Friday, February 24, 2006

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

I don't know how it is, but over the past two or three weeks, I've seen three movies starring Shirley Henderson - first it was Michael Winterbottom's Wonderland which was on TV at some weird time in the morning, then a random video I borrowed (Once Upon A Time in the West Midlands and now this one. Funny thing is, I didn't have any real clue as to who she was, but when I look at her profile, it turns out she's been in loads of movies that I've seen and loved, like 24 Hour Party People, Bridget Jones's Diary and Trainspotting.

She has played some pretty rugged characters, but in this movie, she is just lovely, in fact the whole movie is a very gently told story which deals sensitively with a very serious topic - the title gives much of the game away, but there is an interestingly intersecting story.

It starts with Wilbur (Jamie Sives) trying to kill himself with a mass consumption of drugs and then his head in an oven. An early comedic note is struck when the gas runs out! Find a coin, try again. The scene shifts to the family used bookshop - Wilbur's brother Harbour (Adrian Rawlins) is talking with Alice (Henderson) about the death of his father - who had really intended for Wilbur to get the shop but never changed his will.

Luckily for the development of the movie, Harbour saves Wilbur from killing himself, and gets him into this really horribly antagonistic therapy group, where people like Ruby can say ”why don’t you just die and let someone take your place?” It seems the view is not shared by everyone - Wilbur's therapist offers him somewhere to live and they do briefly get together (but she really is a very strange person, he's better off without her). Instead, he moves in with Harbour, not that that stops him from his “more and more humiliating" efforts to kill himself - I think the most gruesome was when he hanged himself from the clothes drying rails. The back story to this is to do with his mother, who apparently went mad - one night he saw her standing outside the shop, wearing nothing but a cap, and the next day she was found dead in the snow.

Old Wilbur gets some nice lines, although fairly aggressive - he works in a museum, a wee boy wants to hold his hand:
“Fuck off. Nancy boy.” Then he has a date, of sorts: she tries licking his ears and he is all “I’d have brought a dog if I wanted that. Get a hold of yourself. Freak”

Alice's story is that she has an adorable wee daughter (Mary), she herself has been a cleaner at the hospital - she finds books lying around which she sells to Harbour. They bond the day she comes into the shop and he finds chewing gum in her hair: it is a very gentle moment when he extracts it. He even seems to try to hook her and Wilbur up, saying he should cook her a duck (“A lot of women really appreciate a nice duck.”) but I'm not sure how genuine his effort was, because next thing we see, they're married and it is clearly Harbour who likes ducks - this becomes a bit of a running gag.

There is a turning point when one of Wilbur's attempts actually works - he is temporarily dead. In a strage twist, he is now thrown out of his suicide group for being "too suicidal". As it turns out, once he's been dead, he doesn't really want to go there anymore, so for the rest of the movie, he is on an upwards movement. At the same time, Harbour finds he is sick; it is cancer and nothing can be done. He finds out by taking a drink with his doctor, the depressive Horst who says “in your condition, won’t make any difference”.

This puts Wilbur in charge of the bookshop - he is so bad at it, than when a fellow comes in for something by Kipling, he's offered a book on pickling instead! Later, this fellow says to Alice “I know what you’re going through. I have a niece who is retarded.”. It turns out, Wilbur is much better with kids; at Mary's birthday party, he's great fun for them, willing to stand on his head upon demand and so on. I think its here that it starts - the growing attraction between Wilbur and Alice - and it is here where the movie really comes into its own. There is a wonderfully tender, yearning quality to their connection, but Harbour is so important, for both of them - Alice: “I love him, have never loved anyone that way”; Wilbur “I’d rather die than lose him - not much for me to say that.” Nice touch.

Then they get the news of his cancer, and there is a kind of acquiescence, even a willing, by him that they should be together, since he's not going to be around much longer. So, he says “Be as nice to Alice as you can possibly be… Its nice that people can get together who don’t have anyone else.” It is a pretty special act on his part to recognise that he needs to step aside, and I'm sure its appreciated all round - insofar as he needs one, there is still a home for him.

