29 May 2014

Satan amongst the Sofa Cushions

Drusilla Clack is one of the fictional narrators in Wilkie Collins' groundbreaking 1868 novel The Moonstone - which I won't link directly to, because I haven't finished it yet and I don't want to know the ending! The book was written serially for publication in one of Charles Dickens' magazines, which encourages the author to devise cliff-hanger endings for each chapter, to keep the readers interested. Its twisting story of the theft of an enormously valuable Indian diamond is often regarded as the first modern detective story.

Miss Clack's narrative is the second in The Moonstone, after that of head servant Gabriel Betteredge. She is, for want of a better description, something of a busybody. It's somewhat daring for Collins to have satirised the no doubt familiar character of a well-meaning religious lady who pesters all her friends and acquaintances to improve their lives by focusing solely on the spiritual. Miss Clack is definitely well-meaning, but her entreaties to strive for godliness appear to fall mostly on deaf ears. She is undaunted by such setbacks, but often resorts to unwise subterfuge such as secreting her religious tracts throughout her subject's abode, so that they might 'accidentally' happen upon some edifying religious reading material, for example when retiring to the smoking-room, or when performing their morning toilet.

The tracts that Miss Clack favours focus heavily on the seemingly ever-present danger of sin and vanity, and the ways the Devil can inviegle his way into otherwise innocent-sounding activities. Who knew that a lady's parlour presented so many potential spiritual hazards?

The choicest tracts of Miss Drusilla Clack
  • Satan in the Hair Brush
  • Satan behind the Looking Glass
  • Satan under the Tea Table
  • Satan out of the Window
  • Satan amongst the Sofa Cushions
  • A Word With You on Your Cap-Ribbons
Wilkie Collins' friendship with Charles Dickens lasted for the best part of two decades from 1851 until the late 1860s. According to Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin:
Twelve years younger than Dickens, Collins ... had read for the Bar, but only at his parents' insistence, and he was a dedicated Bohemian. Dickens saw that he was gifted, a good journalist and a striking storyteller, and found his way of life, easy and unconventional in its dealings with women, interesting. The two men shared a taste for brightly coloured clothes. Collins might appear in a camel-hair suit with a broad-striped pink shirt and red tie, and even in sober colours his physical appearance was odd, with his big head and small body, a cast in one eye and a tendency to tics and fidgets. His best biographer says he made 'a more or less conscious decision to be not quite a gentleman'. Wilkie hero-worshipped Dickens, who had risen so high that he did not need to worry any longer about whether he was a gentleman or not.

- Claire Tomalin, Dickens: A Life, London, 2011, p.232.
See also:
Books: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)
Books: Dickens & Dostoyevsky, 3 January 2014
Books: Asking writers stupid questions, 14 May 2014

27 May 2014

And what about the male parishioners?

"For Christ to enter your lives," Rev. Njohi of Lord's Propeller Redemption Church in Dandora Phase 2 (Nairobi) told his congregation, "all female members must come to church without their bras and panties. Undergarments are ungodly, and I strongly advise all female worshippers to go free.

At the last church meeting, I passed a law banning the wearing of inner wears. When coming to church, people need to be free in body and spirit to receive Christ. At Sunday service, ladies should be ngotha-less and bra-less. Mothers are advised to do the same, and to check their daughters when coming to church on Sundays, so they can receive Christ too.

I warn members that there will be dire consequences if they secretly put on their inner wears in church. Praise the Lord."

- Kenya Daily Post, 5 March 2014, quoted in Private Eye no.1365, 2-15 May 2014.

26 May 2014

Claude & Piggy become silent movie projectionists

How Claude became a silent movie projection assistant

The Parish Hall [in Ellerslie] was used for a variety of purposes such as wedding receptions and dances, along with compulsory military training. I used to help a young man named Charlie Double, who lived across the road, to clean the hall.

This was a great job for a five year old. One could find leftover lollies, last night’s dance cards in which the ladies would write down their next partner’s name (to avoid punch-ups I suppose!) and with pencil attached, sometimes money, and the odd packet of chewing gum.

