Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In praise of: Jeffrey Bernard

Cactus Kate is unwell, or so she says here. Our sympathies go out to her.

However, one suspects that she is planning a debauch, given that she provides this link to to Keith Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell.

Jeffrey Bernard was a legendary Fleet Street hack and drunk (no, that is not necessarily tautologous): his brilliant Low Life columns from the Spectator were once memorably described as a “suicide note in weekly instalments”. Whenever he did not deliver his copy in time to meet the deadline, the Spectator would print the line “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell”. Everyone knew what that meant – he was too drunk to type.

When I went to London in the early 90s, Kevin Ireland who knew I was a fan of the Low Life column said I should go to the Coach & Horses pub in Soho, buy his old friend Jeff a drink and say gidday from him. I can’t remember how they knew each other but one night Kevin piggy-backed Bernard home from the pub when he, Bernard, was legless. This was in the 60s or 70s, long before he became literally legless from alcoholism-induced diabetes.

So one day I went to the Coach & Horses at opening time and there was the great man sitting at the bar with a large vodka and tonic. I have been to a gang headquarters, I have stood next to Rob Muldoon, I have stood next to Titewhai Harawira, I know Helen Clark – but I have never seen anyone so intimidating. Christ knows what he was like in the evening after a day’s boozing.

So I never said hello from Kevin, never bought Jeff that drink and yes, I have been kicking myself ever since.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What I’m reading

Home Paddock has some Cactus Kate-style random impertinent questions about the sale of the Crafar farms, and reports on the resurrection of the Progressive Party. Spooky.

The Fundy Post comments on David Fane’s remark, “Would you roast an HIV person? You'd roast them because they're expendable. Like the Jews. Hitler had a right, you know.” David Farrar is cool with it because it was a roast. Fundy is not cool with it because it was not a roast: the whole point of a roast is that the subject of it is present and grinning at jokes made at his/her expense. I’m with Fundy. And maybe these remarks were taken out of context, but I really cannot imagine any context in which they would be OK. Ever.

“We either be allowed to drive or breastfeed foreigners.” Yet another tough choice for Saudi women.

Editing the Herald on its coverage of the ASB binning of Goldstein:
Anyway, I trust the same thing struck you as struck me when I looked at the picture above. the story about the ASB advertising campaign appears on the page right above... the ASB advertising campaign. Now that's what I call synergy
Ally will be in Dunedin next week for the national brass band contest. A trombonist friend of mine played in this years ago. It seemed to involve playing the instrument a lot, drinking a lot, and shagging a lot. We must all wish her the best of luck in her endeavours.

Messiaen sentence of the day

Sometimes you see a sentence that sends you off into a reverie of speculation. This, from page 98 of the July issue of Gramophone, did it for me:
DVDs of Messiaen’s organ music are rare.
Now why would that be? Watching someone play the organ for two hours might not be riveting appointment viewing? The audience for Olivier Messiaen’s music, especially his organ music, is vanishingly small? How many other reasons can you think of?

Actually I like this stuff. Last time I was in Paris, far too many years ago, I made the pilgrimage across town to the church of Saint-Trinité to hear the great composer himself play the Cavaillé-Coll organ there, as advertised (he was the parish organist for 60 years). That really would be the late 20th-century equivalent of hearing Beethoven or Mozart in recital. But malheureusement, the priest told me, M. Messiaen was indisposed that day (he died not long afterward).

Strange to relate, the priest could tell I was not a native French speaker and asked where I was from. As often happens when discombobulated, I lost most of my French and couldn’t remember how to say Nouvelle Zélande. I think he got the impression I was from Novaya Zemlya. Or possibly somewhere in Holland.

Here is Olivier Messiaen in 1985 improvising at the Cavaillé-Coll organ in Saint-Trinité, from this DVD:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lexicography question of the day

I emailed some gossip to a friend confirming what she had suspected, that X was a See You Next Tuesday.

She was unfamiliar with the expression, and asked:
See u next tuesday, meaning he’s too busy to talk? Or c.u. next tuesday?

I use ‘caring understanding nurturing type’.
Which is brilliant. But it got me thinking. I wonder, what is the word for the antonym of “acronym”? I bet Harry Orsman would have known.

UPDATE: Mary McCallum has the answer in the comments. The word, she says, is “bacronym”.

UPDATE 2: Lew from Kiwipolitico has further suggestions for the bacronym in question.

UPDATE: This afternoon I drive to Auckland (boo!) to fly to Melbourne for a couple of days (yay!) to attend a funeral (boo!) but I will be able to catch up with my old friends Brent and Co – no, that isn’t a company, it’s their names – and even go to a “gig” to see Co play guitar (yay!). Just like old times. So, no blogging for a bit.

Famous Friesians

This snippet from yesterday’s Waikato Times intrigued me:
The New Zealand Holstein Friesian Association will celebrate its centennial this year. The association, which was recently Holstein Friesian New Zealand, was formed on 23 June 1910 by 13 “illustrious gentlemen” who wanted to promote the benefits of the black-and-white cow.
So I went to the association’s website to learn more:
Who would have imagined that 100 years later the Holstein Friesian has moved from a little known breed to the prominent breed in New Zealand. As the Association moves into its second century, a financially sound organisation, it still promotes the benefits of the breed and provides a network for like-minded dairy farmers.

Holstein Friesian New Zealand will celebrating its centennial on the day of the birth of the Association near where it was formed in Palmerston North. Descendents of the men who founded the Association have been invited to celebrate the achievements of the Association over the last 100 years with current and past members. Cows and people who have had an impact on the development of the breed and the Association will also be receiving acknowledgement on this special day.

Congratulations to all who have helped Holstein Friesian New Zealand achieve this incredible milestone.

Sale of the Century
A selection of elite Holstein Friesian animals and embryos
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Awapuni Function Centre, Palmerston North
Catalogue out now
That is the catalogue illustrated in the previous post. And here are some famous friesians you may recognise:

Number 569, heroine of Kim Riley’s 2004 children’s story Cow Power. The Book Council tells us:
In February 2004, Riley was inadvertently rescued from drowning by Cow 569 during the Manawatu floods. Soon after, she was approached to write a book based on her experience, and this book has now sold over 10,000 copies.

Lulubelle III, cover star of Pink Floyd’s 1970 album Atom Heart Mother:
The band and [designer] Storm Thorgerson decided that the AHM sleeve be as “unpsychedelic as possible, as un-floyd-like, and completely off the wall”. . . Storm drove through the countryside and photographed the first cow he saw. The result was “the ultimate picture of a cow; it’s just totally cow.” [Storm]

Lulubelle III, the cow who graces the album cover, was a Holstein- Friesian, owned by Arthur Chalke. Mr. Chalke claimed he should have been paid one thousands pounds for Lulubelle's services, but [band manager] Steve O'Rourke dismissed Mr.Chalke's claim.
Unknown cow fronting Frank Zappa’s 1996 triple album Läther:
Dweezil Zappa conceived the cover, and Steven Jurgensmeyer turned in the final design: We’re being engaged by a cow (future leather) with Frank’s facial hair and an Italy-shaped spot on its hide.
It’s maybe hard to see but that is Zappa’s trademark mo and beardy thing on the cow’s face, and the map of Italy is there because his father was from Sicily. You know it makes sense.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sale of the century

Just a teaser. More tomorrow.

Album title of the month

Possibly of the year. It is by Jack Marchment on the Herb Recordings label and it is called:
Who’s Afraid of Iannis Xenakis?
It was released last September but I’ve only just read about it in the February issue of Uncut. Marchment takes samples from electronic pioneers like Xenakis and Edgard Varèse, as well as from the work of Delia Derbyshire of the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop (she created the Dr Who theme), and reworks them in new contexts.

