31 October 2010

Avondale to Onehunga Tramlink

In June I wrote a brief post setting out a hypothetical Auckland waterfront tram route and halts for a service from the Tank Farm to Mission Bay.  Another potential Auckland tram service jogged my memory this afternoon as I was riding on the Wimbledon Tramlink out to Morden Hall Park.  Growing up in Onehunga and attending Onehunga High School I was mildly interested to note the reserve land just north of the school grounds on Pleasant St.  When I later saw a detailed map of the area for some geography project I observed the long Avondale to Southdown rail corridor that crossed the map, setting aside a potential rail route for future generations.  It’s been there for decades, but has never been used.

Joshua Arbury has proposed that it be used to connect two branches of Auckland’s existing rail network by linking Avondale with Onehunga, and suggested that the route could be served by three new stations at Stoddard Rd, Mt Roskill and Hillsborough.  This would be great, particularly as part of a broader isthmus rail loop.  But in the shorter term, perhaps a tram service could be a cheaper way to boost cross-town public transit in Auckland, while retaining the potential for expansion into a heavier rail service later if required.

With that in mind I’ve mapped out a potential route for a tram service using at least some of the rail corridor but also travelling along streets where convenient.  This would enable the tram to service major intersections and link up with city bus routes. 

View Avondale to Onehunga Tramlink in a larger map


Avondale-OnehungaHere’s a schematic of the route from west to east, with the anti-clockwise turning loop in Onehunga so the service can take in the Onehunga train station and DressSmart.  When the Britomart to Onehunga line is eventually extended to the Airport and Manukau City the tramlink will allow residents of the central west easy access to both destinations. 

Journey time for the line over the end to end distance of 10.2km, if it matches the speed of the Wimbledon Tramlink, should be around 25 minutes.  This the time the London tram takes to travel the equivalent distance, which is from Wimbledon to Wellesley Rd in Croydon.

The service would improve public transport options for a range of locations along the route: 


  • Avondale town centre and the racecourse
  • Pak ‘n Save on New North Rd
  • Light industrial firms on Stoddard Rd
  • Mt Roskill Grammar, Intermediate and Primary schools
  • Bunnings Warehouse near Hillsborough Rd
  • Selwyn Heights Retirement Village
  • Onehunga High School and Royal Oak Intermediate (400m)
  • Onehunga Primary
  • Onehunga Mall
  • DressSmart

Now all we have to do is find huge sums of money to pay for it, and hope that the Waterview bypass doesn’t overrun the route!

23 October 2010

Later… is 250

The BBC’s pre-eminent music performance programme, Later… With Jools Holland has been broadcasting an eclectic range of artists and material since it began in 1992.  Its strength lies in the kaleidoscopic variety of the acts who appear, and the interesting and appealing permutations that are generated by sequestering so many talented artists under one roof.  Each act has its own performance area in the large recording studio, and all the acts watch the other performances.  It can lead to some great collaborations and injects a pleasing sense of cross-fertilisation into proceedings.  Host Jools Holland, the former keyboardist of Squeeze, is an expert at selecting an interesting mix of artists and championing the art of live musical performances in an age of autotuned pop nightmares and would-be singers who can’t actually hold a note.

Last month Later celebrated its 250th episode with a 90 minute special, compiling a sampler of the programme’s long history.  As the BBC is proactive in allowing clips from Later to appear on the internet, it’s possible to reassemble the show for those who weren’t able to enjoy it on TV.  So here’s a snapshot of Later… With Jools Holland as it turns 250 – long may it run.

Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues (July 1994)

Touring his comeback album, the Rick Rubin-produced American Recordings, the then 62-year-old Cash gives a rousing performance of his classic prison song.

Radiohead – Paranoid Android (May 1997)

At the peak of their powers, Radiohead dominated the British music scene in 1997.  This superb live rendering of the rambling prog-rock masterpiece that is the centrepiece of the album of the same name shows that they weren’t just aces in the studio.


Dizzee Rascal – Bonkers (Sept 2009)

A good demonstration of the encouragement Later gives to artists who seek to broaden their performances, this blues guitar version of the dancefloor staple Bonkers suffers a little from the repetitive lyrics and a lack of vocal variation, but is still a commendable deviation from the norm.  (My favourite such moment was seeing popstrel Katy Perry and band open their performance of I Kissed A Girl with a very musicianly bell-ringing interlude)

Melody Gardot – Baby I’m A Fool (Apr 2010)

The great thing about Later is that it doesn’t require glamour and chic to make your name, just a great song and a great delivery.  But when you dish up someone who sings and plays as well as Melody Gardot and is also strikingly attractive, you’re grateful that it’s TV rather than radio.  What a performance; what a look!


The Libertines – Boys In The Band (Jan 2002)

Keep an eye on the rent-a-posse of fangirls in the background throwing themselves around like there’s no tomorrow.  That gives you an idea of how much of an impact the Libertines had on the British music scene and their devotees, when for a time in the 2000s they were tipped for legendary status.  Sadly, drugs and rivalries intervened.


