The veteran reporter has been asking one question and we finally have the answer.
Barry Soper loves al fresco dining. To sit outside with the breeze in your hair and the sun on your skin, dining. It’s the peak of human experience, what us mere mortals were put on this cursed earth to strive for. After spending the majority of lockdown in Auckland, Soper travelled to Wellington to rejoin his colleagues in the parliamentary press gallery.
On November 8, as eased restrictions were announced for Auckland allowing groups of up to 25 people to gather outside, Soper got straight to the point.
“Has cabinet given any consideration to al fresco dining?” he asked the prime minister at that day’s 1pm press conference. What followed was a short back-and-forth about specific considerations given to al fresco dining, concluding with the prime minister confirming that al fresco dining would not be available under the new restrictions.
In his column that week, Soper criticised the prime minister’s visit to Auckland, particularly the fact that she didn’t visit any retail stores. “Nor did she get anywhere near the hospitality sector,” he wrote, “which I’d argue at the very least should be allowed to open for al fresco dining given groups of 25 are now allowed to congregate outside.”
Yesterday, having apparently not eaten in the two-week interim, hungry Soper was back in the Beehive theatrette, asking about his favourite pastime. “You talked a couple of weeks ago about al fresco dining,” he began. Why allow hairdressers and beauty salons to test the vaccine pass this week and not restaurants, specifically restaurants that offer al fresco dining?
Jacinda Ardern responded with an explanation around the risk factors involved within different sectors including limited workers, limited customers, and ability to use vaccine certificates. She said al fresco dining was looked at but was not a straightforward option. Soper followed up with another question about restaurants’ testing capacities. Ardern clarified her answer and then moved to take questions from other reporters, but not before Soper asked another question (unrelated to al fresco dining).
Five minutes later, Soper tried to ask another question “about Auckland”. Ardern responded “Barry, if you don’t mind, I’m just going to come to a few people who haven’t had a chance and then I’ll double back to you.” He persisted, and got a “Barry, quite a few people need to go, so I just want to be fair”.
He insisted it was just “a quick question” and in return Ardern insisted “Barry, just a little more patience and then I’ll double back”.
The prime minister answered one other question before Barry and his one question were back. “Barry, I’m going to ask for a little decorum. Jessica, then Barry.”
As Jessica asked her question, Soper could be heard muttering from his seat. He left the press conference soon after “to make his deadlines”, and that night published an op-ed with the headline ‘For Jacinda Ardern, press conferences seem to be all about media control’. He never did get to ask his one question (after his three questions) but one thing the prime minister certainly can’t control is Soper’s love for al fresco dining.
When can Barry Soper dine al fresco again?
Technically, Barry Soper can dine al fresco right now. He’s in Wellington, where restaurants are open and operating. Soper could dine inside if he wanted. But Soper isn’t simply asking for himself, he’s asking for the people of Auckland and the people of New Zealand. Barry Soper is the people.
In June, Heather du Plessis-Allan (married to Soper) wrote an “Insider Guide to Melbourne” and in that, said “eating al fresco is brilliant”. When Soper asks about al fresco dining, he’s asking for his wife, his fellow Aucklanders, and of course, himself, who will inevitably return to the city but hopefully when it’s in full fresco mode.
When can Barry Soper dine al fresco again?
Even in Auckland, Soper could dine al fresco right now by simply eating outside. But eating in one’s backyard, no matter how large, is no substitute for the real thing. And the real thing, for media personalities over the age of 40 in Auckland, is Prego on Ponsonby Road. All going well, Prego will presumably open its doors for the first time in three months at 12pm on Friday, December 3, offering indoor and outdoor seating options.
Barry Soper better be there, dining al fresco.