On dreams coming true

The first time I heard of Barack Obama, I had three thoughts about him:

  1. That as he was a dirty filthy chain-smoker, I had no respect for him.
  2. That as I couldn’t relate to the “Obama Girl” video, he was obviously not up my alley.
  3. That there was no way a guy with the middle name Hussein and with a surname one letter different from Osama would get elected president of the United States.

But 1) he quit, 2) everyone has crazy fans, and 3) oh, so I was totally wrong about that one.

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008. One of my workmates and I were in his car, driving along Victoria Street, towards Taranaki Street. He turned on Radio NZ National. Their US election coverage was playing. It was mentioned that Obama had reached over 270 electoral college votes and was therefore going to be the president-elect. We both said woo-hoo and continued on to our destination, the American Ambassador’s election party.

Me and the president-elect

At the Michael Fowler Centre, the room was full of celebration and excitement. It was very American, with cardboard cutouts of McCain and Obama, and paddles, badges and stickers for both Democrats and Republicans – though it should be noted that while the McCain/Palin badge bowl was still quite full, the Obama/Biden bowl was nearly empty.

CNN’s election coverage was playing on a projector. McCain made his speech and the room was quiet for it. It was so gracious and humble, and I got that horrible feeling that, dammit, if he’d won the Republican nomination in 2000, things would have been so much better.

Before I went to the party, I joked that I hoped they’d be serving hotdogs. Well, they did – mini gourmet hotdogs and hamburgers. Slowly I started to realise a feeling was coming back; something I hadn’t felt for years – America was OK. America was slowly moving back to being a cool country.

Then Barack Obama made his speech; the speech. The room feel silent and everyone listened. It was awesome. People were crying and sniffling a little.

History

The bit that got me was when he thanked his wife, Michelle. I’d never fully got the way the president’s wife is called the First Lady and gets special reverence of her own, but I suddenly realised. Being the wife of a president would be so hard. You’d almost lose party of your identity and be forced into a job that you virtually couldn’t quit. The whole ‘first lady’ thing is a small compensation for all the crap they have to put up with.

I remember in the ’90s, when I was doing the angsty Generation X bullshit, we used to wail that we’d never had a definitive moment that united the generation, so we were all messed up, etc. Then September 11 happened, and it was like, “Oh, you got something – happy now?” Well, now the Obama win feels like another definitive moment in history that’s brought everyone together in a good good way.

I’d been feeling a little gloomy about the future, but now it feels like that even though things might be tough in the future, there is going to be a future that we will be able to enjoy.

After the party my workmate and I went on to the Backbencher pub for the filming of Back Benches (oh, like anyone was watching!). Just after 9, the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks display started. We ran to the end of Kate Sheppard Place and discovered a magnificent view of the fireworks erupting in the night sky. And that’s a good ending to a memorable night.

Electiondog!

Oh, there’s that other election thing going on. Uh, New Zealand, right?

It’s difficult having the New Zealand election happening at the same time as the US election because it makes the NZ one look like a school trustees election.

I’m a little disturbed by the televised debates that have viewer-submitted video questions. Most of them seem to be badly lit, resulting in a shadowy figure, making it seem like most of the viewers were in witness protection and/or internet nutters.

It’s harder not having a clear-cut choice like in the US election. There are no heroes and villains. You have to, like, actually read up on policies and make informed decisions. Though that’s actually not going to stop all those people who are voting National solely because they think Labour have been in government long enough and they think it’s time someone else had a turn, thank you.

But it’s so much nicer being in the Wellington Central electorate than being in Epsom, where things were skewed by the funny little goblin-man in the yellow coat. Now I can actually vote for the candidate I want to vote for, knowing that he’d make an excellent MP.

So to the polling booth tomorrow I go, where I shall wield my orange marker pen of democracy, and hopefully the government that comes out of it will be a good one.

O for awesome

Exhibit A: Funkmaster George Clinton’s 1993 single Paint the White House black:

It seems incredible to think that when that song came out – only 15 years ago – the idea of a black president seemed like wishful thinking. Back then, the other Clinton, Bill, was the newly elected pres and he was a friend to the negro so that was as good as it was going to get.

But now, today… Wow. It feels like some sort of momentous historic event. Maybe this is what the ’60s were like to live through.

At last – one very good reason to not feel so gloomy about the future.

Friday afternoon late train blues

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was waiting at the train platform for the train home. Half-past five came and went; no train. But I had my iPod, I had some internets on my phone. I could wait for a while. And finally the train came about 20 minutes late.