Billy Preston – That’s The Way God Planned It (June 2005)

The great soul keyboardist Billy Preston died only a year after this show, so it was great to capture the warmth of his stage presence and the lovely vibe that existed between him and Holland.  Their duelling keyboards riffing in this Preston classic is a real treat. 

Foo Fighters – All My Life (Dec 2002)

People say Dave Grohl is the nicest man in rock.  I’ve never been a big fan of the Foo Fighters but at least you can always hear a tune underneath all the mandatory sturm und drang.  Nice transparent guitar too.


KT Tunstall – Black Horse & The Cherry Tree (Oct 2004)

Feisty Scots busker KT Tunstall charmed the UK with her last-minute replacement act on Later, kick-starting her career that saw her debut album selling all over the world.  It’s a delight to watch her knit together the threads of this immensely catchy future hit with her effects pedals – a music geek with a killer voice in sweatshirt sleeve leggings and a wee skirt from Topshop… swoon…


Smokey Robinson – Don’t Know Why (Oct 2009)

His face doesn’t move much anymore but man, he sure still can hold the notes.  Featuring a nice guitar solo from Eric Clapton.


Elbow – One Day Like This (Sept 2008)

How proud would you be if, like Mercury Award winners Elbow, you’d written such an uplifting, cathartic anthem as One Day Like This?  Keep an eye on the string quartet – they’re grinning madly all the way through.  They know a great song when they hear one.


Mary J Blige – No More Drama (Apr 2002)

Trevor Nelson, who introduces this clip, reckons this is a seminal soul performance.  Maybe, but despite the showmanship I can’t help feel that the emotional outpouring can’t quite make up for a basic lack of vocal range.  Can anyone tell me – is that Jill Scott on backing vocals, or is there just a resemblance?


Gorillaz – Stylo (Apr 2010)

If Later is a meal, this is fusion cuisine.  Bobby Womack tears it up!


Amy Winehouse – Tenderly (Oct 2006)

A snippet of Winehouse in happier days, performing an excerpt of an old standard with Jools on the piano. 


Paul Weller – Sunflower (Jul 1993)

The album that sealed Weller’s reputation as the Modfather (or, for the less enamoured, the king of Dadrock), 1993’s Wild Wood featured a great band (witness Yolanda Charles on bass) and the Traffic-influenced stylings of this track, Sunflower.  I still listen to the companion album Live Wood regularly. 


Lily Allen – The Fear (Apr 2009)

I know, I know, Lily Allen’s a pop singer and therefore lacks rock credentials, but Later isn’t shy of testing pop performers in the studio environment and seeing what they can bring to the table.  Allen doesn’t have a versatile singing voice, but she makes up for it with the whip-smart lyrical observations on the hypocrisy of modern fame in this single from her second album.  Plus she looks great.  But who is she dressed as - The Princes in the Tower?


At The Drive-In – One Armed Scissor (Dec 2000)

Zane Lowe, who introduces this clip, is a fellow countryman who’s done remarkably well building himself a bastion in BBC music radio.  But he doesn’t half witter on and talk some rubbish!  At The Drive-In, who he champions, highlights the ability of Later’s catholic-with-a-small-C tastes to provide a platform for music from the left of the dial.  Pity it’s a shambles, but Lowe is right – at least it’s an exciting shambles.  Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more with the sound off, but make sure you stick around for the end and a distinctly unimpressed Robbie Williams[Edit: oops – that’s on the iPlayer feed but not the Youtube clip]


Adele – Daydreamer (Jun 2007)

This is more like it – as with KT Tunstall, Later is at its best when it allows young talent to shine.  South Londoner Adele had only just turned 19 when she gave this assured performance, highlighting her gifted vocal talent.  Her smile of relief once she’s finished is a treat too.


Paul McCartney – Let’s Have A Party (Nov 1999)

I tried to find a clip of this rocker but to no avail.  I guess Macca wasn’t keen to have it circulating on the internet and undermining DVD sales or something.  Still, a rousing finale to an enjoyable 90 minutes of music history!

22 October 2010

The Dilemma & Film 2010

You don’t get much for free these days.  So when Richard couldn’t make it to a free screening of a new film, The Dilemma, I was pleased to deputise for him, with Raewyn tagging along for a rare night away from parenting duties.  The details didn’t sound particularly promising: Ron Howard has sold a lot of movie tickets but his films aren’t generally my cup of tea, and Vince Vaughn’s choice in scripts is pretty dire these days.  On the plus side I was interested to see how supporting actors Jennifer Connelly (of Labyrinth and A Beautiful Mind Oscar-winning fame) and Winona Ryder fared in a mainstream comedy, and the prospect of being able to comment on a work in progress appealed to the film geek in me.  

The Dilemma isn’t out yet – the studio was trialling a near-final cut with a view to releasing it in January 2011.  And, let’s be frank about this, I didn’t like it.  As comedies go it was far too broad for my taste – its plot was highly predictable and the performances involved were hardly special.  It wasn’t a truly awful film – there were a few moment of genuine humour that struggled to peep through the fairly laboured plot, and the cast weren’t dislikeable by any means.  It just fits into the category of unchallenging, unimaginative fare.  Sure, it might achieve middling success in America and on rental, but it’s hardly memorable or impressive. 

