Thursday, December 30, 2004

Christmas in Pauanui

Things did not go at all according to plan: that had involved a circumnavigation of the North Island checking out the best pies, breads and fish and chips (Kate Camp, one of my favourite local poets, thoroughly recommends a place in Patea, and I have fond memories of one in Wairoa). Instead, and I think there is a lesson for all here, I made the mistake of booking Webster in for a warrant. Since this was a full week before Christmas, it never crossed my mind that this might cause me problems. Fool: the warrant peope decided that he needed a new drive shaft, then every wrecker in the country, when asked for said part, offered vast sums of money and multiple highly nubile sex partners if I could locate one for them. Well, that's how difficult it seemed, and it is only today that I have been reunited with Webster. Wierdly enough, the mechanic working on it before Christmas had located one but gone off on holiday without telling anyone - we had no idea until it turned up this morning.

I have spent most of the intervening period in dirty old P North, which merits an entry of its own, but HAD to get out of town for Xmas. The family was gathering at Pauanui - since my brother married well, we have a house there - and Avis came through with a great deal so I was off. My one stop was Matamata - I had vague memories of getting excellent fish and chips there and recalled the place as being just a counter behind a pull down shutter thingey. Easy to find, but for the fact there were two such places, side by side - I went for the one with the most people, it was called KD or KB or somesuch - not Broadway Takeaways, that is the other place (it may well be good too) and was very happy with my haul.

Christmas lunch was a fight with the Coromandel seagulls for brie, ham and lettuce sandwiches - thanks to my brother having Christmas lunch with his inlaws, mum and my other brother were at a loose end, so a loop around the peninsular, via Hahei and Hotwater beach etc was a nice way to spend the day. Christmas dinner was the normal affair in our family, and many others I am sure: lots of food, wine (we voted unanimously that the 5 star champagne I had brought along to try was crap), rum and a squabble over who would do the dishes. Somehow, we forgot to have dessert, but the next night when we finally got round to it, my nephews were exposed for the very first time to Pavlova. I have no idea how that had not happened earlier, given that my brother has a supermarket and all, but there you go. Such was their love for pav, that one of the three was gone before we all sat down to dessert, and the other two had no time to mourn its departure.

I made my first New Year's resolution on Boxing Day - I am not buying a speedboat, probably ever. My brother bought his a couple of Christmases ago, but this was my first excursion, and I can't say I liked it too much. I didn't feel sick or anything, nor scared, but the continued buffeting by a fairly calm sea was just uncomfortable. Much nicer was the little trip we took around the Waterways - the canal system put in so that all the owners of the flash houses (one was on the market for $4.5 million) had somewhere to tie up their boats. It felt like we were cruising around Remuera in a rusty old HQ Holden, although a lot of houses had a lot less class and style than said Holden. They were just BIG and obviously expensive.

I think the only other point of note about Pauanui is that for a couple of weeks over the New Year period, they run to having a bakery/pizza and burger bar/coffee place open for 24 hours a day. The coffee is, alas, very average.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Not a whole lot needs to be said about this movie. After reading and loving both the books (I loved the sharpness of her observations, the humour and the warmth with which she brought Bridget to life) and adoring Bridget in the first movie, it was a given that I'd be seeing it. I would have seen it somewhat earlier if Hamilton movie theatres didn't abandon cheap Tuesdays whenever they thought they could get away with charging full price by calling a movie a "blockbuster". I guess others do the same, so all power to Downtown Cinema 8 in Palmerston North - $6 for every movie, every Tuesday. I took advantage of that this week by watching Garden State, but that's another story.

