Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Budget.

I don't know why I'm even bothering posting on this as Budget Day is no longer the event it once was. I'm sure the older among us can remember huddling around the TV or radio on budget night waiting for the fateful words from the Minister of Finance that would see the price of our cigarettes or booze be jacked up another notch. I recall my uncle being beet red and spluttering in an incoherent rage as the cost of his Friday night expeditions to the pub made an even bigger dent in his pay packet. I also remember my parents listening in to see what would happen to their family benefit entitlements. In a Labour Budget they were generally happy, in a National one less so. I could never figure out whether this had anything to do with the actual budget or their slightly left of centre political leanings.

However those days are now long gone with the Government dishing out its secrets and strategies well in advance. Sure there's still a lock up for the media and an embargo on the advanced copies, but there seems little point to it as the interesting stuff is already out there. The Government has taken all the fun and anticipation out of the event which is a real pity.

On the plus side it has removed the need for journalists (such as myself) to madly find reaction left right and centre to the whole shebang on Budget night. Because, and let's be honest here, who likes writing business stories anyway?

Monday, May 17, 2004

What's Happening at The Hermitage?

When one thinks of The Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook visions of luxury and grandeur are what spring to mind. How unfortunate it is when the reality does not meet expectations. Unfortunately that was my experience on a recent overnight stay there. My partner and I had chosen to visit Mount Cook as the last stop on a 2000 kilometre trip around the South Island. Because it was our last destination before heading for home we decided to treat ourselves and shell out that little bit extra so we could stay in an establishment we’d normally avoid for reasons of cost. As it transpired it was a decision we later regretted.

Getting a room was simplicity itself as it appeared to be the low season (May) and vacant rooms were available. Even though the Hotel wasn’t jammed it seemed to be doing good business with a substantial number of Asian tourists about. The desk service was good with staff friendly and helpful but that’s where the positives end. For just a tad over $300 we got a double room with ensuite. It would have been more than what we were prepared to pay normally but with dinner and breakfast thrown in we decided to give it a try. The reputation of The Hermitage was such that we were looking forward to the cuisine with keen anticipation.

The problems began when we got to the room. The view from room 443 in the Wakefield Wing was spectacular, however the state of the room was less satisfying. The bathroom was quite frankly a complete disgrace. The bath had at some stage been cracked and subjected to what can only be described as sub-standard repairs. Traces of mould were clearly evident between the bath tiles and a crude attempt to make the bath non-stick had been made with rough strips of roughened tape laid crookedly along the bottom of the bath. It is the Kiwi nature not to complain (part of our British Heritage perhaps) but in this case I have to go against all my instincts. The night before we’d stayed at the Radford Alpine View Motel in Te Anau and for the price of $130 we’d got a double room with fully modern (and clean!) bathroom complete with spa-bath. It is a little disappointing when a motel can quite comfortably outstrip what’s regarded as a premier hotel in such a basic area. In a nutshell The Hermitage’s $300 plus room left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless my partner and I chose to shrug off our initial disappointment. Surely, we reasoned, the dinner that awaited us would make up for it. How wrong we were.

Our expectations of the dinner were partially based on my past experience at The Hermitage. Well over a decade ago, during part of my varied and diverse career path, I worked in the hotel’s kitchen for a period of a few months. While the years have possibly left a rosy haze over my recollections I do emphatically recall the extremely high standard to which the kitchen operated. Different areas of the menu had their own specialist chefs. The level of expertise was high and the attention to detail and quality was extreme. The kitchen did have a large turnover in staff (mainly kitchen-hands and the lower trained) but the chefs were exceedingly competent in their craft. So imagine our disappointment when we went into the Alpine Restaurant and were confronted with a buffet service. The quality of food on display was roughly equivalent to that one might experience at Sequoia 88 or Valentines, not what you’d expect of The Hermitage. In fact I have to apologise to the aforementioned establishments and say while I’ve only dined at them very infrequently I’ve never known their chicken to be undercooked. Not only was the chicken pink but also the lamb was tough and the King Prawns appeared very near their use by date. Most of the food was either tired, poorly presented, or just not that appetising. It was not just the mains that weren’t up to par, the dessert, normally the highlight and most looked forward to part of the meal, proved less than satisfactory. The fruit tarts were bland and the melon slices were so hard one risked bending a spoon while attempting to dismember them. I don’t know what changes, if any, have been made in the kitchens since I worked there. Nor can I speak for the quality of food is in the hotel’s Panorama Restaurant. But what I can say is this; it was a distinctly forgettable meal.

Disheartened and very disappointed, and not a little upset, my partner and I then retired to our room to soothe ourselves with a hot chocolate before turning in for the night. Even this seemingly simple pleasure was quite literally soured. Upon sipping the beverage it just tasted wrong, something my girlfriend also remarked on. It turned out the milk left in the room’s fridge was one day short of its expiry date and the fridge it was in hadn’t been turned on so it had gone off. The milk was sour and so too was our opinion of The Hermitage.

