31 July 2014

Mark Twain on knowing nothing about New Zealand

Even before it came into existence Victoria University - or at least a university located in Wellington - featured in one of the most celebrated stories told about New Zealand by a visitor from the United States. In [his 1898 book] Following the Equator Mark Twain observed that few people in America knew where New Zealand was. While crossing the Tasman - and finding to his considerable surprise how great was the distance separating New Zealand and Australia - he fell into conversation with a professor from Yale who - again to his surprise - knew a great deal about New Zealand. This professor proceeded to describe how he had come to acquire this fund of knowledge about a country of which Americans generally were so ignorant. One day he was visited by a stranger - one of those 'mysterious strangers' who feature so prominently in Mark Twain's later stories. This man described himself as a Professor of Theological Engineering at Wellington University, New Zealand. Had Yale possessed the equivalent of the registrar who scrutinises applications for ad eundem admission, he could have informed the professor that his visitor was a fraud or con-man.

The first professors of the then Victoria College were not appointed until January 1899, two years after the publication of Following the Equator, and, needless to say, the university has never had a chair of theological engineering. Indeed, it cannot these days afford even to run a chair of religious studies. However, so ignorant of New Zealand was the Yale professor that he not only failed to appreciate the fraudulent character of his visitor's credentials, but also was thrown into a panic at the thought of how he could keep a conversation going with him. On asking amongst his colleagues, he found that none of them knew anything about New Zealand either. They decided to find out everything that they possibly could about it. One day, during a conversation with the stranger, they proceeded to pour out their newly acquired knowledge. He sat silent for a time, no doubt fearing that his cover had been blown, and then confessed that it was clear that he knew nothing about the country, in spite of having lived in New Zealand for eighteen years and been a professor there for five. He begged them not to change the subject. 'If you know all this about a remote little inconsequent patch like New Zealand, ah, what wouldn't you know about any other subject!'

- David Hamer, 'Newest America? Comments on the Perception of New Zealand by American Visitors', in Malcolm McKinnon (ed.), The American Connection: Essays from the Stout Centre Conference, Wellington, 1988, p.12-13.

27 July 2014

A week in Dalmatia: 2. Korčula

Following an exciting stay in Dubrovnik, the next stop on my eight-day Intrepid tour was the island port of Korčula, another Dalmatian maritime settlement boasting a fine location and a historic setting. But first we had a short journey north from Dubrovnik via minibus. This took us over the impressive city bridge and an hour's drive north around the winding coast to a short pause for lunch at the medieval settlement of Ston. Here we admired from a distance the spectacular mountain overlooking the town, and specifically its distinctive fortifications defending its salt pans, which were a hugely lucrative source of income. Originally more than 7km long, currently 5.5km remains of the 15th century walls. Our next pause for refreshments was in the pleasingly cool wine cellars at Matusko Wines on the outskirts of the village of Potomje, on the 65km-long Pelješac peninsula, a narrow finger of land hugging the Adriatic coast. In a very pleasant wine-tasting stop, we particularly enjoyed Matusko's Pošip whites and its prestigious Dingač reds.

Walls at Ston
Matusko Wines, Potomje
Then it was time for a ride across the narrow 2km straight from the mainland to Korčula itself. (It's pronounced 'Kor-chula', roughly). For centuries the 46km-long island of Korčula was a vibrant part of the Adriatic's trade network, and it passed between numerous different owners. Thanks to its town statute of 1214 the town holds claim to be the first place in the world to have outlawed slavery, and some believe that the famed Venetian explorer Marco Polo was born here, although there's no hard evidence to support this.

A small hired launch took us across in double-quick time, during which time we admired the exploits of two racing windsurfers, who competed to exploit the warm sea breeze. Soon the town appeared in view and we were able to appreciate its beauty from the ideal vantage: from the sea. Perched on a gentle headland rise, the walled town's historic architecture and its nautical heritage are obvious. After docking at the marina and pausing to admire the town walls and the ornamental bridge to the main town gate, which is protected by a proud square tower with crenellated battlements and decorated with a roaring Venetian lion, we entered the town itself.

Windsurfer racing off the mainland
Approaching Korčula from the sea

The gate of Korčula
Old Korčula is compact: a mere 200m from the main gate to the tower at its northern tip. No cars are allowed inside the walls, and there wouldn't be any room for them in any case. Arranged along a central north-south thoroughfare with the St Mark's cathedral square at its heart, Korčula's dwellings are arrayed along herringbone-style side alleys set out cannily to take advantage of the prevailing winds. The alleys on the west side are straight to funnel through the cooling breezes, while the ones on the east side are gently curved to mitigate the effects of the stronger easterly gusts. Around the outside of the old town walls a fine promenade hosts marinas, jetties and plenty of cafe-bars with awnings to shelter customers from the powerful Croatian sunshine.

