28 February 2014

Finally, marching to a different tune

The lead single from the ninth and final Split Enz studio album, See Ya 'Round, the Neil Finn-penned I Walk Away led a double life as one of the earliest Crowded House releases when it was issued in a re-recorded version on the American editions of the new band's self-titled debut album. But this original arguably superior version, which reached number 13 in the New Zealand pop charts in November 1984, is an under-appreciated pop gem boasting compellingly over-the-top production and a fun, low-budget video featuring cardboard cut-outs of the band and an amusing vignette of the band as cartoon violinists.

Neil Finn's precocious talent had by 1984 matured into enormous promise, and I Walk Away is a good example of what he would bring to the table in Crowded House.  The clip below from Australian TV features a supremely awkward Tim Finn introduction with new Enzer Paul Hester (who of course would go on to join Neil in Crowded House) gooning about in the background. Tim had just left the band he had started to begin a solo career, leaving his little brother to take over as the creative force behind Split Enz. Neil even congratulates his brother on getting the script out with an encouraging 'well done'. It can't have been easy for either Finn, but Tim did join the band on the Enz With A Bang tour, the Australian dates for which scroll across the screen during this recording. Once the music starts it's onwards and upwards, with the striking cartoon violinist intro leading to the relatively unassuming opening verse. But then it kicks into a higher gear; here's a quick timeline:

1:15 The rich, busy jangle-pop guitars of the chorus
1:35 Eddie Rayner keyboard flourish into verse
1:45 Up an octave for 'Your life, a slave to ambition'
2:10 Noel Crombie! Massive jangle again, but sounding even bigger
2:30 Moody Nigel Griggs bridge bass & Neil's touch of slide
2:45 Double drums from Paul Hester & Noel Crombie
3:10 Higher 'away' in the lead vocals - textbook pop songcrafting
3:15 Big cardboard heads!
3:30 Falsetto outro freakout!
3:45 The happiest slice of the video, with Hester & Crombie sharing a laugh on drums

I absolutely love the ringing guitar sound of this track - perhaps it was a kindred spirit of the guitar figures played by Craig Hooper on the song Recurring Dream, before the band was signed to Capitol and when it was known as The Mullanes.

(Increase the resolution to 480p for the best image quality)

See also:
Music: Split Enz - I Got You (1980 alternate video from Paul Hogan Show)
MusicSplit Enz - Give It A Whirl (Live, 1979), 24 January 2014
Music: Crowded House - I Walk Away (1986)

27 February 2014

What to do when the PM is plastered

Former National Party junior whip Michael Cox, who held the role from 1981 to 1985, discusses the delicate art of ensuring Prime Minister Rob Muldoon was in the right place at the right time, and more specifically sober enough to move important motions in the House. Occasionally this proved impossible, as in this case, and eight months later in 1984 when New Zealanders observed that Muldoon was noticeably drunk on live television when he announced a snap election.

The House was in "urgency", to enable it to pass the Finance Bill through its third reading. This bill contained the Budget. Sixteen days of debate had passed, perusing every item, since Budget Day when Rob Muldoon had moved its first reading. In those times "urgency" meant that the house sat until all the required bills were passed; no knocking off at midnight, but a slog to the end. 
After helping to dispatch the first bottle, Rob decided to see what his caucus members could offer. He was on the prowl. I kept a bottle with only a couple of nips in it for such visitors; not all my colleagues were as cautious. 
As a whip, I was designated to keep an eye on our leader as he would be required to move the third reading in the debating chamber when the time came. 
At 2am Rob rolled into the chamber, obviously high as a kite and took his seat. The Opposition could see the state he was in. "Rob, we're over here!" called out an exuberant and waving David Lange. He knew that things were turning his way and this latest event was only one sign that his opponent was in trouble. 
There was byplay, with Rob returning the waves; his caucus colleagues looked on with concern. The Opposition couldn't believe their luck and the press gallery was full. 
The time came when Rob was required to move the third reading. He stood and was recognised by the Speaker; "The Right Honourable Robert Muldoon," he called thrice, only to be met with a drunken grin. 
It was obvious to us whips that Rob could either stand or he could speak, but he couldn't do both at once. After several attempts we made another senior minister sit with him to distract him in his attempts to put the final touches to a Budget. 
While he was so distracted we made the Associate Minister of Finance, John Falloon, stand and move the third reading. 
- Michael Cox, 'The night Muldoonism got bottled', New Zealand Herald, 27 February 2014

See also:
History: Marilyn Waring, 'A letter to my sisters', Listener, 26 May 1984
History: Simon Walker interviews Rob Muldoon, 1976
Photo: National Party caucus, c.1979

25 February 2014

Mentors & micturition

Two brief excerpts from Private Eye's ever-reliable Pseud's Corner column (Eye 1358, 24 January 2014), an old favourite from Very Friday Email days:

History is littered with wise, patient mentors who challenge their pupils, pushing their eager charges towards future greatness. Socrates inspired Plato to expand upon his teachings, to form a great Greek academy and scratch out immortal dialogues. On arriving in Florence, Raphael was left so dazed by the painting of Leonardo Da Vinci that he immediately sought to emulate the elder man's brushed grandeur and conceptual groundwork. Lee Ashcroft [of Kilmarnock FC] has, in recent weeks, been learning of the noble art of defending at the merciless feet of Kris Boyd.
- Callum Baird, The Herald

Urine and its attendant act, urination, is often a fraught and taboo subject... This panel seeks to trace the complexities of representation of pee within Modern and Contemporary art and visual culture. Papers/topics considered may include, but are certainly not limited to: medical and health campaigns and illustrations, erotic imagery featuring urination, the materiality and/or iconography of urine, theories or (mis-) understandings of the abject, and (counter) public/private feeling around urination.
- Call for papers, 'Piss Panel 2014', Society for Literature, Science and the Arts conference, Dallas, Texas 

See also:
Comedy: How to avoid National Service, 1 February 2014
Comedy: The wit & wisdom of Kanye West, 24 September 2013
Comedy: How not to make a BBC sitcom, 1 July 2013

24 February 2014

Let me have war, say I

In the latest instalment of my National Theatre Live film-viewing, yesterday I shunned a hot Wellington summer afternoon to take in the Donmar Warehouse production of Coriolanus, featuring the movied-up golden boy Tom Hiddleston in the title role. Hiddleston was predictably watchable as the banished and wrathful Roman warlord Caius Martius Coriolanus, but the other castmembers were equally engaging, particularly Deborah Findlay as Coriolanus' glory-cherishing mother Volumnia, and Helen Schlesinger as the manipulative tribune Sicinia. Other familiar faces who performed creditably include Mark Gatiss (of League of Gentlemen fame) as the pompous potentate Menenius, and the elegant Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (from Danish political thriller Borgen) as Coriolanus' wife Virgilia.

