28 January 2010

Two sides of Roman London

Last weekend I paid a visit to the Museum of London to take in a free tour of its Roman collections relating to the era when the city was known as Londinium and acted as the focal point for Rome’s overlordship of much of the British mainland.  The tour, which was excellent and informative, covered the basics of Roman settlement on the Thames, ranging from the architecture and religious practices to class variations in styles of living.  Naturally, the authentic Roman relics were fascinating and the dioramas and displays the museum has produced to illustrate this part of history are creative and well executed. 

SONY DSCOne aspect of the tour was notable for a slightly less conventional reason.  Museums are justly proud when they hold items in their collections that are unique, and it appears that one particular item of clothing on display has only survived in one other site.  This is a well-preserved Roman leather bikini, probably made for dancing girls in the 1st century AD.  The bikini trunks (pictured below) were discovered down a Roman timber-lined well in Queen Street in 1953 along with ‘a wooden ladder … a wooden spoon and a wooden dipper’ and are almost completely intact.  The museum’s display is accompanied by a sketch of a contemporary statue from Rennes in France (right) that shows the bikini being worn along with skateboarder-style pads to reduce wear and tear on the dancer’s knees.  Granted, the bikini is a simple item of clothing, but the similarities between this 1900-year-old item and modern clothing is remarkable.



After my museum visit I took up a suggestion of the tour guide and paid a visit to the nearby Guildhall Art Gallery.  This was not specifically to view its paintings, although they were interesting enough (particularly ‘Israel in Egypt’, the large ancient Egyptian scene painted by Sir Edward John Poynter in 1867).  My main goal was to visit the gallery’s basement.  I had not heard of its contents before, and it’s certainly not a high priority on the tourist circuit. 

Perhaps it should be.  In the basement’s large open space is set out the foundations of London’s Roman amphitheatre.  The foundations themselves aren’t spectacular to look at, because there’s not much left above the floor level and most of the oval walls of the amphitheatre itself actually lie outside the gallery’s own foundations and so are either buried or lost.  But when you visit you are able to get a sense of those gladiators who would’ve walked the same route into the amphitheatre where up to 7000 baying spectators awaited the spectacle of combat.  You can walk over the original timber-framed drainage pipes underneath the entrance floor, now protected by plastic covers.  Unfortunately, the one thing you can’t do is take photographs down there, so I can’t show you what it looks like other than to point out this link with a single picture, plus an overhead view of the Guildhall Yard above with the outline of the amphitheatre marked out in dark paving stones, which is perhaps better admired in this top-down view to get a sense of the scale of the structure:

Map picture

25 January 2010

The city stretches on and on

In my earlier post on Sim City 4 I discussed the first stages of growth of the city of Cullinane and its outlying satellite towns.  Since that post the city has reached further northwards, with small settlements expanding around the broad sweep of Pickering Bay to the north of the town of Wilshire, linking up with the bustling towns along the Vansittart River to the east.  Several of the unpopulated islands in the Cullinane region now sport their own settlements too, with immigrants hurrying to set up homes on Hinchingbrooke, Prince Samuel and Nielsen Islands.  Naturally, many of the mainland towns and villages have been connected to the more populous area of Cullinane by a comprehensive rail network designed to move passengers and freight with ease.  The growth of the island settlements has also spurred the development of a network of ferry routes (marked in blue on the map below), particularly around the enclosed shores of Pickering Bay.

Cullinane North overview

In the overview map the eastward growth of settlement can be seen clearly.  From the earlier settlements in the southwest quarter of the map the first new town to emerge was Vansittart, on the end of the sunny peninsula of the same name.  Following development of the immediate surrounds of that town, settlement spread around Pickering Bay from both sides, westwards from Vansittart and northwards from Wilshire, and out to the nearby islands in the gulf. 


The town of Vansittart was established by wealthy backers in an ideal location for luxurious living.  While in the medium term space for expansion may prove limited, there are currently plenty of jobs in the town’s commercial districts or the nearby industrial estate of Blaketon, and there are excellent transport links to nearby towns, particularly due to the magnificent Blaketon Bridge over the Vansittart River to the satellite high-tech industry park at Sedley.  Further workers live south of Sedley in the twin suburbs of Silverman and Prospect Park.  A comprehensive rail network serves the populace, providing plenty of commuting options. 

North of Vansittart lies the closely-knit settlements of The Narrows, where two bridges link the western and eastern shores of the Vansittart.  On the western side the orderly town of Ellsberg is linked to Blaketon with an arrow-straight dual carriageway, while on the eastern shore the village of Tenchville serves both the laboratories of Sedley and the farms that stretch northwards along the river banks.

The narrow band of coast west of Vansittart is home to the tiny farming hamlet of Lansberry, where a few hundred inhabitants live a quiet existence on steep west-facing slopes.  There is little flat land for further expansion here, so Lansberry is likely to remain unchanged in the foreseeable future.