I have noticed that the critics have laid into the movie for its "gratuitous" Thailand scenes and for essentially re-telling the story of the first film. Maybe they have forgotten the minor detail of Helen Fielding's book which underpins the movie: its a fair while since I read it but as far as I recall, the movie is a fair representation of the book. And, when it comes down to it, the film retells the storyline of every romantic comedy ever told. We start all happy, 71 shags into the relationship, then there is some trouble that tears them apart (a fight over nothing, Daniel, a Thai jail), a denouement and resolution. So, you go along to such a movie and just enjoy the ride, without thinking too closely about it because that is so not the point. I think my favourite point was when it was revealed just how much Mark Darcy had done to get Bridget released from prison, made doubly nice by his telling her not to thank him, he was just the messenger and triply nice by the fact that as far as he knew, she was intent upon shacking up with Daniel Cleaver and never seeing him again. That's love.

I guess there is one small problem with the movie that becomes apparent if you do think about it. Take Bridget: according to her self-perception and the premise of the movie, she is neurotic, completely useless at a useless sort of job and has tendencies towards fatness, laziness, unattractiveness and a lack of self discipline. Then there is Mark - highly intelligent, respected by world leaders, doing a save the world sort of job, good looking - a dream guy. So - what the hell is he doing with Bridget? If indeed there are leagues (and Giles is there to claim there are, and that Mark and his female colleague are out of his and Bridget's league), then she is completely over-reaching herself in having any expectation of being with Mark, let alone getting there. Hopefully it won't set up unrealistic expectations in anyone, although it has been fun watching my younger female friends discuss the movie: their one question seems to be "Mark or Daniel".

Wednesday, December 22, 2004


Not a hell of a lot to be said about this town, I fear. I've visited it already this year and after exploring the delights of Noel Leeming and then wandering around vainly looking for a Cash Converters in my quest to visit all of their stores, I was ready to move on. That's a 30 minute visit. This time, I was there a bit longer. I left Dunedin at 10:00 p.m. with some vague hope of catching the 8:00 ferry, but some distance north of Christchurch worked out that if I continued to drive non-stop I might just make it. Since I couldn't be bothered, I stopped at the next rest area and slept. So it was that I hit Blenheim just on lunch time with about 5 hours to kill.

I can report 3.5 positive things about Blenheim:
  • I was able to rock on into the railway station and buy a ticket on the next ferry, vehicle included, for the super super saver price. Bargain - the one price level at which the interislander beats bluebridge;
  • They have a night club called Goats Don't Shave. While google is not infallible, it seems that this may well be the only club with that name around - inspired, it seems, by a Celtic rock band of the same name. I was not there during opening hours, but its entrance and location above a Hallensteins or some such did not fill me with a belief that this must be the coolest place in the world. It looks, perhaps, cooler than Subway;
  • I was in the mood for something out of my normal dietary range, and not the same blah paninis and nachos that so many cafes serve for lunch. The Living Room seemed to fit the bill, it had a shabby chic thing going for it, the staff seemed friendly and, pursuing my current thing for breads, the open topped smoked chicken and brie sandwich with salad greens had a lot of appeal. The food was all I hoped for and more - good bread, a bucket of fresh salads with lots of onion to sharpen things and several lumps each of the chicken and cheese. Maybe a bit heavy on the mayo - indeed, a lighter dressing would have been a good move. Coffee was great as well. It came as little surprise to find that it was the regional winner in the national cafe competition (won a couple of years ago by Dunedin's Nova and, oddly enough, by a honey cafe west of Auckland this year);
  • The 0.5 place was through no fault of its own - unless locating itself just down the street from the Living Room was a fault. Quite simply, by the time I had eaten, I had no need for food when I got there, although I did discover a need for coffee when I found they served Havana coffee. I think it was called Figaro's.

I guess there was one other place that caught my attention, just because it was a rather unusual combination of second hand book store and distilling equipment. They had lots of nice looking beer making kits too.