Title quote: Coriolanus - 'Let me have war, say I; it exceeds peace as far as day does night; it's spritely, waking, audible, and full of vent. Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy: mulled, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than war's a destroyer of men'. (4.5.238)

See also:
Theatre: Macbeth, 21 November 2013
Theatre: Othello, 20 October 2013
Theatre: The Taming of the Shrew, 27 February 2009 

22 February 2014

All that poetry and all those songs, about something that lasts no time at all

Last night I re-watched Lone Scherfig's excellent An Education, a great little film with the impossibly Hepburnesque and gamine Carey Mulligan as 16-year-old Jenny Mellor, who carries on an affair with a smooth older fellow, played with believable scoundrelish charm and a certain alien oddness by Peter Sarsgaard. (The accent is slightly wonky, but it works). The film also boasts a likeable supporting cast, particularly Alfred Molina as Jenny's blustering father ('Knowing a famous author is better than becoming one. It shows you're connected') and the lovely Rosamund Pike as the blithe and artless good-time girl Helen ('Someone told me that in about 50 years, no one will speak Latin, probably. Not even Latin people').

But having read a little more about Lynn Barber's autobiographical story on which the movie is based - a piece she wrote for Granta magazine in 2003 - I like to think the wistful, poignant ending with Jenny at Oxford might have been enlivened somewhat by the inclusion of Barber's cheerful admission on Desert Island Discs in 2010 that she slept with 'probably 50 men' during two terms at Oxford. "It was quite good going - I was just jamming them in".

I also love Scherfig's opening title sequence, which perfectly evokes the film's 1961 setting and establishes that while this is the story of a grown-up love affair, it is most definitely grounded in a schoolgirl reality. The impossibly jaunty music is On The Rebound by Floyd Cramer, an American pianist who worked in the studio with many greats including Elvis Presley, and as a solo artist topped the UK charts with this track in 1961.

See also:
Movies: State and Main, 3 February 2014
Movies: Viva Maria!, 25 November 2013
Movies: The Bling Ring, 4 August 2013

20 February 2014

Just a man and his will to survive

Now that I've seen a vintage dot matrix printer perform Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor, all I need to complete my musical odyssey is to hear a telex machine play Der Kommissar by Falco. Only then will I be truly satisfied. Only then, my friends.
"Eye of the tiger" on dot matrix printer from MIDIDesaster on Vimeo.

[Via Neatorama]

19 February 2014

Working In A Coal Mine

In memory of the death at age 61 of former Devo guitarist Bob Casale, here's the band's highest-charting New Zealand single. It's not the better-known new wave classic Whip It, which only reached number 11 in January 1981 (there's no accounting for taste - the number one single that week was Joe Dolce's Shaddap You Face). Rather, it's Devo's cover of Working In The Coal Mine, an Allen Toussaint track that was a hit for Lee Dorsey in 1966. Devo's version reached number 8 in the New Zealand pop charts in November 1981 just before the general election and stayed in the New Zealand charts for an impressive 21 weeks. Here's a nifty clip featuring impressive set design - not a bad investment for a two-and-a-half minute song.

See also:
Music: Lee Dorsey - Working In The Coal Mine (UK video featuring a young Jools Holland)
Music: XTC - We're All Light, 7 February 2014
Music: Split Enz - Give It A Whirl, 24 January 2014

18 February 2014

85 years on - the first Academy Award winners

Eighty-five years ago today on 18 February 1929 the winners of the first ever Academy Awards were announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. The swanky gala ceremony didn't occur until 16 May - today is only the anniversary of the publication of the awards results. According to History.com, the initial announcement was hardly a glittering affair: 'The first award recipients’ names were printed on the back page of the academy’s newsletter. A few days later, Variety published the information--on page seven'.

The May awards ceremony featured Douglas Fairbanks presenting statuettes - yet to be nicknamed 'Oscars', which didn't come until 1931 - to winners Janet Gaynor, Emil Jannings, and Best Picture Wings. Neither the announcement of the awards nor the ceremony appeared to attract much attention by reporters here in New Zealand. But the movie sections of the newspapers were full of screen gossip, to a much greater extent than today, which shows the popularity of cinema-going in 1929. 

The Auckland Star was particularly movie-crazy, with an elegant graphic illustrating eight new cinematic releases for the week of 21 February 1929:

Source: Auckland Star, 16 February 1929
The 'Gossip of the Studios' column by Molly Merrick in the same 16 February Star (but originally written in Hollywood on 8 January) contains an intriguing mention of a New Zealand-themed motion picture, Under the Southern Cross (also known as Taranga or The Devil's Pit), which Merrick (re-)reported as going gangbusters in a Hollywood movie-house preview:

The "Hollywood Filmograph" states: 'Under the Southern Cross,' a Universal production, pre-viewed at the Larchmont Theatre last Sunday night to a packed house, is undoubtedly the best picture of its kind that has ever been filmed. The picture fairly reeks with scenic grandeur, and should appeal strongly to those that are on the que vive for something novel and bizarre in the celluloid-line."
A follow-up article in the Star on 18 May 1929 reveals further details of Under the Southern Cross, quoting a favourable review by none other than the Premier, Sir Joseph Ward:

Universal's portrayal of the Maoris, resulting in a film production that has created a profound impression in America, in England, and now in New Zealand, before a representative gathering, including the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Ward and members of the Cabinet, will be released shortly. Perhaps no better testimony to the exceptional qualities of "Under the Southern Cross," or "Taranga," as it has been more familiarly known, could be given than to quote contents of a letter received from Sir Joseph, who said, "It was with the greatest pleasure that I watched this fascinating story of old New Zealand unfold through a very beautiful picture secured by the Universal Film Company. It proves that it is possible to build stories of great dramatic power and absorbing interest within our own beautiful country. Once again, the Maori race has proved 'second to none' in its capability of reaching the highest standard set by the world in motion picture production as in many other directions. It is a great tribute to their natural genius, and should go far towards making the name of New land a household word overseas."
Under the Southern Cross was thought to be lost until a silent print was found by a British film historian in 1980. This version was screened with musical accompaniment in 2009; an excerpt of the modern soundtrack can be heard in this Radio New Zealand recording from July 2010, and here's a still from the filming, perhaps taken at Whakarewarewa in 1928.

As any fan of Singin' In The Rain can tell you, the late 1920s were also the formative years of talking pictures. The New Zealand cinema pages contain details of the strong uptake of talkies in New Zealand cinemas. Wellington's Evening Post of 28 February 1929 trumpeted a major event taking place in the capital the following month:
Of great interest is the announcement that the Paramount Theatre in Wellington is to open with the new sensational entertainments, the sound pictures, on Friday, 8th March, in which event that popular house will gain the distinction of presenting the first all sound film bill to be seen and heard in the Dominion. The programmes to be presented during successive weeks are, without exception, all those that have been, and are now being, presented to record attendances in Sydney and Melbourne. Much of the credit for this unique state of affairs goes to Fox Pictures, who, under the direction of William Fox, the president, are the acknowledged leaders in this remarkable field of entertainment. 
Coming nearer home, the negotiations by the directors of the Paramount Theatre, Wellington, with the Fox Company, date back a considerable time, and the news that this theatre has been wired for nearly three months in readiness for the arrival of the spectacular talkie entertainments will probably be a surprise to many. The system of reproduction is the new perfected De Forrest installation, generally conceded to be one of the finest plants of its kind that has been manufactured. Now that the long-awaited films have arrived, no time will be lost in presenting the best of these programmes to the amusement seekers of Wellington, the exact date of commencement being Friday, 8th March. 
The first programme will consist of Fox Movietone News, all that is exciting in the news of the day, just as it happened, with thrilling sound effects. King Alfonso, of Spain, the American Ambassador to Spain, and the president of the New York Stock Exchange, are among the world celebrities who actually address you. George Bernard Shaw, literary genius, talks from the screen, jokes, and his engaging personality will hold the audience spellbound. "Chic" Sale, stage and screen star, supported by a notable cast, appears in an "all-talking" comedy, "The Star Witness." The Roxy Theatre Orchestra, New York's famous 110 piece orchestra, is heard. Then there is the "Street Angel," a love lyric of Naples, featuring the "Diane" and "Chico" of "Seventh Heaven," Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell. You will hear James Melton and the Roxy Theatre male chorus of 40 singing "Angela Mia," the theme song, during the screening of "Street Angel." Box plans will open to-morrow morning at the Bristol and Utility (next theatre), when, it is anticipated, there will be a heavy demand for seats.
The Evening Post of 9 March 1929 contained the verdict on the previous night's talkie premiere. Declaring the event 'a convincing programme' delivered to a capacity crowd, the Post's reporter noted that:
It may be that talking films, as applied to true dramatic work, are still some time ahead in full development (development, that is, which takes, and holds, the fancy of the picture-going public), but on the musical side the sound film is already a success.
Returning to Molly Merrick, in the Auckland Star of 18 May 1929 we can see that the meat and bread of the Hollywood gossip columnist is a long-established tradition. Here she provides updates on two hot topics for film lovers everywhere:

Speaking of curls, James Hall had his hair permanently waved — says it was necessary for the next picture. Well, we shall see what we shall see. 
A glance at the illustrations of current fan magazines reveals that Bessie Love plays her ukelele with kid gloves on, and that Marion Davies does her swimming with high French heels.
See also:
Movies: Mr Iturbi will see you now, 29 December 2013
Movies: How one book made every Hollywood film feel the same, 20 July 2013
Movies: Wodehouse in Hollywood, 1930, 12 February 2013 

17 February 2014

Ciclovia Miramar

My Ciclovia walk: Seatoun to Kilbirnie

Yesterday I took advantage of the cracking weekend weather to participate in a community walking and cycling expedition around the Miramar peninsula. The Ciclovia Wellington event involved banning cars from the northern end of the peninsula from Shelly Bay round to Scorching Bay. While most people cycled the route, I don't have a bike, so I walked it instead. It seemed to be popular with families, who if my observations are representative spent most of the afternoon trying to remind their little dears to pay attention when hurtling down a road next to escarpments overlooking rocky beaches, and not to weave across the road like pint-sized versions of the driver in Carmageddon.

I could've driven out to Miramar, but because it was such a nice day I decided to take the Days Bay ferry to Seatoun instead. I haven't been on the ferry in many years, but it was a perfect day for a harbour trip. (Which reminds me - I really must visit Somes Island one day...) Donning acres of sunscreen to mitigate the effects of the blazing summer sunshine - yes, really - I paused for lunch at a busy Worser Bay before heading north around the peninsula to the start of the car-free zone at Scorching Bay. The beach and cafe there were madly busy, as it was one of those rare days on which Wellingtonians remember that a summer trip to the beach can be nice if it's not howling an Antarctic gale outside. It was such a nice day that I continued on my walk past Shelly Bay as far as the Kilbirnie shops - a total walk of 10.6km.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the event, and it was pleasing to see the stream of traffic hoping to blat around the peninsula being turned back - for once, person power won out over the internal combustion engine. With any luck there'll be more of these events in Wellington: wouldn't it be great to close Oriental Bay to traffic for an afternoon, or even the entire south coast?

