26 July 2014

At sunrise they leap from their cradles steep

From the Brooklyn wind turbine this morning at sunrise, as Wellington awoke to a clear, windless start to the weekend. It's since clouded over, naturally.

7.35am

7.42am (Gamma correct 0.06)

7.44am, glimpse of the Kaikouras

25 July 2014

The Major

SIR – Years ago, a colleague and I travelled throughout England on business. At noon we kept our eyes open for a good-looking pub (Letters, July 21). The routine was always the same. My colleague would say: “Morning, mine host, two pints of your best bitter, please. Has the Major been in yet?”

Only about 20 per cent of the time did the landlord reply that the pub didn’t have a Major. Four times out of five the landlord would say one of the following: “It’s a bit early for him.” “You’ve just missed him.” “He’s on holiday.” “He’s in the gents.” “He is round the back, hiding from his wife.” Or: “He is over there.”

We met many nice majors over the years.

- John Ashworth (Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire), letter to the Telegraph, 22 July 2014

23 July 2014

"She self-identifies as adorable"

An English train journey:

The young woman tells my wife she works at Butlin's, which may explain the volume at which she prefers to conduct conversation.

"You're a redcoat!" my wife shouts.

"I am a redcoat!" the young woman shouts.

"You must be busy!" my wife shouts.

"I'm one of eleven hundred staff," the young woman says.

"Eleven hundred?" I say. This strikes me as being an incredible number.

"Yup," the young woman says. "Eleven hundred in the summer."

"Wow," I say. "So what's the staff-to-guest ratio?"

"The what?" the young woman shouts. "The ratio?"

"Just roughly," I say. "I don't need an exact figure."

"Don't confuse me!" she shouts. "I'm adorable!"

The train manager announces our arrival in Taunton.

"This is my stop!" the young woman shouts. "Bye!"

We can still hear her from the other side of the carriage door, shrieking merrily at the other passengers. A few moments after the train comes to a halt, we see her walk past our window. She waves with what I imagine is characteristic enthusiasm, and we wave back. As the train starts to move, we begin to overtake her. We keep waving.

"She's adorable," my wife says.

"I know," I say. "She self-identifies as adorable."

"And also possibly a bit wasted," my wife says.

"It's good that you were able to draw her out of her shell," I say.

- Tim Dowling, 'On a train with a redcoat', Guardian, 12 July 2014

22 July 2014

In order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy

From Weird Al Yankovic's new album, this homage to / murdering of the classic 1969 Crosby Stills & Nash track, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, is jam-packed with corporate nonsense-speak, satirising the inexorable rise of meaningless obfuscatory business gabble. You can hear the original here to relish the close three-part harmonies that brought CSN their hippie fame; and read my 2010 blog when I saw them play in Hyde Park. Yankovic, of course, relies on Autotune for his harmonies, but that's hardly the point. He told the Wall Street Journal:

I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I’ve been hearing in office environments my entire life,” Yankovic says by e-mail. “I just thought it would be ironic to juxtapose that with the song stylings of CSN, whose music pretty much symbolizes the antithesis of corporate America.

21 July 2014

John A. Lee on the 1932 riots

Aftermath of the Queen St riot, 1932 (via AWMM)
In a 1966 letter to the Listener, former rebel Labour MP John A. Lee (1891-1982) discusses New Zealand's Depression-era protest riots in 1932, which had been the subject of correspondence from a critic of one of Lee's books:

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Sir - I do not know the reason for the letter of S. Mather in your issue of March 18. I never reflected on other participants. The article on Coates he does not challenge.

1. He admits I walked at the head of the procession. 2. The parade did turn into a riot at the point at which the Town Hall doors were closed. There are at least 20,000 living witnesses to that fact and every press report. 3. I was the only MP to be brought to Auckland for the meeting. I did not arrange for the meeting sequence; that was arranged by P[ost] & T[elegraph] officers. I was given the position of senior speaker, in the last half of the Town Hall meeting. I did not appropriate this position, I was given it.

