocre football career soon after his release from prison. He was, however, extremely remorseful in court.

So if the requirements are remorse or forgiveness for the sins of one’s youth, where on earth does that leave film luminary Roman Polanski? He was neither young (43) nor remorseful, but he was certainly stupid. His scandalous behaviour towards a 13-year-old girl whom he had invited to a ‘photo shoot’ and allegedly plied with champagne and drugs led to him becoming one of the longest-running fugitives from US justice: Julian Assange is a pygmy of a pariah in comparison. And yet, apart from a tricky period of house arrest when he strayed into Switzerland to pick up an award, his freedom has never seriously been threatened in the intervening decades. Nor has there ever been any orchestrated show of disgust from the general public. And when there has, Hollywood has gone solidly into bat for him; the most risible ‘defence’ was Whoopi Goldberg’s assertion that it wasn’t rape-rape, just rape. So that’s OK then.

A feminist icon. Except when she's not.
A feminist icon. Except when she’s not.

I wouldn’t dare to contradict the feminist memo that there is no lesser form of rape. But Polanski’s crimes (with a minor) and subsequent behaviour – jumping bail, fleeing to France and escaping extradition – seem objectively worse than Evans’s. Not only has he apparently got off scot-free, but his directing career has blossomed and made him into a sort of cinematic elder statesman. Friends in high places, then. Indeed, while all the LA glitterati purr their praises for his towering achievements in film, Ched Evans’s mates and loyal fans are just standing by their man too, although somewhat less articulately. But as just another chavvy footballer, his brand of ‘entertainment’ every Saturday at Bramhall Lane is hardly in Polanski’s echelon.

And there’s the rub. Perhaps if Evans were to pen a Shakespearian adaptation for film, the petition would be quietly shelved. None of this offers any mitigation to Evans, of course. Fans who might point to the likes of Polanski are merely engaging in first-rate whataboutery. He should never play professional football again. But it does highlight a human willingness to overlook the misdemeanours of some famous lights, and hound and castigate others, for the most capricious of reasons. When those we know personally or admire from afar are found guilty, perhaps there are times when we should question our instinctive rush to defend, deny or ignore.

The politics of delusion

Roll up! Roll up! The Labour circus caucus is coming soon to a town near you. Now the dust has settled on their disastrous election, it’s been encouraging to see Labour mend their broken fences, unite behind a new face and focus on taking the fight to National.

Well, er, that should have been the plan. But the leadership contest has become a soap opera all of its own. So…Dave C puts his hat in the ring, shortly followed by Grant. Then Dave P steps up to the plate. Everyone’s wondering whether Dave S will too. And while we’re all wondering about one Dave, the other Dave – Dave C – pulls out, but only after Little Andy has joined the fray. Dave C backs Little Andy. Then Dave S says he’s definitely not going to stand after all, but he has a parting shot for Dave C and suggests that he should quit politics and not destabilise whoever is elected. This raises the hackles of someone called Nanaia Mahuta and she stands because none of the other candidates are wimmin or brown or Dave C. Or something.

Nanaia Ma - who - ta?
Nanaia Ma – who – ta?

Christ. Make it stop. Please. It was getting ridiculous enough before Mahuta’s bizarre late entry. Ostensibly, she took umbrage at ‘closet Tory’ David Shearer’s perfectly valid suggestion that the one guy who has done more damage to Labour’s brand since Roger Douglas might be better off leaving the scene. Mahuta is a loyal Silent T acolyte. But why throw your hat in the ring, after the boss has endorsed Andrew Little? Then I had a think, and without wishing to sound cynical – although I am very cynical when it comes to politics – this feels like another tactical assault on Robertson’s bid from Darth Cunliffe and his gang. You see, Robertson was nominated and seconded by Kris Fa’afoi and Rino Tirakatene. This was doubtless an attempt to appeal for support from Maori and Pacific caucus members and activists, given that Cunliffe enjoyed such wide appeal among the party rank and file.

The entry of Little, a former union boss, and now Mahuta, who could well hoover up most of the Maori and Pacific caucus and membership, make the numbers much more difficult for Robertson. Mahuta has no real chance, and Parker has always come across as too quiet. Little is probably now the favourite, but if he continues with the same overly leftist vein as Cunliffe, then John Key is probably looking at four terms.

