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HARD NEWS 21/7/00 - Test Metaphor Football

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The All Blacks, up three tries and 24 points to nil after eight minutes of a painfully important test match. Then, the All Blacks, shuffling around, missing tackles, while the Wallabies cruised back to 24-all at halftime. It really looked like we were going to lose it.

At times there, it was rugby, Jim, but not as we know it. Test match play has so hugely accelerated in this year's version of rugby that it was really hard to get a fix on. But the final try was pretty vivid:

Andrew Walker, in his first test match, commits the sin of kicking the ball away. Cullen and Umaga bring it back 40 metres. The second-phase ball somehow gets wide. Taine Randell, in one of the games of his life, has stayed out near the left-hand touchline.

Randell gets the ball. Jonah Lomu, the most fearsome finisher in all rugby, is hurtling up outside him, screaming for the pass. But Randell has two tacklers right on him. He reaches up and over and basketballs it to the Big Guy.

For a moment, it's like Jonah's just going to touch the chalk and it'll all be over. But no. Although everyone talks about his size and his strength, Jonah's balance is what often gets him there. He tiptoes down the line, through the desperate tackle of Larkham, and there you had it.

We'd beaten the Aussies in Sydney. We'd been a bit crap about it, but we won and they didn't.

If the All Blacks' World Cup failure had a metaphorical and practical resonance for Jenny Shipley's government last year, then Helen Clark might be hoping the same applies in her case to this game. In which a new team had a runaway start, lost its rhythm for a while, then regathered to win - proving to be a team with a number of technical deficiencies, but one well led.

Afterwards, a bit giddy, we pushed on to a party in another part of Grey Lynn. It was excellent. You always had the Holy Trinity: people gasbagging in the kitchen, people dancing in the lounge and people queueing for the toilet.

Now, as men and women do when they've had a few Monteiths, we got to debating popular culture. We agreed that pop music needs to be taken away from the Americans, because they are abusing it. How many blonde, bland popstar popsies can there be?

But we were split on the vexed question of Robbie Williams. Sure, he doesn't write the most artful songs, but he's got a sense of humour and a bit of character, I maintained. Arse, insisted a few of m'learned friends, he's a wanker.

At the time, of course, we didn't suspect that Mr Williams himself would front up this very week on a promotional tour. And not just any promotional tour. Witty, frank and at least moderately intelligent, Robbie was this year's Bill Clinton. His appearance on Holmes charmed the nation. Although apparently not a word passed between him and the gnomic one during the ad breaks. Make of that what you will.

Speaking of performance, the Heart of the Nation report. The panel - Hamish Keith, Tom Hazeldine, David Gascoigne, Gordon McLachlan and Richard Miller among them - had, I'm sure, the best of intentions. They would have been told often enough in public consultation that it's not just about the arts any more, that creative businesses and individuals should be part of the plan.

I haven't read the full report myself yet - it's been a tiny bit difficult to liberate until this week - but it appears the panel's response to that reality is almost obsessively structural.

It was politically naïve to think the government would be interested in taking on a restructuring that would create three new agencies and the position of "cultural analyst" in the Prime Minister's Office - and cost $15 million. Sorry, no. No more dicking about with structure - that's over. Focus on outputs, work with what you've got, move fast.

And what on earth was this business of McDermott Miller, the "project manager", stamping its copyright notice all over the thing? Somebody appears to have had trouble remembering who's paying the bills here.

The cost here is more than the $200,000 budget - it's the stranding of what was and should still be one of the government's most important strategies. National's Simon Upton, who wrote a balanced and not unsympathetic critique of the whole business, probably has it right. This thing needs to be set back on the rails sooner rather than later.

And the Prime Minister and her associate in the arts need to stop thinking out loud about what they don't want and start defining and going about what they do want. They went into the election with an excellent arts and culture policy and they ought really just do it.

Curiously enough, the example is being set at the moment by the Ministry of Economic Development. Jim Anderton and Paul Swain have ministerial footsoldiers out in force at the moment, consulting furiously. They are impressing people who really didn't expect to be impressed.

Having been in Wellington twice in two weeks, I was able to reassure myself of the soundness of another of the PM's public thoughts: the treatment of the art in Te Papa is absurd and the museum itself is still seized by some jittery post-modern madness. On the upside: the current private collections are presented in a mercifully straightforward fashion. But how is it that the privately-held McCahons get the space they need - and yet the only one on display from the national collection is still keeping company with a fridge?

Speaking of our cultural heritage, was our very own machine-gun-murdering mobster Ronald Jorgensen sighted at the Kumeu Agricultural Show this March just past? Despite his having apparently met his end in a car crash in Kaikoura in 1984, and having been declared legally dead two years ago?

Not as unlikely as it might seem - although my source has him living as a free man in Sydney. My source, in fact, claims to have spent a night on the tiles with him just last year.

If he's alive, he's two years older than Elvis would've been. Whether it's true or not, I hope the possibility of Jorgensen's great escape from his old life lingers as long as possible.

After all, Jorgensen only shot other gangsters. The geniuses behind this week's ghastly TV2 retrospective Happy Birthday 2 You were assaulting the whole country. This orgy of self-congratulation lacked imagination, innovation and purpose. What on earth were they thinking? G'bye!

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