Robyn Gallagher

Adventures in words and web

Hold please

Ok, so I’m currently transferring to a new webserver. It should be up soon, like in a day or two.

Until then, here’s a music video from Stromae.

Domestic duties

Frozen

NBC has a photo essay on the Russian mining city of Norilsk. It’s one of the few cities within the Arctic circle, and as a result there is total darkness for 45 days in peak winter. The average temperature is -10ºC, but it can get as cold as -50ºC.

So the photos are interesting, because what would it be like to live in such a bleak, desolate landscape. It’s a place where public buses travel in convoys so if one breaks down in the unforgiving tundra, passengers can safely transfer to another.

But is the photo that resonated the most with me:

Norilsk

The caption reads:

Once a month, the “Mechanika” night club is put on, organised by a group of volunteers. The dance club provides a rare opportunity to listen and dance to new music.

It also notes that young people born in Norilsk usually have one wish – to leave the city. They study to get accepted to a high school on the “mainland” and hope to find work there. The extreme weather, pollution, geographic isolation and lack of cultural and employment opportunities all contribute to their desire to flee.

I imagine a 15-year-old looking at a picture of Moscow in spring, with blossoms and soft sunshine and flowing rivers. A dream of a magical climate where you can wear t-shirts outdoors and everything isn’t frozen all the time. Who wouldn’t want to run away from the UV lamps, the domino-playing uncles, and the months spent indoors for the chance to experience a bit of life in the land of the thaw.

And wonder when the little girls from Norilsk watch Frozen (or Холодное сердцеCold Heart – as it’s called in Russia), if they roll their eyes as they are so totally over all that.

The time in London when they all chipped in for a cleaner

I’m currently obsessed with this Stuff Nation reader submission, a post written on the theme of “the flats nightmares are made of”. In it a young New Zealander writesof the time she naively ended up flatting with a drug dealer in London.

Oh, so that sounds like it would be a real nightmare, right? Addiction, theft, overdoses, police raids, gang warfare with rival drug dealers? No. None of that. Nothing happens. The most dramatic thing is when the flat gets a cleaner to come in in once a week.

“We eventually hired a cleaner – £2 each a week and the lounge, kitchen and bathrooms were cleaned on a Monday”

But yet I feel oddly proud that a New Zealander has had this experience. Flatting with a drug dealer in London, then coming home with this idea that there’s an epic story in there somewhere, but not being able to parlay it into anything more than an ordinary tale of flatting.

Nothing or everything

One day in the late 1980s, I was watching Ripley’s Believe It Or Not on the telly and I saw the most amazing thing.

It started off fairly innocently – lovely Marie Osmond introducing the work of dada artist Hugo Ball and his sound poem “Karawane”. It was written with sounds, not words, designed to be read aloud. And then Marie stops, looks at the camera and recites the poem from memory. In that moment, all the cheesiness of the Donny & Marie variety show faded into insignificance as Marie became possessed with the spirit of dada. It was the funniest, weirdest and most magnificent thing I’d seen at that point in my life. For weeks after, my brother and I would recite random lines at each other – “ü üü ü!”

The clip of that segment has become one of those weird internet things that people stumble across and they’re not sure what they’ve seen, but they can’t stop thinking about it. This blog has a bit of background about the clip, but the best thing to do is just watch it. Ba-umf.

The Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas

Newsreel archive British Pathé recently put 85,000 old films on YouTube. So I did what any good New Zealander would do – I searched for New Zealand films. My favourite is “Pan Am New Horizons New Zealand”, a promotional film from 1970 depicting New Zealand as a tourist destination.

It portrays and idyllic version of New Zealand, where even on cloudy days the sun is shining and everyone is happy. You know, like how New Zealand is when you’re overseas and drunk and thinking back to your sweet homeland. I have scoured the film for the mightiest moments. Here they are:

1. Citizens on patrol

Traffic cop

This guy doesn’t even look like a proper traffic cop. It looks like he’s stencilled “TRAFFIC” on the front of his bike, bolted on a megaphone, and driven up to the Newmarket Viaduct on his office lunch break where he will spend an hour yelling out some DIY citizen policing. “Oi! Stay in your lane, sunshine!” “Don’t you flick that cigarette ash at me, you mongrel!”

