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.


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.


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.


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.


The eastern side of Northland


Warkworth seems to have reinvented itself as a service centre for people with holiday homes north of Auckland. The local supermarket is stocked with all the kinds of posh food that central Auckland supermarkets have. The traffic is crazy and I found myself faced with a traffic jam at the rush hour of about 5.30pm on Friday, no doubt repeated on Sunday afternoon.

Towards the coast is the town of Matakana, reinvented from a sleepy inland town to a super fun destination for the aforementioned people with holiday houses. Like, it’s all very well having a bach in a quiet coastal bay, but that can get a bit boring. Matakana comes to the rescue with cafes, a cinema (playing 100% old-people films), a posh food shop, various gift boutiques, and a weekly farmers market.


Bay of Islands

This is historic Northland. It’s also very scenic. It’s possibly the most piratey part of New Zealand, and feels like what tropical islands are like, just without the oppressive heat. When I think about the European settlers coming to the area in the 19th century, they must have been well chuffed with this picturesque new land.

I went to the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi and I remembered what happened when I was last there, in 2006: the introduction video makes me cry. Sitting in a dark theaterette with a random selection of overseas tourists, there I was with something in my eye, feeling all proud at being a New Zealander and the complicated though mighty history of the Treaty.

By the way, the gift shop at the Treaty Grounds is rubbish. They sell high-end tourist crap – decorative kauri bowls with paua shell inlays, weird merino vests, and other things that only exist in tourist shops. Whereas the Historic Places Trust have the coolest stuff in their shops, including custom designed items that captures the spirit of the property. You can buy handmade nails at the Stone Store in Kerikeri – just like the store used to sell in the olden times. Also – moustache wax.

Here’s another weird thing – there aren’t many New Zealanders exploring historic Northland. I always take a look in visitors books and most of the signatures come from exotic locales – Leeds, Melbourne, Glasgow, Unterengstringen (Switzerland) – and there in the middle off it will be a lone Hawera. Ticket people always sound surprised and delighted when I say I’m from Raglan, and they usually take joy in administering the special admission price for New Zealanders.


Cape Reinga

When I left the Bay of Islands it was sunny. When I arrived in Doubtless Bay, the clouds had rolled in. This is proper Far North weather – a white sky, flat light and a bit of mist just for some extra atmosphere.

I drove to Cape Reinga, purely for completionist reasons. The road (sealed the whole way there, as of 2010) was almost totally devoid of cars. Lots of tourists go by bus along 90 Mile Beach, but I don’t think I could deal with that sort of experience.

So I was driving along this empty road, full of twists and turns, with the sky, the sea and even a bit of landscape turning all an indistinguishable bright grey mass. And then sudden at the end of the road there’s a car park, some eco toilets and a bogan drinking a can of premix bourbon and cola.

From there I walked down to the light house and direction sign. Compared to Bluff, it takes a lot more effort to get there. Bluff has a tearooms and a nearby maritime museum. Cape Reinga is all sacred and holy and every twist and turn of the path to the lighthouse has a story to be told.

I don’t know if I was expecting to have some sort of moment of epiphany. I was just trying not to get a mouthful of hair as the drama wind kept blowing it in my face. It was all full of tourists taking photos next to the direction sign, so they could say they did it. Well, that’s why I was there.


Upwards, onwards


I’ve just switched to a new web server with the mysterious Toaster, Kettle & Spoon, because I felt that my existing web hosting was not cool enough. (I tried gluing an ironic moustache on my DNS but that did not work.)

The new site should be faster than the old one which was a bit special. I had less than 24 hours to get stuff switched over, which is a bit of a mammoth task when you have two substantial websites. Of course, I had a ton of help from TK&S admin The Morgan, who went above and beyond with his assistance. #topbloke

There might be things that don’t work properly, but I won’t be able to fix them for a couple of weeks as I am off to explore historic Northland. Until then, if something is a bit broken, just think of it as being rustic or artisan or some such.