All was good until the train arrived at the public transport jewel of Lower Hutt, Waterloo Station. An Englishman got on the train, lugging a suitcase, wearing a Lonestar steakhouse t-shirt and looking rather bothered.

He started complaining aloud to anyone who would listen. “The bloody train was half an hour late”, he moaned. (There must have been a tear in the delicate fabric of the space-time continuum that suddenly added on 10 minutes to the time around Lower Hutt). “I don’t know why I came to this bloody country. Trains run every 5 minutes in London,” he proclaimed, somehow mistaking the suburbs of the Hutt Valley (population 100,000) with being akin to London (population 7,350,000).

No one responded or sympathised. He then proclaimed, “The country’s going to the pack, why wouldn’t the trains be any different?” This drew a response from a middle-aged lady sitting nearby, who’d migrated to New Zealand from England 15 years ago. She asked him why, if he disliked it so much, didn’t he leave. “I am bloody leaving. I’m going to Australia on Monday. Biggest mistake of my life coming here.” Oh, really?

“This country’s 30 years behind the rest of the world,” he angrily exclaimed. But, kind sir, that’s why we like living here. The trains might not run as frequently as in other places, and sometimes there are stoppages, but trains don’t get blown up by wannabe terrorists, and innocent people don’t get killed by paranoid police.

The accidental tourist eventually shut up, and the train made its way on to Wellington. Just past the Kaiwharawhara platform, the Englishman got up and stood by the door, obviously wanting to get off the train as soon as it reached Wellington station.

Stopped

But – ha – the train stopped and stayed stopped. The conductor came along an explained that the signals system wasn’t working and had to be operated manually, so only one train at a time could enter or leave Wellington station. There was going to be a long wait.

Another passenger really really had to wee, so he walked out onto a connecting platform between carriages and went off that. I figured this would just reinforce the Briton’s opinion that he was riding on the “bloody Flintstones railway”.

The conductor came out again with an update. We’d get there, eventually, but, “That’s what happens when you don’t invest in your railway and now we’re paying for it.” We get to blame both the last National and current Labour government for this. Oh, but Wellington will soon have the shiny new trains, hilariously named Matangi.

Secret message

The stopped train gave me a chance to check out the surroundings of the railyard, which usually flash by. I saw some graffiti in memory of Darren. What fate had taken him? Maybe he was an English tourist. I wonder if he’d be happy knowing his memorial place was doubling as a public urinal?

Eventually the train got to the head of the queue and finally rolled into Wellington station, one hour after its usual time. I was surprised by how civil everyone (except the angry tourist) remained on the journey. There were a few phone calls made explaining lateness, visitors to the Upper Hutt scrapbooking expo amused themselves with their goodie bags, but no one was furious.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, spending an extra 40 minutes on a lightly filled Welington train isn’t really all that bad.

Black, gold

I have a new cellphone. It is one of those newfangled cellphones that has an extra piece of string or a special carrier pigeon that connects it to the interwebs (I do not understand modern technology). Vodafone now has some decent pricing plans for cellphone interwebs, so I have no excuse not to use it. But this has been both a bonus and a burden.

For example, if I’m walking down Courtenay Place and I think, “Wot was that line from Clue that Mrs White says about the flames?”, I can just whip out my phone and google it and quickly find the answer.

However, it also means that having the net at my fingertips sucks me out of the now and focuses my attention on the little black rectangle in my hand. It’s like the monolith from “2001”, but instead of evolving me to a new plane of enlightenment, it tells me trivia facts about Romania (Romania’s parliament building is the largest building in Europe!)

I was thinking about how cellphones are used these days. I rarely use mine for voice calls any more. In fact, my cellphone rang for a first time a few days ago and I didn’t know which button to press to answer it so I missed the call. Oh, such a modern dilemma!

But I would like to note that when my cellphone rings,it rings.

BONUS FEATURE: The Rugby

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Isn’t it awesome that the Wellington Lions won the Ranfurly Shield after a 26-year dry spell, mate!” Well, um, prior to a couple of days ago, I didn’t even know that there was a sports team called the Wellington Lions.

So with this in mind, I have wisely left the commentary on this topic to my mum, who filed this report from Wellington airport, the day after the win:

We got to the airport quite early and had just settled down to wait for the plane when there was an announcement, “I am proud to announce that the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland will be arriving shortly.” (Proud, I thought, that’s a bit odd)

Then there was a lot of yahoo-ing and yelling from a group of middle-aged Koru Club ladies up the other end of the room who were watching the plane come in. Of course the plane had the victorious Lions on board.

