31 October 2013

75 years on - Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' broadcast

‘The War Of The Worlds’ radio play has taken on an almost mythical status, and the notion that huge swathes of the U.S. public was gripped by fear of Martian intruders has gained a foothold in the popular imagination. A patchy-but-enjoyable 1975 made-for-television movie, ‘The Night That Panicked America’, reinforced newspaper stories at the time suggesting the alarm sizeable: farmers grab their shotguns and fearful families jump into their cars and hit the freeway, while others seek refuge in churches.

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Archive on 4’ series, which last week examined the broadcast’s legacy in ‘Myth or Legend: Orson Welles and The War of The Worlds’ and questioned the extent of the panic, noted that out of an estimated 6 million listeners, around 1.7 million believed the play to be true. Only 1.2 million were said to be “frightened”, according to a study, and just 20 people – a tiny fraction of those who actually heard the show – had to be treated for shock.

Radio 4’s programme also points to later suggestions that a hostile print media, miffed by radio’s growing dominance, embellished or simply made up stories of people fleeing their homes and driving their cars off bridges in some faint hope that the young upstart medium’s influence may be curbed.

- Hugh Leask, 'Myth and media: Orson Welles’ ‘The War Of The Worlds’ – 75 years on', Independent, 30 October 2013

30 October 2013

Wellington 1966

There's recognisable elements of modern Wellington visible in this mid-1960s feature from the National Film Unit, but the charming aspects are those that have changed in the 47 years since this was shot. The glaring red city buses, the opening aerial shots making a beeline for the Beehive that is yet to be even a glint in Sir Basil Spence's eye, the mandatory beehive hairdos (to carry on the apian theme), and the stilted, theatrical vox pops that set the scene for this magazine summary of the capital in the mid-60s: all of it is designed to advance the notion of a go-ahead modern city, replete with mid-20th-century brutalist office blocks, with convertible Mercedes coupes cruising around the many tropical inlets where bathing beauties (nowadays aged in their seventies, mind) cavort and gambol in the plentiful Cook Strait rays. And if you believe that, then Telly Savalas has a thing or two to tell you about Birmingham.

[Via Nikolai]

See also:
Blog: Ans Westra Wellington 1976, 30 June 2013
Blog: The creatures beyond the Devil's gate, 25 May 2013
BlogThe Mutton Birds - Wellington, 31 January 2009

29 October 2013

Wright's Hill Fortress

Yesterday I paid a visit to Wright's Hill Fortress in Karori for the first time in around 10 years. To be precise, I've been to Wright's Hill many times in the past decade, but I'd not been back to revisit the tunnels underneath the hilltop that link together the various gun emplacements and supporting facilities. The fortress was designed to be a key factor in Wellington's naval defences, with huge 9.2 inch guns overseeing the whole harbour and beyond thanks to their 18-mile (29km) firing range. Construction started in March 1942 but by the time the guns were installed in 1944 the situation in the Pacific theatre had improved so considerably that the order for the site's third gun was cancelled. The fortress guns were only fired once in a 1946 test exercise, and in the 1960s the site fell into disrepair. Since 1989 locals have been restoring the fortress, and it now opens for public viewing on four public holidays per year.

Entrance tunnel from War Shelter No.1
Stairs to Gun Pit No.1

Old wireless
Old telephone switchboard from Trentham Camp
See also:
Blog: Royal Marines Band, 30 September 2013
Blog: Norway's greatest resistance hero, 7 September 2013
Blog: Fort Ballance, 5 November 2011

28 October 2013

The Yorkshire dialects

The Yorkshire accent is a many and varied thing, as you can see. I've got a map here with every Yorkshire town, and each town has its own accent. From right over here in the east with Hull, where they talk about having 'a pahnt of mahld at fahve to fahve', and 'I've got all the Stern Rersers albums'. Then you go west to Bradford where we are now, and they don't say their Ts - 'go'a go 'o [got to go to] Bradford; go'a go 'o Batley'. Then you go across to Leeds and the Es are lengthened. Then you go down here through Wakefield to Barnsley, which is a very harsh [accent] and you think of Geoff Boycott, 'that's proper cricket is that'. I do genuinely think it's to do with the harsh winds of Yorkshire - you don't want to open your mouth too far. Then you go a bit further south to Sheffield where there's this fantastic difference between Barnsley and Sheffield - where we say 'now then now then', as you approach Sheffield it becomes 'now den'. So we call them 'de-das'. And in Chesterfield they call their house their 'arse' - my Auntie Mabel, who was from Chesterfield, would say things like 'I've just had double-glazing fitted in my arse', or 'I've got a detached arse' - oh, have you really? And they don't think it's funny!

- Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan, in Fry's Planet Word s01 e02, BBC2, 2011

See also:
Video: Ian McMillan - The day they found the king, February 2013
Blog: 8am: Bacon & egg butty, four pints of cider, 22 May 2013
Blog: Treasures of Mercia, 17 December 2009

27 October 2013

As I cling to the earth with my eyebrows

Yesterday was a rare day for Wellington - normally the days with 100km/h plus wind gusts are accompanied by rotten horizontal rain and plummeting temperatures. Instead we had a bright sunny day graced with a refreshingly boisterous squall that cleared the waterfront of all but the most hardy and those with a firm sense of balance. While I felt sorry for tourists unaccustomed to the ferocity of the northerly flurry, you have to ask yourself why anyone risks visiting the capital during springtime. I mean, the airport seems to be shut half the time and the insides of the smaller planes must resemble a blender by the time they touch down in non-hurricane strength locales. I had to grab hold of my camera bag several times to prevent it flitting away whilst taking the pictures below, and when I ventured down to sea level on the harbour ferry floating platform I decided my visit would have to be as short as possible, because it was bucking around like crazy.

Included below are two familiar sights of the Wellington port. The derelict Southern Prospector fishing vessel has been laid up here for years, having been rescued from sinking in July 2010 when its engine room flooded and having been accidentally rammed by the ferry Santa Regina (the Bluebridge) as it was reversing into dock on a day with strong southerlies in April 2011. And the Sea Lion, a 100-ton launch built in Port Adelaide in 1946, which was used for squid fishing in the Bass Strait in the 1980s and sailed over from Australia in 1990 for use as a private recreational vessel. It's been berthed at the northern end of Queen's Wharf since at least 2005. Wellington seems to attract this sort of maritime detritus; perhaps because once they arrive here they deteriorate quickly in the harsh winds and swiftly become too unsafe to venture out of the harbour?

