Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Cold Kiwi Christmas

Being an orphan in a foreign country often makes the question of what to do at Christmas time rather interesting. For the five I have had over here I have spent one in Edinburgh with some Aoteoroa-n friends, one in the Lake District with the same friends plus Wendy, Dave, Muzz, Jo and Gareth and that was rather memorably concluded with an emergency call to Dyna-Rod as excrement was spraying all over the back porch, the third was spent in Luton with my brother and his fiance's family, and last year was spent in Farringdon with Mike and Sarah's family. On that occasion I had goose rather than turkey for Christmas lunch. Make no mistake about it, goose is an infinitely superior option for your fowl eating. But at £70/bird, it is really a posh person's bird.

This year I started thinking about Christmas around July (about three months ahead of the shops - how scary is that) and around October Jane came up with a solution, which would see us go to a cottage in Wales with some of her school friends. This was attractive on a few levels. Firstly it required little effort from me, other than to say yes, secondly it would be in a part of the world I hadn't been but wanted to go to, and thirdly, Jane is a good mate and I like to spend time with my mates.

So on the 23rd I found myself driving down the M40/M25/M4 to London to collect her and her flatmate Emily and all their assorted foodstuffs. After a small detour to find a petrol cap as somehow I had left mine in Benson earlier on in the week we were on our way. How I managed to contort all of our stuff as well as the three of us into my Micra is a small miracle. We set off with very low expectations about holiday traffic and the initial experiences on the A4/M4 seemed to reinforce this. However, with a sudden expansion of motorway we shook free the burdens of neighbouring cars and somehow five hours later we left the A4244 and pulled into Bryndrefail in Snowdonia National Park. Thanks to the wonderful i-pod (we worship at your temple, O Great Apple), Jane's DJing skills (if not her mixing skills - Karma Police must ALWAYS be played to the very last chord), and some liberal interpretations of the 70mph speed limit, the trip was a blast.

Waiting for us was Mike and Rebekah. Rebekah is one of Jane and Emily's school friends and Mike is her partner. Mike was to turn out to be the only non-kiwi amongst us. Introductions were done and the first bottle of wine cracked open. Shortly afterwards Sarah and Marty turned up. This was an extraordinary achievement as when we were about 20 miles north of Birmingham they were still in Ealing. Yet somehow they arrived only an hour and a half behind me...

Wine drunk, we disappeared to our rooms and, in the case of Jane and I some really uncomfortable beds. The beds we slept on were rubbish. They were short, the springs were, well, they were absent and the room was damp. It has been so good to get back to my own bed! Christmas Eve was spent buying papers from the local post office (a thirty second walk but one that required a fifteen minute discussion with the postman about, oh, I don't know, um, the state of the Welsh Assembly, the EC and the colonial bastards that are Britain, France and Germany, the career path of his brother in law (Nottingham-Canada-New Zealand to the Emirates before retirement in Taupo), pronounciation of Welsh placenames and a whole series of other things that escape me now) replenishing beer and coal stocks (Marty had brought along a box of Paulaner, an oustanding beer, and despite the girls pledge that they would drink wine, they soon renegged and clearly we needed some supplementary stocks) and visiting Llanberis, the nearest big town. Llanberis is about an hours walk along the shores of Lyn Padarn. On the way back we had to negotiate a field of cows and cow excrement, which saw a very comical walking style from an anonymous member of the party... Later in the evening a sixth kiwi, Rachel, joined the posse.

Christmas Day rose cold and frosty but absent in snow. While Rach and Emily slumbered Marty, Sarah, Mike, Rebekah, Jane and I wandered up a small path to a view over Llanberis and Snowdon and away to the west we could see Anglesey. From there we wandered back to the cottage for secret santa, where £5 gifts were diced for. I ended up with a garlic bread dish and a metre long tube of jaffa cakes...

Numpty in desperate need of a shave but with an excess of Jaffa Cakes. Note the malformed forearms.

Finally we tucked into a huge lunch of ham and chicken and roast veges and the finest mashed potato I have ever had, or made for that matter. Oh, and someone had made and cooked brussel sprouts. The amazing thing was that we had somehow cooked a wonderful meal with everyone pitching in and without there being too many cooks to spoil the broth. The kiwi camaraderie mixed with Mikes overwhelming generosity made for a fine meal and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Richard/Rebekah/Mike/Sarah/Marty/Jane/Emily. Rach is behind the camera.

After the indulgence. Stuffed Kiwis from left: Richard/Marty/Rach (this time behind the glass)/Rebekah/(stuffed Englishman) Mike/(back to the stuffed kiwis) Sarah and Jane. This time Emily is hiding behind the camera.