Vince Vaughn’s acting career hasn’t turned out all that well, despite making him a lot of money.  The promise shown when he appeared in his friend Jon Favreau’s excellent Swingers in 1996 has all but dissipated as his genuine comedic talent for playing brash and quirky blowhards have largely been squandered in a race to produce a string of bland comedies.  This was capped by his flirtation with the lower reaches of the tabloid A-list during his mid-2000s string of box office successes and his relationship with Jennifer Aniston.   Things could’ve been so different though – Vaughn won the plum role of Norman Bates in Gus Van Sant’s challenging remake of Psycho.  But the lure of more conventional and less challenging material proved too strong.

In fairness, Vaughn has been bankable in broad comedy roles.  In the 2000s he appeared in 12 movies that grossed over US$50m each and six movies that grossed over US$100m:

Title Year Gross (US$m)
The Cell 2000 $61.3
Old School 2003 $75.6
Starsky & Hutch 2004 $88.2
DodgeBall 2004 $114.3
Anchorman 2004 $85.3
Be Cool 2005 $56.0
Mr & Mrs Smith 2005 $186.3
Wedding Crashers 2005 $209.3
The Break-Up 2006 $118.7
Fred Claus 2007 $72.0
Four Christmases 2008 $120.1
Couples Retreat 2009 $109.2


It seems that Vaughn’s career has been shackled by the success he found with Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers – the louche bounder role that made everyone a great deal of money.  (I’ve not seen it, but watching the trailer now I’m surprised to see that it actually looks fairly amusing, particularly the scenes with Isla Fisher being bonkers).  And two Christmas-themed movies in a row?  Now that’s just careless.       

There are overtones of carelessness in The Dilemma too.  For starters, it’s a bit unfair on the supporting actresses to suggest that the characters they portray are hooked up with Vaughn (Ronny) and his side-kick Nick, played by the roly-poly Kevin James (The King of Queens, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), both of whom have seen better days.  This is Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder we’re talking about here!  The couples are simply not that plausible. 

One of the problems of being an actress is the unrelenting public focus on their appearance, so why not redress this by focusing on the appearance of male actors instead.  In this case, James brings an everyman averageness to the film – punters will identify with him, even while they struggle to suspend disbelief that he has somehow snared Winona freaking Ryder.  But in the case of Vaughn, who turned 40 this year, there are image issues.  Perhaps a woman as hot as Jennifer Connelly (also 40 in a few months) would’ve hooked up with Vaughn in his dashing younger days, but sadly, as with many chaps of our age - Vaughn is only a few years older than me - he’s really filling out with a noticeable double chin.  And when Vaughn appears in a business suit in profile the efforts the wardrobe department have made to disguise his growing paunch are obvious.  Now I’m not saying it’s a crime to be a bit portly onscreen – far from it.  But it does stretch credibility somewhat that a character who hasn’t taken care of themselves particularly well is supposedly adored by the trim and beautiful Connelly.  

There’s also the implausible methods of exposition.  Two key plot points (Ronny has a pair of slightly inconvenient secrets) are shoe-horned in at the half-way mark in an ungainly fashion, when it would have been so easy to trail hints with snippets of dialogue earlier in the script.  As it stands, both the reveals are abrupt and contrived – a scriptwriter jumping through hoops but not really trying. 

For a film billed as a comedy drama, The Dilemma straddles two mediums without stamping its authority on either.  The first half of the film is simply not funny, with precious few jokes and much laboured set-up.  The one prominent stab at humour is memorable for the wrong reason.  Vaughn and James play car design consultants, and in their pitch session to produce an electric car that sounds like a macho petrol-head racer, the key line you’re meant to find hilarious is:

Electric cars are gay. I mean not homosexual gay, but, you know, my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay.

Ah, so ‘not homosexual gay’, but rather that use of the word ‘gay’ that indicates that things are rubbish, useless and uncool – so not derogatory to gay people in the slightest.  Pull the other one.  Everyone knows that the two concepts are inextricably linked, and writers should know by now that such playground language is unacceptable and downright unhealthy.  In all honesty, I should point out that it got a modest laugh from the mostly youthful Wimbledon test audience when the line was sprung, but that doesn’t make it right.  At the risk of being blindingly obvious, if the line was ‘electric cars are black’ would that have been in the slightest bit funny?  Of course not. 

It seems to me that the use of the ‘gay’ joke in the trailer of the film was an attempt to brand The Dilemma as a film that heterosexual middle American males could take their girlfriends to see.  ‘Lookit: it may be a film about relationships and infidelity, which sounds like a drag, but it’s also about muscle cars and they say electric cars are gay’.  This is dog-whistle stuff, seeking free pre-release publicity.  That doesn’t excuse it, particularly because the joke remains in the film.