Also, the blog title comes from this lovely audio clip from a WW2 soldier, recorded by 2YA for broadcast to New Zealand forces deployed in the Pacific. Definitely worth a quick listen.

Clyde Quay Wharf development.
Kevin McCloud would have something to say about weathertightness.
Point Halswell & Point Jerningham
Southern Prospector in a wind flurry
Sea Lion
Sea Lion  & Queen's Wharf
See also:
Blog: Command an argosy to stem the waves, Petone, 14 July 2013
Blog: Repairing the Kaitaki, 23 June 2013
Blog: In fear of the Tsar's navy, 5 November 2011

26 October 2013

My broken spirit is frozen to the core

I was busy last night and missed a acoustic gig at Bodega by the 80s pop star Nik Kershaw. I would've been intrigued to see what his singles (Wouldn't It Be Good, The Riddle, Wide Boy et al.) sounded like stripped-down, low-tech and played by a now fifty-five year old Kershaw. But in honour of his visit to Wellington, I thought it would be timely to quote from the chapter named after him in my favourite book about music: Giles Smith's 1995 book Lost In Music ('one man's journey into the world of rock and then back to his mum's').

Smith, who now writes on sports and motoring for the Times, grew up in Colchester idolising bands and musicians, and was a passing acquaintance of Nick (before he dropped the 'c') when the latter was impressing local audiences in covers band Fusion. Here he recounts spotting Kershaw a year or so after Fusion split up - a year in which a strange and mysterious transformation had occurred:

It was in Colchester's shopping precinct, outside Lasky's electrical store and at the back of Marks and Spencer's. And this was not the Nick Kershaw I had known (or rather, not known). First, there was the hair - all spiky and bright blond as if a small bomb containing bleach had gone off on his head, the de rigueur 1980s pop-star plumage. And then there were the clothes. No more wearisome waistcoats, no more duff ties. He was wearing a tiny black jacket with some complicated fastenings, and black drainpipe jeans which bottomed out in a pair of pointy boots. There were only two possible explanations: either a major record company had signed him up and had got its people to make him over, ready for stardom; or Kershaw had retrained as a hairdresser and was now working in a shiny-floored unisex salon in Chelmsford - Sophisticut, maybe, or Hair Today. Naturally, I assumed the latter and shook my head ruefully all the way home on the bus. 
And of course, I was wrong. The haircut and the grimly fashionable threads were courtesy of MCA, who were right at that moment priming Kershaw, ready to detonate him and his new hair in the teen market [...] and suddenly he was on Top of the Pops for the first time. I watched with a friend who had come round specially. The room positive thrummed with our nervousness, our proximity to this momentous event and our feeling of tragic non-involvement in it all. We leant close to the screen as the camera swung from whichever Radio 1 DJ was presenting that week, across the backs of the squawking audience and picked out Kershaw, alone amid the fake chrome piping and the flashy lights. 
It shook us that he had no guitar around his neck. (Top of the Pops was completely mimed at this time). Instead, he was wearing a white boiler suit and a pair of fingerless gloves and clutching his bunched fists up to his chest like someone working out with a set of hand-held dumb-bells. At the same time, he would bring up a knee in the manner recommended by aerobics videos. Who had taught him to do this? It was certainly never a feature of his performances at the Goose and Firkin in Tollesbury. Staggered, we realised he was also wearing a snood - a tube of netting, the kind you sometimes see protecting strawberries, bunched around his neck. (It became a trademark of sorts). He looked terrified, at least to us seasoned Kershaw-watchers, but he bopped and clenched and wilfully concentrated his gaze on the floor, and as the song faded and the camera drew back, there was the usual hilarious applause. We went to the pub afterwards and drank in silence, alone with our thoughts. 
- Giles Smith, Lost in Music, London, 1995, p.127-9. 
(I love the notion that a Colcestrian would picture a swish 80s hair salon as being in up-market, yuppified Chelmsford.) Kershaw went on to have eight UK top 40 hits in 1984 and 1985, performed at Live Aid in 1985, had one of his songs covered for the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, and wrote the 1991 UK chart-topper I Am the One and Only  for Chesney Hawks. Here's the TOTP performance Smith wrote about:

See also:
Music: Nik Kershaw - The Riddle (Live Aid, 1985)
TV: Nik Kershaw - Live Aid interview (brief, 1985)
Blog: When Smokey sings, I hear violence, 19 May 2008

24 October 2013

Taking his medicine has taken its toll

Nineties band Kenickie - three girls and a boy from Sunderland, named after Jeff Conaway's character in Grease - formed in 1994, released two albums and split in 1998. This album track from their second LP, Get In, featured on a Melody Maker coverdisc in 1998, which is where I first heard it. It's a pity the band split up, because songs like this show a rich vein of pop sensibility and a great production style. I love the booming chorus, droning and swooning lead and backing vocals, and the deft backwards loops in the outro.

In their brief run Kenickie released two UK top 40 albums (their first, At the Club, reached number 9) and seven singles, four of which cracked the UK top 40. Lead singer Lauren Laverne of course went on to greater fame on radio and TV. She now appears on BBC's Culture Show and C4's 10 O'Clock Live comedy current affairs prog, plus hosts her own daily radio show on BBC 6Music.  

See also:
Music: Kenickie - Save Your Kisses For Me (A Song for Eurotrash, 1998)
Music: Catatonia - International Velvet (Live, Margam Park, May 1999)
Music: Meryn Cadell - The Sweater (1991)

23 October 2013

An A-Z of modern office jargon

Annual leave

When even the word holiday is thought to sound too frivolous and hedonistic, so that people on their holidays set their out-of-office autoreply to announce grandly that they are instead on annual leave, then surely we have entered a hellishly self-parodic downward spiral of capitalist civilisation.


After someone has been sacked – sorry, "transitioned" – they tend to leave a person-shaped hole in the landscape. What do you do with a hole, especially a person-shaped one that reminds you a bit of a hastily dug grave? You fill it in – in other words, you backfill (verb), or address the backfill (noun).

