Making an Arse of Myself in Wellington

It’s only Broadband – get a life…

Human right or not, if the board game Monopoly were invented now, Broadband would be one of the Utilities. When I was a child the cliché remark Britons and Americans would make about countries like Tunisia, Turkey, Greece and even Spain as holiday destinations would be, “Don’t drink the water”.

Americans are horrified at the lack of air-conditioning and dribbly shower pressure in Britain, we are alarmed by sanitation in India and Kenya. Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge, Gyppy Tummy, all that. Wider issues of social justice, equity, western snobbery aside, it’s human nature when you travel to think of how your stay might be in a far country.

In New Zealand the roads are as good as any country I’ve ever visited. The coffee is better. The food generally is exquisite. The water supply fresh and easily drinkable. The wine-making is outstanding. The public transport system (certainly within Wellington) as is good as it gets. The infrastructure fabric on both islands is as first world as you could find. I don’t remember seeing so much as one pothole in the surface of the roads from the top of North Island to the bottom of the South. I do wish there was a better signage system telling you whether, as you approach Mount Victoria from Seatoun and Miramar and have to make up the choice to drive round the headland or not, whether the bloody tunnel is going to be opened or closed, but that’s another matter. There is a sign, it’s just that it’s a useless one. Stop, it Stephen. You’ll only get into trouble again.

NZ rocks…

My 23 year old godson sent me this, just today, direct quote. Unaltered by one syllable.

“I imagine you might be in New Zealand right now, is that right? Hobbiting? I hope that that’s all going well and that it’s nice being out there. From the three weeks I spent in New Zealand on my gap year I do remember thinking that I had never, and would never be again, be in a more stunning place in my life. So I hope that’s the case for you too. “

Those are the words of a privileged, intelligent, talented, charming and well-travelled Englishman. There is so much to love here, so much for Kiwis to be proud of.

This is the country that produced Ernest Rutherford, the man who split the atom and Edmund Hillary the man who first stood on the peak of Mount Everest. This is the first democracy to give women the vote.  Despite the sheep jokes this is as sophisticated, progressive and forward looking a nation-state as exists in the world, its population of a mere four million or so punching hugely above their weight in almost every field of endeavour.

A flat white. Invented by Australians and adopted by New Zealanders. (Actual flat white from @SensoryLondon)

The harnessing of the remarkable talents of Sirs Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor created the Wellywood phenomenon. James Cameron had to come to Wellington to make Avatar because, quite simply, there weren’t the technical facilities or expertise anywhere else in the world.  New Zealand is a most astonishingly beautiful country, the people are friendly and charming, though I wouldn’t want to be in a ruck or a maul with them on a rugby field. They’re outdoorsy but lack the brashness that can be found (attractively in its own way) in Australia. Modest, welcoming, zoologically and botanically unique, there are few places in the world where I feel more at home than kiwiland and if I offended by being rude about its digital performance, then I am sorry. But I promise you it came from love. Well, love with mixed with early morning grumpiness.

My good friend, the ever reliable @elvis717 alerted me to this excellent document which outlines Sweden’s digital roadmap.

Like New Zealand, Sweden has a relatively small and scattered population.  Sweden too punches above its weight, not just with Ikea, Volvo, Girls with dragon tattoos who kick over hornets’ nests and get up to all kinds of shenanigans, and Abba of course, but as a digital force. The home of Spotify and dozens of other influential start ups and major players in the IT world, Sweden decided some time ago that it wasn’t good enough to be good enough, it was important to be ahead of the game throughout the country and in terms of global comparison. As the document says in its opening statement:

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19 comments on “Making an Arse of Myself in Wellington”

  1. KarenInglis says:

    Stephen – this is a great post! Spot on. I don’t catch your tweets that often [Following just 150 odd people I find it difficult enough to see the wood for the trees...] :) But when I do they are always a joy to read – and so nice that you are just ‘yourself’. Keep it up :) New Zealand sounds wonderful. @kareninglis x

  2. bfountaine says:

    Stephen, I’m a Kiwi, living in England, and have of course experienced broadband from both sides. I have to smile at the reaction you have received to an offhand tweet, the words storm and teacup spring to mind. I love being a Kiwi and love NZ as a whole and a lot of the attitudes/reactions my people give to many situations, Kiwis have an amazing capacity to care, and pull together and support each other but sadly in this instance I’m afraid you’ve inadvertantly stumbled upon a fairly typical Kiwi reaction, when not much happens, mountains can easily be made out of molehills. I love that one tweet can be escalated to government level and that you got a full page advert in the newspaper in response but have to say, be proud you’ve given a nation of 4 million something to talk about for 5 mins and rest assured the next storm will be brewing in a teacup somewhere else in the country as we type!