But if Mr Maher thinks that J.H. McKenzie was better at drawing an audience than myself I don't mind. J.H. McKenzie was a very competent servant of the association and a person for whom I have much respect. It is about 33 years ago and the story has never been really told. Somewhere I have the riot file including press reports and advertisements for the meeting. At that moment I was drawing New Zealand's largest audiences, but no one drew that audience; it was made by circumstances.

I did draw about 20,000 to the Domain on the following Sunday. Mr Mather will remember the meeting was prohibited and a squad from the Navy plus Gatling guns was installed to keep me out. I received so many phone calls asking whether I would be there that I decided to go to prevent trouble. Then occurred one of the great scenes of my life. People in hundreds were gathered to see if we were coming in Karangahape Road. As we reached Grafton Bridge the thousands followed us until the bridge was packed from end to end. Mrs Lee, myself and Arthur Richards MP led the audience away from the guns and to an eminence behind the Museum. We sat down, sang songs and the police gave me permission to tell the audience to disperse.

I couldn't get away from riot [sic]. I talked to an immense audience on the Dunedin Oval on a Sunday and left Dunedin on Monday. Either that day or the next the unemployed lay on the tramline outside Wardell's and the Otago Daily Times blamed my inflammatory oratory. I went to Christchurch to talk to a full theatre and had to talk to as large an audience outside afterwards. There was a tramway strike and that week bricks came through windows. Again, although I had nothing to do with the disturbance, as Johnny on the spot I was blamed to some extent.

Fortunately when the Wellington riot occurred I was on the Main Trunk Express. But if Mr Mather wants to affirm that Mr McKenzie was chief speaker, although I was accorded the senior position, I wouldn't challenge him for a moment. It is a matter of opinion, and besides I thought a lot of the people who arranged the meeting and McKenzie was a good chap, and I still think so.

It is time the riots were properly documented. There are abundant photos. Here is a thesis for some University student.

- John A. Lee, Auckland, letter to the Listener, 7 April 1966

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The Auckland march on 14 April 1932 was to protest against Government plans for a ten percent wage cut for all public servants. The rioting erupted after one of the march leaders, Jim Edwards, was batoned to the ground from behind by police when he tried to speak to the crowd outside the Town Hall to encourage them to disperse. John Mulgan's 1939 novel Man Alone recorded the incident as follows:

Johnson saw a baton go up and an arm raised and the little man [Edwards] go down with a blow on the side of the head, and then at once men seemed to know where they were going. He was knocked aside … It was a wild business, like a dream in which no one seemed real any longer.

A cry of 'They've killed Jim Edwards!' went up through the crowd and things turned violent, with Te Ara recording that 'hundreds were injured in the fighting and, while the police were hemmed in near the Town Hall, looters ran through Queen Street smashing shop windows and raiding jewellery and other stores. Sailors with fixed bayonets were marched through town, but public order was only partially restored that night. There was more window smashing the following day in Karangahape Road, when mounted “specials” charged the crowds'. The following morning's Herald contains plenty of gory details of the looting and much praise for the Navy. Lee was permitted a small quote:

Speaking of the disorders that had occurred, Mr Lee said they were the result of leading probably 14,000 or 15,000 people to a hall capable of holding only 3000. It was evident, he continued, that future demonstrations against the Government's policy would have to be held in the largest available parks and reserves, where there would be room for all and all could hear. "I believe that, if we have huge and orderly demonstrations we shall be able to persuade the Government that it is hopelessly out of touch with the people," added Mr. Lee. "The country is facing an explosion. We must recognise the times we are living in, or the explosion will be on us before we are prepared for it."

In the aftermath of New Zealand's worst riot around 200 people had been injured and 40 arrests were made. Police blamed Edwards for starting the riot, and Edwards was later convicted and imprisoned for two years with hard labour. 

The 1932 Queen Street riot was the subject of a 2009 TV drama by Ian Mune, titled 'Life's a Riot', but it's not available via NZOnScreen. Queen Street was also the site of a riot in December 1984, when a police attempted to close down a free Dave Dobbyn concert in Aotea Square.