La basse

I’m really into French (language) hip hop at the moment. It’s my new BFF.

In August when “Royals” was burning up the charts all around the world and I was idly wondering in which countries it wasn’t number one. It turns out it wasn’t number one in France. Over yonder there, the top song was “Papaoutai” by Belgian rapper Stromae.

It’s an hip hop/electronica tune about a young man searching for his absent father, based on Stromae’s own experience – his Rwandan father was killed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Does that sound really bleak? The song isn’t. Emotional yes, but you can still dance to it and sing along to the chorus (even if you don’t know most of the words).

The music video is great. It’s reminiscent of The Fuccons/Oh! Mikey, the weirdo Japanese shorts about an all-American family of mannequins. (And by making that connection, I feel that all that time I spent in the early 2000s watching too many films was fully justified.) Also, the video has great dancing in it.


I’m going to explore historic Northland. Aside from visiting rellies in Whangarei, I first went there on a family holiday in 1985 (the year when the happy-clappy Christians were at the campground and Dad yelled at them to shut up, which was so embarrassing), and then again in 2006 when I hung out with some pals in Tutukaka.

Turning to Northland has been one of my long-term plans. I want to get to the most northern point of New Zealand, the most westerly point of the North Island (within a few kilometres of each other, weirdly enough), to follow in the steps of my ancestors (?) and go to that fish and chip place everyone says is quite good.

Cooldude sunglasses

Les chansons françaises

In the (epic, three-month) lead-up to the Eurovision Song Contest, I’ve started checking out the contenders in the running to represent their nation in Copenhagen in May. One of the three acts facing the public vote in France is the hip hop/pop/rock/electronica/woteva trio Twin Twin, with their super catchy song “Moustache”. The lyrics are mostly in French, but it’s basically about a person who has a good life but feels a deep emptiness and frustration at not having a moustache. (There are times in my life where I have genuinely felt like this.)

I’ve also been snooping around Twin Twin’s YouTube account and found a series of videos they’ve made with songs written about and in the style of various genres of popular music. There’s jazz, K-pop, reggae, rap, new wave, and of course la chanson français. They’re all really cool and really clever – and educational!

I’m going to embed the video for the least well known genre – la French touch (or la touche française). It’s what is also known as French house, with Daft Punk being the best known purveyors.

As with all these videos, the lyrics are in French, but it’s mostly a roll call of artists, and the lyrics are subtitled in French, so it’s easy enough to figure out what’s going on. I think there might be some swearing, but it’s in French, so you don’t need to worry about fainting with shock or anything.

Neighbours’ neighbours

The suburban cul-de-sac of Pin Oak Court in South Vermont, Melbourne has a pretty good gig. Since 1985 it’s provided the exterior shots of Ramsay Street, the heart of the long-running soap Neighbours.

I was looking at it on Street View and it’s ridiculously thrilling to see all those familiar houses, just hanging out in suburban Victoria. Hey, Kylie Minogue spent a good part of her teens hanging out here!

But more interesting were the neighbouring streets, four other similar cul-de-sacs – Patio Court, Mann Gum Court, White Ash Court and Coral Court. They look similar to Pin Oak Court – same style of houses and trendy 1970s shrubs – but the non-celeb streets have a slight shabbiness to them. Or rather, trees are allowed to obscure houses, Christmas lights are allowed to be left up, the grass verges can have daisies and front gardens can run a bit wild.

Summertime radness

Hey, it’s summer! I’ve discovered my tolerance level of the heat: 26 degrees celcius. If it’s lower than that, I’m like, “Wahey! It’s summer! Hot hot hot! [icon of smiling sun wearing cooldude sunglasses]” But once it gets to 26, I cannot function. The heat drags me down and I start wondering if it would be ok to eat a frozen pizza without defrosting it. Or if it would be possible to live in an igloo. Then I start wondering how practical it would be to build a giant cannon to destroy the sun and/or live deep in a cave with moss as my only friend. And then I start thinking about Vanilla Ice and it all goes bad. [icon of snowman wearing cooldude sunglasses]

Dip dip dye

Happy anniversary

Monday was Auckland Anniversary day. Due to its name, much of the focus is on Auckland city, but the anniversary celebrates the founding of Auckland province, which extended far beyond the piddly little boundaries of today’s Auckland City.