The Class of 2014: not particularly dissimilar to the class of 2011.
The Class of 2014: not particularly dissimilar to the class of 2011.

Yet while Labour delude themselves that anyone else cares about their bickering and wrangling, National seem to be embracing a different kind of delusion. We are now on the UN Security Council. The groundwork may well have been laid by Helen Clark, but Key will be gleeful at this development. Shearer weighed in with his own endorsement, and even the Greens put aside their usual cynicism and pronounced this a momentous day for New Zealand.

So, why do I, at risk of being seen as the curmudgeon’s curmudgeon, think this is a really dumb idea? I have no antipathy towards the UN: I think New Zealand’s historic stance of co-operative independence has been sensible and useful. But the Security Council? This won’t boost dairy or GDP, despite what the most wishful analyst might declare. In fact, since it dovetails perfectly with the real chance of NZ troops getting more involved in the fight against ISIS, it just puts us in the firing line even more.

Murray McCully talked of ‘reforming’ the UN and the Security Council. He may as well have outlined a three point plan to deliver world peace, end child poverty and discover time travel. Either Key will simply rubber-stamp the prevailing US view, making us a mere patsy and a fresh target for terror, or he will look to ‘influence real change’, where countless other lesser states have failed.

Still, it will feed the national ego value for a day or two – well, at least until the All Blacks thump the Wallabies. For once, I’m looking forward to a simple game of rugby as an outlet for national expression. It may not be terribly exciting, but it’s by far the safer option.

Friday Fun: Kojak plugs Brum

How did we cope with life before YouTube? This is a little delve into the hidden gems of yesteryear: as a source of old clips, some hilarious, some frankly bizarre, it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Birmingham, for those of you not au fait with UK cities, is not somewhere you would go for a holiday; somewhere you might send your mother-in-law for a colonic irrigation perhaps. Despite being England’s second most populous city, it has suffered from post-industrial economic decline, crap football teams and an unfortunate accent that is a charter for derision and parody. Small wonder then that as long ago as 1981, director Harold Baim felt an urgent need to restore some pride and inject some much-needed pizzazz into this byword for brutalist architecture.

Owing to a curious law aimed at promoting British-made films, until the late 1980s cinemas had to buy an agreed amount of British content. One solution to this was to flick on a short 35mm film, as a precursor to the scheduled film, to get around this rather archaic piece of legislation. Harold Baim was a champion at knocking out cliché-ridden, cheesily-scripted travelogues, filmed to a fairly rigid formula, and arguably carved out a career producing this low-budget nonsense.

He struck gold, however, after a chance meeting in the pub with an agent friend of his. One of his friend’s clients was none other than Telly Savalas, a.k.a Kojak, the shiny-headed American TV detective with the languid voice and the lollipop. Would Telly be interested in doing a voice-over for some short British travel films? Sure.

Who loves ya, baby?
Who loves ya, baby?

The result is Telly Savalas Looks At Birmingham: priceless. Savalas deserves an Oscar for delivering his script with the utmost sincerity, even though he never set foot in Birmingham. He even gets in a few trademark Kojak lines without a trace of irony or parody – check out the “over 40s disco competition” at 2:30 – “incredible”. While you could be forgiven for thinking Birmingham some sort of utopia with the early clips of churches and garden blossoms, Telly is less convincing when it comes to the ‘sophisticated’ shopping centres and the ‘futuristic’ ring roads.

Although the Ford Cortinas and Vauxhall Vivas have today been replaced with Nissans and Toyotas, many of the beige and buff buildings of central Birmingham look to have changed little in the intervening 30 years, especially the Bull Ring market. Still, who can argue with Telly when he says it’s “my kinda town”?

For the record, these are edited highlights – the full version stretches to around 25 minutes. Not satisfied with this puff piece, Baim commissioned Telly Savalas Looks at Portsmouth. There are others, apparently, but I cannot find them. Post links if you do. When you’ve stopped giggling and goggling, raise a glass to Harold (and Telly) for his positive ‘vision’ of post-War Britain.

Strangely, he never did one on Bradford. Most disappointing.

