London streets are paved with gold

I was really into the Olympics this year. The last time I did that was in 1984 when I made a commemorative cushion to celebrate New Zealand’s Olympics successes. And not just medals – I even included non-medallists like Anthony Mosse coming fifth in the Men’s 200m Butterfly, and so I eventually ran out of room and aborted the project.

My experience with subsequent Olympics was less enthusiastic. It was always a thing happening and maybe I’d pay attention to it. The last three Games coincided with me having media jobs involving a telly in the office, so at certain times work would stop and the office would crowd around the TV to cheer on various athletes either doing New Zealand proud and/or oh well, at least they tried.

But this year was different. I really got into the Games. The opening ceremony lured me in, as it’s essentially entertainment and not sport, but I soon found myself getting really obsessed with the competitions. How obsessed? Wikipedia-updating obsessed.

I knew things weren’t going well for the New Zealand swim team when I started to hear “gutted” used frequently in the poolside interviews. And yeah, only one swimmer made it to the finals in her heats. Surely someone in charge is going to have to explain why all the funding only produced a lingering sense of rool-guttedness.

I started to pay close attention to the uniforms of the athletes. There was a continuum of neatness, with the judo players’ floppy ponytails and loose robes at one end, and the tightly ponytailed gymnasts all wearing perfectly fitted leotards at the other end. But I’m not sure where Eric Murray’s comedy facial hair fits onto this scale. Probably off in the “don’t give a damn cos I got a gold medal” space.

My favourite moment – at the medal ceremony for the women’s 200m kayak, the European recipients of the silver and bronze medals did the double cheek kiss with the medal presenter. But gold medalist Lisa Carrington just shook his hand. Why? Because she is a New Zealander and we don’t do that sort of carry on.

Outside the stadium, there were reports of Kiwi House, a venue run by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, which seemed to be a holding pen for homesick expats. It was a bit weird, going heavy on a kind of exaggerated New Zealandness that only really exists in the imagination of expats. But Kiwi House did manage to explode some barbecue gas bottles, which is a pretty authentic slice of kiwiana.

But after about a week of putting scores in boxes, I started to get all existentialist. Like, why is winning medals such a big deal? I can see the benefit to an individual athlete (improved game, raised profile, better sponsorship), but what’s the benefit to New Zealand? The government pours millions of dollars into supporting high-performance sport, but why? Does the Olympics exist to unite countries of the world, only to send them home feeling better than everyone else?

As awesome as it feels to throw a parade for New Zealand’s returning athletes, there are similar parades happening in countries all over the world. Ireland is going mad for its five medallists (matched only by 1956’s lot), and Trinidad and Tobago rewarded its second ever gold medallist with a lighthouse.

New Zealand’s tally of 13 medals puts it at a very respectable number 15 on the medal table, which is high enough to avoid having to drag out the medals-per-capita table in order to prove that somehow New Zealand is better at the Olympics than the raw data would suggest. The notion that “New Zealand punches above its weight” only works if you don’t consider sports that involve actual punching in weight classes. The last New Zealand boxing medal was heavyweight David Tua’s bronze 20 years ago.

But yet the Olympics seem like fun – there are plenty of athletes saying “What happens in the Village, stays in the Village” (which I always translate as meaning “I got real pissed and pashed a lady who is not my wife”). The whole experience seems like a giant party (apart from the intense training and competing parts of it). So I was trying to figure out if there was some sort of Olympic sport I could partake in. Sadly I’m too old for most, leaving just things like equestrian events or shooting and archery. Or perhaps I could set my sights on the Commonwealth Games. They have lawn bowls.

Mix and Mash and Maurice

I recently gave a talk at the Webstock Mix and Mash Mini on the topic of my fave new book, The Shell Guide to New Zealand.

To celebrate the launch of Digital NZ’s Mix and Mash competition, the theme of the evening was mashups and remixes, so my talk focused on the idea of a travel guide from the 1968 being recontextualised in 2010. Yeah, that’s right – recontextualised.

So first, the text of my speech:

Time, Travel with Maurice

The Shell Guide to New Zealand

Last year, I came across a copy of Maurice Shadbolt’s 1968 travel book, The Shell Guide to New Zealand. And I thought, “Ha ha! A fruity old travel guide. This will be hilarious!”

But when I started to read it, I realised that not only was it a well-written and interesting book, but it might actually still work as a travel guide. Little did I know how it would change my perspective on New Zealand.

But first, I had to take it on the road, starting with a local exploration.

Amongst Wellington’s sights, Maurice notes that the Carter Observatory of 1968 is “occasionally open to the public through the week”.

I like to think this meant having to convince the codger astronomer on duty to let you in, and if you bribed him with a steak and kidney pie, he’d let you have a look through a telescope.

Compare that with the extravagance of today, with the interactive exhibitions, light, colour and the planetarium with its rool-trippy-as domed ceiling projection. And it’s open seven days.

Let’s go further afield.

When I was in Gisborne earlier this year, Maurice pointed me in the direction of the waterfront monument to Captain Cook’s first landing in New Zealand.

He wrote, “Beside the monument is a ship’s cannon reputedly from the Endeavour.”