See also:
Blog: The Wintergarden, 26 April 2014

20 July 2014

A week in Dalmatia: 1. Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik from the Lovrjenac Fortress
A few weeks ago in June I was lucky enough to spent a week travelling in Croatia on an Intrepid tour with entertaining, like-minded travellers seeking a bit of adventure on the Dalmatian coast. I decided to arrive a day before the tour started to explore solo and get my bearings. So the trip commenced with the obligatory pre-dawn start at my friends' place in London and a walk along near-deserted streets to Purley station for the 5.45am train to Gatwick and the 7.50am Easyjet flight to Dubrovnik.

Gatwick was the usual hubbub of travelling families, hen parties and (most avoidable) stag party crews, and the full flight to Croatia was distinguished by the extra-loud babbling of a dozen or two excitable English folk. It was the first time I've seen passengers stand in the aisle for almost the entire flight, so they could carry on their vital, and rather exuberant, conversations. Naturally, the correct behaviour for air travellers is to sit in their seats, unspeaking and unmoving, for the entire duration of the flight. Also: absolutely no eye contact.

After flying over the Alps and along the eastern coast of the Adriatic the A320 turned to land at the far southern tip of Croatia. The airport coach (35HRK, NZ$7) sweeps along the great cliffs above the famous walled city, affording passengers (particularly those sitting on the left side) a splendid view of the walled city of Dubrovnik glistening by the sea. Alighting at the city's Pile Gate in its western walls, I walked 1.5km up the long, sweeping main road to the city's YHA, where I was spending the night. If you're planning the same walk, be sure to have drinking water with you, as I did - or if you're feeling lazy, just take the bus up the hill.

After dropping my bag in my room and admiring the view from the top floor sun terrace, I ambled back down to the old town for a first look inside the city walls. Passing through the mighty Pile Gate and a narrow second gate into the city itself, the view immediately opens out into a splendid vista with the arrow-straight pedestrian boulevard of the Stradun dividing the city in two - formerly a Venetian-style canal, it's now paved in smooth stone burnished by centuries of foot traffic. To the right of the Stradun is the venerable dome of the Onofrio fountain, built in 1438 but damaged in a 1667 earthquake and during the conflict in the early 1990s. At the end of the Placa is Luza Square, which is graced by the elegant facade of the Sponza Palace, St Blaise's Church, and a statue of knight of legend, Roland (who was also renowned for his proficiency in making excellent synthesiser keyboards). Behind the Rector's Palace, from whence the city was governed, lies the Dominican Monastery and the beautiful marina, which now bustles with tour parties and waiters serving the many shaded cafes. Venturing into the twisting alleys of the city's southern half is an exercise in exploration, with narrow passages between dwellings and an enjoyable sense that you might emerge in a completely different part of the city without even trying.
Dubrovnik's Pile Gate
The Stradun
Dubrovnik Marina

Following a night at the hostel I spent much of my first full day in Dubrovnik exploring the nearby island of Lokrum, a wooded retreat threaded with rocky paths a short distance from the town. The ferry departs from the marina and drops you at the island in around ten minutes, and if it's summertime you may well get a close up view of a superliner parked in the bay. (We passed the Italian vessel Costa Magica, the sister ship of the sunken Costa Concordia). Lokrum itself is a pleasant antidote to the crowds of Dubrovnik, with a cafe and small rocky beaches to enjoy if you want to relax, but also a swathe of trails to explore. This is a particularly good idea on a hot day, because there's plenty of shade to shelter under while you explore rocky cliffs and admire the coastal views. There's also a fine vista from the little fort at the summit of the island. The locals claim that King Richard I of England was billeted on the island when he returned from the Crusade - perhaps at an earlier iteration of the monastery that still occupies prime territory on the ocean side of the island. Perhaps there's a grain of truth to the story, but most histories seem to follow the narrative that Richard went from Corfu to Sicily and then landed or was shipwrecked at Aquileia in the far north of what  is now Croatia, before heading north to his eventual capture by Leopold, Duke of Austria, near Vienna in December 1192. If Richard was to visit the island nowadays he'd be impressed by the cool, fresh air, but perhaps not by the beach resort that blasts enormously loud pop music across a third of the island.