The offending clip has been pulled from the trailer after public criticism.  Vaughn issued a press release too, which rather missed the point: jokes equating homosexuality with naffness hardly ‘break tension and bring us together’, after all.  Entertainingly, the film’s producers are only digging a deeper hole for themselves:

Yet the only people seemingly bewildered by the mess are the Universal Studios execs themselves. As one anonymous insider told Deadline, "We showed the trailer to gay groups like GLAAD and gay executives here and gays in our marketing department, and no one was offended, and everyone had a positive response." Because nothing says acceptance like referring to employees at your company as "gays in our marketing department."

Perhaps it’s all part of the marketing strategy.  If that’s true it’s lamentable.  After all, it’s not as if it would’ve been hard to try another tack.  What about this:


Electric cars… well, your mom drives one. 

[Screen flashes large text: ‘MOM’, which blinks a couple of times] 

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with your mom.  But if you’re out there in your car trying to impress the ladies on a date you kinda wanna have a better chance at scoring than your mom, don’t you?  Well, not your mom Nick, I know she gets all kind of action whatever she drives, but generally speaking…

Okay, so I’m not an expert but surely that’s at least mildly funny, and that only took me 90 seconds.  How difficult can it be?

Anyway, back to the movie.  The casting of Queen Latifah as a blokey Dodge exec who pops up to offer encouragement and slightly creepy masculine sexual imagery (a muscle-car motor noise ‘gives her lady wood’) is somewhat jarring and again hardly plausible.  And as Raewyn pointed out, it’s Latifah’s character – a black woman in a room full of white execs – who endorses the crass ‘gay’ joke, thereby lending it some acceptability: ‘look, here’s a minority character and she liked it’.

Far better is the casting of Tatum Channing (Stop-Loss) as the tattooed, passive-aggressive philanderer Zip, who is having an affair with Ryder’s character.  His scenes with Vaughn work well, particularly when the latter attempts to escape with photographic evidence of the affair, bringing out pleasingly manic aspects of Vaughn’s performance.  They’re some of the few moments in The Dilemma that don’t feel utterly predictable.  

Speaking of predictability, there’s several sequences that can only be described as hackneyed.  When angsting over how to tell his best friend that his wife is having an affair, Ronny is seen sitting at a bus-stop bench talking to God.  Aside from the cringe-worthy cliché, there’s also only the most half-hearted attempt to insert a joke into the dialogue (he asks for spiritual guidance and, as an afterthought, also asks for success in his business pitch.  Hilarious…)  We’re meant to take this feeble stuff seriously.  And in order to expound on Ronny’s stress – the dilemma, in fact – we find him standing on a pedestrian bridge acting out potential scenarios for breaking the news to his pal.  Again, it’s unimaginative, and the joke from the trailer (a boy asks his mum, ‘Why is that man hugging himself?’ and she replies, ‘Just keep walking’) is hardly snicker-inducing.  It didn’t even make the draft edit that we were shown in the cinema.      

As I’ve said, this film wasn’t my cup of tea.  The humour, what there was of it anyway, wasn’t to my taste and the dramatic aspects were uninteresting.  Does that mean it will fail at the box-office?  Sadly, probably not.  I doubt it will be a resounding success, but equally this sort of unchallenging, DVD-fodder filmmaking might well be lapped up.  I doubt it will generate sufficient word-of-mouth to make a great deal of money, but realistically it can’t have been that expensive to make, apart from Vaughn’s fee. 

What could have made it better?  Easy.  It needed more jokes.  When writing a screen comedy you have to ask yourself serious questions if there aren’t laughs in each and every minute.  They don’t have to be big laughs, and not all of the jokes have to be classics.  But if you’re making a broad mainstream comedy like The Dilemma you can’t just rely on celebrity status to coast to success.  It’s not good enough to claim that it’s a comedy-drama, with the drama aspect supposedly excusing the listless patches.  No.  Those dramatic scenes – they need jokes too.  Just make it funnier! 


In other film news, this week saw the return to the small screen of Film 2010 (aka The Film Programme), the movie show that’s been an institution on the BBC since 1974.  It’s only had two hosts since then: Barry Norman followed by Jonathan Ross.  Ross is an acquired taste, and his talkshow audiences with celebrities were often amusing but verged on sycophantic at times.  Not so with The Film Programme, on which Ross offered considered, low-key takes on cinema releases – it was clear that film was an abiding passion and he did a good job presenting.

So when Ross left the BBC it was always going to be a challenge to replace him, and concerns were expressed when BBC presenter Claudia Winkleman was given the job, given her background in light entertainment TV.  The format of the programme has been changed too, with a sidekick Danny Leigh on the sofa to bounce ideas off, a bunch of additional reporters to offer short interview clips or the usual top 5 lists, and ubiquitous Twitter interactivity through the broadcast.

I’ve only seen Winkleman at a recording of a Radio 2 panel show she was hosting, and found her quick-witted and amusing.  On Film 2010 her discussions with Danny Leigh worked well, although the diversions provided by the three additional reporters cut into the amount of time available to discuss the films in depth and show clips of a meaningful length. 