Pretty radical – but it, or something like it, has been done before. In 2002 the San Francisco-based label Asphodel released a new edition of Persepholis, an hour-long electronic piece by Xenakis from 1971, with a second CD of remixes of sections from it by Japanese, Polish, German, Spanish and American musicians. Some of the resulting pieces are pretty; some are pretty wild, music for people who find Stockhausen too tame. The whole set is available at eMusic.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Public opinion

From XKCD, the “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language”.

Craig Brown on Christopher Hitchens

As previously noted, Private Eye doesn’t put its content online, so you can’t go to its website to read UK satirist Craig Brown’s merciless parody of Christopher Hitchens. I have never understood why Hitchens is regarded as a stylist: I like what he says but not the way he says it. He is almost always interesting, but his writing strikes me as overblown and self-regarding – and that is what Brown captures so brilliantly.

The piece begins:
I moved into Mart’s sock – where you lived was your “sock”. Your rug was your “hair”. Your knee was still your knee: we couldn’t think of another word for it. We called our penises our “willie winkies” and our shared lavatory “the bog”. There were a lot of brilliantly inventive word games of that kind.
There is much more in that vain. So three cheers for Vanity Fair, which reprints the whole thing in full here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sentence of the day

Most New Zealanders don’t follow Australian politics very closely, or at all. Which is a shame, because Australian politics is great. IMHO being in Oz for a national election is a close second to being in the US for a presidential. I have done both: the US wins on points because it matters more on a world scale, but the Aussies are much, much funnier. Well, perhaps not Kevin Rudd.

The West Sydney suburb of Penrith had a by-election yesterday. It has been a staunch Labor (sic) seat forever, more or less: the Liberals have held it only twice in the last 37 years. But this time there was a swing against Labor of 25% and so the Liberal candidate Stuart Ayres hosed in. Or, as the Australian put it:
Voters in Penrith took a bat to the government
In New Zealand terms this is like Te Atatu or Mt Roskill going National. More here at the Sydney Morning Herald.

This is possibly just a local result with no implications for the impending general election: the reason for the by-election was that the Labor incumbent had to resign because of corruption, which is unusual in NSW. The resignation, I mean, not the corruption. But it must add fuel to the Gillard for PM campaign.

I did like this Laurie Oakes story which suggests that Rudd may be Cactus. Seems unlikely to me.

UPDATE: having returned from Melbourne, I can report (in case you hadn’t noticed) that Rudd is, if not Cactus, definitely toast. The best thing about this was seeing Mark Latham, a similarly dumped former Labor leader, on morning television viciously bagging Rudd, Gillard, Swan and practically everybody else in his party, especially the Victoria and NSW branches. These guys are outstanding haters.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Chad Taylor par o’the day

I (me, not Chad) have been in Auckland all day working so have nothing to blog.

OK, not all day, as I had to drive there and back which takes three and a half hours altogether, i.e. 14.6% of the day but of course a much higher percentage of time awake, say 21.9% assuming eight hours’ sleep. Which is about right. Usually. But that still is not all day, is it.

Let’s try again.

I have been in Auckland today finishing work on my next book.

OK, not mine. I’m just the editor. Still, I get my name on it which is the main thing. It is the fifth in a series published by the NZ Architectural Publications Trust, and the fourth I have worked on with my friend Diana the Designer. The previous one was “produced to a very high standard. It is a must” it says here. The one before that was “seductive, stimulating”, it says here.

These books are quite fun to do because:
1. I get paid.
2. I get to work with Diana.
3. I like all of the architects. OK, I like some of them. OK, I quite like most of them.
4. I get to commission good writers to write interesting stuff, and they are all professional and deliver on time. OK, not Charles.
5. The finished books look great.

You see why God gave us editors? All I needed to say was: I’ve been in Auckland today so have nothing to blog. Instead here’s something from Chad.

He starts out talking about James Joyce but smoothly segues (though isn’t that what a segue is, smooth? OK, delete “smoothly”) to James Bond:
All You Need Is Kill has been adapted by Dante Harper. Dante Harper: where are all these brilliant names coming from all of a sudden? Dante Harper would be the name of Bond’s leggy antagonist and the villain of course would be Miss Zunshine. The novel would pick up in 2010 years after Bond’s death when a stranger claiming to be 007 turns up and starts picking off Bond’s associates from the old days. And the bad guys would be from MEME. That’s how I’d do it, anyway.
I so want to read that.

UPDATE: Chad issues a challenge addendum. Hmm. We’ll see.

UPDATE 2: Jeffrey Deaver got the gig. Jeff is a very nice man – we did a session together at the Auckland Writers’ Festival some years ago – and a really good genre writer but he is, how does one put this tactfully?, an American.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bloomsday and Ys

Stupidly, I had forgotten that yesterday was Bloomsday. Perhaps it still is in Dublin so it’s not too late to celebrate.

I was happy to be reminded of it by this IIML tweet:
Georges Perec reworks Ulysses for Bloomsday - "fl my brasts all prfume ys and his hart was going lik mad and ys I said ys I will Ys."
You will recall that Perec (large claims made for him here) wrote a whole novel, sorry, whol novl, without using the letter e (La Disparition, translated into English by Gilbert Adair as A Void). Ys, obviously: why? And: is it hardr in Frnch? Still, that explains the famous last sentence of James Joyce’s Ulysses Perec-ised above. Probably not by Perec himself, who died in 1982. Probably by a clever-clogs at IIML.

But I was unhappy to be reminded of Ys, the 2006 album of “new folk” by harpist/singer Joanna Newsom which was praised to the skies by music reviewers all over the world. You know, the people who get their music for free. I like the Incredible String Band as much as anyone (i.e. more than anyone reading this) so I don’t mind shapeless and tuneless caterwauling and only five songs on one CD but, boy, there are limits.

Anyway, the pic above is from the Joseph Strick 1967 film adaptation of Ulysses, with Barbara Jefford as Molly Bloom and Milo O’Shea as Leopold. Younger readers will not believe this but it is for true: audiences in New Zealand were segregated:
[. . . ] mainly because the film contained one use of the word “fuck”. This had been enough to ban it in Australia where films could not be restricted by age (eg, R18) like they could in New Zealand.

In 1967 the film Ulysses reached the New Zealand film censor. Douglas McIntosh, the Chief Film Censor, screened it to two test audiences, one made up of church representatives (all men) and the other made up of married couples. While the first group recommended an R18 or Restricted to Film Societies classification, the second felt it could only be shown to segregated (split) audiences aged 18 years and over.

The Film Censor followed the second group’s recommendation and men and women were separated during screenings. He stated that some of the dialogue in the film would cause embarrassment in “mixed company”. In smaller theatres this meant a rope was put down the middle of the cinema. In larger theatres the aisle separated men and women, or one group sat upstairs and the other downstairs.
Yep, that’s how I saw it in the Maidment Theatre at Auckland University in, I suppose, 1971: women to the left, men to the right and a rope down the middle in between. Those were the days, and those days were rubbish.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Happy birthday, Robin Morrison

The 14th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is another from the first issue, June 1993.

