30 April 2016

The Paris correspondent starts his day

In the morning I walked down the Boulevard to the Rue Soufflot for coffee and brioche. It was a fine morning. The horse-chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. There was the pleasant early-morning feeling of a hot day. I read the papers with the coffee and then smoked a cigarette. The flower-women were coming up from the market and arranging their daily stock. Students went by going up to the law school, or down to the Sorbonne. The Boulevard was busy with trams and people going to work. I got on an S bus and rode down to the Madeleine, standing on the black platform. From the Madeleine I walked along the Boulevard des Capucines to the Opera, and up to my office. I passed the man with the jumping frogs and the man with the boxer toys. I stepped aside to avoid walking into the thread with which his girl assistant manipulated the boxers. She was standing looking away, with the thread in her folded hands. The man was urging two tourists to buy. Three more tourists had stopped and were watching. I walked on behind a man who was pushing a roller that printed the name CINZANO on the sidewalk in damp letters. All along people were going to work. It felt pleasant to be going to work. I walked along the avenue and turned into my office.

Up-stairs in the office I read the French morning papers, smoked, and then sat at the typewriter and got off a good morning's work. At eleven o'clock I went over to the Quai d'Orsay in a taxi and went in and sat with about a dozen correspondents, while the foreign-office mouthpiece, a young Nouvelle Revue Fran├žaise diplomat in horn-rimmed spectacles, talked and answered questions for half an hour. The President of the Council was in Lyons making a speech, or, rather he was on his way back. Several people asked questions to hear themselves talk and there were a couple of questions asked by news service men who wanted to know the answers. There was no news. I shared a taxi back from the Quai d'Orsay with Woolsey and Krum.

- Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises), 1927

See also:
France: Brigitte Bardot - Harley Davidson, 13 November 2015
France: Le Bourget Air & Space Museum, 18 March 2011
FranceCity of lights, 20 April 2009

25 April 2016

TV flashback 1966

Continuing an irregular series examining New Zealand's TV schedules across the years, and sticking with the 15 April date used for the other episodes, it's now time to venture five years further into the past, to the year 1966. New Zealand in 1966 was concerned about its place in the world and fretted about its security. A small contingent of New Zealand soldiers had been serving in Vietnam since 1963, and several letters to the 11-17 April edition of the Listener debated the contents of a recent Compass TV documentary on the communist threat in Asia. The Listener's editorial looked further afield to the UK, worrying that New Zealand's traditional patron was losing its focus on the Commonwealth in favour of the blandishments of Europe and the EEC. Discussing the recent UK general election on 31 March in which Harold Wilson won reelection, the Listener wrote:

At 19 conferences for leaders of the major parties the Commonwealth was not once mentioned. This could have meant that reporters were asking the wrong questions, but a more probable explanation was simply lack of interest ... We shall need what bridges Britain can allow us, and she in some fields will need all that we can send her. Ultimately, however, our future is in that other commonwealth - the wide world itself.
Peter Sinclair, 1966

The letters page includes correspondence from veteran politician and writer John A. Lee, rebutting some points made by another letter-writer on the 1932 Auckland riots (for more information and the text of the letter, see my 2014 blog). And to cap the letters page off on a curmudgeonly note, L.D. Austin of Featherston writes of that bete noire, 'modern music', related to the debut in 1966 of Peter Sinclair's pop show C'mon:

Sir - In your admirable editorial "In the Teenage Groove" you recommend "the search for excellence" and "the raising of standards" as being necessary in the education of adolescents. Excellent advice. But in the same issue of the Listener appears an advertisement introducing a so-called "N.Z. Hit Parade", soliciting votes for a nation-wide poll on favourite "pop" numbers. With respect, I submit that this is calculated to undermine any efforts such as you have put forward so convincingly.
(I wrote about meeting Pete Sinclair back in 1991 here). No doubt to L.D. Austin's disgruntlement, the Listener details the Top 20 singles for the week of 7 April, with a clip-out-and-send poll asking for young readers' favourite five singles, to be posted to their nearest radio station. Here's what the hip young things were grooving to - none of which are by New Zealand artists:

  1. Nancy Sinatra - These Boots are Made for Walkin'
  2. The Beatles - Michelle
  3. Rolling Stones - 19th Nervous Breakdown
  4. Simon & Garfunkel - Sounds of Silence
  5. Herman's Hermits - A Must to Avoid
  6. Gene Pitney - Princess in Rags
  7. Spencer Davis Group - Keep on Running
  8. Dave Clark Five - Over and Over
  9. Searchers - Take Me for What I'm Worth
  10. Seekers - The Carnival is Over
  11. Chris Andrews - To Whom it Concerns
  12. The Beatles - We Can Work it Out
  13. Shadows - Don't Make My Baby Blue
  14. Cliff Richard - Wind Me Up
  15. Paul Revere & the Raiders - Just Like Me
  16. Simon & Garfunkel - Homeward Bound
  17. Barbra Streisand - Second Hand Rose
  18. Mindbenders - A Groovy Kind of Love
  19. Statler Brothers - Flowers on the Wall
  20. Beach Boys - Barbara Ann

Quite a reminder of a golden age of pop music, and a couple of lesser-known artists in there too. English singer Chris Andrews had four UK hits of his own, but was probably better known for writing a string of hits for Sandie Shaw. The Paul Revere number is quite the rocker, if you can get past the silly costumes, and for the Dave Clark Five clip, the dancers seem to be having way more fun than the band. For the uninitiated, the mysterious Flowers on the Wall, apart from its use in Pulp Fiction, is better known to New Zealand audiences of a certain vintage as the instrumental theme from the legendary sheepdog trialling contest A Dog's Show.

Finally, and befitting a nation that still had strong ties to Britain and the monarchy, the Listener's cover story was devoted to the royal visit to New Zealand of the Queen Mother, then aged 65. The state radio network went all out with local radio coverage of the tour, as this published schedule illustrates:

Broadcast cover of the first two days of the Queen Mother's visit will be: 
Saturday, April 16
10.55am HMY Britannia berths at Bluff, National Programme, 1XN, 2XP, 2XA, 2XN, 3XC, 2ZA, 2XB.
11.30am Official Ceremony of Welcome at Bluff: National Programme, 1XN, 2XP, 2XA, 2XN, 3XC, 2XB, 2ZA.
12.20pm Public welcome at Invercargill, 4YZ.
10.30pm HMY Britannia sails for Dunedin, 4YZ.
Sunday, April 17
10.0am HMY Britannia arrives at Dunedin: 4YA, 4YX, 4ZB.
10.50am The Queen Mother leaves Britannia for First Presbyterian Church, 4YA.
12 noon The Return to Britannia, 4YA.

The TV listings for the single channel broadcasting on 15 April are taken from the Wellington regional service WNTV-1 - New Zealand TV broadcasting wasn't joined in a single national network until 1969. Programming ran from 5pm until around midnight, and was all black-and-white - colour TV broadcasts didn't emerge until the 1974 Commonwealth Games.

