X marks the spot

The X Factor New Zealand has a FAQ. One question asks…

How will The X Factor winner be distinguished from other talent contest winners?

The music industry has changed since the days of shows such as NZ Idol.

Winners of The X Factor have long-running international careers – think Reece Mastin, Stan Walker, One Direction, Guy Sebastian and Chris Rene etc.

Simon Cowell has been developing this talent show format for years; The X Factor is the result of everything he’s learned from earlier formats.

So X Factor NZ is getting it straight: if you win the X Factor, you won’t end up like Michael Murphy, working in road gang, wearing a high-viz vest.

But let’s take a closer look at their hall of fame. Yes, Reece Mastin won his year in Australian X Factor, but One Direction only came third in the UK X Factor. Chris Rene also came third on the US X Factor, but has only enjoyed major chart success in New Zealand (weird, huh?) Guy Sebastian wasn’t even an X Factor contestant – he won the first series of Australian Idol (so ’00s) and was only on the X Factor as a judge. Ditto for Stan Walker – he won the final series of Australian Idol but is on the X Factor NZ as a judge.

For every one of these high-profile success stories, there are the winners who don’t do so well – like Matt Cardle, Random, Leon Jackson, Altiyan Childs and ol’ misery guts Steve Brookstein.

Then there are the ones who don’t win the X Factor still but manage to forge a decent showbiz career from (or in spite of) their X Factor experience, like Olly Murs, Cher Lloyd or my beloved Jedward. And I’m keeping an eye on the extravagant Rylan from the latest UK series.

That’s what makes a series of X Factor work – it’s not just the brilliant singers who deliver every week, it’s also the battlers and the weirdos, the ones who can’t cruise through on talent alone. And that’s why they call it the X Factor.

The mallification of Hamilton

The city centre of Hamilton, my sweet home town, is dying. Since the 1980s, businesses have progressively moved to the edges of town and two massive malls on the northern fringe have sucked all the retail life out of the city centre.

There’s been a lot of talk about how to revitalise the downtown area. The current solution seems to be fighting the lure of the malls with another mall. The Centre Place mini-malls (part of my life since 1985) is being expanded with another two-storey wing. Farmers is moving in as a key tenant and Ward Street is closing to be part of the outdoor mall experience.


But, ugh, I think the focus is all wrong. Instead of replicating the suburban mall experience – which will never quite work because the central city can never offer free parking – the central city should focus on the cool things it has that the malls could never match. Namely the river, cool old buildings, the atmosphere of places like Ward Street, Alexander Street, a few laneways that are yet to be created, and Garden-sodding-Place. In other words, give people a reason to exit the giant Centre Place megamall. Give them a reason to go outside and walk the city streets and feel elated, not a bit glum.

Above are two artists’ impressions of the mega mall. There aren’t many people, especially compared with the usual bustle of a busy mall. This might seem like a deliberate move, not wanting the ghost people to obscure the buildings, but that’s what Hamilton looks like. There aren’t many people around the city centre any more. It’s all a bit like a ghost town and I’m not sure if the best intentions of a property investment firm can undo that.


On ice

My favourite Olympic story is the tale of Steven Bradbury, Australian speed skater.

At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Bradbury was not a favourite. Australia had never won a gold medal in the Winter Olympics – nor had any southern hemisphere country, for that matter.

So, he’s in the heat for the 1000m men’s speed skating and he wins it. Ok, cool. But no one has money on him to go any further.

In the quarter-final he’s up against local favourite Apolo Ohno and world champ Marc Gagnon. Only the top two place-getters will advance to the semi-final. Bradbury comes third, but Gagnon is later disqualified, so skater Steve makes it to the semi-final.

Bradbury recognises that he wasn’t likely to win it, so he and his coach home up with a strategy. He’s just going to hold back and hope that if a couple of skaters crash, he’ll be able to skate into a qualifying spot. But what happened? Three of the four other competitors crash, sending Steve into second place and ensuring him a spot in the finals.