2. Walk shorts

Auckland walk shorts

It was the early 1970s. Women’s fashion was gripped with the miniskirt (or dress), and because New Zealand is a fairly egalitarian society, men’s fashion had its equivalent in the walk short. There is notable variation in styles in this shot. Black Bum on the right has longer shorts with standard knee-length socks, with Bluey on the left flaunts his pins with shorter shorts and lower socks. Well, hello! Meanwhile in the middle, along comes a lady in a minidress, looking surprisingly modestly dressed in comparison.

3. Tanning

Beach babes

They’re probably both covered in coconut oil, or maybe playing it safe with some SPF 5. The tanner on the right has the power combo of a shower cap along with a smear of zinc on the lips and nose for further sun protection. Meanwhile, the ginger friend is quite happy to force her naturally pale skin to the tan in the harsh New Zealand sun. Make the most of it, ladies - the ozone hole will soon be discovered and the Slip, Slop and Slap campaign is only a decade away.

4.Meter maids

Rotorua meter maid

Are you a Rotorua tourist annoyed that the man wants you to pay for parking while you spend up big on sheepskin slippers and paua shell ashtrays? Well, the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association got a couple of local wahine to dress up in plastic tikis and put coins in near expiring meters. Sadly this service no longer exists, but then, nor does the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association. E hine, hoki mai ra.

5. Stormy weather

Chateau Tongoriro

This is the magic of New Zealand. The bottom half of the shot is two ladies off to play a round of golf at the Chateau Tongariro on a sunny day. The top half of the shot is the most ominous looking storm clouds ever. It doesn’t just seem like, oh, it might rain. No, it seems like there’s going to be a huge once-in-1000-years storm, the rain will never stop, the Chateau will be washed away and everyone’s fun skiing and golfing holiday and will be ruined.

6. Tickets to the gun show

Tattoo man

The kiwi is being all bad-ass with its gnarly claws, but check out the muscular physique of its handler. Was everyone in the 1969 really tanned and fit looking? Not only that but this fellow has some proper navy tattoos, probably done during the war by a crusty old seadog using a rusty nail and a bottle of Indian ink, as part of some sort of booze-fuelled initiation ceremony. You don’t mess with a dude like that.

7. Bloody goths

Giant Kiwi

Meanwhile, the rotating kiwi statue looks thoroughly miserable. Does this reflect the mental state of the person who sculpted it, an expression of inner turmoil in the medium of plaster and chicken wire? As the kiwi turns, it surveys the cold, heartless world that surrounds it.

8. The before time

Christchurch

It’s almost impossible to look at historical footage of Christchurch without a sense of ominous foreboding. While these carefree teens relax on the banks of the Avon for an afternoon waiata, in 42 years time the historic bridge behind them will have sustained a bit of damage, while the Municipal Chambers in the upper right will be severely damaged, propped up with huge steel brackets. Enjoy the delightful folk music while it lasts, girls.

9. Thigh gap

Mt Cook

The film’s voiceover proclaims New Zealand to be “the Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas”. This is cruel, making me think of an alternate New Zealand where Queenstown is an hour’s train journey from Italy or Milford Sound is just a ferry away from Denmark. No, because this is New Zealand, we have ol’ Royce waiting for his wife to come back from the toilet, exposing his thigh to passing tourists like a harlot.

10. Too cool for gloves

Skiier

Just look at that hipster. He’s about to ski down the mountain, but he’s come dressed in a Libertines jacket, like it was 2004, and no gloves because he’s too cool for gloves. Well, don’t come crying to me when you have to have your fingers amputated due to frostbite. This is a cautionary tale.

Tab-b-gone

I currently have 28 tabs open in my browser, which is way too much. Some of them have been there for weeks (months?). It’s like a to-do list or inspiration board, except I tend to forget about stuff and not be inspired by it.

A lot of these tabs are YouTube videos, so I thought I’d dump them here because they are all a bit interesting.

Very very gently

There’s this thing called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) which this idea that watching and listening to a very sensual experience can remotely evoke the same physical reactions as you’d get if you were actually doing it.

So that’s led to a whole genre of YouTube videos of people (usually women) doing things like hair brushing, hair washing, scalp massaging, or just a verbal description of exploring various body parts. Like the nose.

