30 January 2015

Gonna recommend you to the spirit in the sky

At work earlier this week we were discussing the effect of songs that take the listener by surprise by injecting a dose of religion when you least expect it. Normally, that's a signal to run a mile - there's nothing like a dose of God fervour to kill the mood when it comes to pop music. But that got me thinking about a few of my favourite artists, both of whom have worked extensively in Christian song-writing, yet whose work remains interesting and appealing even to those without the requisite faith.

First up, there's Al Green, or to give him his full title, the Reverend Al Green. The legendary soul performer, famed for his secular love songs like Let's Stay Together and I'm Still in Love With You, makes no secret of his religious calling, yet on a track as compellingly exuberant and sprightly as All 'n' All he can make a love-song addressed to Jesus seem to a hardened cynic like the most perfectly natural thing in the world. There's no cloaking the message either, pretending that he's singing about a woman when in fact it's actually the aforementioned deity; no, Green is perfectly up-front when he sings 'Jesus is my all, he's my all in all, people hear my call, never ever let me fall' around the taut brass and sparse handclaps, and it's a special musical moment. Of course it helps that Green has one of the most remarkable soul voices in existence (witness 3:01, 3:12 and 3:29 in the clip below) and is backed by a splendid band and vocalists. Rolling Stone's Greil Marcus was, naturally, charmed, writing of the song, 'All 'n' All is the number that not even a reprobate could deny ... it carries a sense of liberation and purpose deep enough to make the sinner envy the saved'.
All 'n' All is from Green's 1977 release The Belle Album, and I first heard it on a Under The Influence compilation by soul aficionado Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South, which is a marvellous listen from end to end.

Another artist whose relationship with God is a great deal more complex and who is gifted with a nimble command of the songwriter's art is Sam Phillips, who in her earlier years was an '80s Christian recording artist performing under her given name, Leslie Phillips. Tired of the conservative ethos of the Christian music industry, she changed her name and honed her skill at writing the sort of intelligent, angular art-pop that is right up my alley - fantastically imaginative and inventive lyrics, an obvious deep love of the Beatles, and with an intense, precise voice. Moving to Virgin Records and pairing up with producer T-Bone Burnett, to whom she was married for a time, Phillips produced albums to be treasured through the '90s, including the Grammy-nominated Martinis & Bikinis (1994), and my personal favourite, the brisk, invigorating Cruel Inventions (1991). In the 2000s she went on to record for Nonesuch and also writing music for and scoring the TV shows 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Bunheads'. Here she is talking to the LA Times about the state of the music business for artists like her, back in 2010, and below is a four-song performance of an NPR Tiny Desk Concert from 2008, the songs all extracted from her album of that year, Don't Do Anything (tracks performed: Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us, No Explanations, Signal, Little Plastic Life):

And finally, who can fail to be impressed by the gospel virtuosity of the Swan Silvertones performing Amazing Grace? This version is rather crackly, but the sumptuous acapella magic is still plain to hear. The group got its name from their sponsor, Swan Bakeries.

26 January 2015

The arrival of an English mail is an event of lively, never-failing interest

Auckland in 1853, via NZHistory
Author William Swainson, writing in 1853, describes how the young colonial city of Auckland is gripped with excitement at the prospect of news, letters and parcels from England, and how frustrating it is when that mail was delayed by bureaucratic tomfoolery in England:

[T]he arrival of an English mail is an event of lively, never-failing interest. Let those who are accustomed to penny-postage and hourly deliveries, imagine, if they can, the non-delivery of letters for a period of three weeks; they may then form some idea of the eagerness with which letters from England are received by the dwellers in this distant quarter of the world. 
To receive English letters on an average about once only in three weeks - letters which, under the most favourable circumstances, are at least four months old - is generally complained of as one of the most serious drawbacks to a residence at so great a distance from home. Bad as it is, however, the evil would be tolerable compared with the aggravation of it, to which the public here are subjected in consequence of the ignorance of the Post Office authorities in England of the topography of New Zealand, and of the unfrequent and irregular means of intercommunication between its several settlements. Instead of sending all Auckland letters either by vessels direct to this port or by way of Sydney, mails for Auckland are not unfrequently despatched by vessels bound for Canterbury, or Nelson, or Wellington; the consequence is that letters and newspapers frequently arrive here six, seven, eight, and nine months old: in the mean while, later dates have been received direct, and the newspapers, when they do arrive, are put aside unread, having become but records of old news; and private letters are deprived of nearly all their interest. Upon inquiry into the cause of the delay, it is found that the letters in question were sent by a ship bound for Canterbury; that they remained in the Post Office there for a fortnight, waiting for the next opportunity to be forwarded; they were then despatched in about ten days by the overland mail; and that, after an overland journey of about a month, they reached Auckland six or eight months after date. 
- William Swainson, Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand, London, 1853, p.75-6.