Auckland Province was huge. It was basically the top half of the North Island. If you can imagine a horizontal line running just south of Lake Taupo, everything above that was Auckland Province. That includes the contemporary cities and towns of Whangarei, Hamilton, Tauranga, Gisborne, Rotorua and Taupo, as well as Auckland city.

Old Auckland Province, held together by sticky tape. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZ Map 2598)
Old Auckland Province, held together by sticky tape. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, NZ Map 2598)

Auckland Province only existed from 1853 to 1876, but it’s kind of cool that the arbitrary geographical area (its southern boundary was a straight line based on the 39th parallel) is still honoured once a year, even if most people don’t know this and instead moan about Auckland City getting the naming rights.

By the way, New Zealand’s Anniversary Days system is a muddle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Department of Labour’s webpage on the holidays has a whole lot of notes about all variations for the holidays in Canterbury, Westland, Otago and Southland. Everyone gets a day off, but when that is seems totally open for debate.

Straight outta Surfdale

Chris McDowall, who does cool things with maps, has done another cool thing with a map. Specially, he’s taken a map of New Zealand and mixed up the place names. This might not sound like much, but the map has a pleasingly uncanny feeling to it.


Suddenly my personal history is changed. I was born in Surfdale, moved to Geraldine in the ’90s, also lived in Kakanui and now reside in the seaside town of Putaruru. Last month I went to Hikurangi for a few days, with the bus changing at Akaroa. Earlier in 2003, I explored the thermal wonderland of Martinborough.

See, that’s weird. A nice side effect is discovering all the place names of small towns, suddenly given prominence when attached to a major population. Behold the mountainside tourism town of Rakaia or the earthquake-troubled city of Maruia.

I’ve been thinking of various sci-fi scenarios of why a map of New Zealand would end up with all the wrong place names. Like, it’s a post-apocalyptic world and the survivors are trying to recreate a map of Old Zealand using only a list of place names and vague news reports gleaned from a decaying copy of the olden “interweb”. So that riverside city in the North Island, that must be Surfale, right, because it had an award-winning beach, right?

Read Chris’ blog entry about his mixed-up map here, and explore the map here.

Clothes at the Grammys

Lorde did not wear anything by New Zealander designers. For the “Royals” performance, she wore a white Prada shirt and black Celine trousers. For the rest of the ceremony she wore a black Balenciaga gown.

So that’s interesting. Normally when a New Zealander appears at such an international event, the expectation is that they will support the local fashion industry by wearing something local, as if the New Zealand fashion industry is struggling and needs all the help it can get. Going with international fashion houses seems like a very Lorde move. Rather than making a big statement about New Zealand, she just wore what she liked. Kind of like what most of us do when we get dressed every morning.

Curiously enough, the white sleeveless shirt and wide black trousers combo is not unlike what the cool girls were wearing when I was Lorde’s age, back in the early ’90s.

There’s always talk about women doing sexy dances on stage at such events, but who was doing that? Pink, Beyonce and Katy Perry, aka a 34-year-old doing highly technical and skilful acrobatic manoeuvres, a 32-year-old duetting with her husband about being in love, and a 29-year-old doing a Spinal Tap vs goth dance. They’ve all earned it.