They all have one final Christmas together, when Harbour is on day release from the hospital. Wilbur really tries to cook a duck for him but finds the process “so fucking revolting” he can't do it - luckily Harbour will do the cooking.

Overall, suicide is a tough topic to film and get right - I think this movie would have been trite had it tried to simply say that "love of a good woman" is the answer, but it didn't really go there. It was important that Wilbur did in fact die, clinically speaking - it was a form of facing down his dragons, and that enabled him to love.At the same time, there was a delicious humour which never hit a wrong note. The acting was wonerful, and I'm a sucker for the sort of chaotic used bookstore in which the movie was set.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall

I’d never heard of Sarah Hall until late last year, when one of my book groups started reading this book: it had been short listed for the Booker Prize in 2004. By the time I was half way through, I was enjoying it so much I had to give a copy to someone else. Then I managed to take off up north without the book, when I was still well short of being finished. D’oh!

Luckily, she’s a good writer, because it seems she’s not found any other way of earning a living: her other jobs, such as working 12 hours in a meat factory, or for a mail-order fly-fishing outlet, fitting spectacles and selling horrible art have not been satisfying. She credits Michael Ondaatje’s In The Skin Of A Lion as giving her both the right sort of style to aim for (“project of vignettes that still retained overall narrative movement and shape “) as well as the inspiration to have a go. Reading various interviews of her, she comes across as a very charming and funny person. Indeed, the more I read of her, the more I like her.

I loved her book: it is certainly not pretty, but she has a fairly lavish (some call it dense) prose form and has taken risks with the story itself – many of the images she presents are not exactly cosy. Several of my book group had to give up, saying the writing became too convoluted. Hall totally agrees! “But that was the style I went for and I resolved to go for it unrepentantly. I wanted to write something deeply descriptive, full of brio, full to bursting with images and adjectives, in a northern baroque style.” Others found there to be too many references to things they found distasteful (“gory, sickmaking”). But, as one member said, there is this dichotomy in tattooing between the pain of the process and the beauty of the result: while I never found reading the book a pain, I certainly go along with it being beautiful. The Guardian in its review said “the shock is an essential part of a serious artistic and - in the best sense - moral enterprise”.

I like what Hall says here about her book:
In examining the good and the bad aspects of life, and how these ultimately influence identity, the latter has to be measured and described, but hopefully the book’s not just hung up on that darker end of things. There’s a lot of love in there too, and light. And it’s as much a novel about healing as it is about pain and wounds. The nature of a scar – damage and recovery.
A serious tone is struck from the beginning:
If the eyes could lie, his troubles might be all over. If the eyes were not such well-behaving creatures, that spent their time trying their best to convey the world and all its gore to him, good portions of life might not be so abysmal. This very moment, for instance, as he stood by the hotel window with a bucket in his hands listening to Mrs Baxter coughing her lungs up, was about to deteriorate into something nasty, he just knew it, thanks to the eyes and all their petty nit-picking honesty. The trick of course was not to look down. The trick was to concentrate and pretend to be observing the view or counting seagulls on the sill outside. If he kept his eyes away from what he was carrying they would not go about their indiscriminating business, he would be spared the indelicacy of truth, and he would not get that nauseous feeling, his hands would not turn cold and clammy and the back of his tongue would not pitch and roll.
This is Cy Parks: it is his story, starting at the beginning of the 20th century. Being a tale of a life, there is little in the way of plot, rather a series of key episodes is provided. At the same time, however, it is a portrait of two particular places facing the same fate – decline: a seedy down-at-heel fallen-on-hard-times seaside resort, Morecambe Bay on the upper North West Coast of England (in the words of the author, it is "harmless, farcical, if slightly uncouth" where "things never went too far"); and Coney Island (“consumer-driven modernism, it was in-vogue anthropomorphism, a swim through the guts and entrails of the world”).