It’s like a guided meditation recording, but accompanied by a video of someone else getting it done to them. Anyway, here’s a video of a ASMR practitioner sensually washing the hair of a metaller. You can hear the soap bubbles crackling. So hot?

Aloha, Mr Ulrich

I’d always known that Lars from Metallica was born in Denmark, but I didn’t realise he didn’t leave his home country until 1980, when he was about 17. He speaks fluent Danish, so of course I had to find a video of him doing this.

The internet provided this interview from the early ’90s, and there he is, happily chatting away in Danish. I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole video, but maybe like a minute.

The best thing is this comment from a Dane: “hahaha Lars has a very funny accent when speaking danish. like he’s living as a young guy in the 70′s.” This seems pretty reasonable. I imagine he sounds like the Danish equivalent of Jeff Spicoli, with his language skills frozen at a youthful, slangy, ’70s point in time. Gnarly.

In and out

I won’t shut up about Eurovision. Ok, so the show is live and there’s about one minute after each performance for the next lot of staging to be set up. While all that happens, television viewers see a short clip called a postcard.

When the staging changes, it’s not just moving microphones around. Everyone has stuff that has to be wheeled on, things hung from the ceiling, giant hamster wheels set in place, etc. It’s complicated and the crew have less than a minute to do all that and for the next act to be in place, ready to go.

As a result, the backstage activity is like the showbiz equivalent of a Formula 1 pitstop (only not as insanely fast). Everyone has a task and they get in there and do it with a quickness. In this video, while Iceland’s postcard plays, back in the stadium Sanna Nielsen from Sweden has just finished performing. The crew remove her mini stage, lighting ring, and disco ball and get set up for the Icelandic band Pollapünk. It’s so precise that the Icelandic performers step into place just seconds before their song starts. That’s showbiz.

I now only have 15 tabs open. Well, that’s an improvement.

Beards, a moustache, a fiddle and a butter churn

So, while most New Zealanders were enjoying a Sunday morning lie-in (or getting up to go to church?), I was having a Eurovision party in my pyjamas on the couch with tea and toast.

It was a great competition, a giant celebration of music and good times and false eyelashes, with the added bonus of the fair certainty that Mr Putin will have been annoyed by the fact that an Austrian drag queen won with her song of strength and tolerance. (Seriously – Russia was desperate to win Eurovision in 2008 and Putin personally oversaw Russia’s hosting of the competition in 2009.)

But it wasn’t all beardy ladies. Along with Ms Wurst’s “Phoenix”, here are my other faves from the competition, all quality tunes and grand performances.

Conchita Wurst “Rise like a Phoenix”

Conchita’s win wasn’t expected, but it wasn’t exactly an upset either. It’s just that no one really thought she’d get all that many points from the more conservative countries of Eastern Europe. As it happened, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia all awarded points, as did Russia. In fact, Austria came third in the Russian phone vote showing that the real Russia is a bit different to Putin’s #nohomo fantasy.

Pollapönk “No Prejudice”

Also bring a message of tolerance to the stage was Pollapönk, a bearded Icelandic band that makes rock music for kids. Like the Wiggles, they dress colourfully, but unlike the Wiggles, their music sounds more like fun indie rock than kids’ music. As it happens, the red and blue Pollapönks were in an indie band in the ’90s who were mates with Blur. Also of note: the groups’ two backing singers are metallers, one of whom is also an Icelandic MP.

Twin Twin “Moustache”

This is the strange voodoo of Eurovision: France placed last (deux points!), but “Moustache” was the third most tweeted performance, the YouTube video is the fifth most popular of the grand finalists, and the single is in iTunes charts all over Europe. But perhaps it’s true that hip hop never does well at Eurovision, and it didn’t help that they followed the show-stopping Swedish ballad. Anyway, Twin Twin brought the fun.

Sebalter “Hunter of Stars”

A week ago I was browsing the #eurovision tag on Tumblr and there were all these girls (and a few boys) fangirling over Sebalter. He is totes adorbs with ridiculous quantities of charisma. But – and this is the most important part – “Hunter of Stars” is a great tune. The slightly enigmatic lyrics are about trying to woo someone but struggling with self-confidence. And it turns out if you sing a hook-laden folksy song with a Swiss-Italian accent, you can get away with lyrics like “I am so wet, I’m dirty”.

