31 January 2014

"This is a group that will destroy you completely in more ways than one"

Live footage of The Who performing in June 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival in California, taken from D.A. Pennebaker's concert film, Monterey Pop. The film shows the Who performances of Substitute, the rock operetta A Quick One (While He's Away) and My Generation, but omits Pictures Of Lily and Happy Jack, footage of which appears not to have been included in the film.

With the set sandwiched between the Buffalo Springfield and the Grateful Dead, the film also conveys the aggressive, confrontational energy of The Who in the face of the prevailing hippy ethos of the Summer of Love. Famously, the set ends with Pete Townshend destroying his guitar and Keith Moon knocking over his drumkit. It's entertaining to see the American stage crews, who were presumably well aware of the anarchic reputation of the band, dash on to rescue the microphones. These days more people probably remember the Jimi Hendrix Experience and specifically the set-closing performance of Wild Thing, in which Hendrix doused his guitar with lighter fluid and set it alight. Both The Who and Hendrix had planned their destructive exploits beforehand. Neither wanted to play after the other out of mutual respect, but Hendrix lost a coin toss and had to perform after The Who. No-one minded - the outrageous stage performances sealed the American fame of both The Who and Hendrix.  

Pennebaker's film captures a great performance, but it's noticeable that Who bassist John Entwistle is almost absent from Pennebaker's edit. He was famously inexpressive on stage, particularly in comparison to his hyperactive Who bandmates, but you can still hear Entwistle's marvellous bass runs in the murky mix, and enjoy his backing vocals.

See also:
Music: Monkees - You Just May Be The One, 10 September 2013
Music: Grass Roots - Bella Linda, 23 June 2013
Music: Lo-o-o-o-ng songs, 11 June 2008

29 January 2014

Two behemoths

Time-lapse video of cruise ships Celebrity Solstice and Voyager of the Seas, combined total passenger capacity 5988, arriving at Aotea Quay in Wellington next to the Stadium this morning for a day-long visit to the capital. Sorry the clip finishes just before the final docking of the second ship - I had to go to work!

27 January 2014

The irredeemable public image of the Bee Gees

One of the most fascinating and surprising chapters, given Stanley’s anti-rockist stripe, is his explanation of why heavy metal was so big – and mostly enjoyable – in the Seventies and Eighties. But Stanley is wise enough to avoid making any ludicrous claims for, say, Herman’s Hermits being better than The Beatles or for Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys being ‘overrated’. Each of these staples of pop history given praise, but without Stanley rehearsing and falling back on familiar arguments. Stanley’s trick is often to uncover some fascinating new fact about a long-established act which he then uses to explain their appeal.

None of this means that Stanley makes his judgements according to melody and brilliant-album status alone. Pop bands and singers still have to display a sometimes-elusive cool factor because, even if they’re masterful tunesmiths, some can still be resolutely unlovable. The Boomtown Rats, the Stranglers, XTC and, for me, Elvis Costello tend to hit that category. For Stanley, while the Police’s early singles were ‘economical and irresistible’, ‘the feeling that something wasn’t quite right crept in early’. Quite. Nowhere is this truer than with U2 who, despite some very fine albums, are a band impossible to love and easy to hate – and it’s not all down to the preposterous Bono, either.

Sometimes, the anti-cool factor is a cruel judge, as the Bee Gees repeatedly found to their cost. Despite a back catalogue of genuinely phenomenal songs, despite the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever still sounding miraculous and beamed in from another planet, the Bee Gees have become a byword for the gauche and tacky. Chic they were not. Stanley’s attempt to explain this chasm between the pristine quality of the Bee Gees’ songwriting and their irredeemable public image is perhaps the finest segment in Yeah Yeah Yeah. The hostility the Gibb brothers generate is long documented, and attempts to rehabilitate them by focusing exclusively on their music remain unconvincing. No matter how much Barry Gibb remains bitter at the Bee Gees’ public reputation, that enormous gap between their work and their image is an inexorable part of the Bee Gees story. Stanley gets the balance right and offers a sharp insight into why a set of siblings who had so much going for them ended up getting all the fine details so spectacularly wrong. But by concluding that the Bee Gees were ultimately responsible for writing a dozen or so pinnacles of modern pop, Stanley gets the judgement just about right.

- Neil Davenport reviews Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley, in Spiked Online, 17 January 2014, via AL Daily.

See also:
MusicElvis Costello - Tramp The Dirt Down, 14 April 2013
Music: Elvis Costello in Hyde Park, 4 July 2010

26 January 2014

Piracy in the Hellenistic Age

Rhodes' antipiracy campaigns were complicated by the fact that pirates operated both on their own account and as mercenaries for foreign rulers. At the end of the third century BCE, for example, the island of Crete was a collection of cities joined in a loose commonwealth presided over by Philip V of Macedonia. So Cretans engaged in seizing merchantmen may have been in Philip's pay and therefore not, strictly speaking, pirates. During the Cretan War of 206-203 BCE, Rhodians faced pirates from at least half a dozen cities, some of which they managed to neutralise and bring into formal alliances. By this time, legitimate maritime commerce was vital to the well-being of individual city-states and kingdoms. No longer an honourable way to make a living, as Thucydides claims it was in Homer's day, piracy was something to which all those with a stake in sea trade paid close attention. Nonetheless, if the testimony of St Augustine is to be believed, the question of what differentiated pirates from recognised rulers was already current: "It was a witty and a truthful rejoinder which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, 'What is your idea, in infesting the sea?' And the pirate answered with uninhibited insolence. 'The same as yours, in infesting the world! But because I do this with my tiny craft, I am called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you are called an emperor'".

- Lincoln Paine, The Sea & Civilisation: A Maritime History of the World, New York, 2013, p.116.

See also:
History: Roman Machines, 16 September 2013
History: Posting the empire as the royal word, 9 January 2013
History: Lysistrata's gambit, 25 November 2012

25 January 2014

Vigilo Confido

XCOM: Maj Pyotr 'Odin' Malakhov
The recent XCOM remake successfully captures the brilliant squad-based infantry tactics of the original game, and surprisingly the graphical upgrade hasn't spoiled the gameplay at all. It's still great fun dashing for cover and attempting to outflank the murderous alien Sectoids, Mutons and Cyberdiscs. One of the nice touches in the game design is the effective random character generation for the player's XCOM troopers. Once your squad gains in experience and accumulates some promotions and new skills, you start to warm to your successful soldiers from all around the world - even if they do all talk with American accents.