The 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand notes that at least for Aucklanders, some of the above frustrations were alleviated in the year following the publication of Swainson's book, when in 1854 the provincial government established a monthly steamer service to Sydney. The William Denny exchanged mails there with ships on the Sydney to London run, thereby speeding the mail to Auckland, if not to the other New Zealand ports. The terms of the William Denny contract were not cheap: the province had to agree to an annual subsidy of more than £5000, according to the Daily Southern Cross of 28 July 1854. But luckily when making the decision 'very few explanations were required - the general feeling being to get steam communication established at almost any cost'. (As it happens, the William Denny didn't last too long on the route; on 3 March 1857 under the command of Captain Robert Taylor it went ashore near North Cape and became a total loss apart from the crew and cargo).

Swainson's book, which was published anonymously at the time due to his position as Attorney-General of the new colony, was the subject of a small advertisement in the publishing section of The Times in November 1853, between advertisements for Table-Turning Not Diabolical (subtitled 'A tract for the times') and Clouded Happiness, a novel by the Countess D'Orsay (nee Harriet Anne Gardiner):


The GOLD DISTRICT in NEW ZEALAND - Now ready in post 8vo [octivo], price 6s, cloth

AUCKLAND, the Capital of New Zealand, and the Country adjacent. With a View and Coloured Map. London, Smith, Elder, and Co., 63 Cornhill.  

- The Times, 3 November 1853, p.11.


Smith, Elder & Co. were most notably the publishers of Jane Eyre (1847) and the Cornhill Magazine (1860-1975). My undated soft-cover facsimile reprint of Swainson's book by Wilson & Horton lacks the View and Coloured Map, sadly!

See also:
HistoryCount themselves richer for the playground, 26 April 2014
History: McLachlan's gift, 28 March 2010
History: From sea to shining sea, 20 July 2009

25 January 2015

Frank Kitts Shark

Sighted along the promenade at Frank Kitts Park this afternoon at 2.10pm, this cruising shark was longer than a metre - perhaps 120cm? I've seen plenty of stingrays loitering around the lagoon, including a couple this afternoon, but never a shark. A little boy next to me shouted 'Mum, a shark! I could kill it!' Huh. I thought young people were all supposed to be environmentalists these days? I blame Far Cry.

Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow

Hugh Dennis: Earlier this week the media reported an apparent victory for the power of protest, when it was widely headlined that the Sun had dropped Page 3 and moved it behind an online-only paywall. A shrewd move, given how notoriously difficult it is to find pictures of topless women anywhere on the internet.

Steve Punt: Yes. But it turned out, confusingly, that nobody had bothered to check this with the Sun, and that it wasn't actually true.

Dennis: In fact, the whole 'breasts in public' thing is confusing. So to help you out, it's time to play the 'hilarious' panel game we like to call 'Have I Got Boobs For You!'

[Theme music]

Punt: Let's get straight onto the round we like to call 'Good Boobs, Bad Boobs'. Now we need our teams to tell us when the breasts are acceptable and when they're not. We'll start with: at a service in the Vatican?

Contestant: Good boobs.

Punt: Is quite correct, yes. Pope Benedict says it's fine to breast-feed in church. What about in Claridge's Hotel?

Contestant: Bad boobs.

Punt: That's right, put 'em away. Next, on Silent Witness, Ripper Street or True Detective?

Contestant: Is it 'good boobs'?

Punt: Yes! Autopsy boobs, always artistically justified. Next: on Game of Thrones? Yes, man at the back with a box set?

Contestant [in a sinister fashion]: Ooh, that'll be good boobs.

Punt: Yes, Sky Atlantic or BBC4 boobs, always acceptable. Next up though: in American films?

Contestant: Bad boobs.

Punt: Exploitative and unnecessary. How about in French films?

Contestant: Good boobs.

Punt: Le boob tres bon! Yes of course, middle class arty boobs, positively healthy. Next, in Nuts magazine?

Contestant: Bad boobs.