Cy’s mum runs a hotel at Morecambe, not one to which normal holiday makers are particularly attracted, so she builds up a clientele among consumptives. As a sideline, she performs the occasional abortion. She does this not for the money, but because she has a “tolerance”:
None of the other Morecambe boarding houses and hotels were as keen to take consumptives as Reeda. The Bayview Hotel had become known as a sanctuary, though it was not advertised outright in the papers as such… She was immune to the effluent, the slime, the smell and the sense of false hope that hung around their rooms like flies about finished with a corpse. She did not get that weak-kneed feeling when they coughed and spat… She was toad-like in that fashion.
Cy has an early revelation about where his life might go, while carrying a bowl of mucus, blood and spit discharged by one of his mother’s guests:
What if blood could tell you stories? What if blood could lure you into pictures? What if there was something worthwhile underneath the shudder and jitter of a body's mess and spill, some redeeming wonder beyond the grit and gristle and ghastly cavalcade of the flawed and festering human anatomy? He was not entirely sure why, but that thought was oddly pleasing.
There is a very cute story about Cy and his mates as youngsters – they needed to make some money and hit upon the idea of giving visitors tours to see local boggarts, monsters, spirits and wee folk of the area about which they would tell tall tales. Boggarts “ranged from convenient stray dogs, vagrant tramps and drunks, to friends and younger siblings dressed in raggedy clothing with twigs entwined in their hair and mud on their faces”. Sometimes the boys had to draw lots to determine which of them would be boggart for the day. For years, the friendship between these three lads survives such mishaps as a foolhardy game played in quicksand, pissing competitions in which one or other of them is peed on and the introduction of an interest in girls into the mix.

Poor Cy: he asks his friend for advice about one such girl, Eva Brennan:
She was the loveliest thing Cy had ever seen, beside Aurora Borealis and Gaynor’s nipples. She was fourteen. She was blonde. And had freckles on the backs of her arms. She didn’t have tuberculosis. Her mother had made her a flower bonnet to wear in the Easter parade, with blue cornflowers in that it made her eyes seem darker and sadder. In the citrus light of the spring bay parade the hair on her temples had an aura of something fairy spun. For three days Cy tried to tell her that he liked her by giving her an extra helping of cabbage at dinner, and hanging her coat up on the stand whenever she came in. She always smiled at him. As if curious and waiting.
But when he enlists his friend Jonty to talk to her so the three of them can become acquainted, Cy misses “their abbreviated courtship, the giggle of innuendo, the not-so-accidental brush of hands together as they strolled, the sharing of an ice cone – trailing tongues along the paths made in the vanilla cream by each other.”

Nonetheless, their friendship remains strong until Eliot Riley comes into his life. Their first encounter is hardly auspicious: Cy is curious about the buzzing noise coming from Riley’s window, so clambers up for a good listen. Only, he manages to put a boot through the window. I love the description of Riley’s eyes – rather than being blue, they are
a guttering glacial blue and unrelenting. They were as pale and transparent and fire-cold as a flame leaping out of a mineral-grained log in a grate. Eyes that you wouldn’t want to have out stare you in an argument, thought Cy, that would make you feel like quarry in a dispute even before a word or curse was spoken, and he returned their gaze, spellbound. The vessels were large and round, containing bad emotion and amusement at once, indications of a personality that would travel the length and breadth of its own deficiencies as well as its redeeming traits, though the former seemed much more likely. And as the eyes observed him upwardly, there was something else to them too: not exactly shock, for here was a man profoundly not put into such conditions easily, Cy read of him, but soft-surprised cognition…
Eliot has noticed the good work Cy has done in writing signs in the local printing shop, and wants him to apprentice as a tattoo artist. It is a long apprentice: Riley is a free-hand engraver, like William Blake – the only difference being that Riley’s medium is human skin. Only a visionary was fit to work with him, but first there would have to be lots of training. Inside the tattoo shop, Riley is clearly a genius, a man with a singing heart, and a decent teacher to boot, when his opinions don’t get the better of him. Outside the shop, he’s a mess – “society’s satirical, ugly cousin. He drank, offended, was loud, misunderstood … He went too far, got obstinate about his courtship of living wrongly and loudly and creating effrontery.”