Progressing through the various XCOM campaign missions the obvious and essential lesson is that your soldiers must never be caught by the enemy out of cover. Many of the casualties in my KIA list were caused by forgetting this rule, usually due to impatience and a general rush to take up new positions. Later on the rise of irritating alien mind control powers also ups the kill count, as soldiers have to rush the controlling Ethereal in the hope of killing it to free their squad-mate from its evil psionic thrall.

To give you an idea of the characters thrown up in a XCOM campaign, here's the roll of honour of troopers who lost their lives in the service of humanity against the dastardly alien menace.

Squaddie Wei Cheng (China, 3 missions, 2 kills)
Killed in crossfire by Thin Men in Mexico City graveyard whilst on Op Black Dawn, a bomb disposal mission.

Colonel Jan 'Pops' De Graf (Netherlands, M17 K21)
Caught in the explosion of a parked tank in Durban, South Africa, on a terror attack mission, Op Rotting Vanguard.

Rookie Fungai Mabaso (South Africa, M1 K1)
Ambushed in a three-way crossfire by Heavy Floaters during a terror attack on Liverpool (Op Shattered Tears).

Rookie Zhi Chen (China, M1 K1)
Shot while out of cover by an Armoured Floater on Op Dying Hero in Egypt, a raid on a UFO supply ship landing site.

Captain Galena 'Lockdown' Volkova (Russia, M1 K2)
Flanked by floaters on Op Stone Sentinel, a UFO crash site raid in South Africa.

Captain Azubuike 'Dozer' Ngelo (Nigeria, M9 K9)
Shot by Muton exiting mindmeld at close range during Op Black Gaze, a UFO landing raid in Washington state, USA.

Sergeant Jamie 'Bonus' Powell (USA, M6 K4)
Mauled by berserker on Op Twisted Saviour in Brazil, investigating a UFO crash.

Colonel Habika 'Witchy' Miambo (Nigeria, M31 K86)
Champion sniper shot in the back by a mind-controlled ally whilst raiding a UFO crash site in Texas, on Op Final Thorn.

See also:
Games: Crusader Kings 2, 5 May 2013
Games: Brogue, 14 April 2012
GamesSpelunky, 4 March 2012

24 January 2014

Split Enz '79

Here's Split Enz performing Give It A Whirl at the Wellington Town Hall on 27 May 1979, which was Neil Finn's 21st birthday. Neil performs lead vocals here as on the album Frenzy, released three months earlier in February; the song was a co-write with brother Tim having written the lyrics and Neil contributing the music. Give It A Whirl and the album closer Mind Over Matter were the first Finn brothers co-writes on a Split Enz album, with Neil having joined the group officially in April 1977.

Frenzy achieved modest success, reaching no.13 in the New Zealand album charts, 24 in Australia and 49 in Canada. At the time of this Wellington gig the band had only one New Zealand top 40 charting single to its name (My Mistake, which reached no.21 in September 1977); the week after this concert I See Red would chart but only at no.43. It would take 1980's tremendous True Colours LP to propel them into proper Antipodean stardom - it went no.1 in both New Zealand and Australia, no.10 in Canada, and grazed the bottom of the top 40 in both the UK and the US; its classic Neil Finn-penned single I Got You topped the charts in New Zealand and Australia.

See also:
MusicNeil Finn, 24 November 2013
Music: Pajama Club, 4 November 2011
Music: Liam Finn, 4 December 2008

22 January 2014

Wellington's first settler ship

Today is the 174th anniversary of Wellington's first settler ship. On 22 January 1840 the first New Zealand Company settler ship, the Aurora, arrived at Petone. The Aurora, a vessel of 550 tons under the command of Captain Heale, carried 58 male passengers and 90 females, having left London on 18 September 1839 – a lengthy passage of 4 months and 4 days. It was hardly an auspicious start to the colonial adventure: the final location of the first colony had yet to be chosen when the Aurora departed, preliminary land purchases that the Company was supposed to have made from local Maori were far from kosher, and the temporary accommodation that the migrants expected was not ready. Indeed, as NZHistory notes, 'one settler recalled that when his ship entered Wellington Harbour, ‘disappointment was visible on the countenance of everyone’'.

The plan was originally for a settlement known as Britannia at Petone, with 1100 'town acre' sections forming the main settlement and each settler also expected to take possession of 100 'country acres' to farm nearby. The reality was drastically different, and in the initial weeks of the settlement the Aurora passengers struggled to stay dry and feed themselves; the assistance of local Maori was essential. In March 1840 the Hutt River flooded its banks, which was the final straw - the settlers decamped for less soggy terrain on the southwestern shores of the harbour, which is where the settlement of Wellington finally took hold. (Here's the well-known revised settlement plan for Wellington from August 1840).

The Company's plans had sounded so grand back in England. While the strong reassurance of the maintenance of the existing English class system luckily didn't eventuate in New Zealand, it's certainly a pity Wellington never ended up with any of the Company's grand squares! Both of the quotes below are taken from Speeches and Documents on New Zealand History, W. David McIntyre & W.J. Gardner (eds.), Oxford, 1971.