Originally, backfill was an engineering term, meaning to fill a hole or trench with excavated earth, gravel, sand or other material. Now it means "replacement" or "replace", eg: "We are recruiting for Tom's backfill" or "We will have to backfill Richard." Meanwhile, a job vacancy that exists to replace an ex-employee, as opposed to a newly created role, is called a backfill position, even if that sounds more like something an adventurous type might adopt at an S&M club.

Close of play

The curious strain of kiddy-talk in bureaucratese perhaps stems from a hope that infantilised workers are more docile. A manager who tells you to do something by end of play or by close of play – in other words, today – is trying to hypnotise you into thinking you are having fun. This is not a sodding game of cricket. Though, actually, it appears that the phrase originates from the genteel confines of the British civil service, when there might well have been cricket, or at least a very long lunch, on the day's agenda.

Synonymous with asking for something by close of play is requesting it by the end of the day. End of whose day, exactly? Perhaps the boss is swanning off at 3pm while everyone else will have to stay till 8pm in order to get it done. A day can be an awfully long time in office politics.

Flagpole, run this up the

Let's run this up the flagpole! Using this exhortation to mean "give it a try" or "test it" came to prominence in the 1950s Madison Avenue advertising industry. It derived from a yarn that was doing the rounds about the first US president, George Washington. When Betsy Ross presented the new American flag to him, he was supposed to have quipped: "Let's run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it."

The original sense was to test something (eg an ad campaign) in public, or at least in front of the clients, rather than just around the office: a nuance that has since been lost.

Later variations on the theme include: "Let's cross the sidewalk and see what the view looks like from over there", or "Let's put it on the radiator and see if it melts", or even (so I am assured) "Let's knife-and-fork it and see what comes out". (Comes out from where? That's disgusting.) There seems no end to the forced jollity (and despair-inducing implied exclamation mark) of such constructions.

Going forward

Top of many people's hate-list is this now-ubiquitous way of saying "from now on" or "in future". It has the added sly rhetorical aim of wiping clean the slate of the past; indeed, it is a kind of incantation or threat aimed at shutting down conversation about whatever bad thing has happened. This aspect of the phrase proves to be especially attractive to politicians, who like to accuse their critics of being mired in the past. The official pronouncements of Barack Obama's administration are littered with going forward, or its sibling moving forward, which at the time of writing have been deployed nearly 600 times in the past year in official White House transcripts and press releases.

Paradigm shift

The term paradigm shift was made famous by Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. There, a paradigm is a whole way of understanding the world, and a paradigm shift is a dramatic transfiguration in that understanding. Paradigm shifts are hugely important intellectual developments such as "the Copernican, Newtonian, chemical and Einsteinian revolutions". Sadly, owing to the widespread phenomenon of linguistic deflation, it has since become possible to call a much less world-shattering change a paradigm shift. One educational article in Forbes ambitiously begins by sketching historic paradigm shifts – the Copernican revolution, Mendelian genetics and the guy who discovered that peptic ulcers are caused by bacteria – and then gets down to business. Now, the author claims, "a discontinuous paradigm shift in management is happening. It's a shift from a firm-centric view of the world in which the firm's purpose is to make money for its shareholders, to a customer-centric view of the world in which the purpose of the firm is to add value for customers." It probably would be a paradigm shift (to an economic epic fail) if firms really were going to abandon all hope of making money, but that is not quite the claim here. Instead, firms are going to pretend that they are not completely self-interested and really care about their customers. In the service, of course, of making more money.


Oh, right, the verticals. Yep, we need to "leverage" the "learnings" across all the verticals. I'm totally on board with that. Oh, we need to talk about "content strategy in a difficult vertical"? Sure, good idea! [Sotto voce] What the hell are verticals again?

According to Forbes, a vertical is: "A specific area of expertise. If you make project-management software for the manufacturing industry (as opposed to the retail industry), you might say: 'We serve the manufacturing vertical.' In so saying, you would make everyone around you flee the conversation."

In business, there is a distinction between horizontal and vertical organisation. Apple, for example, is sometimes thought of as a vertical company because it makes "the whole widget" – both hardware and software. Vertical integration can also be a matter of owning the factories that supply your components, and so forth. In consulting lingo, meanwhile, a vertical can just be a new industry that you want to move into, by setting up a separate business unit.

The upshot of all this is that vertical in ordinary office use can almost always be replaced with "market", which has the advantage of being a word that everyone understands, and the concomitant disadvantage (for the machiavellian jargon-wielder) that it won't serve to browbeat and intimidate workers.

Oh, you know what else is vertical right now? My middle finger.

- Steven Poole, Guardian, 22 October 2013

[Extracted from Who Touched Base In My Thought Shower?: A Treasury of Unbearable Office Jargon by Steven Poole, to be published by Sceptre at £9.99 on 31 October 2013. Order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p from guardianbookshop.co.uk]

22 October 2013

The role of campaign spokesperson

‘You might like to think of the role of a campaign spokesperson as being like a dog walker. For the sake of argument, let’s call the dog “Trevor”. You do your best to keep Trevor on the lead, but you are not responsible for his behaviour and you have a plastic bag at hand in case of accidents’.

- Grant Robertson MP, in J Johansson & S Levine (eds.), Kicking the Tyres: The New Zealand General Election & Electoral Referendum of 2011, VUP, Wellington, 2012, p.129.

21 October 2013

Discovering that your children sound like New Zealanders

It's a dispiriting fact that no one in the history of the English language has ever considered our accent smart, sexy or cool. At best, a few people regard it as cute – a friend was shouted several martinis by a group of elderly revellers in a New York bar purely on the grounds that the way she pronounced the word "snake" was, apparently, adorable. Most of the world, however, can't understand a word we say.

One Internet site encouraging people to emigrate to New Zealand remarks, without a hint of an apology, that "you will meet some New Zealanders who speak so quickly and so indistinctly that nearly all migrants will have difficulty understanding them". Another offers helpful translations of Kiwi words such as "brist" ("part of the human anatomy between the 'nick' and the 'billy' "), "bugger" ("as in 'mine is bugger than yours' ") and "duck hid" (as in "a term of abuse directly mainly at males").

Even my husband, who is English, periodically demands we leave New Zealand whenever there's fresh evidence that our kids are beginning to speak like Kiwis. "My son has just used the word 'dunny'," he'll announce, bleakly. "Pack your bags. We must go this minute." Or: "My daughter has just finished a sentence with 'ay'. Get the passports." Once, I casually remarked that my husband was himself ending sentences with a rising inflexion: only by barring the way to the bathroom was I able to stop him from flinging himself on his razor blades.