The two weirdest fashions of the Grammy’s were Lorde’s smudgy black fingertips and Pharrell’s hat, both of which had their own (unfunny) twitter accounts by the end of the ceremony. It turns out that smudgy-black-fingertips look is something that’s been popping up in edgy fashion lately. It seems like a refreshing rebellion against all the intricate nail art and neat manicures that were such a big deal a couple of years ago. And Pharrell’s hat is a Vivienne Westwood number, originally designed for her Buffalo collection in 1982, and it featured on the head of her husband Malcolm McLaren in the Buffalo Gals video. So you know what all that means? Whether you like it or not, both of these looks are going to work their way into mainstream fashion in a more dilute form, like a smudgy fingertips kit from Farmers and a Buffalo hat from Glassons.

High, a lie


Regular readers will know that I have a thing for UK Big Brother. The celebrity version is currently screening, and it’s turned out to be one of the best CBBs ever. I’m not sure why, but at least for me, one of the highlights was seeing Lionel Blair swearing like a mofo.

Anyway, here’s a clip of “controversial” (or at least nutty) Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones. The back story – fellow housemate Luisa has been given a secret task to make Liz laugh, while Liz has secretly been told that she must not laugh. So while Luisa tries to bring on the lolz, Liz launches into a monologue of such misery and deadpan wit that it would make Morrissey look like a paragon of self-esteem.

Oh hai

For a while I’ve had this irrational fear of the sport of jal alai. I think it’s because the players have a basket strapped to their right hand, looking like a horror-film serial killer inspired by the fiddler crab.

Anyway, I thought it was a bit silly being fearful of jai alai, so I set about doing some exposure therapy, in the form of watching a bunch of videos. There was a 1988 promo video about the sport in America, a more recent short Spanish-language documentary about the old codgers who go along to watch games in Miami, a 1994 game featuring two Spanish legends.

By that stage I was feeling pretty relaxed about jai alai. But then I went too far. Feeling overly confident, I watched a video of a guy exploring an abandoned fronton (playing venue, and there’s just something so creepy about “abandoned fronton”). So there’s this guy wandering around a giant arena in the dark, with only a weak LED torch for illumination. And then there are the strange noises. It was terrifying, and it instantly vaporised all my happy feelings about jai alai.


By the way, jai alai features in the opening titles of the Miami Vice TV show, one of the many icons of Miami that’s jam-packed into the minute-long sequence. I only just realised it was jai alai – I’d previously thought it was baseball, or something like that. It still creeps me out, though.


Thrills galore

Health and safety

Yesterday the ACC announced that it was cancelling its health and safety training programme after realising that it wasn’t actually having much effect. It’s a bit complicated when you consider that some of the training was provided by trade unions, with ACC minister Judith Collins reckoning it was just a scam with trade unions using it to promote unionism.

Well, I did this training, back in the mid ’00s, when I’d volunteered to be a health and safety rep at work. I literally only did this because no one else would and there was promise of chocolate biscuits at the meetings. It turned out to be a giant pain in the arse, forcing the reps to become the no-mates killjoy person who’s always telling people to remove the potential hazards from their work station.

I went on a two-day training course at the Employers and Manufacturers Association. I could have also done it at a union, but the EMA was really close to where I lived, and it was in a cool brutalist building.

The course was full of people from all sorts of different kind of work places. In one exercise, we had to list potential hazards in our workplaces. All I could come up with was cables that people might trip over, but my coursemates were coming up with really dramatic stuff like “The truck could slip off the edge of the narrow hillside road to the mine, causing death” and “The giant pot of boiling fudge could tip over, causing third-degree burns to the fudge makers”.

The guy taking the course seemed to be a contractor, and was operating on autopilot. Not so much like David Brent, but someone who was reciting The Office scripts. At one point when he was setting up the projector, it just showed a blue screen and he quipped, “It must have been a blue-sky day!” There were lolz. The next day he make the same joke in the same situation, but because everyone had already heard it (and we were tired, and wanted to go home) no one laughed. There was a look of confusion and hurt on his face.

He was also very excited that I worked in television, and sat down next to me at lunch, wanting to have a big conversation about the recent changes in upper-level management at TVNZ. When he realised I was just a girl who made captions for television programmes and not management, he wasn’t interested in continuing our conversation.