St Mark's (detail)
The alley I was rooming in
Our first evening was spent in a pleasant restaurant, Adio Mare, near St Mark's, where we sat on the shaded terrace and enjoyed the local fare - particularly the wine. This was rounded off with more drinks in the warm night air on the promenade. It was clearly a straightforward matter to adjust to the Korčula lifestyle! A little before midnight it was finally time to retire to our accommodation for the night, an array of private suites in family homes throughout the town. My host, a Croatian grandmother, spoke only Croatian and German, but this was perfectly sufficient to explain the workings of mein zimmer. (Actually, I had checked in earlier that afternoon - I didn't wake her up at midnight!)

The next morning following breakfast from the busy local supermarket, some of us joined local boat captain Mario on his little motor-launch for a sunny expedition to nearby waters. It was a perfect plan on a day that would reach 33 degrees at its hottest. First stop was the ruins of Majsan on a nearby island, which began their life as a Roman fishing village and later in the 4th century became the site of a monastery that attracted pilgrims as late as the 16th century. Nowadays only the foundations remain to explore, with a cryptic diagram that illustrates a possible layout that's rather a challenge to visualise. Next stop was a stretch of open sea in the channel where Mario anchored the launch and donned scuba fins for a spot of foraging. Soon he emerged from the shallow waters with a selection of sea urchins to sample. I didn't take up the kind offer but most of the others gave the brown, gooey sea urchin paste a try. I did, however, sample Mario's family-made wine, which was rugged and invigorating. Our last stop on the afternoon at sea was the former monastery on the island of Badija, where we enjoyed feeding the tame deer and taking advantage of the cool, clear Adriatic waters. I also took the opportunity to collect some beach glass to add to my collection from Wellington harbour. (For Mario's contact details, see Fish & Fun Korčula). 

Ruins on Majsan
Mario on the lookout for sea urchins
Greedy deer at Badija
Later that afternoon I corrected an omission of my sightseeing in Korčula, making a point of venturing up the cathedral tower in the square to admire the view across the town's red-tiled houses and the craggy cliffs across the strait on the mainland. Then it was time to rendezvous for our big dinner of the trip at the small village of Pupnat about 20 minutes drive into the island's interior. The sleepy village boasts the services of Konoba Mate, a fine, family-run restaurant, where we enjoyed a multi-course meal on the vine-clad outdoor terrace. A fine end to our visit to Korčula! We were only there for a day and a half, but it was a very appealing locale. The next morning we would gather for the earliest of starts for the third part of our journey - to the millionaires' playground of Hvar.

View from the belltower, St Mark's, Korčula
Konoba Mate restaurant, Pupnat
Sunrise over the walls at Korčula

26 July 2014

At sunrise they leap from their cradles steep

From the Brooklyn wind turbine this morning at sunrise, as Wellington awoke to a clear, windless start to the weekend. It's since clouded over, naturally.


7.42am (Gamma correct 0.06)

7.44am, glimpse of the Kaikouras

25 July 2014

The Major

SIR – Years ago, a colleague and I travelled throughout England on business. At noon we kept our eyes open for a good-looking pub (Letters, July 21). The routine was always the same. My colleague would say: “Morning, mine host, two pints of your best bitter, please. Has the Major been in yet?”

Only about 20 per cent of the time did the landlord reply that the pub didn’t have a Major. Four times out of five the landlord would say one of the following: “It’s a bit early for him.” “You’ve just missed him.” “He’s on holiday.” “He’s in the gents.” “He is round the back, hiding from his wife.” Or: “He is over there.”

We met many nice majors over the years.

- John Ashworth (Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire), letter to the Telegraph, 22 July 2014

23 July 2014

"She self-identifies as adorable"

An English train journey:

The young woman tells my wife she works at Butlin's, which may explain the volume at which she prefers to conduct conversation.

"You're a redcoat!" my wife shouts.

"I am a redcoat!" the young woman shouts.

"You must be busy!" my wife shouts.

"I'm one of eleven hundred staff," the young woman says.

"Eleven hundred?" I say. This strikes me as being an incredible number.

"Yup," the young woman says. "Eleven hundred in the summer."

"Wow," I say. "So what's the staff-to-guest ratio?"

"The what?" the young woman shouts. "The ratio?"

"Just roughly," I say. "I don't need an exact figure."

"Don't confuse me!" she shouts. "I'm adorable!"

The train manager announces our arrival in Taunton.

"This is my stop!" the young woman shouts. "Bye!"

We can still hear her from the other side of the carriage door, shrieking merrily at the other passengers. A few moments after the train comes to a halt, we see her walk past our window. She waves with what I imagine is characteristic enthusiasm, and we wave back. As the train starts to move, we begin to overtake her. We keep waving.

"She's adorable," my wife says.

"I know," I say. "She self-identifies as adorable."

"And also possibly a bit wasted," my wife says.

"It's good that you were able to draw her out of her shell," I say.