North of Lansberry the coastal plain widens somewhat, which has permitted the establishment of two distinct towns.  The first to be founded, Monckton, has since been joined by its sister town Peabody.  Each has its own maritime connections to the outside world: Monckton has a ferry port while Peabody boasts a container port.  Halfway between the two towns is Rudman Vale, an industrial estate retreating up into the steep hills.  A train line snakes its way up the valley from here, cresting the hills behind where many high-country farms take advantage of the relatively smooth contours, and dropping back down to Ellsberg on the eastern side.  Recently another small industrial estate called Coulson has grown up on the western outskirts of Peabody to serve as overspill from the cramped conditions of Rudman Vale.

Heading clockwise around Pickering Bay lie two fairly similar small agricultural service towns: first, Atwell Bay, and next the slightly smaller town of Merrion.  Each is surrounded by farmland, connected to the rail network by a single central rail station, and boasts both a ferry wharf for cross-bay traffic and a resort hotel for tourists seeking a sea-side holiday. 

The last Pickering Bay town is Pickering itself, which has a close commercial relationship with nearby Hinchingbrooke Island.  The mainland town of Pickering, which has recently expanded across a narrow creek in the form of the new suburb of Litchmouth, also has cargo port facilities and a ferry wharf for passengers bound for Hinchingbrooke.  On the island itself a rapidly-expanding community enjoys the sea air, particularly on the island’s western tip, Ranelagh Point, which boasts a large holiday resort.  Hinchingbrooke was initially supplied with electricity from its own wind turbine generators, but has recently been connected to the mainland power grid as demand increased.

Between Pickering and Wilshire the fast-growing Warnock Town holds the potential to grow from its agricultural roots into a much larger settlement – perhaps the gateway town for the north.  With plenty of space to expand on the central plains and strong transport links into the heart of Cullinane’s highly populated core, Warnock could well reach city status before the wealthier but more geographically constrained town of Vansittart.

A few other new settlements have cropped up around Cullinane.  To the south of Wilshire the Oakeshott peninsula houses wealthy residents keen for sea views and sunshine.  A short ferry ride away the new farming town of Prince Samuel is the first development on the large Prince Samuel’s Island.  East of Ramillies the growth of Nielsen Island’s settlement is likely to be constrained by a lack of space for residential zoning and the lack of a suitable location for a ferry wharf in cliff-girt Ramillies itself.  Lastly, north of the crowded Kells suburbs lies the new town of Sutherland at the eastern end of the first rail bridge across the Elliott River.  It is unlikely to see much expansion until the settlements on the western shore of the river are opened up for wider development.


The Cullinane Transit Authority has prepared an overview map for rail services in upper Cullinane.  Its distinctive green route traces show the strength of rail services around Vansittart and Ellsberg in particular.  However, in the fast-moving transit environment of Cullinane it is hard to keep such maps up to date: since the map was prepared the services to the south of Vansittart have already formed a new rail loop with a spur leading to the end of the peninsula to serve newly-zoned residential suburbs. 

Cullinane North 1

18 January 2010

Denmark Street

SONY DSC A small corner of the West End holds an impressive musical legacy.  Linking the crowded Charing Cross Road with the curve of St Giles High Street and the western end of High Holborn, Denmark Street predates Charing Cross Road itself, which only blazed through the teeming slums and rookeries to the west of Seven Dials in 1886-7, at the same time that Shaftesbury Avenue pushed northeast-wards. 

Denmark street got its name from Prince George of Denmark (1653-1708).  In 1683 he married Princess Anne of England, who later reigned as Queen Anne from 1702 to 1714.  Their marriage was successful in terms of their personal relationship, but it was blighted by the failure to produce an heir to the throne: of Anne’s 18 pregnancies only one produced a child who survived infancy, and this son, Prince William, died of smallpox aged 11 in 1700.

81002108a The street can be seen in John Rocque’s London map from the 1740s (right).  It’s just south of the intersection of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, which is still a hyperactively busy junction today, particularly with all the disruptions associated with the construction work for Crossrail.   

In the 19th century Denmark Street provided accommodation for one of London’s lesser-known inventors, the German-born engineer Augustus Siebe (1788-1872), who lived at number 5.  Siebe is chiefly famed for his invention of the first working diving helmet that gave birth to underwater civil engineering and commercial diving.  There’s a blue plaque in his honour above his old front door; currently it’s the only such plaque in the street.

But it’s the music trade that has given Denmark Street its modern persona.  As the Londonist explains, the street has been at the heart of London’s music scene for generations:

From the 19th Century, when sheet music publishers sought cheap premises close to West End theatres and music halls, the area has been closely wedded to all things that toot, twang and trill, and the block acquired the moniker 'Tin Pan Alley' in homage to a similar quarter of New York. Acts such as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Hendrix, The Beatles and the Sex Pistols recorded key tracks here. Bob Marley bought his first guitar from a shop on the street, and both NME and Melody Maker were launched here […]

Although long past its heyday, the area remains a musical nexus. Shops selling instruments, rehearsal spaces and recording facilities line Denmark Street, mixed with the occasional tattoo parlour. Shabby Denmark Passage always has a few musos hanging around smoking. Part of the wall is given over to adverts for band members and gigs. And the intimate 12 Bar Club is possibly London's only music venue that includes a 17th century blacksmith's forge.