Punt: Obviously. In any pre-Raphaelite painting?

Contestant: That is good boobs.

Punt: Of course, pre-20th century boobs always acceptable!

- The Now Show, BBC Radio 4, 23 January 2015.

See also:
Comedy: Somewhat proud to be British, 24 April 2014
Comedy: Breaking the glass ceiling, 13 April 2014
ComedyMock the Week, 20 February 2010

22 January 2015

Wellington Anniversary Day 1850

Image via NZETC

The city of Wellington turns 175 today. On this day in 1840, the New Zealand Company-hired ship Aurora arrived with the first batch of settlers from England. Things didn't get off to a good start (which wasn't unusual for the Company's plans). The official survey party hadn't had time to complete its examination of the proposed site, and soon enough a flood drenched the chosen site at Pito-one (Petone). But at least by the year 1850 the city of Wellington was well established and celebrated its anniversary as we still do to this day.

By that year the population of Wellington was a respectable 5479, compared to the capital city Auckland's 8301. The colonists celebrated the 10th anniversary of Wellington with an impressive anniversary fete full of sporting endeavour. Below is the advertised programme for the two-day fete, as published in the pro-Company newspaper, the New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. The original spelling and a few typesetting errors have been retained.



Under the Patronage of His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor.

The usual sports hitherto celebrated on the Anniversary of this Settlement will take place on


On the 22nd and 23rd days of January, Instant.

The Committee appointed to carry out the Sports beg to assure the Public that arrangements have been made for celebrating

The Tenth Anniversary

with the usual honours.


First Day.

Aquatic sports.


For decked boats. To start at 10 o'clock. Post Entrance - 20s. Prize, £15. Entrances added. Three to start or no race. The second boat to save its stakes.


Three to start or no race. Prize £10. Entrances added. Post entrance - 10s. The second boat to save its stakes.


For Five Oared Whaleboats, and any other boats not being whaleboats, without limit as to number of oars. Entrance - 10s. Prize £10. Entrances added. Three to start or no race.

Committee - Capt. Sharp, Capt. Rhodes, Mr. Carkeek, Mr. Cemino, Mr. G. Young.

Entrances to be made at Capt. Rhodes' on or before TUESDAY, the 22nd instant, at 9 o'clock, a.m.

Horse Races.


Prize £4. Entrances added. Post Entrance - 10s. 6d. Three to start or no race. Horses to be brought to the course harnessed to carts. Heats. To start at 2 o'clock, precisely.


For untrained Horses, and Horses not entered for Races elsewhere. Prize £4. Entrances added. Post Entrance - 10s. 6d. Heats. Three to start or no race.

Committee - Mr. St. Hill, Mr. Thelwall, Mr. G. Hunter, Mr. J. Wade, Mr. G. Moore, Mr. Tankersley, Mr. Murch.

Rural Sports.


First prize £1. Second prize 10s. Committee - Mr. E. Roe, Mr. Marriott, Mr. Davis.


Prize 15s. Committee - Mr. J. Dean, Mr. Piper, Mr. Docking.


Committee - Major Baker, Mr. Docking, Mr. H. Allen.


Prize £2. Committee - Mr. Crowther, Mr. E. Catchpool, Mr. Davis.


Prize £1. Committee - Mr J. M'Beth, Mr. Dean, Mr. Roe.


Prize 10s. Committee - Mr. Marriott, Mr. Heese, Mr. Davis.


Prize £2. Entrance 5s. Committee - Major Baker, Mr. Marriott.


Second Day.


Prize £5. To start at 11 o'clock. Entrances to be made at Capt. Rhodes' on the 23rd inst., before 10 o'clock, a.m.


Heats. Prize £2. Entrances added. Entrance 5s. Committee - Mr. J. Wade, Mr. Crowther, Major Baker.


Prize £5. Committee - Mr. Marriott, Mr. Davis.


Prize £1. Committee - Mr. Docking, Mr. Heese, Mr. Catchpool.


Prize 10s. Committee - Mr. Roe, Mr. Davis.


Prize 10s. Committee - Mr. Marriott, Mr. Docking.


First prize £1. Second prize 10s. Committee as on first day.


Prize 15s. Committee as on first day.

Each day's entertainment to conclude with a display of FIREWORKS, under the superintendence of Mr. Heese.