The object of the Company will be so to determine the place of their first Settlement, as to insure its becoming the commercial capital of New Zealand, and, therefore, the situation where land will soonest acquire the highest value by means of colonization. Within this district, the site of the Company's chief town will be carefully selected; after which, out of the whole territory there acquired, a further selection will be made of the most valuable portion as respects fertility, river frontage, and vicinity to the town. The site of the town will consist of 1100 acres, exclusive of portions marked out for general use, such as quays, streets, squares, and public gardens. The selected country lands will comprise 110,000 acres. The situation of the whole quantity of acres constituting the first settlement will, accordingly, be determined by a double selection: - first, of the best position with reference to all the rest of New Zealand; and secondly, of the most valuable portion of the land acquired by the Company in that position, including the site of the first town. The lands of this first and principal settlement, therefore, if both selections are properly made, will be more valuable, and will sooner possess the highest value than any other like extent of land in the Islands.
First report of the Directors of the New Zealand Company

The aim of the Directors is not confined to mere emigration, but is directed to colonization in its ancient and systematic form. Their object is to transplant English society with its various gradations in due proportions, carrying out our laws, customs, associations, habits, manners, feelings - everything of England, in short, but the soil. They desire so now to cast the foundations of the colony, that in a few generations New Zealand shall offer the world a counterpart to our country, in all the cherished peculiarities of our own social system and national character, as well as in wealth and power.
- From a New Zealand Company advertisement

See also:
HistoryThe Battle of Featherston Street, 1913, 5 November 2013
History: The great fire of Raetihi, 11 January 2012
History: The oldest building in New Zealand, 29 August 2011

21 January 2014

On location: Children of Men

Owen & Moore in Children of Men
Recently I watched a TV screening of Alfonso Cuaron's excellent dystopian epic Children of Men from 2006, featuring Clive Owen as former freedom fighter Theo Faron who finds himself protecting a West African migrant who is the first woman in the world to become pregnant for nearly two decades. The film is set in a totalitarian nightmare Britain familiar to anyone who read the many grim sci-fi novels by the likes of John Wyndham, in which train windows are meshed over to protect the occupants from ever-present vagrant debris-flingers, the state orchestrates bombing campaigns in order to pin the blame on dissident opposition groups, and brutal refugee camp guards torment those unlucky enough to wind up without a British passport.

One of the early scenes of the film depicts Owen's character being kidnapped by balaclava-wearing men on the bleak and litter-strewn streets of London, and taken blindfolded to a secure location for an unexpected reunion. His kidnappers are working for his old flame, American exile Julian Taylor played by Julianne Moore, who hopes to recruit Theo back to the revolutionary cause. As the camera pulls back, the location of the kidnapping is revealed to be an enormous warehouse-like structure with a domed roof pierced by multitudes of skylights. I visited the location of this shot in 2010 - it's actually the wonderful heritage building known as '3 Slip Cover' at Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent, first constructed in 1838 to weather-proof the Royal Navy's all-important dockyard construction programme. The brilliant light inside is fantastic thanks to the arching roof and all those skylights.

The Dockyard also contains the superb Ropery - a 346m-long multi-storey brick building constructed to house the Navy's rope-making endeavours. The building is so enormously long because it allowed the workers to stretch out a full 1000 feet of rope by hand.

See also:
Movies: Children of Men trailer
Movies: Starship Troopers, 9 January 2014
Movies: My top 10 films of 2013, 30 December 2013

20 January 2014

To shed a ray of comfort on many a weather beaten crew

Pencarrow Head Lighthouse

The little white lighthouse atop Pencarrow Head was New Zealand's first permanent lighthouse. It was also notable for being the first and only New Zealand lighthouse with a female keeper. On its opening day, 1 January 1859, Pencarrow was managed by Mary Jane Bennett, who was the widow of the keeper of the temporary lighthouse on the same spot. Bennett ran the lighthouse with her six children until 1865 when she returned to England, but interestingly her three sons all returned to New Zealand in 1871.

The lighthouse was paid for by the Wellington provincial government, after a long campaign to secure support and funding from the central government in Auckland proved unsuccessful. (Remember, the capital didn't move from Auckland to Wellington until 1865). In particular, the lighthouse was deemed necessary for navigation following the wreck of the 470-ton barque Maria near Cape Terawhiti on 23 July 1851, with the loss of 26 lives, and only two survivors. Near Pencarrow Head itself there had also been two recent wrecks in the colony's young life, with the Inconstant, bound from Adelaide to Callao in Peru, severely damaging itself on the rocks on 29 September 1849, and the Queen of the Isles, a cargo-carrying schooner, wrecking itself on the rocks with no loss of life at 3am on 5 May 1856. (There was no loss of life in the Inconstant wreck. It was towed into Wellington and after it was condemned, John Plimmer - he of Plimmer Steps fame - bought it to serve as a warehouse and jetty. You can still see fragments of 'Plimmer's Ark' under the Old Bank Arcade).

I went to visit the lighthouse on Saturday with the Historic Places Trust, which had opened the lighthouse up for inspection for the afternoon. It was a perfect day for the excursion, with great sunny weather and not too much wind (click to enlarge photos).

Lighthouse interior, ground level

Lighthouse viewing platform panorama, looking SE to SW
Lake Kohangapiripiri & Bluff Point (L)

Later, trawling through the records on Papers Past, I found a few stories from the Pencarrow Head Lighthouse's inception, the details of its design and a detailed account of the New Year's Day opening ceremony.


A lighthouse of somewhat peculiar construction has recently been made in this country and sent to New Zealand. This forms the first of a series of these useful structures, for the guidance of mariners, that are proposed to be erected on various parts of the coast and harbours of the islands, by the government of that colony.

The one we are briefly about to describe is a harbour light for Port Nicholson, although from the peculiarity of its position, it will answer to a considerable extent as a general light for vessels entering Cook's Strait from the southward and eastward. 

It is to be fixed on Pencarrow Head (which is the eastern headland of the entrance), at an altitude of four hundred feet above the level of the sea, and, as standing boldly out from the dark back-ground of the hills at its rear, will form a conspicuous landmark by day as well as a light at night. 

The new lighthouse is octangular in plan, and tapers upwards from the base, by curved lines, to the lantern at its summit, the faces of which are perpendicular; eleven feet high. The ground floor is fifteen feet in diameter, and the floor of the light room or lantern sixteen feet. There is also an intermediate floor, which adds to the strength of the whole structure, and for a look-out-room during the day. 