See also:
BlogPencarrow Lighthouse, 20 January 2014
Blog: Round the ragged rocks, 11 January 2014
Blog: Fort Ballance, Miramar, 5 November 2011

16 February 2014

Old Young Guns

At the interval in the cricket yesterday a selection of the legendary-but-thwarted 1992 New Zealand World Cup team put in an appearance, to hit balls into the Basin Reserve crowd to celebrate tickets going on sale for the Australia-New Zealand World Cup next year.

The 1992 Martin Crowe-led side excelled in the pool matches, blitzing opponents with seven straight wins before coming unstuck against eventual champions Pakistan. New Zealand made a little history by throwing innovative tactics into the mix - opening the batting with Mark Greatbatch in a pinch-hitter role, opening the bowling with offspinner Dipak Patel, and restricting the run-rate with medium-pacers like Gavin Larsen and Chris Harris - but the real achievement was winning self-belief for a team often short of it. They still look in fairly good shape 22 years later!

Martin Crowe (top left), Chris Harris (throwing)

Crowe tries to hit one into the Vance Stand

CZ Harris (23 tests, 250 ODIs)

MJ Greatbatch (41 tests, 84 ODIs)
DN Patel (37 tests, 75 ODIs)

2nd test vs India, Basin Reserve, Day 2

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable day with friends at the Basin Reserve watching New Zealand play India in the 2nd test. From the vantage point in the Vance Stand behind the bowler's arm there's an excellent view of proceedings. While the Vance does seem to attract more than its fair share of duffers who prefer to talk non-stop at each other, generally not paying attention to the cricket at all, it's still an excellent spot if you don't mind the lack of direct sunlight. On a warm, wind-less day like yesterday that wasn't a problem at all.

India opened the day on 100/2 with nightwatchman Ishant Sharma at the wicket with opener Shikhar Dhawan, and pressed home the advantage by adding a further 41 runs before Trent Boult finally nabbed Sharma for 26. Two further Indian wickets fell by lunch, but by then India had secured a first innings lead, surpassing New Zealand's measly 192. At 228/6 India were in a little trouble, but a solid middle session saw them take charge, building to 301/6 by tea. In the last session Ajinkya Rahane (118) and wicketkeeper-captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni (68) stamped their authority on proceedings, with Rahane's century his first in tests. After a false dawn when the industrious Neil Wagner had a Peter Fulton catch disallowed as a no-ball thanks to his wide run-up, New Zealand finally dismissed India for 438, a daunting first innings lead of 246.

Typically, in a season in which New Zealand's openers have had (or earned) little luck, Peter Fulton was then dismissed lbw for 1 by Zaheer Khan to leave the home side's total looking somewhat precarious at 24/1, 222 runs behind with three days to play. Unless Hamish Rutherford pulls a big innings out of the bag today New Zealand might be looking for two new test openers come the mid-year tour to the West Indies.

Basin Reserve from the Vance Stand
Southee to Sharma - how often does NZ have 4 slips & a gully?
Virat Kohli (I think) - wearing Praveen Kumar's test number 269?
Tim Southee signing autographs
Umpire Kettleborough: "I've got a ball!"
Rahane departs having scored his maiden test century (118)
Last man out: Zaheer Khan c Watling+ b Wagner 22
See also:
Cricket: 2nd T20I vs West Indies, 16 January 2014
Cricket: My submission on the Basin Reserve flyover, 5 September 2013
Cricket: 2nd test against England, day 3, 16 March 2013

14 February 2014

Stay Home

Part of the enjoyment of sifting through boxes from storage is revisiting songs that you haven't heard in years. One such song is the single 'Stay Home', by Eg - otherwise known as Francis White. Released in 1995, the single failed to reach the UK top 40, and the album that followed in 1996, Turn Me On I'm A Rocket Man, similarly did not dent the charts. That's a pity, because Stay Home is a well-crafted slice of radio-friendly pop in the vein of late-period Sting or the Lighthouse Family, and boasting an engaging vocal performance from White. Presumably I either heard it played on Gideon Coe's morning show on BBC GLR, or just purchased it from the discount bins at Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus unheard - a bargain at 29 pence.

Rocket Man must have had reasonable industry backing because it was co-produced by Phil Ramone, the famous helmsman of albums by the likes of Paul Simon (Still Crazy After All These Years), Billy Joel (The Stranger) and Frank Sinatra (Duets). Most of the songs are written by Francis, but Stay Home is actually a cover of a single by San Francisco power-popsters Jellyfish. Written by Andy Sturmer, I Wanna Stay Home appeared on the band's first album Bellybutton in 1990 (which also contains the peerless That Is Why). The original is beautiful but perhaps a little more melancholy than White's version, which benefits from the warmth of its self-recorded backing vocals.

While Stay Home and Rocket Man didn't hit paydirt for White, it's pleasing to see that he went on to achieve considerable success in the music business as a songwriter and producer. He scored his first UK chart-topper with Will Young's Leave Right Now in 2003 and his second with Diana Vickers' Once in 2010, and wrote or co-wrote top 10 singles for Joss Stone, Charlotte Church, James Morrison, and Duffy (Warwick Avenue). But I'm guessing that his most rewarding effort has been in co-writing and producing Adele's Chasing Pavements from her enormously successful debut album 19.