Lokrum
Back in Dubrovnik I paused for an hour or so taking in the must-see exhibitions at the War Photo Limited gallery, down a narrow side-alley from the Stradun. Designed to highlight imagery from the Yugoslav conflict in the 1990s, the gallery now also hosts a variety of challenging photography from contemporary war zones. When I visited the theme was the ongoing Syrian civil war. It was particularly poignant for me to see many of the sites I so enjoyed visiting in 2008 now ruined, and the citizens afflicted by so much danger and hardship. Many of the photos were of a challenging nature, but the exhibition provided a glimpse into the harsh reality of life and death in modern Syria.

After a day exploring I retreated to Lapad Bay in Dubrovnik to meet up with my Intrepid tour party at the Hotel Adriatic. The nine others on the tour turned out to be a fun bunch of like-minded travellers from Australia, the US, Canada and England, and Croatian tour leader Dinko proved to be a genial and knowledgeable host. We commenced proceedings with a relaxed roof-terrace restaurant dinner and planned the day ahead. The next morning, we commenced with a walk around the Dubrovnik city walls, which are astonishingly well-preserved and which offer magnificent views across the red tiled roofs of the city. Some of the tiles are venerable, but most of which are only two decades old, having been shattered during the Yugoslav siege in the 1990s. The walls provide an ideal vantage for visitors to appreciate Dubrovnik's dense-packed medieval layout and to admire its architecture from all sides.

Dubrovnik city wall view
Following the wall walk, we split up to pursue our own interests in the rising Adriatic heat. I paused for a visit to the city Maritime Museum, located inside one of the towers in the thick city walls. While the ancient and medieval history sections were of some interest, displaying the rich nautical heritage of the area, the upstairs gallery concentrating on portraits of ship owners and glass-cased steamer models was a little staid. My next stop was the Lovrjenac Fortress on the city's western edge, which provides superb views over the city after a strenuous but fortunately short climb up to its highest point. And finally I explored the 15th century Rector's Palace in the middle of Dubrovnik, which was the base for the city's appointed governor for nearly four centuries. The gilded interior boasts luxurious gilded fittings befitting the grandeur of a wealthy trading city, and provides pride of place to the ornately decorated sedan chairs the Rector used to move about the city.

Rector's Palace
Later that evening before dusk I took a walk in the hills behind Lapad Bay, admiring the coastal views and from the high vantage. On the trail I was caught by a beautiful Dubrovnik sunshower that erupted from the skies like an enormous spigot had been turned. I sheltered under a tree for the duration and enjoyed the refreshing cool breeze. Once it abated, I wound up the evening soaking up a stunning crimson sunset over the bay, before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our final morning in Dubrovnik.



Lapad Bay sunset
Following breakfast we gathered for an expedition to the summit of Fort Imperial, the Napoleonic-era fortress that overlooks Dubrovnik from a 405m ridgeline just behind the city. Visitors craving a relaxed journey can use the cable car to reach the top, but if you're feeling energetic the zig-zagging pilgrim's trail to the top is a rewarding climb. At the fortress there's a museum of the siege of Dubrovnik of 1991-92 which cost around 350 lives including around 85 Croatian civilians; the fortress was successfully held by the city's defenders despite being the target of Yugoslav Army artillery bombardment and airstrikes. Visitors can easily imagine how important the fortress was to the psychology of the defenders: from it, the entire region is visible, and if the Yugoslav army had taken it from the defenders, Dubrovnik's resistance and morale would have suffered greatly. During the siege, all supplies had to be lugged by hand up the path we walked up, including all food and ammunition. Given that my knees are still aching from the walk, that's no mean feat.

Dubrovnik from Fort Imperial
Following the fortress walk our tour party returned on the number 4 bus to the Hotel Adriatic to gather our bags and board a minibus for the next stage of our journey - on to the beautiful Adriatic isle of Korčula!