The Covent Garden website fleshes out the history in a little more detail, and points out that it’s still drawing music fans today:

Earning the nickname of London’s Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s, musicians have flocked to this renowned corner of Soho since its origins as a sheet music supplier in Victorian times. Most of the buildings date from the 1800s when it was considered a fairly inferior area with its proximity to the theatres and pubs of Soho. Rents were cheap, attracting struggling artists, composers, and musicians. Music publishers set up their businesses here around the 1890s, supplying the musicians of the orchestras at nearby theatres and music halls. In the 1930s, shop windows displayed pianos and guitars and the street was becoming renowned for music publishing […]

Ever since David Bowie notoriously set up residence in a camper van on the street near his studios, celebrity musicians have flocked here. Bob Marley famously bought his very first guitar here and Lou Reed whiled away many a "perfect day". Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Andy Kershaw, Eric Clapton and Beatles producer George Martin are frequent visitors.

Promotional buzz aside, Denmark Street has an enjoyably rundown and unpolished flair to it.  The grime is still authentic here, even amongst the shops selling eye-wateringly expensive musical instruments to aficionados and wannabes.  And along its short length pop music fans can tread the same footpaths as their heroes; after all, the Rolling Stones recorded their first album at Regent Sound Studios (formerly at number 4) and Elton John wrote Your Song here too. 



09 January 2010

Four births, four deaths and an awful lot of scuffles

In my current time-surplus status I’ve had plenty of opportunities to catch up on movies screening at the lovely Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square.  Once you sign up for an annual membership card matinee prices are only a few quid, and the fare on offer is generally eclectic and interesting.  Here’s a rundown on some of the films I’ve seen since I returned to the UK in November, both at the Prince Charles and on TV:

Gimme Shelter (dir. Albert & David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

Well the Rolling Stones’ tour of the United States is over.  It wound up with a free concert at the Altamont Speedway for more than 300,000 people.  There were four births, four deaths, and an awful lot of scuffles reported.  We’ve received word that someone was stabbed to death in front of the stage by a member of the Hell’s Angels…

As a document of the place and time this is priceless, but the music of the Altamont Free Concert in December 1969 almost takes a back seat as the festival turns sour and the hippie dream dies. I know it’s a fly-on-the-wall doco, but too much time is spent observing the almost mute reactions of the Stones to pre-Altamont concert footage and eavesdropping on tedious legal arrangements. But after the Woodstock-like trippy gathering of perhaps 300,000 is documented with all its freaks and heads loved up, blissed out and resplendent in beads and tie-dyes, and in its final third the film shows Altamont spiralling out of control. The Stones are helpless to prevent chaos spreading, and all the while the Hell’s Angels are lurking in the wings, ready to render the Love Generation’s truce irrelevant with an outpouring of blood. Lamentable yet strangely compelling, this is car-crash cinema that has to be seen to understand the death of '60s idealism.

The Damned United (dir. Tom Hooper, 2009)

A football dramatisation that's not just for football fans, Michael Sheen's somewhat fictionalised portrayal of the iconic Brian Clough captures the larger-than-life determination and stubborn flair of the cocksure coach. Real match footage is mixed with contemporary stagings, and in both it's a treat to see how weedy 70s footballers really were in comparison with today's buffed and honed athletes.  As ever, Timothy Spall is excellent – all those years ago who would’ve thought that he would be the greatest acting legacy of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet?

Amelia (dir. Mira Nair, 2009)

A potentially intriguing story told in a workmanlike fashion with little flair, Amelia offers no stunning insights or originality into the determined rise to greatness of one of the 20th century's most prominent and successful women. Swank is appealing in the title role, but the remainder of the cast merely go through their paces: 60-year-old Gere is serviceable but can only stand with the aid of industrial quantities of botox, while Ewan McGregor and Christopher 'Dr Who' Eccleston are largely superfluous in supporting roles that could have been performed equally well by any unknown. While Swank's performance seems an accurate representation of the Earhart character, ultimately this is on a par with diCaprio's The Aviator - a film that will be remembered as an interesting curiosity but hardly essential viewing.  (For more on Amelia, read my earlier review).

Blade Runner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)

Little more really needs to be said about the astonishing achievement of bringing this film to the screen: in Blade Runner Ridley Scott created one of the greatest and most memorable cinematic experiences of the 20th century, flecked with knowing glances forwards to the hyper-diverse society of the 21st century as envisaged by generations of sci-fi writers, and backwards to the laconic gumshoe noir of the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Seeing the film once again reminds the viewer how Scott coaxed such gravitas and dramatic heft from its largely inexperienced cast (aside from Harrison Ford, of course, who is at his talented peak here).  Ask yourselves this: if you were confronted with an unknown film with a cast list including Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Daryl Hannah should you have any right to expect something as grand as this?  