- Tim Dowling, 'On a train with a redcoat', Guardian, 12 July 2014

22 July 2014

In order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy

From Weird Al Yankovic's new album, this homage to / murdering of the classic 1969 Crosby Stills & Nash track, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, is jam-packed with corporate nonsense-speak, satirising the inexorable rise of meaningless obfuscatory business gabble. You can hear the original here to relish the close three-part harmonies that brought CSN their hippie fame; and read my 2010 blog when I saw them play in Hyde Park. Yankovic, of course, relies on Autotune for his harmonies, but that's hardly the point. He told the Wall Street Journal:

I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I’ve been hearing in office environments my entire life,” Yankovic says by e-mail. “I just thought it would be ironic to juxtapose that with the song stylings of CSN, whose music pretty much symbolizes the antithesis of corporate America.

21 July 2014

John A. Lee on the 1932 riots

Aftermath of the Queen St riot, 1932 (via AWMM)
In a 1966 letter to the Listener, former rebel Labour MP John A. Lee (1891-1982) discusses New Zealand's Depression-era protest riots in 1932, which had been the subject of correspondence from a critic of one of Lee's books:


Sir - I do not know the reason for the letter of S. Mather in your issue of March 18. I never reflected on other participants. The article on Coates he does not challenge.

1. He admits I walked at the head of the procession. 2. The parade did turn into a riot at the point at which the Town Hall doors were closed. There are at least 20,000 living witnesses to that fact and every press report. 3. I was the only MP to be brought to Auckland for the meeting. I did not arrange for the meeting sequence; that was arranged by P[ost] & T[elegraph] officers. I was given the position of senior speaker, in the last half of the Town Hall meeting. I did not appropriate this position, I was given it.

But if Mr Maher thinks that J.H. McKenzie was better at drawing an audience than myself I don't mind. J.H. McKenzie was a very competent servant of the association and a person for whom I have much respect. It is about 33 years ago and the story has never been really told. Somewhere I have the riot file including press reports and advertisements for the meeting. At that moment I was drawing New Zealand's largest audiences, but no one drew that audience; it was made by circumstances.

I did draw about 20,000 to the Domain on the following Sunday. Mr Mather will remember the meeting was prohibited and a squad from the Navy plus Gatling guns was installed to keep me out. I received so many phone calls asking whether I would be there that I decided to go to prevent trouble. Then occurred one of the great scenes of my life. People in hundreds were gathered to see if we were coming in Karangahape Road. As we reached Grafton Bridge the thousands followed us until the bridge was packed from end to end. Mrs Lee, myself and Arthur Richards MP led the audience away from the guns and to an eminence behind the Museum. We sat down, sang songs and the police gave me permission to tell the audience to disperse.

I couldn't get away from riot [sic]. I talked to an immense audience on the Dunedin Oval on a Sunday and left Dunedin on Monday. Either that day or the next the unemployed lay on the tramline outside Wardell's and the Otago Daily Times blamed my inflammatory oratory. I went to Christchurch to talk to a full theatre and had to talk to as large an audience outside afterwards. There was a tramway strike and that week bricks came through windows. Again, although I had nothing to do with the disturbance, as Johnny on the spot I was blamed to some extent.

Fortunately when the Wellington riot occurred I was on the Main Trunk Express. But if Mr Mather wants to affirm that Mr McKenzie was chief speaker, although I was accorded the senior position, I wouldn't challenge him for a moment. It is a matter of opinion, and besides I thought a lot of the people who arranged the meeting and McKenzie was a good chap, and I still think so.

It is time the riots were properly documented. There are abundant photos. Here is a thesis for some University student.

- John A. Lee, Auckland, letter to the Listener, 7 April 1966


The Auckland march on 14 April 1932 was to protest against Government plans for a ten percent wage cut for all public servants. The rioting erupted after one of the march leaders, Jim Edwards, was batoned to the ground from behind by police when he tried to speak to the crowd outside the Town Hall to encourage them to disperse. John Mulgan's 1939 novel Man Alone recorded the incident as follows:

Johnson saw a baton go up and an arm raised and the little man [Edwards] go down with a blow on the side of the head, and then at once men seemed to know where they were going. He was knocked aside … It was a wild business, like a dream in which no one seemed real any longer.

A cry of 'They've killed Jim Edwards!' went up through the crowd and things turned violent, with Te Ara recording that 'hundreds were injured in the fighting and, while the police were hemmed in near the Town Hall, looters ran through Queen Street smashing shop windows and raiding jewellery and other stores. Sailors with fixed bayonets were marched through town, but public order was only partially restored that night. There was more window smashing the following day in Karangahape Road, when mounted “specials” charged the crowds'. The following morning's Herald contains plenty of gory details of the looting and much praise for the Navy. Lee was permitted a small quote:

Speaking of the disorders that had occurred, Mr Lee said they were the result of leading probably 14,000 or 15,000 people to a hall capable of holding only 3000. It was evident, he continued, that future demonstrations against the Government's policy would have to be held in the largest available parks and reserves, where there would be room for all and all could hear. "I believe that, if we have huge and orderly demonstrations we shall be able to persuade the Government that it is hopelessly out of touch with the people," added Mr. Lee. "The country is facing an explosion. We must recognise the times we are living in, or the explosion will be on us before we are prepared for it."

In the aftermath of New Zealand's worst riot around 200 people had been injured and 40 arrests were made. Police blamed Edwards for starting the riot, and Edwards was later convicted and imprisoned for two years with hard labour. 