WNTV-1, 15 April 1966

5.00pm Canterbury Tales ('From the Court of King Harffa. King Harffa Mo (David Hindlin) and Jester Minute (Don Farr) establish court in a dilapidated castle purchased for 4/9 1/2' (i.e. four shillings, nine and a half pence) (NZBC)
5.32pm Casey Jones (US railroad adventure, 1957-58, 32 episodes, episode 17 'Night Run - A torrential rainstorm forces the Cannonball Express to stop at Valley Junction', originally broadcast in the US on 14 September 1958; here's the opening credits)
5.57pm Headline News & Weather (NZBC)
5.59pm The Stranger (Australian drama, 1964-65, 12 episodes, 'A science fiction serial about three teenagers who investigate the activities of a mysterious stranger. Starring Ron Haddrick, Bill Levis, Janice Dinnen and Michael Thomas'; written by NZ writer G.K. Saunders).
6.27pm Hazel (US sitcom, 1961-66, 154 episodes, 'The Baby Came C.O.D.' - 'Starring Shirley Booth. Hazel and George help an expectant father with his financial difficulties'; s03e09, originally broadcast in the US in colour on 14 November 1963 but shown here in black-and-white; here's the opening credits for all five series).
6.52pm Adventure (UK documentary, 1963, 'When the Sea Ran Dry': 'A tiny British expedition whose encounters, whether with Tuaregs, with strange 'desert Roses', or with the rock paintings of Tassili, were no less rewarding than those of the more spectacular professional explorers'
7.20pm Sports Magazine (NZBC)
7.30pm Weather Forecast (NZBC)
7.33pm NZBC Reports (Film and spoken news) (NZBC)
7.48pm Town and Around ('Local events, views and items of topical interest. Produced by Kevan Moore') (NZBC)
8.05pm Reluctant Bandit (UK thriller, 1965, 5 episodes: 'The Great Attack: A five-part BBC thriller serial, starring William Dexter, William Mervyn and Patricia Haines. Robert has taken the unusual step of forming a Mafia-protected union. Final')
8.40pm The Great Adventure (US historical drama, 1963-64, 26 episodes: 'The Colonel from Connecticut: Adventure stories drawn from American history. Ex-railroad conductor Edwin Drake sacrifices everything he owns in a long, heartbreaking attempt to drill the world's first oil well. Starring Richard Kiley and Maggie McNamarra. Narrated by Russell Johnson'; originally broadcast in the US on 10 January 1964)
9.29pm Science in New Zealand ('A monthly programme introduced by Prof D.W. McKenzie. Produced by Peter Cape. The second of a new series') (NZBC)
9.59pm Cluff (UK drama, 1964-65, 20 episodes, 'The Daughter-in-Law: A BBC detective series based on the novels by Gil North, starring Leslie Sands as Sgt Caleb Cluff. Cluff's approach to crime is largely instinctive and is based on his knowledge of the Yorkshire villagers of Gunnarshaw. Jacob Bateson marries against his father's wishes and financial necessity forces the young couple to return to the family farm'; first broadcast in the UK on 31 August 1964 as part of the first series of Cluff, the entirety of which is missing from the BBC Archives)
10.52pm Late News and Weather (NZBC)
10.58pm Oyster Man ('Christopher Brasher reports from eastern England about a man who started three small industries after the war and is now self-supporting')
11.05pm Ann Veronica (UK historical drama, 1964, 4 episodes, 'Votes for Women - A four-part BBC serial starring Rosemary Nicols and Philip Bond. It is the story of a vivacious and attractive girl who bitterly resents the fact that a woman should be economically dependent on marriage to a man chosen for her. Ann is determined to repay Ramage and sends back half the loan money - all that she has left'; story from the original 1909 novel by H.G. Wells, which included the then-scandalous lines, '"She stood up and held her arms toward him. 'I want you to kiss me,' she said. . . . 'I want you. I want you to be my lover. I want to give myself to you. I want to be whatever I can to you.' She paused for a moment. 'Is that plain?' she asked."').

See also:
TV: Flashback 1971, 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991
History: New Zealand in 1966
History: New Zealand general election, 26 November 1966
History: New Zealand in Vietnam 

22 April 2016

Chameleon, comedian, Corinthian & caricature

Bowie: Waiting in the Sky
St James
16 April 2016

Last Saturday a full house gathered at the St James in Wellington for the second of three New Zealand 'Waiting in the Sky' tribute concerts for David Bowie. It’s not hard to select a crowd-pleasing setlist from such an awe-inspiring back catalogue, but it’s fitting that organiser Eddie Rayner included a few recent cuts from Black Star, sung with distinction by The Veils’ Finn Andrews. But understandably, most of the material was hit-focused, and there were plenty of those to choose from (58 UK top 40 singles from 1969 to 2002, according to Everyhit.com).