Seeing as we had indulged, Boxing Day required Penance. So on Boxing Day, we climbed Snowdon. All of us knocked the bastard off. Amongst the ice as we ascended the zig zag towards the summit and despite the freezing wind on the summit cairn, we did it. More pictures of the walk can be seen here. The view was underwhelming. The freezing fog saw to that. Is it just me, but how ridiculous is it that the highest mountain in England and Wales has a railway line to the summit? That is mountaineering for the bone idle. Although at 1085m, Snowdon struggles to be called a mountain. Once below the fog, the view was astonishing. The view across to Y Lliwedd and Llyn Llydaw is outstanding. It was worth every penny and every calorie consumed. On the shores of Llyn Llydaw Marty and I stumbled across the fabled Toffee Pop Tree and there we worshipped.

Because it was there. Kiwis on top of England and Wales. Much like it is in Rugby.

Worshippers at the Toffee Pop Tree

The view back to Snowdonia. We all climbed that brute.

The evening was spent loosening limbs and soothing pallets in the Snowdon Inn. Emily, Marty and I acquanited ourselves with a dartboard and played round the world. I was rubbish, but when I discovered a cat that would happily perch itself in my arms while I threw my darts I discovered that I could enjoy it a lot more, if not be more accurate. Later that evening Ma and Pa spent my inheritance by calling my work sponsored mobile phone and I got to talk to the whanau.

Tuesday morning Jane and I said goodbye to the horrible beds in the attic and very fond farewells to the wonderful people we'd spent Christmas with. Quite frankly, these people were some of the highest quality. I know Jane very well and have a lot of respect and time for her, so I guess this should not have come as such a great surprise to me. It was a few days spent in very relaxed company and amongst people who willingly contributed to the enjoyment of all. And when I discovered that Mike had quietly washed all of our boots after the trudge through the cow muck, I could have hugged him. Mike, if you ever read this, it might seem a little thing to have done, but it was an act of great kindness, so thank you so very much. And to Jane, Marty, Sarah, Rach, Becks and Emily, thank you too.

So an orphaned Christmas with the Kiwis turned out to be a great Christmas amongst the an extended whanau.

Kia Ora!

Those Oxford Dons

For a minute I lost myself

Not sure what the crack is, but here you can find and download the '97 Glastonbury Radiohead set. This is widely regarded as one of the finest live gigs of all time. This was recorded back when sets at Glastonbury took place over more than 45 minutes.

I am loving this!

How I Earnt my Christmas Lunch

En route to the summit of Snowdon on Boxing Day:

Olaf and I on the summit of Snowdon:

Marty and I enjoying a Toffee Pop, or three:

And in the valleys on the way back to Bryndrefail for more indulgence:

Reclaiming my blog: At the risk...

...of sounding too personal, of making myself vulnerable, and of appearing too desperate (or, God forbid, being too teenage angsty), being single is really starting to get on my tits.

And there is the wonderful irony that a missive like this makes me oh-so-attractive to the opposite sex! Don't think I didn't spot that.

Apparently I am

This moves me.

You're the Ducks Nuts of a friend. Thankyou and hoping you had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you every Joy in the New Year.
Sarah, Mike, Alex, Mari + Caragh

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Last Minute Dot Com

Because we can, on Tuesday Chris and I are flying to Malta for four nights.

Feeling really physically, emotionally and spiritually drained and worn down today. Often is the case when I've enjoyed something so much that when it ends it's probably akin to coming off a night on E. I had a great time in Snowdonia over Christmas. Like my time in Norway I would like to bottle that feeling and live off it.

But I can't.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

And sometimes it is like this

Shivering with doubts that were left unattended
so you toss away the cloak that you should have mended
don't you know by now why the chosen are few?
it's harder to believe than not to

-Steve Taylor

But not so much at the minute.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Things I wish I'd done

Two stories here: The first relates to Chris and his bad day at work and the second relates to a guy I know and his experience at a supermarket. Somehow these two stories go a long way to making the world a better place.

Chris' story requires that you read his blog entries, read this one first and then this one. Will's story can be found here and also below:

Weird thing happens

I was in the supermarket queue and the guy in front of me is with his ?wife and she is paying when he decided to go and get some more booze, maybe because it would be free or something. He says to the checkout guy

Him: "Can I go and get another one?"

and I respond and I say

Me: "no".

Him: "I'm sorry?"

Me: "no, you can't"

Him (looking at me like he's going to hit me): "why not?"

Me: "because I'm next in the queue"

At which he walks off, gets another bottle of booze and comes back. He looks me in the eye and I am expecting him to say "you are a f***ing twat" but he does not.

Him: "I apologise."