Bunny and the Bull (dir. Paul King, 2009)

The director of The Mighty Boosh has put together a likeable offbeat tale featuring two little-known actors who are quite similar to Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding of Boosh fame (who also appear in supporting roles). While it's only a tad less surreal than an average Boosh episode, it also contains some splendid and imaginative low-budget imagery, an enjoyable performance from Veronica Echegui as a Spanish manic dream pixie girl, and modern cinema's most commendably innovative use of a dachshund. The story: Stephen Turnbull hasn't been outside in months, and when he finds his mind hurtling back to a disastrous trek around Europe with his friend Bunny a catalogue of adventures unfold. Stephen's flat becomes the springboard for an extraordinary odyssey through lands made up of snapshots and souvenir replica landmarks within his imagination.  Bunny & the Bull is an inventive and, in its own funny way, touching journey back from the brink of delusion. 

The Remains of the Day (dir. James Ivory, 1993)

If Robert Altman’s Gosford Park was last decade’s best example of the traditional English stately home drama, then this is the 1990s’ strongest contender.  Some might find all the pent-up social restraints frustrating, but that’s the point – it’s not about contemporary social mores, it’s about a bygone era.  The lord of the manor’s dangerous flirtation with far-right politics in the lead-up to WW2 adds an intriguing dimension as the straight-jacketed, hesitant romance between the head butler (Anthony Hopkins) and the younger housekeeper (Emma Thompson) evolves in a fit of self-denial and accumulated regret.  My only complaint?  The film’s final shot, an aerial view of the manor house in its awe-inspiring verdant grounds (Dyrham Park, Gloucs.), is spoiled by a jerky camera.  Couldn’t they afford a second take? 

Secretary (dir. Steven Shainberg, 2002)

I know that to sell a small film you need to lead with the best-known actor’s name, but realistically this is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s film rather than James Spader’s, despite his good performance.  This must have been such a difficult film to make and the role of Lee was particularly challenging, because any hint that Gyllenhaal’s character was in some way a victim of the piece would have rendered this a creepy exploitation flick.  Gyllenhaal delivers what would become widely recognised as a star-making performance – one with real depth of character.  As it stands, part of Secretary’s strength is that it flirts with the edges of what’s acceptable in modern mainstream cinema (see This Film Is Not Yet Rated [n.b. clip contains NSFW language] for the bigger picture) but at the same time it delivers believable and ultimately strangely likeable protagonists who just happen to have rather unusual coinciding worldviews.   

La Vie en Rose (dir. Olivier Dahan, 2007)

The astonishing range of Marion Cotillard's performance as Piaf will surely see La Vie en Rose go down as one of the great music biopics. From a bug-eyed and skittish youth busking on Pigalle street corners and singing drunkenly in grubby clubs to international singing legend and crashing back down into the unearthly husk of a woman rendered old before her time by drugs and the accumulated impact of a lifetime of grief, Cottilard's Piaf is unmissable. 

Fish Tank (dir. Andrea Arnold, 2009)

Ever wondered what it’s like growing up on a council estate? This could be your chance to learn, and witness a top performance along the way in this British film that shared the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes festival. Katie Jarvis, who was discovered arguing with her boyfriend at an Essex train station and went on to be named best newcomer at the British Independent Film Awards, is excellent as the unloved teen Mia, who finds the praise and attention offered by her mother's new boyfriend puncturing her hard-as-nails exterior. A drama with plenty of rough humour, Fish Tank also contains two scenes brimming with tension and genuine uncertainty. Particularly affecting is a scene shot along the factory-flecked fields of the Essex coast east of London, which is almost unbearably tense as the viewer witnesses Mia about to make an awful mistake. Throughout the film Rebecca Griffiths gets some good lines as Mia's younger sister, the foul-mouthed and hilarious Tyler.  And the director finds glimpses of rare beauty amongst the run-down grime of the Essex council estates – sunlight reflecting on anti-pigeon spikes, clouds racing over the curves of artificial grassy knolls between tower blocks, and one memorably painterly shot in which Mia is framed in a massive DIY warehouse door with a dozen lifter cranes carefully arranged in the sky behind her like ghostly looming lanterns.

Bright Star (dir. Jane Campion, 2009)

The quality of the acting performances aside, the real star of Bright Star, Jane Campion's recounting of the doomed love of the poet Keats and Fanny Brawne, is the remarkable imagery. So many scenes beg for a pause button so you can sit back and admire this artfully constructed film. The heady lyrical bliss of young love in springtime is richly evoked by the beautiful Abbie Cornish in particular, but it is Campion's inventiveness that seals the deal with a flurry of memorable vignettes, from the perfect opening macro shot of a needle being threaded, to the riotous colours of the English woodlands in full bloom, to the inevitable sombre procession through the deserted streets of Rome. For those who found The Piano a touch too melodramatic or are reluctant to see a film featuring poetry, banish your fears, because this one's a real winner.  And aside from the charming performance by little Edie Martin as Fanny’s sister Toots (the child actors were coached by New Zealand acting doyenne Miranda Harcourt) it also contains superb supporting acting by Topper the cat, who competes with Martin to steal the most scenes.

