The heart goes out to those whose notes desert them

Clare Curran fronts media in Dunedin after being booted from Cabinet. Photo: Gregor Richardson
Clare Curran. Photo: Gregor Richardson
If you come bearing a bouquet, please leave out the bluebells.

It is wrong, I know, to be intolerant of innocent flowers.

In normal circumstances, I would love them. They pop up colourfully after the dreariest winter, their many little heads nodding in any spring breeze. And they are fragrant, something which is usually top of the list of my flower requirements (oh, the effrontery of having such requirements).

But when I see their dear little heads nodding, I fear they may be chattering away in unknown flower language, mocking me. (To the best of my recollection I haven't bored you with this before, but should some eager beaver Melissa Lee wannabe search the archives and discover I am wrong, I apologise in advance.)

At primary school, every year we would be marched down to the local picture theatre to watch and/or participate in The Competitions.

The classes included those for singing, recitation and playing the piano.

We pupils relished the chance to get away from our everyday routine, even if it meant sitting through multiple renditions of The Streets of Laredo one year and Edelweiss the next.

Sliding into the anonymity of the theatre darkness in the daytime was not on a par with attending a Saturday-night movie. Then, the teenagers took ownership of the back seats to snog and fumble, roll Jaffas down the aisle, be noisy and generally incur the wrath and blinding beam of the torch-wielding usher. At The Competitions there was considerably more decorum, although we might occasionally be told to shush when tolerance for Laredo or Edelweiss waned.

The Auckland-dwelling sister recalls Barbara Lane, country singer Tex Morton's sister, adding some glamour to the occasion as the chief adjudicator, sporting a stunning blonde beehive hairdo.

My first foray to The Competitions' stage was for piano.

I had yet to scale the heights of Grade 1 so my performance was not expected to be a lengthy one.

A goody two-shoes in those days, I had practised and practised and practised, committing the tune to memory. I was confident I would easily beat the other competitor in my class, having heard her plink and plonk her way through her piece without flair in practice.

I strode boldly on to the stage without music.

Once settled on the piano stool, I promptly forgot every note I had ever learned.

I have no idea what I played. It certainly was not The Bluebells of Scotland. Mortified, after a futile roam around the keys, I gave up and scuttled off the stage.

It would not be the last time I would go blank, get flustered and make an idiot of myself. Any observer of my many unsuccessful job interviews over the years could attest to that.

So, last week when I saw Clare Curran grasping for words and failing to make a coherent response to a parliamentary question from National's Melissa Lee, I felt for her.

When I viewed all of her responses to Lee's questions during that encounter, I didn't think she had done too badly overall, but that bumbling response became the news. (Incidentally, while the video footage contains all of the umming and aahing, the written Hansard record cuts it out.)

There is no evidence yet Curran has not complied with Official Information Act requirements with regard to her personal Gmail use. During the encounter with Lee, speaker Trevor Mallard pointed out there was no restriction on members or ministers using Gmail accounts.

"I think all of us know that a large amount of the foreign affairs business of the previous Government was carried out by Gmail," he said.

How common is it for MPs to use personal Gmail for some of their official business? If someone has provided that perspective, I haven't seen it.

Curran has since resigned, of course, something she would have been wise to do after the Carol Hirschfeld saga earlier this year. If PM Jacinda Ardern didn't consider it a sacking offence, resignation could have been strongly encouraged. It was clear Curran would be constantly targeted and it wouldn't be pretty.

The fallout from what's happened has been exacerbated by predictably awful (and awfully predictable) outpourings of vitriol on social media.

In the 1960s, I was free from that but I remember the agonising wait for the school bus, under ominous grey skies, after the competitions debacle. What would I say if someone teased me about my awful piano playing?

Nobody did. I like to think those children knew I had suffered enough. However, the Auckland-dwelling sister reckons they might have been bored rigid and thrilled my performance was mercifully short.

Whatever the truth of it, and despite my bluebells phobia, I'm pretty sure my experience was better than Clare's.

Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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