After the training I came back to work not with a new skill set of health and safety knowledge, but rather a bunch of anecdotes about the weirdness and awfulness of it all.

I don’t know if the EMA’s health and safety training programmes continued like this, but I’m actually less bothered by the potential for union propaganda and more bothered by it just being a boring-arse use of two days.


Here’s an excerpt from the Lyttelton Times from 19 May 1858. It’s from a column summarising all the latest news coming from the government’s Gazette publication:


So, hilariously, while the Lyttelton Times has totally heard of Port Ahuriri, it is being all “wherever that is” about West Whaingaroa aka Raggiz. Yeah? Well, no one in Rag Land has ever heard of you, Littleton, etc. So there.

The Lyttelton Times is also delightfully dismissive about Lyttelton losing its official name “Port Victoria” – like, no one even calls it that, anyway. Even though Queen Victoria was the reigning monarch at the time (coming up to her 21st anniversary), it seems everyone was all a bit sick of all the bloody Victorias around the country.

The Room Two

I’ve been playing The Room Two, the sequel to the popular mobile app game The Room. (It’s no relation to the film The Room, though there is a really cool and funny unofficial game for the movie that tells the story from Johnny’s perspective and explains the fate of Chris R.)

The Room was a puzzle game when the player finds her or himself in a mysterious room with a strange puzzle box that needs to be unlocked in order to, uh, make things happen. The Room Two takes that and expands on it.

For a start, there are several different rooms, with different things to explore, like a model pirate ship. Rather than being focused on the central puzzle box, there’s stuff to be used in the whole room.

But really, a game like this is all about the puzzles. They’re about as enjoyable and challenging as the first game. There’s a hint system so if you get stuck, it will give you hunts to nudge you in the right direction. I actually think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t used the hints and had just figured out everything myself. But I’m so impatient. I need to know where the key is that opens the golden casket and unlocks the skull that opens a portal to another dimension.

The only thing that was a bit annoying was the gloominess of the game. Because everything is so dark and shadowy, it’s actually quite difficult to see the screen clearly, hunched over an iPad mini on a bright summer’s day. Therefore, it’s easiest to play in the dark, which makes all the spooky bits that much more spookier.

I just really like games like this, ones that require a bit of thinking and exploring and puzzle solving. And if there are a few cheap thrills along the way, I’m even happier.

The Room Two iOS (iPad only), with iPhone and Android coming soon.

Te reo Maori 419 spam

My dad received a scam email in te reo Maori. It’s a run-of-the-mill 419 scam, the “someone has died and had given you millionz of dollaz!” type. In this case, the generous cadaver is – according to Google Translate – “billionaire Business Mogul Late Mr. Moises Saba Masri, a Jew from Mexico”.

The idea behind these obviously stupid spams is they filter out all the smart people who can immediately spot the nonsense. What it leaves is the highly gullible, the type of people that a scammer knows will be worth spending time working on to get them to part with their cash. Putting the email in te reo adds an extra layer of implausibility to filter out even more.

So is there a te reo Maori speaker who’d read this and be all, “Wow, I didn’t realise I knew any billionaire Mexican Jews. What a kind and generous fellow”? I doubt it, but it’s interesting that te reo has made it onto the radar of the international scammers. Yay, New Zealand!

Update: A few people have pointed out that te reo Maori has recently been added to Google Translate, which is the weapon of choice for 419 scammers. But check out this info from Julian Wilcox. Intriguingly, Samoan and Tongan aren’t in Google Translate.

Update 2: Fairfax have written about the situation. The reporter asked me for a comment but – I am so lame – I forgot to reply to her email.

Sounds like

1. Moderna popklassisker

Thanks to a recommendation from Jackson of Capture, I’ve been working my way through the episodes of Hitlåtens historia, a Swedish TV series about the stories behind modern pop classics. A couple of the episodes are subtitled, but with the ones that aren’t, it doesn’t really matter. All the profiled artists speak English, and with 80% of Swedes being fluent in English, the programme doesn’t rely on overdubs so it’s really easy to follow along with the interviews, even when you can’t understand the minimal Swedish narration.