06 January 2010

New Zealand cricket in 2009

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve been expecting to read an insightful, comprehensive summary of the New Zealand cricket team’s performance in 2009 on the Cricinfo site - the kind Lynn O’Connell used to write for them - but such a story has yet to appear.  If a summary article has appeared in the Herald or on Stuff I must have missed it, which is not hard given that their cricket coverage is buried deep within their sport sections.  So here’s my attempt at a quick rundown of the international cricket matches New Zealand played in 2009, plus a look at how a few key players performed.

Overall performance

  Played Won Draw Loss N/R
Test 8 1 3 4 -
ODI 24 10 - 11 3
T20 12 6 - 6 -


New Zealand’s performance in the test arena this year was poor, with a solitary 32-run victory over Pakistan in Dunedin in November hardly balancing four big losses against India in Hamilton (10 wickets), Sri Lanka in Galle and Colombo (202 and 96 runs) and Pakistan in Wellington (141 runs).  Perhaps the fact that all three opponents were from the subcontinent contributed to New Zealand’s poor showing, because New Zealand has long struggled against such teams.  At the end of 2009 New Zealand sits a lowly seventh in the test rankings, ahead of only West Indies and Bangladesh – which is a fair reflection of the team’s performance.  Even this is something of an improvement on 2008, when New Zealand was in eighth place below West Indies.  Not much to celebrate there.

In one-day internationals, traditionally the one area in which NZ competes well, the team struggled to break even.  Early in the year they beat West Indies at home 2-1 and proceeded to draw on tour in Australia 2-2, having excited fans by winning the opening two games of the series.  But late in the 2008/09 summer weaker form returned when India toured and beat NZ 3-1.  Then a quick trip to Sri Lanka saw NZ shut out of a tri-series final with two losses against Sri Lanka and India in September.  In the year’s showcase event, the Champions Trophy in South Africa, NZ exceeded expectations by defeating Sri Lanka, England and Pakistan, but faltered in the final against Australia.  The year was rounded out with a 2-1 victory over Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.  In 2009 New Zealand improved its ODI ranking from fifth to fourth place, and now sits three points above England.

When the new Twenty20 format rapidly gained popularity it was thought (including by me) that New Zealand’s prowess in ODIs would transfer to the 20-over format.  Sadly this has yet to occur and New Zealand tends to underperform in T20s.  Of New Zealand’s six victories, two were against Scotland and Ireland in the T20 World Cup staged in England, a tournament at which New Zealand failed to reach the semi-finals.  On the positive side there was an exciting 1-run loss to Australia in Sydney in February, followed by a couple of at-home victories over India and another pair of victories over Sri Lanka on tour in September.

Results list

As can be seen by the list below of all international matches played by New Zealand in 2009, there are so many matches being played in modern cricket that there is little downtime for players, particularly when the recent growth and importance of the IPL is added to the calendar.  Only May and July were without international fixtures, and those were prime months for the IPL in South Africa and the County Championship in England. 

Month Game Vs. At Res By
Jan ODI WI Chc Lost 5 wkt
  ODI WI Wlg Won 7 wkt
  ODI WI Akl N/R -
  ODI WI Nap Won 9 runs
Feb ODI Aust Perth Won 2 wkt
  ODI Aust Melb Won 6 wkt
  ODI Aust Syd Lost 32 runs
  ODI Aust Adel Lost 6 wkt
  ODI Aust Bris N/R -
  T20 Aust Syd Lost 1 run
  T20 Ind Chc Won 7 wkt
  T20 Ind Wlg Won 5 wkt
Mar ODI Ind Nap Lost 53 runs
  ODI Ind Wlg N/R -
  ODI Ind Chc Lost 58 runs
  ODI Ind Ham Lost 84 runs
  ODI Ind Akl Won 8 wkt
  Test Ind Ham Lost 10 wkt
  Test Ind Nap Draw -
Apr Test Ind Wlg Draw -
Jun T20 Scot Oval Won 7 wkt
  T20 S.Af Lord’s Lost 1 run
  T20 Ire Nott Won 83 runs
  T20 Pak Oval Lost 6 wkt
  T20 SL Nott Lost 48 runs
Aug Test SL Galle Lost 202 r.
  Test SL Colo Lost 96 runs
Sept T20 SL Colo Won 3 runs
  T20 SL Colo Won 22 runs
  ODI SL Colo Lost 97 runs
  ODI Ind Colo Lost 6 wkt
  ODI S.Af Cent Lost 5 wkt
  ODI SL Jo’bg Won 38 runs
  ODI Eng Jo’bg Won 4 wkt
Oct ODI Pak Jo’bg Won 5 wkt
  ODI Aust Cent Lost 6 wkt
Nov ODI Pak Abu Lost 138 r.
  ODI Pak Abu Won 64 runs
  ODI Pak Abu Won 7 runs
  T20 Pak Dubai Lost 49 runs
  T20 Pak Dubai Lost 7 runs
  Test Pak Dun Won 32 runs
Dec Test Pak Wlg Lost 141 r.
  Test Pak Nap Draw -

