23 September 2014

Top gardening story of the day, and probably the year

Yes, a woman did ask the BBC to help her identify a marijuana plant

When pensioner Patricia Hewitson contacted BBC Radio Devon to help identify a “weed” in her garden, we doubt she was expecting it to be exactly that.

Ms Hewitson, of Exmouth, asked for help from BBC Radio Devon’s show The Potting Shed - who told her she had unwittingly grown a 1.5m cannabis plant.

“I sent a picture in via email and I got a couple of interesting emails back, including one from the police. They said they wouldn’t prosecute me as I’d done it in good faith”, she said.

A spokesperson for the BBC told i100: “It is a genuine story. The expert advised the caller to contact the police.”

A spokesperson for Devon and Cornwall Police told the BBC: “The lady has committed an offence although there are mitigating circumstances so we would not look to take it further although we would take it away.”

- The Independent, 22 September 2014

22 September 2014

World Press Photo 2014

Yesterday I caught the last day of the World Press Photo 2014 exhibition at Shed 11 here in Wellington. I try to catch it every year, although naturally on the last day it was a rather crowded space, and Shed 11 is more cramped than the Art Academy space where it's appeared previously. The exhibition offers the usual mix of reportage and documentary photography, with a strong focus on natural disasters and conflict. The latter photos, including subjects like a factory collapse in Dhaka, the recent siege of Gaza, drug murders in Mexico and the plight of Syrian refugees in Bulgaria are the meat and drink of this exhibition - they are frequently eye-opening and challenging. But for me the most appealing photos were more sedate material. Here's three particular highlights that stood out for me.

Jeff Pachoud (France) - Sledding race from above 
Four dog-sleds competing in the gruelling La Grande Odyssee at Megeve, France, photographed from a helicopter by Pachoud, on 18 January 2014. The beautiful oceanic swoop of the snow trail is punctuated by the dragonfly shadow of Pachoud's helicopter vantage point, as if it was about to lurch down and yank the lead sled to safety.

Carla Kogelman (Netherlands) - Ich bin Waldviertel (4/12)
Waldviertel ('Forest Quarter') is a beautiful rural province in Lower Austria where Kogelman has documented the life and play of two sisters, Hannah (7) and Alena (9), who live in the village of Merkenbrechts near the Czech border. The sisters look to have a fairly idyllic life in the small village, but my favourite picture is the fourth, depicting a roaring Alena barrelling through the house pushing a pram laden with a rather concerned-looking kitten.

John Stanmeyer (US) - Signal
This prize-winning image is the 'cover-shot' for the exhibition brochure and I can see why: it's a punchy and artful image, illustrating a gathering of African migrants on a beach in Djibouti, attempting to pick up a mobile signal from neighbouring Somalia to take advantage of its cheap rates to stay in touch with their far-flung families. The ghostly image of uplifted mobiles in the night sky is a supremely clever image, suggesting the worship of a satellite-based deity, and could easily have graced a Hipgnosis album cover of the 70s or 80s, or perhaps it'll turn up as a Storm Thorgerson-like cover for the next Muse album.

See also:
Photography: World Press Photo 2012, 2011
Photography: The City - Becoming & Decaying, 23 March 2014
Photography: Dark Cloud / White Light, 22 September 2013

21 September 2014

Spitfire over Wellington

Spitfire Alpha Lima, over Wellington, 3.35pm

Supermarine Spitfire Mk 1X serial PV270, reg ZK-SPI

For restoration background see RNZAF News

Women in Parliament 2014

Following yesterday's general election, the announced lists of provisionally elected candidates reveal that the proportion of women MPs is identical to the 2011 result of 39 members (32 percent):

Party Female Male Total %Female
ACT 0 1 1 0%
Green 7 6 13 54%
Labour 12 20 32 38%
Maori 1 1 2 50%
National 17 44 61 28%
NZF 2 9 11 18%
UFNZ 0 1 1 0%

As in 2011, the Green caucus is the only one with a majority of female representation. Labour has improved slightly, from 35 percent in 2011 to 38 percent in 2014, but only because its caucus is smaller than at the last election: there were 12 women Labour MPs elected in both 2011 and 2014, but two fewer male MPs (20 today as opposed to 22 in 2011). The National caucus has also improved slightly from 25 percent to 28 percent, with 17 female members elected. New Zealand First carries on its traditional male-dominated caucus, and with the departure of Asenati Lole-Taylor it now only has two female MPs, Tracey Martin and Barbara Stewart.

Three more electorates returned female members this election, increasing the electorate representation for women from a mere 19 (27 percent) in 2011 to 22 (31 percent) in 2014.

20 September 2014

The chiming of a perfect chord

Neil Finn
Opera House
19 September 2014

Last night at the Opera House Neil Finn and his five band-members put on a traditional Mullanean concert outing, bursting with memorable tunes from a career spanning five decades and boasting a generous setlist that saw the performance stretch out until half eleven. I was particularly lucky to be sitting in the front row only a few metres from the stage and right in front of a stack of five Marshall monitors: probably the loudest spot in the venue. Which was a good thing!

It's tricky to assemble a selection of highlights because the standard was so high, showcasing songwriting deployed by one of its finest modern adepts. The material from new album Dizzy Heights was of a high quality and was interspersed through the more well-known material to good effect, particularly the solid In My Blood. But for me, personal highlights included a double burst of Split Enz magic with a fired-up One Step Ahead (which benefited from a raucous but tight guitar solo by Jesse Sheehan) and the chiming, exuberant 1981 pop classic History Never Repeats, which is an object lesson in successful songcrafting. The lead single from the Finn album in 1995, Suffer Never, filled the Opera House with Sharon Finn's enormous reverberating bass sound and was perhaps the loudest moment of the night. And a pair of more introspective numbers from Neil at the piano impressed too. First, the epic gospel-strength chorus of Edible Flowers from the second Finn album, Everyone Is Here in 2004 ('Who owns that space, declare it if you dare tonight / Don't let the moment pass until another day'), and second the charming simplicity and candour of Message To My Girl, which originally appeared on Split Enz's Conflicting Emotions back in 1984.

Photo via Wimseycal
Finn's band provided a pleasing mix of youth and guile, with wife Sharon performing bass duties adeptly as she did on the Pajama Club side-project. Guitarist Sheehan brought impressive proficiency and backing vocals, plus an epic guitar face, although he had to be reigned in on one solo when he didn't drop back in as expected. Local singer Lisa Tomlins, who has performed previously with Finn and Rhombus, fitted in perfectly, and drummer Alistair Deverick (Ruby Suns) and American keyboardist Andrew Everding both provided skilful backing and tight discipline.

The capacity crowd - including ex-Hobbit Billy Boyd, a few rows back from me - witnessed the evidence that Finn is still in his musical prime. The wealth of his songbook means his live performances are a must for any fan of cleverly and beautifully-written pop and rock music.

Finn also has great connections, and before the main event the audience was treated to a support slot from Bic Runga, who hadn't performed in New Zealand since 2011, having become a parent with her partner, Kody Nielson, formerly of the Mint Chicks. Her performance was every bit as talented as the first time I saw her play support, which was at a Dave Dobbyn gig in some rough North Shore tavern in about 1993 when an audience of roistering bogans stood silently and listened to her exquisite, gentle songs. A new album is predicted soon.

See also:
Music: Pajama Club, 4 December 2011
MusicCrowded House, 4 July 2010
Music: Crowded House, 1 July 2007