Archive for April, 2022


Friday, April 29th, 2022

Before I begin discussing the New Zealand Division Two competition, I must congratulate Swimming New Zealand (SNZ). As I understand it, SNZ took steps to purify the audience at the Commonwealth Games swimming team announcement. Well done, SNZ.

SNZ has a constitutional obligation to “set policies and standards for the Sport”. If SNZ detected actions likely to disrupt the standards expected in the sport and did something about it, SNZ has the 100% support of us all.

And now back to Division Two.   

For seventy years I have attended a huge variety of meets. From Saturday morning club meets at the Haitaitai Beach in Wellington Harbour to the Barcelona Olympic Games. From Friday club nights at the McCrae Baths in Gisborne to the glamour of US National Championships. Remember how water used to leak in through the floor of the McCrae Baths from the muddy Taruheru River? From a meet at the Pahiatua High School Pool to the World Championships in Majorca, Spain.

One of the meets I like best is the New Zealand Division Two competition. You will notice this post is titled the “DIVISION TWO NEW ZEALAND CHAMPIONSHIPS”. As I understand it a decision was made to no longer call the meet a championship. If that has happened, it is a step backwards for swimming. Consideration may have also been given to removing medal presentations. I understand that idea may have been reversed. Whether medals are back in or just ribbons is not clear.

However, the real point is that nothing should be done to reduce the importance of the Division Two competition. Even when critics line up to tell us, “it seems such a pointless meet now” Whether it is the name, the medals, or the existence of the competition, Division Two is a vital part of New Zealand swimming. It is something unique and good that the rest of the world does not have. In many respects, Division Two is our future. Hold onto it for dear life. Scorn not the base degrees from which our sport doth ascend.

But why is it so important to preserve the Division Two competition?

Understanding that depends on having an appreciation of human development. Young people do not physically develop at the same age or at the same rate. Before the Athens Olympic Games, the Americans conducted research on their swim team’s physiological development. By examining the hand knuckle joints they were able to determine that two swimmers had physically developed early and of the rest (approximately 40) half were on-time and half were late developers.

In New Zealand terms what that means is half the American Olympic team would not have qualified to swim in the Age Group Championships or the Open Championships. Twenty members of the world’s most successful swim team would have considered themselves failures and gone off to play another sport. Division Two fills that gap. It provides a path for late developers.

A hugely successful New Zealand swimmer, Toni Jeffs, is an example of what I mean. She was a late developer. She never qualified for the Age Group Championships. However, she did swim in the Division Two meet. In time, when she physically matured, she went on to win the Open Nationals and win bronze medals in the World SC Championships, the Pan Pacific Games and two Commonwealth Games. Without Division Two none of that would have happened.

Division Two could well be seen as a SNZ constitutional requirement. This is what the Constitution says.

“The primary Object of SNZ is to support the growth and performance of the sport of competitive swimming, from entry level club competitive swimmers to elite High-Performance athletes.

Encourage people to choose to participate in the sport of competitive swimming.

Identify and co-ordinate competitive talent at all levels.

Develop and provide pathways from regional, to national, through to international level”.

Division Two is a clear example of supporting “the growth and performance of the sport from entry level club competitive swimmers to elite High-Performance athletes.” It encourages people. It co-ordinates competitive talent and it provides a swimming pathway. Doing away with or diminishing the Division Two meet could well be seen as violating all these constitutional imperatives.

Besides not every member of SNZ is a potential Open Nationals’ swimmer. Many simply do not have the talent to compete at that level. There is no reason however for these swimmers not to have their personal Olympic Games. For many that is Division Two. I’ve coached a dozen swimmers whose trip to Division Two was the pinnacle of their swimming careers. One girl won Division Two in Rotorua. When she eventually retired, she left feeling as personally rewarded as Danyon Loader did winning the Olympic Games. She had fulfilled her talent. She had climbed her Everest. But, just as important, SNZ had done its job for its member.

And that is what it means to have the Division Two meet. Everything possible should be done to make the meet as “big” as possible. Call it a Championship. Name the winners Division Two Champions. Present the best designed medals. Play the National Anthem. Spare no effort.