We need to talk about Kevin

Sporting autobiographies are a curious strand of the literary spectrum. They are frequently underwhelming and a contradiction in terms, since only a tiny handful of successful sports stars are capable of penning one by themselves. A hapless ghost writer is commissioned to provide ‘help’ and charges as big a fee as he can get away with, to ameliorate the tedium of putting himself in the shoes of another monomaniacal subject who sacrificed an interesting personality on the altar of success.

And yet they sell by the cartload. In a similar fashion, newspapers sell many more copies (to blokes, at any rate) when their sports coverage has an ‘exclusive’ tour diary or somesuch by a popular player. It still staggers me that educated men believe that even a quarter, say, is the subject’s own work. Most ‘articles’ are complete fiction. There is the classic tale of Ian Botham, out of form and on a tour from hell, moping around his hotel balcony with a large Scotch. When a hack spotted him, he called up and asked him what was eating him. “My ghost writer is ignoring everything I tell him and saying things I wouldn’t say” was the sulky reply. Of course, readers anticipate a particular persona and tone from their sporting idols, and the ghostwriter duly delivers. Therefore Botham’s pieces were always breezy nonchalance and bellicose bombast. Roy Keane is blunt. And humourless. I’m assuming that Alan Shearer’s is like watching paint dry, if his demeanour in interviews is anything to go by.

Except it really isn't. It's just a formulaic fusion of sporting cliches, unfunny bants, tiresome anecdotes and milquetoast 'scandals'
Except it really isn’t. It’s just a formulaic fusion of sporting clichés, unfunny bants, tiresome anecdotes and milquetoast ‘scandals’

And it is no longer just the memoirs of the recently retired. The witterings of 20-something ingenues with a decade or more left in the tank are routine now. Wayne Rooney has had three volumes of his life story published and he is still playing, for crying out loud. I am left wondering just how much “chavvy Scouser with a face like a melted candle becomes a footballing superstar, cheats on his missus with hookers and wins some stuff with Man U” can be spun out over 1000 pages. The few interesting examples of the genre typically reveal much about the mental and emotional turmoil of top-level sport and stardom, such as Andre Agassi’s powerful and sincere Open.

All of which makes the release of Kevin Pietersen’s autobiography so seismic. It’s an overused cliché but the book is absolute dynamite. The best bits have already been redacted and disseminated across the internet and the Twittersphere at some length, and holy war has been unleashed between KP’s defenders and detractors. Kev has taken burning his bridges to the next level, by inflicting the literary equivalent of Pearl Harbour on TeamEngland.

Graeme Swann is a ‘cock’, apparently. Well, the text says ‘c***’, but this is a family blog. Coach Peter Moores is bafflingly referred to as a ‘human triple espresso’. Broad is ‘not the sharpest tool in the box’ and Prior thinks he’s ‘The Big Cheese’. Cook gets KP’s pity rather than any barbs, as ‘a nice man, but a company man” and ‘like Ned Flanders’. The best simile of all (and I so hope it’s Kev’s own and not the ghostwriter’s) is reserved for Andrew Strauss: explaining the IPL to Strauss ‘would be like explaining gangsta rap to a vicar’. Ouch! Then again, Strauss’s genteel press conferences and receding hairline (he was being seriously suggested as a Tory candidate for the 2015 election at one point) always seemed ill at ease in the whizz-bang technicolour of T20. Give him some Waitrose-sponsored whites and he’d rattle off a quick 50 before a lunch of cucumber sandwiches and the Telegraph sudoku.

The ECB, in an attempt to inflame manage the situation, have leaked KP: The Ashes Dossier, listing the numerous examples of poor behaviour on the last, disastrous Ashes tour. This risible response was expected, but has simply stooped to Pietersen’s level and laid bare the childish bickering on both sides. KP ‘whistled’ after he was out at Sydney, told Carberry he was shit and yada yada yada. You can hear the merciless guffawing from Bridgetown to Brisbane as the 90% of the cricketing world that loves to hate England orders in extra beer and popcorn.

They'll miss me when I'm gone. Or something.
They’ll miss me when I’m gone. Or something.

Because this is going to run and run. And KP is not as isolated as the ECB thinks. Alec Stewart has waded into the row over the fake KP Twitter account which so enraged Pietersen, confirming that Broad and others did indeed have access. Carberry has gone on record as saying he ‘has no issue’ with KP. Vaughan and Collingwood are on the record as good friends of his.