  3. themarkcraig says:

    Fantastic article Stephen! laughed all the way through. I am a Scotsman living in Wellington and just LOVE how New Zealanders, bless them all, jump on stories like your tweet. It hit the websites mere minutes after your tweet and indeed did have the honour of breaking news for about half an hour! I do agree with you and feel that while this is a fabulous country with great people, they do have an opportunity to be at the very forefront of technology/broadband/internet if they wanted to be! Love Telstra’s reaction to it all as well …..very clever!

  4. passcrow says:

    Incredibly well said. Let the wind blow, never change.

  5. DominicSayers says:

    Pedantry alert: it’s Distributed Denial of Service. I know you like to get the geeky stuff right.

  6. minnican says:

    Excellent reading Mr. Fry….. a welcome break in my day over coffee and cake….!

  7. ElvinaGB says:

    Never apologize for a good rant. It’s a healthy thing to do once in a while. Have a great time filming in NZ.

  8. mitchpixx says:

    Stephen, if your broadband and time allows you to read this :-) I follow many on Twitter who will regularly ‘retweet’ as requested… and I have to say, its boring and bordering on the banal! It reminds me of those people who go to concerts and gigs and are constantly striving to gain the eye and attention of the band/group/performer etc. Its pathetic and serves absolutely no purpose! So, please continue to tweet as inanely as you wish – I for one find it amusing, uplifting and eye-opening at times and would never take offence at finding out that you are, against all odds, a human being! (@MitchPixx, should the desire to thank me personally prove too much to resist ;) )

  9. Thistleryver says:

    That TelstraClear ad is quite funny. It would have won them a fan if I wasn’t already a customer (disatisfaction — grass is always greener with the other ISP).

    I really think that nothing less than half a page could be called a “rant” and nothing without capital letters, an excess of exclamation marks and a few swears could be called an “outburst”. I’m moving to make these official definitions. :P

  10. Agrarian says:

    They say it takes a big man to admit his mistakes! Personally I totally celebrated your remarks. NZ broadband is the pits and Telecom is totally unresponsive. My broadband is scarcely faster than dial up, but regrettably, I am just a customer and Telecom is not interested.Nor are they going to reduce their extortionate $100+ per month fee. But, your comments were front page news. Thank you. Have a great time in Godzone, and if you are inclined I for one would be happy for you to make the odd provocative comment.

  11. jyork89 says:

    Thank you Stephen for this great blog post and hopefully it can put some of the naysayers at rest.

    As a New Zealander I understand all to well just how lousy our internet is. While we once were considered to be the pinnacle of technological innovation, New Zealand is now held back by our dated telecommunications network and overpriced internet. Anyone who claims otherwise is either still using a typewriter, does not know what the internet is, is in denial, or a combination of the three.

    I have traveled quite extensively myself and am always shocked to find countries that are often considered to be developing or on the lower spectrum of developed (Eastern European for example) having better internet than my own country. Your “outburst” was simply stating what many New Zealanders already think and anyone who is will to look outside their front door will instantly realize.

    Not only is the internet here in a terrible state it proves a valuable lesson against the dangers of monopolies. Even now Telecom has far more power than any single company should have. And as a result we are now ripped off in exchange for extremely poor services. I believe simply by reigning in Telecom even further, the government could lead to improvements of the internet by competing private parties. From what I understand though, right now other ISP’s still have to pay a line charge to telecom. So even if they have the best intents their service will still be overpriced due to Telecom ransoming them.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love my country. I love the people. I love living here. And even though I might one day leave I will likely return eventually. Yet the internet is such a major part of my lifestyle that it unfortunately strongly influences my opinion of my country. Getting a $180 internet bill every month makes me wince. Especially since I am getting slower internet than many comparable countries.

    Being a resident of Christchurch I can understand my internet will probably be lousy for a while. For now the priority for much of the country will be the rebuild. But regardless of that we should definitely not forget about the other issues. If we over focus on Christchurch we will wake up 50 years from now realizing that the rest of the world has flying cars while we are back to horse and carriage.

    As far as I am concerned, have as many “outbursts” as you wish. If anybody gets their knickers in a twist, just claim that it was merely constructive criticism. Frankly, I am amazed it took so long for someone to say what you did.

  12. Orcmeister says:

    Dear Stephen,

    Given the deluge of electronic communication you subject yourself to I’m not even sure you’re going to read this, but here goes anyway

    Just a couple of points (in no special order)in response to your sprawling epic of a blog:

    1) Whenever you are in Wellington, you seem to bring less than brilliant weather with you. Have you considered the possibility you’re the reincarnation of an Antipodean Douglas Adams-esque rain god?

