Observatory

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.

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Music

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.

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Observatory

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.

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Observatory

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_GT_BRNT

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.

brngtbrnt-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”.

brngtburnt-logo-1

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.

brngtbrnt-stellar

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.

brngtbrnt-logo-2

Update: Courtesy of Lower Hutt’s finest musician, Disasteradio, comes these photos of the BRN&GTBRNT sticker in the wild. The threat of a $10,000 loomed over anyone thinking about copying this easy listening compilation CD. Also of interest – the CD was full priced at $34.99, then reduced to $24.99. Today a cheap-as chillout compilation album on iTunes can be found for as little as $11.99, while the Chillout Lounge playlist on Spotify costs $0.

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Observatory

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-head2

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Places

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.

wedding

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.

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Observatory

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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Observatory

One Two

Cake

I made this cake for my dad’s birthday. There’s a kind of a tradition for a chocolate cake decorated with M&Ms, but traditionally it used a handwritten recipe called “One Two Egg Chocolate Cake”. That recipe only uses two tablespoons of cocoa, so it’s not really a chocolate cake, more a brown-tinted vanilla cake, which I’m not really into.

So I googled and found this Nigella recipe for Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. It was super easy to make (it basically involves biffing everything in a food processor) and it used a hearty 40g of cocoa so it was good and chocolately. And the icing was quality. I rejected Nigella’s suggestion of decorating with sugar flowers, and instead went for the traditional M&Ms, M side down (well, it was either that or removing all the green ones).

Hääletamine on suletud?

I’m really enjoying the Great Language Game. You listen to short clips that seem to be all taken from radio new broadcasts from around the world and you have to identify the language that’s been spoken. It’s multiple choice, starting with two options, increasing as the game progresses.

It's just an image so you can't actually click here. But if you could, the answer would be Croatian.

It’s just an image so you can’t actually click here. But if you could, the answer would be Croatian.

The most I’ve scored is 800. I partly attribute this to it being right in the midst of the build up to Eurovision. I’ve watched a lot of the national selection TV programmes, so I can say “voting has now closed” in a dozen different European languages. (By the way, the best competition was Ireland, where one of the guest panelists and a mentor had a stand-up row. Proud 2 b Irish.)

Sometimes I could apply a bit of logic to choose the languages (like when I figured that the posh sounding broadcast was more likely to be Hebrew than Yiddish)

What is blog?

One thing I know is that blogging isn’t what it was 10 years ago, or 15 years ago. Or even five years ago.

A lot of my friends’ blogs have turned into collections of reactions about Twitter storms. Some controversy happens, then everyone toots about it, then someone makes a blog post with a collection of the most dramatic and/or wittiest toots along with a bit of commentary. It gets stale so quickly. Like, in a week you’ll read it and will fondly recall that time in March 2013 when everyone got fired up about the radio DJ who made the slightly sexist tweet, offered a half-arsed apology, but he didn’t lose his job or anything, oh well.

And then there are political blogs, which get a lot of media attention but are generally only of interest if you’re really into politics or if the Justin Bieber fandom isn’t providing enough drama to satisfy your needs.

Then it just leaves those personal website type blogs, which should be where all the cool shit is happening. But it’s not because when I check my RSS feeds, hardly anyone updates anymore.

My website is going to be 18 years old later this year. And as much as I’d like to treat it like an 18-year-old person by urging them to go flatting or maybe backpack around Europe, that’s not going to happen. My website is not independent. It’s like a lazy-arse teen that just sits around the house all day watching MTV, like it’s still 1997. God.

A few months ago I realised I hadn’t updated my site much and I thought that was a bit lame. So taking inspiration from the original format of Courtney Johnston’s blog Best of Three – that is, posting about three things – I got back into it. And it worked – as rules and restrictions and limits tend to do for me.

But I don’t want to be alone in this. So if you have a blog that you’ve been neglecting, put some stuff on it. Put your favourite photo from Instagram or a link to some fun quiz thing that was going around on Facebook. Just something of the quite-good variety.

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Observatory, Places

Self-adhesive

Lame-arse travel tips

One thing I noticed on my travels: most hotel rooms have powerpoints in really awkward places. In the olden days, back when the only thing that needed to be plugged in was the bedside clock radio, not a smartphone or tablet, meaning a modern user can be in for complicated experience finding somewhere to plug in.

So I had this idea. Instead of trying to relax in a bed that you’ve pulled out 20cm from the wall in order to accommodate the giant iPhone plug, what if you brought along a power board to plug in and bring power points to the comfort of your bedside table?