A meeting of the General Committee will take place at Mr. Allen's Commercial Rooms, on Monday next, the 21st inst., at 4 o'clock, to make final arrangements in connexion with the above mentioned Sports.

The attendance of Members is particularly requested.

By order of the General Committee,


Wellington, January 19, 1850.

- Quoted from The New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian, Saturday 19 January 1850


A few notes on the events described above. It's interesting to note the hierarchy of prizes awarded in the competitions, which denote the relative importance of each event for the colonists. Clearly nautical pursuits were paramount, while fairground-style novelties attracted much smaller winnings. There is almost nothing referencing the local Maori population, aside from the 'war dance' event and a mention in different newspaper of Maori (running and horse-back?) races.

There are also some now-obscure events that might require explanation. A 'Gingling Match' is better known as a Jingling Match, whereby blindfolded participants chase a runner whose clothes are festooned with jingling bells. (Here English comedian Alex Horne demonstrates the game in a clip from 2010). 'Soaped neck geese' may refer to the barbarous and now strictly verboten activity known as Goose Pulling, but may also refer to a somewhat more innocent game of chasing free-running goose targets, like this report of chasing a soaped-tailed pig in Taranaki in the same year. (Well, at least I hope it does). And 'Grinning Through Horses' Collars' is the age-old face-pulling tradition of Gurning, in which the greatest advantage often lies with competitors who have lost all their teeth.

See also:
History: Anniversary Day report, Wellington Independent, 26 January 1850
History: Shipping in Wellington, 1850-70, 12 June 2009
History: Pencarrow lighthouse, 20 January 2014

20 January 2015

Chaffers Marina

Chaffers Marina from Clyde Quay Wharf, 19 January 2015

19 January 2015

'81 Springbok tour paraphernalia

From the collections of the Waikato Museum in Hamilton, which I visited on 31 December 2014, a collection of anti-Springbok tour posters and badges. For more background, see NZHistory on the events in the winter of 1981 in which 'more than 150,000 people took part in over 200 demonstrations in 28 centres, and 1500 were charged with offences stemming from these protests'. I was only eight at the time, and my only memory of the tour protests was sitting up in One Tree Hill watching the stolen plane flour-bombing Eden Park during the final test of the tour (12 September 1981).

16 January 2015

I live a life of danger for the FBI

Originally recorded by Johnny Rivers in 1966 as the US theme for a British TV series featuring Patrick McGoohan, Devo's version from 1974 was filmed for this clip in May 1976. It formed part of the Devo film The Truth About De-Evolution, which was in effect the band's first music video. The Rivers version is fun too, albeit rather more straightforward.

15 January 2015

What about my crazy surgical options, Dr Spaceman?

TV star Jenna Maroney seeks medical advice from "Doctor" Leo Spaceman (pronounced 'Spachemin') to combat her new-found obesity:

Spaceman (Chris Parnell): Now Jenna, medically speaking, for your height, your weight puts you in what we call "the disgusting range". Fortunately, there are solutions. For example, crystal meth has been shown to be very effective. How important is tooth retention to you?

Jenna: (Jane Krakowski): It's... pretty important. What about my crazy surgical options, Dr Spaceman?

Spaceman: Please: "Doctor" Spaceman is my dad. Call me Leo. And there are some wonderful crazy surgical options. Are you familiar with the Bradshaw Clinic?

Jenna: Am I! That's where the Olsen twins were separated.

Spaceman: I've sent a number of my famous clients there. [Cut to framed portraits of Ashlee Simpson, Kenny Rogers, King Hollywood, Alf, some presumably well-known senator, and the Unabomber]. I can make the call, get you in as soon as possible.

Jenna: Thank you Leo. I can't be on television looking like I just had a baby or something.

Spaceman: This right here is why I got into medicine.

- 30 Rock, 'Jack Gets in the Game', s02e02, originally broadcast 11 October 2007

14 January 2015

Wellington tramlink

A while back I posted rough outlines of what an Auckland waterfront and Avondale to Onehunga tram line might look like on the ground, irrespective of the chances of these ever actually happening. As a natural next step, while the prospect of a proper light rail or tram network for public-transport-friendly Wellington seems unlikely at the moment thanks to the skimping of the city's transport review, I thought I'd have a go at mapping out where the stops might be.