See also:
Music: Jellyfish - Now She Knows She's Wrong (1990)
Music: Puffy AmiYumi - Teen Titans Theme (2003)*
Music: Chlöe Howl - No Strings (2013)**

* Written and produced by ex-Jellyfish Andy Sturmer
** (Co-?) written by Eg White (NSFW-L)

12 February 2014

TV flashback 1976

It it often said that the past is a different country, and looking at the New Zealand television listings for 15 April 1976 is a good reminder of this. It’s also worth noting that many of the programmes featured on Television One and Two in 1976 would still be occupying the schedules when I grew into a constant TV watcher in the first half of the 1980s. Another reminder of the different times is the magazine's denoting of those programmes that were broadcast in colour; many New Zealanders still owned black and white TVs. Both channels feature children’s programming, and the news broadcasts are staggered, with Two’s news kicking off first at 6.30pm and One’s following at 7pm.

The Listener’s cover story of that week reminds us that the mid-1970s was dominated by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon, who came to power in November 1975 thanks in part to the infamous Dancing Cossacks campaign ad. (Wouldn't it be nice if we had actually sorted out superannuation in 1975!) The cover story examines New Zealand's trade prospects and the National government's ambitions for new markets - hence the Asian-themed depiction. New Zealand had already begun to embrace greater trading ties with Asia; witness the full-page Listener ad for the new Mitsubishi Galant 'pony car': 'that superb combination of saloon car comfort and engineering excellence that only the ingenious Japanese can create'.

1976 also saw a new threat to New Zealand's ubiquitous fish & chip shops, in the form of the first McDonald's, which opened in Cobham Court in Porirua on 7 June. Six weeks later at the Montreal Summer Olympics, New Zealand's presence caused a boycott by 26 African nations due to the government's shameful endorsement of an All Blacks tour of apartheid-era South Africa, in defiance of a United Nations-led call for a sporting embargo on the racist regime.

One letter to the Listener in this edition highlights a demand for a new-fangled broadcasting technology. Newton P. King of Wellington writes:
Sir - I have heard FM radio in Australia and found it entirely comparable with the best reproduction from stereo recordings. In no way can AM radio (limited to mono signals and 10kHz bandwidth) compete. It is true that a wide FM coverage of the country is difficult, but the more populous areas could be well served quite easily. The only really valid reason for not providing an FM service is the economic situation.
King was out of luck. FM radio didn't launch in New Zealand until Wellington's Radio Active commenced broadcasting in 1982, with full commercial FM licenses first issued in Auckland the following year.

Here's the listings for the evening of Thursday, 15 April 1976:

TELEVISION ONE - 15 April 1976

2.45 Play School - 'Today's story - The Wind That Blew Too Much' by Denis Wrigley'
3.15 Playaway - lively BBC children's entertainment (1971-84, 191 episodes) featuring Brian Cant. Here's a closing song clip with Cant, Toni Arthur and a young Jeremy Irons.
3.40 Jumbleland - Thames Television (1970-71) 'Children's series, mainly amusement but also small educational doses'.
4.05 Bucky & Pepito - Transartist animation series (1958!, 36 episodes), of which this episode, 'The Howlin' Coyote' is the 10th.
4.10 ABC of Animals - Transtel series, this episode on camels.  Possibly a German programme?
4.15 Gentle Ben - CBS drama featuring a boy and his 650-pound American black bear (1967-69, 56 episodes)
4.40 Huckleberry Hound - Hanna-Barbera animation (1958-62, 57 episodes)
5.05 Gilligan's Island - UA/CBS sitcom (1964-67, 98 episodes). This episode, 'Goodbye Old Paint', from season 1, is the only programme in tonight's listings that was not broadcast in colour.
5.35 Bonanza - NBC western (1959-73, 430 episodes). 'Hoss takes frightened Laurie Adams [Joan Van Ark, later of 'Dallas' fame] to the Ponderosa to help her escape from her estranged outlaw husband'.
6.30 News
7.00 Coronation Street - Granada soap (1960-present, 8200+ episodes). 'Edith Tatlock waits up for Kenneth. Ena has an interview for the caretaker's job at the new Community Centre'.
7.30 The Dick Emery Show - cross-dressing BBC comedy legend (1963-81, 166 episodes) - 'Ooh you are awful, but I like you! (clip)
8.00 Cannon - CBS crime drama featuring the creaky William Conrad (1971-76, 124 episodes)
9.00 All in the Family - CBS sitcom (1971-79, 208 episodes)
9.30 Tonight - 'Today's events, tomorrow's possibilities'. Current affairs reporting, with a stable of reporters including Sharon Crosbie, Lindsay Perigo and Simon Walker.
10.00 Six Days of Justice - Thames Television courtroom drama (1972-75, 24 episodes). This episode, 'We'll Support You Evermore', was originally broadcast in the UK on 15 May 1973.
11.00 News & Weather
? Closedown

TELEVISION TWO - 15 April 1976

3.00 Rainbow - veteran UK kids' TV (1972-92, 1071 episodes)
3.20 Romper Room - 'Miss Kathy is helped by Mr DoBee and Mr Don'tBee'.
3.50 Noddy - Hanna Barbera animation
4.05 Woolly Hills - TV2 children's viewing. 'Life on a hill country sheep station following the antics of Charlie, Oatmeal, Blue & Robin, not forgetting Screech the Kea and Mouldy the Ram'.
4.35 Lost in Space - CBS sci-fi drama (1965-68, 83 episodes). This episode: 'Revolt of the Androids'.
5.30 The Flintstones - Hanna Barbera animation (1960-66, 166 episodes)
6.00 News at Six - read by Jennie Goodwin.
6.30 Shang-A-Lang - Tartan telly nightmare with the Bay City Rollers (1975, 20 episodes)
6.55 Sykes - BBC sitcom featuring Eric Sykes & Hattie Jacques (1972-79, 68 episodes)
7.30 Opportunity Knocks - 'This is an opportunity to let the rest of New Zealand see and hear the person or group you'd like to nominate as the talent most likely to succeed - anyone you know who can sing, dance or play an instrument'.  Sounds a bit desperate!
8.00 Movie: Before Winter Comes (1969) - British post-war drama set in an Austrian refugee camp, featuring David Niven and Topol.
10.00 News at Ten
10.30 Rat Patrol - ABC desert-based wartime drama (1966-68, 58 episodes)
11.00 World Soccer - TV2 coverage with Murray Allison
11.55 Closedown

See also:
TV: Flashback 1981, 19861991
TV: Bay City Rollers - Shang-a-Lang (from TV series of the same name)
TV: Out-takes from 'Sykes'

11 February 2014

Irrational Wellington

On Sunday I bought the second expansion pack for Civilisation 5, titled Brave New World. It adds various nifty gameplay features like proper trade routes (enjoy watching those camels trot off to the fabled markets of Pasgardae!) and tourism (which I don't really understand yet!). There's also the usual gameplay tweaks that throw up some interesting minor details. I particularly enjoyed the addition of one particular new city to the list of city-states that are dotted around the global maps for the main civilisations to trade with, intrigue against or bully. The city-state of Wellington is also fairly aptly described in the game too (see picture).