Because Division Two represents the sport looking after everyone and somewhere in every Division Two meet there is an Olympian just waiting for his or her body to physically mature. SNZ needs to give them a chance. And that is what Division Two does.


Tuesday, April 26th, 2022

I’ve owned quite a few suits. My time in one of the world’s largest meat companies, Thomas Borthwick and Sons, the UK’s largest meat company, FMC and New Zealand’s largest animal by-products exporter, Colyer Watson, had suits as their corporate uniform. But three suits stand out. Let me tell you why.

The first was a tweed suit I wore, pretty much all the time, in Scotland. It was perfect for negotiating with Scottish farmers a price for their cattle and sheep. The last thing I wanted to look like was a pinstripe member of the London Stock Exchange come to steal Scotland’s hard-earned produce. My tweed suit and my family tartan kilt softened the farming community to my antipodean roots.

It’s off the subject of suits but I must tell you a story about my kilt. The kilt was made for me by a tailor in Edinburgh, from 8 yards of Hunting McInnes tartan cloth. The first time I wore the kilt was to a Burn’s Supper in Edinburgh. Before leaving I had been walking around the house telling Alison to “bring on the English”. I was more than ready to “send them home to think again”.

It was a cold, windy and snowing night. Part way over the Borland Glen our car slipped into a small ditch. I got out to push it back onto the road. As I pushed the wind and snow blew my new kilt up around my face. Alison wound down the driver’s window, looked back and said, “I bet you wish the English were here now.”

Being as Alison was the Scottish 1500m track champion and representative she had the resume to get away with her cheek. There is a time and place though.

Anyway, back to the tweed suit. I’m pretty sure my farming acceptance, founded on that suit, saved the London Knightsbridge Head Office of FMC several million dollars in the price paid for Scottish cattle and sheep. What did Napoleon say, “A soldier is the uniform he wears.”

My second favourite was a pinstripe suit made for me by a small tailoring business in Sunningdale west of London. This suit was a real Knightsbridge number, ideal for a London Head Office business meeting, perfect for a pint in the Belgravia Horse & Groom, and made for an evening in the Palm Beach Casino in Berkley Square. And before you ask, that suit did all those things, many times.

The cloth was incredible. Merino wool as soft as a feather with a wide, very thin pinstripe made of gold. Yes, real 18 karat gold thread. I know that sounds more like an expensive Christmas tree, but it wasn’t. In fact, the suit was understated in an expensive sort of way.

The most memorable moment for this suit came at a new meat plant we built in Perth, Scotland. I invited two Marks & Spenser’s executives from London to visit the new facility with the idea of selling it as a source of meat for their 254 stores. It was a special day. I chose my pinstripe suit for the occasion. When they arrived, we discussed the plant’s superior hygiene. I boasted that the plant was so clean I could kill five sheep and not a drop of blood would get onto my suit.

On the slaughter floor I kick-started the conveyer that brought live sheep up to the killing point. For some reason the conveyer failed to stop and live sheep were being ejected into the processing area. I was desperately trying to grab sheep. By the time we got things under control my gold pinstripe suit was covered in mud and Scottish sheep poo. Fortunately, the visitors from London thought it was hilarious and approved us as a supplier.  

But my all-time favorite suit was made for me by an apprentice tailor at Rembrandt Suits in Courtney Place, Wellington, New Zealand. The apprentice happened to be my brother, Kim. What a talent. The cloth was dark grey Merino with a narrow cream pinstripe. The comfort, the style, the cut and the hand-stitching were straight out of Gieves & Hawkes, No.1 Savile Row, London – but dare I say, better.

I wore the suit Kim made me on my first day at work after finishing university and for many years after that. It came with me from Wellington management trainee to New Product’s Manager for Borthwick’s world-wide group in London.

The suit’s most memorable moment came after we shipped the first container of chilled lamb between New Zealand and the UK. Prior to that all New Zealand lamb was shipped frozen. Today chilled lamb is a multi-million-dollar business. But back then it was cutting edge technology.