The 1932 Queen Street riot was the subject of a 2009 TV drama by Ian Mune, titled 'Life's a Riot', but it's not available via NZOnScreen. Queen Street was also the site of a riot in December 1984, when a police attempted to close down a free Dave Dobbyn concert in Aotea Square.

See also:
Blog: The Wintergarden, 26 April 2014

20 July 2014

A week in Dalmatia: 1. Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik from the Lovrjenac Fortress
A few weeks ago in June I was lucky enough to spent a week travelling in Croatia on an Intrepid tour with entertaining, like-minded travellers seeking a bit of adventure on the Dalmatian coast. I decided to arrive a day before the tour started to explore solo and get my bearings. So the trip commenced with the obligatory pre-dawn start at my friends' place in London and a walk along near-deserted streets to Purley station for the 5.45am train to Gatwick and the 7.50am Easyjet flight to Dubrovnik.

Gatwick was the usual hubbub of travelling families, hen parties and (most avoidable) stag party crews, and the full flight to Croatia was distinguished by the extra-loud babbling of a dozen or two excitable English folk. It was the first time I've seen passengers stand in the aisle for almost the entire flight, so they could carry on their vital, and rather exuberant, conversations. Naturally, the correct behaviour for air travellers is to sit in their seats, unspeaking and unmoving, for the entire duration of the flight. Also: absolutely no eye contact.

After flying over the Alps and along the eastern coast of the Adriatic the A320 turned to land at the far southern tip of Croatia. The airport coach (35HRK, NZ$7) sweeps along the great cliffs above the famous walled city, affording passengers (particularly those sitting on the left side) a splendid view of the walled city of Dubrovnik glistening by the sea. Alighting at the city's Pile Gate in its western walls, I walked 1.5km up the long, sweeping main road to the city's YHA, where I was spending the night. If you're planning the same walk, be sure to have drinking water with you, as I did - or if you're feeling lazy, just take the bus up the hill.

After dropping my bag in my room and admiring the view from the top floor sun terrace, I ambled back down to the old town for a first look inside the city walls. Passing through the mighty Pile Gate and a narrow second gate into the city itself, the view immediately opens out into a splendid vista with the arrow-straight pedestrian boulevard of the Stradun dividing the city in two - formerly a Venetian-style canal, it's now paved in smooth stone burnished by centuries of foot traffic. To the right of the Stradun is the venerable dome of the Onofrio fountain, built in 1438 but damaged in a 1667 earthquake and during the conflict in the early 1990s. At the end of the Placa is Luza Square, which is graced by the elegant facade of the Sponza Palace, St Blaise's Church, and a statue of knight of legend, Roland (who was also renowned for his proficiency in making excellent synthesiser keyboards). Behind the Rector's Palace, from whence the city was governed, lies the Dominican Monastery and the beautiful marina, which now bustles with tour parties and waiters serving the many shaded cafes. Venturing into the twisting alleys of the city's southern half is an exercise in exploration, with narrow passages between dwellings and an enjoyable sense that you might emerge in a completely different part of the city without even trying.
Dubrovnik's Pile Gate
The Stradun
Dubrovnik Marina

Following a night at the hostel I spent much of my first full day in Dubrovnik exploring the nearby island of Lokrum, a wooded retreat threaded with rocky paths a short distance from the town. The ferry departs from the marina and drops you at the island in around ten minutes, and if it's summertime you may well get a close up view of a superliner parked in the bay. (We passed the Italian vessel Costa Magica, the sister ship of the sunken Costa Concordia). Lokrum itself is a pleasant antidote to the crowds of Dubrovnik, with a cafe and small rocky beaches to enjoy if you want to relax, but also a swathe of trails to explore. This is a particularly good idea on a hot day, because there's plenty of shade to shelter under while you explore rocky cliffs and admire the coastal views. There's also a fine vista from the little fort at the summit of the island. The locals claim that King Richard I of England was billeted on the island when he returned from the Crusade - perhaps at an earlier iteration of the monastery that still occupies prime territory on the ocean side of the island. Perhaps there's a grain of truth to the story, but most histories seem to follow the narrative that Richard went from Corfu to Sicily and then landed or was shipwrecked at Aquileia in the far north of what  is now Croatia, before heading north to his eventual capture by Leopold, Duke of Austria, near Vienna in December 1192. If Richard was to visit the island nowadays he'd be impressed by the cool, fresh air, but perhaps not by the beach resort that blasts enormously loud pop music across a third of the island.

Back in Dubrovnik I paused for an hour or so taking in the must-see exhibitions at the War Photo Limited gallery, down a narrow side-alley from the Stradun. Designed to highlight imagery from the Yugoslav conflict in the 1990s, the gallery now also hosts a variety of challenging photography from contemporary war zones. When I visited the theme was the ongoing Syrian civil war. It was particularly poignant for me to see many of the sites I so enjoyed visiting in 2008 now ruined, and the citizens afflicted by so much danger and hardship. Many of the photos were of a challenging nature, but the exhibition provided a glimpse into the harsh reality of life and death in modern Syria.