- Linley Boniface, Stuff.co.nz, 8 December 2008

[H/T: Communique]

20 October 2013

O! beware, my lord, of jealousy

This afternoon's entertainment was the very fine National Theatre production of Othello, featuring Adrian Lester as the titular Moor, Rory Kinnear as Iago, Olivia Vinall as Desdemona and Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia. The tragedy is played out in a modern setting, with all but one act played out in an army garrison in Cyprus. This allows the cast to meddle with the pent-up frustrations of service personnel with too much time and not enough warfare on their hands - time to fret and bicker, and to doubt one another's loyalty.

The cast are uniformly excellent. Lester and Kinnear work well together, with Lester offering a noble Moor of bearing and great emotional range, and Kinnear's Iago is a rough-spoken commoner who exults in the revenge of his most cruel deception. The versatile and wispy Vinall portrays the demands for Cassio's reinstatement coquettishly, but also shows Desdemona's anguish and growing panic as Iago's lies ruin her love-match with Othello. I had forgotten the extent of Iago's wife Emelia's role, and in this Marshal offers a steely portrayal of a misused pawn in a husband's Machiavellian plot.

The NT's stage design is superb, with sliding prefab sets emerging and reconfiguring seemingly effortlessly into wardrooms, bedchambers, offices, and even the officers' bathrooms. It was a pleasure to see the film screening here in Wellington; it's just a pity that we have to wait nearly a month after the live broadcast to see it. The everyday curse of a far-flung colony.

See also:
Theatre: NTLive The Audience, 14 July 2013
Theatre: NTLive This House, 17 June 2013
Blog: Stratford-upon-Avon, 24 February 2010

19 October 2013

TV flashback 1981

In the spirit of my earlier post looking back at the New Zealand TV listings for 15 April 1991, I decided to take another look back at television history, with a glance at the listings for the same day ten years earlier. Luckily the library has bound copies of the Listener going back decades, so I was able to find the day easily.

In 1981 the Listener was still being printed in a large-format newsprint style. The cover story for this week's edition is a two-parter on the financial woes afflicting the national airline, Air New Zealand, written by the now-curmudgeonly Karl du Fresne. There's plenty of room inside for columnists, including some still familiar names like Tom Scott, Ranginui Walker and Gordon Campbell. And the 11 April edition also has heaps of print ads that bring back memories of the era - such as the stylish clothing options offered by Para (purveyors of backyard swimming pools but also apparently haute couture) or Summit of New Zealand ('Casual clothes that will make you stand out in a crowd'), which offered the fine jacket and moustache pictured below. There's also the beaming young couple 'Colin and Delwyn' in the MARAC home finance ad, 'Together we're going places'. I think the builder in the background is laughing at Colin's high-waisted beltless jeans. And is Colin being played by a young Simon Prast?

Summit Coach House Jacket, 1981
'Colin & Delwyn', MARAC, 1981

The television listings are necessarily more sparse than in 1991, because of course there were only two channels (TV3 started broadcasting in 1989) and no Sky (which started properly the following year). The Listener makes up for it by devoting lavish space to each channel, and for dramas it also printed the production details including the producer, director and originating TV company. We'll start the listings before primetime, to fit in some names from the golden age of New Zealand kids' TV.


3.00 Chic Chat - children's TV with all-around nice guy, Chic Littlewood
3.15 Rainbow - veteran UK kids' TV (1972-92, 1071 episodes) 
3.30 After School - with good'un, Olly Ohlson ("Keep cool 'til After School")
- Godzilla - animation incl. 'his lovable cousin Godzooky' (1978-81, 26 episodes)
4.00 The Electric Company - educational sketches (1971-77, 780 episodes)
4.30 Fangface - Scooby-Doo knockoff cartoon (1978-80, 32 episodes)
5.00 Think of a Number - BBC educational TV with Johnny Ball (1977-84, 37 episodes)
5.30 Watch All Night - teen spy thriller from Granada (1980, 7 episodes)*
6.00 Dick Turpin - ITV historical drama featuring Richard O'Sullivan (1979-82, 31 episodes)
6.30 News
7.00 Coronation Street - "Deirdre Langton has been discharged from hospital, still pregnant"
7.30 Regional Programmes - Top Half, Today Tonight, The Mainland Touch, and 7.30 South**
8.00 Close Up - TVNZ current affairs
9.00 Miss Universe New Zealand - presented by Ilona Rogers, with guests singer Lyn Atama & pianist Cristina Ortiz. Winner Donella Thomsen went on to reach the semi-finals in the global competition.
10.00 Sporting Life - with Phillip Leishman and Grahame Thorne, looking at the career of All Black wing, Bryan Williams.
11.00 News
11.05 Closedown

* The teen lead in Watch All Night, Lucinda Bateson, went on to appear in every episode of the robot comedy Metal Mickey, and an episode of Hart To Hart.
** Featuring Judy Bailey & John Hawkesby (Top Half), Roger Gascoigne & Leighton Smith (Today Tonight), Rodney Bryant & Bob Sutton (The Mainland Touch), and Jim Mora, Dallas Beckett & Kevin Ramshaw (7.30 South).


2.55 Soap - influential soap opera satire including a young Billy Crystal (1977-81, 93 episodes) 
3.25 General Hospital - actual soap
3.50 Today in France - provided by the French Embassy
4.05 All Creatures Great & Small - BBC James Herriot vet drama (1978-80 original series)
5.05 Little House on the Prairie - NBC rural nostalgia & down-homery (1974-83, 203 episodes)
6.00 [Programme to be announced] - so it will remain a mystery forever.
6.30 Stumpers - TVNZ quiz hosted by Laurie Dee
7.00 The Muppet Show - 'with guest stars Senor Wences and puppeteer Bruce Swartz'  
7.30 Mork & Mindy - ABC Robin Williams comedy (1978-82, 94 episodes) ***
8.00 The Sullivans - Nine Network WW2 Australian drama / soap (1976-83, 1114 episodes)
9.00 The Professionals - ITV's hard bastards who hate crims (1977-81, 57 episodes)****
10.00 News at Ten
10.30 Movie: Love's Savage Fury 1979 Civil War TV movie with Jennifer O'Neill & Raymond Burr
12.10 Closedown

*** Huh, I didn't know Pam Dawber is married to Mark Harmon
**** "Cowley, Doyle & Bodie - the men of CI5 finish jobs that the police wouldn't even know how to start".