So, obviously, he is set for some conflict, unless he can keep these contradictory impulses in balance. For eleven years, Cy is caught up in this conflict – he and Riley develop a complex relationship in which Cy can sometimes pull Riley back from the brink of his worst self-destructive impulses but eventually, Riley annoys the wrong bloke and has his hands broken. Within a year, he is dead and rather than carry on his business, Cy takes off for America and lands up at Coney Island where he sets himself up as the Electric Michelangelo.

For all Hall's words, we don’t get any clear picture as to why he flees England, but I think he’s in need of a new sanctuary – the equivalent of his mother’s hotel for the consumptives - and with all its freaks, Coney Island, that "throbbing, pustulous, inflamed amusement-industry boil on the backside of Brooklyn" where anything can happen (such as an exhibition of premature babies in incubators) is the place. Within days, he has his first New York moment – he has been watching the shadow of his downstairs neighbour pass across her room, and then she is followed by something “impossible, something from a pantomime. A horse moved onto the stage after her.” At first he tries to rationalize it, thinking it is simply a strange congruence of inanimate objects, because no-one could keep a horse in her apartment. Yet, this is exactly what Grace is doing.

The last section of the book is dominated by Grace and Cy. As with Riley, Cy first knows her through her eyes, sees the story of her immigration to America and her discovery of the secret of making the transition a successful one. Later, he thinks of her:
She was undoubtedly clever and willful, which was, if he was honest about it, nothing short of arousing to him, and he just plain admired the fact that she managed to house a horse in her room. The idea itself was baffling. That she got away with the covert dressage was brilliant. He had a sense that he liked her, very much, and not so far away from that prospect was the notion that he could love her, perhaps… He could love her. Couldn’t he? There was the potential. There was the rub… It felt like another strangely exotic moment in his life, the pairing of Grace and love, not dissimilar to the day he had agreed to be Riley’s lad… That feeling of being befallen, of something preordained and unavoidable and uncontrollable at work, like the diaphanous flutter of Fate’s lungs, the sluicing of its digestive system, its marrowy brewing of new blood.
She comes to him as a client with a very special task for him, to completely cover her body with tattoos of eyes, 109 of them in total, so that she can take her place in the freak show that is Coney Island. They never have a conventional relationship, although he finds he does love her, loves her enormously, and it is possible that she loves him but then she is injured, before we can ever know – some bastard throws acid over her. The story pretty much stops here: with both Cy and I in tears – her pride means she has to take herself away.

Hall's story is not quite finished, however. After getting involved in a couple of wars, Cy goes back home, to Morecambe. It is now a sad place, thanks to northern industries closing down so that there was no need for a local holiday town by the seaside, plus travel opportunities had opened up so those who could take holidays had better places to go. At the same time, he reads about the big amusements on Coney Island closing down. Although that life is over, on his 65th birthday, Cyril Parks takes on an apprentice tattooist! She sounds a laugh and all:
Nina Shearer waltzed through the front door of Eleven Pedder Street in leather and torn trousers, with purple glitter on her cheekbones and Egyptian kohl around her eyes ... just as he was thinking about retiring. He was vaguely expecting her, at least he was in the habit of expecting unusual and meaningful events on significant calendar days. She herself was in the habit of tutting and sighing before almost every comment she uttered, as if perpetually put annoyed or upon by what he was about to say... Not many people had that variety of astringency, that natural counter-balance, the wherewithal or presence to dampen fire or dry up floods. Only a handful of people he had ever met had the ability, reacting with their environment to take away an extreme quality of it, like pepper with salt or sugar with bitterness.
Eventually, her pose goes, and he can see "a serious girl in admiration of what she saw". So, he gives her a job. Nice.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Whining Old Fogeys

There's a bit of a dust up at the moment over TV New Zealand, following the walk out by their Chief Executive last year and a very public stoush over presenter salaries (nothing like the $20 - 30 MILLION paid to some presenters in the US). So, Parliament is having a bit of a public enquiry into those things, and the various Opposition parties is having a go at the way that TVNZ has sold out to commercial pressures.

