Galore

Drill down

Last week I was at the dentist getting a filling. This is what happens when you move to a town that doesn’t have fluoridated water. Previously the water of Hamilton, Auckland and Wellington kept my teeth so healthy I barely had any fillings, but Waikato District’s no-frills water has now necessitated that I use a super-fluoridated mouthwash once a week in order to protect my teeth and/or become a compliant sheeple.

So I was lying in the dentist’s chair with the relevant part of my mouth in a state of pleasing numbness. Getting a filling is kind of boring, so I started thinking about what I’d done on the weekend, but then I was distracted by the radio.

It was on ZM and over the sound of the drill and the sucker, I heard the following songs play:

I knew that a few of those songs had been number one in New Zealand, so once the filling was in and polished, I checked. Indeed, all but “Next to Me” (which was number six) were number one singles.

And I thought, is that all it takes to programme one of New Zealand major commercial radio stations? Is it just an algorithm that makes a list of number one songs from the previous eight years, throws in a few iconic top 10 hits, puts them in a random order and squirts them out in between the DJ’s madcap banter?

If so, I could totally be the programmer for ZM. And I could do it from a dentist’s chair.

The time the lights went out

Bits of central-east Auckland recently suffering a major power outage. Comedy rule: it’s funny if it affects to someone who lives in the posh bit of that area (lol how will they get their lattes!!!!!!) but it’s not funny if if affects someone in the poorer area, especially if it’s someone who’s had to go into hospital because their home dialysis machine won’t work.

This got me thinking about the Auckland power crisis of 1998. It didn’t affect me much. I lived outside the blackout zone in Auckland’s CBD (lattes galore!!!!!!) but my workplace, on Newton Road, was right on the fringe.

The office wasn’t supposed to be affected, but the power kept going off – I think it was due to repairs or diversions. There was a generator sitting in the car park, so that was fired up and extension cords ran everywhere.

There wasn’t enough capacity to have all the computers running at once, so we had to take turns. For an internet company, there wasn’t a lot of paperwork to do. Once all the filing had been done, it all just turned into a general afternoon mucking around and bonding session, with a few people working hard on the remaining computers.

After work one day a workmate and I went sightseeing in downtown Auckland, but closed shops and dead traffic lights have limited appeal. We ended up going to Starbucks in Parnell where the electricity was rich and plentiful and there were lattes galore.

Viz biz

bookBetween 2001 and 2008, this was the book I rested my laptop on. I borrowed it from my dad’s bookcase to protect my lap from the scorching hot underside of my fancy new iBook.

I had read the book, but I didn’t think too much about its contents. The shape of the book was of more interest to me.

But then people started talking about the book. As it happens, it’s Envisioning Information by Edward Tufts, which is like a seminal tome on the world of data visualisation, or dataviz if you’re cool like that.

I think data visualisation is basically colourful diagrams and pretty maps. Except you are less interested in the actual content of the diagram or map and more interested in its datavizness. “Wow, great dataviz,” you say as you admire the multicoloured map that shows there’s a giant sinkhole under your house.

I’m sure there’s some sort of metaphor in me using a book on data visualisation as a laptop rest. I misplaced it when I moved to Wellington and switched to a book on New Zealand architecture instead, then later I used a wooden trivet that broke when I accidentally sat on it. So I thought why not do some dataviz on this very topic:

My current laptop is solid state and disappointingly doesn’t get hot.

Evolution, revolution

The backend

Ok, I have my website back working the way I want it. Let me tell you about what happened!!!!

Back in February I moved to a new web host. At the time, The Morgan said there was a chance that the new host might not be as good as the old one. And that’s what happened. So I had to quickly move to another host.

But I decided I didn’t want it to be a rush job like it was the last time (on holiday, sitting in the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi, trying to sort out URL redirections using my iPhone) so I took some time to clean things up and get things how I wanted them. This is mainly backend stuff, but it’s nice to to have a tidy backend.

Hard-working rock unit update

I’ve just discovered that Prime Devastation have updated their website with the latest news. There’s a full report of what went down on their 20th/23rd reunion tour. It might not be a surprise that things didn’t go so well for the band in Cambridge. And Te Awamutu. And Papamoa. Bloody Papamoa. The Hamilton show was apparently good, though.

There’s also an official statement from Prime Devastation on the mega successful (and totally real) Hamilton rock band Devilskin. The ‘Skins had the number one album for the past three weeks. Take that, Ed Sheeran!

If you haven’t heard of Devilskin, this is their most recent single, “Start a Revolution”. They’re notable for being a metal band with a chick singer (rare) who can rap in that death-metal growl (even rarer). And with metal now being almost as niche as country music is in the pop charts, it’s cool that New Zealand’s metaller community has a local band to get behind. It probably comes as no surprise that they have quite a good range of t-shirts.

Life on the street

At the moment I’m enjoying the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood iPad game. The aim of the game is to become an A List celebrity, which I managed to do in about a week. So now it’s just all going to parties and doing photo shoots and going on dates.

This all sounds like fun, but it’s all work. The parties are all paid appearances, so you have talk to people about the various fictitious products in the KKH universe. Going on dates is super hard as well. You have to wear the right thing and buy your date dinner and flirt with him and stuff. If you’re short of cash, you can put in a shift at one of the clothing stores. And if you’re totally broke, you can actually scrounge for cash on the footpath.

It’s horrible. Basically, if you want nice things, you have to work to get the cash to buy them. It’s all about the value of hard work. And if you want someone to love you, you have to be nice to them and be attentive to their needs. If you ignore them, they will break up with you.

My friend Johubris is also playing. I’d previously done a photoshoot with her, then later I tried to invite her on a date because she’s fun to hang out with IRL. The game was all, if you change your relationship from business to romantic you will lose your business progress. Which is bullshit.

The most fun thing about the game (apart from scrounging for coins in the gutter, which is actually surprisingly fulfilling) is changing outfits. But the weirdest thing was that the hairstyle that most resembled my own actually looked the worst on my play character. I guess I’ll just have to get some wigs.

kim-kardashian-hollywood

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Rachel Lovinger. (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo by Rachel Lovinger. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.