See also:
TV: After School - Maorimind (1981 Mastermind spoof)
TV: Chic Chat (1981 excerpt)
TV:  Soap - "Mickey Mouse's dog was gay?!" (Billy Crystal & Katherine Helmond)

18 October 2013

NPC semi-final

Photos from Wellington's pummelling of Counties Manukau 41-10 (15-0 HT) in the semi-final of the ITM Cup rugby competition at the Stadium tonight, which saw several Wellington runaway tries from intercepts and a strong role played by the notorious capital breezes. (Gusts up to 100km/h, in fact). Thanks to Liz for the spare ticket!

See also:
Rugby: Bledisloe Cup NZ 27-16 Australia, 25 August 2013
Cricket: Welcome to NZ, you mangy son of a dog, 22 February 2012
Rugby: The past is a foreign country, 7 April 2011

17 October 2013

Mister CD

Recently when delving into my many boxes full of the random detritus from years of flatting and travelling, I came across an artefact of a sadly departed fixture of the London music scene - or at least, a fixture of my own small London music scene. It was a simple used plastic carrier bag from the now defunct Soho music shop Mister CD, an establishment that I used to frequent with an almost devotional regularity during my London years. It was particularly important during my first years in London during the late 1990s, chiefly because my income was so comically low at that point. I usually couldn't afford the full-price music for sale on Oxford Street in the Virgin or HMV megastores, but I still enjoyed browsing their comprehensive collections for an occasional bargain. But if I absolutely had to have an album, it was Mister CD that usually provided.

Located in a tiny old shop at 80 Berwick Street, it was always a mission to infiltrate the premises, because the aisles were tiny and the browsing customers went plentiful. CDs were shelved from floor to ceiling, so much of the challenge was finding the right spot and surveying the entire shelf without being edged out of position by your fellow, equally determined, music shoppers. This was in the day when £13 for a new CD was a lot of money to me, so it was great to have the slightly down-at-heel Mister CD option a short walk away from the big stores, and where you could usually pick up a new release - like Pulp's This Is Hardcore or Catatonia's International Velvet for example - for a tenner or less. 

But my main loitering space at Mister CD wasn't in the ground level shop. I usually made a beeline for the rickety stairs down to the basement dungeon where the remainder CDs were displayed. Down there, if it was a Saturday, the stereo was usually blasting a football match for the benefit of the sales clerk, and the CDs were scuffed, displayed in craft-knife-hacked cardboard boxes from the supermarket, and of widely variable quality. They were also, as you might imagine, fantastically cheap. It was often possible to pick up some pleasingly obscure reissue or remainder stock for a pound or two, if you could put up with the football. I have fond memories of securing a review copy of the first ENZSO album for a mere quid there.
I was never much of a Selectadisc devotee (the shop at 34 Berwick Street that specialised in much hipper vinyl collections - now run by Sister Ray). For me, Mister CD was all I needed. Even when I returned to live in London a second time in the 2000s and could afford to spent a little more, I still made a regular pilgrimage to Berwick Street for the bargain sifting. But, sadly, by that time the shop was on its last legs. Mister CD closed in 2007, earning a sympathetic news report from a BBC business reporter, who noted:
Mister CD's imminent closure marks another chapter in the decline of what used to be renowned as the street with the greatest concentration of record shops in London. Collectors from all over the world flocked to Berwick Street to look for vinyl rarities in its second-hand shops, while others were tempted by the chance to snap up new CDs at low prices. The street was so well known as a haven for music fans that it even featured on the cover of one of the UK's all-time best-selling albums - (What's The Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis.

Mister CD couldn't compete with online retail, the threat of downloads and the cut-price competition from the big stores and Scottish chain Fopp, which opened an impressive discount store nearby on Shaftesbury Avenue. But for a decade and a half, Mister CD was a stalwart of the London music scene - a no-nonsense outlet for fans and bargain-hunters alike.

See also:
Gig: The Magic Numbers, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 11 October 2010
Gig: She & Him, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 10 May 2010
Gig: Liam Finn & friends, Scala, 2 December 2008
Gig: Jarvis Cocker, Shepherd's Bush Empire, 26 November 2008 
Gig: Grant-Lee Phillips, Scala, 27 April 2008
Gig: Aimee Mann, Indigo2, 27 July 2007
History: Denmark Street, 18 January 2010

16 October 2013

Brother Lee Love

In the usual vein of serious workplace discussions, the topic of Kenny Everett and his giant hands character came up yesterday. Of course it did! Far too little is said these days about Everett's hugely influential comedy on both radio and TV. Below, then, for the uninitiated or the just plain young, is Kenny Everett's Brother Lee Love preacher character, resplendent in this 1979 Kenny Everett Video Show appearance with his enormous canonical polystyrene appendages. (And is it just me, or are the keyboardist's hands, um, 'blacked up'? Blimey.). For those interested in seeing more of Everett's silliness, this compilation clip is a good start. It's replete with the usual daft sketches, plentiful catch-phrases ("Ello, Sid Snot 'ere") and plenty of corpsing and fourth-wall breaking as the studio crew cracks up. Oh, and the Hot Gossip dancers, whose undulations went completely over my head at the time.

See also:
Comedy: Alan Partridge's pop playlist, 6 August 2013
Comedy: Shaggy's gritty smack battle, 18 September 2012
Comedy: The Girls Guitar Club, 2 September 2009

15 October 2013

Robert Francis workshop: Lessons from Mid Staffordshire

Yesterday I attended an excellent one-day workshop staged by the Health Quality & Safety Commission in partnership with Waitemata DHB. The guest of honour was distinguished British barrister Robert Francis QC, who has recently led the inquiry into the critical hospital failings at Mid Staffordshire in England, which resulted in shockingly bad standards of care being delivered over several years. It is likely that these failures contributed to the deaths of patients at the hospital, but beyond that, basic standards of care and compassion were sadly lacking at the hospital, and its managers and monitoring agencies failed to spot the serious problems.