The old monument was there, but there was no sign of the cannon. What had happened to this noteworthy historic artefact? Had it been deemed culturally offensive, a reminder of colonial oppression?

Well, it turns out that the cannon was proven to have not actually come from the Endeavour. The now non-famous weapon has since been moved to the local museum where it’s been hilariously renamed “Not Cook’s Cannon”.

But there was something else missing from the Captain Cook Memorial – the waterfront had mysteriously vanished.

Yeah, the historic beachfront by the monument has been reclaimed to make space for storing logs. This historic New Zealand site has been casually destroyed, now making the monument honour Captain Cook’s remarkable ability to go for an inland hoon in the Endeavour.

And the book is full of other glimpses into “New Zealandness”.

Describing Auckland, Maurice notes that its mild climate means that fruits such as the “Chinese gooseberry” can be grown. He adds that, in Asia the Chinese gooseberry is known as a “kiwi fruit”.

This suggests that in 1968, the term kiwifruit was yet to catch on in New Zealand, and was probably still viewed suspiciously as a marketing term, much like we consider Zespri today.

And – as my friend Giovanni discovered – this is the only use of the word “kiwi” in the book. We’re still – quite elegantly – New Zealanders.

I like to think that when we dropped “Chinese gooseberry” and started calling that small brown furry treat a “kiwifruit”, we’d progressed a bit with our national identity. “Hey, we have a fruit named after us!… even though it’s native to Southern China…”

One of the most curious things I found in the book was Maurice’s recommendation that visitors to Auckland should check out the Building Centre, with its “comprehensive displays of building materials”.

Yep, that’s one of those places where homeowners go to check out Formica samples and insulation options, and he’s recommending it in the same list as the museum, art gallery and library.

So I paid a visit to the modern equivalent – the Home Ideas Centre in Petone – to see if the magic was still there.

I really enjoyed it! And I don’t even own a house. A wonderland of doors that open to nowhere, porno bathtubs, and kitchen benchtops available in a huge range of beiges, creams and greys – like a suburban funhouse that just happens to also reveal truths of middle New Zealand. Yeah, Maurice knew what he was recommending.

And that’s what I’ve gained the most from the Shell Guide to New Zealand – an old book for motoring tourists has given me the ability to find intriguing places to visit, things to do and new perspectives on both the New Zealand of 40 years ago and of today. A way to turn a holiday into time travel. The kind of adventures that wouldn’t normally be found in a travel guide.

And Maurice seems to agree. He concludes:

Today the traveller through New Zealand will, if observant, find a land of fascinating if sometimes enigmatic and ambiguous signposts, pointing into the past as much as towards the future. In the end, perhaps, no guide book will truly help him. It can indicate where signposts may be found, but it is up to the traveller to read the signposts for himself.

The signposts are there, all around this country. Get out and read them.

Extra for experts

So, you’ve read that and you’re all fired up and want to hit the open road. The  first thing people want to know is where they can get a copy of the Shell Guide to New Zealand.

Well, they’re always coming up for sale on Trade Me, so that’s the best place to look. Try this search – you should be able to get one on a Buy Now for under $10. But if you like it IRL, just have look in the New Zealand section of your local second-hand bookshop.

There are three editions of the book – 1968, 1973 and 1976, and I recommend them in order of oldest to newest. The biggest difference is that the 1976 edition has had all the original art (including work by Colin McCahon) replaced with colour  scenic photos, so go for the ’68 or ’73 for the art. The ’68 seems the most common, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding a copy.

But, of course, you don’t have to do exactly what I did. Maybe you’ll use a different old travel guide or perhaps a novel will inspire you.

My general philosophy is to not be reliant on the modern guidebooks, and by using an old travel guide, the reader/traveller is forced to pay more attention to their surroundings. The book  becomes a springboard to great adventures and discoveries.

The All Whites have ruined sport forever

I was happily doing my year of live sporting events – a bit of cricket, a Phoenix game, a dash of roller derby – when my football-loving workmate said she was organising a group outing for the All Whites versus Bahrain FIFA World Cup qualifier match.

I have a vague memory of the last time the All Whites made it to the World Cup, in 1982. I was seven years old, and I remember being aware that this New Zealand sports team was doing quite well in some sort of international sports event, sort of like the Olympics, but only with soccer.

It took me a few years before I realised that rugby union was actually the sport that New Zealand was (then) really good at, and that its football prowess was just an early ’80s one-time special.

In “Heading For the Top”, one of the two ’82 World Cup anthems, Ray Woolf sang “We’re heading for the top and aiming for the future and we won’t ever stop while we are in control.”

Evidently control slipped away and the World Cup became something that Brazilians and Argentina were really good at (and England wanted to be really good at) but not something that New Zealand could do.

But somehow, a generation later, the All Whites were doing all right and had ended up with this magical match scheduled against Bahrain.

Hang on – let me just look at up Bahrain on Wikipedia. Ok, Middle East, constitutional monarchy, small island nation (OMG! Same!!!), largely Muslim, “many tall skyscrapers”, oil.

A planeload of Bahraini supporters came to town, with the curious sight of a young fellow in Cuba Mall decked out in a chavtastic red tracksuit, phat trainers and a white keffiyeh. Yeah, life’s pretty sweet when you have oil.