On the tarmac there were two fire trucks in position and when the plane taxied to the terminal it was generously sprayed with water, most of which was blown the other way anyway. Also there were a lot of workers in yellow vests on the tarmac waving flags and yellow and black scarves. Oh, how I wished I’d kept my old school scarf!

We didn’t go down to join in the rabble. We heard some kids doing a haka and there was a lot of cheering and clapping. The Koro Club ladies (and their cellphone cameras) had disappeared to join in the fun. It was all on the TV news last night, anyway.

When it stops raining, we leave the house

Art

I went to two art exhibitions – the giant Affordable Art Show at the TSB Arena and the much smaller Drawing Parallels exhibition at ROAR! gallery.

The Affordable Art Show was full of the kind of art that people buy to decorate their homes. Before I went there, I’d been out looking for a new duvet cover, and with duvet designs in mind, I was disturbed to see the same sort of designs showing up on lots of the paintings. But it’s the kind of art that people buy exactly because it matches their duvet.

A very common design would be a crimson-based piece with lots of different elements painted on it in a scrapbook fashion – maybe some pebbles, the ubiquitous Samoan bird motif, an old newspaper clipping (made older looking by a yellow varnish), a black and white photo, and some other coastal-inspired designs, something lacy, and plenty of gold paint. Like this:

crap

Why is this so common? Is there some sort of programme on The Living Channel on how to make this?

My favourite piece in the show was a by-the-numbers portrait of Ozzy Osborne called “Prince of Darkness” (not Prince of Entertainment?), on sale for a mere $1000. Oh, the dark blue would go so well with the curtains in the guest bedroom.

Over at ROAR!, there was art of a different kind. ROAR! specialises in outsider art, but the Drawing Parallels was a group show open to anyone, really, with an emphasis on drawing.

The walls were covered with pieces from different artists using all sorts of different techniques and media (including my new favourite – felt-tip pens).

When you see a piece where the artist has sketched all the different meals she’s had every day in hospital, you know there’s not a duvet in the world that would match that.

Porirua

I got the train to Porirua. This is the furthest north I’ve been since I moved to Wellington. One day I’ll make it to Levin. One day.

City of Progress

Porirua’s town centre reminds me a bit of Manukau. It’s very automobile-focused, but is trying hard to be pedestrian friendly. But it’s really hard, as a pedestrian, to deal with a town centre that has a great whacking mall in the middle of it. There are just so many dead edges around it – totally designed on a scale that can only be enjoyed in a car.

I passed by the historic McDonald’s – the very first one in New Zealand. I didn’t realise it at the time. If I’d known, I would have gone in and had a cheeseburger and then rolled out my vinyl offcut, played Mirda Rock on my ghettoblaster and done some breakdancing.

There are a couple of streets near the mall that have been turned into a pedestrian mall and covered with canopies, in a sort of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em move”. The pedestrian mall was practically devoid of pedestrians. Instead it was full of very young teenagers kicking around broken umbrellas.

The train conductor didn’t clip my ticket on the way home, so a return trip might be in order.

Holiday

A few days ago I bought some crazy-cheap flights to New Caledonia in September (or, as they say in New Caledonia, Septembre. It’s just as well they were cheap because New Caledonia isn’t. I’m currently utilising the mighty power of the interwebs to find a hotel in Noumea that a) I can afford, and b) isn’t a complete shithole.

Hotel review websites have been useful, especially reading the reviews from my fellow countrymen and Australian neighbours as they come to grips with la vie francais “We could not get a good flat white coffee anywhere,” moans one tourist. Oh, funny that a French territory would not serve Australasian-style coffee.

And should I feel comforted that “My partner and I (and his stepchildren)” from Hamilton liked a certain hotel? Or should I take that as a sign to stay away? I’m spurred on by the visitor who reckons, “Noumea was a bit feral.” I already knew that, which is one of the reasons I’m going back.

Bonus Poetry

Over at the Wellingtonista, I was inspired to write a sonnet about a recent brawl in Manners Mall.