Francis’ inquiry provided a public forum for many of the patients and their families whose dedication to raising their concerns despite bureaucratic obstruction meant that the Mid Staffordshire failings became an issue of national importance in the UK. The inquiry report examined the care delivered by the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust between January 2005 and March 2009. It's a frankly enormous report – all 1700-odd pages of it – containing a whopping 290 recommendations to build a common NHS culture in which patient interests are put first, and in which openness and transparency become the norm throughout the system.

Francis was in New Zealand to share some of the lessons of Mid Staffordshire, and to prompt a debate about the likelihood of such events occurring here. For a detailed explanation of Francis’ findings and a summary of the Mid Staffordshire failures, the inquiry executive summary is a good starting point. Even that is 125 pages long, but it’s worth the effort.

Here are a few thoughts arising from Francis’ keynote address, delivered yesterday to a 200-strong audience at Rydges Hotel in Wellington, while an impressive spring storm raged outside, shaking the lampposts and scaring pedestrians trying to cross the Featherston Street intersection.

(These are my personal views, not those of my employer. Also, my interpretation of Mr Francis’ comments should not be taken as a ‘true and correct record’ of his views – I’m not a stenographer)
  • The NHS’s culture of multiple reorganisations are well-documented, with seemingly endless turnover at the highest levels leading to transient leadership. Around 50 percent of NHS trust chief executives currently have been in their post for less than two years, which indicates a big turnover problem. In practice this means successful long-term working relationships and professional trust are harder to develop. The problem extends to political leadership too, with a revolving door in the health role at the ministerial level. 
  • The Trust’s quest for the bauble of Foundation Trust status became the overwhelming focus of the board, to the detriment of other vital responsibilities, chief of which was patient safety.
  • Financial success was always the board’s first priority. The board members failed to understand the safety concerns affecting their hospital and spent their time considering other matters.
  • There were whistle-blowers at Mid Staffordshire, but their voices were ignored, treated as trouble-makers, or explained away as statistical anomalies. The board focused on financial performance instead, which was the criteria for Foundation Trust status.
  • Whistle-blowers feared the consequences of revealing the problems they had identified. There was also a culture of bullying that stifled criticism and threatened concerned staff for raising their concerns.
  • Personalities matter too. There were highly strained personal relationships in the department, which led to poor practice.
  • There is also the concern that the NHS is a thoroughly hierarchical institution in which ‘people are waiting to be told what to do’, i.e. professional initiative is discouraged. 
  • The overlapping regulatory systems in place were complex, poorly integrated and failed to cooperate. 
  • Transparency is key. If more had been published earlier, it might not have taken a concerted patient campaign to bring the problems at Mid Staffordshire onto the national agenda. Lives may have been saved if problems had been identified earlier rather than swept under the carpet and ignored.
  • Part of the problem at Mid Staffordshire was something as simple as the layout of the hospital. Hospital management and the chief executive were physically isolated from the day-to-day working of clinicians. Union representatives had also been physically isolated by relegating their offices to a prefab in the hospital carpark.
See also:
Blog: APAC 2013 forum, 1 October 2013
News: 'Stafford Hospital trust guilty over insulin death', 9 October 2013

13 October 2013

Two noble cats of Carterton

Pixel & Moppet, 12 October 2013

You're not meant to be up there, but you are cute.

Steely-eyed Pixel

Was that my mobile?

See also:
Blog: Baron Cattington of Kelburn, 2 August 2012
Video: Simon's Cat (animation)
Celeb: Tobermory Cat

11 October 2013

The heavenly embarrassment of Abba

Abba on Dutch TV, 1974 (via Wiki)
Last night I watched a recording of a BBC documentary that was made to promote Agnetha Fältskog's 2013 solo album 'A'. Ex-husband Björn Ulvaeus and former band-member Benny Andersson gave lengthy interviews to sing Agnetha's praises, while Anni-Frid Lyngstad didn't participate. The doco featured plenty of clips both before Abba and during the band's heyday, and it reminded me of huge success of Abba's pop output. Ulvaeus and Andersson had a gift for the mile-wide pop hook, that manifested itself in countless hits through the 1970s and early 1980s. Certainly, they were never particularly hip, and their Swedishness set them apart from their competitors - they sang in English, yes, but it was sometimes an odd variety. Guardian music writer Alex Petridis, in reviewing a massive Abba boxset released in 2005, hit upon the fearsome precision of the Scandinavian pop machine at its peak:

Waterloo (1974) has a loveable brashness and, crucially, no yodelling, which counts as an improvement, but 1975's Abba births songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus' signature style: glossy harmonies, subtle orchestration, glam power chords, a melodic sense they claimed was derived from Swedish folk music, a certain fearlessness regarding hooks lesser writers might have considered too obvious, and a predilection for tick-tock rhythms as clipped as Agnetha and Anni-Frid's accented vocals. A year later, Andersson and Ulvaeus were on a remarkable roll, writing songs almost dreamlike in their perfection. Not just the singles - Dancing Queen, Money Money Money, Knowing Me Knowing You, The Name of the Game and Take a Chance on Me - but album tracks too: the glorious, expansive Eagle, the gripping Tiger. And yet Arrival and its follow up The Album still seem less like a product of the 1970s than the early 1960s, when LPs were afterthoughts, rushed out under pressure and padded with filler. One difference: a 1960s album's filler was forgettable, not an adjective applicable to Arrival's Dum Dum Diddle. Abba had written some weird lyrics before - What About Livingstone? admonished Swedish youth for their disinterest in great explorers, while Sitting in a Palm Tree concerned a man who dealt with romantic rejection by sitting in a palm tree ("I will stay here among my coconuts") - but Dum Dum Diddle is something else. It is a song about a woman who feels sexually threatened by her partner's violin. "You are only smilin'," she alleges, "when you play your violin / I wish I was - dum dum diddle - your darling fiddle." That was the thing about Abba. They either made you feel like you had temporarily ascended to heaven or they made you feel like sawing your own head off with embarrassment. The one thing they couldn't do was mediocre. 
- Alex Petridis reviews 'Abba, The Complete Studio Recordings', Guardian, 28 October 2005