The first point to note is that rather than the usual idea of a Wellington Station to Airport route, I believe there are considerable advantages in extending the route north of the station into the light industrial area along Old Hutt Rd. This would permit less expensive land to be freed up for affordable park and ride facilities for drivers from Highway 1 and 2, allowing those commuters to leave their cars and ride into town on a speedy and reliable service without clogging the central city with traffic. Rail commuters on the existing lines could pick up the tram service in front of the station, and those in southern suburbs would also be able to make the journey to town or to the hospital in speed and comfort. Of course, this all presumes that money is no object, which it isn't! But it's nice to dream what we could achieve, isn't it?

Possible Wellington light rail route 
(The Google Maps link for the above map if you want more detail is here). The line details below denote park and ride facilities at the three northern stops of Ngauranga, Onslow Rd and Kaiwharawhara. Due to the one-way street network, only the airport-bound tram service would stop outside Te Papa; the return service would stop on Wakefield St. As for the Basin Reserve, as money is no object, let's have a tunnel underneath!

12 January 2015

Colenso's grave

Grave of Rev William Colenso, Napier, 27 October 2014
The Rev William Colenso (1811-99), a prominent figure in the early colonial history of New Zealand, is buried at the Old Napier Cemetery atop the hill, with the following inscription:

In loving memory of the REVd. Wm. Colenso FRS
Born at Penzance 17th Nov. 1811
He was the first printer in these islands, and the first Missionary in Hawkes Bay
Died at Napier Feb. 10th 1899
Aged 88 years.
Following his arrival from Sydney at Paihia in the Bay of Islands on the schooner Blackbird in December 1834, Colenso took up the role of the Church Mission Society printer and subsequently became a pioneer of printing in New Zealand, including impressive runs such as 5000 copies of the Maori New Testament from December 1837 and 27,000 copies of the Book of Common Prayer in Maori. Colenso also produced important non-religious work, such as the Maori text of the Treaty of Waitangi on 17 February 1840 and the first New Zealand Government Gazette on 30 December 1840. His printing work was undertaken despite the considerable challenges posed by a lack of decent equipment and stationery.

Despite a later career as a missionary, explorer and naturalist, plus representing Napier in Parliament's General Assembly from 1861 to 1866, Colenso's life and works were dominated by the reaction to an extra-marital affair he conducted with a member of his household, Ripeka Meretene, probably from 1848 onwards. Meretene had Colenso's illegitimate son Wiremu, and following the discovery of the affair he was suspended as a deacon of the church in 1852 and dismissed from the mission. His status as a deacon was not restored until 1894!

Part of the social isolation and exclusion that dogged Colenso's life in New Zealand was due to his inflexible and unsympathetic nature, as recorded by the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography:

Colenso was a man of great energy, dedication and perseverance. His journeys revealed his courage and endurance, and paradoxically paved the way for the settlement he had opposed. His botanical collecting was of great value to others and his achievements were acknowledged by eminent scientists. Colenso founded the printing industry in New Zealand, and set high standards despite the inadequacies of his equipment.
However, in all matters involving human relations Colenso's career was an unhappy one. Despite his genuine concern for the Maori people he saw them as fickle children, and his behaviour towards them was overbearing. He could be crudely undiplomatic and insensitive to their traditions and sense of honour. His narrow religious views and self-righteous behaviour offended his missionary colleagues. The charges of a lack of spirituality he aimed at them earned him the undying enmity of George Selwyn and William Williams. In politics he revealed a lack of skill and an uncompromising nature. With his quick temper and capacity to harbour a grudge he often descended to bitter and vindictive personal attacks. Unsympathetic to moral laxity in others, when his own great tragic moment came there was no one to sympathise with him.

- David Mackay, 'Colenso, William', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30 October 2012

A detailed and respectful obituary appeared in the Hawke's Bay Herald on 11 February 1899, the day after Colenso's death. It contained no allusion to his extra-marital affair, but does mention that even as late as Colenso's arrival in Sydney in 1834 'there were only three clergymen of the Church of England residing in all Australia - two of them (the Revs. Messrs Cowper and Hill) in Sydney, and the Rev S[amuel] Marsden at Parramatta'. If this is true, then Colenso's arrival at Paihia meant there were more Church of England missionaries in New Zealand than there were in Australia!  