On Saturdays if we were lucky Piggy [Roy] Day and I were allowed to help Charlie with the projection. Charlie had the projector attached to part of a bicycle frame with gearwheel, chain and sprocket, and one pedal – so if we stood on a box we could operate the contraption and according to the film Charlie would give us our orders, such as “Faster! Faster!” or “Slower! Slower!”, while Miss Poultan played the piano to music supplied with the film. Theme music.

Charlie could see the whole hall, the pianist and the screen, and suited the tempo to the kind of film. Even today I can ‘see’ cowboys being chased by Indians, or a train coming along a track which has a helpless maiden trussed along a track, where she is rescued just in time. I wonder how they did that?

If the Saturday afternoon kids got too rowdy old Charlie would switch on all the lights and that generally cooled them down. Those were exciting days.

- The Chronicles of Claude – extract from p.1, childhood days 1921-22

[Note that presumably at this early stage of his life Claude would still have been known by his first name, Oswald, but I've used his middle name as he did for the remainder of his life]

See also:
Movies: The Great Train Robbery (1903)
Movies: The Perils of Pauline (1914)

21 May 2014

He just stares back unblinking, so hologramic

David Bowie performing TVC-15, his 1976 single from the Station to Station album, live on the West German programme Muzikladen, on 30 May 1978. Bowie looks suspiciously healthy. The song was famously inspired by a hallucination of Iggy Pop, who believed a TV was swallowing his girlfriend. See also below the link for the 1976 Top of the Pops performance by the in-house dance troupe Ruby Flipper, which bears so little relation to the song that it's beyond perfect.

See also:
Music: TOTP - TVC-15 (Ruby Flipper dance routine, 1976, Savile alert)
Music: Bowie clipology, 8 January 2013
Movies: In the lair of the Goblin King, 12 July 2009

20 May 2014

Australian ad fail

So presumably someone in Vitasoy's ad agency in Australia thought that re-using the Australian slogan in New Zealand would be cheaper than devising something specifically for us. I probably shouldn't need to point this out, but New Zealanders don't give a toss if something comes from Australia or not. Hell, most shoppers don't even care if something comes from New Zealand.  (Unfortunately. Buy New Zealand made!). But something's true blue Ocker credentials are hardly the best way to sell a product to New Zealanders. Oh, and while at least they did splash out for a New Zealand URL (mentioned at the bottom of the ad), it just redirects straight to the Australian parent site. 

Vitasoy ad, Wellington

18 May 2014

My favourite parliamentarian

Edward Jerningham Wakefield
image via Te Ara
From the early days [Parliament's bar] Bellamy's had been the centre of parliamentary conviviality. C.W. Richmond described in 1862 how members got together nearly every night in Bellamy's for 'singing and joking and drinking whisky toddy'.

The 'widespread suspicion that much of the legislation of the period was being considered and carried in a miasma of whisky fumes' had some truth to it. Bellamy's featured as a weapon in the political struggles and in the stories of the time.

The most notorious incident involved [Edward] Jerningham Wakefield, whose fondness for alcohol was well known. In 1872, Fox's government whip attempted to secure Wakefield's vote by locking him in a committee room. Stafford's whip, hearing of this, 'got up on the roof, and lowered a bottle of whisky with a loosened cord down the chimney. When the division bell rang, the Whip rushed up to the committee room to get his sure vote, but, alas, it was "paralytic" under the table'. The government whip continued to ply Wakefield with alcohol, but he nonetheless voted with Stafford to throw out the ministry.

- John E. Martin, The House: New Zealand's House of Representatives 1854-2004, Palmerston North, 2004, p.47-49. 

Ronda Cooper's biography entry for Wakefield in the DNZB describes him thus: 'He was marked throughout his life, and beyond it, by a damning reputation for flawed and wasted brilliance. Most commentators, including his own father, dismiss him as a wastrel and a failure, talented and intelligent, but reckless, weak-willed, contentious, promiscuous and generally unstable'.

The New Zealand Herald of 31 March 1879 contains a brief paragraph on Wakefield's death, earlier that month, in Ashburton - 'Mr. Edward Jerningham Wakefield, formerly M.H.R. [Member of the House of Representatives] for the city of Christchurch, died at the Destitute Persons' Home, Ashburton, on March 3 where he had been staying there some time. He refused to allow his friends to be telegraphed for till the last moment, when it was too late. His last days were clouded by the same blot that had obstructed his later life, and the money obtained by writing articles for the local papers and other means was all devoted to the same purpose'.