There’s no shame in attempting to update a TV format if it’s showing its age, but I think in the case of Film 2010 that too much tinkering would be a bad idea.  Ultimately it’s a programme that provides clever insights into interesting films, and you can’t do that successfully if you’re continually seeking online feedback on Top 5 Films About the Moon or watching Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley give an interview about not very much, just because it’s live and therefore somehow exciting. 

Hopefully Winkleman and Leigh will be allowed the time to have decent discussions and conduct in-depth interviews as they gain in confidence.  Pre-recording the programme would be one key way of helping this along, rather than the potential pitfalls of a live programme. 


Lastly, those with a taste for black comedy should look no further than Matthew’s review of Chris Morris’ Four Lions, the tale of idiotic would-be terrorists and a shambolic plan to disrupt the London Marathon.  And once you’ve read the review, you should track down the movie and watch it right away.  ‘Rubber dinghy rapids!’

20 October 2010

Christchurch commuter rail

With the recent success of rail-friendly mayoral candidates in Auckland and Wellington, CTB reports that re-elected Christchurch mayor Bob Parker is keen to advance plans for some sort of light rail or commuter tram network in the city.  (The present tram service is a short heritage route largely of use to tourists rather than commuters, although it is being expanded in time for the World Cup).

While a light rail or tram network would be a great addition to the Christchurch public transport environment and would assist in making the city’s transport networks more sustainable in light of potential oil shocks, the big problem for all such schemes is that they are capital-intensive, and Christchurch doesn’t have a large population to fund such investments.  Auckland and Wellington are also likely to to actively competing for central government assistance in enhancing their rail networks.   

Nevertheless, there are cheaper options that can be investigated, which rely on the existing rail infrastructure that still remains despite years of neglect.  The South Island main trunk line passes through Christchurch, with a spur leading to the port at Lyttelton.  These could easily form the basis of a commuter rail system with the addition of rail infrastructure including a relatively inexpensive platforms, such as just been done on the Onehunga branch extension in Auckland (although ideally you’d prefer it if the contractors built the platforms to the correct length).

In a similar vein to my mapping of a hypothetical Auckland waterfront tram / light rail line, here’s a quick attempt at setting out a low-cost commuter rail network in Christchurch using existing tracks. 

Christchurch commuter rail


I am not a rail expert, nor have I ever lived in Christchurch.


There are plenty of niggles with the network as outlined.  One key problem is the lack of access to the CBD.  Any commuter network that omits the CBD risks losing a substantial transit market.  However, this is intended to be a low-cost solution.  Bus routes would have to be synchronised with train services to ensure that passengers travelling to the CBD would have a straightforward onward journey from the train to the bus service.  (Complementary bus services would need to be developed across the new rail network, to maximise transfer ridership.  Integrated ticketing would help too).  Alternatively, the proposed Colombo Street station is only 1km from Cathedral Square, so walking is hardly out of the question, even in those bracing Canterbury winters.   

There’s also the problem of service orientation.  Focusing on getting commuters to the city centre and Jade Stadium is vital, so I suppose the network above would have at least two lines: one from Rangiora to Lyttelton and another from Lyttelton to Rolleston.  I don’t know if there’d be sufficient ridership on the eastern spur to justify double the service of the western line to Rolleston, or for a third route following the Main Trunk from Rolleston to Rangiora via Addington – you tell me!

Station spacing is determined by aiming for major road intersections approximately 1.5km apart in central areas, increasing as population density decreases at the ends of the lines. 

The prospect of services using the current Addington station, which is the only train station in Christchurch that currently serves passengers (for the Tranz-Alpine), raises the issue of using it as an interchange.  Currently the Main Trunk proceeds through the station and heads westwards, so any train arriving from the north and intending to head to Lyttelton would need to reverse, which has long been a problem in Newmarket in Auckland where the western line joins the Main Trunk towards the CBD.  There’d be a short delay while the driver changes cabs.  Not much room to retrofit a north to east loop, but maybe one could be added at some point.

The plans as outlined omit two key destinations: the University and the airport.  These would be prime targets for the mayor’s light rail or tram services, or a plain old BRT network. 

Plans would need to be developed to construct new station stops at most of the listed locations.  The suggested locations are listed below, including a few that involve relocating several existing but currently disused platforms.

Proposed stations: Rangiora-Lyttelton Line

Station Location
Rangiora Existing station nr Blackett St
Kaiapoi Cnr Williams & Fuller Sts
Belfast Cnr Belfast & Station Rds
Redwood Nr intersection of Main North Rd & Farquhars Rd
Papanui Cnr Harewood Rd & Restell St
Bryndwyr Nr intersection of Wairakei & Jeffreys Rds
Riccarton Cnr Riccarton Rd & Mona Vale Ave
Addington* Existing station
Colombo St (City) Cnr Colombo St & Moorhouse Ave
Jade Stadium Cnr Wilsons Rd North & Mowbray St
Woolston Existing platform nr Curries Rd & Cumnor Tce
Heathcote Valley Cnr Martindales & Station Rds
Lyttelton Existing station, with improved pedestrian access to Norwich Quay.