Robin Morrison was born on 16 June 1944 and died on 12 March 1993. The photo above (unforgivably in this context, I don’t know who the photographer was – almost certainly Gil Hanly, who I hope won’t mind me using it - UPDATE: actually, almost certainly George Kohlap) shows him in 1991 at the launch of his book At Home and Abroad, with Kevin Ireland. On Robin’s death, Kevin wrote in the Listener:
All those who met Morrison were struck by his alertness and magnetism. He seemed uncannily aware of hidden possibilities in the most ordinary of surroundings – as if he had the power to draw his subjects towards him [. . . ] the distinction of his best works lie in the virtues of the man himself. He never lapsed into parody or pomposity. He gloried in human effort, no matter how vain, comic or frail . . .
In 1992, before he became ill, we had talked about how he might be part of the new magazine I was planning. He was enthusiastic – he was enthusiastic about anything that struck him as a good idea – and I was thrilled that he would want to be involved. I have worked with some fine photographers before and since but Robin taught me more than any of them. When I was a callow sub-editor at the Listener, before they had designers, we subs used to lay out the pages and in my first week I cropped one of Robin’s photos. Just a sliver off the left-hand side, but it was a crop too far. Next week he came in, introduced himself and politely but forcefully explained to me where, how and why I had got it wrong. It was the best lesson in photography and magazine design I have ever had.

The original intro to this was:
Robin Morrison, who died in March, was our best and best-loved photographer. His highly personal images of New Zealand and New Zealanders helped define the way we see ourselves and the land we live in MICHAEL KING recalls working with him in the Chathams and the Coromandel, and LOUISE CALLAN looks back on a long friendship.
Here is Michael King’s piece:
Like many other New Zealanders, I first encountered Robin Morrison in the pages of the Listener, where his astonishingly revealing photographs began to appear in the 1970s. I remember especially one of Frank Sargeson, which did what no other portrait of the writer had done up to that time. I’m talking about the photograph of Frank sitting on his small veranda stroking his cat. It captured Sargeson’s seriousness, and his extraordinary angularity. It showed, prominently but naturally, his writer’s and gardener’s hands. Close to those hands lay a green pepper, for which – among his friends – Frank was as famous as he was for his stories. And, even though he was dressed in what passed for his best clothes, it revealed that the writer’s trousers were secured by a necktie. In addition to doing all these things, the photograph was beautifully composed, framing Frank in the leaves of his grapevine, through which the dappled light of summer was seen, but distanced.
Last year I found and read Frank’s letter to the then Listener editor Ian Cross about that photo session. “Morrison’s a good lad,” Sargeson wrote. “He knows what he’s doing. There was no mucking about. And I enjoyed the time with him. Send him around again some time.”
Robin’s comment about the session was that Frank had been a ham, changing posture and expression for the camera with the ease and confidence of a professional model. The point is, of course, that it was Robin’s easy presence and conversation that transformed Frank, temporarily, into that ham. Sargeson was not naturally a poser, though there was in him an element of poseur. There is a mountain of photographs that show him looking awkward or cross to testify that the success of that session was to the credit of the photographer rather than the subject.
Much later, working with Robin, I saw the extent to which successes were the product of highly refined instincts and skills. Robin had an extraordinary facility for putting people at their ease, and he did this largely by talking to them as he photographed. He also had a genius for snapping the shutter at the absolutely decisive moment when people, buildings and landscapes – and sometimes animals as well – arranged themselves into the composition that he had seen: or, more accurately, perhaps, foreseen.
I recall his photographing the Solomon brothers at Manakau in the Chatham Islands, standing around the statue of their grandfather, the so-called last Moriori. The boys, the Beagle Boys as they’re known locally, were feeling a bit uncomfortable and didn’t seem to know what to do with their hands. Robin kept talking to them and waiting. Suddenly, as Robin lifted the camera to his eye, they all three clasped their hands to the front, in unconscious imitation of the statue. The shutter clicked, and what Robin had was four Tommy Solomons, one of which happened to be in ferro-cement. The second after the picture was taken they were shuffling about again.
I remember too the time we were in the cemetery high on the cliffs at Mataora Bay on the Coromandel Peninsula. We had been talking about the fact that this was the place where David Tamihere had lain up on the run from the police in 1989. It was from here that he had gone across the range to meet up with two Swedish tourists near Thames. The cliff-top was lined with Tamihere family graves and the whole place seemed heavy with psychic residue. As we stepped out of the cemetery we walked straight into two members of the tangata whenua, both in woolly hats and Swanndris. One carried a rifle. It was disconcertingly close to the scenario we’d been discussing.
The one with the rifle unslung his weapon and asked us what the hell we were doing there. While I, the supposed words man, was thinking about how best to deal with the situation (we had permission from elders to visit both the bay and cemetery), Robin simply strode forward, hand extended, and said, “Hi. We’re doing a book on the Coromandel Peninsula. Do you mind if I take a photograph of you?”
They didn’t. The professional was immediately in quiet control and yet another unexpected encounter became part of the story and part of the corpus of an evolving book.
Sometimes his seeking out of such people led to incongruous results. He was keen to photograph the only woman professional fisherman on the Chathams, because she stood out as such a silhouette against the strongly male culture that prevails there. When he found her and did so, as she was rowing out to her boat, she shrieked with dismay and accelerated away from us – because the last time she had seen Robin was also through the lens of a camera, when he had been drawn to her for similar qualities in another setting.
She turned out to be Julia, “the moon woman”, whom he had photographed at the Fox River commune in 1979 for The South Island Of New Zealand: From The Road.
Inevitably, in my mind, professional recollections of Robin merge with personal ones. He was a marvellous person to work with because he was the best of travelling companions. And he was the best of travelling companions because he derived so much joy from the shared rituals of friendship: from conversation, from good humour, from courtesy, from the preparation and enjoyment of good food and wine, from expeditions to interesting places, from the drink in the evening at the end of a day’s work, and from the quiet, companionable silences that exist between words and conversations.
All these things we shall miss now, just as we shall miss the puckish sense of humour that infused so much of his life and work. Who, having seen it, can forget the picture of Norm Smith and his pet sheep Pebbles; and who, also having seen it, hasn’t wondered which was Pebbles and which was Norm? The existence of his books, however, especially the major retrospective At Home And Abroad, means that we are not deprived of his vision. He helped us see things we needed to see – the rhythms in our landscape, the things that made us knowing and tolerant and affectionate about our country and our compatriots; and he helped us see a great distance.