Hanging with the goths in Manners Mall –
a scuffle in the Loaded clothing shop.
A shoplifter, so 111 was called
but even still the ruckus didn’t stop.
Nunchakus were brandish’d, ninja style.
The shop staff locked themselves out in the back
I hadn’t had some biff now for a while,
so I turned ’round and gave some guy a whack.
A Strathmore chick did kick me in the nuts.
I fell down hard and I began to wail.
My hardcore gangsta plan ran out of luck,
as the po’liceman, he took me off to jail.
I’ve vowed to never go out after dark.
It’s so much safer here in Churton Park.

Airport 2008

I had a 9am flight (a business trip!), and I had booked a taxi for 7.45 which, according to the taxi driver, was more time than I really needed. Except when the taxi got to Hillsborough, suddenly the traffic got slow and dense. He tried another side street, and then discovered there’d been a crash on the Mangere Bridge, but in the city-bound lane, which didn’t seem like it would hold up traffic going away from the airport.

I was a bit worried I might be late and miss my flight, or at least my check-in time, but the driver assured me he’d get me there on time.

After negotiating through the back streets of Onehunga, which were also chocker with traffic, we finally got on to the motorway. The accident had just been cleared and the city-bound lanes were slowly starting to move again. There was no logical reason for the airport-bound lanes to be slow. I can only conclude that it was a result of lookie-loos.

And true to his word, the driver got me to the airport in time for my flight.

But while I was ready to board my plane, it wasn’t ready for me. Thick fog had closed Auckland Airport to morning flights. The check-in area was full of people, laden with bags, wondering what they were going to do.

Play misty for me

Ah, the fog. I’d noticed Mount Eden had been rendered invisible by it yesterday, and I hoped it wouldn’t cause trouble today. Cos everyone knows that delayed or cancelled flights cause trouble. People get angry and yell and throw stuff, right?

Well, here’s the great thing – everyone was cool about it. The Air New Zealand staff kept everyone informed, handed out snacks and water. Passengers figured out where they were supposed to go. I saw no one conforming to the stereotype of the angry, yelling passenger.

Some of the earlier flights had been canceled, but my lazy-ass 9am flight wasn’t and eventually it was called for boarding. I arrived in Wellington a couple of hours later than planned, but still where I needed to be.

Boundaries

Interesting things have been happening in the places where I grew up. First there was a P lab found in the old Matangi dairy factory, and now there’s just been a huge explosion at a cold-storage facility just across the road from Tamahere Model Country School (um, yeah, that’s its name, but it’s really just an ordinary state primary school) – one of my old schools.

Now, Tamahere is very close to Hamilton City. It’s about a 10-minute car ride from Tamahere School to the Hamilton suburb of Hillcrest, and you’d be in the city centre in little over 15 minutes.

But Tamahere is not in Hamilton City. It’s in Waikato District. It’s rural. Like this:

ham

And yet the Herald is currently reporting that the cold-storage facility is located in “suburban Tamahere on the southeast outskirts of the city.”

Suburban! City! If only! My childhood would have been approximately 70% less miserable if I had gone to school in a city suburb and not the bloody country (or so I’d like to think…)

This is what most of Tamahere looks like – not suburban, rural:

(Photo from Judemay on Flickr)

But, then, Tamahere never felt like a rural settlement. It wasn’t like neighbouring Matangi or Tauwhare where there was a little village or definite centre. No, Tamahere was more like a rural suburb of Hamilton, where rich Hamiltonians lived when they wanted room for their ponies. So perhaps in getting it wrong, the Herald actually got it right.

Digging around on Flickr has revealed some amazing photos taken by people near the explosion and also from Hamilton.

Tamahere Fire, as seen from Hillcrest Park, by Easegill

Shamrocks and Shenanigans

It was St Patrick’s day, so I was on the look out for merriment. But I was most surprised when, on K Road, I spied what appeared to be a man wearing a Santa suit, complete with a long white beard. But he smelt like paint (had he been painting toys?) and he was staggering along the footpath. I looked again.

It turned out to be a guy wearing a baggy red tracksuit. The long white beard was created by him holding up a white T-shirt over his mouth and nose to help hide the bag he was inhaling solvents from (green paint, perhaps?).

Over at the over side of the colour wheel, there were plenty of people dressed in green and staggering down the footpath, participating in various kinds of St Patrick’s Day festivities.

I saw some guys, who sounded American, wearing those green plastic hats, which I associate more with American Irish (the madness of Boston) than Irish Irish.

The Belgian bar down Vulcan Lane seemed to be doing a roaring trade. Well, you know, beer, mashed potatties – who cares what country it’s from?