A public letter has been written by some 31 very prominent and self-confessedly old citizens (a former Vice Chancellor of Victoria, two former Governors-General, Ian Johnstone, Sir Edmund Hillary, James McNeish) saying that TV is not as good as it was in the 1970's, with few programmes of worth, no decent documentaries and little that reflects life in New Zealand. I wonder of they mean life as they remember it, which probably has very little to do with, say, Shortland Street. They want a full scale adoption of a non-commercial, properly "public" television network, not driven by ratings.

I wonder how many share in this demand. The fuss it has caused in the local newspaper has made me think of what I expect from TV and how well my expectations are met. Overall, I'm not actually too unhappy. I think I seriously would be if the calls for a public broadcaster were met: I remember when I moved to the UK and encountered the BBC (on which the malcontents want TVNZ to be modelled) - I was bored out of my tree with the interminable documentaries about Icelandic rainforests and the mating habits of the Tokelaun newt. I do accept that there probably is room for one decent documentary a week, something a bit more demanding than someone having a stomach stapling opportunity. But when I think back over the past couple of years, there has been a nice range of decent local documentaries which have done a nice job of reflecting New Zealand. Most recently was the one about the making of The World's Fastest Indian. No - scratch that: on Sunday, there was a fly on the wall documentary about the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra going overseas. We had the marvellous shows in which Peter Elliot retraced the steps of Colenso, Captain Cook and Brunner. We had Marcus doing trains. We had all sorts doing Intrepid Journeys. We had the Mercury Lane programmes...

I think that any public broadcaster is necessarily going to be a mixed bag, meaning that there will be times that an individual will turn it on and find something "not worth watching". It would be unreasonable to expect it to be watchable at all times by everyone. It would be equally unreasonable for a particular group to hijack a public TV station and make it the way they want it - more McPhail and Gadsby, apparently. There is also the question of just how much TV is to be watched anyway. There are enjoyments to be had other than TV. So, the way I figure it, if there is on average, one compelling programme per day, a programme I find I must watch, either as it happens or on video, that's about as much as I can expect. If there are others which are OK to watch, then that's a bonus.

Sunday is doing OK at the moment, because I do so love Doc Martin. There have been some dull patches, however - there was some silly costume drama epic on before it, but it was the traditional summer slowdown period. I am really really hoping that TVNZ will obtain the BBC Bleak House for this slot, and continue with the notion of Masterpiece Theatre. As bonuses, we have repeats of Intrepid Journeys, Sunday is sometimes watchable, Frontseat (I'd really like to see a determined effort to have more book-related programming, either in this programme or in a dedicated one - every so often, they try and then give up) and Fifth Gear. Every so often, TV2 trots out a decent movie as well and, of course, until the beginning of last summer, there was the Gilmore Girls.

Mondays - West Wing! Sure, its the wind up for the fifth and final series, so it will be interesting to see what takes its place, but even in its waning moments, it has been great, seeing the kind of politicians we might hope for, rather than those who are in place. Gray's Anatomy is kind of hovering there between compulsory and bonus, but that's made up for by Desperate Housewives also being a nice bonus. Plus, there are late night repeats of Last Man Standing.

Tuesday has been doing nicely, by having a repeat of Mercy Peak, one of our better local dramas, in which they quite often get things just right. There have also been Eating Media Lunch and Outrageous Fortune. Of course, TV 3 is stealing the limelight at the moment, by putting the unmissable House on, with Boston Legal as a bonus: when I watch it, I wonder if I even like it. From about midnight, TV 2 takes a walk into weirdness - I find both Trailer Park Boys and Significant Others to be compelling, in a trainwreck sort of way. The former is as the title suggests, about a couple of guys who live in a trailer park, growing dope. It has a kind of fly on the wall doco vibe to it, like the Office, but is fiction. First time I saw it - one of the guys became besotted with this chick who was getting him interested in religion. While they were on a date, her bible-selling accomplice stole their dope. The second programme is about these three couples, all doing couple therapy; it is semi-improvised comedy, which gives it some freshness. In one couple, Eleanour has just found out she's pregnant: her husband's response when he found out was "Do you think I need new shoes". With the help of therapy, he's getting used to the idea. In another couple, the husband was a complete slob, a major issue for his wife. She thinks the therapy is helping, when in reality it is his sister-in-law: she came over to give him a bollocking about his slovenliness and they ended up shagging. Now he's all clean and nice.