And here is Louise Callan’s memoir of Robin Morrison:
Sometimes lives suddenly acquire a logic at the end that was not apparent during their living. When someone dies way before their allotted three-score and ten, the temptation to make some sense of the senseless is strong. And so we find ourselves saying “if only. . .” or “it’s as if. . .”. It’s as if he lived his life knowing he was short on time.
I’m sure that was not how Robin saw his life. Yet at his dying and since then I keep being reminded how much I associate him with a life fully lived.
I first knew Robin Morrison as a workmate, back in the early 70s when he and Dinah, his wife, had just returned from Britain. He became a regular photographer for a magazine I worked on. That business relationship gradually developed into a friendship with Robin and the whole family, one of the most important friendships in my life. What his illness and death brought home to me forcibly was the significance Robin had in such a lot of people’s lives.
Some men and women have a talent for friendship, an easiness with people, a natural sociability. When I think of Robin, as often as not it is with people: talking, arguing, gossiping, challenging. . . and listening, dark brown eyes, lighter brown voice, very easy on the eye and ear; proffering advice, some of it unsolicited, most of it good; organising some occasion or outing; at a wine tasting; moving with ease through the ebb and flow of a party; on one of the celebrated “chaps’ lunches” which could take place anywhere in the world when Robin and one or two of his oldest friends met up; locked in a highly competitive weekend card-playing marathon, fortified by occasional meals and regular shots of single malt; out on a friend’s boat for the weekend with a line over the side and a beer; with the family and friends at a remote beach; on the road all over the world, fearlessly exploring and seeing the essential, the unexpected and ironic. I can think of few people as good to travel with.
Robin had that rare ability of being able to talk to anybody, which showed most clearly when he was at work. Unlike some photographers (and journalists, television crews, politicians, anyone who needs a bit of someone else in order to get the job done), there was never ever any sense of a switch flicked on and off. His interest and responses were genuine and as a result people showed him parts of themselves and their lives they didn’t often reveal to outsiders.
That is not to say he was indiscriminate in the company he chose. Robin looked for those who had qualities similar to his own – broad interests and constant curiosity, a catholic taste in reading and music, an awareness of images of all kinds, the talent to tell a story and appreciation of a good joke, a sense of style. Yet he was also someone who had learned the skill of being alone. Not just the alone of sitting in the living room for the afternoon in front of the fire reading, but the less welcome solitariness of life on the road. The second was not something he necessarily relished or sought and in the last few years he found it more and more difficult. But it came with the territory and as his reputation grew, his travels from home became more regular, and at times extended to months. When the job was too long, and when they could, the family went with him.
In many ways Robin and Dinah, and their two sons, Jake and Keir, were a travelling family. Their lives were a series of widening circles – the family in the South Island, Sydney, London; Jake and Robin in Paris, Keir and Robin travelling through Spain; Dinah and Robin in Scotland, France, Italy, Greece, the USA and India. Wherever they lived or paused, they fitted, found an adventure to be part of. But the circle at the centre, always, was the house in Tole Street in Ponsonby. For 18 years it was the heart, the pulse, the hearth.
Tole Street holds my most familiar memories of Robin. Number 7 was a big old villa with high pressed-metal ceilings, stained-glass panels in the windows and doors, well lived in and welcoming. The wide L-shaped hall led to a long living room which could be divided in two and the front used to house Dinah’s piano or the ping-pong table, as a bedroom for any friend who needed it for a night or a week, or the dining room for a long leisurely lunch or big family Christmas dinner. But it was the large kitchen-dining room at the far end of the house that most often drew visitors to talk, drink and eat. The walls were an ever-changing calendar and gallery of Morrison life – postcards, cartoons, shots by Robin and Dinah, invitations to parties and exhibition openings, snaps of friends, rediscovered photos of the boys, Robin, Dinah and their parents when young. The wooden floor which sloped unmistakably towards the back doors carried tap-dancing classes in the 80s. At film festival time tickets were stacked on the sideboard, in a good year for two or three films a day. There were new books and magazines, flowers, a slant of sunlight, old-fashioned kitchen chairs and the staccato click of the two Jack Russells as they travelled ever-hopeful of the falling morsel.
The kitchen is important because, along with his office and the darkroom underneath the house, it seemed like Robin’s room at times. As well as the strong element of the hunter-gatherer in him, he was one of the best cooks I have known. A day in the kitchen preparing a meal for friends was a pleasure, not a chore. And his was no occasional culinary exhibitionism but a practical skill used almost every day.
Robin and Dinah left Tole Street several months before he died. It was strange for their friends as well as for them. When I think of Robin now it is there: he is opening the old front door, the dogs dancing at his feet; calling hello from the living room; walking in front of me down the hall in pale khaki trousers, faded blue shirt, navy blue and white spotted handkerchief sticking out of his pocket; at the lightbox with an eye glass in his hand checking sheets of transparencies; sitting in the fading light on the back deck with his troughs of lettuces and herbs and pots of tomatoes like a frieze around the edge; chopping onion, garlic and parsley to steam with mussels collected earlier in the day; shouting up the hall to Jake or Keir to ask if they’ve fed the dogs; standing down in the backyard, tongs in hand, staring into the heat shimmer of the barbecue; settling down after dinner with Dinah to watch a video, a demitasse and a glass of something at hand – and the dogs sighing in front of the fire.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thoroughly modern Metro

This month’s Metro bills itself as The Money Issue. Cover lines include:
The Really Rich List
A Remuera Money Map
The Best of Luxury Auckland: our $3,684,763.99 shoot
Wealth Lessons from recession
The cover photo is of a hottie with labels showing the prices of her bits of bling:
Sapphire and diamond drop earrings $7450
Tanzanite and diamond ring $24,500
Diamond and white gold cuff $24,350
Lanvin velvet dress $4300
What you can’t see, due to photographer ineptitude (that will be me), is the glorious strapline across the top:
Idiots. They should have put the price up $2 to $11.50 and used this strapline:
The ACP website says:
Sophisticated and clever, Metro magazine is aimed at readers who care about Auckland.
Click on the Editorial Profile and what do we find?:
Bevan Rapson, Editor
[yada yada]
With its big format, beautiful photography and innovative design, it’s the magazine that every style-conscious Aucklander wants on their coffee table.
That big format went west a year ago. Bevan Rapson has also left the building: this is his last issue, and Simon Wilson has been in the Big Chair for some weeks. ACP really doesn’t get this Internet stuff, does it. Not very sophisticated, not very clever.

The Devil is in the details

. . . and God is in Wellington, or so says Dom-Post science columnist Bob Brockie in the autumn issue of the NZ Skeptic:
I once wrote about the beginning of the world, and got an 11-page letter telling me when the world is going to end. The letter was from none other than God and his wife. They told me that the Earth would end shortly before January 31 in the year 5000. Owing to the mental and physical condition of humanity and filthy sex aids, mankind become unable to reproduce about then.

There was lots of other advice as well, about divorce and the number 7777 and how the true church is the Salvation Army.

Sadly, I couldn’t reply to God, because there was no forwarding address. I did notice it was sent from a post office down in Manners St, Wellington, however.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tim Wilson on Sam Hunt

The 13th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the first issue, June 1993, and is a profile of the poet Sam Hunt (be-gonged in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday honours list) by Tim Wilson. Yes, that chap from the telly, whose first novel, Their Faces Were Shining, is due in October from VUP. He/we won a Commonwealth Media Prize for this story.

Money quote:
Hunt often seems a bit like St. Paul: all things to all people. In New Zealand he says his favourite poets include Tim and Neil Finn. When in Australia, he talks glowingly about Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri, again local musicians. Hunt once told Zealandia that he often considered being a priest. At the time he probably drank enough to qualify.
Here is the original intro:
Drunk, disorderly and quite possibly debauched, Sam Hunt won an ardent following for both himself and his poetry as he performed in pubs and halls nationwide through the 70s and 80s. Now he’s sober and selling bread in a TV commercial. Has the people’s poet sold out? If so, what’s the going rate for a national icon? And what, TIM WILSON wonders, becalms a legend most?
And here is the story:

Crumpie touting Toyotas; Bruno Lawrence pushing Peanut Slabs; Gary McCormick going gaga for Mitre 10. There’s a pattern emerging. Crumpie, Bruno and Gary – characters, outsiders, communicators. Finally, representing Vogel bread and the Endeavour challenge: come on down, Sam Hunt.
You don’t have to be Alison Holst to work out this recipe. Take one good keen man. Isolate him. A good keen man alone, if you like. Let him do his own thing. It might be huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’. It might be trawling State Highway One in a large and powerful car. Add tall tales about drinking, seducing vicars’ wives and/or the attempted seduction of everyone’s wives. Toss in a dash of social comment.
Wait a decade or two then scrub the “alone” bit. New Zealand’s just too small.
You now have a good keen man with “cut-through”. This is what advertising people say when they mean noticeability. Dave Henderson, creator of the Vogel bread Kiwi Legends campaign, says that Sam Hunt had more cut-through than fel¬low legend the late Sir Robert Muldoon. In his next ad Hunt wished Grant Dalton’s yacht bon voyage: “Good luck, God speed, you’re on your way.” Even now people shout it at him as he walks down the street.
Everyone you know, it seems, has a Sam Hunt story, even if it’s just a sighting, like the time he was seen at the top of Whakapapa ski field two years ago, the only individual on the piste to wear black jeans and lace-up gumboots. I have two – I swear they’re true.
I first saw Sam Hunt perform with Gary McCormick on a Sunday afternoon at Wanganui’s Sarjeant Art Gallery. My parents were duly scandalised. “They’re so coarse,” shrieked my grandmother. As a bland teenager caught in a provincial town, I felt this was just what the doctor had ordered. A posse of schoolgirls in the audience, their uniforms identifying them as coming from Nga Tawa College, an expensive private school at nearby Marton, seemed to feel the same way.
Cut to a stretch of road just out of Waikanae. I was hitchhiking. To my surprise a late-model Commodore stopped. Those winklepicker boots, my driver explained, were why he had picked me up. His friend Sam Hunt wore boots like that. I replied that he couldn’t be very well off, financially. My driver nearly went off the road. “Don’t you believe it,” he chortled, “he’s a very smart cookie. He’s loaded.” I sat very quietly after that. Poets should be eccentric. But prosperous, smart cookies?
If you enjoyed that contradiction, Hunt has a few more: the vulnerable bodgie, the public performer who cherishes solitude, the poet who seems to dislike as much poetry as he likes, the non-conformist who is lionised… Talk to Hunt for a while and a further contradiction is evident: his poems may be short but his speech is long. Questions deserving a quick answer do get one; eventually. He quotes Pablo Neruda, Ezra Pound, Seamus Heaney and himself. His puns are often very funny. He must be a lazy journalist’s dream date. Not only is he quotable; golly is he friendly. After five minutes of conversing you feel as if you want to, if not have his babies, then perhaps volunteer that your sister do so.
This side of him is what galvanises the television appearances. Politicians and Paul Holmes apart, most faces on the small screen tend to be smooth-skinned, young and shallow. Hunt is not and it’s nice to have a bit of rough. His directors, Costa Botes of 1989’s Catching The Tide and Keith Hunter of 1992’s Great New Zealand River Journeys, attest to Hunt’s credibility: “People wouldn’t leave him alone,” says Botes., “They knew him. They knew the name of his dog.”
“He clearly has a persona in outback New Zealand,” Hunter adds, “which is a very popular one.”
Don’t forget suburbia. “Sam has a great rapport with middle New Zealand. He’s been stumping middle New Zealand for years,” says River Journeys producer George Andrews. Hunt’s father was a barrister, which puts him well above the halfway mark, class-wise. It shows. Botes, himself impeccably soft-spoken, describes Hunt’s flawless manners and sense of protocol with admiration.
While his directors and producer can’t heap enough praise on his writing skills, especially under pressure, other industry insiders aren’t as complimentary. “Working with Sam,” says one, “was the worst shoot I’ve ever been involved with.”
“It was the best and worst of times,” says another. If things don’t go well, apparently, Hunt can be vain, impatient and insecure. There is also the suggestion that his brain is an eensy-weensy bit fried by years of heavy living.
Like an old blues singer, Hunt has paid dues. They sit in his vocal chords, kept there by roll-your-own cigarettes. You know what he will call a spade. “Fuck off,” he spat at one point during our interview, declaiming the numerous unsolicited invitations to openings and launches that he receives. A pause. “Well, that sounds a bit arrogant.” Another pause. “But basically I mean fuck off.” He often seems careful of the effect he is having. His vowels are Oxbridge: naice and kaind.
Ask him, however, about whether he sees himself as part of the good keen man tradition, and he changes tack. “I don’t know about see myself; this suggesting, which I haven’t done, that you’ve worked out what sort of image you’re going to put out there. I don’t want to sound naive or simplistic, but I just go for the things I like.”
Consumers are different. They don’t always know what things they like. They need advertising or help, depending on your point of view. Colenso in Auckland has been helping New Zealanders with their point of view since 1969. Celebrated clients include: Dominion Breweries, Anchor Foods and the Woman’s Weekly. Dave Henderson, Colenso’s chief executive office/creative director, the man who penned the Vogel verses, knows what ads should do. “One big objective of advertising is to be noticed,” he says. “You often find in popularity polls that the same ad can be among the most popular and the most unpopular. Sam’s one of those guys who won’t be ignored.”
Henderson implies that Hunt felt doing the ad was like a death; at the outset anyway. “He was very apprehensive and worried about whether it was the right thing to do. He was very concerned about what he was going to say and how he was going to look.”
To his credit, and ironically to his everlasting cachet with advertising people, Hunt remains doubtful. “I’d love to do it without the ads. Doing my sort of ad is an awful compromise.”
So why did he do it? “All the money, all the bread I made on Vogel’s went straight to the Henderson branch of Te Tari Take, the Inland Revenue. I’ve got my taxes paid for the first time in six years.”
Hunt won’t say what the figure is. Henderson is equally reticent: “It’s not a huge amount. A fair amount for a market of this size; not megabucks, put it that way.”
What are megabucks, then – tens of thousands? “More than that if you wanted someone with an international profile.”
Hunt enjoyed his next commercial, done for the Endeavour challenge, “even though it wasn’t one of those highly paid numbers”. Enjoyment is, he knows, one rationalisation. There are others. “If you can live with it, OK. A lot of ads that I see people doing on television I’ve been asked to do, or programmes that come on the radio or television and you’ve been asked to go on them and, you think, No way!”
What separates the welcome from the Faustian? “Well, can you do it in terms of your own...”
If you can you sleep at night? “Well, I don’t sleep at night anyway. Can you sleep in the afternoon, y’know?” Hunt’s mind extends its hind legs and springs to the next lily pad. “I love that Verlaines album that they did a few years ago called 10 O’clock In The Afternoon. Great title. Good album, too.”
Sam Hunt may sometimes go, as Dave Henderson hinted, for tens of thousands. When the stimulation’s right, he just goes. Hunt saw the first draft of the script for the Endeavour challenge ad while seated in an Auckland recording studio, all the expensive tape machines set on pause. “I read it and it looked like someone had just had a birthday and taken their birthday card to heart. The final word was that I wasn’t doing it.” Hunt recorded his own verse to fit the 60-second space vacated by the original. “I did it first take,” he says, with some pride, “thumbs up, out of the studio, onto the plane and got the afternoon flight.”
Now and again, Sam doesn’t go at all. When he and Keith Hunter did a fact-find¬ing excursion for River Journeys they discovered that the Wanganui river locals were hopping mad with ECNZ, then called Electricorp, for diverting the head waters of the river to Taupo. At the time, Electricorp was a prospective sponsor of the show. Andrews remembers, “Sam came back from the reconnaissance very firm that he would not be able to continue with the programme if Electricorp were to sponsor it, as they were hoping to do. I had to chose between the two and it wasn’t very hard.”
The programme aired with Hunt standing on the edifice which does the diverting. “Looking around here,” he proclaimed, “you can’t help feeling that the hand of man has outstretched the hands of the gods.”
Some things, then, he won’t do. There have been some “generous offers” of corporate sponsorship for tours. Hunt rejected them on the grounds that “they were just hitchhiking”. He says he’s not in any great hurry to do more ads, although that’s not the same as swearing he’ll never do another.