I thought about doing this when I was on holiday but then I thought, oh, what if the cleaner sees it and thinks it’s part of some meth lab I’m in the middle of setting up and then they call the cops and my holiday is totally ruined. A rational thought, you understand.

A declaration

flagsA couple of weeks ago when I’d just arrived in Kohukohu, I was walking along the main street when suddenly I saw a number of the United Tribes flags flying. At first I thought, “Whoa, things are different here,” (which is true of the Hokianga anyway), but then I discovered the flags were related to an exhibit of work by local artists, He W’akaputanga Mai o te Rangatiratanga – a proclamation. The artists have created work in response to the Declaration of Independence, signed by various northern chiefs in 1835. The exhibition was really good, very thought-provoking, an unexpected discovery in that sleepy little seaside village.

As it happens, the exhibition’s travelled to another sleepy little seaside village, Devonport. It opened yesterday at Depot Artspace and is on display until the end of March. If you’re in the area, you should go and see it. Here’s a report from Maori TV on the exhibition.

Stick it on

When I was in Kaitaia, I kind ran out of things to do. I tweeted asking for suggestions (which led to a visit to out to the beach at Ahipara, and on to a couple of kauri places at Awanui), but while I was waiting for the replies, I had a wander along the main street and ended up going into all the $2 shops in town (there are a few) and buying all the different types of party moustaches that I could find.

moustache

I actually have experience with all these from previous moustache parties in Wellington, so I can offer the following comments.

Self-adhesive Facial Hair Kit
This one has a bit of a Deadwood thing happening, but due to it having eyebrows, sideburns and a soul patch, it’s also the most versatile of the three. The pieces are cut from a thick felty material that isn’t much like actual facial hair when seen up close, but it’s ok from a distance. I wouldn’t recommend using all the components at once. It’s like with makeup – you either emphasise the lips or the eyes (or the sideburns?), not both.

Mustache Party
This is my favourite, and I think everyone should keep a Mustache Party in that drawer in the kitchen where all the random stuff goes. You never know when you’ll need it. The biggest feature – six different styles in two different colours, though I’d personally have preferred the Scoundrel to come in black, rather than grey. The moustaches are made of the thinnest material of the three packs, and on some you can even see the weave.

Party Mustache
From a distance this one looks really good. It’s a big fat hairy moustache that would look great, right? Well, part of the problem is its hairiness. There’s fibres flaking off it in the packet, and you don’t want something like that next to your nose. It would be ok if you were wanting to wear a moustache for a selfie, but it fails on the requirements of being a good party moustache.

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Places

North-West

The western side of Northland.

The Hokianga

It's ok - unlike the old one, the new Pak'n Save doesn't look like it's been hit by a cyclone.

It’s ok – unlike the old one, the new Pak’n Save doesn’t look like it’s been hit by a cyclone.

There’s something strangely satisfying about Kaitaia. It’s the northern-most town in New Zealand and it’s big enough to have a Farmers and a Warehouse. The Far North is about the least prosperous part of New Zealand, but it never really gets cold there and it’s really pretty.

When I left Kaitaia, it was a grey, cloudy day, doing that misty Far North thing I’d come to expect. I avoided State Highway One (so mainstream) and headed south on a road that went from Ahipara to Kohukohu, via the pleasant valley town of Broadwood.

Kohukohu was on the itinerary because that’s where my gran was born and where she met my grandfather, a cool dude rocking into town on his motorcycle, with stories of Chicago. Kohukohu is now a chilled out little settlement on the shores of the Hokianga. There’s nothing to do there, which is why people go there.

Let's call this "the old wharf" and get a far-off look in our eyes.

Let’s call this “the old wharf” and get a far-off look in our eyes.

From Kohukohu I got the car ferry over to Rawene. It’s not like those boganny Auckland passenger ferries, hooning across the harbour. The Rawene car ferry is smooth and slower. And it comes with the added sensation of being seated in one’s car, watching the landscape move, but not having to actually do any driving.

Rawene is another sweet little harbourside town. As the guide at the historic Clendon House said, living in the Hokianga is like living in the 1950s, except they’ve got the internet. Even the local diary still has “MILK BAR” written on its window, as if a car full of those newfangled teen-agers is going to pull up and slurp milkshakes while listening to Johnny Devlin.

Towards the west coast is the town of Opononi, best known for being the home of Opo the happy/gay/friendly dolpin. Opo’s fame only lasted for nine months before her tragic death in March 1956, but that summer of ’55/’56 must have been the most golden summer ever for Opononi – a celebrity dolphin that drew thousands of tourists to the area.