After a day exploring I retreated to Lapad Bay in Dubrovnik to meet up with my Intrepid tour party at the Hotel Adriatic. The nine others on the tour turned out to be a fun bunch of like-minded travellers from Australia, the US, Canada and England, and Croatian tour leader Dinko proved to be a genial and knowledgeable host. We commenced proceedings with a relaxed roof-terrace restaurant dinner and planned the day ahead. The next morning, we commenced with a walk around the Dubrovnik city walls, which are astonishingly well-preserved and which offer magnificent views across the red tiled roofs of the city. Some of the tiles are venerable, but most of which are only two decades old, having been shattered during the Yugoslav siege in the 1990s. The walls provide an ideal vantage for visitors to appreciate Dubrovnik's dense-packed medieval layout and to admire its architecture from all sides.

Dubrovnik city wall view
Following the wall walk, we split up to pursue our own interests in the rising Adriatic heat. I paused for a visit to the city Maritime Museum, located inside one of the towers in the thick city walls. While the ancient and medieval history sections were of some interest, displaying the rich nautical heritage of the area, the upstairs gallery concentrating on portraits of ship owners and glass-cased steamer models was a little staid. My next stop was the Lovrjenac Fortress on the city's western edge, which provides superb views over the city after a strenuous but fortunately short climb up to its highest point. And finally I explored the 15th century Rector's Palace in the middle of Dubrovnik, which was the base for the city's appointed governor for nearly four centuries. The gilded interior boasts luxurious gilded fittings befitting the grandeur of a wealthy trading city, and provides pride of place to the ornately decorated sedan chairs the Rector used to move about the city.

Rector's Palace
Later that evening before dusk I took a walk in the hills behind Lapad Bay, admiring the coastal views and from the high vantage. On the trail I was caught by a beautiful Dubrovnik sunshower that erupted from the skies like an enormous spigot had been turned. I sheltered under a tree for the duration and enjoyed the refreshing cool breeze. Once it abated, I wound up the evening soaking up a stunning crimson sunset over the bay, before heading back to the hotel to prepare for our final morning in Dubrovnik.

Lapad Bay sunset
Following breakfast we gathered for an expedition to the summit of Fort Imperial, the Napoleonic-era fortress that overlooks Dubrovnik from a 405m ridgeline just behind the city. Visitors craving a relaxed journey can use the cable car to reach the top, but if you're feeling energetic the zig-zagging pilgrim's trail to the top is a rewarding climb. At the fortress there's a museum of the siege of Dubrovnik of 1991-92 which cost around 350 lives including around 85 Croatian civilians; the fortress was successfully held by the city's defenders despite being the target of Yugoslav Army artillery bombardment and airstrikes. Visitors can easily imagine how important the fortress was to the psychology of the defenders: from it, the entire region is visible, and if the Yugoslav army had taken it from the defenders, Dubrovnik's resistance and morale would have suffered greatly. During the siege, all supplies had to be lugged by hand up the path we walked up, including all food and ammunition. Given that my knees are still aching from the walk, that's no mean feat.

Dubrovnik from Fort Imperial
Following the fortress walk our tour party returned on the number 4 bus to the Hotel Adriatic to gather our bags and board a minibus for the next stage of our journey - on to the beautiful Adriatic isle of Korčula!

18 July 2014


David Holmes' score for Steven Soderbergh's 2011 action thriller Haywire successfully evokes the measured cool of 60s and 70s action films, blended with a dash of European electronic sophistication. In particular, the blaring horn stabs, metronomic keys and building percussion of the main theme (heard from 0:40 in the clip below) are an ideal foil to the frantic onscreen action, which is pleasingly relentless as the unstoppable Gina Carano thrashes all comers in the lead role of Mallory Kane. The clip below is illustrated with some artful timelapse photography of nocturnal Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that aren't connected with the film. For a glimpse of that you should check out the trailer.

17 July 2014

75 years on - Paddy the Wanderer

A bit of capital city local history: today is the 75th anniversary of the death of a true Wellington identity – Paddy the Wanderer, a much-loved and well-travelled red Irish terrier and resident of Queen's Wharf who died on this day in 1939. Famously, the dog - who held the semi-official position of the wharf's Assistant Watchman - was held in such respect that a funeral cortege of 12 taxis led by a traffic officer on foot escorted his coffin. One of his best friends on the wharves was quoted as saying “I’d give a month’s pay to have Paddy back. I’ve had dogs but never one with the brains that Paddy had”.