The tower is built of cast-iron plates, which average three-quarters of an inch in thickness, laid horizontally. These plates have broad flanges, which are all planed and strongly bolted together. The bottom tier of plates is of the ordinary girder shape, three feet deep, having an unusually broad bottom flange; this is to be sunk into the ground, and built upon all round by solid brick work, to be set in cement, in order to give additional weight and solidity to the superstructure, the whole to rest on a substratum of concrete. The floors are composed of chequered wrought iron plates, and are to rest upon girders bolted to brackets, cast upon the flanges of the sideplates, and also upon a central hollow column, which will contain the weights of the revolving apparatus of the light. The vertical portion of the lantern is composed of wrought iron and gun-metal, its roof being covered with stout copper, and surrounded by a neat gutter, which forms a cornice. Surmounting the whole, is a large ventilating hood, also of copper, that will work upon a gun-metal pivot, and is to be turned by large vane above. Around the lantern there is a gallery, supported by cast iron brackets bolted to the sides of the tower. This gallery has a light wrought iron railing round it, and a floor of perforated cast iron plates. The light is what is called a revolving catadioptric white light of the second order, constructed by Messrs. Chance of Birmingham, and from its great altitude above the level of the sea, will be seen from a distance of nearly twenty miles. The tower was built by Messrs. Cochrane and Co., of Dudley, who had a contract from the Government of the province of Wellington. The design for this peculiar lighthouse, which is forty-five feet in height, was made in 1852, by Edward Roberts, Esq., of the Royal Engineers Department, who was at that time Colonial Engineer in New Zealand, but who is now, we understand, engaged doing duty in London. The lighthouse was shipped from England on the 26th of February last.—Building News.

(Nelson Examiner & New Zealand Chronicle, 7 August 1858)


Notice is hereby given that preparatory to erecting the new Lighthouse, the Beacon hitherto standing on Pencarrow Head has been taken down, and a Flagstaff substituted, the said Flagstaff carrying a white flag with a Red Ball over it.

20th September, 1858

(Wellington Independent, 1 January 1859)

Pleasure Excursion Trip on New Year's Day.

The S. S. WONGA WONGA, Captain Kennedy, will leave Swinbourne's Wharf on SATURDAY, Ist January, 1859, at 9 o'clock in the morning, and will proceed round the Harbour on a Pleasure Trip, returning to the Wharf about Two o'clock. At Four o'clock on the same afternoon, the Steamer will leave the Wharf on an Excursion Trip to view the Light House at Pencarrow Head, and remain there (weather permitting) until after sunset, for the purpose of affording an opportunity of seeing the new Light exhibited for the first time. A limited number of Tickets only will be issued for each trip, and can be had at the Agents office. Fares for each Trip for Adults, 4s. each, for children under 14 years of age, 2s. each. Refreshments can be had on Board at reasonable rates. The Tickets must be presented before going on board.

The Hanoverian Band is engaged.

Agents Wellington Steam Navigation Co. (Limited.)
December 18, 1858.

(Wellington Independent, 1 January 1859)


The New Year has been inaugurated most auspiciously. On the lst January a long cherished idea was realised; one of the great wants of the last eighteen years was satisfied; an arduous struggle was brought to a close, when at sundown on Saturday evening, His Honor lit the new light on Pencarrow Head, and designated to its important uses the first Lighthouse in New Zealand. 

We need not recall the calamities which, years ago, impressed upon this community the necessity of establishing a light at the heads of Wellington harbor [sic.]. More than one or two ill fated vessels have buried their timbers between Capes Terawite [sic.] and Palliser; and we cannot speak of those of our fellow settlers who then perished without awakening the most painful associations. Nor need we do more than allude to the efforts that have been made, year after year, to prevent the recurrence of similar calamities. When in deference to public opinion, Sir George Grey promised to order an efficient light from England and the legislature cheerfully consented to pay for it by an additional Customs duty, it was thought the end was attained but though the extra duty was levied the light house never arrived. It was left for this community to discover that if they wanted the thing done they must do it themselves. They lost no time in doing this when they obtained the power, for on the first House of Representatives assembling in the year 1854, Captain Rhodes moved for a Committee to enquire into the best mode of establishing lights and beacons in various parts of the New Zealand Coast. The sessions of 1854 and 1856 passed away without any steps being.taken by the General Government, to whom alone the Constitution remits action relative to coast lights. At the recommendation of the Superintendent the Provincial Council voted in 1857 the necessary funds, and calling it a harbour light, resolved on its erection forthwith. The General Government considered their prerogative invaded, and disallowed the Act raising a loan for this and other objects. That disallowance came however too late; the Superintendent and his Government went on with the work and the light-house stands at the entrance of our harbour, not only as a friendly beacon to the mariner showing him the right track, but also to stimulate every settler arriving in the Province to avoid the cramping policy of "Centralism," and be ready to assist in the struggle that has yet to take place ere "Provincialism" will enable every portion of the colony to go ahead as fast as the energy of its settlers will allow. 

Now Years day was beautifully fine, and large numbers availed themselves of the excursion trips of the Wonga Wonga to view the lighthouse now happily completed. In the morning, in consequence of many persons mistaking the time of starting, there were fewer passengers than were expected, and the Company had room to dance it merrily to the excellent music of the German Band which, on arriving at Pencarrow, saluted the Lighthouse with the glorious strains of the national anthem. In the evening the little steamer was crowded and anchored off the lighthouse about 7 o'clock. Shortly afterwards the Superintendent, in company with Captain Rhodes who has always been among the chief promoters, the Provincial Treasurer and one or two others visited the light room, and lit for the first time the lamp which is, we trust, destined to shed a ray of comfort on many a weather beaten crew, and inspire with hope many a weary Immigrant. Several settlers who had landed from the Wonga Wonga then inspected the machinery &c., and the party returned to the vessel about 9 o'clock. To the vast majority of those who witnessed the lighting from the deck of the steamer considerable disappointment was at first occasioned, because of the apparent inefficiency of the light, but this disappointment soon gave way to feelings of pleasure when, on steaming back, they got into its focus and saw it in all its brilliancy. The party returned to Swinbourne's Wharf at 11, well pleased with their trip which was not a little enhanced by the unwearied courtesy of Captain Kennedy. 

To the ability of Mr. Wright, the engineer who arrived from England in charge of the structure and under whose solo superintendence it has been erected, too much credit cannot be given. It is a work which he may well be proud of, and in its erection he has required no small amount of perseverance. To bring the materiel from England to Lambton harbour was easy enough, but to get it from thence to the top of Pencarrow cliff has been a work of considerable labor, and to Mr. Wright's practical skill, it is entirely owing that no loss of pieces or damage has been sustained. We ought not to omit mentioning that the plans were those of Mr. Roberts, originally prepared for Sir George Grey.

