"I hear Joanna Grochowicz has written a Covid piece for the British international press..." Photo from the author's website

Stacy Gregg finds Joanna Grochowicz intolerable

My favourite moment in This is The Spinal Tap takes place in Graceland at Elvis’s graveside. The boys are trying to honour the King with a poorly harmonised impromptu version of “Heartbreak Hotel” and when that fails, they fall uncomfortably silent, weighed down by deep thoughts about the nature of fame and death.

“It really puts a perspective on things though, doesn’t it?” Nigel Tufnel says.

“Too much!” David St Hubbins counters, “A little too much f**king perspective.”

Too much f**king perspective. Kind of fits this pandemic don’t you think? Spinal Tap wisdom took on new resonance for me this week because I just had my first encounter with a different kind of Perspective. I’m talking about Perspective – The Magazine!

Perspective Magazine UK – read it online or in print! It’s got 72 followers on Facebook. I hope that’s because it’s a new publication, because 72 is not many followers is it? Who knows how long it’s been going though. I’ve trawled through the Perspective website and it says nothing about how or when it sprang to life. So I did some research… wait, don’t roll your eyes! I swear there was a time when you could say that phrase and no one instantly thought you were a nutter. I used to be a fucking journalist! And yeah, we did research! We did it on the daily actually and it wasn’t some weird coded metaphor for being a tinfoil hat-wearer who draws devil horns on Anthony Fauci.

Perspective Magazine. Turns out it was started by a gaggle of London-based hedge fund managers. I’d never heard of it at all ever until my friend Nicky Pellegrino messaged me to say,  “I hear Joanna Grochowicz has written a Covid piece for the British international press.” And Nicky and I both assumed that meant like, The Telegraph. Possibly The Times. The Guardian? Hell, even writing for the DM has its own kind of mass-market respectability. But no. Perspective.

Here is the link so you can read what she wrote. Go on! It will help you to understand this thing I’m writing here now plus it will have the added benefit of raising their readership by tenfold overnight if you click on it! But here’s a sample: “Once saintly, Jacinda now appears merely silly, having led New Zealand to a place that looks more like a smug cul-de-sac than a nation wholly reliant on overseas tourism and trade… Ardern’s $55 million (£27m) sweetener in the form of the Public Interest Journalism Fund has enabled her government to exert tremendous influence over private sector media outlets, as well as tightly control-messaging through state media channels. This is when silly starts looking sinister… The threat of a new variant [Omicron] provided a perfect cattle prod to corral the highly vaccinated but docile population back into submission at the end of an idyllic summer… What’s particularly galling for me is the mind control Ardern has exerted over the population…Our esteemed leader has become self-absorbed, cruel and dangerous. Where’s it all leading? I’d love to know, but getting to the truth in New Zealand is a tricky business nowadays. I prefer my chances at the London bacchanal – there at least I can be assured in vino veritas!”


So. Jo Grochowicz is a New Zealand author of middle-grade fiction (that’s industry speak for novels for 8-12 year olds). Her novel Into The White was a fictionalised retelling of the real-life events of Scott’s fateful trip to the Antarctic. She wrote a sequel, Amundsen’s Way, about the more successful Norwegian expedition.

Jo-Gro and I met maybe three years ago now. Into The White had just come out at this point and she was trying to spruik it about the traps and she boldly and charmingly sent me an email asking if I would have coffee with her and talk her through my thoughts on being a successful international author based in New Zealand. I met her. I liked her! She was funny, stylish and irreverent. We had friends in common. I went around for dinner and met her husband Pawel who works in “global governance” and at that point divided his time between Auckland and New York. “I make shitloads of money,” Pawel said when I asked him to explain his job. He does too. He’s not lying. I took a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with me to dinner and Pawel put it aside on the bench with an air of distaste and served us all from a magnum of Pol Roger instead. “A magnum is the perfect size for six,” he said. I remember all this quite clearly because even though it was three years ago now we have used these lines ad infinitum as they are really good lines.

Like I said, I liked Jo. And I gave her props for her mojo when it came to writing big, intrepid adventure stories. I too work in the genre of gutsy adventures for kids. I thought we were simpatico. I thought she was a trailblazer working in a male dominated field, outside of literary norms. I believed we were on the same path. When I look back now, I feel like a real dunderhead for not seeing what she was really writing about. Now I think she was paying an homage to the glory days of the good old empire. Now I think that her deifying of white, male explorers who came, saw and conquered other worlds speaks volumes about her, cultural imperatives and New Zealand as a hicksville outpost whose existence is in service of our masters in the UK. Even when she regaled me with stories of hanging out with white, crusty male historians and leering it up at Lord Spencer’s estate, I just thought – oh fun stories!

I don’t want to give this pandemic any credit it doesn’t deserve but the endless lockdowns have given me time to reflect on stuff like this. Like how is it that the people who seem to have railed the most at having their lifestyles curtailed by reality are the wealthy, privileged, upper middle-classes who can’t understand why this thing won’t just end because they really, really want to go on holiday in Denarau and anyway their friend had Covid and it’s literally just a head cold! And they are triple-vaxxed and they are fine! THEY ARE FINE.

The disabled, the immune compromised, and the elderly? Māori who choose not to get inoculated because of a justified deep suspicion of a health system that has resoundingly failed to deliver in the past and the insidious downstream results of the unhealed wounds of colonisation that make many Māori distrustful of any government directives? None of these members of the team of five million are going to be undoubtedly fine if they get Covid. But Denarau is calling so who gives a f**k eh?

The team is holding Jo-Gro back now and she’s not happy about it. Her Facebook posts have made her position clearer and clearer. “We caught Covid but it was so worth it!” she boasted recently. The whole family had gone down with it very mildly after jetting about between London and New York. Why are we still in lockdown then, she wondered – she is FINE!

Travel was once pivotal to me for work but I am into radical acceptance and long ago I simply let it go. Not so Jo. She came and went, three times maybe four, throughout the pandemic, always apparently effortlessly getting a spot in MIQ (she requested adjoining rooms at one point because Pawel kept her up at night with his work – two rooms! Lucky!) And yet, Jo made it clear she was sick and tired of enduring the restrictions of the hermit kingdom and hence was upping sticks permanently to the UK. Apparently Pawel, who is Polish, had lived in oppressive regimes before and didn’t fancy this one. Uh – yeah, those are her real words actually, I have not put that in for ironic effect.

So now they are domicile in Britain. I hear it’s lovely there this time of the year. Of course the death rate from Covid in the UK is currently at 2,322 people per million. Ours in NZ is 11 per million. But they’ve got wonderful theatres – and great clubs!

When you are so in the thrall of the Empire, is it simply not possible to acknowledge that New Zealand got it right and they didn’t? I read comments from Philip Schofield, Piers Morgan or Dan Wootton in the British press, all telling us from over there about what our lives are like here in New Zealand and I think: I’m pretty sure we never asked for your advice on how to run our pandemic just like we never gave you any on yours. How hard is it to accept that you, the empire, are not the boss of us anymore? And then I think about Jo, and her choices. And I think about how everything connects, the way you live and how you see the world and what drives you to put words on a page. And I think about having too much f**king perspective and, yes yawn, don’t bother to write in and point out that they’re actually British, because I still love The Spinal Tap.

Stacy Gregg is HarperCollins NZ' third best-selling children' writer of all time (after David Walliams and Dr Seuss) as the author of over 30 pony novels. She is currently working on TV series Poni Poni...

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