So - I have no great ambition to visit Blenheim town again for another 20 years or so (which would have been the last time before this year to do anything there that required any more engagement than going through the KFC drive through.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan

My first encounter with McEwan's works was back in the late 1980's, when I read the Comfort of Strangers. I don't recall much of the story, but still remember being both engrossed and disturbed by it. Reading what is said at it is little wonder I felt disturbed:
"The book is concerned with the passivity which “allows” aggression, male violence, and patriarchy to be perpetuated. [Sadist] Robert is not that far from [victims] Colin and Mary, the book suggests. The influences of his father and grandfather have brought out his will to power (in a society otherwise comprised of women) while his influence on Colin and Mary is to bring to the surface their fantasies of aggression: Mary's desire to cut off Colin's limbs and make him her immobile slave; Colin's wish to devise a machine to “fuck” Mary brutally and inexorably.

McEwan adds debates over patriarchy and feminism to this mix, but the gender divide is not simplistically adhered to, as male aggression is not simply directed towards women, but towards beauty and towards that which is desired. In this case, it is Colin who is the object of Robert and Caroline's desire: a drive to possess that can only find fulfilment in the annihilation of the Other. McEwan is dealing here with the idea that human desire is fundamentally underwritten by a master/slave dialectic, in which the roles are not fixed but are contested, and individuals can move between the position of sadist and masochist, subject and object, dominator and dominated."

Since then I have enjoyed Enduring Love and enjoyed and been annoyed in equal measures by Atonement. Amsterdam is the most recent of his books that I've read and, despite it being his only Booker winner, is the slightest of them all. Maybe that's what the Booker judges were looking for. Some critics have tried to salvage it by claiming it is comedy or satire, but it lacks the kind of bite that I'd expect from good examples of either genre.

As with many of his novels. This one starts with a death – that of Molly Lane – after a long and lingering illness. Her four lovers are all at the funeral – Vernon and Clive who were long term friends, George with whom they had a more or less amicable relationship and Foreign Secretary Julian, with whom they did not. In fact, there is damn near a fight at the funeral.

Vernon is the editor of a grubby little newspaper, one which is trying to decide if it is going to fully embrace the gutter or try to recover some of its past glories. A golden opportunity is presented to Vernon, not just to define the newspaper but also to score one last punch against Julian, when George gives him some very compromising photos taken by Molly of Julian in drag. Before publishing, he consults Clive – something which starts the unravelling of their friendship. Clive is adamant they are not to be published, as they show how much trust Julian had in Molly – to publish would be to desecrate her memory. Too much hangs on it for Vernon, however.

Clive is not completely pure either. He too has put his work first. When out walking in the Lake District, he sees what proves to be an attack by a serial rapist. Rather than intervening, or calling for help or even reporting it, he simply moves to a quieter place, annoyed at the interruption.

This might have been used as a nice place from which to meditate upon the importance of Art, the need to allow creative endeavours to proceed unchecked by the concern of mere mortals (somewhat like Iris Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood) but that is not McEwan’s focus. Instead, his concern is with what these events do to the friendship. They had been so close that both had sworn if one was terminally ill, the other would help him die peacefully. By now, they are not even talking and have revised the entire history of the relationship, convinced that they were never friends.

Until this point, Amsterdam has not been mentioned save in the title, making me wonder at its significance. It is there that the final actions of the novel are played out. They agree to meet there, ostensibly to patch up their failed friendship, but both has his own secret motive. While there is a nice symmetry to what happens, it struck me as just too tidy, to have them both arrange for the other’s assisted “suicide”. One interesting possibility put forward by a critic is that the whole scenario has been orchestrated by George – which would indeed make for a darker novel.