Opo was buried in front of the War Memorial Hall. And even though it happened almost 60 years ago, the village is still full of dolphin icons. Opononi’s identity is very much “dolphin woz here in ’55”.

The Kauri Coast

A random German tourist gives Tane Manuta the thumbs up. New Zealanders relax, knowing that an international visitor approves.

A random German tourist gives Tane Manuta the thumbs up. New Zealanders relax, knowing that an international visitor approves.

The area between the Hokianga and Kaipara harbours is called the Kauri Coast. I discovered that it has this nickname because there is literally nothing else in the area. It’s either kauri trees, shops selling products made from swamp kauri and museums filled with shovels and gum. There is nothing else.

Oh, actually – there was the Waimamaku Wild West Festival. Wamamaki is a tiny settlement just south of Opononi and I was passing through on the day of their annual Wild West Festival. Must of the festival actually seemed to be happening on State Highway 12 itself (there was no way for traffic to bypass), so I was driving along at about 10km/h while ladies did linedancing just centimetres away from my window and crowds cheered on the other side. Horrifyingly, there were children running around on the road. And even though I wasn’t going fast, it’s still really unpleasant to have to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a hyperactive 10-year-old. But these incidents were accompanied by a man on a loudhailer yelled at the kids to bloody stop running around, ya mongrels, which probably counts as effective crowd control in the wild west.

Further along State Highway 12 is the star attraction of the kauri coast – Tane Mahutu aka Giant Kauri Tree. It’s a short walk from the main road, and suddenly there it is – this giant tree. It was like Cape Reinga – I was expecting it to be a deeply spiritual experience, but it was just a big tree. I prefer the Tane Mahuta that I imagined before I got there, with naked hippies leaping over the fence to hump the trunk. It’s less thrilling when the reality is busloads of European tourists all lining up to have their photo taken in front of the really big tree in New Zealand.

Dargaville

It matches the sky.

It matches the sky.

The road between the Tane Mahuta and Dargaville is bleak and boring. There’s the ever-twisting roads of Waipoua Forest, and then that flattens out into dull farmland. There’s nothing there. There aren’t even towns. Occasionally there’ll be a pub or a war memorial hall or a general store, but it’s mainly all swampy farms.

Dargaville was a welcome relief, which surprised me. It’s quite a pleasant riverside town, though it does have a really hardcore bogan vibe to it. I would not be surprised if it had the highest goatee ratio per head of popular.

Dargaville Museum had three highlights. The first was the introductory video about swamp kauri. It looked homemade and involved a couple of codgers talking about the “tsunamu” that probably made all the trees falls over. The video concluded with an artisan turning a gnarled log of swamp kauri into a highly varnished, shiny orange gnarled log coffee table. The second highlight was the hall commemorating the gumdiggers of the region, including a the spades of mostly Dalmatian gumdiggers. The hall was dedicated in memory to one of the locals who’d been fundamental in getting it organised, borrowing Christopher Wren’s memorial at St Paul’s Cathedral: “Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.”

A handsome fellow in Spanish national costume, one of the many national costumes of the world.

A handsome fellow in Spanish national costume, one of the many national costumes of the world.

The third highlight was what I called the Hall of Crap. It was full of collections of odd items, the sort of thing that people collect and their bewildered family donate to the local museum upon passing. So there’s a giant wall display of souvenir boomerangs, a cabinet of thimbles, a selection of dolls wearing national costumes. This is why all museums need a clear acquisition policy. Though perhaps Dargaville Museum is quite happy to say yes to old Doris’ collection of irons.

The last stop on the Kauri Coast was the Kauri Museum in Matakohe. I don’t even know where Matakohe is.

If you like kauri wood and kauri gum and the history or kauri gum digging and milling and swamp kauri, then the Kauri Museum will be a real treat for you. But by this stage, I was sick of all things Kauri. It was a novelty when I saw some stuff about it in the Kataia museum, but when that’s all there is, it gets tiresome fast.

Kauri gum. Woteva.

Kauri gum. Woteva.

I found myself wandering around the different halls, totally numb to the apparent allure of kauri. The highlight was a giant, kitschy table, originally made by Lion for their boardroom, later donated to the Governor General, and now taking pride of place in the Kauri Museum. No wonder the GG didn’t want it – it had a crack in it.

I started to fantasise about being in a room with all white walls. No kauri. No glowing orange gum. No rich orange wood panels.

So obviously by this stage I needed to go home. By the time I reached West Auckland, I was thrilled by the novelty of roads with things – buildings, people, other cars. The further south I drove, the cooler the weather came. Back into the Waikato where the land is criss-crossed with roads and villages, back along a boring-as road where nothing happens.

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