The hurt, self-absorbed tone of KP’s ragings and score-settling reminds me of an erstwhile enigma of English cricket: Geoff Boycott, a.k.a the Greatest Living Yorkshireman. Or a “man at odds with himself” as Michael Parkinson summarised the last player to polarise opinion as much as KP has. His own account of a poolside fracas with Ian Botham is particularly revealing. Botham is “a fantastic player but an idiot who likes pulling people’s (presumably Geoffrey’s) pants down when they are relaxing by the pool.” I can picture the scene: a furious Boycott and a grinning Beefy, ever the practical joker. There is no self-awareness, irony or fun – it’s just cricket cricket cricket. Boycott’s literal-minded worldview is so socially inept as to be Aspergic. And there is something of this about Pietersen. His book is one extensive, petulant whine about everyone being out to get him. It is breathtaking in its lack of awareness and lack of control.

What is the truth? KP can undoubtedly be difficult and has done himself no favours. However, the joyless coaching ‘regime’ of Andy Flower which he criticises, does seem to have been borne out by England’s fractious recent decline. Even Ricky Ponting couldn’t resist a dig, saying that he witnessed the negativity and bullying on the field when England players dropped catches. Boycott survived because cricket was much simpler in the 70s and 80s. He was left to get on with it and ignored. But modern teams go through so much more in terms of team building and structured preparation, that the stench from one bad egg can be overpowering. Corporate bonding has infected the professional sporting world, and there is increasingly less room for mavericks. I remember moany old Aggers, when Kev started playing the switch-hit shot, grumbling that the poor umpire wouldn’t be able to judge LBW. Who cares? It was flamboyant and entertaining. KP’s innovation was infuriating to the blazers then, and I’ve always felt that it would end like this.

What next for KP? He should pull a Tony Greig, move to Australia and be a blunt, waspish pundit for Channel Nine. Greig provided the blueprint for a South-African England import who was lauded at first, and then reviled, in his case over his defection to World Series Cricket. And yet Greig was later respected for his shrewd captaincy and vision. Boycott made the transition to blunt pundit, and even though his timbre of voice is teeth-grindingly smug and arrogant, his understanding of the game is phenomenal.

Sadly, Pietersen still thinks his England career is not over. This final delusion towards the end of his book is perhaps the most revealing aspect of this heavily-flawed genius. And even if England were to proffer an unlikely olive branch, Pietersen’s form has disintegrated as the oxygen of international exposure has been extinguished. His performances in this year’s IPL and County Championship have been well below par.

England will grit their teeth, wait for it all to go away and then get on with life. But just because they are better off without KP the person, doesn’t mean they won’t miss KP the player. They were unconvincing against Sri Lanka and India, only beating the latter because having a load of medium-pacers and technically-suspect batsmen does not constitute a team. There are six months of ODI cricket ahead and probably another woeful World Cup exit, since England still have no idea what to do in the middle 20 overs of an ODI. Then, a massive banana skin of two Tests against NZ, before the return of Mitch and the Aussies. Oh well, there’s always the DVD of the 2005 Ashes to dig out if things get really depressing. As for a stocking filler for Dad, don’t bother with Pietersen’s self-indulgent nonsense. Mike Brearley’s The Art of Captaincy, or Marcus Berkmann’s Rain Men are vastly more entertaining and well-written.

Anyway, let’s try to finish on a positive note, eh. Remember this?

Fiji: Love in the First Degree

I appreciate that if you’re going to start writing a blog, then not posting for ten days is a pretty poor look, but in my defence, I have spent at least half of that time contemplating the following view:

The view from my office
You know what they say about Wellington on a good day.

Naturally, this idyll was routinely shattered by one of my shrieking children trying to pull the other one’s head off in the pool. Yet on the whole, it felt like a genuine vacation rather than the waterboarding / rendition-esque stereotype of the dreaded family holiday. But as the level on my fourth mojito sank faster than the setting sun, the thought crossed my mind that I was in a country that had only just returned to the bosom of democracy.

