Making an Arse of Myself in Wellington

Power, responsibility and all that…

Every now and again, what with me being what I am (a human), I find myself hurled into the teeth of some sort of twitterstorm. Either I get a bit cross with someone ( or “throw my toys out of the pram” and “have a hissy fit” as some would prefer to put it) or I tweet an opinion or experience that for some reason turns into a “story” with all the distortions, Chinese whispers, misunderstandings and embarrassments that “stories” generate.

For instance…

QANTAS and Dubai

I was returning from Australia a month or two back and on the Singapore to London leg of the journey an engine failed and our QANTAS flight had to circle Dubai for a while to empty its fuel tanks before depositing itself at the airport and disgorging us to await our destinies.

This is not so abnormal an occurrence as to merit much attention, but it didn’t help that this occurred just a few days after QANTAS had undergone a full-scale strike, its boss’s probity and competence had been ripped to shreds in the Australian press, its destiny cast into doubt and its management and future compared unfavourably with the hugely profitable Asian airlines with whom it competes. It was also, by an unpleasant coincidence, exactly a year ago to the day that a QANTAS A380 engine, also on a flight between Singapore and London, had exploded – causing much grief and heartache for Airbus, Rolls Royce and QANTAS.

Anyway, on this occasion I tweeted from the tarmac, as doubtless did many other passengers and then filed out onto the jet-way and into the airport along with everyone else.

I should add that it so happened that this incident all took place during Eid, the festival that signals an end to the fasting days of Ramadan, so Dubai Airport was busier and brasher and brassier than ever.

Let’s turn back the twitter pages to find what I tweeted. I have left the entire stream of drivel exactly as it was, without correcting some of the typical typos and weird autocorrects that flow from me when I tweet in a hurry and press send without checking. My premature entweetulation problem will be the death of me, but most of us are like that so I don’t feel too bad about it. I am fully aware of the delicious pleasure it must give people when I offer them a chance to present a perceived smart-arse like myself a damned good verbal spanking for every accidental “it’s” instead of “its”, “your” instead of “you’re” and so on. I believe, for example, that the inexplicable “Liverpool” below was supposed to have been “love to”. One tweet even starts but then goes nowhere, cut off in its prime. But you will get the general idea as you read.

The first leg from Sydney to Singapore has gone smoothly. All passengers disembark, the cabin and flight crew change, the bins are emptied and hot-boxes replaced as the plane undergoes its rapid turnaround re-service.

I check my diary and see that I have promised a tweet on behalf of the Criterion Theatre and manage to get it in before we take off for the long flight to London.

Tweet in haste, repent at leisure…

3 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Just before phones off, don’t miss the sublimely talented @TheShowstoppers‘s Improv Musical this Fri night @CriTheatre. criterion-theatre.co.uk/Showstopper

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Bugger. Forced to land in Dubai. An engine has decided not to play.

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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My flight. Still on board. Not sure of we’ll be bussed to the airport lounges or kept aboard while they work on it bbc.co.uk/news/business-…

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@oh_rhomson It sure is!

In reply to Rodney Thomson

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Hm – I’m sure we’ll

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Still stuck on Dubai tarmac. No one seems to know how long we’ll be here. Should’ve landed in London at 6:20. That won’t happen! #qantas

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@abcnews24 We’re just stuck on the Tarmac: have been for an hour or so. Give my Liverpool Tony Jones – enjoyed the Lateline chat.

In reply to ABC News 24

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@abcnews24 I think plan is to bus us to the transit lounge and await International Rescue. This plane, the crew tell me, is going nowhere

In reply to ABC News 24

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@abcnews24 So either Sydney send another one out or they come to an accommodation with Emirates. Either way not a great week for #qantas !

In reply to ABC News 24

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@abcnews24 I should in all conscience add that staff are being wonderful & that morale is high and the passengers understanding & cheerful

In reply to ABC News 24

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@StevieCummings Exceptionally true x

In reply to Steve Cummings

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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On a bus from the plane to the terminal now. Who knows what treats lie in store? #qantas

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Oh Jesus arsemothering fuck. I’ve left my wallet on the sodding plane. Hell’s teeth this really isn’t my day. Will not leave without it.

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@abcnews and I’ve left my wallet on the plane – all my ID cards, money passes etc. I’m going to be siting here for ever and ever and ever

In reply to ABC News

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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That’s it. I’m fucked. Seriously fucked.