Has the people’s bard sold out? Not yet, chorus the experts. “Sam Hunt hasn’t been milked,” states Keith Lewin. “He will be more valuable if he doesn’t say yes to everything. He’s not subject to trend. He’s a bit like Levis jeans. He’s just there.” Levis, coincidentally, is another of Lewin’s clients. Henderson agrees that he hasn’t been as commercialised as the retired-poet-turned-ordinary-bloke, Gary McCormick. “Sam is much closer to the essence of his creative self,” says Costa Botes. “I can’t see him drifting away from that. He is a poet and a very good one.”
What about some fresh verses, then? Hunt has become comparatively ubiquitous on the boob tube, yet less so in print. Making Tracks, a poetic greatest hits, ap¬peared in 1991. Thirty new poems surfaced in Angel Gear four years ago, but they’re not what the book will be best remembered for: rock journalist Colin Hogg’s description of two ageing men behaving like reptiles caused a predictable reaction from those who failed to see the funny side of voyeurism, substance abuse and other diversions. Hunt’s last book of new poetry was 1985’s Approaches To Paremata.
Hunt says a “combination of things” has caused the dearth of new published work. One of these is that he was dissatisfied with the poems. “By that I don’t mean writing a poem and looking at it and saying, No. You reassess a lot of stuff. You look at poems you’ve written and think, Oh no, fuck that. Said that before.”
He’s also not sure if the printed page is his medium. “For years I’ve received criticism, and I think quite justifiable criticism, that my poems work better when told.” Video, he believes, is much closer to the spirit of his work. And, one is tempted to add, the spirit of the age.
Hunt used to be one of the country’s most celebrated drunks. No interview with him was complete without the accompaniment of bottles being uncapped. It was one more nice convenient angle: the poet as a pisshead, especially in a nation where drunkenness is considered to be so much more than the measure of a man’s thirst.
Considering this, admittedly self-made, part of the Sam Hunt myth, his decision to stop drinking at the end of the 80s was a courageous one. Concert promoter Ian Magan, a friend of Hunt’s for 20 years, believes the sober Hunt is a better Hunt. “He’s got no one else to be responsible for. Often guys who are in that position do drink a lot. He decided that if he wanted to have a better life and a longer life, he’d have to stop. So he did.”
But the absence of marinade made a difference. “It had quite a bit to do with the silence in terms of making the poems public on the page,” Hunt says. “When you get drunk you can get sentimental, and a lot of that sentimental gush you look at and you think, No. I just felt like cutting off a lot of dead meat from the poems. I’d rather write one good poem than 10 mediocre ones.”
The 10-to-one ratio is one that many critics would agree on when assessing Hunt’s output. Perhaps some of this is, as Maurice Gee has observed, playing the man rather than the ball, but it’s difficult to avoid, especially when the man insists on being so securely affixed to the ball. Hunt professes not to care too much about the judgments of the literati. This is one more facet of the poet’s appeal, as Magan says: “He shoved his fingers at the arty-farty side of this country and said, ‘Up you.’ It was wonderful how he did that, not in any antagonistic or belligerent way [one does wonder what other way the shoving of the fingers can be taken] but ‘This is me; take me as I am and up you.’ l love him for that.”
Magan is not alone in his love. Shoving it to the arty-farties or the eggheads is a popular rallying point, often among the thick and artless. Hunt is the people’s poet now but, for a while at least, he was in¬volved in the literary scene. Denis Glover advised him not to get too respectable. James K. Baxter took time out from writing self-justifying verses to himself and wrote a self-justifying verse to the younger man called, appropriately, “Letter To Sam Hunt”. In 1975 Hunt was the Robert Burns Fellow at Otago University. He even served on the executive committee of the writer’s organisation PEN for four months. “It didn’t have anything to do with poems or songs,” he now says. “It was a whole social structure within the literary world. I don’t like it.”
Hunt allowed his PEN membership to lapse in 1977 and pointed the nose of his Valiant at a different route, one which led, via schools and public bars, to comfortable notoriety and advertisements. The accessories – the thumping great cars, heroic bouts of drinking, the winklepickers, the tight pants – are often distracting. Because they seem to interlock, it’s tempting to put them all together. See: sensitivity with a manly veneer, a bodgie poet.
Yet bodgies don’t rave about Kendrick Smithyman’s Auto/Biographies, they don’t remain slim and they don’t mess about in boats. Sam Hunt likes to be out of fashion, he says. Isn’t anti-fashion a fashion too? “Don’t worry about that,” he advises, “you’re starting to worry about images and how people perceive them.”
Hunt often seems a bit like St. Paul: all things to all people. In New Zealand he says his favourite poets include Tim and Neil Finn. When in Australia, he talks glowingly about Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri, again local musicians. Hunt once told Zealandia that he often considered being a priest. At the time he probably drank enough to qualify.
Sometimes you think a little more unfamiliarity wouldn’t hurt. Hunt mentions a poem he’s been working on for two years called “Spirit Level”, which he describes as “the woman in me talking”. The woman inside Sam Hunt? Now that would be worth a listen.

Stressing out II

This afternoon I was interviewed by a journalist – he phoned all the way from Auckland! – about my role in the NZ Post Book Awards. Among many other impertinent questions in the hour-long interview, he asked whether I had read every word of every book.

Next week I have to drive to Hamilton to the RNZ studio there so I can be interviewed by a journalist.

I detect a pattern. Clearly the week after that I will have to drive to Hawera, or possibly Piopio, to be interviewed by a journalist. Piopio would be all right – I’ve got dozens of cousins there. Hawera, I’m not so sure.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Stressing out

This morning I was interviewed by a journalist – she came all the way from Auckland! – about my role in the NZ Post Book Awards. Among many other impertinent questions, she asked about how stressful the process is: there will be only four winners out of more than 150 entries and so a pretty high ratio of non-winners to winners, higher probably than in these awards’ previous incarnation, the Montanas.

I said this was as nothing compared to the stress I will be under tomorrow when my wife and I select the Player of the Day for our eight-year-old’s netball team.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

All hail Cactus Kate, Queen Blogger!

Yes, the spiky one has won the inaugural Air New Zealand (not really) Best Blog Award. And rightly so.

The announcement says:
The Dim Post was runner up and No Right Turn and Whaleoil were awarded joint third place.

Blogs to be shortlisted by at least one judge were: Hot Topic; In A Strange Land ; Kiwianarama; Liberation; and Not PC.

The union launched the awards after another media awards competition, sponsored by a foreign budget airline that uses decrepit Boeing 767s for its Trans-Tasman services and doesn’t even have proper lie-flat beds in Business Class, failed to follow its own criteria in selecting its short list.

More than 30 entries were received by the deadline while all other top 20 blogs in New Zealand, as measured on the authoritative Tumeke! blog ranking index were given wild card entries.
The full report is here. Weird that David Farrar doesn’t feature, nor Public Address, but I assume that’s because the impartial judges considered that Farrar is no longer right enough and that Brown is, frankly, left.

I haven’t read it all yet as most of it is barking (apart from Bomber Bradbury on Cactus Kate: “her critique of NZX is the sort of intelligent investigative journalism Metro would be printing if they weren't so shit now”, which is bang-on) but I have read this bit many, many times:
Quote Unquote
Comments: Informed writer and an informative blog. The literary topics were generally accessible (to this non-literary reader) and the writing crisp.

Lesser books

From the Institute of Modern Letters 4 June newsletter (a free download as a PDF here):
In our general twittering excitement, we got especially excited about the #lesserbooks twitter trend – the invention of titles like Dr Perhaps, Tale of One City, Captain Corelli’s Ukulele. In fact, we got so excited we asked if twitterers could devise suggestions for well-known NZ books, and started with a couple of suggestions of our own: Drizzle, by Kirsty Gunn, and Somebody Quite Likes Us All, by Damien Wilkins.

Given New Zealanders’ expertise in self-deprecation, it’s probably no surprise that we turned out to be pretty good at the lesserbooks game. The trend, as they say, trended. Some of our favourites from a great list of titles:

Came a Mild Tuesday
Beta Male
A Good Keen Flan
Owls Do Fly
Once Were Worriers
100 Traditional Piles
Tarzan Pitney
An Anglepoise at My Table
The Cartilage People
The background is here.