The problem is simple. For the money we paid the experience simply wasn’t good enough. Such shortcomings shouldn’t be present in any hotel let alone one that has such a prominent reputation. With thousands of overseas tourists coming through its door every year what sort of impressions are they taking away? While costs and value are a relative thing if what we saw was the norm it’d be fair to say those frequenting the Hermitage are not getting value for their money. Location alone cannot be used as an excuse for its tariffs when it falls down in so many areas. I’ll happily accept a buffet service is an appropriate option. But surely if guests are paying $300 a night it makes sense to make it an exceptional buffet, and not something any local budget restaurant can achieve. If one was to write a report card for The Hermitage the concluding comment wouldn’t be “can do better”, it’d be “should be doing better”. I hope that will be the case in the not too distant future.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Stroking, Back-patting, and Other Industry Misdemeanours.

Well the NZ Radio Awards have been and gone with the creme de la creme of our broadcasting industry congregating in Auckland over the weekend. Having taken part in this year's event here are a few of my observations.

Firstly; damn we are a scruffy bunch. The awards coincided with a NZ music month conference at the Carlton Hotel. Some guests at the 5 star establishment could have been forgiven for thinking the management was undertaking some sort of community service initiative and had invited the homeless in off the streets for the weekend. Shabby was definitely in vogue (which was fine by me as I freely admit to having no sense of style) with disreputable radio types lurking around every corner and forming a virtual barricade at the bar. Some of the Asian and American guests appeared somewhat bemused by it all. To be fair there was a remarkable transformation around 4.30 pm. Gone were the cargo pants, Indian shirts, Megadeath T-Shirts (I spotted 2!), tank-tops, and the eponymous black dresses of lengths varied. All of a sudden ball-gowns and suits literally sprung from the woodwork as the awards deadline approached. At least we can scrub up well when we so choose (though I understand opinion is evenly split on the crushed velvet as sported by Mike Hosking).

Second; I don't know who else but Jeremy Corbett and Willy De Wit could have carried off the awards ceremony in the way that they did. Congratulations to them for making what could have been a turgid evening very entertaining. Their staged one upmanship for the category they were competing against each other was spot-on. They were only acting, but it was an accurate depiction of some of the undercurrents among the staff of the competing networks in the audience. The knives were well and truly flashing and no spine was safe. One real positive from the night was the acceptance speeches. Short, to the point, humourous, and by and large done ith the right balance of pride and humility.

I'm not going to pass judgement on who won what other than to say I had no problems with the decisions and this is from a finalist that didn't win. If you want to see that little drama I suggest you go here, I'm sure it will prove entertaining. One thing I will query though is why did the Auckland Radioworks mob up and leave the moment Classic Hits won the last award of the night? Was it a case of sour grapes, or were they just in desperate need of a cigarette?

Third; and this is a note to the organisers. Access to alcohol could have been improved. Nothing gets the goat of a broadcaster more than impeded access to booze. Having waiters running around with trays was a nice idea but 1000 or so broadcasters have a mean thirst and there was no way in hell they were ever going to meet demand. Having to band in groups to hunt down waiting staff, while sort of satisfying, cut into some serious drinking time. Mind you maybe that's what Skycity had in mind. If we couldn't get plastered we couldn't do too much damage. (though I hear there was a mahogany tabletop that ended up much the worse for wear)

Fourth; NZ Broadcasting School pay attention!! I know you guys are really proud of the achievements of your graduates and it's nice that you recognise them. I just feel you went a little far with all the posters you were putting up all over the place. Tony Simons (don't deny it, I spotted you with a great sheaf of them), was it really necessary to put one up in the men's toilet?

I have to say I'm not sure if I really enjoyed the event. It was good to catch up with some people I hadn't seen in some time and have a bit of a chinwag. But once that was done it left little to do but sitback and observe the industry in action. I'll be honest and say it wasn't such a pretty sight. Shallow, vacuous, egotistical, petty, false, back-stabbing, self-righteous. These were just some of the more base characteristics that were on display. Why is it we come across so nice on air but can be complete pricks off it? Don't get me wrong there are genuinely nice people working in radio. But is it my imagination that their numbers are rapidly thinning.

I vaguely remember getting back to the hotel somewhere around 3 or 4 am after a somewhat unusual cab ride. It was only a short walk but as it was bucketing down (I understand it was the same downpour that fucked up the Westies) and I was wearing a rental suit I chose to take the lazy option. The problem was my driver couldn't locate the hotel despite it being only 2 blocks away and located right behind one of Auckland's more prominent features, the Aotea Centre. I endeavoured to give my Hindu cabbie directions but there was a communication issue. He didn't speak a lot of English and I speak even less Hindi. Matters were not helped by my state of insobriety either. Fortunately after some discussions with his despatcher, who spoke both English and Hindi (yay!), I made it to the hotel. By the sounds of things so had a few of my industry colleagues. Either that or there was a tribe of Waikato rugby supporters on the rampage somewhere in the corridors. The last sounds I heard as lapsed into a coma was the thunder of feet and that immortal Mooloo chant "Ole ole ole ole, mooloo mooloo"

Has anyone heard the damages bill for the Carlton yet??