I'm a sucker for wood smoke at dusk in small towns, a row of glowing dahlias, runner beans up an old wooden frame, chuckling hens, tumbledown orchards, and grandmothers tottering about in floral aprons.
Yes, I'm tragic. I've always thought those places would be safe. My nostalgia has a lot to do with not actually living in a small town since I was a small child, and everything to do with the children's books I read then, which encouraged that point of view.
Rollicking yarns of tomboys with tumbling curls, serious boys with pocket knives ready for emergences, ruddy-cheeked farmer's wives who knocked up delicious meals on demand for children who were complete strangers and for free were no preparation for the world as it is. They were every bit as iniquitous as Noddy tucked up in bed with Big Ears (what was that about?) or the naughty golliwogs that romped through the pages of Enid Blyton.
Such books unsettled me for life as Harry Potter will do for this generation. I detest the whole wretched series.
I gave them a go but balked, aghast at the fairytale Englishness, the mugs-of-hot-cocoa and snug-in- the-ingle-nook twee-ness of it, and picking up the fading heartbeat of Empire. It's every bit as mind- numbing as Winnie-the-Pooh.
Last week a carload of naughty boys tormented Wellington kids waiting in line for the hyped-up final Potter instalment by yelling out the fate of all the main characters.
I trust they went home to sponge cakes with lashings of cream, pulled their dads' Just William books off the bookshelf, and jumped up and down on them.
Quentin Crisp was driven to the admission that in life, there is no tall dark man.
Well, there's also no idyllic small town, no ideal heartland New Zealand, and no Harry Potter magic to set things to rights. The closest we get to that in small towns is lashings of cannabis to befuddle the locals.
Others share my fantasy of safety and twinkling grannies. In my home turf, the Wairarapa, it's blended, decor-wise, with provincial French, which has about as much to do with our colonial past as Eskimo harpoons. The trick there is to buy an honest colonial weekend cottage and fill it with tottering wire plant stands, French engravings of the Virgin Mary, and toile de jouy curtains.
I guess the French are seen as more refined than our own peasant English/Scottish/Irish backgrounds, probably because we don't understand their language. It makes for pleasant cottage titivation, but it's a denial of the reality outside the front door.
The thing to focus on in small towns, with a clear head, is not the cute cottage gardens but the locals, who are anything but cute, and more often feral.
You can never be sure of people who wear gumboots whatever the weather, and probably propagate in them, who dress identically whether they're men or women, and reek of dope. Look to the small towns for what ails this country.
The Wairarapa has become depressing I've spent years lamenting it but there are equally troubled places.
I shudder at the coast from Wellington to Foxton, and especially Foxton. It's never a surprise to me when something nasty happens there as happened last weekend, when a man's body was found by a country roadside in what appears to be a homicide.
If Masterton's history is coloured by the killings of Raymond Ratima not far from where I first lived, and Featherston's by the torture and death of small children, this coast's murder of an old doctor, and the rape of his equally old sister on the floor next to him as he lay dying, marks Foxton indelibly.
The miseries of Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie, revealed last week, are another disgrace for that town, not so big that anyone has big city anonymity, where it seems there's just been another homicide and another seriously hurt child. And how about the sexual violation and rape of a 63-year-old woman by a 29-year-old man last Friday in Hastings?
The hinterland specialises in vileness, both Pakeha and Maori, while we pretend it's all vineyards and farmers' markets.
I blame horror movies, the J K Rowling tales of the illiterate. The yokels think they're documentaries, and that they must be normal.
- The Dominion Post