• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Maybe next year

Despite my good intentions this year, I still haven't learnt any French or te reo and can't cook rice or potatoes.

Asked to write, as I have been this week, about the highs and lows of the year, I am reminded of the late Jeffrey Bernard who, when about to write his autobiography, placed a classified ad in the Spectator, asking if anyone remembered what he had been doing between 1960 and 1974. At least the years he had misplaced in his memory were some time past. I am struggling to remember the one just coming to an end.

It is easy enough to recall how it started, with the aftermath of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami. This in turn produced such unprecedented global generosity that it almost made me think the world was becoming a better place, albeit one where coastal property might - against the prevailing trend - take a dip in value. Now, at year's end, executions, race riots and kidnappings have assumed their familiar, if depressing, place at the top of the news agenda and the world is back on its axis.

My own brush with tragedy, as New Idea would put it, came when my husband took off in July to study some arcane branch of economics in London, staying with friends and riding the Tube around the central city. He was there when four bombs exploded during rush hour on the public transport system, killing 56 people and injuring 700. So it's not hard to identify the low point of my year - sitting up in bed watching the carnage on TV and wondering whether I had become a widow. (I hadn't.)

My travel during the year was less traumatic - a visit to the US, courtesy of the State Department, to learn more about foreign policy. I came home certain that elements of the State Department genuinely wanted to improve the relationship with New Zealand, probably with greater urgency than the New Zealand Government wished to improve its lot with the US. The US still reveals a paucity of imagination and courage on how such an improvement could be achieved. Its preferred options remain for New Zealand either to change its anti-nuclear legislation or, in New Zealand's eyes, back down. That is as politically palatable as suggesting that in order to protect native birds everyone has to shoot their pet cat.


Year's end is a natural time for people to review what they have achieved or endured, or failed to achieve or endure, compared with the promise at the beginning of the year. Thus I note that I have still not had a single lesson in French or te reo and still cannot cook rice or potatoes. On the bright side, I only once this year completely forgot to pick up one of my kids from an after-school activity, stranding her across town, alone, aged seven. As if to balance this up, though, I went to fetch my youngest daughter from crèche one day and anxiously searched for her everywhere until I remembered that she was at home.

Other people often reflect on the best and worst new books, movies, shows or restaurants that they have experienced in the past 12 months. I read their highs and lows with the same detached interest with which I read travel stories. They are a world away from my own life in which, somehow, contemporary culture passes me by.

Thus, while the literati were reading Mao, widely considered to be one of the year's great books, I was reading Robert Graves's autobiography Goodbye to All That, first published in 1929. Being more than 70 years off the pace is becoming a pattern. The last film I saw this year was King Kong, at a private screening arranged by friends. It was not Peter Jackson's Kong, but the 1933 version. Having seen the original, I have found no need for the new one. If, like me, you only made it to three movies this year, it would be wasteful to have gone to two with the same plot. And the same ape.

I did manage to read a couple of new books, though. Anyone interested in scandal, politics and gutter journalism (and who isn't?) will enjoy Piers Morgan's The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade. Those of you who didn't receive it for Christmas should exchange whatever you did get, or use your book vouchers to obtain it. And if you didn't get a book or any vouchers, you should make a resolution to get a new family before next Christmas.