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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It’s at times like this a man considers taking up smoking again. Possibly with heroin, crack and MDMA mixed in & all washed down with vodka

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Well, SMH, not so much “upset” as bloody furious. But with myself for leaving so hurriedly I forgot my wallet: me=twat m.smh.com.au/travel/travel-…

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Reunited with wallet & cards so v relieved ! Hurrah. Qantas have gone to the trouble & expense of this: which is nice pic.twitter.com/3sStwLfV

View photo

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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I seem to have made Gulf News gulfnews.com/arts-entertain…

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Three something rather sweet about a country as advanced as Dubai still clinging to removable ring pulls – frypi.cc/rsqNvH

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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There is be a faint chance that in 4.5 hours time I might get to Munich and then have a scramble to connect for home. Luggage? Ha! #QANTAS

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Well it looks as tho someone’s wonderfully finagled a seat on an Emirates flight direct to London this afternoon. Should only 16 hours late

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@vinyllounge it is indeed most calming with its fountains and amazing floral displays …

In reply to The Vinyl Lounge

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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A fair response from Siri I suppose … frypi.cc/uHqBLE

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@jamesblundell haha! You’ve got to hand it to Siri s/he is a class act!

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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@WestgarthEnt Not true. There’s UK Eng, Oz Eng and US Eng plus French & German. Tried the Oz version with Oz friends. Scottish Eng the prob

In reply to Michael Wilde

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Just had a terrible thought. Flying Emirates doesn’t make me an Arsenal supporter does it?

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Wow, look at how the digital industry are helping youngsters in Norfolk to decide on their future! tinyurl.com/687e7rq #YFiD_2011

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Finally taking off now. Thank you Emirates.

4 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Touchdown! 14 and a half hours later than expected, but touchdown! An exciting day. All was calm in the end and no need for crack or heroin.

5 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Check out @_BROWNBOOK a magazine dedicated to profiling the creative community of the Middle East. on.fb.me/nm0Wrh

5 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Shop online at 500+ sites via bit.ly/4XNfg2 – All4charities pick up a commission and pass on every penny to a charity you choose.

5 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Film your life next Sat Nov12 for @britaininaday and help create a historic, moving & honest portrait of the UK goo.gl/O3lLK

5 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Comedian Simon Amstell hosts a concert in aid of London’s homeless. Great cause! Thur 10 Nov @southbankcentre Tickets: bit.ly/hrpjgB

5 Nov

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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To sleep, then up again and now to sleep. Body clocks – you’ve got to love them.

Stephen Fry @stephenfry

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Close to 20 hours sleep. I think I’m awake now. Is there any way of knowing this isn’t a zomboid dream?

One in 4 milllion

Well, what does that all that tell us or teach us? Not so very much really. You can readily understand that because I have a public face and have been on Twitter a long time and drawn a large number of followers, an event that might otherwise pass as an unnoticed and routine flight inconvenience becomes news when I tweet about it.

You will also be aware that twitter is a duplex communication service: it is not just me pronouncing and firing off tweets, there are thousands of “mentions” and hundreds of Direct Messages coming at me all the time, only the tiniest fraction of which I will get a chance to see, let alone directly answer.

You have to picture me as being in a forest on a windy autumn day. Thousands of leaves swirl around me and every now and again I clutch at one and look at it. Newcomers to Twitter get most annoyed if they “@stephenfry” me and get no reply, but with a little thought, imagination and empathy they usually get to realize that there are literally not enough hours in the day for me to read, let alone respond to, every call to my attention.

The numbers and what they mean are both humbling and (if one is honest) quite proud-making too. Of course my 4 million is but a fifth of the staggering number who follow @LadyGaga. Nonetheless with four million followers comes responsibility, and I have been trying to hold steady to what I believe my twitter identity is and should be. Each storm when it comes can batter the outer edifice a little, but so far it is holding up and I haven’t had to run away (as I have in the past and as other “celebrity-tweeters” have decided to do permanently) for some while yet.

The stream  above shows me responding, as I try to do, to special appeals to good causes here and there. It is a very distressing thing to know that even as I am typing this, someone, somewhere is tweeting me about a fun run, a  sponsored pancake race, a terminally ill person’s blog, a YouTube musical demo, a new opportunity for digital start-ups or some either highly worthy charitable endeavour.  So, while I hung around Dubai (noticing trivial things like ring pulls on soda water cans) I chose a few calls that seemed close to home, to resonate with me in some special way or – in the case of Simon Amstell – responded to a direct request from a friend who had texted me hoping for a tweet. And now owes me big time, Simon, got it? No, no. Any time….