Ally: Nobody. Hell yeah! We don't need anyone else, and to be frank not many can put up with our fearsome climate and the mandatory wearing of black at all times. Or the fact that we ticket every visitor to our city who drives down the Ngauranga Gorge unaware that the speed camera there is our prime source of revenue generation.

Traits: Maritime. Yes; for we are nothing without our fish & chips.

Personality: Irrational. So Wellington! This totally explains the trousers with skirts thing, lingering support for the Phoenix, and people choosing to live in Johnsonville.

Resources: Wine. Totally. In fact, we have both flavours. But can we have Proper Coffee too please? And a Broad Understanding of Policy-Making Processes? Although I'm not sure if that last one is a particularly sought-after global commodity.

(The Brave New World expansion is part of a big Sid Meier sale at Humble Bundle, which is on for another week).

See also:
Games: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 25 January 2014
Games: Crusader Kings 2, 5 May 2013
Games: World of Warcraft, 12 August 2010

09 February 2014

Old New Plymouth

Early New Plymouth (click to enlarge)
The above map of the early days of the town of New Plymouth is taken from Reminisces of a Taranaki Surveyor by William Henry Skinner (1857-1946), published in New Plymouth by Thomas Avery & Sons in 1946. It was drawn by artist Fred Coleman, who shows the traces of the later roads that emerged between Queen and Brougham Streets. The site of the former Pukeariki pa is occupied by government buildings in this map, which were much later replaced with the excellent Puke Ariki museum that since 2003 has been as a focal point of the downtown area. Skinner was a keen preserver of New Zealand heritage and in his later life played a major role in improving the collections of Puke Ariki's precursor, the Taranaki Museum. Here he sets out the history of his earliest days in the town:

I was born in February 1857, at New Plymouth. My parents' home at the time and for many years before, stood on the north bank of the Mangaotuku stream at its junction with the Huatoki, facing Brougham Street. We moved to our new home in St Aubyn-Young Street in 1863, on the occasion of my father retiring from business. This was my home for the following fifty years, other members of the family either "passing on" or establishing their own homes. The Mangaotuku and the Huatoki were wider, deeper and clearer than the present narrow, silted-up streams. The banks were fringed with tree ferns and other native vegetation. The inflowing tide carried the canoes paddling upstream to the landing-place on the east bank of the Huatoki, below the native village of Mawhera on the high bank opposite. At the junction of the two streams there was a wide and deep pool (much wider and deeper than at present) in which were launched the small sailing craft of fifteen to eighteen tons, and large surf boats, built at the ship-wright yard of Brooking and Cocker, located at Currie Street and James Lane. The craft were taken down to the mouth of the river and the sea on the high-water spring-tides. 
This early home of my parents was situated amidst a scene of natural beauty and charm, with the added attractions of the infant settlement close at hand. Towering above the narrow line of Brougham Street, opposite and overlooking our home, was the eastern scarp of the great pa, Pukeariki. It extended north and westward along the sweep of St Aubyn Street to its junction with Queen Street (at the Cenotaph), and from there turned and followed the Mangaotuku Stream generally south and east to the junction of King and Brougham Streets. This great pa was named by the pioneers, Mt Eliot, and was the dominating feature of early New Plymouth. The massive hill has since been completely removed, the soil being used mainly for the reclamation and forming of the railway-station yards. At the time of which I write the pa was occupied by Provincial Government's offices, together with the Pilot Station for the port, signal staff and time gun, and quarters for the Armed Constabulary. The outline of the pa and its protective outworks were still well marked, and on its summit overlooking Brougham Street were many old kumara pits, hidden by a covering of fern, often traps for the unwary. 
- W.H. Skinner, Reminisces of a Taranaki Surveyor, New Plymouth, 1946, p.11-12.
Skinner goes on to reveal that as a small child he accidentally fell into one of those kumara pits and spent a whole day there until he was rescued. The earliest New Zealand Company settlers arrived at New Plymouth on 31 March 1841 aboard the William Bryan, to find a colony far less organised and inviting than they had been led to expect. (Both my maternal and paternal ancestors - the Tuckers and the Chilmans - were passengers aboard the William Bryan. For more on both families, see 'The last sight of Old Plymouth' below). For much of the town's first three decades the population remained small, but the later arrival of the railway from Wellington (1886) spurred urban growth. The 2013 estimated population of New Plymouth District was 74,700.

See also:
England: The last sight of Old Plymouth, 6 April 2009
NZ: Tawhiti Museum, 2 January 2014
HistoryIvy McWhirter - A Kiwi by mistake

07 February 2014

We roar onto the stage and too soon we're dead centre

XTC are a long-lasting and habit-forming addiction. At their peak the verve and wit of their spiky, erudite new wave pop brightened the late 1970s and early 1980s, but sadly the prevailing tastes seldom aligned with their deep and enduring talent. They earned five top 40 UK singles at their commercial zenith from 1979 to 1982 - Making Plans For Nigel, Generals And Majors, Towers Of London, Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me) and the perfect Senses Working Overtime - plus a solitary return to the charts a decade later in 1992 with The Disappointed. Their highest album chart position was a respectable no.5 for English Settlement in 1982, but if Wikipedia is sufficiently comprehensive their only chart-topping album was 1980's Black Sea, which hit no.1 here in New Zealand (but only no.16 in the UK).