See also:
History: E.J. Wakefield, Adventure in New Zealand from 1839 to 1844 (extracts)
History: NZ Company ship Tory arrives (1839)
HistoryThe last sight of old Plymouth, 6 April 2009

17 May 2014

16 May 2014

I have a body and a brain, but I turn them off again and again

From 1990, here's the Blake Babies' third single, Out There, as featured on their second album, Sunburn. It's a perfect sub-three-minute burst of melodic jangle-pop boasting a memorable double-tracked Juliana Hatfield chorus, backed up with a deft but all-too-short guitar solo. I first heard this on the 1993 Blake Babies compilation, the William Blake-referencing Innocence and Experience, released after the band's demise - an ideal entry-point for anyone intrigued by the band that spawned Hatfield's successful solo career.

See also:
Music: Eg - Stay Home, 14 February 2014
Music: Kenickie - Run Me Over, 24 October 2013
MusicMeryn Cadell - The Sweater, 22 March 2013

15 May 2014

'Like a 104-minute Chanel ad, without the subtlety and depth'

The resulting film [...] is like a 104-minute Chanel ad, only without the subtlety and depth. Princess Grace herself is played by Nicole Kidman, wafting around the Palace with dewy-eyed features and slightly parted lips which make her look like a grown-up Bambi after a couple of cocktails, suddenly remembering his mother's violent death in the forest.

It doesn't seem that long since we endured a horrendous biopic of Princess Diana, that other super-rich blonde pasionaria — played by Naomi Watts. As audiences reeled into the foyer after that, they comforted themselves with the thought that surely things couldn't get worse. Surely they wouldn't be forced to endure another badly acted, badly directed film about a wealthy and self-pitying royal?

How very wrong. I can now actually imagine a creepy science-fiction short story about someone going back to prehistoric days in a time machine, killing a tiny trilobite, and then coming to the present to find everything the same, only now it's Naomi Watts playing Grace and Nicole Kidman playing Diana.

- Peter Bradshaw reviews Grace of Monaco, Guardian, 14 May 2014

14 May 2014

Asking writers stupid questions

Why do people ask such stupid questions?

At a literary festival in Bordeaux I found myself being introduced to the French writer Frédéric Verger. I wasn’t familiar with the name and he explained that he had published just one novel, but that it had been shortlisted for this year’s Prix Goncourt. Since he was evidently in his mid-fifties, I was surprised, and asked him how come he had started so late. He explained that he had tried novels in his early twenties, been rejected, spent much of his life teaching literature in high school and then decided to try again, this time with success. It was an unusual story. I asked him how his presentations were going at the festival and he said fine, except that at the end the public asked such dumb questions.


“Like why I’ve only written one novel when I’m fifty-four.”

- Tim Parks, 'Stupid Questions', New York Review of Books blog, 1 May 2014

See also:
Books: Dickens & Dostoyevsky, 3 January 2014

13 May 2014

The Joan Callamezzo school of local broadcasting excellence

Joan Callamezzo (entering TV studio): 
All right, let's burn this candle!

Leslie Knope
Joan, if we could just have a moment? We need to, ah, get ready.

Joan Callamezzo
Oh no no, we gotta go. Yeah, the uppers are kicking in, just took some 'ludes to smooth them out, so I'm right in that sweet spot. We've got about twenty minutes before I either get really tired or really horny. So let's roll!

- Parks & Recreation, s06e14, 2014

See also:
TV: Joan Callamezzo - Speculate wildly! (gif)
TV: Diversifying TV1's schedule, 25 March 2014
TV: 8-bit Freaks & Geeks, 7 October 2013

12 May 2014

Essential apparel for Lady Inebriates

Witness the stylistic majesty that is the female liquid refreshment reservoir brassiere, otherwise known - rather winningly - as the Wine Rack (as featured on the Now Show on Friday). Note for metric drinkers: 25 fluid ounces is nearly a whole 750ml bottle of vino, so it would definitely get you through a weekend visit to your teetotal relatives. Also, I suppose it's not 100 percent gender-specific. You could wear it if you were a fuller-figured gentleman too. Witness this sample product review quote on Amazon: 'I grew man breasts just to try this product. I could not be happier but I do have to keep reminding my friends that "my eyes are up here"'.