Donatan & Cleo “My Słowianie – We Are Slavic”

Heaving bosoms. Heeeeeaving bosoms. This song is a bit of a pisstake – mocking Polish nationalism, but also reinventing and celebrating it on their own terms. It’s a lively song with modern hip hop and R&B themes, but the thing everyone’s talking about is the heaving bosoms of the non-dancing dancers. This sort of performance is known in the world of Eurovision as a “dad pleaser”. It is boobtastic, but also celebrates the skills of butter-churning and clothes-washing. Oh, how it celebrates.

In a strange land

The rivers of happiness

Pharrell Williams in Happier times

Pharrell Williams in Happier times

I don’t think this has been mentioned yet in the media, by Pharrell Williams’ impossibly catchy song “Happy” has now spent a record 15 weeks at number one in the New Zealand singles chart. This breaks the record previously held by Boney M whose song “Rivers of Babylon” previously spent 14 weeks at number one way back in 1978.

There’s a big difference between the charts of the ’70s and today. For a start, in the ’70s people actually had to go to a record shop and buy a little black 45, whereas today it’s a quick click digital purchase anywhere you feel like buying it with your smartphone.

Most singles only chart for a few weeks. For comparison, “Royals” was only at number one for three weeks, while 2013′s biggie, “Blurred Lines” managed 11 weeks.

So what has attracted New Zealanders to “Happy”? Are we generally, as a nation, feeling a bit glum and in need of cheering up via a neo funk/soul song with an uplifting churchy gospel sound?

The churchy undertones of “Happy” ties in nicely to “Rivers of Babylon”. That song was originally written by Jamaican reggae band The Melodians, with its lyrics adapted from the Bible – specially Psalms 19 and 137 Are New Zealanders in need of some old time religion? Or is pop music our religion?

But even though “Happy” has broken this record, it’s still significant that “Rivers of Babylon” spent 14 consecutive weeks at number one, whereas Pharrell was interrupted after 12 weeks by Australian boyband 5 Seconds of Summer with their rather good track “She Looks so Perfect”, and then again by New Zealand pop power duo Stan Walker and Ginny Blackmore and their serious love song “Holding You”.

But “Happy” keeps ending up on top. It’s like the default number one song for 2014. What will finally usurp this happy ditty? Something miserable? Hey, that new One Direction song is pretty depressing.

That is a beard on a lady

I’m in full-on Eurovision Song Contest fangirl mode at the moment. This week is rehearsal week, which means tons of smartphone videos and fan analysis.

I was thinking of doing some sort of run down of this year’s songs, but then I realised that it would take too much effort to explain it all for anyone who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid. And, really, y’all should not be introduced to a Belgian man singing an emotional and slightly creepy operatic ode to his mother.

Instead I will introduce you to Conchita Wurst, a beautiful bearded lady who is representing Austria with her song “Rise like a Phoenix”. Conchita is the elegant drag creation of Tom Neuwirth, who is challenging gender stereotypes, don’t ya know, by giving Conchita a beard (Tom is normally clean shaven). Ms Wurst (German for sausage!) sings a Bond-inspired power ballad, a self-affirmation anthem showing that Conchita won’t let no one get her down.

By the way, if you want to watch Eurovision, this year Sky channel UKTV are screening both the semi finals and the final live. If you’re up at 7 on the morning of Sunday 11 May, you should tune in and watch the final. Alternatively, there’s a web stream on the official website. Until then, here’s Conchita.

Corruption and bribery

Have you ever been involved with some sort of competition and someone jokes, “The judges can be bribed with chocolate fish!!!” And everyone laughs and laughs and laughs.

But wouldn’t it be brilliant if this were actually true? Like, that you could slip a competition judge one of the chocolate marshmallow treats and buy their favour, ensuring that your watercolour painting of the Parnell rose garden is shortlisted for the community art award.

Maybe it’s because New Zealand always ranks so well on the Corruption Perceptions Index that this is such a popular joke. Currently Aotearoa is first-equal with Denmark as having the lowest perceived levels of corruption. So with this perception that bribery seldom happens in New Zealand (or does it, etc), do we feel free to joke about it?