And so the finals. No one is expecting Bradbury to win. He’s lucky and should just enjoy the experience, right? And again Bradbury holds back, trailing behind his elite competitors. The five men are racking up the laps. They’re coming onto the final circuit, the finish line in sight. Then – suddenly; miraculously – all four of the other competitors crash out, skidding across the icy track. Bradbury effortlessly avoids the pile-up and glides through the finish line. He raises his arms, a gesture that’s a cross between a triumphant “I’m number one!” and a “Uh… what just happened?”

After a delay, the officials made a decision. There would be no rematch. There would be a gold medal and it would be Steve Bradbury’s. And so Australia won its first gold medal at the winter Olympics. It’s perhaps not the most expected way to win, but Steven Bradbury’s skill and technique got him all the way onto the podium.


This is a page from Australian Smash Hits magazine, as reproduced in the book “Pop Life: Inside Smash Hits Australia 1984-2007” along with the “David lies about his age” annotation. I remember this page well. It was published in around 1987, which would have made lying journalist David Nichols about 15 years old, had he really been born in 1972. That made him only a few years older than me, and I thought, “Crap, if it’s normal for 15-year-olds to be features editors at pop magazines, I’d better hurry up and get really good at writing so I don’t miss out.” A while later I realised he was a lying liar and that he was probably closer to 25 than 15, but it actually did me good, inspiring me to delve deeper into the world of pop.


daisy-dollDaisy was an English fashion doll, a shorter, less busty version of Barbie, designed by Mary Quant. I had one because my mother thought she was ‘nicer’ than Barbie, which made Barbie seem like a filthy ho who could corrupt me.

I had this outfit, the Gymkhana. It’s horsey. Someone bought this for me thinking I’d like it because it was horse related. The soft plastic of the boots cracked and the jacket never quite sat right. She didn’t even have a shirt under the jacket.

Daisy was stuck in the ’70s, with big chunky platform shoes that were not cool. And her limbs were attached using rubber bands that would break. Poor Daisy.

A few years later I moved to the world of Barbie. People say Barbies have unrealistic body shapes for girls, but she was taller, like me. And she had better clothes.


I never seem to have any luck buying jewellery from craft stalls. I always seem to buy stuff that looks cool on the stall, but when I get it and have a good look at it, I am horrified at what I’ve actually bought.

Example 1
I bought a hand-knotted bracelet. It was made from a natural fibre and had a few decorative beads knotted into it. It looked quirky and cool. When I got it home, I realised the beads were red, green and yellow. And the natural fibre – it was hemp. I’d accidentally bought stoner jewellery.

Example 2
It was a cute ring, with subtle bumps around it. I didn’t normally wear rings, but this one fit really well. I was really pleased with my find. But then I got home and looked at the ring from the side. The bumps were dolphins. A smiling line of dolphins were gaily swimming around the ring.

Both the ring and the bracelet were disposed of in a thoughtful manner.

So now if I’m at a craft fair, no matter how cool the jewellery seems, I will not buy it. Because the robot brooch will turn out to actually be a badge that says “I <3 bikes!” or the autumn leaf will actually be a comedy dog poo.

I am not willing to engage with the close inspection required of the world of jewellery, the need to analyse before purchase. It’s less stressful to be unadorned.

A good day

In account of Ice Cube’s “good day” being scientifically determined to be January 20 1992, I dug out my diary from that year and realised that that day was also a good day for me – I went to Surfer’s Paradise for a family holiday:

7.10am I’m getting ready to leave at 7.45. How unexciting!

I’ve always time-logged notes like this on holiday, starting on a family holiday to Napier when I was 10.

9.31am In the car park at Manukau city. Mark & Kim on the Radio.

Mark and Kim were the breakfast DJs on some Auckland radio station. I was utterly obsessed with Auckland radio, so this was a big deal for me.

12.32pm (Oz time) I’m flying over the Pacific/Tasman sea. Wow! 540mph, 39,000 feet or 868km/h, 11,890 metres.

The “wow!” – that’s sarcasm. I’m appalled at how much sarcasm I used when I was a teen.

2.50pm Going to Surfers. If we need a comfort stop he’ll “pull into a servo”. Right on.