Listening to the hits again reminds you of the breathtaking talent on display, both in terms of the performances and, perhaps crucially, in the studios where the arrangements were perfected and polished to maximum effect. I confess I cannot listen to Dancing Queen anymore, due to massive overexposure on local classic hits radio, despite it being one of the greatest pop singles ever released. But there are so many more to consider. Chivalrous glam stomper Does Your Mother Know, with its polite 'no thank you, miss' groupie rejection, boasts a cooing harmony from Agnetha and Anni-Frid that erupts into an exciting see-sawing baying in the outro, and a shameless disco three-step into the chorus that is both immensely hackneyed and utterly thrilling at the same time. The timeless synth intro to Gimme Gimme Gimme, that proved so addictive that Madonna had to rent it for 2005's Hung Up. The melancholy strum of Knowing Me, Knowing You and the Alan Partridge-inspiring and instantly recognisable '...a-ha...'. The taut high-energy disco videogame score and descending end-of-verse vocal treatments of Lay All Your Love On Me. The fluttering pre-chorus synth flourishes in S.O.S, and the storming intro to Voulez-Vous (plus that 'a-ha' again in the chorus). And of course the classical descending piano chords in Waterloo that told all of Europe that Abba meant business during Eurovision '74.

And let's not forget that this world-straddling stardom was built on a foundation of some of the most gloomy and introspective lyrical content in pop. Abba excelled at the break-up song simply because by the end its members had experienced the pains of divorce within the band itself.

Perhaps then it's best to highlight an Abba track that is unashamedly up-beat. Tiger, mentioned above by Alex Petridis, appeared on the Arrival LP in 1976. Appearing near the end of the album's Side 2, it's a throw-away bit of pop fluff, but in its trebly burst of noise lurks a vivid pop thrill, all the way through to its helium-voiced finale. The live concert footage from a drenched Australian gig in Abba: The Movie shows the band at their peak, but I'm also keen on the album version, which is perhaps slightly quicker and therefore even more fun. Plus it boasts a film clip of the band driving around aimlessly in Stockholm traffic, looking moody.

See also:
Music: Abba - Tiger (Stockholm video)
Music: Abba - Waterloo (Swedish version)
Music: Lisa Ekdahl, 1 March 2010*
Music: First Aid Kit - Emmylou (Glastonbury, 2013)**
Comedy: Knowing Me Knowing You - Alan's Abba Medley

* Previously produced by Fältskog's new co-producer, Peter Nordahl.
** They're from Sweden, you know.

10 October 2013

The old Western Hutt line

Wellington rail commuters might occasionally look at the stumpy Melling branch line extending north from Petone to Western Hutt and Melling itself, and wonder why on earth it's there. After all, the main route to Waterloo, Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa lies on the eastern side of the valley. The answer lies in the map below, sourced from David Parsons' 2011 thorough book Wellington's Railways. The original Hutt Valley line, which opened in 1875 as far as Silverstream, ran up the western side of Lower Hutt and rejoined the present-day route at Manor Park.

(C) David Parsons, Wellington's Railways

Ultimately, the success of the eastern Hutt line, which was opened in 1927, sealed the fate of the western line. As can be seen, three stations were removed when the line north of Melling was discontinued - the old Melling station, plus two additional halts that were both closed in 1954. Belmont station operated from 1875 and Andrews operated from 1938. The latter had replaced the earlier Pitcaithly's station (not on the map), which operated from 1908 to 1938; Pitcaithly's was closed because it was decided that the Andrews location a mile or so to the south would serve a larger population catchment. (See the Minister of Railways' statement in the Evening Post, 9 July 1938).

Much of the land released by the truncation of the former western Hutt line was used when the Hutt motorway was built.

See also:
Transport: 'Whilst I write, a perfect hurricane blows', 9 January 2012
Transport: Christchurch commuter rail, 20 October 2010
Transport: Ohakune signal hut, 24 May 2009

09 October 2013

"There was no rioting when the bars were closed at six o'clock"

Today is the 46th anniversary of the abolition of mandatory six o'clock closing for pubs in New Zealand:
Six p.m. closing for pubs was introduced as a ‘temporary’ wartime measure in December 1917. It was made permanent the following year, ushering in what became know as the ‘six o'clock swill’, as patrons aimed to drink their fill before closing time. 
Six o’clock closing has been seen by many commentators as teaching two generations of Kiwi men to drink as fast as possible, contributing to a binge-drinking culture. While early closing was promoted as a way of ensuring that men got home to their families at a respectable hour, critics questioned the state they were in when they did so. 
- 'The end of the "six o'clock swill"', NZHistory.net.nz
New Zealand's early closing regulations followed those implemented in South Australia (1915), and Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania (1916). They were later joined by Queensland in 1923. The duration of early closing policies in Australasia varied considerably. Conservative South Australia topped the charts with 52 years of the six o'clock swill, while Tasmania abolished it even before the Second World War. It would be interesting to investigate whether Tasmania developed a different drinking culture to the rest of Australia and New Zealand as a result.  

Place Adopted Abolished In force
SA 1915 1967 52
Vic 1916 1966 50
NZ 1917 1967 50
QLD 1923 1966 43
NSW 1916 1955 39
Tas 1916 1937 21

(Table adapted from Wikipedia)

Newspaper reports around New Zealand in December 1917 chart the relatively quiet implementation of the War Regulations closing public houses at six o'clock. Many of the stories seem concerned with the reaction of Wellington drinkers, because there were a large number of hard-drinking soldiers on hand in the capital at the time. The stories also show the nature of news services at the time, which often involved wire service articles or reprints of local publications' reports of events in other towns around the nation - remember, New Zealand provinces were still very isolated from each other at the time by poor transportation links. And in the Wanganui Chronicle article from 3 December, note how language and usage changes so drastically over time - can you imagine a club with that name today?

Wanganui Chronicle, 1 December 1917
A six o'clock closing rally will be held at the Central Hall at 7.30 this evening, under the auspices of the International Order of Good Templars. The speakers will include the Hon. Gilbert Carson, M.L.C., the Rev. M. Blair, and Mr. Geo. McCaul. [n.b. Carson owned and edited the Chronicle]

Wanganui Chronicle, 3 December 1917
Six o'clock closing of hotel bars came into force on Saturday without any undue excitement, the thirsty portion of the public addicted to strong waters accepting the new order of things philosophically. During the evening a good many parcels were in evidence, but in the majority of instances they probably contained prizes won by pudchasing [sic.], the Swankers' Club coupons.