In the Evening Post of 17 July 1939 – just seven weeks before the declaration of war - an article discussed his busy life and the affection in which he was held:

This red Irish terrier had thousands of friends among seamen, waterside workers, and taxi-men, and the funeral was no mock affair but a touching tribute to a good comrade [...] Ever since people can remember him the wanderlust was strong in Paddy. By air, land and sea, in the past ten or twelve years, he travelled all around the New Zealand coast and to many inland towns, and even further afield. He was one stowaway who was greeted cheerfully whenever he came aboard. He always came back to Wellington as his headquarters.
- 'Wanderer at rest', Evening Post, 17 July 1939

The same newspaper the following day carried the following additional information:

This morning a telephone communication was received from Mrs R. Gardiner, of Newman Terrace, who said that Paddy began his life in Wellington at her home, which was formerly in Adams Terrace. "He was given to my little daughter by Mr P.B. Mason, the horse trainer, of Christchurch," said Mrs Gardiner. "My daughter died eleven years ago and Paddy ran away".
- 'Paddy the Wanderer', Evening Post, 18 July 1939
I've searched the Christchurch phone directory for 1922 and newspaper articles from 1925 to 1928 for glimpses of Mr Mason, but there are no references to a Mason of those initials. (R.J. Mason was a very well-known trainer of the time, however). 

Paddy’s memorial, built of stones from the bomb-damaged Waterloo Bridge and including drinking bowls for fellow dogs, can still be seen near the gates to Queen’s Wharf, and a statue of him can be found inside the Museum of City & Sea, in the building opposite. 

See also:
History120 years on - Women's suffrage in NZ, 19 September 2013

15 July 2014

Carving a crimson career

We, the undersigned, are men without a country - outlaws in our own land and homeless outcasts in any other. Desperate men, we go to seek a desperate fortune. Therefore we do here and now band ourselves into a brotherhood of buccaneers, to practice the trade of piracy on the high seas. We, the hunted, will now hunt! Therefore to that end we enter into the following articles of agreement. First, we pledge ourselves to be bound together as brothers in a life and death friendship, sharing alike in fortune and in trouble. Second article, all moneys and valuables which may come into our possession shall be lumped together into a common fund, and from this fund shall first be taken the money to fit, rig and provision the ship. After that, the recompense each shall receive who is wounded is as follows: for the loss of a right arm, six hundred pieces of eight. Left arm, five hundred. For the loss of a right leg, five hundred. Left leg, four hundred. 

(Pirate 1 interjects: A feller can get rich if 'e's lucky! Pirate 2: Greedy, greedy!) 

If a man conceal any treasure captured or fails to place it in the general fund he shall be marooned, set ashore on a deserted isle and there left with a bottle of water, a loaf of bread, and a pistol with one load. If a man shall be drunk on duty, he shall receive the same fate. And of a man shall molest a woman captive against her will, he too shall receive the same punishment. These articles entered into this twentieth day of June in the year sixteen hundred and eighty-seven.

- Captain Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) dictates his Articles of Piracy, in Captain Blood, 1935

See also:
Books: Rafael Sabatini, Captain Blood (1922)

14 July 2014

Lola & Estère

Wellington singer Estère performs her track Patchwork Soldier in a live session at the Aston Road studio, accompanied by her MPC, Lola. (In the spirit of Echo & the Bunnymen, I've put the name of the electronic gizmo first). I first saw Estère perform live supporting KT Tunstall back in May, and was very impressed with her song-writing and stage presence. Check out the free download of her mini-album at the Bandcamp link above.

11 July 2014

It's been a non-stop party since I flew the coop

A hilariously bitter and disingenuous break-up duet in which each singer competes to be the most blasé about a relationship's end, Ciao! appeared on Lovelife, the third album by London indie shoegazing band Lush in 1996. Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker appears as the male duettist and applies his typically droll performance to proceedings, but the song was written by Lush vocalist Miki Berenyi. Lush had four UK top 40 hits - one with an EP in 1992, and then three 1996 singles from Lovelife: Single Girl, Ladykillers and 500 (Shake Baby Shake), which all just missed entering the top 20. The clip below is audio only, as no video was made for this album track.
But now the scales have fallen I can really see
And I say go to hell, 'cause that's where you took me...

See also:
Music: Jarvis Cocker, 28 November 2008
Music: Jarvis on The John Lennon Letters, 13 October 2012
Music: Kenickie - Run Me Over (1998)

10 July 2014

Fresh Meat

On my recent visit to England my sister introduced me to the excellent Channel 4 sitcom Fresh Meat, which started in 2011 and follows the lives of six undergraduate students flatting together while they pursue their university studies in Manchester. It's by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the creators of the long-running and much-loved sitcom Peep Show, and features a talented collection of young actors, many of whom are experienced performers. The material is genuinely funny, harking back to the heyday of The Young Ones, but the acting ability of the cast is also a huge asset, because it's always challenging to play comedic scenes to full effect. There are six core cast members in the first series:

Kingsley (Joe Thomas, The Inbetweeners): Perhaps the most 'normal' housemate, apart from the lamentable soul patch. Is hopelessly in love with flatmate Josie but appears powerless to break up with his actual girlfriend, Josie's mate Heather.

Josie (Kimberley Nixon, Cranford, Easy Virtue): Welsh dentistry student who appears hopelessly in love with housemate Kingsley but who repeatedly fails to break up with her boyfriend / fiance back in Cardiff. He's a heating engineer, you know. Josie has a bit of a rough time in series 2, what with the whole leaving the keys in the door and getting the house burgled.