But what if New Zealand was further down the Corruption Perception Index, like Italy at #69 and we had a culture of actual chocolate fish bribery? Would there be cases of High Court judges being busted for accepting cartons of chocolate fish in exchange for a favourable verdict? Or instances of midnight deliveries of chocolate fish to backbench MPs?

I think New Zealand can afford to lose a few points on the index. I’d be happy to be down in third place with Finland and Sweden, with the trade-off being getting a backhander of chocolate fish.

BRN, baby, BRN

Back in 2001, the New Zealand music industry organisation Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ; now known as Recorded Music NZ) launched a campaign to combat the new practice of illicitly burning copies of CDs, which deprived artists and record companies of income. The campaign was called BRN&GTBRNT, i.e. “burn and get burnt” and its aim was to educate young people that burning CDs or buying burnt CDs was not cool.

BRN&GTBRNT

The campaign’s name was inspired by newfangled text-speak, targeting the youth who were texting and burning, burning and texting. And probably even texting about burning. (Here’s a funny side effect of the spelling – in HTML, > is the code for the greater-than symbol, so while I was googling up about BRN&GTBRNT, I kept finding webpages that had displayed the name as BRN>BRNT, which is truthful, though unfortunate for the campaign.)

The idea was that around New Zealand, enterprising whippersnappers were burning copies of popular CDs on their home computers, then taking them to school and selling them. A Herald article noted that, “American pop act Destiny’s Child, English rock star Robbie Williams and Britney Spears are said to be big sellers. Kiwi music is also holding its own in the playground, with Che Fu and the Feelers in high demand.”

This is nothing new. Back in my day, it was very ordinary to lend friends one of your tapes so they could go home and dub off a copy on their Sanyo ghettoblaster. No one was selling anything, but maybe you’d buy a blank tape for your friend to dub onto. Back then, my friends and I didn’t have $15 to plonk down for every new tape we wanted, just as the kids of 2001 didn’t have an unlimited supply of cash for those $35 CDs.

Oh, but other rapscallions were selling burnt CDs down at local markets. How dare members of the public have the option of paying $10 or even $5 for a CD that should rightfully be retailing for $35? Something had to be done.

Well, the industry’s reaction was to launch a campaign that included Dave Dobbyn in burn makeup looking like he was going to a fancy dress party as a comedy Satan, warning the burners not to burn. The Herald article noted, “Dave Dobbyn is probably less popular with the kids.” Well, he’s no Beyonce.

BRN - Dave Dobbyn

The campaign was all over the media, including youth and music media. I remember full-page ads in music magazines with Dave Dobbyn’s red face imploring kids to just stop it.

It was ok to laugh at the campaigns of the 1980s designed to stop home taping, but the BRN&GTBRNT campaign was serious. If they didn’t do something, all those home burners would kill the music industry. Or as a passionate writer at NZGirl put it, “if you continue to purchase pirated CD’s your killing your own dream”.

BRN - logo

This was all happening at the same time as labels were starting to introduce copy-protected CDs, which made no one happy, and could be cracked with basic geek skills. And then there was the awkwardness of Sony’s electronics division manufacturing CD burners and blank CDs while its music division raged against them. Worth reading is this forum discussion at electronic music culture website Biggie from 2002 – the smart music lovers of the site aren’t convinced.

I was a couple of years outside the campaign’s target age group of 12-to-24-year-olds and I didn’t own a CD burner and so didn’t do any burning (though I did rip a lot of my own CDs so I could listen to them on my brand new iPod). At the time, I did acquire a few CDs that friends had burnt for me – but most of them I didn’t even listen to, like a compilation of ska-punk tracks. My legit CD collection at the time was massive, and it’s where most of my disposable income went. But then, I wasn’t a 12-year-old with $20 a week pocket money.

BRN - Stella

So was the BRN&GTBRNT campaign a success? Well, former RIANZA president Michael Glading admitted in 2004 that the locally-focused campaign mostly inspired people not to burn albums by New Zealand artists only. When it’s Bic Runga and Stella fronting the campaign, it’s easy to see it as being about supporting local artists, whereas Britney and Beyonce, well, they’re millionaires already. And this wasn’t helped by the bling culture of the ’00s, where musical videos presented popstars as if they were living large – even if it was all a facade.