Relations between the band's founders, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, sundered in the 2000s, which means their last album was 2000's Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2) and there are unlikely to be any more. When Partridge was interviewed by Popdose in 2009, he summed up the situation fairly definitely: 'We’re going through divorce at the moment. So he’s not my favourite individual, and I’m sure I’m not his ... we just send bad-tempered e-mails to each other at the moment'.

Wasp Star contains a deftly-made batch of tunes with plenty of traditional XTC hooks. Nine of the tracks were Partridge-written, while three came from Moulding's pen including the thrillingly Beatlesque track Standing In For Joe. One of the album's highlights is the Partridge's jaunty philosophising in We're All Light, in which a camouflage of deep and meaningful theories about life disguises, at the heart of the song, a cynical chat-up-line. It's the answer to every question! We're All Light is a proper jangle-pop gem that deserves a much broader audience - not just for Partridge's marvellous vocals and lyrics but also for Chuck Sabo's nimble drumming.
Don't you know
'Pon the pillion of time's bike
We roar onto the stage and too soon we're dead centre
Don't you know
Buffalo Billion's raised his sight
He's picking off the whole herd as soon as we enter
So you won't mind if I kiss you now
And maybe come on in for the night
Don't you know in this new Dark Age
We're all light 
- Andy Partridge, 'We're All Light' 

See also:
Music: Split Enz '79, 24 January 2014
Music: The Selecter - On My Radio, 17 January 2014
Music: Talking Heads '75, 5 July 2013

06 February 2014

Waitangi Day capital roadtrip

Waharoa at Makara Cemetery

Boom Rock Rd, Ohariu

Onehunga Bay, Whitireia Park, Porirua

04 February 2014

Comparing Australian & New Zealand new car prices

Here's another reason not to trust car salesmen - as if you needed one. I've always marvelled at the pricetags New Zealand new car dealerships place on their vehicles, and wondered how on earth New Zealand roads ever see any new cars at all given the comical amounts the dealers ask for new vehicles. Naturally, the dealer's sticker price is the starting point for negotiations, but some of the asking prices are just so ridiculous that you have to wonder at the sanity of those driving away in those new cars: 'You expect someone to pay $54,800 for a Mini?' Admittedly that's for a top-range Mini John Cooper Works, and yes some baby boomers have more money than sense, but that's a deposit on a house!

So I've made a quick survey of some common makes and models sold in both New Zealand and Australia, to get an idea of how much prices vary across the Tasman. All prices have been obtained from the car company co.nz and com.au websites. In the table below the Australian prices have been converted into New Zealand dollars at today's rate of AUD 1 = NZD 1.09243.

Obviously, the Australian market is five times bigger than New Zealand's, which means there should naturally be much more competition in the Australian market. There's also the difference in per capita wealth, which is quite substantial due in part to the now-ebbing Australian mineral boom and years of modest economic growth in New Zealand. But the scale of the price difference for many models is surprising.

When examining the price comparisons below, it's important to note that the New Zealand and Australian prices aren't for exactly the same thing. The comparisons actually tip further in Australia's favour than on first appearances. In New Zealand advertised new car prices are generally exclusive of on-road costs such as registration. But Australian prices are generally full 'drive-away' prices including registration and a year's compulsory third-party insurance. To get a drive-away price from the Australian car websites you usually need to enter an Australian postcode so it can calculate the state sales tax and whatever local registration fees there might be. (I used my Melbourne friends' postcode, 3146). So the Australian prices below include a great deal more for your money than the New Zealand prices.

Make / model NZD AU equiv NZ markup
Ford Focus Ambiente hatch 33,340 20,199 65.1%
Hyundai i20 GL 1.4 manual 25,490 16,375 55.7%
Hyundai i30 1.8 petrol 34,490 22,930 50.4%
Mitsubishi Lancer 2.0 LS sedan 30,690 21,837 40.5%
Holden Cruze Equipe hatch 30,990 22,383 38.5%
Kia Rio 1.4 LX manual 22,990 17,467 31.6%
Toyota Corolla 1.8 GL hatch 33,490 25,477 31.5%
Mazda 3 2.0L GLX hatch 32,795 25,991 26.2%
VW Golf 7 32,500 26,207 24.0%
Nissan Qashqai 2.0L petrol hatch 37,990 31,784 19.5%
Honda Jazz 1.3S manual 22,900 19,652 16.5%
Toyota 86 42,286 37,234 13.6%
Subaru Legacy 2.5i sport sedan 44,990 40,215 11.9%
Suzuki Swift 1.4 GL 19,990 18,014 11.0%
Ford Fiesta Trend 1.5L manual 23,990 23,157 3.6%
Mini Ray 29,200

[Note for any Australian readers: the Qashqai is badged as a Dualis in Australia - sounds like a toilet cleaner if you ask me, but then Qashqai isn't much of a name either. The Legacy is known as the Liberty in Australia, which is a bit American for my liking. I wasn't able to compare the price for the Mini in Australia because the Mini AU site was completely down!]

It's clear from these prices that Australian car dealers are much more comfortable offering big discounts to attract buyers. The top two differentials in the list below, the Focus Ambiente and the i20 GL, are both discounted prices. But even for most of the rest of the list, the difference is price is substantial. Perhaps instead of considering importing new cars from UK dealers, which a few have done with encouraging results, enterprising New Zealand buyers could look closer to home across the Tasman for a bargain? At the very least, if you're ever in the market for a new car be sure to look up the Australian price beforehand, and print out the details to show your New Zealand dealer. The explanation should be entertaining if nothing else!

See also:
Guide: Dog & Lemon Guide - Buying a new car
Transport: National Automobile Museum of Tasmania, 7 December 2013
Transport: The people's car, 18 February 2013
Transport: Southward Car Museum, 29 June 2009

03 February 2014

"Hey, did you see the grosses for Gandhi 2?"