J.P. (Jack Whitehall, Bad Education): Somewhat posh comedian Whitehall plays the out-and-out toff J.P., an outrageously self-entitled big-head with major bedroom ambitions that unsurprisingly prove fruitless. Usually. An expert on life in the regions.

Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie): Reinventing herself at university, Oregon fancies herself the worldly-wise campus sophisticate, which works out fine as long as the housemates don't discover the car her mum and dad bought her, that her real name isn't Oregon, or the fact that she's shagging her English professor.

Howard (Greg McHugh, Gary: Tank Commander): Socially maladroit Scottish geology student Howard is a bit older than the others, but absolutely no wiser. Is always irked when people assume he knows Tolkien back to front. Famed for his legendarily poor dress sense.

Vod (Zawe Ashton, Case Histories): The most streetwise and savvy housemate, Vod (a.k.a. Violet) is the type of cool that Oregon has always wanted to be. She takes loads of drugs, drinks and swears like a navvy, and pays little attention in class. The drug intake becomes a bit of a problem when Vod has to take a urine test to preserve her lifeline, the RAF Bursary; she has to borrow some of Josie's supposedly drug-free wee, which leads to the following scene in the testing clinic - one of my favourites from series 2:

Vod's test results

Vod (Zawe Ashton) at the clinic

VOD: (Enters) Er, Violet Nordstrom, here for my test results.

NURSE: There you go.

VOD: (Reads) Hang on, what's this?

NURSE: It's beta blockers.

VOD: Beta blockers? And I'm on them for...?

NURSE: Stress, and anxiety.

VOD: Oh yeah, I forgot I was on those. Obviously work then!  Heh. If I was to stop taking them, which I can do very very easily, can I do a quick re-test?

NURSE: The results have already been sent off I'm afraid - to the RAF, is it?

VOD: Oh come on, you can't do that! What about patient confidentiality? 

NURSE: Drugs tests can't be completely confidential. Somebody's got to see the results, otherwise there'd be no point doing them.

VOD: Ohh, they're gonna take my money away... (Angry) What am I gonna do without my money - sell my fuckin' kidneys?  You'd like that wouldn't you?!

NURSE: I don't think those beta blockers are working for you.

VOD: I'm not taking the beta blockers! It's not my urine; I couldn't give you my urine because I smoke absolutely tons of weed. 

NURSE: (Writes on Vod's file)

VOD: Don't write that down, it's confidential! I know I shouted it, but I shouted it in confidence!

08 July 2014

'Well what did you expect in an opera, a happy ending?'

The past two Mondays at Film Society have been taken up with a two-part screening of Fritz Lang's five-hour Wagnerian epic from 1924, Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge. Siegfried in particular is a classic of silent cinema, with its hugely impressive special effects including a real live dragon for the titular hero to vanquish (let's just say it doesn't stay alive very long). The story itself was popularised in modern times by Wagner's mammoth opera cycle, the third of the four instalments in Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), and depicts the life and death of Germany's national hero Siegfried - who was in turn based on the Norse legendary dragon-slaying hero Sigurd.

Lang dedicated his two mythic films to the German people, attempting to revive the battered national spirit following the struggle of the post World War I years in which Germany was forced to make large reparations to its foes for its wartime aggression. In a 1974 interview Lang argued that in making Siegfried and its companion film he was attempting to recapture some of Germany's lost optimism:

In 1974, in an interview with Focus on Film, Lang said: “I would like to make a remark about [From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film]. In my opinion this book is wrong about a lot of things and it has done a lot of damage, I feel, particularly among young people. When I made my films I always followed my imagination. By making ‘Die Nibelungen’ I wanted to show that Germany was searching for an ideal in her past, even during the horrible time after World War I in which the film was made. At that time in Berlin I remember seeing a poster on the street, which pictured a woman dancing with a skeleton. The caption read: ‘Berlin, you are dancing with Death.’ To counteract this pessimistic spirit I wanted to film the epic legend of Siegfried so that Germany could draw inspiration from her past, and not, as Mr Kracauer suggests, as a looking forward to the rise of a political figure like Hitler or some such stupid thing as that.” 
Robert A Armour made an interesting distinction in his book Fritz Lang when he noted, “Kracauer believes that the climate that produced Lang’s version of German myth in 1924 was the same climate that produced the Nazi movement soon afterwards. Perhaps, but the Nazis tended to use only the part of history they found to work to their advantage. [. . .] Both Lang and the Nazis were shaping the myth to their own versions, but the visions were different and so were the purposes.”

However impressive Lang's cinematic feat remains - and it is a stunning work of film-making - some folk will always want a condensed version. So instead of the 286 minute silent picture treatment, here's a 403-second taster to give you a feel for the epic proceedings: Chuck Jones' 1957 Bugs Bunny short, What's Opera, Doc? It's actually rather more focused on the plotline of another Nibelungen opera, Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), but I expect if you're clicking on a Bugs Bunny link you're probably not that fussy. 'Oh Bunhilda, you're so wovely!'