(Source: Cricinfo)

Batting achievements

Daniel Vettori and Ross Taylor were the stand-out batsmen in the test arena, with Vettori accumulating 779 runs at an average of just under 60, including three centuries and three fifties, and Taylor scoring a total of 782 runs at 55.8 with two centuries and four fifties.  Jesse Ryder also impressed in the five tests he played before he was injured, scoring 454 runs at 50.4 with two centuries, including 201 against India at Napier, which was the highest test score by a New Zealander in 2009.  The tale was less impressive for other test batsmen, with most significantly underperforming, leaving lingering doubts that New Zealand has the right batting mix.

In ODIs the standout batsmen were newcomers Martin Guptill (738 runs at 41.0) and Grant Elliott (507 runs at 42.2).  The powerful Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor were the only two batsmen to play all 24 New Zealand ODIs in 2009, but their return for the year was solid rather than inspiring, each averaging in the low 30s.  Daniel Vettori performed well with the bat in ODIs, scoring 259 valuable runs at 28.8, often when his top order batsmen had let him down.  The highest ODI score of the year was McCullum’s 131 from 129 balls against Pakistan in the 2nd ODI at Abu Dhabi in November.

In T20s McCullum showed the class that largely eluded him in ODIs, scoring 417 runs at 41.7 with a strike-rate of 122.  No other NZ batsmen came close to this performance.  The top score of the year was Brendon McCullum’s 69 not out from 55 balls against India in Wellington back in February; thanks to this innings, New Zealand won by five wickets.

Bowling achievements

The test bowling figures were led by two test-only players, one of whom has since retired.  Chris Martin and Iain O’Brien both bagged 30 wickets, although Martin’s (average 33.9) were cheaper than O’Brien’s (a rather worrying 40.7).  Vettori was another mainstay, taking 27 wickets at 39.0.  Shane Bond’s one final test was a glimpse of happier times – he took eight wickets against Pakistan and earned Man of the Match honours in the victory.  Significantly, his 107-5 in the second innings of that match was the only five-wicket haul by a New Zealander in 2009. 

Kyle Mills was the stand-out ODI bowler, taking 32 wickets at 28.3 and earning himself the top slot on the ODI world bowling rankings.  Vettori is in second place with 24 wickets at 28.7, but after him and equal third place-getters Bond and O’Brien (both on 13 wickets) the figures tail off rapidly.  Martin Guptill even got three overs at one point.  The best bowling performance, fittingly, was by Vettori, who took 10-3-20-4 against West Indies in Wellington in January, a match I enjoyed in person at the Stadium. 

In T20s the top wicket-taker was Ian Butler, who returned from a long spell out of the national team – he grabbed 16 wickets at an economy rate of 8.3.  Second and third place went to Nathan McCullum and Vettori, both on 9 wickets – McCullum’s at an economy of 6.5 and Vettori’s at a creditable 5.6.  The best individual performance was McCullum’s 3-0-15-3 against Ireland at Nottingham. 

Fielding achievements

Brendon McCullum snared 34 test dismissals including one stumping.  McCullum has almost caught up with Stephen Fleming as New Zealand’s third-highest number of career fielding dismissals – Fleming has 171 and McCullum is still going on 164.  Ross Taylor appeared to have taken over Fleming’s role as a safe pair of hands in the slips, as he was the best non-wicketkeeper, taking 20 test catches in 2009.  In ODIs Taylor (22) took more catches than McCullum (20), but bear in mind that Peter McGlashan kept wicket in several matches and took seven catches behind the wicket in his own right.  In the T20s it got even more confusing, with McCullum, McGlashan and new batsman BJ Watling all taking catches while engaged in wicketkeeping duties. 

Onwards to 2010

The NZ summer of 2010 holds an interesting mix of tours, but most notable is the large gap in fixtures which has seen the entire month of January without an international opponent.  In February Bangladesh tour for a single T20, three ODIs and a one-off test.  They are followed by the Australians, who tour to play two T20s, five ODIs and only two tests.  I’m sure NZ Cricket is hoping for fine weather to bolster the gate takings on what will be a hugely important tour.  I’m hoping to be at Eden Park for the second ODI on 6 March, so fingers crossed for plenty of sunshine and a stirring performance by both teams.

In April and May New Zealand will travel to the West Indies for another World Twenty20 tournament, playing Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in the group stages.  It seems like such a long way to go for such a short game, but I suppose that’s where the TV money lies.  After that the schedule’s in the hands of the necessarily vague Future Tours Programme, which is soon to expire.  In June there’s still the already-postponed NZ tour to Zimbabwe to consider, but at this stage it seems most likely that it will not progress.  Failing that, the next outing may be another tour of Sri Lanka in June.  Haven’t we just been there?  Cricket pickings are looking rather slim for the winter period, until the October-November full tours of Bangladesh and India.  Perhaps that’s just how the players will like it, so they can pick up some hard currency in the IPL and County Championship.

