Wednesday, 5 November 2014

On driving me to distraction

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When I was a kid the lady over the road from where we lived had a chauffeur. Mrs Mawley was a wealthy widow who lived in a grand residence called “Sway Place” on the corner of Opaki Road and Oxford Street. Later this became the home of general practitioner Dr. Blair Harvey and then The Golden Shears Motor Inn and latterly a retirement village, or as Dame Edna Everidge would unkindly say, a home for the bewildered.

Mrs Mawley’s chauffeur was a Mr Gordon who kept her Plymouth limousine in immaculate condition which, as I recall, she used infrequently. He would park the car at her disposal at the front entrance gate facing on to Oxford Street and she would emerge to alight the splendid vehicle invariably dressed in black, looking not unlike Rose Kennedy - though of course back then we’d never heard of the Kennedy family or their matriarch.

Mrs Mawley had previously gifted a large section of her vast property to the Borough Council to use as a camping ground.

As far as I am aware, in this day and age no one in our environs has a chauffeur, though it is rumoured that Sir Peter Jackson gets flown in a helicopter from the capital to his mansion at Matahiwi from time to time.

Some years ago when I was a Wairarapa representative on the Greater Wellington Regional Council I was to have a one-on-one meeting with the then Minister for the Environment Marion Hobbs. This was set down for 9.30 in the morning and I left Masterton at 7.30 to arrive on time at the council’s multi-storeyed glass tower in Wakefield Street. Miss Hobbs was a few minutes late and as I looked down from our sixth-storey meeting room I saw her white Ford chauffeur-driven limousine drop her off at the front door.

I chided her for arriving at the venue in such grandeur. I reminded her that I had driven myself down from Masterton and she had to merely come across a small section of town. I told her that I would have thought that a modern socialist government claiming to represent the working class would immediately sell off the limousine fleet and drive themselves like the rest of the proletariat are obliged to do.

I was well acquainted with Marion Hobbs and knew she had a great sense of humour and she gave back as good as she got and reminded me that ours was not the only meeting she had to attend that day. She added that it was very helpful to be driven from venue to venue without having to find parking spaces for what was to be a very busy morning. I wanted to suggest that taxis would have been just as convenient and far less costly, but decided to leave well alone as I was asking a favour for our district.

Obviously my concerns were never passed on.

Not long after my conversation with Miss Hobbs, the socialist government, still claiming to represent the hoi polloi, sold off the Fords and purchased the even more luxurious BMW’s which are about to be upgraded for the third time.

The nutty Greens, besides petitioning the United Nations advocating homeopathy to cure Ebola, suggested that the current government should be investing in electric cars which apparently are even more expensive than the BMW’s.

It’s hard to change the perquisites of politicians of all persuasions - both national and local body. I recall a conversation around the regional council board table where it was considered our vehicle fleet should be of the hybrid kind to save fuel and set an example to the rest of our constituents. Our chairman’s self-drive car was due for renewal and chairperson at the time Margaret Shields insisted the Ford Falcon be replaced with a hybrid Toyota Prius. I was about to change my car, at my own expense of course, so to maintain the trend I bought the slightly less expensive Honda hybrid. The next vehicle that was due for replacement was the CEO’s. He opted for a four wheel drive SUV with a 3.4 V6 motor.

No more hybrid cars were purchased by either the council or the councillors.

There is nothing that smacks of elitism more than to see our cabinet ministers swanning around in chauffeur driven cars while every other citizen in this egalitarian country go about their business driving themselves. But then again what other behaviour could you expect from a dubiously chosen group of men and women who accept and revel in the title “the honourable.”

They can come up with all the excuses they like about convenience and having time to be briefed on the meetings they are about to attend, but Winston seems to have survived with or without this bogus “baubles of office” benefit.

In fact changing gears is probably the only real exercise he gets.

In her day, like most women of the time, Mrs Mawley would probably never have learnt to drive. But this is the twenty-first century; for many people times are tough and any savings that can be made by our elected representatives should be grasped with both hands.

Cabinet ministers should have both those hands on the wheel.

“There are no such things as good politicians and bad politicians. There are only politicians, which is to say, they all have personal axes to grind, and all too rarely are they honed for the public good.” - Barbara Hower


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