Music manager Campbell Smith told the Herald in 2004 that “The sentiment of the BRN&GTBRNT campaign was bang-on, but it always smacked to me of being a bit hastily put together. It seemed a little bit cheesy in the end.” And I think that’s pretty accurate. Despite its good intentions, the campaign’s message weirdly distilled down to “You should not copy that really cool Destiny’s Child CD because it will make some old New Zealand musician feel like he’s had really bad sunburn.”

And here’s another curious thing about life after the BRN&GTBRNT campaign: no one burns CDs anymore. Yes, no sensible 12-year-old is going to spend $5 on buying a burned CD in the schoolyard when they can legitimately stream it for free on Spotify or watch the video on YouTube.

The Herald article noted that one argument was that people copy CDs because they’re too expensive, with the counter argument from the music industry being that “the price of a CD reflects the money and effort which has gone into making and promoting the album”. Well, there’s another curious thing – during the BRN&GTBRNT campaign, a full price CD cost as much as $35. Now a full price album on iTunes is around only $16-$18.

And who buys CDs any more? Old people? Fans of Sole Mio and X Factor winners? (Third-place-getter Benny Tipene was amused that his debut single was being released on CD.) The technological issue that BRN&GTBRNT was trying to fight against was solved not by educating the public. Instead the troublesome technology itself changed the music business so massively and so quickly that CDs are now all but a relic of a bygone era.

When I was googling for info on BRN&GTBRNT, I was surprised at how few images remain from the campaign, being that it was so well known for the visuals of its ads and posters. What remains are tiny, low-res images, pixelly artefacts. That seems highly symbolic. These digital remnants of an earlier age, back when it seemed that technology was going to eat the music industry, not realising it had already been eaten.

BRN - star logo

The national costume

Kate

Oh, look. It’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, at the state reception held for her and her husband in Wellington. She’s wearing an elegant black gown with a silver fern motif on the shoulder, designed by UK designer Jenny Packham.

It’s been praised in the media for its referencing of New Zealand’s national emblem. But wait – it’s a strangely familiar design. Let me think…

Oh, that’s right. It’s what almost every Miss New Zealand wore in the national costume section of Miss World and Miss Universe in the 1980s.

As I discovered recently when I trawled through two decades of Miss World and Miss Universe contests, there’s a certain awkwardness and uncertainty when it comes to New Zealand’s national costume. It seems no one’s really sure what it should be, but the one thing that keeps recurring is the black frock with a silver fern.

So ok. The Duchess of Cambridge has officially made it a thing, so let’s declare it once and for all: New Zealand’s national costume is a black gown with a silver fern motif. For both men and women.

It might not be to everyone’s liking, but let’s just be thankful that the duchess didn’t take inspiration from Miss New Zealand 1985:

1985-miss-world-head

The rainy season

Everyone

I was in Brisbane last week for a wedding in a registry office. I used to think that a rego office wedding would be really cool and chilled out, but the ceremony in Australia made me feel actual rage.

Since Australia’s Marriage Amendment Act 2004, celebrants are required to give an explanation of the nature of marriage, which includes this text:

“Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

Which pretty much has “So there, homos” after it in invisible ink. When the celebrant read it out, I had this moment of “Wait, did he actually say that?” In a normal situation if someone was saying dickish things like that, I’d walk out or make an angry tweet, but it’s not cool to do that at your brother’s wedding.

I felt a bit like a naive New Zealander and I wondered if this it was just accepted in Australia. But I googled it and found various Australian couples wanting advice on what they can add to their vows to not alienate their gay friends and family.

It makes me appreciate the freedom that New Zealanders have in the world of weddings. Dudes and chicks can get hitched in any pairing, if they want to. Yay, New Zealand.

Rego office

Talking about the weather

Eagle Street Pier on a rainy afternoon

Eagle Street Pier on a rainy afternoon

It rained a lot in Brisbane, but Brisbane does rain well. I think this is because a lot of the infrastructure that makes the city comfortable in the filthy hot summer months, also works during the wet seasons. So the covered walkways that protect summer pedestrians from the baking Queensland sun also work as rain shelter in March. The various city malls, arcades and underground routes likewise let people get around without being bothered too much by the cruel outside world.