Proposed stations: Rolleston-Lyttelton Line

Station Location
Rolleston Replace existing station with new station at cnr Main South Rd & Tennyson St
Templeton Cnr Kirk & Waterloo Rds
Islington Cnr Waterloo Rd & Parker St
Hornby Replace existing station with new station at cnr Carmen & Smarts Rds
Sockburn Cnr Main South Rd & Green Lane
Curletts Rd End of Cable St, with improved pedestrian access to Curletts Rd overpass
(Addington, etc.)  


Journey length

Journey Length
Rangiora > Colombo St 32.5km
Rolleston > Colombo St 22.1km
Lyttelton > Colombo St 10.2km


Any comments welcome!

16 October 2010

96 hours in the Eternal City

SONY DSC[Above: Winged statue atop Il Vittoriano, Rome]
Legend has it that two young brothers, Romulus and Remus, were once cast out into the wild and later rescued and suckled by a she-wolf.  When they grew to maturity at some point in the 8th century BC, they decided to found a city to house the followers they had gathered around themselves.  Romulus chose a hill known at the Palatine for the core of his city, but Remus wanted to build it on the Aventine.  The two quarrelled and Remus died, and so the foundations of ancient Rome were laid upon the Palatine, with Romulus as its first princeling.  This legendary explanation for the origin of the Eternal City is still remembered in the city’s iconography, with the famous bronze statue of Romulus and Remus being suckled by the she-wolf standing as a symbol of the mystical roots of the Italian capital, a city that once stood at the heart of the world’s mightiest empire.
Just as in the days of empire, Rome still draws sightseers eager to partake of its heady blend of history and style.  I visited Rome for the first time in the hot, sticky summer of 1997.  The bus tour I was travelling on didn’t stop in the city itself; rather, passengers disembarked at the leafy Camping Seven Hills site about 12km north of the city.  But while there wasn’t much big-city bustle at the campsite, the city bus deposited me at the Piazza del Risorgimento just outside the Vatican walls, and I was able to spend several days soaking up the sights of ancient Rome.  It was a fantastic city to visit, and I fitted a lot into my few days there, even if my plan to visit the Pantheon was thwarted when it happened to be closed on my last day in town.  I would just have to return some other time.
I’ve been back to Italy since then.  In 1999 I spent a fantastic week with friends in Tuscany staying at the Castello Vicchiomaggio, a place that I’ve rambled on about at great length ever since.  And in 2008 I lapped up the ancient history on offer during my visit to Naples, from whence I savoured the sights of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  But I’ve not returned to the capital itself - until last week, that is.  Bruce and Sally were venturing for their first big European trip together, and had kindly invited me to join them for the first few days in Rome, so I jumped at the chance both to catch up with them and to see Rome once more.
My flight from Gatwick was a leisurely mid-afternoon affair, so there was no rush in getting to the airport.  While waiting there I bumped into my friend Toakase, who was on her way to a Berlin flight.  In a city of seven million people you’re not supposed to bump into people you know!  It was a swift two hour Easyjet flight to Rome past the southern tip of the Alps and down the length of the Italian peninsula, arriving at Fiumicino, Rome’s main terminal, just as the sun was setting over the city.  The first sight to greet me as I entered the airbridge was a manky old dot-matrix printer, which didn’t inspire great confidence in the airport IT systems – I mean, when was the last time you saw one? 
I arrived the night before Bruce and Sally, so had booked myself into the HI hostel, which was conveniently only a few hundred metres from Rome’s central Termini station.  A perfectly acceptable place, although the the next bed, containing a kid from Osaka, was only 5cm from my own bed, and the dorm was beset with the usual dickishness of late-night clubbers returning at 2am and waking everybody up.  Seems to be par for the course in hostels these days, he added, peevishly. 
After a swift breakfast at the hostel I took a short stroll back to the station to meet Bruce and Sally, who had just arrived via Singapore and Auckland.  Once reunited, we ambled out of the station and about 50 metres down a side street we located our accommodation for the remainder of our Roman holiday – the Hotel Rimini – dumped our bags and headed out to explore.  Bruce had visited Rome once before in 1979, but for Sally it was her first time in Italy and indeed her first day in Europe, so there was a lot to fit in!
Stitched PanoramaIt was a pleasant sunny morning so we strolled down the Via Cavour to admire Trajan’s Column and the mammoth and ever-so-slightly vulgar expanse of Il Vittoriano, a towering expression of nationalist fervour that was designed in 1885 but not finished until 1935.  After a walk around the outside of the Colosseum we took the metro two quick stops back to Termini and had lunch at the Caffe Nazzareno, a likeable family-run place on the corner by our hotel.  In the afternoon we took the other metro line to see the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, both of which were as popular as ever with the tourist crowds. 
The highlight of the day for me was the chance to finally see inside the mighty doors of the Pantheon, the ancient temple that was remodelled by Hadrian in 120 AD and has stayed basically intact ever since.  (Although Pope Urban VIII did rob the Pantheon of numerous metal decorations and fine stonework for the construction of St Peter’s).  The domed ceiling is one of the most famous architectural feats of antiquity, and was the largest in the world for over a thousand years until Brunelleschi completed the Duomo in Florence in 1436.  The bright sunshine that streams in through the Pantheon’s central aperture (the ‘oculus’) plays on the inside of the dome in a remarkably beautiful way.  
Later that evening we met up with cousin Andy, his wife Cat and two of their friends for dinner; not only did they happen to be holidaying in Italy at the same time as us, but they were also staying in a hotel close to Termini.  So we enjoyed a pleasant meal, again at Caffe Nazzareno, which benefited from palatable table wine and a fine tiramisu on the dessert menu.
The next morning Bruce and Sally and I had an early start, taking the metro during rush hour to reach the western side of the Tiber.  Approaching the imposing walls of the Vatican we met up with our tour guide for a visit to the impressive collections of the Holy See.  In my 1997 visit I had relished the plentiful exhibits and the stunning collections of artworks, but I confess I found the sheer number of exhibits daunting, and my appreciation of the key artworks was limited by my lack of knowledge of art history.  This time around we had the benefit of a keen Irish chap called Ruari as our guide (well, he said his name was ‘Roo’ so I presume that was his name).  He was able to give a great deal of detail about the various artworks and the history of the Vatican, and I particularly benefitted from his description of Michelangelo’s astonishing work decorating the ceiling and producing the peerless Last Supper wall painting in the Sistine Chapel and the ceilings and walls of Raphael’s rooms, spotting the intricate details and hidden barbs contained within the artworks. 
[Above: detail from the Hall of Maps, and one of the ceilings decorated by Raphael]
After our three hour tour we explored St Peter’s itself, including the beautiful Pieta of Michelangelo (below) and the famed Bernini canopy over the high altar, which is believed to rest atop the burial place of the saint.  I only wish it had been a sunny day so we could’ve enjoyed some of the famed shafts of light from St Peter’s impeccably placed windows.  It really is a fantastic structure
Stitched Panorama 
SONY DSCAfter emerging into the sunshine of St Peter’s Square (which is actually round) we were quite famished, and needed to pause for slices of delicious takeaway pizza and gelato to revive us.  There was time to walk past the imposing Castel Sant’Angelo, which was originally constructed between 135 and 139 AD to serve as Hadrian’s mausoleum, and then over the Ponte Sant’Angelo towards the historic centre of Rome.  Our last stop for the day was admiring the fountains and statues of the Piazza Navona, and then we returned to the hotel to regroup.  For dinner I consumed a perfect pizza Margherita with a splendid thin crust, capping off a most enjoyable day.
Stitched Panorama
T he next morning saw Rome covered in thin grey clouds and the odd spot of rain, but that didn’t stop us looking forward to our visit to the Colosseum for a guided tour.  We arrived in plenty of time to meet out 9.45am tour, but as the appointed time arrived and passed we wondered what was going on.  Turned out we and about ten other people had been misdirected; instead of congregating at the sign saying ‘meeting point 1’ we apparently should have waited at the sign saying ‘meeting point’.  Right, just as long as it’s clear and straightforward.  After a short delay we ended up on the 10.15am tour, which imparted a few useful facts – for example, there’s a giant cross erected to commemorate Christian martyrs but there’s actually no proof any Christians were killed at this particular amphitheatre.  Our guide wasn’t as good as our Irish host at the Vatican though.
Stitched Panorama

