ImageThere’s a well known saying, “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that idea, but it doesn’t quite sit squarely with me. Because implicit within that phrase is the notion that a key motivation for being nice to people when you don’t need them, is that one day you might. Keeping someone buttered up isn’t being “nice”. Is it?

I remember very clearly my fifth role on Shortland Street. I’d been a featured extra four times, and this was my first time in a guest role. A guest role on the show is (or at least was) when your part has over 30 words of dialogue. We were on location, and when lunch was served a member of the crew with a headset and a black puffer vest announced on no uncertain terms that core cast and guest roles were to eat first – extras (even the featured amongst them) would have to wait. As I reached in towards a banana, she tapped me on the shoulder (completely oblivious to my status) and reiterated the instruction. I ignored her – and if I’m completely honest, I was willing a showdown. She was not standing for insubordination for one second, “EXCUSE ME – I told you to WAIT – this table is for guest actors and core cast.” Before I could irritate her further with my silent obstinacy, Dr Warner had defused the situation by telling her that I was the Court Registrar.

A similar situation arose a few years later when I played the role of Jailer on Legend of the Seeker. This time it was well known that I was a guest actor, because I was allocated a canvas deck chair in an air-conditioned tent with the female American lead. I really felt that I’d taken a step up in the acting world, even if she refused to talk to me. Even so, lunchtime still brought about the same conundrum. But this time it wasn’t when I could eat, but when the Jailer’s marshals could. Extras they were, but a morning of jailing is hungry work and I wasn’t going to leave my men.

Years on, as a manager within in a large Australian financial services corporation of over 3,000 people, I find myself in the elevator with the CEO and a number of his Executive team. One mighty entourage alright, and there is a palpable air of amiable decorum mixed with nervousness from those in the lift of lower rank, including myself. The doors are almost ready to close when the lady that cleans and restocks the coffee machines approaches the lift with her trolley. “We’re very full” I thought, “please look who’s in here and get the next one”. I’m sure we all thought that. Except for at least one person. As the elevator doors began to close on her, a four buttoned charcoal suit sleeve extended outwards, and a gentle yet assured voice beckoned “Come in Maureen”, gesturing for the group to make way. After the doors closed the Chief Executive Officer continued, “how was your holiday to Cairns?”. “Oh wonderful thank-you”. “And your husband’s recovering well from the procedure”. “He certainly is, thanks so much for asking” she beamed. I learnt a lot about what true leader is in that lift that morning, and a lot about what being of high status is really truly about. I also felt a little ashamed of myself.

I continued to reflect on that experience as I sat down at my desk, and very quickly, I recalled a story I’d heard from a friend who works in foreign affairs, of a diplomat. This man was of incredibly high status, acting as a western ambassador to a poorer nation. He was learned, powerful and was bestowed all of the privileges that come with that; the diplomatic residence; the personal driver; the chef and the butler. One night, a member of local community wished to speak with him, and showing his usual grace, the Ambassador invited him up to the residence for dinner, and to discuss the gentleman’s concerns. Prawns were the chef’s appetiser de jour and the first course was a messy one. As such, the Ambassador’s butler brought each man out a finger bowl of warm water and a citrus wedge to accompany the entrée. The local man was not used to this type of dining at all. In fact, it was likely that very few in his country would have been. It was evident in the way he chose his cutlery, and in the way he lodged the napkin in his shirt. But most particularly, it was evident in the way he picked up the finger bowl and began to drink it.

What do you think most regular fine diners would do in that situation? Stifle a smurk? Raise an eye to another at the table? Not the Ambassador. His butler must have silently smiled with the same admiration that I did in the lift that morning, when ten minutes later he cleared two empty bowls, with the reluctant feedback from his superior that the “lemon soup” could do with a bit more flavour next time.

Being nice to people on your way up because you might meet them on the way down is strategic. Being kind to someone because you care for their dignity is pure class.