Deserving of a paragraph all to itself: Northern Exposure is back on our screens, albeit at 2:30 a.m. I know it did eventually wane, especially when Joel left (and there are about a million other takes on when it jumped the shark but its still in a pretty fertile patch at the moment: Bubble Boy (played by a very young looking Anthony Edwards - who I remember not liking at all when he first came on the scene, because he was getting in the way of Maggie and Fleischman) has just arrived, and last night was the Mummenchantz (performance artists) episode, also the one where Ed finds a ring in a fish and keeps hallucinating, imagining Fellini is in town (Episode 6 of Series 4, apparently. Oh MY God - there is something called a Moosefest, which meets annually in Roslyn (the actual place of shooting N.E.)

Wednesday night is a bit lacking - I haven't watched Fair Go for years and have never got into Cold Case or Lost - I figure that I'll rent the DVD for a weekend and watch it all at once. So, unless you count the second episode for the week of Northern Exposure or the nightly repeat (soon to end) of Gilmore Girls, TV3 is my only source of televisual entertainment. They have Bones, and I am in love with this programme, now that they have settled down a bit: the opening episode it seemed there was far too much pressure to get Temperance and Booth together, when really it is far more interesting and less cliched if they stay apart and reveal their differences. Although there wasn't enough interest for the Television Without Pity people to keep re-capping ("either too different or not different enough"), I'm really enjoying this programme - but then, Temperance Brennan is my kind of woman.

Thursday - I watched the first episode of Commander in Chief last week, and kind of enjoyed it, will definitely give it a few more shows to decide my take. But my programme to watch is Blue Heelers - yep, it can be a bit hokey, and their guest actors can be relied upon to be truly bad, as if they've been plucked from the street and asked if they want to pretend to be a criminal, or victim, but I enjoy the gentle humour and low key police work. I should, out of fairness, count Six Feet Under - a programme so good I stopped watching and started collecting the DVD's to watch at my leisure.

Friday - here TV One has been insance, putting hugely wonderful shows on, like Carnivale, at 11:00 - I missed so many, I had to give up. I don't know much about whatever is on on Friday nights, so TVNZ can have the night off.

That leaves Saturday - where TV One goes a bit overboard with police shows; Taggart, Waking the Dead and the BBC's predecessor to Bones, Wire in the Blood.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Renderers and Bonnie Prince Billie @ Sammy’s Dunedin

I love the Renderers and cannot wait for their new CD to be available but have to say that this gig just did not impress at all. My first thought was that their sound was rather overwhelmed by the space, but there was a bigger problem - the vocals were so indistinct I could not make out what was being sung. Not a problem with every band, it seems to be a matter of pride for heavy metal bands, but for me the sole point of the Renderers is to hear Maryrose (and Brian occasionally) sing. Their lyrics are what makes them great.

As for the main event, many speak reverently of Will Oldham in his many incarnations yet apart from a two-hour special on Radio One last week, he is almost completely unfamiliar to me. I came away from tonight’s performance feeling charmed and wanting more - I wish I could have gone up to the Penguin Club last night but book club had to take precedence. Several of his CD’s were on sale, but none would be anything like tonight’s gig because his tour band was made up for the event. Ah well, I did buy one CD (in effect got it for free, as I was able to unload a US$20 note that’s been sitting in my wallet) and he says Dunedin is the best place in the country, so I am sure he’ll be back. Plus, a fellow I was with has his entire output in his collection and is willing to make a loan. I am already wishing I bought I See A Darkness instead of whatever it was I did buy.