It’s easy to look at the subjects of some of the episodes and dismiss them as naff, but one of the best things about Sweden (and much of Western Europe) is they don’t have the same obsessions over cool as we do. So they happily dig into “Take My Breath Away”, the sappy love theme from Top Gun but – oh – it was written by the mad genius Georgio Moroder so there has to be a good story or two in there. Ditto for “Wind of Change” – when both Russian metallers and German housewives are singing along, something powerful is a-happening.

Peter Saville explains why the holes in the "Blue Monday" single cover were such trouble.
Peter Saville explains why the holes in the “Blue Monday” single cover were such trouble.

Here are the episodes, all available free to watch online until mid February. No longer online, but the memory remains?

  • Episode 1: Berlin “Take My Breath Away”, in which it is revealed that Giorgio Moroder got his auto mechanic to come up with the words for the song.
  • Episode 2: New Order “Blue Monday”, in which it is revealed that the amazing yet complicated diecut record sleeve caused it to lose 10p on every copy sold.
  • Episode 3: “Killing Me Softly with His Song”, in which it is revealed that the song was based on a poem written original singer Lori Lieberman fangirling over Don McLean.
  • Episode 4: Scorpions “Wind of Change”, in which it is revealed that this Cold War anthem was inspired by a game-changing massive international hard rock concert in Moscow.
  • Episode 5: Fatboy Slim “Praise You”, in which it is revealed that the original song, “Take Yo’ Praise”, was a secret civil rights anthem.
  • Episode 6: Soundgarden “Blackhole Sun”, in which it is revealed that the titular phrase came from a misheard news report.

2. Miami sound machine

According to the New York Times’ dialect map quiz, I sound like someone from yonder down south Florida way. I’m not sure what that accent sounds like, but I’m imagining it being like a cross between Don Johnson in Miami Vice and Pitbull. I’m sure if I actually went to Miami, I would not sound like a local. But then Miami has always seemed like one of those places that attracts random people from all over, all with secrets, so perhaps I would fit right in.

3. A room with several views

In the gap between Christmas and the New Year, when I was in the midst of a sleep-deprived cat-sitting zombie-like state, I watched the documentary film Room 237. It looks at all the different conspiracy theories that surround Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining.

The idea is that Kubrick is a control freak and a perfectionist, so nothing in the film is there by accident; everything is deliberate. So when a single frame makes it look like an in-tray on an office desk is protruding from a man’s groin, it must be deliberate sexual statement, not just a coincidence spotted by someone who’s seen the film too many times. Because if Kubrick hadn’t wanted the desk penis there, he would have reshot the scene, right?

The film itself is excellent. The various conspiracy theorists and overthinkers are never seen on screen. We just hear their voices, going into detail of their favourite thing. All this is illustrated by extensive footage from The Shining, as well as other Kubrick films. And it’s just as well. If the film didn’t illustrate the cryptic maze of the Overlook Hotel’s corridors, I’d be forced to watch The Shining and plot out the illogical geography myself. And then I’d probably obsess over it and start formulating my own theories.

The thing that all the theorist seem to be missing is that when The Shining was released in 1980, home video was in its infancy. Back then, if you wanted to watch a movie over and over again you had to pay to see it in a cinema. It wasn’t until a few years later that people could rewatch The Shining and obsess over all the posters, canned goods, luggage and corridors of blood.

And then there’s the guy who organised a screening of The Shining playing backwards and forwards at the same time. This reminds me of the screenings of The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon as the soundtrack. But at least the Oz/Floyd experience is honest about being a stoner favourite.

In the end I was just all a bit sick of the conspiracies. It reminded me of the worst bits of film studies at tech. If you look for hidden depths and secret meaning everywhere, soon enough you’re going to start making stuff up. Sometimes an in-tray is just an in-tray.