Monday, December 13, 2004


So, a couple of weeks ago I was in Hamilton. I flew up on the Friday, picked up my nice wee bright yellow Lancer from the airport, went to the Youth Hostel to find that their office closed at 8:00. Stupid Hamilton Youth Hostel - why close so early? Stupid YHA booking office, as I'd told them I'd not be in town till after 8:00. In a slightly panicked state, I tripped up and down the main drag north looking for a likely looking cheap motel - plenty advertising cheap rates, weekend specials and the like but none actually putting their price out for the passing motorist to see. I then thought vaguely about driving to Cambridge, as they must have a backpacker's (in Hamilton, they are very thin on the ground, although I now know of another) before deciding that was stupid. Back in town, I checked out, and into, the Commercial Hotel - one which has long outlived its glory days but offers a main street address for $45. By this time, it was far too late to go out to Raglan to see Voom and the Shrugs, and I was too grumpy anyway, so I just bought some beer and a 28 day aged beef burger (!) and retired to my room. Not for long, as the blockaded Victoria Street I had encountered when driving in had a point: Hamilton was having a street party, complete with magicians, fire throwers, bands, bad comedians and crowds of people. Not in my honour, alas, but to welcome home Richard O'Brien and the unveling of the statue of Rifraf. Of course, I didn't know the WHY of this until the next day.

I also found the next day that some charming Hamiltonian had decided they didn't like bright yellow Lancers, and had chosen to make their feelings known by breaking off the wing mirror and leaving it dangling against the door. The nice folks at Mitsubishi Hamilton were kind enough to remove the mirror, but I got home to a bill from Avis for over $300 for the little plastic bit that connects mirror to car! I must look more closely at my contract, to see if it actually imposes liability on me. I rather suspect it does, as they're probably not too concerned as to why or how the car was damaged.

I spent the weekend with my mum in Taumarunui, which has lifted its game considerably in the last few years. It now boasts 3 "proper" cafes (i.e. with fully functioning espresso machines), although Flax wins hands down in terms of ambience, food, service and pretty much everything important about a cafe. My mum might even agree, even though a friend of hers owns one of the other cafes - the deciding factor for my mum being that she could order whiskey for lunch. We were both staggered by the changes wrought to the National Park Railway Station - which had been pretty rough and ready when it had changed from railway station to accomodation for pig hunters and the like. Now, it is a flash restaurant, with menu items topping $25, good coffee, a bar and lovely bittersweet chocolate on sale, made by Bennets of Mangawhai. My dad, who did a lot of the work on the first transformation, simply would not recognise the place now.

Back in Hamilton, having become accustomed to the finer things in life over my weekend of exploring King Country cafe culture, I could not lower myself to anything less than the Tainui Novotel. (Work was paying.) As befits a person who would stay at such a luxurious hostelry, my dinner that night was taken at the Narrows Inlet, a place which is possibly miles out in the country (I have reason to distrust the taxi company which took us out there). Being a fan of meat, I was pleased to have an entree of lamb followed by a main course of beef - two of the four essential food groups as far as I am concerned. The company was slightly elevated: several District Court Judges, two High Court, one Court of Appeal as well as a former deputy leader of the British labour party. In a nice piece of synergy, one dining companion told me of the best cafe in Hamilton (Scott's Epicure) and the one on my other side told me how the only fellow I went to law school with from Hamilton turned out to be having a spot of bother with the Law Society over some of his marketing techniques. By going into Scott's, I found my friend - he apparently runs his law practice from one of the tables there.

The actual reason for the visit, a meeting at the University, turned out to be pointless as within 7 minutes it was over. The taxi ride to the University was quite a bit longer than the meeting, a taxi ride in the self same taxi that had taken us to the dinner the night before. My colleagues (six of us went to the 7 minute meeting!) were commenting on how far out of town the University was but I found that when I was walking back, I walked a mere few blocks, turned a couple of corners and, what's this, its the Waikato River and downtown Hamilton.