(Wellington Independent, 8 January 1859)

See also:
Video: Pencarrow Lighthouse view, 18 January 2013
History: Shipping in Wellington 1850-1870, 12 June 2009
HistoryThe wreck of the Penguin (1909), 25 May 2013
History: London's maritime heritage, 1 January 2008

19 January 2014

Cruise liner parallel parking

Cruise liner Sun Princess, arriving at Wellington alongside the Stadium this morning (timelapse film).

18 January 2014

Stena Alegra & Arahura

The leased ferry Stena Alegra leads the veteran Interislander ferry Arahura into Port Nicholson, Wellington. Photo taken this afternoon from Pencarrow Head Lighthouse.

17 January 2014

On My Radio

Ska-pop 2 Tone chancers The Selecter perform their best-known single, On My Radio, on the Dutch music show TopPop, presumably in 1979 or 1980. Is anyone actually plugged in? No, the programme was very mimey. Never mind, this is great stuff. Wish I could dance like that. Or at all, for that matter. The Selecter had four UK top 40 singles, with On My Radio being the first and highest-placing at number 8, although if you're being picky their first single release was their self-titled track The Selecter on the b-side of the Special AKA's hit Gangsters, which was the first 2 Tone single and reached number 6 in the charts earlier in 1979.

See also:
MusicThe Selecter - Three Minute Hero (1980)
MusicRed Guitars - Good Technology (1983)
Music: Jonathan Richman - Egyptian Reggae (1977) from the TopPop archive

16 January 2014

2nd T20I vs West Indies at Wellington

Photos from last night's T20 international at the Stadium in Wellington, which New Zealand won by chasing West Indies' total of 159 (scorecard). Wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin top-scored in the West Indies innings with an excellent knock of 55 from 31 balls, including three 4s and three 6s, while the highlight of the New Zealand bowling attack was a skilful and miserly spell of 4-0-17-1 from Nathan McCullum. Chasing West Indies' 159/5, New Zealand started speedily but after losing top-order wickets it required a quality innings of 51 not out from 28 balls from wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi to secure victory. Both team's scorecards were topped by their wicketkeepers' innings, and both Ramdin and Ronchi achieved new top scores in T20I batting.

NZ emerges for the 1st innings
Adam Milne
Denesh Ramdin, 55no from 31
Nikita Miller. Nikita, is it cold in your little corner of the world?
Lendl Simmons took a great catch to dismiss Jesse Ryder
Brendon McCullum's plays a straight bat
Another boundary for Luke Ronchi
Luke Ronchi's half-century

See also:
Cricket: My submission on the Basin Reserve flyover, 5 September 2013
Cricket: Basin Reserve 1992, 24 March 2013
Cricket: 2nd test against England, 16 March 2013

14 January 2014

The break of gauge

'The break in gauge'
Image sourceIllustrated London News, June 1846, reprinted in The Railway Age, Luton Museum & Art Gallery, 1981. 

This marvellous engraving comes from a series published in the Illustrated London News in June 1846, highlighting the newspaper's concerns about the increasingly chaotic railways of Britain, which were being built in a wide range of gauges (track widths). The resulting difficulties in transferring freight and passengers between different gauge tracks were satirised and dramatised by the artist, who had been dispatched to Gloucester where the ILN reported that 'two different railways unite; one running southwards, from Birmingham; the other northwards, from Bristol. The first has a width of 4 feet 8 1/2 inches between its rails; the last, 7 feet: and an effect like this which we here make manifest in straight lines takes place'.

The Times of 19 June 1846 reported that a petition of '26 carriers and carriers' agents, including all the chief firms in England, was presented to the House of Commons on Tuesday evening'. The petition beseeched the House to consider the plight of those affected by the break in gauge:

There are at present about 2000 miles existing of the narrow gauge, and about 300 of the broad gauge. That at Glocester [sic], in consequence of the meeting of two railways of different gauges, your petitioners are compelled to unload the goods or merchandise placed under their care from the waggons and trucks of the one gauge of one size, and transfer the same to the waggons and trucks of another size. 
That this unloading and reloading is attended with an absolute delay of from six to 48 hours, or more, and occasions very considerable expense in the wages of the extra clerks and porters, who are necessarily maintained where this change of gauge takes place, in the loss from damage to brittle articles, from pilferage, and from the mislaying and miscarriage of goods so unpacked and repacked, especially the perishable articles, such as fruit, fish, butter, cream, eggs, yeast, cheese, &c. [...] 
That your petitioners are satisfied, from their experience, that no contrivances, however ingenious they may appear, will in practice be efficacious in remedying such evils, which can only be obviated by avoiding the trans-shipment. 
Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that your right hon. house will take means for carrying out the recommendations of Her Majesty's commissioners, who have lately reported on the gauge question, and will establish, at the earliest possible period, a national uniformity of gauge. 
And your petitioners will ever pray.
A dispute was then flaring between the recommendations of the Gauge Commissioners and the Board of Trade, which had acknowledged the problems of variable gauges but in return only offered a feeble compromise, as reported by the Spectator of 13 June 1846: 'that no line shall hereafter be formed on any other than the 4 feet 8 1/2 inches gauge, excepting lines to the South of the existing line from London to Bristol, and excepting small branch lines of a few miles in extent joining the Great Western Railway'. This would only continue to perpetuate the problem.

The 'standard gauge' was eventually agreed by the Railway Regulation (Gauge) Act 1846, but it would take until 1892 for the alternative gauges - particularly on the Great Western Railway - to be removed from the main rail network in Britain.