Not that you can quite compare the ‘dictatorship’ of Voreqe ‘Frank’ Bananarama Bainimarama to that of, say, Kim Jong-Un. Friendly, well-fed locals; my camera not tampered with; not a political slogan in sight. And stranger still, unlike Idi Amin, Frank has eschewed the usual MO of the nationalist despot and not ordered the minority Indian population to leave immediately. Quite the opposite, in fact. In a speech soon after deposing the administration of ethnic Fijian Lasenia Qarase, he lambasted the racism shown by the indigenous population towards their migrant Indian compatriots.

“[I]n 1970, Fiji started its journey as a young nation on a rather shaky foundation, with a race-based Constitution, one which rigidly compartmentalised our communities. The ‘democracy’ which came to be practised in Fiji was marked by divisive, adversarial, inward-looking, race-based politics. The legacy of leadership, at both community and national levels, was a fractured nation. Fiji’s people were not allowed to share a common national identity.

Of the two major communities, indigenous Fijians were instilled with fear of dominance and dispossession by Indo-Fijians, and they desired protection of their status as the indigenous people. Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, felt alienated and marginalised, as second-class citizens in their own country, the country of their birth, Fiji.

[P]olicies which promote racial supremacy […] must be removed once and for all. […] Fiji will look at making the necessary legal changes in the area of electoral reform, to ensure true equality at the polls. […] [E]very person will be given the right to vote for only one candidate, irrespective of race or religion.

Inspiring stuff, and lifted straight from the Mandela playbook. There’s your Fiji history lesson in a nutshell too. The British brought in indentured Indian labourers to run the place, and then buggered off in 1970, without ever addressing the racial divide between the two cultures. Indeed, his quixotic view of a Fiji in racial harmony is in marked contrast to the bombastic ideology of the instigators of Fiji’s three previous coups – Colonel Rabuka (twice in 1987) and the maverick George Speight in 2000.

The means by which he has gone about them have been sadly mixed, however. As well as vetoing racial discrimination 🙂 he has brought in strict laws against trade unions 😦 and heavily censored most media 😦 although that includes the Fiji Times – prop: R. Murdoch 🙂

And this is the enigma about Bainimarama: however questionable his actions might be, he really seems to be different to the usual military bullies who install themselves as Presidents-for-Life and rig the elections for 30 years. Neutral observers were allowed access to Fiji’s 2014 general election, and proclaimed it to be pretty clean. And Frank’s nascent party, FijiFirst, was returned with a whopping 60% of the vote.

He's got it. Yeah baby, he's got it. He's your Venus...
He’s got it. Yeah baby, he’s got it. He’s your Venus…

Somebody clearly loves him. Sitting around the kava bowl after a gruelling day by the beach, the temptation to throw in an earnest John Campbell-style question at mine hosts was strong. But I know better. Never mind the rudeness, it is pointless: the sanctity of the tourist dollar is paramount. I recall all too well a family holiday to then-Yugoslavia at the tender age of 12. Our guide, when asked sagely by my stepfather how all the different ethnicities managed to get on, smilingly reassured us that everyone was just really happy and proud to be a Yugoslavian. Less than two years later, as Europe’s powderkeg exploded into bloody civil war and genocide, I goggled at the TV and its pictures of the heavily-shelled Dubrovnik cafe where we had spent many a pleasant afternoon.

The last thing locals wish to do is wash their dirty linen in front of guests, and lose even more face in the process. My divemaster Jim, a Pacific Chris Gayle with a laconic wit to match, just wanted to talk League and Rugby. And why on Earth would I demur? After all, it was meant to be a holiday, FFS.

I can’t help but feel a nagging fear, though, that it may not turn out as intended for Frank. What happens when the electors tire of him, as they always do? Will he relinquish power? The ethnic faultlines between Fijians and Indians run deep and may well never be resolved until the indigenous Fijians have a permanent ascendancy and the Indians have left, mostly for New Zealand. That is a sad prospect, yet one that has been played out since time immemorial. I wish Fiji well: as the land of my wife’s birth, it will always be special to us.

Perhaps it is best just to bask in the sun and enjoy some crass 80s pop. Yep, well done to those who spotted the lame Bananarama puns: the original girlband precursor to those sad wannabes the Spice Girls. Boogie away…