I figured that if Bahrain had supporters decked top to toe in team colours, it was the least I could do to dress in a bit of white. A look inside my wardrobe revealed two white tops (one “I work in an office and I hate my life” the other “I am wearing a tuxedo but I am a lady. Is this not outrageous?”), and also a white Teletext branded skivvie, which just deserves to die.

So I went off to the Warehouse and picked up a white tee for $9, and teamed that with some white sneakers. But I didn’t wear any more white because I’m like a vampire and would probably burn up. (The top and sneakers just let me sparkle, like vampire Edward.)

With my pale threads, I headed off to the Cake Tin, where I found myself surrounded by people in white Afro wigs, white sheets, white industrial coveralls, fake sheiks in white robes, as well as those donning official garb.

I joined my group in the stands, cheered on the ’82 All Whites, and found myself getting all emotional during the singing of the national anthem. Then suddenly the game began.

I found it easier to follow than I did during the Phoenix game, but our seats were low and almost behind a goal and so it was sometimes hard to see what was going on. But the reaction of the crowd – cheering, booing – was a good indication of what had happened.

Near the end of the first half, the stadium suddenly erupted in massive, massive cheers. It was goal, an absolutely necessary goal. I yelled. I jumped up and down.

The second half was a great big bucket of tension. Oh God – a whole 45 minutes in which the All Whites had to ensure that Bahrain did not score. The tension was racked up to an almost intolerable level with a Bahrain penalty shot that goalie Mark Paston – yes! – saved.

Somehow after that, the time flew by. The last 10 minutes of the game (so marked by the White Noise supporters’ top removal ritual) were a mix of impending euphoria and more of that deliciously sickening tension.

The three minutes of overtime felt like the entire stadium was balanced on a knife edge. But then it happened. The game ended with a score of one-nil to New Zealand.

The entire stadium (except for the now sullen red corner) erupted in a mass of cheering and smiling and yelling and stranger-hugging. I found myself jumping for joy – and I can’t actually think when the last time I jumped for joy was.

I decided to walk home instead of taking the bus. The streets were filled with happy, happy, happy people celebrating their arses off. After 27 years, New Zealand was going to the World Cup.

But I realised that as far as my life of sport goes, there’s never really going to be another sporting event like this. Pretty much everything else will pale in comparison – not even New Zealand in the 2011 Rugby World Cup grand final could even come close.

Well, the All Whites World Cup qualifier of ’09 may have ruined all other live sport for me, but it was worth it.

Adulation ruling the nation

Obscene and pornographic art

I’m in a darkened room, sitting on a wooden bench, watching a film. It’s a psychedelic, experimental short from the late 1960s. Shapes and colours flicker around the screen. Soon the shapes make way to reveal humans – lovely young hippies. They’re naked and painting their bodies with abstract shapes, writhing together in a joyful painty mess.

When this image become obvious, a middle-aged woman in the room exclaims, “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!”

On screen, a man is standing with a stocking on his genitals.

“That’s a lady’s pantihose!”, the woman’s husband observes.

“Yes,” the she confirms, sounding relieved that it wasn’t her knee-highs on that man’s dangly bits.

Meanwhile, the fellow on screen has started humping a naked lady’s bottom with his manhosiery.

“Oh my godfathers,” the woman says.

“It’s like an orgy gone wrong,” the man says, rhyming ‘orgy’ with ‘corgi’, suggesting he’s never known an orgy gone right let alone wrong.

Soon they leave, almost as if their uncomfortable silence has booted them out like a bouncer.

This scene took place in one of the areas of Yayoi Kusama’s “Mirrored Years” exhibition at the refurbished City Gallery Wellington. (But that’s the room you don’t take your kids into.)

Downstairs, the new Adam Auditorium in the gallery was screening the documentary “Yayoi Kusama: I Adore Myself”.

You know what I don’t like about films played in art galleries? When they’re played on loop, with no indication of what time the film starts, leaving audiences to wander in halfway through, like it’s the 1950s. “I Adore Myself” was a fully-fledged feature-length documentary, not some video art that audiences can just dip in and out of.

The Adam Auditorium has one flaw that makes film screenings difficult – the blinds that block out the external light extend between two layers of glass, meaning the glass surface ends up clearly reflecting the film. This is annoying and distracting (much more than the ladder propped up in the wings at the Paramount) and quite strange to find in an otherwise nicely designed, brand new structure.

There’s a theme here – dark rooms. Amongst the rest of the Kusama exhibition I most enjoyed the pieces that were in dark settings. Specifically the firefly room – lines of LED lights with mirrored walls and over a reflecting pond – and the living room covered in fluorescent dots, violently glowing in the ultraviolet light.

The pieces that were more brightly lit annoyed me and left me feeling like I was being obscenely sucked into their world of yellow and black and giant blobby shapes, an unwilling Alice in Blunderland. Those ones had me uncomfortably fleeing room like the middle-aged couple had done at the short film.

But I like how the City Gallery has, for its reopening exhibiton, been transformed into a series of magical rooms, but with just enough rough edges and dangly bits to not leave audiences feeling too comfortable.