See also:
History: The oldest building in New Zealand, 29 August 2011
History: Forest lords & mission houses, 16 January 2009
HistoryEach slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds, 23 March 2009

11 January 2015

Baby boomers have more money than sense

When I was out for my morning run yesterday I paused for a moment to admire the comically overpriced Minis for sale in the car dealership at Kaiwharawhara. I know modern Minis are positioned as premium status symbol compact motoring, a mile away from the utilitarian austerity motoring of Alec Issigonis' original Mini. But the prices being asked for the new cars are simply comical. I get the impression that the prime customer for Minis are cashed-up baby boomers nostalgic for the marque of their youth, but with plenty of ready cash to throw at a more luxury motoring experience. It's certainly a niche marque - while 2014 was a record year for new car sales, figures from the Motor Industry Association show that of the nearly 84,000 new car registrations in New Zealand last year, only 541 (0.6 percent) were Minis; on average, only about 50 new Minis are sold in New Zealand each month.

The car pictured with a ticket price of NZ$44,200 is the Mini Hatch Cooper S. The Mini website is notoriously coy on the subject of actual prices, which is unusual for New Zealand car websites - most of them are reasonably up-front about their asking prices. But the listings summarised in the AA Directions magazine (Summer edition) show the following prices for the New Zealand Mini range:

Mini Hatch Cooper
Mini Hatch Cooper S
Mini Cooper Countryman
Mini Cabrio Cooper
Mini Countryman Cooper S
Mini Paceman Cooper S
Mini Cabrio Cooper S
Mini Roadster Cooper S
Mini Coupe JCW

Let's compare those prices with overseas markets. In Australia the Mini website shows an enormous range of 29 models for sale. This includes the basic Mini model, the Mini One, which is not offered for sale in New Zealand. Here's some comparisons of the Mini prices on offer in Australia:

Equiv. NZ$
NZ margin
Mini One
Mini Hatch Cooper
Mini Hatch Cooper S
Mini Coupe JCW

(As sale prices are determined in part by state taxes, I used my friends in Sydney's postcode to determine the potential price). There's not much difference in the prices across the Tasman. The relative similarity between the two markets is interesting, because in a quick survey I did nearly a year ago New Zealand was substantially over-priced in comparison to Australia. It's worth remembering that Australia's per capita wealth is a whopping 62 percent higher than New Zealand's, so the market for pricey small cars is always going to be a great deal bigger in Australia than it is in New Zealand.

Now let's examine Mini prices in the UK, its home market. (Although the marque has been owned by BMW since 1994, when it bought the Rover Group). I've selected the 3-door manual transmission versions in each case.

Equiv. NZ$
NZ margin
Mini One
Mini Hatch Cooper
Mini Hatch Cooper S
Mini Coupe JCW

So there's a fairly consistent healthy markup on the UK prices for the New Zealand market, which doesn't appear particularly justifiable given the cost of sea freight transportation. Or perhaps the reluctance of the New Zealand retailers to display their sticker prices online is just a reflection of the 'reassuringly expensive' margin built-in to their prices - the exclusivity that comes with an inflated price-tag that shuts out most buyers who prioritise value for money.

08 January 2015

Charlie Brooker's 2014 Wipe

Several years ago I attended a BBC TV recording session for Charlie Brooker's 'You Have Been Watching' and found myself in the front row of the audience having to avert my eyes to avoid viewing the trailer for video nasty Human Centipede. (Don't Google it). Brooker is a rare treat in a TV commentator, in that he knows the medium intimately, but unlike most other apparatchiks who buy into the notion that it's all a marvellous realm of tinsel and dreams, he is fully aware that most of what is produced is unbearable crap perpetrated by flagrantly mendacious narcissists. Even when he married the sparklingly Konnie Huq, Brooker failed to lose his mordant, grotesque fascination with picking the scabs off our declining civilisation and holding up the suppurating sores for the camera and the delectation of his relentlessly bleak worldview. (I'm selling this really well!)

His annual gazetteer Wipe programme - the title being derived from his weekly Newswipe half-hour programme - summarise the entire year's media news with a now-traditional lack of reverence for decorum and good taste, but with a healthy contempt for the self-important, puffed-up world of news and current affairs. Plus endlessly entertaining clips of stupid people trying to make instant snow by flinging boiling water into the wintery air and ending up burning themselves and going 'ow-ow-ow-ow!' He also really really doesn't like Pharrell's stupid hat and annoying song. Which I'm delighted to say I'd never heard before watching this programme.