We sold the first container to Marks & Spenser. They decided to use their Marble Arch store to control the public sale. The New Zealand ambassador (Hugh Watt) heard about the new product and asked me to arrange a visit to the store.

Dressed in Kim’s suit, I arrived at New Zealand House. The ambassador’s car (license plate NZ1) took us to Marble Arch. Soon we were admiring the meat counter while I explained how we had begun with one carcass by air to this shipment by sea of a full container.

Hugh Watt noticed a little old lady pause at the New Zealand chilled lamb counter and select a pack of leg steaks. The ambassador asked whether she had bought the lamb earlier in the week.

“Oh yes,” said the lady.

“You enjoyed it then?” inquired Watt.

Oh, it is not for me. It’s for my Pekinese,” she said.

There is a swimming side to the chilled lamb story. The foreman who packed that first container of chilled lamb at the Waingawa freezing works, Russell Geange, has also been the Head Coach at the Carterton Swimming Club for years. Duncan Laing, who began his working life in the Waitara works, used to say the best coaches always begin in a New Zealand meat works. Some in white gumboots and others in a pinstripe suit.  


Monday, April 25th, 2022

Most followers of New Zealand sport will know that Dame Lisa Carrington and Aimee Fisher are racing a best of three series to decide who will represent New Zealand in the 2022 World Canoeing Championships. There have been two races this past weekend. Fisher won the first and Carrington the second. The decider is on Thursday. Whoever wins that is off to the World Championships.

Should New Zealand have a favourite? No, of course not. Both these women are superb athletes. Either one would represent the country with distinction. Either one could well win the World Championship race. Win or lose, both deserve the full support of all of us.

I guess every reader knows there is a “BUT” coming next. But, in my case, I will be supporting Fisher. I hope she wins race three on Thursday by a country mile. A country mile in this sort of competition would be anything over a second. You may well be asking, why am I so committed to a Fisher victory? What has Carrington done wrong?

As I have explained there is no sporting justification for my bias. Sadly, it is all to do with politics. You see, along with rowing and cycling, canoe racing (CRNZ) has allowed itself to become a flag bearer for Sport New Zealand’s (SNZ) infiltration and takeover of New Zealand sport. CRNZ has sold its soul for SNZ’s money. The SNZ centralised model is fixed policy in the CRNZ Board Room. Without SNZ money there is no CRNZ. CRNZ is as committed to centralised control as China is to the Communist Party. Philosophically there is no difference. Raelene Castle is the Xi Jinping of New Zealand sport.

For example, financially $2,474,393 of the sport’s total income of $2,843,923 (87%) comes from SNZ. Only $21,765 (7.6%) comes from the members. Carrington’s coach Gordon Walker is employed by CRNZ and shares in the $1,070,000 paid in wages with SNZ’s money. There are 10 management profiles shown on CRNZ’s website. That’s an average of $100,000 each. Gordon Walker is bought and paid for. A committed member of the CRNZ politburo standing committee.

It is impossible to tell how much Carrington is paid by her centralised SNZ and CRNZ benefactors. What we do know is that CRNZ allocated $1,111,387 to “Direct costs associated with athletes”. Carrington will have received her share of that pot of socialist gold. To her credit Carrington stayed in Auckland to train and refused to troop off to Cambridge like the sheep in cycling and rowing.

However, the Carrington clan are flag bearers for the SNZ centralised programme. Her success is used by SNZ to sell the benefits of centralisation. In cycling and swimming, we have seen the damage centralisation has done. Carrington’s performance in three races on Lake Karapiro should not be allowed to gloss over the death of a talented New Zealand cyclist or the barren careers of a score of New Zealand swimmers. And that, is why I want her to lose on Thursday.

Aimee Fisher, on the other hand, has paddled her own canoe. Fisher quit the SNZ and CRNZ centralised program before the Tokyo Olympic Games over concerns about athlete’s welfare. From my experience those concerns were probably well justified. In the typical manner of all bullies and confirming Fisher’s allegations, CRNZ responded with a threat – to be eligible for selection for Tokyo, Fisher was required to be part of the CRNZ’s centralised programme. Join the Communist Party, or else.