Take your sweetie along and gaze at the pretty lights, but just watch out that your honey doesn’t push you in the water.

Wind, rain, Phoenix

Football or fußball or soccer is a game that’s always lingered in a distant corner of my life with really being anything that I’ve paid much attention to.

In fact, my knowledge of football can be summed up thusly:

  • Manchester United.
  • David Beckham.
  • “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby.
  • The Hillsborough tragedy.
  • Hooligans.
  • That time in the early ’80s when the All Whites did quite well.
  • Gary Lineker.
  • Sven Goran Erikson.
  • Ulrika Jonsson. (That’s enough – Ed)

I’ve had a vague New Year’s resolution this year to watch more sport. So far all this has meant was seeing a cricket game back in April, but when one of my workmates announced she was organising a group outing to a Wellington Phoenix game, I jumped at the chance to get more sport in my life.

So I showed up to Westpac Stadium with the group and we quickly moved from our allocated seats over to aisle 22, for this is where the rowdy Yellow Fever supporters sat. This was, I was told, where all the fun happens.


I soon learned that football is reasonably easy game to follow: you have the ball and you need to get it in your goal and also stop the other team getting the ball in their goal.

It’s also quite hard to score a goal, and I like this. Not that I know anything about rugby, but it seems that in that game, you can score points by hurling the ball over pretty much anything. But because it’s harder in football, when a goal is scored it’s just that much sweeter.

And football is about crowd chants; proper chants, not just Exponents lyrics.

There’s the “Wellington is wonderful” chant (“We’ve got the wind, the rain and the Phoenix”) to buoy the spirits of the team, and then things like the mysterious “She fell over! She fell over!” chant to diss the South Australian visitors.

Actually, on the subject of Wellington being wonderful, it really is great that not only does Wellington have a professional football team, but the stadium it plays at is conveniently in the city, right next to the train station.

The big highlight of the game was The Goal. Yes, there was only one (the final score – one-all) but it was just a brilliant moment. Everyone got up and yelled and cheered and waved their scarves in the air. I also waved my newly purchased Phoenix scarf, and discovered that my voice goes all squeaky when I yell.


But in between the goal and the near-misses, I was surprised at how graceful football is. The way the ball sometimes flows between the players, bouncing from head to head, shooting from leg to leg. Oh right, that is why they call it the beautiful game.

I left the stadium, wandering off into the cold spring night, no longer a stranger to the appeal of football, and indeed feeling seduced by its charms.


The Cricket

1984, the playing field of Matangi School, Waikato. My class was playing cricket for PE. (Ugh, I hate PE!) and I was doing that thing with throwing the ball. What’s it called? Oh yeah, bowling. And I threw the ball at my classmate who was holding the bat and somehow I did something good, a sophisticated move in the world of cricket. And then I did it again. Yet I didn’t actually know what I did that was so great. “Whoa, watch out for Robyn – she’s good,” my teacher said. So I bowled again, attempting to replicate my killer move, but just ended up hurtling the ball vaguely in the direction of the batter (which, I swear, is all I’d done the first couple of times) but this time it was a bad bowl and I was never able to replicate my supposed quite-good bowling technique.

1996, Mike’s flat, Hillcrest, Hamilton. I was hanging out with Mike and he was talking about cricket, particularly some young whippersnapper from around the way named Daniel Batory or something. I was getting bit sick of all the cricket talk so I sang my cricket song. It’s a bit like 10CC’s “Dreadlock Holiday“, and it goes like this: I don’t like cricket / Oh no. And that’s the end of the song. Many people have heard me sing this song over the years.

2009, the Basin Reserve, Wellington. So, I’m sitting up on the grass at the Basin Reserve watching New Zealand and India play a test match cricket game thing. I’m sitting with Hadyn (who writes about sport), Richard (who also writes about sport), Dan (who writes about movies, but has a season pass to the cricket) and various other people who actually know what’s going on.

Run, run, run!

Despite my general view of cricket as an annoying, confusing game, I’d decided to come along just to see if it was really as annoying and confusing as I thought.

For a start, I didn’t really know what was going on, so I asked questions such as:

They’re all wearing white – how do you tell which team is batting and which team is fielding?

You look at the scoreboard thing and it tells you. Also, the New Zealand team have wider stripes on their uniform.

Where do the non-batting players go when they’re not batting?

There’s a lean-to tiki shack thing next to the main grandstand. They go and hang out there and make toasted sandwiches.

What’s an over?

A unit of something cricket related? Um, I can’t actually remember, but Dan did explain it quite well at the time.

So, um, when does it end today? Because I know the game thing goes over multiple days, and it’s all a bit complicated with the runs and overs and shit, but I was just wondering when there was an approximate time for it to end because, well, it’s getting a bit cold and windy up here.

Soon, little Smurf. Soon.

I slowly began to piece together the basics of the game, and learned about the strategic move where India could have made New Zealand bat again. (Or was it field again?)

At one stage Chris Martin was batting. This is not the same Chris Martin from Coldplay who is married to Gwyneth Paltrow (lolz!!!). Not that I could tell, given that he was a distant white-clad figure. Apparently Mr Martin is not typically an awesome batter, but he managed to hit a four (what?) which is quite good and everyone yelled and cheered.