It isn’t particularly easy to locate his music into any specific style: his voice is generally fragile, he’s pretty literate (which suggests a folk musician) but then his songs can rock. I loved the lines from the one song that Kamila Thompson (daughter of very famous parents) sang: it went something like “You were never very nice to me/You never held my hand/But I want you back”. Longing for something that can’t be had, even if having it isn’t good for you, seems to be a fairly standard idea for him. Or he sings about Santa – we had three Santa-related songs. But my favourite of all his songs was Wolf Among Wolves – yet another song about not being loved the way one is, but with a kind of cabaret style to the music. At one point, Kamila even screamed into the mike.

Instrumentally, the predominant sound was Aram Stith picking away at his guitar - it was mostly louder than any other instrument although every so often the rest of the band would rev up to catch up with him. Least intrusive was Mick Turner on keyboards - he was pretty low key, but providing an important sub-text for the band. On drums, former Verlaine Greg Cairns mostly used brushes, sometimes sticks with felt balls (apparently, they are called marching mallets)- providing a deliciously bassy tom-tom effect. Off to the side, Will played guitar and sang. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone who looks less like any stereotypical musician: he actually reminded me quite strongly of my fifth form teacher or, hell, Gareth Morgan (economist). He did have a couple of mildly distracting physical elements to his performance - a fair amount of bouncing about or every so often he’d kick the air or go up on one leg, with his left foot tucked behind his knee.

But my star of the evening was Kamila Thompson (I haven't found a photo which will do her justice, or I'd put it up - I must get myself some sort of camera). I was leaning against the crowd barrier directly in front of her, and she captivated me. The weird thing is, she reminded me very strongly of someone I know, so that person’s face would be superimposed over Kamila’s and then I’d go off on reveries, trying to remember what the hell her name was or where I knew her from. Then my mind would wander off to another person whose name I’ve managed to lose track of, and I’d start wondering if this was some sort of early loss of memory thing happening to me. But back to Kamila: if she ever gives up on the music thing, I think she has a career as an actress, so long as she plays tragic roles. Her face responded so emotively to much of the music, her lips seemed enormously vulnerable and tender and she’d hunch up her shoulders to look all frail and wraith-like, then she’d break into a wide grin as she and Will gazed at each other. There was a lot of that in this performance – band members standing and staring at each other.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Day Out - in Gore

is still a day out, right? When I was growing up, the main social event of the year had nothing to do with school, was not calf club day, was not Christmas or the like. Nope - every year, the big event that was never less than anticipated was the A&P show. In my pre-teens, the show we went to was the Arapohue (aka Northern Wairoa) show. Then we moved further north, and had two shows to attend every year, the Waimate North and the Kaikohe shows. We even went and saw the occasional extra show, such as at Broadwood.

Mum would always make a big picnic lunch, with bacon and egg pie a universal feature, even though we kids would only want to eat the hotdogs with fluorescent red tomato sauce and candyfloss spun onto a stick as we watched. Sometimes dad would have livestock to show, I think I may have even entered the baking section once or twice. The days were always a flurry of activity, checking out the new cars (our only opportunuty to actually sit in a brand new car) and tractors (and being so excited to find that a tractor had a horn. A horn!), cramming in as much bad food as we could afford (not much) and, of course, spending loads of time at the sideshows - the shooting gallery with the airguns that would never shoot straight, the grinning gnome things that would let you win truly awful prizes, the ferris wheel and Merry-go round. I hated the ferris wheel. Best of all were the dodgems - not these silly electric things that won't accelerate, but proper ones, with zippy Briggs & Stratton motors and a steel protective band around their perimeter. You always hoped not to be the one with the slipping clutch, because then you were everyone's target. Because, yes, dodgems were all about the crashes, at as high a speed as possible. Even better if you could take someone by surpise.

I'm not entirely sure what my parents did, although it was always a good chance for them to catch up with people they'd not seen since the last show and, just as often as mum would make bacon and egg pie for lunch, they'd spend the last couple of hours or more of the day in the booth (I really don't know why the bar was always called the booth, but it was).

As I grew older, I grew to appreciate the dressage and other horse riding competitions, as that was where all the pretty girls were. When dad found himself on the committee and actually working on show days, I'd help him, proud to wear my assistant steward ribbon. Although neither of us had any particular interest in Red Angus cattle or wood-chopping, it was in these two events that we would be involved.