To her eternal credit Fisher refused. On her own and in a safer environment, Fisher’s action and independence said she could win without Gordon Walker and his politburo mates. And she has won. She won the K1 500 World Championships held shortly after the Tokyo Olympic Games and she has won one of the two races against Carrington this weekend. Carrington may be a flag bearer for Chinese style centralised rule. But Fisher’s flag represents the independence, grit and courage that has always been the true spirit of New Zealand sport. Her story is what her country is all about. It is not without irony that all this has come to a head on ANZAC weekend. I wonder which policy those men and women fought to uphold. Independence or state rule?

My guess is the average Kiwi identifies best with the Fisher story. We are a country that admires a “do it yourself” spirit. Lydiard, Jelley, Allen, Dalton, Robertson and now Fisher took on the world with their own programme and won. Certainly, I would hope that any person I coach ends up with a slice of the Fisher spirit. In Rhi, Jane, Eyad and Alison that has certainly been the case. And that is why I want Fisher to win on Thursday – because she better represents me and the values, I think are important in sport.


Sunday, April 24th, 2022

Swimwatch has discussed before the danger Nicola Willis is to New Zealand. She comes in lamb’s clothing but is a skilled and ruthless street insurgent. This week she is having a crack at Labour’s spending contribution to New Zealand’s 6.9% inflation.

Like all right-wing zealots her answer is to “cut spending and provide tax relief.”   

Willis goes on to say, “For context, this Government has increased government spending by an additional $52 billion between 2017 and this year,” Willis told Newshub Live at 8pm.

I’d love to know where the “context” in that distortion comes from. The “context” dear Nicola, is that New Zealand has weathered a pandemic in those years that has involved the provision of wage subsidies and the like to get us through. But like the lies she learned to tell in the Marsden School playground, Willis is happy to lie by omission – providing no “context” for her dishonesty.

Would she care if the waitresses at my favourite restaurant, The Grounds, went without pay during the lockdown? I doubt it. As long as Willis paid less tax, the suffering she causes waitresses and labourers is part of the fun of it all. For Willis and her mates watching manual workers suffer is better than a night at the opera. That is what the National Party means by context these days.

Of course, Willis was always going to have a crack at the Government’s decision to reform the bureaucratic structure of the health service. She takes the easy shot of saying the money spent on clerical efficiency she would spend on, “more operations, more services, better mental health care.” She seems incapable of linking a better management structure with, “more operations, more services, better mental health care.” An opposition that complains about everything usually comes up short on election day.

Willis went on to say, “National’s priority is providing tax relief.” Could that possibly be because she sees that as the best way to make more money for Luxton and Willis? I don’t know how many right-wing nut jobs have tried to convince the world that less tax will make everybody’s lives better. The greediest man in the world, Donald Trump, tried it and failed. Now the greediest woman in the Marsden school yard is promoting the same theory.

I can’t believe Willis is the Shadow Minister of Finance. Her knowledge of basic economic theory is less than mine – and mine is pretty bloody awful.

You see, Willis clings on to the idea that reducing personal tax boosts the economy. People will spend more. In addition, she has this idea that lower taxes will improve savings and investments and as a result the productive capacity of the economy.

However, this really is, “the big lie.” In the home of tax cut theory, the USA, their     Congressional Research Service found that a Willis style reduction in tax rates over 65 years “had no correlative impact on economic growth.9

It was left to Grant Robertson to ask the obvious question – what would National cut?

“There is no free lunch here, so if National is saying that, what are they going to cut?”

My guess is, “operations, services and mental health care.” As I have said many times before, New Zealand vote for Willis at your peril. The fields of Marsden School do not lie.  


Thursday, April 21st, 2022

A strange fact in my life is that ANZAC Day has never had much meaning. I say strange, because my grandfather joined the Royal Navy and fought all through the First World War. My father-in-law was posted to a military hospital in Africa and Italy in the Second World War and my father was in the same war until a Monte Cassino German shell caused him serious harm. We are a family well used to war.