05 July 2014

Rising to the surface of a holy island

Cook Strait, uncharacteristically peaceful on a warm winter's day, as viewed from the south-west corner of Island Bay, around lunchtime today. (Steak and cheese pie from the Blue Belle Cafe, thanks for asking). Legend has it that the first Maori waka to arrive in this bay landed on the island deftly and was assisted to a safe mooring by a fortunate swell, so the island was given the name Motutapuaranga - which is something like 'rising to the surface of a holy island' if I'm translating it correctly. The canoe later went on to settle Whakatane. The Maori name for the Island Bay valley is Paekawakawa.


(Ex-) HMNZS Wakakura, Queen's Wharf, Wellington, 5 July 2014
An HDR shot of the former HMNZS Wakakura, a Moa-class patrol boat that served in the Royal New Zealand Navy from 1985 until its decommissioning in 2007, and now resting at Queen's Wharf in Wellington. (Click to enlarge)

See also:
Blog: RNZN 70th anniversary, 2 October 2011
Blog: HMNZS Taupo, 15 November 2009
Blog: Nauticalia in Portsmouth, 12 April 2007

04 July 2014

Boys and girls don't understand the Devil makes work for idle hands

The Godfathers, a London pub rawk / alternative band formed in 1985, perform their best-known song, the excellently-named 'Birth, School, Work, Death', at the Town & Country in 1988. On the back of the track's not one but two riffological guitar solos the single went top 40 in the US in that year, on the slightly worryingly titled Mainstream Rock chart. However, the Godfathers did not achieve a top 40 hit in their home country, or in New Zealand for that matter. Maybe it was the suits? But those solos, they're still the ticket.

The Town & Country in Kentish Town is now known as the Forum. Next week it will be hosting the kawaii overload of Japanese girl-pop-metal trio Babymetal (another excellent name!) and two nights of the briefly famous Boston group Extreme (of More Than Words notoriety) playing their 1990 album Pornograffitti. You should definitely examine the Babymetal concert video Gimme Choco in the link above - it's metaltastic, in a wonderfully saccharine highly choreographed J-pop kind of way. If that makes any sense.  

See also:
Music: David Bowie - TVC15, 21 May 2014
Music: Blake Babies - Out There, 16 May 2014
Music: Red Guitars - Good Technology, 5 October 2013

01 July 2014

Looking forward to the Film Festival

This morning tickets for the 2014 NZ International Film Festival finally went on sale, thereby setting the scene for the highlight of the winter months in New Zealand. And if I'm being honest, it's probably the highlight of the whole year for me. I don't go wild seeing dozens of films, but I know that whatever I do see at the festival is likely to feature in my annual best-of lists - because while there are some quality offerings in cinemas throughout the rest of the year, it's always the Film Festival that digs up some of the best cinema experiences, and some of the work that doesn't make it to regular cinema screenings.

This year I'm seeing 16 films - unless, that is, I fill up some of the gaps in the calendar with a few extras. That's two more than last year. And I'm pretty satisfied with what's on offer in this year's festival. On initial viewing online the list of titles didn't seem particularly enthralling, but it's really the festival guide itself that sells the films. Clearly we festival fans are a sucker for a well-honed Manohla Darghis or Mark Kermode quote or a deft endorsement from Jo Randerson.

Anyway, here's my running list in chronological order. The one I'm most excited about is Florian Habicht's Pulp documentary - can't wait! And the director will be there at the Embassy to speak before the screening, which could be entertaining.

The Skeleton Twins (dir. Craig Johnson, USA, 2014, feat. Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson)

The Noble Family (dir. Gary Alazraki, Mexico, 2013, feat. Gonzalo Vega, Karla Souza, Luis Gerardo Mendez)
Nosotros los Nobles

Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets (dir. Florian Habicht, UK, 2014, feat. Jarvis Cocker)

Jimmy's Hall (dir. Ken Loach, UK/Ireland/France, 2014, feat. Barry Ward, Simone Kirby)

Diplomacy (dir. Volker Schlondorff, France/Germany, 2014, feat. Niels Arestrup, Andre Dussollier)

The Double (dir. Richard Ayoade, UK, 2013, feat. Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska)

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (dir. Dayne Goldfine & Dan Geller, USA, 2013)

Frank (dir. Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland/UK, 2014, feat. Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender)

The Salt of the Earth (dir. Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, France/Italy, 2014)
Le sel de la terre

Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater, USA, 2014, feat. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane)

The Lady from Shanghai (dir. Orson Welles, USA, 1947, feat. Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth)

Snowpiercer (dir. Bong Joon-ho, South Korea/USA/France, 2013, feat. Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris)

National Gallery (dir.Frederick Wiseman, USA/France, 2014)

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet 3D (dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, France/Canada, 2013, feat. Helena Bonham Carter)
L’extravagant voyage du jeune et prodigieux T.S. Spivet

Show People (dir. King Vidor, USA, 1928, feat. Marion Davies)

Wild Tales (dir. Damian Szifron, Argentina/Spain, 2014)
Relatos salvajes