Aside from Brooker's hilariously scabrous commentary, the Wipe also benefits from judiciously selected guest contributors. This year's highlights included a short film by Adam Curtis discussing the modern political management technique of engineering constant chaos and confusion in society as a strategy to derail political opposition to established regimes. The technique has been most successfully applied in Russia, but Curtis makes the case that it has also been successful in Britain - although this is a satirical programme, so you should never take anything strictly at face value.

There's also the recurrent commentary throughout the Wipe from Brooker's regular contributors, 'Philomena Cunk' and 'Barry Shitpeas', whose modus operandi is a level of profound stupidity that is almost operatic in scope. Witness the monologue by Cunk (actor and comedian Diane Morgan) on the ubiquity in 2014 (in Britain, at least) of Messianic comedian and bearded social revolutionary, Russell Brand:

Then he brought out a book called Revolution about how unfair everything is, and so you'd know he meant it, he pulled a serious face on the front. It was about how catapultism is naughty, and how we could build a better world if we were nice to each other instead of spending all our time thinking about coins. He'd talk about how the status quo keeps the working classes enslaved, which I found sort of boring compared to the stuff he used to do about putting his dinkle into granddaughters. What he's saying might actually be stupid, but it's hard to tell because he says it with clever words. [Clip of Brand on Newsnight: 'We don't want pedagogic figures coming in and didactically shouting at us!'] So the only people who can actually tell if he's stupid are clever themselves, and they think everyone's stupid compared to them anyway. Basically, the only way to find out if he's clever or stupid will be to do everything he says, and see if society totally collapses and hundreds of thousands of people die.
For more of this arrant nonsense, see the 2014 Wipe below, as broadcast by the BBC on 30 December. (They seem to make an exception to their no-uploads policy for the Wipe, for some reason).

See also:
Comedy: Charlie Brooker & the Blockheads - Reasons to be Fearful '14
Comedy: The death spiral of news, 17 March 2014
Comedy: "I'm actually an atheist", 7 January 2014

05 January 2015

Great criminal masterminds of our time

Bandits dressed in full-length, hooded onesies, bashed their way into a Geelong West hotel and attacked an ATM with a sledgehammer before escaping in a stolen milk truck. When police closed in, two men burst from the truck on a small stolen motorbike and continued their getaway. But visions of an Italian Job-style movie heist appear to have come to a halt when two men were caught empty-handed a short time later on an overloaded motorcycle. To add to the fiasco, police say the ATM attacked at the Barking Dog hotel about 4am on Saturday wasn't holding any money [...]

- Greg Dundas & Bethany Tyler, Geelong Advertiser, 5 January 2015, via @faganjosh

04 January 2015

2nd test vs Sri Lanka, Basin Reserve, Day 1

Despite one of my chilliest days at the cricket since that day shivering under the Compton Stand at Lord's in 2008, I still managed to enjoy Day 1 of the 2nd test against Sri Lanka yesterday at Wellington's Basin Reserve yesterday. Here's some photos from the day.

Little chucker

Williamson & Taylor emerge from lunch

Williamson & Taylor

Drone technology (circled)

From the boundary

03 January 2015

Marcel Proust writes an action thriller

There came a shot, or rather the memory of the sound made by the metal tapping of the striker as it was released from tension by the action of the trigger, and driven into the rear end of the cartridge, causing the ejection of the bullet from the barrel and the empty casing from the breach, while the trace of cordite lingered like the smell of my grandmother's fresh baked bread of a Sunday morning before Mass, and the sensation of the trembling recoil of the stock on the skin of my palm recalled my mother's transient good night kiss, so what had started as an act of violence offered in the shallow flux of present time, devoid of memory and its handmaid, the imagination, became with the reverberation of the sound about the station platform an unexpected gateway into permanence, where, like the church bells that signalled the approach of old Francois with a pail of fresh milk from the village dairy, the echo of the brief explosion reverberated in the gulf of time past, and what had been manipulated by the violent hands of the present, as intended termination of a human life, became in the sudden clasp of involuntary memory the means by which the moment was transfigured as that in which a shot rang, with whatsoever repercussions, out.

- as imagined by Sebastian Faulks, The Write Stuff, BBC Radio 4, 19 October 2010

01 January 2015

Bring out the big guns

A Singaporean Army 155mm self-propelled howitzer stops traffic as it crosses the narrow Manawatu River bridge just south of Foxton, on the way north from the port of Wellington to Waiouru for artillery practice, 1 January 2015.

See also:
Military: Cadets at Parliament, 9 November 2014
Military: Royal Marines Band, 30 September 2013