See also:
Transport: The old Western Hutt line, 10 October 2013
Transport: Coach travel from London in 1658 & 1739, 4 October 2013
Transport: Ohakune signal hut, 24 May 2009

13 January 2014

The enticing story of chocolate

Chocolate au Lait, by Johanna Kreisel
Porirua's Pataka Museum has an exhibit at the moment illustrating the history and manufacturing of chocolate, which is definitely worth a visit if you're in the neighbourhood. The exhibition covers the origins from the cacao pod in the New World to the start of the European chocolate craze after breaking out of its 16th century niche amongst the aristocrats of Spain, to its globalisation as a commodity of enormous value. Pataka also highlights a century-odd of New Zealand chocolate packaging (there'll be plenty of childhood memories for most visitors), the ongoing and growing importance of sourcing chocolate from ethically produced sources to avoid the scourge of child labour exploitation (buy Fair Trade!), and a room dedicated to telling the story of Wellington-based chocolate-maker Whittaker's, which was founded in 1896. In the latter there's a bombastically confident letter from a German supplier of chocolate wrappers, seeking Whittaker's trade - but this arrived just before the outbreak of war in 1939 and so amounted to nothing.

Pataka Museum
Cnr Norrie and Parumoana Streets, Porirua
Until 6 April 2014; free

While you're at Pataka, I'd also recommend paying a quick visit to the one-room exhibition of well-crafted black and white landscape photos by Grant Sheehan (last day 26 January), which are evocative of the wild and lonely New Zealand landscapes of Robin Morrison. I can forgive Sheehan the traditional noodling psychobabble that seems to accompany all Pataka photography exhibitions: 'Whatever the reason, the emotional response these occasional images evoke in me becomes imprinted on my mind, where they remain like scar tissue, reoccurring autonomously in my memory as time passes, anchoring me to this unique landscape, my home'. 

See also:
PhotographyDark cloud / white light, 22 September 2013
Photography: Wildlife photographer of the year, 20 January 2013
ArtThe merest hint of mortality, 26 February 2012

12 January 2014

The Having A More Successful Girlfriend Than You Initiative

The problem is that only well-off people can buy a house, and Help To Buy doesn't really solve that. It's more aimed at the type of people you see on TV with Kirstie and Phil, and they say stuff like, "We're here with Janet and Mark. They're first-time buyers with a budget of £780,000". Who are these people?! Who is this programme aimed at, other than Janet and Mark? "It's always been Janet's dream to have her own orchard, but a five acre paddock is expensive. Will Janet and Mark have to sacrifice their view of Stonehenge in order to realise their dream?"

I'm 33 - I'm one of the lucky ones. A third of men of my generation live with their parents. Part of the reason is that housing is too expensive, but the other reason is that my generation is simply not ready. I certainly wasn't. I got on the housing ladder last month after my application was accepted by the Having A More Successful Girlfriend Than You Initiative. It's hard to explain how unsuited to home ownership I really am. I bought my first flat, and I found out yesterday that the attic light has been on since December the fourth. An electrician came round, and he said, "You've got an attic". And I said, "Have I?"

- Elis James, The Now Show, BBC Radio 4, 10 January 2014

See also:
Comedy: Pope Francis, ex-nightclub bouncer, 9 December 2013
Comedy: Josie Long in Wellington, 6 May 2013
Comedy: Susan Calman, 2 March 2013

11 January 2014

Round the ragged rocks

This afternoon as Wellington basked in a properly scorching summer's day I took a brisk coast walk from Seatoun south along the cliff path overlooking the harbour entrance (apparently officially named Chaffers Passage, according to the Topo maps), around Point Dorset and back from Breaker Bay through the mysteriously-named Pass of Branta, which sounds like an ideal location for Conan the Barbarian to mercilessly slaughter cowardly brigands. It's been many years since I walked around the coast in this area, and since my last visit an array of trails and information signs have been set up to impart some local history.

First stop is the Wahine Memorial in Churchill Park, with an anchor and chain from the wreck ageing gracefully in the sea air. Then it was up to the headland to admire the view of the harbour entrance and the lighthouses across the channel from the site of Oruaiti Pa, a palisaded village that was one of 10 pa sites on the Miramar peninsula. Further around the track there are plenty of old gun emplacement and observation posts left over from bursts of defensive construction before World War 1 and during World War 2. Rounding Point Dorset and overlooking the broad grey sand of beautiful Breaker Bay, I was mildly startled to notice a couple sunbathing sans kit in the distance down on the beach. Nude sunbathing in Wellington: now I've seen everything! (So to speak). It goes without saying that they mustn't be locals.

Wahine Memorial
Hector St statue (HDR)
Channel near Steeple Rock
Fort Dorset observation post interior (c.1910?, HDR)
Breaker Bay panorama (click to enlarge)
Gun fittings, Fort Dorset
Pencarrow (fore) and Baring Head (rear) lighthouses 
Eve, Flax & Reef Bays, and Palmer Head

See also:
Blog: The creatures beyond the Devil's Gate, 25 May 2013
Blog: Highbury to south coast walk, 17 February 2013
HistoryIn fear of the Tsar's navy, 5 November 2011

10 January 2014

Shia LaBeouf: the gift that keeps on giving

It may only be early January, but Lost in Showbiz will be simply outraged if Shia LaBeouf is not a leading contender for Most Dutiful Celebrity of 2014.

Instinctively aware of his responsibilities to be a plonker of the absolute first water, the better to amuse the rest of us, the Transformers actor has opened the year with a bang. Even as other movie stars remain focused on the work, or deluded enough to imagine that their nutritional arrangements pass for a philosophy, Shia's shenanigans remind us that the most important profession in the world simply doesn't have to be this way.

Refusing to let Miley Cyrus get away with fancying herself the most malfunctioning former Disney star, Shia's recent activities include:

• Revealing he sent Lars Von Trier pictures of his penis in order to secure the role in Nymphomaniac.

Doing acid in front of Ron Weasley while filming a scene for his other forthcoming move, The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman. "He smashed the place up, got naked and kept seeing this owl," revealed Rupert Grint the other day. "If anything will make you not do drugs, it's watching that." (What a scene it promises to be. I do admire directors' continued commitment to creating situations ripe for the deployment of Ron's single acting expression – the terrified wide eyes then the big gulp. Come on: who hasn't missed that expression? Statistics simply do not lie, and that is £24m-worth of acting chops right there.)