The performers were an eclectic mix, with the nominal lead vocals chiefly alternating between former Space Waltz glamster Alastair Riddell, now avuncular and black-suited, who offered a deft handling of Kooks and Changes from Hunky Dory and led the finale on “Heroes”, and Aucklander Zaine Griff, who was invited to cut a few tracks with Bowie in 1979, and now cuts a fine flouncing figure in purple weskit, deploying well-honed crowd patter. Griff’s highlight was an engagingly dramatic reworking of Cat People (Putting Out Fire).

The concert felt a little thrown-together, in part due to short rehearsal times and the absence from the Wellington gig of Jordan Luck, who performed in Auckland and Christchurch, but also due to the addition of a handful of younger Australian-based performers. This generated a sneaking suspicion that the New Zealand gigs were tacked onto a similar Australian package, and led to mild confusion at the presence of these young Australians on the billing. Where were the Bowie-enthralled young local artists who deserved this stage exposure?

But it turned out that the most notable of the Australians was ex-Aucklander and now Melburnian Skyscraper Stan, who in copying Bowie’s 1974 Dutch TV red jumpsuit costume was at least authentically kooky. His rendition of the notoriously tricky lyric of Young Americans rose to the challenge. The bobbed would-be starlet Olympia performed serviceably on several numbers, particularly the Bowie/Alomar/Lennon co-write Fame, but the main emphasis seemed to be on her glamorous costume changes. One of the backing vocalists, Reb Fountain from The Eastern, also duetted with Stan on a decent version of Sorrow.

Reviewer Simon Sweetman offered his traditionally snarky take on proceedings, suggesting that the whole occasion smacked of an opportunistic money-grab. Perhaps, but ultimately a full house of Wellingtonians were able to celebrate the music they loved with performers who did a good job. To me that sounds like a good opportunity to take.

See also:
Music: David Bowie Is, 22 September 2015
Music: Sukita-Bowie / Speed of Life, 16 September 2012
Music: In the lair of the Goblin King, 12 July 2009

14 April 2016

Better a witty fool than a foolish wit

The cast of Twelfth Night
On Saturday I was in Auckland for a theatrical outing to the Pop-up Globe with family and friends, for the performance of the First Folio Shakespeare comedy Twelfth Night. The local players in the all-male cast provided an accomplished performance, with some handling the comedic roles with the aplomb expected of an RSC cast. The plot being a knockabout confection of cross-dressing confusion – Shakespeare has one of the characters remark on its improbable fiction – players with a strong command of farce offered the most skillful performances. Particular mention should be made of the adroit comic skill of Paul Willis as the watermelon-hatted Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the camp Carry On excess of Daniel Watterson as Countess Olivia, Stanley Jackson's gurning Malvolio, and Adrian Hooke’s louche charm as Feste the musician.

An undoubted contributor to the success of the play experience is the venue itself, an ingenious concoction of scaffolding, plywood and corrugated iron that is modeled on the second Globe, erected in 1614. Hence it's a different size than the current replica Globe on the South Bank in London - the audience is closer to the stage and the groundlings' yard is narrower. The Pop-up Globe is a brilliant idea and I hope it's able to tour more broadly. I could envisage a continual circuit of Australia and New Zealand in the summer months, before being shipped to the US and Canada for the northern summer. A small New Zealand crew could manage the shipping, construction and management, while local theatre troups could handle the casting and productions. I'd love to be able to see a New Zealand production in the Pop-up every year, or perhaps two. Even better if it was in Wellington, but they'd have to test it thoroughly for wind resistance!   