[Edit, 9 Jan: better late than never, Cricinfo have published a NZ roundup by the excellent Sidharth Monga.  It’s entitled, fittingly, ‘Wins, losses, injuries, Vettori’]

01 January 2010

Sim City 4

I recently re-loaded the Sim City 4 simulation onto my laptop and began to lay out plans for a city.  I’d been away from the game for at least three or four years, having been distracted by the gameplay on offer in The Sims 2, and once Civilisation 4 and World of Warcraft came along I didn’t give Sim City a thought for a long time.  Perhaps it’s something to do with being back in a big city, or that I’ve been reading about public transport issues lately, or my long-standing fascination with maps, but for whatever combination of reasons I got back into the simulation and now I’m rather hooked.

It couldn’t be described as an exciting experience, and nor do aficionados like it to be called a ‘game’.  Sim City 4 is ideal for people who like to tinker and experiment to determine causes and effects.  At each stage of urban growth the player is presented with a range of challenges and potential compromises, and there’s a real feeling of achievement when you successfully grow your small farming village into a thriving town and then a major metropolis.

Part of the enjoyment is the admittedly geekish delight I take in messing about with maps and imaginary placenames.  Here’s a closer look at the region I’ve been working on over the past week or two.  The main urban area is known as Cullinane, and while there’s no unifying theme of the placenames I’ve used, they generally originate in the historical tradition of the UK, and to a lesser extent Europe and the US. 

Cullinane3 (Clean annotated)

You’ll need to click to enlarge the image sufficiently to view the captions, but here’s a rundown of the basic character of the city of Cullinane and its outlying areas.

Cullinane-8 Aug Cullinane has become the largest settlement on the broad isthmus of the Cullinane peninsula.  From humble beginnings it has grown into a bustling minor city of 42,000.  The city is the commercial hub of the surrounding settlements, and boasts the area’s only airport and an Army base, Fort Cullinane.  Heavy industry is concentrated in the northern suburb of Allentown near the town’s sports stadium, while high-tech industry is located in the southern suburb of Edison, which is located between Port Edison and the University.  Further east, the twin towns of Parkside and Redcliffs act as dormitory suburbs for Cullinane’s workers.

Haddon-7 DecAfter the establishment of Cullinane, the next settlement to be founded was the town of Stieglitz, which lies to Cullinane’s west.  Stieglitz contains the largest concentration of industrial facilities in the entire region, supplying over 10,000 industrial jobs.  In a subsequent development some decades later the seaside settlement of Haddon was founded on the west-facing slopes overlooking the winding Elliott River, and once this town grew it became the name by which the immediate area was known.  The town now holds a population of nearly 15,000.  Haddon and Stieglitz are separated by a swathe of farmland and oak forests.

Kells-16 Jul To the north of Cullinane the settlement of Kells was founded to provide further living space and more land for industrial development.  Now rivalling Cullinane itself in terms of population, Kells is experiencing some difficulties with polluting outflow into the Elliott River from Gastown, its seaside industrial suburb.  The area is currently downsizing its heavy industry in favour of commercial services.  It also boasts a popular satellite settlement on the western shores of the Elliott – the pretty town of Landry Shore, which is connected to Kells by a busy passenger and car ferry.  Plans are being drawn up for a bridge across the Elliott north of Kells’ Dublin Beach, but the cost-effectiveness of the project is yet to be determined.

Ramillies-3 Jun The next neighbour of Cullinane to be incorporated was the small town of Ramillies to the east.  Occupying a small plain leading to sheer cliffs overlooking a large estuary, Ramillies was not suitable for port facilities, but in the space available a carefully designed model settlement of some 5,000 inhabitants was constructed on a grid pattern augmented with strong radiating diagonal roads.  The small industrial suburbs of McAdams and Guillermin grew up to provide jobs for the local workforce, but many locals commute from Ramillies to jobs in nearby Cullinane or Pemberton. 

Pemberton-2 Mar Pemberton is a middle-sized town of 27,000 inhabitants, and was the original settlement in the region.  It was quickly surpassed by the faster-growing Cullinane and Kells, and now struggles to compete due to problems with industrial pollution, a congested street plan and the accumulated environmental damage of an ill-advised early policy of zoning refuse landfill sites too close to the centre of town.  A waste incinerator plant, the region’s first, was constructed to reduce the waste problem, but is some way off completing its task.  In the meantime, small satellite settlements have grown up to the north of Pemberton: the heavy industry of Postgate and the high-tech industry of Lingwood compete for Pemberton’s workers, while the dormitory suburb of Lenihan on the higher ground overlooking Pemberton provides homes for a thousand workers who commute both to Pemberton and Kells.  The large number of Pembertonians who commute to work outside the area required a system of dual carriageways [avenues in game terms] to both the west and east of town.  These roads are the largest and most complete network in the region.