This was the driver of the shuttle taking us from the airport to the hotel. I was tickled by his use of the Australian diminutive “servo” for service station. Also the “right on” is more sarcasm.

4.20pm I’m in our room. It’s pretty ok. More details later!

From memory, it was a two- or maybe even three-bedroom apartment. The decor was a bit old, but it was in a good location and very spacious. When I said “more details later”, I obviously meant 20 years later.

8.00pm We went to McD’s then to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Odditorium. It was v. good. The see-through tongue rolling mirror and the “rocking” tunnel was the best. Now I’m watching TOTALLY HIDDEN VIDEO (sux sh*t!)

I’m not sure what Surfers Paradise is like now, but back then it felt a little faded, like somewhere that had been glorious 10 years ago and now needed a lick of paint. Also note how late it was – all the attractions were open at night, on a Monday. We were very close to the Grundy’s Entertainment Centre, where I played a lot of skeeball.

Also, note the capitals for the TV show “Totally Hidden Video”. Back then for a few months I capitalised all titles, like one of those film geeks on Twitter.

10.53pm Me and Rick have just gone swimming and we now have gone to separate bed. It’s pretty good here BUT my feet are SO sore. I wonder what we will to TOMORROW. My hair will look thoroughly shitless.

Lolz, once there was a time when I went swimming! Also note that I went to “separate bed” with my brother. Obviously I anticipated a time in the future when a stranger would be reading this and therefore did not want to give the impression that any weird incesty stuff was happening.

I’m not sure what I meant by my hair looking “shitless”, but I think this meant good – the opposite of shitty. I used to tie my hair back when it was wet so it would dry straight (kids, this was a time before GHDs). I had recently put some golden sunshine bleachy spray in my hair in an attempt to look like Kelly from Beverley Hills 90210, and a couple of days into this holiday I was shocked to notice roots growing through. I had no idea bleachy spray was that powerful.

Also, I didn’t even have to use my AK.

Human Wikipedia

Wikipedia is currently blacked out in protest against SOPA. I decided to put my giant nerd brain to use on Twitter, offering to act as a human Wikipedia for anyone who was in need of some knowledge.

@robyngallagher If you need to know something on Wikipedia, ask me instead. I will make something up.

@petrajane I would like to know how waffles were invented.
@robyngallagher A punk guy was making pancakes. One fell on the floor and he was so angry he stamped on it with his Docs. Waffles were born.
@petrajane cheers! now how are you on 80s TV trivia?
@robyngallagher I have several PhDs in the subject.
@petrajane since Wikipedia is down I have no way to check how many PhDs you have, so tell me about celeb cameos in Punky Brewster kthx
@robyngallagher The most famous celebrity cameo in Punky Brewster was famous 1980s celebrity J. Murray Davidson.
@samuelfscott Was Punky Brewster better than Blossom?
@robyngallagher In the high stakes world of crazy child actor names, Soleil Moon Frye-up was beaten by Mayim Blahblahblah.

@fogonwater @clerestories wants to know where the French castle from the TV show Merlin is located. She tried to look it up but #SOPA!
@robyngallagher It is the Sleeping Beauty castle at Euro Disney without any makeup on.
@fogonwater Why do bad things happen to good people?
@robyngallagher That time in 1992 when the old lady tripped up outside the bank and the good person didn’t stop to help her? Karma remembers.

@teh_nipples Who is the prime minister of Australia?
@robyngallagher That ginger lady. She’s not even a real ginger. She dyes her hair to get the sunburnt ginger vote.
@teh_nipples What are the names of the Furies?
@robyngallagher Ronald, Kristen, Kirsten, Janine, Ronald Jr, Steve, Ahmed, Jean-Pierre, Furry, Barack, Flurry, Far-Out, Ronald III and Scott.
@teh_nipples Oh, sweet. I think Far-Out might be my favorite. Who is Far-Out?
@robyngallagher Far-Out is a juggler cum chef. Unfortunately I am on “safe browsing mode” can so cannot explain what a cum chef is.