I had trouble searching Twitter for the rest of the NZ entries but I did find Fergus Barrowman’s excellent Collected Poem. So these modest proposals below may be repeats:

Most Visitors Ashore and Four for the Symbol, CK Stead,
One Night Out Borrowing and Once Were Corporals, Alan Duff
Hum to Me, Dreamer and The Betrothal at Bueno-Vista, Shonagh Koea
The Quartermen of O, Maurice Gee
The Glums, Damien Wilkins
Month of the Jew, Maurice Shadbolt
The Heart’s Mild Surf, Stephanie Johnson
The Denniston Daisy, Jenny Pattrick
Stand in the Shower, Jean Watson
Swimming to New Zealand, Lloyd Jones

In other lit news, Bill Manhire’s delightful 1988 hypertext novel The Brain of Katherine Mansfield is a website and has been for some time. Well, no one told me. Go here to start reading, and here for some background info. Why am I not surprised that Jolisa Gracewood was involved?

Speaking of matters Manhire, he has reviewed for Poetry London the new James K. Baxter Selected Poems, edited by Paul Millar and published in/for the UK by Carcanet. Written for English readers who probably are unfamiliar with Baxter, it is an excellent brief survey of his life and work, and as clear-sighted an appreciation of both as one could hope for.

E-books in New Zealand

I was going to do a round-up of stories about e-books and e-readers and add what I know about Martin Taylor’s “digital warehouse” which he is setting up for Copyright Licensing Ltd. (You don’t hear much about their involvement but it is their project. Disclosure: I am on the board of CLL as a NZ Society of Authors rep, which is why I know a bit about this whole area.)

But Philip Matthews has already done a vastly better job than I would have – he is a proper journalist and interviewed at least five people who know what they’re talking about. Let’s hear it for the MSM! – so here is the link, as I don’t think this article got any wider e-circulation than the Press website.

UPDATE: this review of the Kobo just in from MeBooks.

MPs’ credit card crunch II

The newspapers are onto this far quicker than I had imagined:
But Mr Ririnui said he reimbursed the spending within a week of his return home and used his ministerial credit card only because it was all he had on him at the time.
Just like Len Brown and his mayoral credit card:
when he bought the hi-fi system – it was “essential” to get it that day – he did not have his personal card with him.
If these people can’t run their own lives – when was the last time you left the house without at least an Eftpos card? – why should we trust them to run the country?

The Dim-Post looks at it this way.

UPDATE: Stuff has rolling coverage here. Hasn’t Chris Carter been a naughty boy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A friend of Dorothy, from Malawi

In an update of the story about the gay Malawian couple who were given a 14-year prison sentence but happily were pardoned late last month after an intervention by UN secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Malawi’s Nyasa Times reports:
Steven Monjeza has dumped Tiwonge Chimbalanga –Aunt Tiwo – who he engaged in the first Malawi gay ceremony that earned them a 14 years imprisonment for homosexuality.

They were pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika after conceding international pressure.

But according to The Nation newspaper, Malawi’s authoritative daily; Monjeza has found a woman, Dorothy Gulo, 24, to marry and claims he was forced into the ‘gay drama’.

The man has said he will expose the people that allegedly forced him into the gay act if they continue to pester him.

The paper reports that Monjeza alleges that he never had sex with his fellow man, Tiwonge.
But he is a friend of Dorothy. How confusing. As always, the comments on this story muddy the waters.

The Nation itself has more details:
Twenty-four-year old Dorothy Gulo on Monday confessed her love for Monjeza whom she described as “a real man capable of doing to women what other men ably do in bed.” She was explicit about the issue and said she had nothing to hide.

“I have tried him on two occasions and he proved to me he can live with a woman. I was impressed with him when my curiosity got the better of me and here I am. My only worry is what Chimbalanga would do if he found out,” said Gulo, who does nothing for a living.
“Does nothing for a living.” Nice work if you can get it. Or possibly she is speaking the Afrish version of Globish.

MPs’ credit card crunch

You know that Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”? We could be in for some very interesting times when nearly seven years’ worth of parliamentary credit-card spending is released tomorrow. There won’t be details in the newspapers until Friday, I’m guessing, dunno about radio and TV.

This email below was sent to all media and politicians’ advisors by the Department of Internal Affairs:
Media Advisory – Official Information Act Request Release of Ministerial Credit Card expenses: April 2003 – February 2010
Ministerial credit card expense information, for the period stated, will be released to all requestors, by the Department of Internal Affairs from 9.00am on Thursday 10 June. The information being released is in response to Official Information Act requests from various media.
The material will be issued in hard copy format only and will be delivered to OIA requestors in the Press Gallery. All requestors will receive the same complete set of material, covering the period stated, irrespective of the parameters of their request. In fairness to all requestors, we cannot make exceptions to the scheduled delivery time.
Gee. I think I just scooped Scoop, Kiwiblog, Stuff and the Herald. Or maybe they didn’t think it was very, ah, interesting.

UPDATE: I posted at 2.11 p.m. Stuff published the story, with proper added reporting, at 4.27 p.m. Well done, Fairfax! Still nothing from Scoop or the Herald.
UPDATE 2: the Herald published the same PA story at 4.45 p.m. This is why I always go to Stuff first for news.
UPDATE3: Shane Jones walks the plank first. Honestly, who would have thunk it?

Christopher Hitchens on money

From an interview with Christopher Hitchens by Deborah Solomon in the New York Times, about his new memoir Hitch-22:
Did you write the book for money?
Of course, I do everything for money. Dr. Johnson is correct when he says that only a fool writes for anything but money. It would be useful to keep a diary, but I don’t like writing unpaid. I don’t like writing cheques without getting paid.

I trust you answer the e-mail of your friends at no charge.
I haven’t got to the point yet where phone calls and e-mails are billable, but I am working on it. That would be happiness defined for me. What I’m hoping is to get a 900 number, so I can tell all my friends, “Call me back on my 900 number: 1-900-HITCH22.” I can talk for a long time.

But who would want to listen?
That would be the 900-number test.
Monitor: Tyler Cowen

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bob Jones on Waikato University

The Case of the Farming Family Statue has perhaps not registered on the national consciousness, but in Hamilton it is a big story. The Hamilton Central Business Association has proposed that the statue, commissioned and paid for by Bob Jones 20 years ago to commemorate early dairy farmers’ contribution to the region’s development, be shifted from its present location on a traffic island in the busy main street to let children touch and play on it in safety.

The local comparison is with the statue of a horse located outside the Cambridge town hall, which has children climbing over it every day. OK, that’s not everyone’s idea of art appreciation, but the Cambridge experience beats the Hamilton experience hands-down.

The Hamilton CBA first suggested moving the statue to Claudelands Events Centre, wherever that is. Readers of the Waikato Times wanted, by a hefty majority, the statue to stay where it is so people – especially visitors to the city – can see it. Jones was “insulted”.

Next to offer an opinion was Waikato University community psychologist Neville Robertson who called the statue’s plaque “incredibly offensive” and “racist”. He said the statue:
should be moved to Garden Place and joined by other statues telling the region’s entire farming history. But not before the inscription at the bottom of the statue is rewritten. At present it reads: “Commemorates the ordinary farming family as the unsung heroes of our first 150 years.”

“It pretends there is nothing before 150 years ago,” Dr Robertson said. He said it should be rewritten in a way that indicated it was part of the region’s farming history because the current wording excluded the role Maori played in the farming before the 1840s.

Dr Robertson also took the word “ordinary” to mean “Pakeha”. “What we have is essentially a Pakeha statue pretending to represent everybody’s history.”
There seems now to be a general view that moving it to Garden Place, the city’s main plaza which is about to get a long-overdue revamp, is a good plan. The CBA thinks so, Times readers think so, and even Jones is said to be “warming” to the idea.