NOOOOO!!! Not any time. That’s the problem. Oh Stephen, you see this is the point. You say things like “any time” and people take you at your word. Not Simon, who’s very hesitant and decent. But you would not believe the number of books people expect me to read and then tweet enthusiastically about. I now refuse to plug any book unless I have picked it up of my own volition and am enjoying it. If someone asks me to tweet about it as a favour I always refuse, even if I then go on to love the book. It just isn’t fair on the hundreds of others whose works I won’t get time to read.

It is obvious to anyone that were my twitter stream to become nothing but a bulletin board of worthy causes it would soon lose all interest, spontaneity and appeal. Enough people as it is, if I RT or tweet about three or four good causes in a row, accuse me of becoming a bore. Enough people tweet at me sniffily if I ignore/don’t notice or pass on their request or demand to have an event or charity passed on to my flock. I’m not complaining, such is the consequence of having a large following.

Should that matter?

Maybe it is my duty to retweet everyone who asks for an RT.

Well, experience has taught me that this won’t do. This won’t do at all.

All in a good cause…

Firstly, intergrity has to be checked. There are vile creeps out there pretending to be terminally ill and in need of just a fiver here and a fiver there to be able to fly to America to have that necessary life-saving operation. It isn’t nice to be reminded that there exist fellow-citizens who would stoop so low, but I fear we all know that it is the case. So it follows that I can’t automatically retweet every cry for help. Each has to be checked for authenticity and honesty.

In addition to this, it must be understood that my twitter space is not for sale. If people send me things (gadgets, music tracks, poems, cupcakes, robotic vacuum cleaners) I have to make it clear that I cannot accept them on condition that I tweet about them. It has to be agreed that I MUST BE FREE to see or buy or experience something that I really love and then rave about it without everyone thinking I am doing so because in some way I have been bribed or arm-twisted or in any other fashion coerced into doing so. There are those who will never believe such a thing, but that’s their problem frankly. To be live life as a cynic is to condemn yourself to eternal misery and distrust, especially of yourself: the clearest route to failure there is. Yes, I do TV ads and voice overs, but (even if no one else does) I see a clear difference between that, which is a form of (albeit whorish) acting and personal product endorsement. The one is a gig, the other is me.

Accidental DDoS

Secondly, if I do recommend a site, well those who want that site to be visited had better be damned sure that their servers can take the strain. We are talking about thousands of hits a second at peak times. The host had better have a good cluster of servers ready or there’ll be nothing but tears and distress as what appears to have been a Dedicated Denial of Service has been perpetrated on their proud and noble site.

I think I have put it this way before: it is a sad sight to see a shop-keeper react to four thousand people simultaneously bursting into his tiny little antique business. He sweeps up the broken china, splintered wood and glass, eyes his ruined business and then casts me a baleful glare. ‘But you asked me to tell people about your shop!’ I want to cry out, but he shakes his head and turns his back on me and I tip-toe guiltily away feeling as if I have been the most awful bully.

Google, YouTube, facebook, Amazon – I can of course be sure of the biggies bearing up under any kind of strain but otherwise I and my two little Twitter helpers have established a system whereby everyone who wants a charitable or useful cause tweeted has to go through my website and see what you might call the terms and conditions. It involves emailing tweet@stephenfry.com and being told how to set about “applying” for a mention or RT. That in itself isn’t a guarantee of course. I may decide that a sponsored backpack up the Inca Trail just isn’t enough, or that I’ve tweeted about libraries six times that week and I should give them a rest for a while.

I honestly don’t otherwise know how I could run that side of twitter without constant mishap. As it is I carelessly break my own rules from time to time and will unthinkingly hit the RT button and crash someone’s site. I did it the other day to a kind New Zealand girl who had written a blog that had, it seemed to me, precisely got the point behind my most recent debacle. More of that in a moment.