ImageSeeing Mike King on the TV One website last night got me thinking about the mainstream media in New Zealand. He was talking about the trending of “media bullying” in the context of Charlotte Dawson’s death and made a sensible suggestion that children would know no better when posting on Facebook if that behaviour is what they see and read at home. I don’t know Charlotte, and I don’t purport to know how much a factor that was in her decision, but I do know she was just pure fodder for some of the main papers and it made her grossly unhappy. We saw it again with Lorde returning home from the Grammys. We’ve seen it a lot. I thought Mike had great points and delivered it clearly and well – the irony was not lost on me that he himself was taken out of context and had a sensationalist tag line added on the actual piece that made it to air!

It got me thinking about journalism, and where it fits in within society. I remember as a young law student being taught about what a profession was, and what it meant to be part of one. There were a number of defining points but the one that really stuck out for me was “responsibility to society”. I recall being taught that such a responsibility afforded us extra special influence (power if you like) but required extra special ethical code of behaviour as a balance to hold that privilege.

Journalism is a profession. It is different from just ‘writing’ or ‘blogging’. A person that has membership in that profession has a duty to society because they wield such influence. I can handle vitriol from a blogger because they do not have as credible a platform, but not from a main news network or a broadsheet (noting the irony that even they are beginning to reduce to now reduce to tabloid size).

The thing that is different about journalism to all other professions though is regulation. Most professions are governed by legislation that requires registration with an autonomous professional association. If you steal from the trust fund, you lose your practising certificate and it’s all over. You can’t regulate media because freedom of speech is so sacrosanct in a free society. You can’t really go near it. You can really only ping a journalist for straight out lying in a way that causes harm and still they are employable. I’m not bagging the whole industry by any means, and there are some great journos out there. I’m talking about raising the behaviour of the bottom to a common code of behaviour. The Press Council has a statement of principles, and many media groups have their own “codes” but let me propose a few additional criterion:

1)   If you find yourself making the news, stop. I’m minded of poor old Raybon’s time in the spotlight; “Kan sparked outrage from Jewish groups after he suggested Germans should run Auckland’s transport system due to their experience during the Holocaust”. The journalist in that instance found the tweet and took it to Jewish groups for comment. She created the offence that the news was about! I stopped reading the Herald in the staff room last year because too many stories were about the offence people took because of the story. Don’t make the news.

2)   If you find yourself using the words “slams media”, stop: Peters slams media, Lorde slams media, King slams media. Stop writing about yourself. It’s boring for a start, and purposely creates more slamming. Which also breaks rule #1 Break the cycle and move on. You’re a professional.

3)   If you find yourself giving an opinion, either be interviewed yourself or stow that opinion in a dark tubular area. I don’t care what a journalist’s opinion is – if you want to do an opinion piece write column, or review a play. Or write a blog. Just give me the facts in context.  And don’t make you name as big as the headline.

4)   If you find yourself fixating on private aspects of someone’s personal life that are incidental to the reason they are making news, stop. If someone has an extra-marital affair and it doesn’t relate to their work, leave their family alone. It’s none of your business. There was no need to imply that Charlotte’s money troubles was related to her suicide.

5) Finally, if you have a lift-out section in your newspaper dedicated to “anonymised” gossip. Stop.

That’s all.

Clayts

coco popsI remember when I was a boy, I couldn’t understand why adults liked such boring things. The news for example. And cruskets. Mum told me that when I grew up my tastes would change as well, and that it was just part of being an adult. I disagreed and said that I would always think those things were boring and that I would never ever stop watching cartoons, I would never wear boring colours, and when I had my own house one day that I would fill my fridge with coke and lollies. No questions. No exceptions.

I grew up slowly, and through no conscious choice, my tastes did change. Mum was right. Over the years, the taste of lolly water has given way to the understated nutty acidity of Cuvee, Warner Bros and Hanna Barbera have yielded to HBO and the BBC, and my fluorescent t shirts have long since been replaced by plain black shirts. I even bought a new fridge the other month and the first thing I put in it was olives. Naturally, the boy in me doesn’t really talk to me any more. And I don’t blame him. What would we have to talk about?