Wilshire-11 May Even further to the east is the rural settlement of Wilshire, which grew up to provide agricultural land for cultivation.  The town was laid out with special care to permit a comprehensive rail loop to be built, which means that the 7,000 inhabitants of Wilshire are well served by public transport.  A great many wealthy citizens make Wilshire their home due to the rural atmosphere and the attractions of Wilshire Beach, which is a short step from downtown.  To the northeast of downtown the overspill settlement of San Gabriel has its own rail spur for commuters.  To the west of town and beyond the large farms of the Wilshire hinterland, the industrial estate of Stanshall has grown up to complement the nearby twin town of Postgate.  Wilshire, like Haddon, lacks its own port facilities, which may well limit potential growth in the town unless a suitable location can be found in nearby territories.

St Mary-20 May To the south of Cullinane the new town of St Mary (population 4000) was established to open up further land for development by the ever-expanding excess population of Cullinane and Kells.  The town’s planners have a choice to make soon: whether to limit growth and preserve the small-town atmosphere of St Mary’s, along with the lush forests to the south of town, or to expand aggressively with the eventual goal of opening up the land across St Mary’s Bay and building a new container port at the end of the peninsula.  The wealthy inhabitants of St Mary’s many mansions will no doubt have strong views on the matter.  In the meantime, the nearby industrial suburb of Boyle, which is under the control of three different local councils, provides a few jobs for the locals.  

Jackson's Flat-8 Oct The most recent area to the opened up for settlement is Jackson’s Flat, southwest of Cullinane.  Intended as a agricultural counterpart to Wilshire, Jackson’s Flat has grown quickly to a population of 1,500 but has only recently installed a reticulated water system.  There are considerable swathes of farmland to the north of town, but a new focus for growth is the recently developed port facilities to the northwest of town.  Designed to service the nearby industries of Stieglitz, the port may encourage greater industrial growth than was first planned for Jackson’s Flat.  As in nearby St Mary, residential development in Jackson’s Flat is being stymied by an influx of mansion-owners who are buying up much of the town for their palatial residences.

In future years new development will likely spread to new parts of the region, with the financial backers of the Vansittart family searching for an suitable spot to found another new settlement.  It remains to be seen if this further expansion occurs in the hill country to the south of St Mary and Jackson’s Flat, on the plains to the north of Pemberton, or perhaps on the western banks of the Elliott past Landry Shore once the river is finally bridged. 

Despite covering a large area the region is still relatively young, with a population of only 145,000.  The next challenge for city planners is to manage the shift to a higher-density urban economy, with all the associated problems this entails.


While the Sim City 4 simulation is rather biased in favour of private transport, it still affords plenty of opportunities to lay out public transit networks to service your cities.  Naturally, there has to be a certain population level to support such services, but there is a cumulative effect derived from linking up various sections of your city plots that encourages building more comprehensive networks. 

I’ve chosen to expand Cullinane’s public transport network more rapidly than usual, partly because just like in the real world it’s disruptive and expensive to retro-fit railways in built-up areas, but also because I wanted the city to grow with public transport from the outset.  Well, almost from the outset – the densely populated CBD of Cullinane is as yet unserved by rail lines, which will have to wait until a subway line through the city becomes affordable.  But Cullinane is circled by two rail loops with several spurs to neighbouring towns, so commuters can navigate their way to jobs across the region by public transport if they wish.  

While the simulation is enjoyable I’ve gained almost as much entertainment from hours spent tinkering with fantasy transit maps for the city I’ve created.  It took me a long time to arrive at a presentable standard, but once I discovered a couple of handy tutorials on the excellent Canadian site Simtropolis I was able to make a reasonable stab at the following map:

Cullinane Metro 4 

I’m not yet satisfied with the logo by any means, and if I had the time and ability the map would have multiple coloured lines instead of just the one colour.  But it gives a good impression of how comprehensive the city’s rail network is, particularly bearing in mind that this is still a small city by global standards. 

There are several areas targeted for future expansion.  Ultimately there will be a subway line running westwards from City Hall through the Cullinane CBD, perhaps terminating at Copperfields station in Stieglitz.  If this is successful, a second northern subway line could connect the Cullinane CBD with that of Kells, linking up with the Kells Street or Cullinane Stadium rail stations as it heads northwards.  Aside from the CBD areas, most of Cullinane’s settlements are well served by rail and its associated bus networks, but one area in which there is room for improvement is in Pemberton, in which the town’s rail stations skirt the main population centre.  If the region expands further there may also be extensions to existing lines northwards from Peacock Hill in Kells and Postgate Industrial in Pemberton, or new northward lines might be built through the villages of Lenihan or Lingwood, which are yet to be connected to the rail network.  Expansion southward may see lines reaching out from St Mary or perhaps Jackson’s Flat, depending on the course of urban development.  Perhaps the growth of new rail links will allow the Cullinane region to resist calls for a the land-greedy highway networks that so blight other (real world) cities.