Be yourself…

Above all — and I have been dispensing this advice to people who have asked me about joining twitter since it began, politicians, entertainers, friends, journalists, whoever — I have to be myself on twitter. It is utterly useless and painfully transparent and wholly counterproductive to construct a false personality, or always to be in exactly the same mood. If I tweeted regularly, always in the same restrained, friendly, perfectly pitched and framed register, it would (in my opinion) be creepy and unreal. Twitter is a social network, and man as a social animal is a victim of moods, appetites, weariness, phases, energy loss and any number of other imponderables. I am not a machine, my tweeting is not regular, consistent, predictable or flawless. And sometimes, I tweet like an arse, without thought or sense.

Grrrrr…..

There are days too when the very prospect of opening Twitter fills me with dread. I cannot face the number of DMs, the potentially upsetting insults, the sorrowful appeals for help. I keep the lid on the box closed and get on with whatever else I’m doing. There are other days (and I am going through such a time now) when I might be on a film set, in a country thousands of miles and over a dozen time zones away from home. My tweeting device of choice will have to be switched off while I’m working and when finally we wrap, it’ll be six in the morning in Britain and I’ll be ready for nothing much more than a Martini and bed.

And then sometimes, without one ever seeming to spot it, another Incident rears its ugly – or sometimes fascinatingly beautiful – head.

How did it happen?

Here I am in New Zealand, a country that I love, working on a film, The Hobbit. I have rented a little house in Wellington and it has a broadband connection provided by just about the only player in the game here, TelecomNZ. If you are British think of them of the rump of a denationalized Post Office, much as our GPO became British Telecom which in turn became  BT and  Cellnet and O2.

Well, I won’t take you into the full details, but one morning I found, much to my surprise, that my (already rather slow)  connection had been strangulated to a crawl. A data download limit had been reached and, all unknowing, I had fallen victim to the dreaded throttle. Pioneered by the unpopular Comcast, who own so much of the infrastructure in the US, the throttle is applied here in New Zealand and over the Tasman Sea in Australia as well, to those who exceed a contractually agreed download limit. It might be 50GB, it might be 200. Now, if such a system is mutually agreed, this might be regarded as perfectly fair and reasonable, and doubtless it is in many people’s eyes. I confess that in my lazy way of being accustomed to Britain’s service (which is by no means universally perfect) it just never crossed my mind that a civilised country would do this. Maybe it’s the future and will happen with electricity, gas and water. But as a “power user” who regularly downloads new beta versions of whole operating systems (but doesn’t file share or bit torrent) and the partner in a production company I do get to down and upload large files.

Well, at five or six in the morning, sipping my first cup of coffee before being picked up and taken to the set, I tweeted my annoyance at how bad the broadband was. I suspected a throttle, but wasn’t sure, but anyway wanted to say that it was a pity New Zealand didn’t seem to have a better service. I had been here last year in August, in a hotel. I had been in cafés and museums and other public places that offered WiFi and always I had found the uplink and downlink slower than I am used to.

So what? Fast broadband is not a right (although many propose that it should be and internet access has specifically legislated into the condition of a statutory right in France, Spain and a few other countries).  Fifteen years ago broadband didn’t exist outside Ethernet connections in universities and governmental institutions. I remember having ISDN installed before ADSL or cable became an option in London. Before that it was good old-fashioned dial-up. So why visit a country and be so rude about their service provision? A) it’s impertinent and B) it’s trivial.

Absolutely. There are more important things. My tweeting about an issue is not meant to suggest that I think that issue to be crucial, critical or of vital importance. Otherwise I would be doing nothing but twittering about Syria, global warming, the Greek financial bail-out, racism in British football, poverty, HIV/AIDS, species extinction, sex-trafficking and the Occupy movement. There’s the darling Avaaz movement for all that – you couldn’t visit anywhere better. I am allowed to tweet about vagina-shaped pimentos or having just met someone called Henrietta Cock.

It’s not a parliament, for fuck’s sake…

Twitter is called, in case you hadn’t noticed Twitter. Not Earnest Debate, not Focus, not Forum or World Crisis. Just Twitter. And that’s what I do, I twitter away. Sometimes sensibly, sometimes not. I am not the Op Ed page of the New Yorker or a Times of London Leader. I am not a Papal Bull or an Imperial Edict. I am not an elected official or a princeling. I am, in Douglas Adams’s immortal words,’ just this guy, you know?’ And Twitter is for twittering on: so I do.

Yes, I know that I should by now have realised that my smallest utterance might have a disproportionate outcome – but I return to the earlier point. I’m me. Self-conscious tweeting isn’t social: what kind of anal no-hoper would come to a dinner party with a typed list of topics of conversation in their pocket? On Twitter, as around a dinner table, one gets caught up in the real cut and thrust of social interaction. I don’t do these things to attract attention or get special service, I just tweet away.