I have been on a two day conference for managers this week, and we have all been staying in a hotel. I went down to the buffet breakfast this morning with the group, and we were seated by the wait staff amidst an incredible selection of everything to eat you could imagine. Others around me were being very adult in their selections. Some had dolloped natural yoghurt onto bircher muesli. Some had a little bit of cheese and shaved ham along side a plain croissant. And one particularly sensible and bespectacled delegate sat crossed legged reading the paper with a coffee and toast. And why shouldn’t he? We are after all adults. At a conference no less.

As I was trying to work out my first move, I heard something. A voice I’d not heard from for quite some time. It was a little ambassador from the early 80s making himself known and demanding attention. It was Little Me. And all he could say about the choices my colleagues were making was “yuck!”. I agreed. Quickly we hatched a plan. We stood up deviously and sauntered towards the continental buffet table. There were seeds, and wheaty things, and dumb dried flakes with raisins and fruit things in it. Boring. We knew what we were looking for and we found it. It was in the corner, lying exposed and bare in a brown crunchy heap of brilliance. COCO POPS!

“Okay” I said to Little Me– “let’s do this properly. We’ve got one chance.” The first problem we encountered was the size of the bowl. They were tiny little annoying hotel bowls. What do they think we are? Kids? I walked over to a stack of soup bowls readied for lunch, and surreptitiously pinched one. Good work. We shovelled the Coco Pops into the bowl from the glass encasement full and deep, and I could feel them amassing with every scoop. Coco pops weigh basically nothing so when you feel the bowl getting actually heavier, you know you’ve got heaps. We wanted our milk very cold, and were relieved when the “full cream milk” silver hotel mini-tanker was beaded in condensation. In it flowed. Snap crackle pop. Booyah.

“We can’t go back and eat it at the table” I said. “Why not” retorted Little Me. “Look, I haven’t got time to argue. We both know these are going to start going soggy if we wait any longer”. Inconspicuously, we stole an unoccupied nearby table, shrouded from sight by plants. Mmmmm. Just like a chocolate milkshake. Only crunchy. So crunchy. As we chomped them down, the world stood still. All too soon, the Coco Pops were gone but for two that I let Little Me fish out from the remaining cold chocolate soup. Then disaster. A middle aged man spoke my name and asked to sit down. No!!! Not now. I want my chocolate soup. I want to drink my chocolate soup. “I’m sorry” I whispered to Little Me, “I can’t tell him not to sit down”. “But we were going to drink it” he said. “Just hold your horses. I’ll work it out”.

There was no getting rid of Murray. He was there for the long haul and he wanted to chat too. “The chocolate soup is getting warm” Little Me whispered and whined. “I know” I grimaced. “We have to drink it from the bowl. It’s the best part!” I don’t know if it was Little Me or Big Me, but one of us just came out and said it, “Excuse me Murray, might get myself a second course”. “Do that Clayton, bloody good spread.” We stood up and with a purposeful stride, took our chalice of chocolate nectar, stood behind a thick column, looked both ways, and then drank it down, long and slow. Mmmm. It was almost a spiritual moment. A communion of sorts. The original chocolate milk (none of this modern insipid artificial tasting Primo / Meadow Fresh slop).

After a few beats of recovery, I bade Little Me farewell – there was some blue cheese and salmon I wanted to try next and he was happy to pass on that. “It was nice talking again” I muttered, but he was off. Probably to look at the man making pancakes.

“Did you enjoy the session on innovation?” I quizzed Murray as I sat back down with a platter of assorted meats. “I did Clayton” Murray replied, gesturing at his upper lip with his napkin.

laughing-womanOne of my favourite things in the world is making my Aunty laugh. It started when I was about 9 or 10 doing impressions of Granddad, and later evolved into me just laughing while she laughed. Nowadays I really only have to look at her in a funny way for her to spit her drink out.

Recently I decided to push my Aunty past her previous limits to see what would happen. We were at the dinner table for Dad’s birthday and through the usual silly faces and mimicry, I brought her relatively swiftly to her known outer threshold (a loud constant cry). But instead of allowing her to collect herself, I held her gaze and pushed on. I had no idea what to expect. What eventuated was remarkable.