It’s a good umbrella town. It’s unlike Wellington – where using an umbrella is a sign of mental illness – or Auckland – where using an umbrella is an unwelcome admission of the truth that no one likes to face: that Auckland is rainy as. Brisbane happy faces the rainy weather, everyone uses umbrellas (and not just in black!) and malls even have free umbrella wrapping stations so you don’t end up dripping everywhere.

There’s something really satisfying about being out in the rain but not getting wet. Maybe there’s a basic human instinct that’s all “SEEK SHELTER!” but it’s very liberating to be able to ignore that and just get out and do regular stuff without fear of getting soaked. Though it seems Queensland still hasn’t figured out how to protect against hair frizz.

Thriller

I went to the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. After I’d been thoroughly impressed by the epic faux taxidermy of Cai Guo-Qiang, I wandered upstairs and discovered something kinda wonderful.

It was a video work called King: A Portait of Michael Jackson by Candice Breitz. She’d selected 16 hardcore Michael Jackson fans – none of whom could really sing or dance – and filmed them singing and moving along to the Thriller album. So there were 16 TV screens playing the video vertically, each TV playing the audio track of the individual depicted on screen. The end result was an amateur chorus of Thriller.

The singing sounded surprising gentle, like Anglican church service singing. I think that was a combination of the amateur singers not being able to project their voices, along with nerves and being unable to replicate MJ’s unique high-but-tough voice.

Some people were well into it, others did that thing where you kind of mumble the verses but go hard on the familiar chorus. Because there was no music playing, each song started with the performers jiggling about and it was fun to guess the song. Suddenly everyone gets all tough-guy and, oh, it’s “Beat It”. The zombie hands come out for “Thriller”.

It was a dorky but spectacular experience. As hilarious as it was seeing all the daggy dancing and wobbly notes, there was something incredibly uplifting and life-affirming about sitting in a dark room while 16 people suddenly burst into “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”.

This video is the whole darn thing at 42 minutes long, so feel free to just watch a little bit.

Hunt and peck

Snooty Dog God

I watch a lot of old-people telly. I know it’s old people because the main advertisers are Cigna Funeral Plan and Ryman Rest Care. It’s the lucrative “you’re going to die” demographic.

But sometimes there are little snippets of hope, signs of life from the ’90s or, if we’re really lucky, the ’00s. Like this recent question on Millionaire Hotseat:

Before the options were even given, I knew it was Snoop Dogg and I felt all awesome, like I should add that to my LinkedIn profile. Then things got even better: I realised I knew the real names of two of others – Curtis Jackson and André Benjamin. I thought Chuck D would be Charles D-something, but it turns out his name is the very posh sounding Carlton Ridenhour. No wonder he uses a nom de mike.

The lady on Millionaire blindly guessed correctly, then went on to win $250,000. What do I get for my hip hop trivia knowledge? Well, I’m quite good to have on your pub quiz team, provided it’s not an old-people quiz.

Space

Air New Zealand tweeted an image of this old menu and it brought flashbacks of high school typing.

See how somethings are centred and other things are left- and right-justified? Well, back in the olden days of manual typewriters, this had to be all worked out, er, manually.

You’d count the number of characters in the row, and figure out the number of characters in the text you were going to type, then space across exactly the right number of spaces so that when you typed “Asparagus Mayonnaise” it would be perfectly centred (unlike the one on the TEAL menu, which is off by two spaces).

I did high school typing from 1988 to 1990, up to School Certificate. I’d been using word processors on the family Commodore 64 – like the hallowed Bank Street Writer – for about five years prior, so to have to revert to counting characters to figure layout, well, it seemed like a pretty step backwards.

I had no desire to be a typist or secretary. I only took typing as a school subject because it seemed like a good skill to have, as in, if you can type, you’ll always be able to find work. The funny thing was, I never actually learned to touch-type at school. Typing was actually my worst subject. I struggled with it so much compared to the easier academic subjects.

Mastery of touch-typing came about five years later when the web came along. And while every job I’ve had has involved a keyboard, those old-style layout skills are something I’ve never had a use for.

Maybe it’s time for an organic artisan document layout revival. Bring out the vintage Underwoods!

The art of motel art

When I was on my Northland roadtrip, I took photos of all the motel art (or lack thereof) that I encountered. Concrete block walls, painted white, with a photo or print screwed on to prevent the artwork being stolen. Well, I didn’t need to steal it. I have these precious memories captured forever, etc.

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