After a while I realised that going to a cricket game isn’t necessarily about the sport. It’s more like going on a picnic with your mates, but with the option of being entertained by some fellows in white woollen vests running around in the distance.

And that is something I don’t mind at all.

The needles and the damage undone

I showed up to Cuba Mall on Saturday. It was packed with people, but I found a small oasis of calm in the form of the Outdoor Knit area. It was manned by Knitsch and stiX who were hard at work knitting.

Outdoor Knit is the local variant of that international scene (also known as guerrilla knitting) where, well, people knit things and sew them around urban objects such as lampposts, park bench slats, rails and trees.

The little grove of trees outside the Bristol was getting well covered with colourful bits of knitting. One of the knitters asked me if I wanted to join in. “Oh, I can’t knit,” I said. I’d sort of learned back in the mid ’90s, but hadn’t touched a pair of needles for almost 15 years.

But the knitter wouldn’t accept that as an answer, cast on for me, reminded me of the basic stitch and – must to my surprise – I started knitting. I did a few rows before wandering off to explore the rest of the carnival.

Later in the noon I returned and thought it would be a really good idea to do some knitting. I was given a piece that someone else had started – a long skinny grey bit, about 10 stitches wide. I sat down and merrily started knitting.


It’s rather satisfying to do. It’s one of those activities where you can just let your mind wander and start making up raps about public transport while you work.

As I was sitting there, lots of carnivalgoers passed by, including those who saw the knitting and wanted to join in. Quite a few older ladies were lured by the needles and quickly started firing off complicated patterns. One girl even started plotting out letters in her knitting, which seems to me like a very advanced move. And lots of people just wandered over and thought it would be fun to have a go, including a lovely young man who’d never knitted before, but soon he was churning out an orange strip, courtesy of some expert tuition from the crew.

Quite a few people stopped to take photos of the knitters and knitting. Seriously, everyone has a DLSR camera these days and everyone feels like they’re taking serious documentary photos that will capture a certain moment in the history of the early 20st century or something. But isn’t it a bit more fun to be most than a passive observer? Isn’t it just a bit more fun for your experience to be something you did, rather than just a photo of something someone else did?

Other people did stop to ask what was going on. I’d tell them it was knitted graffiti, which some people had trouble understanding. A lot of people thought it was some sort of organised knitting group and didn’t seem to realise that most of us had literally just walked in off the street. And the idea of knitting something that had no practical use also seemed to perplex people.

As I continued knitting my piece, it seemed to be getting wider. My 10-stitch-wide knitting had somehow become 30 stitches wide. Say what? Turns out I was stabbing my needle through the loosely twisted wool. But I as quite happy to have made a triangle. Soon enough I had finished off the small ball and sewed it around a tree.

I eyed my wonky grey triangle with a certain sense of satisfaction. It feels good to create something, and thanks to Knitsch and stiX, I did! Now all I need to do is learn to cast on and off, then if civilisation crumbles, I’ll at least be able to knit wonky grey trousers for trees.

Photo from Outdoor Knit’s Flickr stream.

I went to Webstock and I all got was a brown t-shirt

I spent three days last week at the glorious Webstock conference. I was there as a volunteer, so I got to do such cool things as helping with the registration, showing speakers to the conference rooms, making sure the big doors in the Town Hall didn’t slam and looking after the Pleo.

Actually being on the rego desk was good. I got to meet some people I’d only previously known online, and a few people I hadn’t seen for ages. (It’s surprisingly low-key these days doing the online-offline meet.)

I got to met Derek Powazek and Heather Champ, both of whom have been doing cool things online for longer than I have. Derek founded The Fray back in the olden days, one of the first sites that brought together people to tell stories online. I tried not to go all fangirl when I met him, but I couldn’t quite hold it back.

As I was there as a volunteer, I couldn’t necessarily see all the sessions I wanted to. I found myself doing the timing for Matt Biddulph’s talk called “Hardware Hacking For Fun and Profit”. It sounded really lame, but within minutes I started remembering all the fun I had soldering when I was a kid. And I remembered the Vic-20 joystick my dad made out of a pineapple can lid, a kitchen sponge, a block of wood, some screws and wires. I left with a desire to pimp my clock-radio.

You know what I’m into right now? Dancing! Game designer Jane McGonigal had a cool theory of dancing that was behind her Top Secret Dance Off game. Basically, it’s really humiliating to dance in front of other people; if you see someone dancing badly in front of you, you sort of enjoy their humiliation; and if you dance badly with a group of people, you enjoy the shared humiliation. So lately I’ve been dancing badly quite a lot and really enjoying it.

Another unexpected Webstock pleasure was designer Matt Jones. He started off by mentioning Ken Hollings’ “Welcome To Mars” book, architect Richard Rogers, and that future cities book, which just happen to be three of my favourite things. He talked about the past’s version of the future and the present and the present’s version of the future and robots.

Just to prove how geeky everyone there was, there was a sort of hidden layer to the conference – all the discussions taking place on Twitter. Especially during Bruce Sterling’s controversial 2.0 buzzkill talk, I kind of tuned out of listening to him and instead followed the Twitter chat dissecting it.