She shifted gears into a very quiet and unnervingly peaceful state. But deceptively tranquil; like a wheel going so fast that it looks still. It was a place beyond movement or sound. She had become frozen in hysterical paralysis. Her face was locked open with mouth agape, almost pre-sneeze. A tearlet had broken away from the corner of her eye and its trail ran down her cheek, towards an exposed amalgam crown that very rarely sees the light of day. After a good ten beats, a stark realisation became apparent in her eyes – that she might soon suffocate. Her eyes were the only body parts she had control of and she was forcing them to look down at the table knowing that just one glance at me across the table would send her another few crucial seconds back from recovery.

Finally, and to the immense relief of the table, a rogue snort let in a crucial pocket of air (maybe a survival impulse much like a hiccup?) and motor-function reignited from arrest returning her to red hot from white hot. A gentle wheeze blew, followed shortly by the shrill constant siren of a lost cat from the back of her esophagus. Her lockjaw relented, her claw grasped at the tabletop and a red thick serviette blotted her wet face as she stood up, giddy and meek, like a new-born foal finding its feet for the first time, to retreat to the bathroom for an undisclosed period of time.

Thankfully heart disease does not run in the family.

ImageJobsworths. We’ve all met one. The civil servant (or other form of quasi-authority) that takes the remit of their job way too seriously. The bus driver that won’t stop unless you push the button; the airline attendant who won’t let you board until she calls your rows (in both instances you are the only passenger present).

My most memorable Jobsworth was a moustached white male in his 50s who had volunteered to help usher the 1999 Otago University graduation procession through the streets of Dunedin. He had the two key visual attributes of a Jobsworth: a fluorescent bib (his was a luminescent orange with silver trim); and radio communication (in this instance clipped to the bib itself with a cord to the unit).

My Jobsworth’s responsibility was to ensure that vehicles did not turn into the main street that the procession was due to process down. And no-one was getting past him. About 15 minutes before the procession arrived, an elderly Vicar and his Weimaraner attempted to turn obliviously into the forbidden zone. I recall it as clear as day. They were driving in a beige Rover, with pooch in the front seat. Both were in dog collars, but the Vicar wore an ecclesiastical purple shirt, and had a long kindly beard.

Thinking that his authority had been flagrantly defied, The Jobsworth jumped in front of the moving Rover with wanton abandon for his own safety. The Vicar was clearly scared as he was not in the slightest bit aware of the Jobsworth’s civil credentials (if only he’d pulled out his badge the problem may have been avoided). And so the Vicar attempted to drive around him. This wasn’t going to happen. Not on his watch. The Jobsworth jumped on to the bonnet of the Rover and began pounding the windscreen with his fist.

The Vicar’s panic exacerbated as he tried to escape the mad flourescent beast. And then it happened – the point where the Jobsworth entered the Jobsworth Hall of Fame – he beat the windscreen so hard it smashed in on the Vicar and his bemused hound, then rolled off the car theatrically, picked himself up, tilted the radio to 45 degrees and spake, ‘Smith to base . . . I’ve been hit.’

I remember it so well. People stood stunned, mid bite of their sandwiches, eyebrows frozen high and mouths open. I ran into another Jobsworth of note upon arriving into Melbourne airport last weekend but I’ll save that for another time.

2013-06-18 08.38.11I am sitting in seat 2A (left side) on an Air New Zealand 737-300 (AKL bound for CHC) and have just experienced a deluge of jet aviation mirth. It started as we began our taxi, with the late sun drenching gold across the tarmac, and the winged beasts that graze there. We took our place at the back of a slow but patient Friday night take-off queue, processing West to the start of runway number 1. Then the action began.

First was the hulking Emirates A380, lumbering slow-mo down the runway and into the air like an ungainly All Black lock. Followed neatly in turn by three domestic A320s; one Jet Star and two Air New Zealand (one with ABs livery, one normal). The A320’s aren’t as pretty as my 737 with their squashed noses and tubby bodies on stilts, and they know it. But they also know that they are faster, newer and bigger, and that the 737s looks won’t save them from the block come 2014. And finally a little Beech 1900 fluttered behind them like a gosling trying to keep up with his mother.