It is more than 20 years since I've been to a Northland A&P show. I did go to the Palmerston North one once, but it was all citified, with lots of stalls selling all sorts of crap that you normally only see in informercials. I also drove up to the Christchurch one, as that ranks highly in the A&P show universe but, alas, my timing was off and I was there a whole week early. But when I heard that the Gore A&P show was on 4 February, I decided it must be about the most A&P'ish of all A&P shows and that it would be nice to re-connect.

They had something I've never seen at such a show - the local Pioneer museum had brought in a collection of vintage farm equipment and cars. Taking pride of place was the Burrell compound engine, just like the one in the picture (I can't make a copy for here, but it can be clicked through to) beautifully restored and gently hissing steam. Not surprisingly, I guess, there were several vehicles in the lineup that I have driven, such as the Massey Ferguson 35:

or, a car I still own, the Rover P6 3.5 V8:

This one is a LOT nicer than mine, however, but very similar to the one on display.

There were also plenty of pens of sheep of various sorts, but not so many cattle and no stud breeds at all, as far as I could tell. Instead, it was more like a glorified calf club day, with different breeds being shown together. No wood-cutting at all. No cakes. A few women had some handcrafts on display and, just to illustrate how soft everyone has got, there was a photo competition. Shocking.

One major disappointment was the food: they've rationalised things so that candyfloss comes in bags and is sold from the hotdog caravan. And the chips and hotdogs were actually tasty, looking as if they might have been cooked in clean oil. The horror! The horror! And the booth! It was a tiny wee tent, with a sign outside saying "Hospitality Venue". At least they had scones to eat.

Ooh - and another flashback: I saw some of the entrance tickets sitting in the vintage cars - they are still categorised into "members", "ladies" and "children". Nice.

After the show, I wandered the streets of Gore for a bit: the Green Room Cafe is reputedly the best in town, but once again it was closed by the time I got there. I did learn one thing: the Books Etc shop in H & J Smiths of Gorse seems to be really good at buying books I like and then not finding an audience, with the result that they had Jasper Fforde, Neal Stephenson, Mario Vargo Llosa books for sale for less than $10. And being car country, the Paper Plus had the best colection of car mags I have ever seen.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Night Out - Pluto @ Arc

A short one, one and a half hours of goodness, but still a night out. I arrived to find one of my secret girlfriends, one who is normally hovering around in corners looking morose, on the door, chattering away to all-comers.

On stage, The Alpha State (a strange amalgalm of Alpha Cast, Evolver and Operation Rolling Thunder) was just finishing up, two songs to go. A bit of a shame, really, as their songs were very tasty, in the swing of things. I'll have to make sure I catch their full set - unusual for Arc to get going by 10:30, but then there were a hell of a lot of people there - the dance floor was fully occupied with a sit down audience, pushing the standing crowd out the door.

The big event was, of course, Pluto. I don't know how many times I have seen them, maybe half a dozen, and I've been listening to their CD's for yonks but I never expected what has happened to their live sound. They've come a long way since their Beatles cover on A1 A2. I don't mean that they've ever been as polite as, say, Goodshirt but it was is if Perfectly Evil was no longer just one of their songs and has become their whole ethos. Milan's vocals were so much more edgy and erotic, had a lot more snarl in them than I've ever heard. He looked a lot like a young Iggy as he performed. He's said that the long interlude between records meant that they had time to get fully formed as a cohesive band: this ssound seems to be the result. There is a third album on the horizon - no doubt a further evolution from Pipeline Under the Ocean.

The funny thing is, I have no idea which songs they played: they started with an angry buzz of guitar which may or may not have been Radio Crimes. After that, I was fully into the dancing and not keeping track of what was happening - I do know that they finished on a high, and I was still bopping like a teenager. When it was finally over, the chick who had been dancing next to me throughout the gig, someone who looked vaguely familiar, was looking at me with a broad smile on her face, as if to congratulate me on staying alive.

Pluto is back in April: I'm pretty sure I'll be there.