• Admitting to plagiarising all manner of stuff, primarily the work of graphic novelist Daniel Clowes in his most recent short film. Legal letters drew a brief pause, before Shia appeared to tire of humble pie, and begin digressing on the iniquitous fallacy of authorship with inquiries such as: "Should God sue me if I paint a river?" (answer: Yes! Please let this happen – and let Lars Von Trier and Michael Bay co-direct). Last week he hired a skywriter to write I AM SORRY DANIEL CLOWES in the sky. Not in the sky above where Clowes lives, you understand – he seems to be a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area. But in the sky above where the relevant people live – the sky above Hollywood, where those who might one day give Shia a job would see it and think: "What an adorable maverick. I really can't wait to stake three years of my life on entrusting him with a multi-million dollar project."

- Marina Hyde, 'Shia LaBeouf: the most messed-up former Disney star de nos jours', Guardian, 9 January 2014

See also:
BlogCoogan, Mitchell & Webb, 6 November 2013
BlogChuck Norris, 10 February 2013
Blog: Paris Hilton, 8 July 2012 

09 January 2014

"War makes fascists of us all"

Casper Van Dien & the Mobile Infantry, Starship Troopers, 1997
A week or so ago I caught a TV screening of Paul Verhoeven's 1997 military sci-fi actioner Starship Troopers, which was inspired by the 1959 Robert Heinlein novel of the same name. I expect like many people, I saw the film when it was on cinematic release and was somewhat disappointed in its curious conclusion, which seems predicated on a follow-up big budget sequel that never eventuated. (There were several straight-to-video sequels though, which I haven't seen).

The film is certainly exciting enough for war film buffs - if you took out all the scenes with gunfire it would probably only run about 40 minutes long. Verhoeven, a stalwart of Dutch cinema (Soldier of Orange, Black Book) who also built a successful mainstream career in Hollywood, has always been keen to include extreme aspects of violence and sex in his films, including such well-known successes as RoboCop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. He's also famed for the epically misjudged Showgirls, but had the good grace to turn up in person to accept his Razzie award for it.

Starship Troopers certainly shows the Verhoeven trademarks, in that it's hugely violent. The alien 'arachnids', implacable foes from the far-flung planet Klendathu, are fearsome opponents but display a worrying lack of self-preservation as they are slaughtered wholesale by the massed automatic gunfire of the grim-faced Mobile Infantry, and specifically our jut-jawed hero Rico (Casper Van Dien).

War is certainly not sanitised in Verhoeven's sci-fi world - aliens and humans alike meet grisly fates at every turn, with the carnage wrought by the MI assault weapons being illustrated with then-cutting-edge CGI, and the unluckiest of the troopers being rent asunder by the merciless claws and jaws of the alien beasts. Much shrieking and wailing ensues, but at least it's made clear that war isn't pretty and it certainly isn't hygienic.

All that gruesome excess isn't my cup of tea, but I still enjoyed aspects of Starship Troopers. In a way it's refreshing that the film doesn't bother with petty internal rivalries within the MI as Rico rises up the ranks - instead, the real camaraderie that military units exhibit is depicted. And the psychological effects of combat are slyly hinted at too, as Rico's suspicions are confirmed that he and his grunt buddies' sole purpose is as expendable pawns in some grander scheme, and as the ranks of his cadet school comrades dwindle as the KIA count skyrockets. Rico's response to this is to emerge a virtual clone of his death-or-glory military tutors, but at least he knows his life is worth next to nothing to his superiors.

Verhoeven points out that Starship Troopers is a satire on American militarism and the gung-ho idolatry of warfare, observing that 'war makes fascists of us all'. It also harks back to the German occupiers of Verhoeven's Dutch childhood, with the film's heroes serving a global human government that is clearly some form of military dictatorship. It is no coincidence that one justification for military service in the world of Starship Troopers is to qualify for the vote, i.e. this is no democracy Rico is fighting for, or at least not one we would understand today. (The authoritarian politics on display in Heinlein's novel are even more grim, and are best taken with a grain of salt).

The satire is hammered home perhaps a little unsubtly but certainly memorably in one of the film's latter scenes in which the film's three main stars - Van Dien, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris, meet at a military funeral for yet another mangled comrade. All are resplendent in their military uniforms (mobile infantry, naval pilot and military intelligence respectively) and they are all clearly Nazi-influenced in powerful grey and black. Harris' black leather trenchcoat and peaked cap is perhaps the most over-the-top Nazi reference since 'Allo 'Allo, but he manages the scene without smirking unduly.

Harris, Richards, Van Dien
It's the Gestapo!
The caps are a bit excessive, no?
Perhaps this satirical element was one reason that Starship Troopers wasn't a major success, as it ended up only just breaking even on its large budget. Action fans tend not to relish intellectually nuanced material. Perhaps the duff ending put cinema-goers off too, stifling word-of-mouth recommendations. But at the very least, Verhoeven gave cinematic history the most distinctive Nazis-in-space moment until last year's tongue-in-cheek indie effort Iron Sky. And on the plus side, all those costumes helped when it came time to film Joss Whedon's 'Firefly', when they were used to outfit the dastardly Alliance.

See also:
Military: Norway's greatest resistance hero, 7 September 2013
Military: Bronies with guns, 30 July 2013
MoviesSoderbergh's Contagion, 13 November 2011

07 January 2014

"I'm actually an atheist"

A charming and amusing story as seen on Charlie Brooker's 2013 Wipe: in Oklahoma, tornadoes devastated many communities in 2013. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer does an interview with a young mum and her baby son, standing in front of their wrecked home in Moore, Oklahoma, from which they had narrowly escaped. Blitzer concluded the interview by asking, 'I guess you gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision [of yours]?', this presumably being par for the course in heavily religious Oklahoma. To which the young lady winningly replies, 'I'm actually an atheist' - while also adding that she didn't blame anyone else for choosing to thank God.