Twitter tangent: It’s hard for new users to get Twitter because when you first create and account you’re face with a dull blank screen. You have to put in a bit of effort and just sit with it for a few weeks until you figure out both how it works and how you want to use it. And that is a bit of a hurdle, which in turns probably keeps out people who would be bad twitterers anyway.

Ze Frank. was the total rock star of Webstock. His presentation, summarising the projects he does online, ended up being really emotional at points and people cried and it was really beautiful and we are all so in love with the Ze right now.

Webstock ended with the closing night party, starring the Trons – the best band to come out of Hamilton.

I realised that while there were lots of smart, inspiring speakers, what I liked the best was just being around other people who get the web; people who know that a content producer is not an “IT guru” (whatever that is – oh man, I have stories). I came away from Webstock not just feeling inspired, but really glad to be part of the web.

Pleo photo by Keith Bolland
Webstock photo montage by kiwikeith

A weekend in the muntryside

The warm night air blew down Victoria Street. As I crossed the road, I saw a giant penis waddling down Manners Mall, testicles jauntily lurching from side to side. It was Wellington Sevens weekend. I ducked down a side street and fled to the safety of my flat.

All I knew about the Wellington Sevens was that it was some sort of rugby tournament and spectators wore costumes to the games. Indeed, I hadn’t really given it much thought until a few weeks before when people started asking me if I was going to the Sevens. “Uh, no. Should I?” I’d ask. “Oh my God! It’s so much fun! This year we’re all dressing up as sexy pirates!”

Nothing could quite persuade me to go, but I thought I’d check out what life was like on the streets of Wellington around Sevens weekend.

Over at the Wellingtonista, the Masked Barfly had given fair warning of the munter component that Sevens attracts, with his/her Waitangi Weekend Venn Diagram, but I just didn’t realise how extremely muntery it would turn out to be.

Friday was the first day of the Sevens, so I went for a stroll along Cuba Street. Already I spotted Afro wigs and women in slutty dresses. Oh, hang on – let’s paraphrase that quote from “Mean Girls” about Halloween costumes:

Sevens is the one time of year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.

So Cuba Mall was full of Sevens-goers in their costumes. There was also a group performing a bit from a Fringe Festival play. Someone dressed as a road cone walked up to the performers and sat down, attempting to bring some hilariousness to the performance. When the performers acknowledged the road cone and started to incorporate it into their stuff, the road cone seemed to freak out and rapidly waddled away.

“Hey bro, hey bro. That place has $3 tequilas, so we should go there later.” – Papa Smurf (or at least someone wearing a lot of blue paint).

I took a walk along the waterfront and witnessed the following:

  • Guantánamo Bay prisoners (orange overalls and – oh dear – a teatowel on the head
  • A Buddhist monk peeing in a bush, while having his photo taken by a Buddhist monkette.
  • A man in a white lycra tights who had adjusted his crotch so much that the green paint on his hands had left marks all around his groin.
  • Sexy pirates, sexy Marmite jars, sexy beer cans and sexy Taranaki residents.
  • A man wearing only shoes, socks and an Afro wig, who’d just jumped into the harbour. Something about the water being quite cold.

As I looked around all the costume-wearing Sevens fans, I started to realise something. While people were wearing fancy dress costumes, they weren’t wearing costumes as individuals; they were wearing costumes as part of a group.

It seems that there’s some sort of unwritten rule of Sevens that you have to wear exactly the same costume as your whole group of friends. So it’s not just one woman dressed as a sexy pirate, but a dozen sexy pirates, all wearing the exactly the same tartan skirt, the same billowy shirt and the same sexy pirate cutlass.

So there are all these groups of people where everyone is wearing exactly the same thing. Just like school, just like the armed forces.

I tried to figure out why this is, and I came up with a theory. New Zealanders have a slight aversion to standing out. So the group costume lets you dress up but not stand out. A bloke can dress as a fairy princess, but because all his mates are also wearing exactly the same fluffy pink tutus, no one will pay any attention to how he is dressed as an individual. It’s like, I am Spartacus, and so are my nine other mates who ordered these hilarious Roman slave costumes off the internet.

By Saturday, the clones were starting to freak me out a little. I walked around a corner and found myself in the middle of a group of blonde beauty queens, yet their blondeness and sameness reminded me more of “Village of the Damned”. Oh, I had to get away from it all!

I headed to the train station, fighting my way through Tangy Fruits, SWAT team cops and sexy nurses, and took the train to Porirua. Sweet Porirua. I visited Pataka – the local art museum – and went for a walk along the harbour. It was nice to be out of the city.

Back in Wellington in the early evening, I realised the neighbourhood was soon going to be swamped with boozed-up munters. So I hunkered down in my bedroom, while the sounds of drunken people (“Nrrrrrgh! Fuuuuck! Maaaaaaangh! Fuuuuck!”) and a Led Zeppelin covers band echoed throughout the city.

This morning I found broken glass everywhere, a street sign bent at a 45 degree angle and a hearty puddle of spew – and that was just down my street.

Next year, I swear, I’m going to leave town during Sevens weekend.

Live blogging the election

It’s a Saturday. I’m in Raglan. I have nothing better to do so I’m live-blogging the general election.