Kiwipedia

As it happens, I love New Zealand very much, and I genuinely do think they deserve a better digital infrastructure than the one they have. That my (rapidly typed, highly confusing and incoherent) stream of tweets on the subject so swiftly sparked the national debate it did, on NZ TV news, in the papers and, of course, throughout the twittersphere, genuinely surprised me.

I certainly didn’t expect that Telstra, one of TelecomNZ’s few rivals, would take up the opportunity to being out a full page ad.

Snail's Pace

Fry's Trail of Twitter Slime

Mostly I think it fair to say a majority of New Zealanders have agreed with me. Some were put out by my criticizing their country, but most have travelled abroad and know that the standard of broadband you get back here is not exactly up to snuff. It isn’t perfect in Britain of course, but with a regulator ensuring that the old monopoly (BT in our case) doesn’t hog all the copper wire but must allow it as a pipeline to any of the half dozen or so major rivals, there is competition driving down pricing and driving up service. In theory. Hell, it isn’t perfect in that sector any more than it is in electricity or water provision, or any other form of mixed economy capitalism. It’s better than unregulated capitalism (hello, Enron) and better than monopolistic nationalised industry (hello, Britain in the 60s and 70s). No question, the average Brit, mutatis mutandis, gets a better megabyte for his/her money than the average kiwi.

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.

http://www.regeringen.se/content/1/c6/18/18/01/509f1b0c.pdf

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:

We have probably seen only the start of all the benefits that the use of ICT can bring. If we use the technology correctly:

  • those schoolchildren who find it most difficult to learn can instead, using their own computers, become the best in the class at searching, editing and presenting information

  • severely ill patients admitted to hospital in an emergency will avoid having to give their case histories as the doctor will have received all the relevant information from the electronic patient records

  • it will be possible for more service jobs to be done from home, raising quality of life, saving travel, time and money and reducing environmental impact

  • ICT can make democracy more accessible, even from someone’s kitchen table.

None of that is news to any one you I am sure, but the permanency and importance of IT (or ICT as the Swedes like to call it – for Information and Communication Technologies) to the economies and destinies of nation states and their citizens cannot be overstated. Sweden, it seems, wants to emulate Steve Jobs’s quote from the great Wayne Gretzky who, on being asked why he was the greatest hockey player who ever lived, shrugged and replied that he guessed it was because while others skated towards the puck, he skated towards where the puck was going to be.

Reaction

The New Zealand newspapers covered the government’s reaction to my “outburst” as such tweets are inevitably called by journalists. It is pretty clear that the New Zealand administration is aware that many Kiwis are highly dissatisfied with the performance of TelecomNZ, who had very swiftly moved to cancel the data cap on my service and replace an ancient dusty modem.  I appreciated their attention and rapid service, but of course I had to point out – as many New Zealanders did – that I shouldn’t be getting any preferential treatment (and I certainly didn’t tweet in the expectation of it). It is not Stephen Fry who deserves a better broadband service, it is every New Zealand citizen.

Now I am aware that the heart-breaking catastrophe of Christchurch held back both government finances and also technology that was based out there and was preparing to improve the digital infrastructure. No one can blame TCNZ for that: what they and almost all New Zealand corporations have done to help rebuild the lives, destinies and future of Christchurch is inspiring and wholly to be commended. I am also aware, because the Hon Amy Adams, Minister of Communications and IT, wrote to the Hobbit production office to tell me about it, of the government’s $1.5 billion ultrafast broadband rollout. But are they still just looking at where the puck now is, I cannot but wonder?

I may have been grossly unfair. I certainly put a bit of oomph into the response of TCNZ’s competitors and perhaps that venerable old corporation itself, but it may be that it was not my place as a happy visitor to say or do any such thing.

The whole point of this blog is to try and explain that I will always make an arse of myself from time to time, whether it’s because I’m drunk, or lazy, or thoughtless or in a bad mood or just because I’m not thinking straight. I hope I don’t ever bully anyone or use my numbers to humiliate or harass, that would be very wrong, but I am a human being, not a public service. The whole Twitter experiment for me is about seeing whether I can, as a public person, be myself in public, unfiltered by a journalist, a PR company, an agenda or a ghost writer.