DSC07691Next stop was the Palatine Hill, one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was founded, and traditionally home to the wealthiest elites of the city.  It was a little hard to visualise, but afforded great views over the outline of the Circus Maximus (the chariot racing stadium that could hold 250,000 spectators at its largest extent), and the Roman Forum, the commercial and political heart of the city and the Roman Empire.  It was exciting to follow the exploration of the Palatine with a stroll in the Forum, and to renew my acquaintance with its memorable sights like the massive Basilica of Maxentius and the beautiful trio of columns that are nearly all that remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux.
Stitched Panorama 
DSC07716_7_8By the time we’d finished at the Forum it was time for lunch, so we took the metro to Fiorentino for a quick bite at a cafe on the Piazza del Popolo.  The weather had improved and we wandered through the pleasant expanses of the huge park surrounding the Villa Borghese, where a big concert was being prepared in the middle of the park (I think it was for Italian performer Renato Zero’s 60th birthday).  Visiting the Villa itself, we learned that its impressive collection of artworks - perhaps the best in Rome, including Caravaggio, Raphael and Botticelli – couldn’t be visited without a booking.  We took some consolation from the fine afternoon sunshine and ambled back through the park to the metro, and another fine dinner in the city.
After dark I wandered down to the Colosseum to take some night shots of the structure, which is illuminated in bright white and red spotlights.  Aside from other tourists doing the same thing and a few canny hawkers selling cheap Chinese tripods, there was hardly anyone about to admire the grand architecture from antiquity.
Stitched Panorama On the last day of my visit I escorted Bruce and Sally to the train station for their onward journey to Sorrento and the rest of their Italian adventure.  Then I took the opportunity to soak up a little more Roman culture before I headed back to London.  It was a hot and sunny morning as I took the metro and walked to St Peter’s to take a few more pictures.  This turned out to be good timing, as I’d unwittingly chosen to visit during the Pope’s weekly public address on the steps in front of St Peter’s.  The top of the piazza closest to the basilica was full of hundreds of seats for schoolchildren, who are bussed in from all over Italy for a close-up view of the head of the Catholic church and a much-welcomed day off school.  Benedict was driven around in an open-top car to wave to the spectators, and then sat under the protection of a sunshade while his cardinals read prayers in a variety of languages.  In the brief passage the Pope read himself his voice sounded rather fragile, which is no great surprise for a man in his mid-eighties.  Worshippers and tourists alike enjoyed the busy fountains in the piazza and the bright Roman sunshine. 
SONY DSC After hanging around for a short while to see if anything interesting was going to happen, I strolled back towards the centre of Rome, pausing to admire the city’s oldest bridge, the Ponte Fabricio, which connects the north bank of the Tiber to the Isola Tibertina.  The bridge has been used continuously since 62 BC!
After a quick lunch I spent the rest of the afternoon in the old palaces adjoining the Piazza del Campidoglio, which are known as the Capitoline Museums.  From my perspective the highlights of the collections were its amazing statues from Roman and Greek antiquity.  These included:
  • the original Capitoline Wolf, an Etruscan bronze believed to be 2500 years old, which depicts the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus;  
  • the original equestrian bronze of Marcus Aurelius which was first erected in either 176 or 180 AD;
  • the Spinario, a famous 1st century BC bronze of a boy removing a thorn from his foot;
  • a Greek marble depicting the head of an Amazon, copied from a bronze original created for an artistic competition in Ephesus around 440 – 430 BC.
It was soon time to depart.  After a brief meal I collected my bag from the hotel and took the train out to the airport, sharing a carriage with a multitude of burly Italian businessmen shouting into their mobile phones.  I had seen plenty of Rome in my brief visit, snapped 530 photographs and caught up with the family to boot.  All in all, a very successful Roman Holiday.   
Below: six short video clips from my stay in Rome - 