7.05 So I’ve decided to live blog the election results. I’m at my parents’ watching the election coverage on TV1, natch.

7.09 I voted earlier today at the Michael Fowler Centre (chosen for its splendid architecture). I got all emotional when I realised I was voting in Wellington Central. Also, it was in the same room that the American election shindig was held. I call this the Room of Democracy.

7.12 In other news, my friends Dylz and Mel have just had a baby. He will be named Helen.

7.13 Ha ha – United Future’s TV abbreviation is UNF.

7.15 On the telly – lots of gentlemen with graphs. Oh, you know what? If you have Freeview, you should watch the Back Benches Election Special. It’s going to be rad.

7.17 TVNZ are having a barbecue out on the deck. Last election there was no BBQ; instead that bloody guy threatened to fly his plane into the Sky Tower.

7.18 I’m being lured with delicious steak IRL.

7.41 Steak consumed. Back to the telly. You can nae make conclusions with only 4% counted.

7.46 I asked Mum if she considered voting for NZ First as Winston’s Gold Card has given her all sorts of fabulous discounts. She laughed, as if the idea of voting for them was completely unthinkable.

7.48 So who did Mum vote for? “I thought ‘fuck it’ and voted National.” Please note: my mum never says the F word.

7.51 Dad voted Green as they were his best choice for a coalition partner with both National and Labour.

7.52 Also, whanau are in a badly drawn electorate – they live in the Waikato but are in the Taranaki-King Country electorate. Mental!

8.05 Watching some politcal comedy on TV1. It’s not awse.

8.08 Yeah, the first hour or so is kind of dull. News break – Obama: he’s awesome!

8.12 Time for Back Benches. Watching Tanerau introducing Wallace to the Whiteboard-o-tron 2000. Srsly bringing the lolz.

8.16 This is nice – entertaining political and election coverage. Go, Back Benches!

8.19 Oh, Heather Roy has dyed her hair yellow to match party colours!

8.21 Dessert – cherry clafouti.

8.24 Hilariously, Heather’s Roy’s hairdresser is being interviewed. But not about Roy’s yellow hair – she’s a first-time voter.

8.33 This blogging seems so inadequate without a hologram of

8.41 “I still think he’s a sell-out and he betrayed the worker’s struggle” – some Marxist guy brings the lolz.

8.44 Dear Kiwi Party girl has no apparent media training and just keeps digging her hole with great hilariousness.

8.47 “There’s hardly been a story on Wellington Central,” moans Sue Kedgley. Well, true. Is it an indicator seat or is it just a bit too random for that?

8.49 Stephen Franks likes reading Whale Oil blog. Oh dear.

8.51 Back Benches doesn’t have a scroll of results, so it’s kind of like taking a little break from the madness. Well, there’s also the web for results.

8.56 I support MMP because the first two elections I voted in (’93 and ’96), I was in the Waikato electorate, a “safe” National seat. I ticked the box for the McGillicuddy Serious candidate as a protest of sorts (and because McGS did good political art stunts). It actually paid off in one way – McGS got enough votes to earn airtime for political ads, but MMP was the death of them when party votes actually counted. So when 1999 came, I gleefully voted for the MP and party I wanted. Neither of them got into government, though.

9.02 Is “overhang” the political equivalent of a muffin top?

9.04 Brittany, the first-time hairdresser voter, is pouting and posing as she talks about her voting experience. Put that on your Bebo.

9.06 Maori Party’s TV abbreviation is MRI, which reminds me of House MD.

9.09 Jenny Shipley is sporting a Suzanne Prentice hairdo. Mum says she looks like Herman Munster. This is what election night is all about.

9.12 Vox pops on TV1 – two guys say they’re not voting Labour because it’s “time for some change”, just like they did in America. What? There is no Ministry of Change or select committees on change. Only numbnuts vote on change for change’s sake.

9.18 Mum observes “you don’t see that swing-o-meter thing any more.” Dad: “That’s because it doesn’t work any more.”

9.21 Jeremy Wells is in Gore, getting all the locals to say ‘Working For Families’ with their Southland R. Comedy gold!

9.30 “The big boobs do have an impact” – J Shipley.

9.31 Oh, whoops, I mean “The big booths do have an impact” – J Shipley.

9.35 Auckland Central, Wellington Central and Christchurch Central are neck-and-neck Labour and National. Damn urbanites.

9.41 Tariana Turia sounds completely miserable, and yet the Maori Party aren’t doing too badly.

9.46 “A lot of National’s policies are very socialist” – my dad. Shh! Don’t tell Sarah Palin!

9.49 TVNZ 7’s Greg Boyed notes that Helen hasn’t come out of her house. What is he expecting? “Hello, Greg. Would you like to come in for some scones? Peter’s just baked a fresh batch.”

9.51 Again, I am so glad I’m not in the Epsom electorate any more. Though it is nice to see that the good people of Epsom understand how MMP works.

10.05 Simon Dallow: “As a proud bogan myself…” Oh, Simon.

10.06 It’s that fun game when you mentally tally up the bar charts and come up with potential coalitions.

10.10 “Nationoow usn’t going to count ut’s chuckuns” – Boow Unglush.