Why tweet, if you’re in the public eye? Just to sell tickets?

Why, you may ask, would I want to do such a thing? Lead a public life through Twitter? What possible bizarre form of exhibitionism would lead me to this? Or is it just crass commercialism?

Well, I shall level with you. It never started out as my intention, but the result of my life in Twitter is that I need never ever contribute to print media in any form again. Ever. If you have more followers than subscribe to the Independent, Guardian, Times, Financial Times and Daily Telegraph combined, then you can finally dispense once and for all with the whole horror of having to submit yourself for interview and profile. Sadly this includes saying no to all minority and student magazines or newspapers too, because of course mainstream papers ruthlessly steal from them, or the poverty-stricken minority magazines are persuaded to sell their content on.

Rupert Murdoch expressed the hope yesterday that his all new, all shiny, all ethical Sun on Sunday would print two million copies. Two million? Why would anyone in the public eye need a newspaper interview any more in order to discharge their publicity duties?

When it comes to being in a film, or having a book or TV show out one is contractually obliged to do a certain amount of publicity. I will happily consent to radio or TV interviews. People can see me and decide I am an entirely intolerable piece of offal they never want to have anything to do with again on the basis of watching and hearing me. That’s absolutely fine. But at least it won’t be because of a misquote, a vicious aside or some skewed distortion from the bitter mind of a print “profile writer”, filtered through envy, dislike and that special brand of dyspeptic, growling misanthropy and “I see through you” cynicism in which British journalists specialise. And yes, I do reserve the right, from time to time, to announce that I’m doing a public signing in a shop, a show at the Albert Hall or that I have a film out. It would greatly annoy the most loyal of my followers if they heard from anyone else first, which incredible in their detective work as they are, they so often do. They seemed to know I was playing Malvolio in London’s Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre this coming summer before I did.

What price freedom from gossip?

Maybe celebrity interviews and trashy gossip are the price we pay for funding foreign desks and “proper journalism”.  That has always been the excuse. Video never did kill the radio star, and I don’t suppose Twitter will kill the columnist and professional trafficker in opinion and comment and gossip, but what of Maria Colvin and brave reporters like her, or genuine investigative journalists who spend years chasing down corruption and wicknedness in the world? I don’t have an answer to that.

Is the internet getting all a bit … oh I don’t know, shopping mall-like and over-organised?

On a wholly different note, is it just me, or are the big internet players all getting rather nasty and styleless at the moment? Google is irritating the crap out of everyone with its new rules and protocols. It has also, quite literally, been caught with its hand in the cookie-jar.  Spotify has lost all the world’s affection and respect by locking itself into Facebook. Facebook continues to startle everyone with new depths of asinine redesign and security madnesses. And Twitter, Twitter has taken Loren Brichter’s (@lorenb) quite brilliant original Tweetie client, turned it into the “official” Twitter app for desktop and mobile devices of all stripes and is slowly stripping it of all useful functionality and the almost lickable glide, ease and sweetness of use that first brought it to everyone’s attention. Maybe Dick Costolo (@dickc) and Biz Stone (@Biz) of Twitter and other players in these huge entities all feel that it is payday – time to cash in. Maybe they know something we don’t about the future of banking and need liquidity now.

More hopefully, fresh bands of guerilla app developers and social network designers are already working on The Next Big Thing in the background and in a few year’s time having an FB or Twitter identity might well be as embarrassing as having a MySpace or AOL account is now. I do hope so.

Bye bye.

Oh dear me, I do go on don’t I? Embarrassing or not, I’m having a fine time here in New Zealand. The weather is … fascinating. The work is long and hard and hugely satisfying: if I tell you any more I will be imprisoned for improper disclosure, the contractual equivalent of flashing in public. I apologise for not being able to Skype or DM friends at sensible times of the day, but New Zealand is, after all,  13 time zones away from the meridian line.

Days may go by in the next week in which I will barely tweet at all. Or there again, my next tweet may embroil me up to my neck in the soup once more. That’s the beauty. One never knows.

My next blog might address two Windows Mobile phones and a Samsung Note that I’ve been using lately. Or maybe they will  be on another subject entirely for those of you whose hearts sink when I get all techie. We shall see.

Thanks for your time.

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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!
    best
    Mark

  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.
    Cheers,
    Peter.

  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 (http://www.nzraw.co.nz/news/stephen-frys-rant-about-telecom-new-zealand-deserved/). 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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