The very sad news today of the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in New York, aged 46, led me to revisit my favourite film this evening. In David Mamet's 2000 screwball comedy, State and Main, Hoffman plays a rare romantic lead role as a tortured playwright (sample play title: 'Anguish') whose heartfelt and sensitive historical drama script is being filmed as a big screen epic entitled The Old Mill in the backwater town of Waterford, Vermont. The process of turning a finely-tuned artistic work into box-office gold is a shock to White's sensibilities, and the peculiarities of the leading actors - deftly played by Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker - cause no end of problems for the producers. Hoffman's character is buffeted on all sides by the uneasy compromises required to make it in the cynical movie business.

Central to the success of State and Main as a romantic comedy is the winning relationship that develops between White and local Waterford bookseller Ann Black (Rebecca Pidgeon, who is Mamet's wife in real life). The dialogue and growing bond between White and Black (aha!) is sparklingly witty and wry, harking back to the finest screen comedies of the 1930s and 40s; State and Main may be considerably gentler than Howard Hawks' 1940 classic His Girl Friday but to my mind it contains every bit as much nuance and verve in its breezy courtship. In one priceless scene White is discovered in a hugely compromising - but entirely innocent - situation with another woman, and stammers his ludicrous - and totally true - explanation:

Joseph Turner White: You believe that?
Ann Black: I do if you do.
Joseph Turner White: But it's absurd.
Ann Black: So is our electoral process. But we still vote.

Much of my adulation for this film, and I suspect for many other fans, is the hilarious depiction of the venal world of film-making, chock-full of superstar egos, rampant insincerity, highly flexible morals and a single-minded determination to preserve profit margins to the detriment of artistic merit. Chief among these mercenaries is the two-faced wit of The Old Mill's director, played with puckish charm by William H Macy, who delivers a swag of State and Main's most memorable lines. Indeed, the film boasts a marvellous supporting cast, particularly a young Julia Stiles as the calculating local teen Carla who plans to use leading man Bob Barrenger's unfortunate predilection for young women to her own advantage. (There's also an early screen appearance in a small, uncredited role for The Office's John Krasinski).

State and Main, like my previous favourite film, Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, is a film I first saw at the cinema and loved so much on first viewing that I have been reluctant to ever sully it by re-watching it. I wanted to maintain the memory of such big screen perfection in the hope that I would never spot any minuscule flaws in a second viewing. But having watched it once more, I can only redouble my admiration for such a charming, wonderful little film. It's all good, every bit of it. There's a great twist near the end, which I won't reveal. The soundtrack - by Theodore Shapiro, who now has 54 film composer credits - is subtle and appealing, and to show my devotion I even own two copies of it. Even the end credits are worth watching; one (fake) notice exclaims 'Only 2 animals were harmed during the filming of this motion picture', while the last text on the reel reveals that 'a complete list of this film's associate producers is available upon written request', harking back to an early scene in which an associate producer credit is defined as 'what you give to your secretary instead of a raise'.

Perhaps it's not a hugely popular film in the scope of cinematic history, but it's still my favourite by a long way, and by default it's therefore my favourite Philip Seymour Hoffman film. Apologies for the poor quality on the trailer - that's all there is available on Youtube.

See also:
Movies: My top 10 movies of 2013, 30 December 2013
Movies: Mr Iturbi will see you now, 29 December 2013
Movies: Film Festival 2013 roundup, 12 August 2013

02 February 2014

Limerick's biggest sins

Mairéad Farrell: 'What did you steal?' Yer man: 'A Magnum, from a shop. I put it down my pants'. From RTE's Republic of Telly, 2010.

01 February 2014

How to avoid National Service

Playwright Alan Ayckbourn, then aged 20, was up for his National Service health examination, and was distinctly nervous at the prospect of involuntary military servitude.

He joined a queue at random and met a well-spoken young doctor with the sort of assistant then labelled an 'oik' by the officer classes.

Doctor: Strip orf. Stand on the glass mat. Got anything to report?
Alan: Very peculiar knee, sir.
Doctor: Oh yes? (Pause) Oh. I see you write.
Alan: Well, yes, I do a bit of writing. I've written a couple of plays.
Doctor: I'm writing. I'm writing my memoirs.
Alan: Oh right. (Thinks: He's writing his memoirs at 23?)
Doctor: Have you got a good agent? Anyone you think I could send it to?
Alan: Well, you could send it to my agent. (Thinks: See where sending it to Peggy Ramsay will get you)
Doctor: Thanks very much. D'you really want to do this?
Alan: No.
Doctor: Tell me about the knee again.
Alan: Well, it's -
Doctor: Well, I haven't examined it, but I can tell you from here I don't like the look of it.
Alan: Really?
Doctor: No, no, not at all. Could you walk to that wall, unaided?
Alan: I'll have a go for you sir, but -
Doctor: I don't think you could.
Alan: I think I might sort of fall down round about that chair.
Doctor: I've got some bad news for you. I'm afraid we can't take you. Because what'll happen is, you'll be marching around on the first day, and that knee's going to give way and we're going to be paying you a pension for the rest of your life. I can't allow the RAF into that sort of financial obligation.
Alan: Oh, damn.
Doctor: I'm sorry. Absolutely not.
Oik: Nobody ever did anything like that for me.
Doctor: Because you're an oik, Wilkins, and what possible use are you out in the real world? You're better off in here. Well, thank you, I'll expect my cheque in the morning.
Alan: Thank you very much, sir.
(Exit, limping heavily)

- Paul Allen, Alan Ayckbourn, 2001, quoted in John Gross (ed.), The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, Oxford, 2006, p.344-5.

See also:
Comedy: Knuts & spats, 17 August 2013
Comedy: A legal genius at work, 11 March 2013
ComedyThe dangers of a pedagogic approach, 29 January 2013