10.13 UNF leader Peter Dunne is back. Oh, thank you so much, Churton Park.

10.14 Winston is about to make a speech. Will it be as good as McCain’s?

10.16 Oh, things are going to be tough and unfortunately they’re not going to have Winston with them to get through their tough times, etc.

10.17 New Zealand was “once the greatest country on earth”. Not sure what we currently are. Does not having Winston as an MP now mean NZ is no longer great?

10.20 Ooh, the evil meeja scum killed Winston’s dream! Boo!

10.29 Judith Tizard has lost Auckland Central. Interesting – boundaries have changed but I hear Tizard hasn’t been working well. Geeks remember the copyright law thingy!

10.30 In Tauranga, the evil meeja scum are trying to interview Winston, but Winston ain’t having none of that, etc.

10.32 Michelle Boag’s jacket is the same colour as the set’s background, making her head look like it’s floating in space.

10.35 Observation: Even though National has a lot of the same of guys from the ’90s, they do have a lot of younger, new people. But Labour’s stuck with a lot of the same old faces.

10.37 Grant Robertson wins Wellington Central! Hoorah! I met him a few months ago and was impressed. I’m really happy to have him as a local MP, and I think he’s a great asset for the Labour Party.

10.41 Potential bonus with a right-wing government: material for leftie satirists, a la The Daily Show?

10.47 Interesting – TV1 panel speculates that anti-kid-hitting bill turned some voters off Labour. Yet National have no plans to overturn it.

10.51 John Key’s “opulent house” looks like a tszujed up leaky home. Whereas Helen has a humble villa.

10.55 When did “indicator seats” become “bellweather seats”? What is “bellweather”?

10.56 Ah, it’s spelt bellwether. Wikipedia sez: “The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading its flock of sheep. The movements of the flock could be perceived by hearing the bell before the flock was in sight.” Eeeee!

10.57 It looks like Helen’s made The Phone Call. She’s going to make her speech soon.

10.59 Dad is going to bed now. “What they do tonight isn’t important. It’s what they do next week and next year, and that’s not going to have anything to do with what they say their policies are.”

11.01 National’s HQ is at Sky City – go the pokies!

11.05 “The controversial Sir Roger Douglas”. Old Great-Uncle Roger gets wheeled out of the basement. Maybe.

11.06 Peter Dunne’s hair: it’s so solid.

11.13 Yawn. It’s all waiting now. I wonder if John Key wants an Obamaesque speech.

11.15 Helen’s on her way to her people. Oh, Helen!

11.23 During TV1 ad breaks, TVNZ 7 runs mini docos about NZ election history. The coverage of the first MMP election showed a youthful Winston and vox pops with people wearing giant ’90s-style glasses. Man, that was so long ago!

11.21 Helen’s election hall is painted blue. Oh dear!

11.23 Helen had better make a good speech.

11.25 Helen briefly thanks John and accepts “responsibility for the result”. Oh, so perhaps it’s time for her to step down?

11.30 Helen’s standing down!

11.31 It seems inevitable. She’s had a good long time as leader and it makes sense that someone else step in now. But who?

11.33 I keep thinking John Key’s wife is called Brotown.

11.40 Labour new leader – will it be a pakeha male?

11.42 Mt Albert will have a more dedicated MP.

11.45 Wide shot of National Party party – dudes in suits with booze.

11.47 Some reporter is attempting to interview Key. She asks him how he feels. “It feels great, but…” But what? BUT WHAT, MR KEY?

11.48 Bro, nah.

11.49 What is that horrible song playing at the NP party?

11.50 Change has won! Yeah, all your 10c and 20c coins are in charge now!

11.52 “You’ve come to shear our beliefs.” Go Key’s Kiwi vowels!

11.53 Personal anecdote time. It’s all about personal responsibility.

11.54 How come when he’s smiling – and presumedly when he’s genuinely happy – his smile looks fake?

11.55 Wait, did he just mention “Kiwi ingenuity” with utter glee? Is it the 1980s?

11.55 We must use our size to our advantage, “to be nimble, sure-footed and flexible.” And tiny-handed? That too?

11.56 Light shining on Key’s forehead produces two shiny spots that are curved like horns. OMG

11.57 John thanks Helen. Some audience members applaud, others jeer. Like the Republican supporters booed Obama?

11.58 John confirms it’ll be a Nat-Act-Unf love triangle.

11.59 And a “willingness to engage in dialogue” with the Maori Party. Wait, “willingness to engage in dialogue”? Dude, you’re not an investment banker any more.

12.00 Boow Unglish is “in Gore and I know they know how to have a good time there.” Did a professional speechwriter write that? If so, they should be fired. If not, one should be hired.

12.01 Pronounces Otaki as “Oh tacky”. Oh, tacky!

12.04 Really underwhelming speech. It didn’t offer much inspiration, other than “Stuff is quite good now but it’s going to get more awesome!!!!”

12.05 I love the My Chemical Romance look Key’s daughter is rocking. It’s very un-traditional-National!

12.07 The main thing that seems to have been decided – someone different is Prime Minister. Who cares wot his policies are?

12.10 I should go to bed now. Congratulations to my new MP, Grant Robertson! Night-night!