I knew my grandfather well. In fact, I lived with him through my three years at Victoria University in Wellington. We discussed all sorts of things but very little about his five years crossing the Atlantic protecting merchant ships suppling the UK with food and guns. He was a wireless operator. That was a novelty in itself. The first wireless message was sent in 1890 only 24 years before my grandfather was using wireless as a vital communication link in a World War.

He told me a story of a convoy that got lost in thick fog somewhere in the Atlantic. My grandfather’s captain asked for a message to be sent instructing the ships to reassemble at an agreed location. Two hours later smoke from dozens of ships could be seen around the horizon as they came together. The captain said, “You know Alex, I don’t understand all this. You tap out a few dots and dashes. They run up the mast and disappear. Two hours later 25 ships scattered across the Atlantic are back together. Unbelievable.”        

My grandfather never lost his morse code skill. I intended to join the New Zealand Air Force after University. Part of flying training involved learning morse code. I used to practice with my grandfather. Study as I might, try as I did, I was many words per minute slower than the World War One model. 

My father-in-law went to war early in 1940. He spent four years working in a military hospital in the African desert. The authorities decided he had earned a holiday back in New Zealand. After a few months at home, during which he married my mother-in-law, he was on a ship heading back to war. This time to another military hospital in Italy. There he stayed until the war ended in 1945. I have often thought his trip home and then back to war was hugely courageous. The second time he had a new wife. He knew what war involved – the danger, the death, man’s inhumanity to man. And still he got on a ship to do it all again. He was a modest, quiet gentleman in every sense of that word. But without question, a man of duty, a man of steel. World War Two was won on the courage of people like him.

My father, on the other hand, I didn’t know all that well. My mother and father divorced when I was two and I didn’t meet my father until I was forty. My mother never made any secret of the divorce. I knew all about his war service and their life together. My father also paid for the personal portion of my scholarship education in the United States. We just never met.

His war ended at Monte Casino in Italy. His tank was one of those attacking the German held Monte Cassino monastery. A German shell hit my father’s tank. He survived, but only just – and without an arm and an eye. Fortunately, my father recorded the events of that day. Here is what he had to say.    

Jones (my father’s name) had trouble from enemy snipers. ‘It was getting very uncomfortable with the head out,’ he reports. ‘I tried commanding with the turret closed, using the periscope, but between fumes from the guns and the rough going found it impossible. He continues:

Buck was killed. He was shot through the head by a sniper. His other tanks had a further attempt with equally disastrous results – a wireless operator, Tom Middleton killed and one or two of the crew badly wounded. Jones lost an arm in one of these tanks.

It was while looking at the possible route that we were hit. Regaining consciousness, I saw that my arm was bleeding badly and must have a tourniquet quickly. I looked up to see Joe Costello gazing through the turret at me. How he wasn’t hit is a mystery. Steve was slumped over his 75mm, bleeding badly from his back and head. Tom Middleton was lying on the floor, having fallen off his seat by his wireless. With difficulty I managed to traverse the turret by hand to allow Jack to scramble through to apply the tourniquet.

This applied, I told Jack to try the motors. It was with a prayer on our lips he pressed the starter. The left engine roared into life to be followed by the right immediately afterwards. With his head out of the driver’s hatch, the better to see and get maximum speed, Jack drove out through our own tanks, which were still pounding away at the enemy, to the forward casualty centre.

Many years after the Second World War I was at school in the United States. One of my best friends was Karl, a German foreign student. Ironically his father had been an artillery gunner in the Monte Cassino fortress. He could well have fired the shell that almost killed my father. And now their sons were the best of mates.

The day before I met my father, I cut my finger with a kitchen knife. It needed six stiches to repair. Later that evening Jane and I arrived to have a barbeque with my new extended family. My Dad opened the door and took one look at my bandaged hand and said, “Snap.” There was never any chance I wouldn’t get on with him or my half brother and sister.   

And that’s the story of three amazing men from my family who fought in World Wars. Snap indeed.