All took graceful flight and soared to the right over Manukau to their respective southern destinations, except the A380 which was still heaving Westward towards Sydney. I had seen the last of the procession take off directly through my window, as we sat perpendicular at the top of the horse shoe awaiting our turn. On the controller’s instruction, we squared up parallel with the airport, and with a tippy-toe start, broke into a jog, a dash and then a sprint past the international terminal’s docile herd Air New Zealand wide bodies; There was one of the two last 747-400 jumbos, mid comeback tour to San Fran; three 777-200ERs stretching up, no doubt soon to be fanning out to various exotic locations around the Pacific rim; and their Lomu-esque big brother 777-300ER, taking a respite from the heat in the shade, sipping his AvGas water bottle in readiness for the long LAX then Heathrow night-run ahead.

As we lifted off, I caught a wave from the koru-badged palm an old 767-300’s wing-tip. He was being wheeled into the hanger for more surgery – he just can’t keep up with the younger ones like he used to. I knew though that he’d be glad that the upstart Dreamliners were currently under investigation and now considerably delayed. The 787’s juvenile over-eagerness had provided my friend with a stay of execution for at least another year. But he knows they’ll come eventually. It might not be all bad though. Virgin might take him. That would be a fun retirement.

Shit I love planes.

7d9e149b254ec3aff2aeba228607d54fPerfection. Such an alluring notion. Yet such an exhausting one. If you are like me, you’ve hung your hopes on perfection to be happy at times in your life. I lie. If you’re like me it has possessed you and made you sick.

As a teen, I thought that once I had the most colours on my High School blazer pocket anyone had ever seen that I’d get there. I actually did that would you believe. Sixteen! But nothing altered, except a slightly heavier general anxiety and sense of inadequacy. Very quickly the thought of being a lawyer replaced it though. Imagine that. Wow. Respect, money, happiness. Graduation was one of the most anxious and unsettling days of my life, surpassed only by the day I was admitted to the bar.

But in time and in pain, life pulled me back on course from my wayward path. In suffering, I realised I could never catch the end of the rainbow. It was a waste of energy, and quite simply an illusion. To strive in that way was to try and fill a hole that is actually missing something else. I’m in remission now, but if I’m honest, not complete recovery (“maybe if I was a household name I’d experience that nirvana . . . try harder with your comedy . . .”). Old addictions die hard. Even when you know the pot of gold simply does not exist.

Or does it? Today the rule was thoroughly flipped onits head. I achieved perfection. Sartorial perfection. And I’m buzzing. It started on the walk to work. I moved to Melbourne recently and live temporarily in an inner-city serviced apartment, three blocks from the office. I came out of the lift and noticed my trousers fell immaculately on my shoes without a wrinkle. A purposeful high-fashion trouser hemming known as the “no trouser break”. I grinned as my freshly-nuggeted black Oxford shoes kicked through the air revealing a playful colourful striped merino sock.

As I pushed the buzzer to cross, it became pleasantly apparent to me that my thick white French cuff protruded an immaculate half-inch from the mitred sleeve of my brand new navy pin-striped made-to-measure suit jacket. The wide gun-metal wristband of my watch peeped out modestly as if to say “I’m here too . . . if you need me.” Quiet you.

A smile set over my face. You’ve got to realise that the aforementioned school blazer was a dire fit. Lithgow’s School Apparel on Riccarton Road had not cottoned on to the fact that being 5’10” at age 14 might forewarn further growth. By sixth-form, my long limber bare wrists spewed out of it like play-dough forced through colander. And my tight grey pants could well have unwittingly started the three-quarter shorts trend of the late 90s.

To be standing in civilisation today, with one of the longest and most unwieldy bodies on the footpath in perfect tailored balance, filled me with a deep mirth that I could not contain. I laughed as I stepped into the mirrored lift – I could see my 2-ply semi-spread white cotton collar spill out over my thin pick-stitched lapel, like a lick of cream on a fresh scone. Oh to fit clothes. And to the millimetre. This is one strive for perfection that I am happy to succumb to.

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