At work, there were scones with green whipped cream. They seemed to be quite popular, but the green was too much like that green food mould to stir my Irish blood.

Hey, how do Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day? Not by dying everything they eat green, I’ll bet.

Here’s a cookie for ye.

How one celebrates St Patrick's Day, Part 1

Things I did on the weekend

ITEM: I went to the Cross Street Carnival on Saturday. The street was closed off and filled up with Craftwerk regulars, including Annette of Nut & Bee, and City the NZ Cupcake Queen. Even the local brothel was part of it. The K Road area has been in need of a carnival, but with K Road itself being a major city road and having the motorway so close and steep streets either side, it’s been lacking a good location for such an event. Cross Street is ideal. I hope it becomes an annual event.

ITEM: So, you know that Flight of the Conchords television programme? Well, I’d never got around to watching it when it was on TV. I felt like the only person in the country who didn’t watch it. I mean, I think even my mum knew what “It’s business time” meant. So now that it was finally out on DVD I bought it and watched it all over two days. It was good, and it didn’t wear thin. Go Kiwi, LOTR, etc.

ITEM: On Sunday I got the ferry over to Devonport, forgetting it was the weekend of the food and wine festival. They make an effort with the admission price to discourage people from getting pissed, but there was still a bit of staggering going on down Victoria Road. And then the added bonus of having Hello Sailor’s live performance in the park echoing around the streets. The New World car park took on a whole different feeling with slices of “Blue Lady” drifting around it.

ITEM: You know what’s cool and new? It’s the Aucklandista blog. It’s a sister site of the Wellingtonista, founded by Auckland-lover Jo Hubris, and hasa growing list of contributors. It’s all about the various aspects of what makes Auckland rather awesome. It’s early days, but it’s slowly finding its own Aucklandic take on things.

ITEM: Ok, let’s have a look at some photos from the Cross Street Carnival. (See how even the Mercury Lane car park looks festive?)

Where to go

Humidity, humility, humanity

In recent days people have been coming out with their stories about their connections or experiences with Sir Edmund Hillary – people who went to school with him or climbed with him or built a school in Nepal with him or saw him at the rugby and got him to autograph a $5 note. Well, the only connection I have – and it’s both significant and insignificant – is that my middle name is Hilary. So there.

Which leads me to Parnell. After work yesterday I got the Link bus to Parnell, which conveniently stopped right outside the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity where Sir Edmund’s body was lying in state.

I wasn’t necessarily planning on going inside, but even though I wouldn’t be visiting for religious reason, I was interested in the event as a socially and culturally significant one as a New Zealander. Though, when I initially saw the line of people snaking all the way down St Stephen’s Ave and then around the corner and down Brighton Road, I considered just going home.

But then I thought about it. I’d put up with hot sun and crowds and having sweaty man-backs in my face at the Big Day Out, so how could I not be up to doing something that many senior citizens – including ones with walking sticks – were doing? And besides, the line was moving reasonably fast. All excuses gone, I joined the queue.

An orderly line

Now, it was a hot, extremely humid summer evening, with very light rain from time to time. The heat was so intense that I began to wonder if perhaps I ought to have a plastic bottle of water with me in case I dehydrated so much that I failed to meet the eight-glasses-of-water-a-day limit. Because we all know what terrible, terrible things happen then.

But then, as if by magic, a lady appeared handing out bottles of water – organic water, even. (No, I don’t get how either.) The label on the bottle suggested it was endorsed by Sir Peter Blake, giving a nice dearly departed knights theme.

The queue and the water girl

It took me about 40 minutes to make it into the cathedral. When I got inside I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Well, actually, I had earlier imagined something like what happened when Eva Peron died. You know, people wailing and fainting, tearing their clothes, queuing for days to see the coffin, taking their babies and their ill to be blessed.

But, well, it wasn’t like that. It was all rather Anglican. Silent and reverential. The coffin was surrounded by four naval seamen guarding it. Standing so still they looked like strange androids, waiting to be summoned into action at the cue of a Doctor Who villain.

I took some photos, but I was really conscious of actually experiencing the moment and not just viewing it all through my camera’s LED screen. I don’t I think I saw the man ahead of me take his camera away once – but maybe that’s how he does things.

When I was standing right in front of the coffin I stopped and thought and felt sadness. Then I had this weird sensation that, oh no, I was holding up the line and I should go, oh, sorry.

I signed the guestbook, bid my namesake farewell, and went out into the hot January night.

Standing still