A fleeting moment of religious stereotyping, and usually nothing would come of it. But as it happens, the acerbic and entertainingly misanthropic American comedian Doug Stanhope saw this clip and decided that he would do something to help this lady and her family in particular. He set up an online charity drive and rallied atheists through social media and by calling in favours from atheist contacts like the Richard Dawkins Foundation, Penn Jillette and Ricky Gervais. Perhaps the motive wasn't the purest expression of charity in human history - Stanhope admits it was mainly as a snub to his preconceived idea of the woman's God-fearing neighbours. But you can't argue with the results:

$50,000 dollars in the first day, almost $126,000 by the time it was done. Enough for her to move the f*** out of Jesus country—where she says she'll never return—like Tom Joad with a trust fund. 
I can't remember being happier in a shitload of years, repeatedly hitting refresh in those first days and seeing the numbers go up every minute. Charity feels good, even when you're doing it as a big “F*** You” to Christians who you've pre-judged, and not because you care about someone losing their shit. Realizing you've actually changed an individual's life. It was pretty goddamned thrilling.
See also:
Comedy: Doug Stanhope - NSA suicide rate
Comedy: Doug Stanhope - America is great (NSFW-L)
Interview: Penn Jillette - Agnosticism & atheism

05 January 2014

How Bowie came up with Aladdin Sane

In this Lego recreation of a seminal moment in pop history, Lego David and Angie Bowie decide what alter-ego will follow the legendary Ziggy Stardust in Bowie's on-stage repertoire. As we know, Aladdin Sane eventually triumphed, but there were plenty of other options in the mix, including Cobbler Bob ('Cobbler Bob! Bob is a cobbler, there's a hole in my soul').

[Via Adam Buxton]

See also:
Music: Never born, so I'll never get old, 8 January 2013
Music: Sukita/Bowie: Speed of Life, 16 September 2012
MoviesIn the lair of the Goblin King, 12 July 2009

04 January 2014

The Bering land bridge

The Bering land bridge was both more and less than it is generally taken to be. On one hand, it is popularly misunderstood as a simple causeway between continents, an image reinforced by schoolbook and encyclopaedia depictions of headlong winter dashes over narrow spits of land and frost-nipped refugees glancing apprehensively over their shoulders towards Russia. ('What could be chasing them?' I recall wondering as I pored over one such illustration in my first-grade history text, concluding in a Cold War schoolboy way that it must be the KGB.) The bridge was in fact a belt of land twice the size of Texas, with an average north-south width of 600 miles [965km]. Dry winds from the south and the temperature-moderating influence of the Pacific are thought to have kept it largely unglaciated. It was the centrepiece of the large ecozone known as Beringia, a name coined by the Swedish botanist Eric Hulten in 1937 and now used to denote the 2500-mile span encompassed by Siberia's Verkhoyansk Mountains and Canada's Mackenzie River. On the other hand, the bridge was a most undependable viaduct, subject to partial or complete flooding during temperate intervals - precisely the time when human beings were likeliest to be living at high enough latitudes to take advantage of it. The bridge sank beneath the waves for good between 10,000 and 9000 BCE, leaving, in the end, surprisingly few moments when it could have been navigated.

- John McCannon, A History of the Arctic, London, 2012, p.35 (w/ links added)

See also:
Books: Dostoyevsky meets Dickens, 3 January 2014
History: To the North Pole by Zeppelin, 1 August 2012
Blog: Russia, 1 September 2008

03 January 2014

Charles & Fyodor

In Claire Tomalin's marvellous biography,  Charles Dickens: A Life (2011), she describes an encounter between two of the 19th century's finest writers. In 1862 the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky visited Dickens at the offices of his successful magazine, All the Year Round, at 26 Wellington Street near Covent Garden and just off the Strand. Dostoyevsky had been imprisoned in a cruel Siberian gulag for four years until 1854, and during time convalescencing in the prison hospital he had been able to savour Dickens' Pickwick Papers and David Copperfield. Many years after the meeting in London, Dostoyevsky described what Dickens had told him about the latter's attitude to writing and how he drew on personal inspiration:

The person he [the writer] sees most of, most often, actually every day, is himself. When it comes to a question of why a man does something else, it's the author's own actions which make him understand, or fail to understand, the sources of human action. Dickens told me the same thing when I met him at the office of his magazine ... in 1862. He told me that all the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and the villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity towards those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those who he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. Only two people? I asked.
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, letter dated 18 July 1878 (OS) & translated by Stephanie Harvey, quoted in Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life, London, 2011, p.321-22.

Tomalin comments: 'This is an amazing report, and if Dostoyevsky remembered correctly it must be Dickens' most profound statement about his inner life and his awareness of his own cruelty and bad behaviour. It is as though with Dostoyevsky he could drop the appearance of perfect virtue he felt he had to keep up before the English public. It also suggests that he was drawing his evil characters from a part of himself that he disapproved of and yet could not control'.

See also:
Books: Dostoyevsky, Poor Folk (1846), Crime and Punishment (1866)
Books: Dickens, Great Expectations (1861), Mrs Lirriper's Lodgings (1863 Xmas story)
Blog: Russia, 1 September 2008

02 January 2014

Tawhiti Museum

On my pre-Christmas drive up to Auckland I took a detour through Taranaki, spending the night in New Plymouth for the first time in nearly a decade. It was nice to revisit that part of New Zealand, but in the absence of the closed-for-refurbishment Govett-Brewster gallery the highlight of the trip was my first visit to the Tawhiti Museum on the northern outskirts of Hawera. Nigel Ogle's museum is a labour of love depicting two centuries of New Zealand history using historical exhibits, dioramas and his expertly crafted mannequins.

The museum emphasises colonial history and rural machinery, with displays of country workshops, general stores and blacksmiths. Out the back there's a hangar full of gleaming vintage tractors, plus in an annex there's the transplanted study of Hawera's own larrikin author, Ronald Hugh Morrieson, whose four books have all been made into New Zealand films - The Scarecrow, Came A Hot Friday and Pallet on the Floor in the 1980s and Predicament in 2010. As I only had an hour before closing time at the museum I didn't get to try the Traders & Whalers exhibit boat ride, but that looks impressive too. I'll just have to go back for a second visit.

Tangarakau mining settlement model, depicting c.1930

Detail of an enormous Musket Wars diorama

Chew Chong (Chau Tseung), one of the early heroes of Taranaki settlement

Kitchen diorama

Spooky life-size OAP mannequin

Morrieson study exhibit

Burrell 8N HP steam tractor (1905)
See also:
NewsFailed Te Ngutu Golf Club burglary, 1 November 2013
Blog: Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, 29 January 2012
Blog: A sunny day over Taranaki, 27 August 2011