(Poorly Photoshopped image via Amazon)

11 May 2014

'I vote for the same reason that I would punch a bear that was eating me'

It's not too late to make a difference. The turnout at the last European elections was about 44 percent. Enough people stayed at home to literally win the election for anybody. Young people sometimes feel, 'I can't be bothered to vote because none of the parties say anything I'm interested in'. Yeah, that's because you don't vote. It's a vicious circle. That's like saying, 'I'll stop flicking soggy cornflakes at you when you stop looking so annoyed and milky'. Aside from money, the only thing politicians need from the population is votes. And if you're not a source of votes, they don't care about you. (I'm glad I'm putting out this message urging young people to vote on Radio 4, where it will be heard by the overwhelmingly teenage audience).

I vote for the same reason that I would punch a bear that was eating me. I don't think it'll make a big difference to the outcome, but at least that way it doesn't look like I want to be eaten by a bear.

- Nick Doody, The Now Show, Radio 4, 9 May 2014.

09 May 2014

Three golden greats by the Screaming Meemees

Friday night is music night, so here's not one but three post-punk indie classics straight outta Auckland's North Shore in the deepest, darkest days of the early 1980s. The Screaming Meemees were all Rosmini College lads, and in 1981 they scored the first New Zealand chart-topping single by a local group to enter the chart at number one, with See Me Go. It fell right back down the charts the following week because it had been deleted in all formats after a single day on release. Later the same year they followed up with the hugely catchy Sunday Boys, and in 1983 they signed off with the influential and ground-breaking Stars In My Eyes, which is every bit as exciting as it was 31 years ago. (Now all I need to do is find the 12" remix...)

The Meemees' chart success is even more remarkable because they had no commercial radio play - it was solely on the back of student radio support and a huge live following that spread across New Zealand. Simon Grigg tells the band's full story here, and makes the point: 'Remember kids, many of these execs now championing NZ music fought long and hard to keep local music off the airwaves...'

See also:
Music: The Body Electric - Pulsing (1982)
Music: The Clean - Anything Could Happen (1982)
Music: Len Lye - Swinging The Lambeth Walk (1939)

08 May 2014

Reginald D. Hunter

Reginald D. Hunter
Hannah Playhouse
8 May 2014

Having read this review of Reginald D. Hunter's stand-up act just before leaving the house to attend his Wellington, I was rather worried that a large portion of his tour material would be excruciatingly awkward to listen to. Not to mention the fact that I was sitting in the front row, only five metres from his microphone stand - that had me doubly worried.

I needn't have gotten myself worked up. The American comedian, long resident and well-known in Britain, is a clever practitioner who knows which buttons to press in his 'liberal, white, uptight' audiences to get a reaction, but I don't think he is as reactionary or misogynistic as some critics claim he is. Whether it is a valid way to make a living to press people's buttons on sensitive topics to see what offends them - well, you'd have to ask someone who was offended by his sallies. Hunter is careful to lay the philosophical groundwork to refute in advance the accusations that he, for example, hates women. His material on the Oscar Pistorius trial is close to the bone but hilarious, and his stories of life in Britain and on his relationship with his family in Georgia are effortlessly appealing. His bemusement at the overheated furore over the resignation of Shane Jones was charming, as was his quip that the constant enquiries he had received about whether he liked New Zealand was like being in a relationship with a beautiful woman with deep insecurities. And, fortunately, he doesn't try to humiliate the front row for cheap laughs.

However, the most challenging section of the performance addresses the issue of rape, which sounds like a terrible idea for a stand-up routine. And perhaps it is, despite the skill with which Hunter discusses the societal responsibility to deal with the problem, and the conviction with which he reinforces the point he's trying to make with his narrative. The story he tells doesn't set up for a great punch-line - it's more like the audience is relieved to be getting out of that uncomfortable territory relatively unscathed. It's puzzling why he would choose to make this topic an important part of his act, but I can only wonder if it's both a test of his professionalism - the hardest act to sell in stand-up comedy - and also of his acting ability. Hunter trained with RADA when he was younger, and in the more heartfelt and serious moments I did wonder how much of the gravitas and emphasis was pure stagecraft. That said, Hunter seems like a genuine guy - just one who enjoys the intellectual exercise of stitching together an act out of the unlikeliest of material, that would stump a lesser performer.