    2) You’re welcome back in Wellington any time but please continue to be yourself. I suspect you’d be far less interesting if you weren’t.

    3) I shouldn’t feel too apologetic about your broadband storm in a tweet-cup if I were you. You only said what most Kiwis already feel.

    I hope you to continue your time Hobbiting away here in Wellington. My daughter is an extra at the moment, taking the pivotal role of one of your fellow citizens of Laketown. Fair warning, if you find yourself in the catering tent one lunch you may be very accosted by a long-haired young lass and politely asked for your autograph!

  13. Mark Lincoln says:

    Crikey, quite a blog post! Nice to hear your full side of it. I actually blogged about your Telecom Tweets ( I took Telecom’s side at the time as the fault wasn’t really theirs and yet so many Kiwis were so keen to jump on the bandwagon and lay into them!

    Then again, they’ve recently reported a 6 month profit of $1 billion so I guess there is room for some investment in a few cables there!

    Enjoy the rest of your time in New Zealand.

  14. michael says:

    i’ve never been to NZ (though i’d love to just for the birds :) )

    but whenever i visit my hometown in rural oklahoma i’m pretty much cut off from things that my coworkers expect me to have access to.

    there is nothing but dialup unless my folks want to buy a big satelite dish…and i can only call or text someone if i’m standing out by the barbwire fence & holding an aluminum can of dr pepper up in my other hand for an antenna. totally not good during lightning storms…

  15. Msconduct says:

    Stephen, you’re entirely right about the suckitude of our broadband, and if your remarks actually make a difference I’ll be pathetically grateful. Thank you also for the graciousness of your other remarks about New Zealand. There’s nobody Kiwis love more than an Englishman who a) discovers how wrong the image is that most Britons have of New Zealand of being a little England stuck 30 (50?) years in the past and b) broadcasts it. Keep this up and you’re in serious danger of becoming an honorary Kiwi.

  16. NinaJC says:

    Dear Stephen,

    I’ve resisted registration on this lovely site for reasons of mere efficiency; as when one goes to a large department store, rather than to boutiques, I would like to gather all of my information and cultural experiences in a one-stop-shopping effort with the minimum number of passwords and other of the detritus of digital life. However, that hasn’t proved successful, since some personalities and world views succeed in combining high with low, practical with beautiful, and, I might add, some very attractive merchandise – I may break down and get the cab/squid T-shirt yet.

    I so admire the breadth of your talents, that I may make this day (one year only) Stephen Fry Day and whistle up some old episodes of Blackadder. (Your registration page demands birth date, so you will have some idea of how far back my catalogue goes; I had a Cab Calloway indulgence last evening – that man was HIGH a good deal of the time, I feel sure….and to good effect, on film at least).

    Anyway, I tried to see if you’re a presence on Google+ so that I could my laziness, and having no luck at finding you registered there to blog, I made an attempt to cross-pollinate by referring to one of your posts and linking to your site; it really is lovely, especially the graphic on the home page. Finally, you make tweeting seem possible and fun for the long winded.

  17. larry229 says:

    I’m not on twitter, but I heard about your complaint pretty fast! I wouldn’t feel too embarrassed, I don’t think I know anyone who is actually pleased with Telecom Broadband. I believe when I was looking up internet plans in Consumer Magazine their customer satisfaction was only around 40%. As for it causing a storm in a teacup, well, that’s the thing about New Zealand. We’re rather small and, earthquakes aside, we’re a rather slow news sort of place. The Hobbit is big news, and any celebrities who deign to come here are big news, and you happen to be big news on both counts. And our broadband really does suck.

  18. Nitro says:

    I don’t mind writing when I’m drunk and angry, so I shall and…

    Wait a damn minute here!

    You’re NOT a public service?!!

    Then why the hell is there this “SF” tax of 15$ on my utilities bill every month?

    All this time I thought it was a Stephen Fry tax.

    Hmmm…maybe it actually stands for San Francisco…

    I don’t follow you on twitter and, in being myself, have to admit I don’t really care about all this floffal about whatever happened when you said some thing. I just want your blogs to get better. The kind you wrote before you were always defending yourself and referencing your followers and etc etc etc.

    You can be really eloquent on some pretty cool topics ( please don’t do geek stuff too often….I’m a geek and they make me nervous, not droolie ).

    Oops, the fun stuff’s kicking in so I better bail out here. Bye. :)

  19. Kate Terence says:

    Dear Mr Fry, I loved reading about your journey. It is so easy to assume that people in your position (successful, famous, talented) never experience these types of incidents like we mortals do. Travelling, traffic and toilets are three of the great levellers in life, don’t you think? Yours with smiling admiration, Kate Terence, currently blogging Kate Terence’s Letters from Hollywood

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