Apart from the Commercial Hotel and Scotts Epicure, I must recommend Metropolis - I think it is one of Hamilton's earliest cafes, certainly when I was visiting my mum in hospital, it was the only one my feet found themselves making for. Years later, it is still going strong and serving humungous piles of good food - I had tuna and crab fritters which came with an interesting fresh corn salsa and about a gallon of salad. Not that I'd eat salad, of course.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


So, Christmas is coming up and all the shops are working out strategems for being first in line for our money. I always find going into Sounds a pretty un-uplifting experience, as I go in with ideas as to what I want, inspired by reading such things as Mojo and Pitchfork and various bits and pieces around the place. But I get into Sounds and its like they're catering to an entirely different sort of music consumer - one who likes both the Sum 41, Good Charlotte and other punk-lite music as well as old school things such as America's "Horse With No Name" (for that is what was playing when I went in) and many "pop" things in between. Sure, I had my time of loving America, but that was in 1981! How is it that hip young record store employees get to know about, let alone like, America? Ah, right, Sounds.

So, I went in, because of the $25 maximum sale, wondering if they'd have the new Fiery Furnaces CD or maybe the re-released Can CD's. Nope. I look around everything they do have and, as a consequence of many years of buying music and of their particular inventory, even when I pick up every CD I know I want, I only have three. I guess it was kind of nice that the sales person, the same one responsible for America being on the sound system, approved of my choices - Pine's Akira Sunrise, Wilco's A Ghost is Born and Lotus's Hybrid Flower. I've only actually heard the Pine one all the way through so far, and it was like their last gig, just got better as it played. And all is not lost on the Can front, as Real Groovy had one of the two that I want as well as the second CD from the Fiery Furnaces, both second hand.

Right now, however, I need the Batrider CD - it was featured on the Music Mix this afternoon and sounds very good.

GoldenAxe, Disasteradio, Cortina and the Coolies

(Arc Cafe, 13 November)

Wow, time has been flying by. The main reason I went along to this gig was to see, once again, the Cortinas. I first heard them when the did an outdoor gig on concourse at Massey - most of my mates thought they were just making a hideous racket and stayed away as much as they could, but I was curious as to what they were doing. Since then, I've seen them several times, generally at Harvesters but most recently at the Crown.

But before they came on, I had the experiences of GoldenAxe and Disasteradio, much talked about in certain circles. I have to say that I was less than captivated. GoldenAxe are a couple of guys with junky keyboards, equipment carried in baby prams festooned with christmas lights, they wear (and sing behind) gasmasks. Oh, plus they had Disasteradio playing an old school arcade game (I think it was Gyrus) - a space-shoot-em-up which generates lots of electronic sounds - these were fed into the sound mix. They had quite a few up and grooving to their sounds, but I sat it out. Same with Disasteradio - he had a proper keyboard from which he produced a multitude of sounds. Both were good at what they were doing, it just wasn't my bag.

I did get into a cool conversation with someone I met on the night, Kate. Its nice to talk with a woman who is full of ideas and information and smartness and she had plenty of all three.

Cortina did their thing - they keep polishing their act every time I see them, even do all their gigs sober these days. They call what they do "space metal", but there's a fair amount of political commentary involved as well as futuristic songs. I don't know - its nice that they're getting more professional, but the joy of Cortina is in their manic energy, they used to do a hugely mixed up orgiastic cover of Sharon O'Neill's "Maxine" which no longer fits.

The night finished with the Coolies, a much talked about band from Auckland. The people I was with were quite pessimistic, thinking it was going to be an Auckland thing, that the band would be crap and over-hyped. At this point, I started wondering if I was going mad, as I was convinced that the Coolies had already played Dunedin this year and been bloody good (except maybe for the drunken mid-afternoon posturing on the Radio One balcony) but no one knew what I was talking about. Maybe I didn't? [Googling has revealed that the Coolies played the Crown as part of the Onefest, along with Dick the Phone.]

As soon as they started, I was dancing involuntarily, and didn't stop until they had. It seemed to me that they were only on stage for like five minutes but I was assured it was at least 30. I have no idea what they sang about, hardly even any idea what they sounded like, but shit they were tight, with lots of energy and, as everyone was saying afterwards, brilliant drumming - that'd be what had me going.