But he is not warming to Neville Robertson whose comments, he told the Times:
“touched on two Waikato traditions, one a source of great pride and the other of great embarrassment. The first is the region’s renowned pastoral industry, rightly admired throughout New Zealand. The second is Waikato University, ridiculed across the land in academic circles for its lightweight standards.

“Robertson upholds that inglorious reputation superbly with his idiotic remarks. In commenting that the statue ignores pre-European Maori history he overlooks the fact that it was commissioned to commemorate New Zealand’s 150th anniversary since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Nevertheless we could satisfy his doubtless predictable concerns of omission by having the sculptor reshape the father’s face to have Maori features but with one arm foppishly behind his back to cover homosexuals.

“The wife could be recast sitting in a wheelchair to avoid Robertson protesting that we’ve ignored the enormous contribution of the disabled.

“Finally, we could put a mortar board on the sheep’s head with a sign around its neck bearing the message, ‘psychology graduate of Waikato University’.”

Making football fair

Canada’s National Post reports:
In yet another nod to the protection of fledgling self-esteem, an Ottawa children’s soccer league has introduced a rule that says any team that wins a game by more than five points will lose by default.

The Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer league’s newly implemented edict is intended to dissuade a runaway game in favour of sportsmanship. The rule replaces its five-point mercy regulation, whereby any points scored beyond a five-point differential would not be registered.

Kevin Cappon said he first heard about the rule on May 20 — right after he had scored his team’s last allowable goal. His team then tossed the ball around for fear of losing the game. He said if anything, the league’s new rule will coddle sore losers.[ . . . ]

According to the league’s new rules, coaches of stronger teams are encouraged to deter runaway games by rotating players out of their usual positions, ensuring players pass the ball around, asking players to kick with the weaker foot, taking players off the field and encouraging players to score from farther away.

Club director Sean Cale said he is disappointed a few parents are making the new soccer rule overshadow the community involvement and organizing the Gloucester club does.

“The registration fee, rergardless of the sport, does not give a parent the right to insult or belittle the organization,” he said. “It gives you a uniform, it gives you a team.”

Mr. Cale said the league’s 12-person board of directors is not trying to take the fun out of the game, they are simply trying to make it fair.
Monitor: David Thompson

Monday, June 7, 2010

Beware your nana

Every Saturday, the Waikato Times has a round-up of reports from Fairfax’s local newspapers in the region. These snippets never make the website but often give little insights into life in New Zealand, or at least the culture of the town. This weekend’s paper had the following report from the North Waikato News:
North-Waikato residents are taking up the paint brush in a stand against mindless graffiti and tagging.

Huntly man Robin Thurston likes to walk his dogs Fred and Alfie around the neighbourhood in the morning.

As well as giving the pooches exercise, he uses these walks to scope out any unwanted tagging in the nearby streets, returning with paint and brush to remove the tagging before the culprits get out of bed. “I like to get up before the perpetrators do and clean up their night’s tagging so they get no satisfaction from it,” Mr Thurston said.

“I’ve noticed if you paint it out straight away they tend to give up straight away.

“A couple of times they have tried to jostle me but I have good dogs and of course I know all their grandmothers.”

Boys’ toys

A curious headline on Stuff:
Boys turning to porn and tech too soon
What would be the right age, then?

Monitor: Mark Broatch

Friday, June 4, 2010

Horse sense

The Dominion Post reports:
The annual Kaimanawa wild horse muster will now take place every two years because animal numbers are at more sustainable levels.

The 18th annual muster began yesterday, with helicopters herding nearly 100 horses into purpose-built pens on Waiouru Military Camp land. The operation, led by the Conservation Department with help from the New Zealand Defence Force and horse-protection groups, aimed to remove 148 wild horses from a population of 448. Homes have been found for about 100 of the horses. Older stallions and injured horses would be culled.

The muster is expected to finish tomorrow after the horses are de-wormed and trucked to four North Island pickup points. The next muster will be in 2012. DOC Palmerston North area manager Jason Roxburgh said 300 horses would be left on the land. There were nearly 2000 horses on the environmentally fragile land in the Kaimanawa Range in the central North Island before musters began in 1993.

Since the horse population was reduced, native species such as red tussock were regenerating.
Yes, excellent news, though perhaps less so if one is a horse. But I wonder if the horse in the photograph accompanying this story could be related to the one in Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica.

Strange bedfellows: Kanye West and Robert Fripp

One is an American rapper and producer aged 33 who has had three albums go straight to #1 on release in the US, and has won 12 Grammys. The other is a 64-year-old guitarist from Dorset who has been the mainstay of prog-rockers King Crimson since 1968; that’s him on David Bowie’s “Heroes”. No #1 hits, no Grammys.

And what do they have in common? This: the former’s new single “Power” from his new album called (I am not making this up) Good Ass Job samples the riff from the latter’s 1969 stonking “21st Century Schizoid Man” which, arguably, invented heavy metal. I used to have it on a 45 rpm single. For true.

You are wondering what the lyrical content of the new song might be. Here you go:
My childlike creativity, purity and honesty/Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts/Reality is catchin’ up with me/Takin’ my inner child, I’m fighting for it, custody/With these responsibilities that they entrusted me/As I look down at my diamond-encrusted piece.
Next, Eminem samples “Siberian Khatru” by Yes, and samples “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” by Genesis. I, for one, can’t wait.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

John Key has had a vasectomy

Isn’t the reaction a bit weird? The guy makes a joke and next minute:
more than 100 newspapers around the world ran stories covering his “snip” quip.
For example, the Daily Mail (of course) ran the story under the stupidity-on-stilts heading:
New Zealand prime minister forced to admit: ‘I've had the snip’
Forced? Forced? FFS, it was a joke. As Stuff reported it:
Answering questions about changes to early childhood education funding during his regular Monday post-Cabinet presser, Mr Key was asked if he would send his children to a centre where 80 percent of staff were qualified teachers or 100 percent.

“I think if I sent my 15-year-old or 17-year-old to early childhood at the moment they'd have a meltdown,” he quipped.

But what if his wife Bronagh had another?

“I’d be extremely worried because I’ve had a vasectomy.”

In the face of the stunned hacks, he said; “It’s probably too much information for the purposes of a press conference but anyway.”

And while the reporters got themselves together: “Boy that’s slowed things down. Any other questions?”
Now that is a relaxed man cracking several jokes. It was funny, and it shows why people like him so much, but I cannot understand why it was even reported. In England where people are uptight, perhaps, but in New Zealand? Maybe the journalists are still amazed that they live now on the Key D’Orsay not in Helengrad.

Or maybe the hacks here and overseas are amazed that a married man of 48 admits to having a sex life. Listen up: married couples have sex, often with each other. As George Bernard Shaw observed:
Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.
In this week’s Spectator, the excellent Philip Hensher, reviewing Ferdinand Mount’s Full Circle: how the classical world came back to us, reminds us that:
Many early thinkers believed, like Augustine, that marital relations were a matter of ‘descending with a certain sadness’ to the act.
See, we have made progress.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Harden up and enter

If anyone reading this is a New Zealandy blogger and it is before midnight New Zealand time, here is a message from the organisers of the Air New Zealand Best Blog Award.

The list of nominees (helpfully, this has links to each of the four blogposts entered) so far is here.

I take this as a good omen – thank you, BK, you are too kind – but obviously David Farrar holds almost all the cards. Cactus Kate holds the rest.

Isn’t it great that Air New Zealand has let them get away with it. Well done, Rob Fyfe. You can read the whole site in under five minutes – it is very funny.