Here he is on top form on Live at the Apollo in 2012, discussing patriotism, racism, internet trolls and Margaret Thatcher. It's more or less PG-13 material, with the usual NSFW language.

See also:
Comedy: Josie Long, 6 May 2013
Comedy: David O'Doherty, 5 May 2012
Comedy: Steve Coogan / Ed Byrne, 17 May 2009

07 May 2014


Two airborne shots taken in the past week: the first, looking back southwards towards West Wind from a north-bound flight out of Wellington on Friday morning (2 May), and the second of Mt Karioi near Raglan on the return flight southwards from Auckland (4 May).  Click images to enlarge.

05 May 2014

KT Tunstall

KT Tunstall
4 May 2014

Last night the nuggetty Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall finished up the world tour for her new album Invisible Empire Crescent Moon in Wellington. She has local ties - her first tour manager when she hit the big time was a New Zealander, who later moved back to Wellington and bought Bodega, the venue for her performance.

Tunstall, a native of St Andrews, burst onto the pop scene with a stirring performance on Later With Jools Holland in 2004, stomping out her immediate busking star turn, Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, which wowed the live TV audience. (It's still captivating viewing, and rare to see those crosses to the other performers on the bill, including Robert Smith of the Cure). Her best-selling album Eye to the Telescope cemented her success and earned her four top 40 singles in the UK, with Suddenly I See peaking the highest at number 12 in September 2005. It's this album that New Zealand fans know best, and Tunstall peppered the setlist with the crowd-pleasing hits, to great effect.

This tour saw Tunstall performing solo, as in her busking days, using loop effects to build up multi-tracked live instrumentation. Her inventive use of this technology in live performances must be heaven for the music geeks, and helps to hold the audience's attention and maintain energy levels in what can sometimes be challenging circumstances for a solo spot. She also throws in judiciously-selected covers like her well-liked segue into Seven Nation Army during the bridge of Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, Default by Thom Yorke's 'other' band Atoms For Peace, and touches of classic 80s pop in the Bangles' much-loved Walk Like An Egyptian and a surprisingly effective and non-ironic cover of Don Henley's Boys of Summer. My favourite song of the evening - other than the well-known hits - was her performance of Madame Trudeaux (sic.) from Tunstall's 2010 album Tiger Suit. This Simon & Garfunkel-like strummer, co-written with Linda Perry, lauds the exploits of the wife of Canadian premier Pierre Trudeau, Margaret Trudeau, who allegedly disappeared for several days with the Rolling Stones on tour just before a general election. Here's a 2010 performance from up close in Glasgow.

Tunstall put on a fine show, and entertained throughout with her friendly banter with the crowd. They even forgave her tour-addled references to the audience as 'Auckland' from the stage, which only goes to show the lengths to which Wellington audiences will go to make much-liked travellers welcome.

Earlier, the support act proved to be the find of the night. Wellington songstress Estère impressed with her MIA and Janelle Monae-influenced wonky electro-pop and self-assured stage presence. Not only can she write and sing admirably, Estère can also cut a fine shape in the dancing department. Definitely one to watch, and you should definitely download her new 7-track mini-album on Bandcamp.

See also:
Music: They Might Be Giants, 18 May 2013
Music: Pajama Club, 4 December 2011
Music: Aimee Mann, 29 July 2007

01 May 2014

Et in Arcadia ego

Oswald Claude Tucker, B.A., born 20 November 1916, died 29 April 2014, aged 97. Far-traveller, late-blooming scholar, champion whistler, Prime Ministerial meeter, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, printer, ambulanceman, VW driver, regaler-in-chief, socialist, fan of Tom Mix (but not Cement), kitchen reader, lion tamer, space traveller, garage tinkerer, lawn mower, garden tender, middle name user. And husband of 70 years.

Claude, 2006

Thorndon sunrise

Wellington, 1 May 2014, 7.25am