12 October 2010

The Magic Numbers

Shepherd’s Bush Empire

11 October 2010

[Pic: MagicNumbers.net]


I’ve seen the Magic Numbers perform twice before.  The first time, when they were new to me, was at the Big Day Out on an amazing summer’s day in Auckland in January 2006.  They charmed the crowd with their exuberant brand of optimistic, tuneful pop and once I’d purchased their debut album the band soon became a firm favourite of mine.  Then in June 2007 I saw them support Crowded House at the Indigo2, after which I labelled them as ‘one of this decade’s most beguiling and appealing bands’, which I still believe is a fair description.

When I heard the Magic Numbers were touring in support of their third album, The Runaway, I quickly booked my ticket.  It turned out that the June tour was postponed until October, so I had a long wait for the performance.  But eventually the appointed day rolled around and I made my way to Shepherd’s Bush.

Sure enough, the third time around the Magic Numbers retain all of their charms in the live performance stakes.  If anything, the strength of their stage show is a testament to the importance and value of seeing a band in person rather than listening at home.  The excitement generated by a chiming guitar, booming bass and expertly woven harmonies just cannot be replicated by stereo equipment, and the palpable enjoyment that these two sets of siblings communicate to the crowd is a real asset.

Seeing them for a third time I was particularly impressed with Michele Stodart’s bass-playing, and her close teamwork with drummer Sean Gannon.  Maybe it was because I was so close to the stage (less than 10 metres away), but the bass was possibly the loudest I’ve heard in a conventional pop band, offering a real sense of excitement during the up-tempo songs.  And she seems to be having a great time throughout the gig too, grinning at particularly choice notes or crowd reactions. 

The new material was interesting and will grow on me once I’ve listened to the album.  The standout track Hurt So Good offers a Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’-style ambience with the swooning harmonies that are the Magic Numbers’ hallmark, and the romanticism of Start With No Ending also fits the sensitive and tuneful mould.  Some of the mid-tempo numbers passed me by a little, seeming a tad samey, but that’s probably just my personal taste and I’ll look forward to hearing the studio versions. 

I recommend you pop along to the band’s website and download the free 6-track EP, Live at Wilton’s Music Hall, if you’re interested in investigating the new material.

Ultimately it was the classic core of the first Magic Numbers album that formed the spine of the show, with the notable addition of the very fine This Is A Song from 2006’s Those The Brokes.  The rousing finale, in which talented support band Danny & the Champions of the World were invited onstage to duet on a cover of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, followed by a gleeful rush through Morning’s Eleven, sent the crowd home with smiles on their faces and renewed admiration for the all-around talents and good-natured charm of the Magic Numbers.