Auckland Star, 4 December 1917
Wellington, this day - So far none of the particularly evil or specially good things that were predicted as the result of early closing has come to pass. There was no rioting when the bars were closed at six o'clock on Saturday evening, and there was neither less nor more drunkenness in the streets than is noticeable at any week-end. The city, indeed, behaved itself just as usual. The "free and easy" social in the Town Hall promoted by the Mayor [John Luke] and Mayoress did not attract a great many soldiers, who apparently preferred finding their entertainment in the streets and in private homes, but probably the "jollies" will grow in popularity as their character becomes better known. Altogether early closing was inaugurated very quietly, and, so far as the public could observe, very effectively.

North Otago Times, 5 December 1917
Six o'clock closing was inaugurated in Wellington most peacefully. Some 3000 soldiers were on leave, in the city, and there were rumours during the early part of the day that the men in uniform were going to show their disapproval of the new order of things after 6 p.m., but nothing happened, and the hotels closed quietly. Some of them did an unusually big dinner trade, and found that they had thirsty diners, who remembered that the Act makes provision for liquor with bona fide evening meals. What one judges to be a big increase in the number of brief bags brought to town also was observed. Some of the "brief bags" were suit cases, and few who noticed the absence of case with which they were lugged along imagined that they contained kapoc. The police reported that for the first time within the memory of many constables there had been no arrests for drunkenness on Saturday night.

Evening Post, 5 December 1917
AUCKLAND, 4th December - The first prosecution of sly grog-selling since the early closing of hotel bars came into force was heard to-day, when seven charges of having sold liquor without being licensed were preferred against a middle-aged man named George Ebberlie. Accused pleaded guilty on all the charges—five in respect to offences committed on Sunday, and two in respect to offences after 6 p.m. on Monday, Accused accosted a constable in the street on Sunday and supplied him with liquor from his private house. Sentences were imposed of three and six months' imprisonment, to run concurrently. The Magistrate said he expected a crop of such cases would follow the inauguration of six o'clock closing

The Press, 5 December 1917
WELLINGTON - December Six o'clock closing seems to have been accepted by the people of Wellington with as little concern as would be a change of hour for the closing of, say, hairdressers' shops. It was expected that there would be more drinking in the hotel bars in the day hours, or that at least there would be a run of business just prior to the hour of six, but nothing of the kind has occurred yet. At the new closing hour parties of men are to be seen leaving the hotels, but the number of men turned out is very small—not more, generally, than a dozen out of a large hotel. Receipts have gone down in most hotels to one-half, or less than half of the amount commonly taken in the old hours, and it is admitted by the hotel keepers that some of the hotels will have to close down. Nor is the amount of drinking in other parts of hotel premises increasing. An hotelkeeper who does a good residential trade in his house confessed to-day that his bar takings for the previous evening for orders to be taken after six o'clock to other rooms for lodgers had been only twelve and sixpence—not enough, as he said, to make it worth while to keep an attendant in the bar. This experience has been general.

Hawera & Normanby Star, 5 December 1917
(To the Editor.)
Sir, —Jones is the lessee of an hotel. The Government says: "Jones, you must close at six o'clock. You will lose seven hours of good business, and you must be compensated for the loss. Robinson is the owner of the hotel; we will make him reduce your rent." The Government says: "Robinson, you are the owner of Jones' hotel. That hotel must close at six o'clock. Your rent will be reduced, but you will not receive any compensation." Now, sir, if Jones is entitled to compensation, why is Robinson not treated the same? Both these men are British. —I am, etc.,
Hawera, December 4, 1917.

Wanganui Chronicle, 15 December 1917
WELLINGTON, December 14. At the Magistrate's Court, Mr McCarthy, S.M., fined a woman £20 or three months for being in an hotel after 6 p.m. The information was laid under the War Regulation which was brought in before 6 o'clock closing.

See also:
HistoryEach slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds, 23 March 2009
History: The Western Front, 11 December 2007
Documentary: 'Booze Culture' (1994)

08 October 2013

Marlborough skies

The top of the South Island, viewed from three separate flights on two different days. First up, flying into Wellington from Auckland at dusk on 29 September, and then a daytrip from Wellington to Blenheim and back on an Air New Zealand Beech 1900D 19-seater. For the plane-fanciers, at Woodbourne parked up on the tarmac nearby was an elderly Fokker Friendship (ZK-POH) used by NZ Post for mail deliveries, and a Dassault Falcon 2000EX (N818BH) business jet registered in America to the Wells Fargo Bank Northwest NA Trustee of Salt Lake City.

29 September
29 September
WLG, 4 October
4 October
Blenheim Woodbourne (BHE), 4 October
Blenheim Woodbourne (BHE), 4 October
Big Lagoon, near Blenheim, 4 October
See also:
Photos: Ngauruhoe & Ruapehu, 24 July 2013
Photos: A great day for flying, 27 January 2013
Photos: A flying visit to Blenheim, 29 January 2012

07 October 2013

8-bit Freaks & Geeks

Via Stuff & Kotaku, fans of the short-lived but deeply-missed 1999 comedy drama series Freaks & Geeks will rejoice in this lovingly crafted 8-bit retelling of the show. It's billed as being interactive but actually hews fairly closely to the plotlines of the episodes. So if you've not seen the series, perhaps avoid due to spoilers. But if you have watched it - perhaps like me, having watched it numerous times - this is a small treat. (Also worth perusing at length is the Freaks & Geeks cast and crew reunion from the January 2013 edition of Vanity Fair).

See also:
TV: How not to make a BBC sitcom, 1 July 2013
TV: The Roy Morgan TV poll, 24 October 2011
TV: Friday Night Dinner, 11 April 2011

06 October 2013

Tinakori sunrise

Catching the early light from atop Tinakori Hill (aka Te Ahumairangi) in the Wellington Town Belt this morning, elevation 303m. Click the photos to enlarge.

Out to the heads, 6.42am
6.45am (HDR)
Mushroom cloud, 7.07am
Radiation, 7.09am
See also:
Photos: Stormy day in Petone, 14 July 2013
PhotosAns Westra - Wellington 1976, 30 June 2013
Photos:  Highbury to south coast walk, 17 February 2013
PhotosBy the dawn's early light, 11 February 2013
Video: Misty morning at the wind turbine, 16 December 2011