From the lemon farm or being paid a visit

Dear Readers, I am writing to you from the lemon farm. It’s nice here. Quiet. So many…er..lemons. Kerikeri is not exactly Siberia and as a destination for self-induced exile – there are worse places to be. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not hiding exactly but I have changed my name and now wear a moustache.

Last week I wrote a column expressing my opinion regarding some of the unusual decision-making processes that our council engages in. I mentioned the CEO’s salary and my personal opinion that 15 years in the job might be a call for a bit of fresh air.

Over a hundred families’ rates go towards paying Mr. Simpson’s salary, and, being a public servant, I thought a member of the public could freely express her opinion on how she felt she was being served.

My bad.

Hey – we can’t all be Russian developers with council numbers on speed dial.

Mr. Simpson paid me a visit. Which was nice – sort of. The café was spookily empty when he came in and I was alone. He shook my hand the way a father does to his daughter’s new boyfriend. Intimidating. 

He asked me how old my daughter was – which was odd. I told him and asked him how old his was and he told me. 

“Mr. Simpson, I fail to see the relevance of this conversation, “ I said. 

“Look, he thundered, my wife comes from one of the founding families, the Nova Scotia boats that came out from Scotland….” 

“Are we going back 200 years now Mr. Simpson?’ Lost, I shrugged. 

“Look, – she knows everyone in Northland and is related to half of them and you will find that there are a lot of people who back me and think I am doing a fantastic job.’ 

I agreed that there probably were and hoped they would write lots of letters to the editor and then we could all join in a big group hug. 

What I didn’t say was that I hadn’t been aware that Northland had a landed gentry or that they held any special privileges. If that were the case I wondered if Mr. Simpson had considered that some of the founding ships had actually been called waka and perhaps Mr. Harawira should be informed of his true status. 

‘You have slagged me and hurt me and my family’ he roared. 

This was getting more random by the minute and I hated to interrupt but I had never mentioned his family – he had, and he had started the conversation by mentioning my daughter. In South America that alone would be a call to arms. 

A small voice in the back of my head said ‘You’re not in Guatemala now Dr. Ropata.” I told it to shut up. Maybe this is the way things are done up here. Who knows? 

It’s nice to know that I can wander into Mr. Simpson’s office unannounced and with no appointment to randomly give my opinion on council decisions as Mr. Simpson had just done to me. Surely the arrangement is mutual and all citizens can do this. 

“Who are you?” he asked. 
“A rate-payer” I replied. 
He blinked. 

It was a Mexican stand-off with no sombreros. 

They give you all this power to write what you like…” he trailed off. 

“Nothing that is not factually accurate. The rest is just opinion and what I wrote is not personal. 

“ To me, it’s personal! he growled. 

No point in arguing the principle over the personal. He was just plain mad. 

“I’m the tea lady at the local café. If we’re talking power ratios I think you’ll find the difference in your favour Mr. Simpson.” 

But I was talking to his back as he stormed out. He hadn’t even bought a coffee. 

I went back to wash the pile of dishes that lay waiting. Powerfully. Masterfully. And so here I am; squeezing another bounteous lemon into my gin and sipping it through my moustache and I find I’m shaken, but strangely – not stirred.

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