See also:
Theatre: Antony & Cleopatra at the Globe, 6 June 2014
Theatre: Coriolanus at the Donmar, 24 February 2014
Theatre: Othello at the National Theatre, 20 October 2013

13 April 2016

Ranger 27

DSV Tsibliyev before the exploration mission
Having finally upgraded to an Anaconda, the DSV Tsibliyev, I decided the best way to put it through its paces without spending an enormous sum outfitting it was to take it on an exploration run. Typically my previous journeys have been in an Asp Explorer, out about 1000 lightyears and then checking out whatever I find around that destination.  This time I decided to go a little further, with a light build I spotted on Reddit. The initial destination would be the Cepheus Dark Region, which sounded suitably mysterious, and the course would take an anti-clockwise route from there.

To get things started I sold my Federal Assault Ship at Umbila and traded in my smuggling Asp Explorer at the popular outfitting system of Diaguandri. The first major stop was HIP 97589, around 1000 lightyears from Sol, and during the journey I managed to spot two new water worlds at Wredguia ES-H C24-3 A5 and Wredguia EX-J B51-0 2. Looping round another 400 lights, I encountered an interesting close-orbiting trio of high metal content planets at Wredguia TA-N B49-0 5, 6 and 7. Onwards towards the edge of the galaxy, I reached the farthest point of the journey at PLAA EURK LL-Y D5, which is 2075 lightyears from Sol. Hooking around through waypoints at Synuefue GW-C D20 and Oochoss GA-F C28-1, I ran into a multitude of M-class stars orbited by dull pink ice worlds: hardly exciting finds. On the journey back to civilised space via the Stock 2 Sector, I encountered a splendid deep blue water world at Synuefai ZI-C C2-3 2.

Water world Synuefai ZI-C C2-3 2

As I returned to sell my exploration data at Killough City in the Mapocori system, another exploration journey came to a close. Once more, I had failed to discover a rare Earth-like world. To welcome me back to reality, an incompetent pirate Diamondback Explorer tried to interdict me for no useful reason. (The mysteries of the AI's brain are hard to fathom). The journey had encompassed 217 systems, earned me MCr4.883 from the data, and boosted my exploration rank by six points to Ranger 27. I don't know if I can manage a truly long-range exploration mission, given the lack of variety in gameplay and the danger of succumbing to space madness. But these one to two week missions are just about manageable without starting to hallucinate space ghosts in the cockpit.

See also:
Blog: Fine-tuning the Robigo run, 2 March 2016
Blog: Ranger 15, 14 January 2016
BlogPathfinder 60, 12 July 2015

11 April 2016


Brief takeoff timelapse video taken yesterday afternoon, as Air New Zealand flight NZ459 departed Auckland Airport on an easterly track, bound for Wellington.

05 April 2016

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

With each film, Taika Waititi grows more confident and assured, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople follows his earlier two minor local classics, Boy and What We Do in the Shadows, into even broader appeal. Derived from an unimpeachable 20th century popular literature source, the writing of bush legend Barry Crump, but deftly updated for modern audiences, Wilderpeople makes powerful use of spectacular New Zealand bush landscapes and harks back to the heyday of local filmmaking in the 1970s and 80s when Sleeping Dogs (Sam Neill's first major film, from 1977), Smash Palace (featuring everyman Bruno Lawrence) and Bad Blood (the Stanley Graham story) all went bush to find drama and self-realisation. In fact, many of these earlier films were also inspired by the 'good keen men' written about by Crump and his fellow travellers.

Wilderpeople also succeeds due to its accomplished local cast, chief of which is the comedic and dramatic prowess of the Bunteresque young Julian Dennison, who never puts a foot wrong despite being surrounded by experienced talent. Veteran Sam Neill builds a perfect craggy bravado, Rima Te Wiata brings a warm and mumsy charm, and a supporting cast of frustrated officialdom, bush-dwelling oddballs and bounty-seeking chancers rounds out a grand chase movie. Commendably, this is Waititi's least indie-styled production: this is a family film, and one with a strong heart. And it has every chance of attaining popularity overseas too, with such universally likeable characters.