@isaacfreeman Wikigallagher! Do people speak Swahili in South Sudan?
@robyngallagher They do, but it’s considered jive talk, the voice of the streets.
@isaacfreeman Wikigallagher! I am now interested in …jive“. What is the origin of this term?
@robyngallagher It is an acronym, which stands for Juice Is Very Evil, an ill-considered marketing slogan by the Milk Marketing Board.
@isaacfreeman Also, streets. What is the difference between a street and a road? #humanwikipedia
@robyngallagher A street is paved in bitumen, a road is paved in the hopes and dreams of an entire nation and bitumen.
@isaacfreeman Is bitumen edible?
@robyngallagher It is, but only when prepared using the most tender leaves of the bituma plant, steamed lightly and served lightly salted.
@isaacfreeman That word “tender”… how did it come to be used in the phrase “legal tender”? #humanwikipedia #freeassociation
@robyngallagher People think lawyers are horrible, but they actually have a tender side to them. Objection, Your Honour – not enough hugz!

@carolgreen Who is that bird on X-Factor Aus – the one who isn’t Mel B? Hits?
@robyngallagher Natalie Bascjdfgeocghmsgioaght.
@carolgreen Ah, I should have known. Is that a Latvian name?
@robyngallagher It is Lithuanian. Some of her relatives anglicised the name to Basilbrush, but her side of the family kept it.

@trench I just wanna hit ur random button.
@robyngallagher Combine harvester.
@trench I need a list of important events that happened on this day in the past. AND I NEED IT FAST.
@robyngallagher 1912: Horse startled by motorcar. 1945: Hitler makes hilarious YouTube video. 1962: Man says sexist comment to secretary.

Justice for Princess

In New Zealand law, it’s illegal for a person to have a name that is a royal or significant title. I believe this restriction came about after an unsavoury fellow changed his first name to “Sir”, but it now means that there are to be no kids with names like Sir, Bishop, Majesty or Constable.

The two most rejected names are Princess and Justice. The blocking of Princess is particularly annoying because are evidently no such restrictions in the United Kingdom, a land of actual princesses. Katie Price happily named her daughter Princess. Realistically, no one is ever going to mistake Princess Andre-Price for a legitimate royal, ruling over the duchy of Andre-Price.

And would a little boy named Justice Watkins be mistaken for a District Court judge? No, he wouldn’t, because people are smart and they can figure things out from context. The law assumes that everyone who wants to give their kid a title name is doing so to trick people. But if a woman can be named Queenie, why can’t her granddaughter be named Princess?

Excuse me, I had beans for lunch #ttrttpt

A few months ago I started to see a few people putting #ttrttpt at the end of some tweets, usually ones that related to some sort of miserable event. For example:

But I’ve asked him before and he keeps saying he’ll get back to me. #ttrttpt

I didn’t know what it meant, but thought maybe it was an expression like “pffft”.

It turns out it’s an acronym used by a small group of New Zealanders on Twitter. It stands for “this tweet relates/refers to the previous tweet”, and it is used to show that two sequential tweets are linked.

I think this hashtag started with a good dash of humour (and it looks like it was first coined by the fab @harvestbird), but somehow it’s been jumped upon by people who use the seven-letter hashtag seriously.

It’s not like it’s impossible to figure stuff out from context. Take a tweet like this:

It didn’t have any water in it. Phew!

I’m not left looking at it thinking “What does that even mean? So weird!”. Instead I’ll just scroll back a little bit and see this:

Arrgh! Mr Fluffy just knocked mum’s vase on the floor!

Years ago Ellen Degeneres had a comedy routine about how writing “PTO” in a letter is unnecessary. Does anyone reading a letter, she asked, actually get to the bottom of a page and wonder why the correspondent suddenly stopped mid-sentence, without thinking to turn the page over and check to see if there’s writing on the back?

Before #ttrttpt came around, was there even a problem with letting your followers know you’d written sequential tweets? No. Conjunctions – otherwise known as ‘nature’s #ttrttpt’ – serve that purpose well. And this also explains why #ttrttpt hasn’t caught on with the larger Twitter community.

The most hilarious thing about #ttrttpt is how non-users of it have no idea what it means. It’s not at all self-explanatory, so most people just ignore it or assume it’s some sort of a fart noise. Perhaps it actually is.