Me: "That's ok mate it happens to the best of us"

And he proceeds to pay, and look!, as he is leaving, he says

Him: "Do you drink red wine?"

Me: "Sometimes"

He gives me a bottle of red

Me: "Thanks mate, that's very kind of you"

End of story

I think this is remarkable because i) it was in Didcot where I expect people to be thugs ii) he was with his partner and I thought he'd probably want to show off how hard he was to her iii) I was being a bit of a twat.

Anyway, this has restored some of my faith in "other people"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Fush un Chups

This little piece is doing the rounds in the expat kiwi community in the UK. If you need a translation, just ask...

Update: Sometimes the link misbehaves so if in doubt type into your browser and if anybody knows any good way of storing audio files on the web I'm open to suggestions!

Friday, December 16, 2005


My niece Charlotte has a blog. She also has a big polar bear that is also called Olaf. I gave it to her but I don't think she realises it was to match the little one that I have. I bet it also hasn't been photocopied like the little feller was.

Not Waterstones

I have been sent this email from someone attached to Hammer and Tongue. I'll let the email speak for itself:

"I have just heard that the former Classics Bookshop in Turl Street is scheduled to close down in the New Year if business does not pick up.

It is the last of three independent secondhand booksellers left in Oxford (not counting Reservoir Books in St Aldates which is closed for refurbishment)

Aside from secondhand and secondhand academic, it also sells the most excellent prints and various tasteful gifty type things (was forced to diversify).

So if you have not already purchased your Christmas gifts/any forthcoming birthdays, can I please urge you to join me in supporting them as much as possible?

Please also spread the message as I'm sure none of us want Oxford to end up just being chain stores and coffee shops

So if you're buying books this Christmas, don;t buy 'em from Waterstones.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Don't have a cow, man

My colleague Idris has a stuffed cow. In October I moo-napped it and took this picture in Tromso.

While in Tromso I bought a small polar bear called Olaf. Then last month I went to Indonesia (again taking the cow). While I was in Indonesia, Idris made photocopies of Olaf.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Changing Perspective

One of my favourite Father Ted moments is where Father Ted is explaining perspective to Father Dougal. You come in part way through the scene and the two Fathers are in a caravan somewhere in the Irish countryside. Father Ted is holding up a small plastic cow and says to Father Dougal; "small", and then, pointing out the window to a cow in a distant field, "far away". Father Dougal frowns for a minute before declaring "No, Ted. I just don't get it". On the train home from Edinburgh yesterday I saw a mother and child undergoing the same battle.

Which brings me rather conveniently to my trip to Edinburgh. Once upon a time (2001-2002) I lived in Old Reekie and made some rather good friends up there. In late 2002 I was offered a job in the 'shire, and took my leave of her. Initially I made regular trips back up but, as often happens, those trips became less and less frequent. The last trip was one for work and that was in August 2004. More fool me. Even so, I've managed to keep up with a few people, notably three fine women by the names of Ruth, Wendy and Rebekah. There's also been some somewhat looser friendships with some others. Anyhoos, having worked like a dog these last two weeks I thought it best to go and have a rest and renew those friendships. So on Friday I caught the 10.30am GNER from Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverly. Thanks to the Guardian, my i-pod and the sensational Mulatu Astatke's Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974, the four and a half hours flew raced by. The jazz I was loving features in the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. Seriously, if you get your hands on it, it is phenomenal.

The lovely Wendy met me at Waverly and took me home. She had her work do that night, so after dressing herself up she took me to cocktails before setting me loose on the Edinburgh night. As she left me she mentioned that Hejira were playing at Whistle Binkies. As I looked somewhat vacant she told me the where (music hall on the corner of South Bridge and the Royal Mile) and the what (an acid jazz funk band featuring Adam Archibald and Phil McBride, both of whom I know loosely). Having nothing better to do I wandered up and in the process arranged to meet Rebekah there. Hejira were great, but then by playing to my love of funk they were always onto a winner. One of the essentials of being a great band is to clearly enjoy what you are doing and they were certainly giving the impression they were, although as Phil confessed the following night that wasn't strictly true... Rebekah turned up towards the end of the gig and we nattered away the midnight hours in some random Royal Mile pub.

The walk home was very an obstacle course of drunk Scots and the material that drunken Scots leave on the streets. Some of that material is pre-digested, and a whole lot of it isn't. I'd forgotten how different the late night crowd in Edinburgh is from the Oxford crowd. Given the facts that it is Christmas party season and that Edinburgh is just a wee bit bigger than Oxford this was still extraordinary. When I got home I put on a free CD I had got with Uncut magazine. I'm such a sucker for those... This particular CD was a celebration of the late John Peel's Festive 50. The Festive 50 is a chart that he would release each year based on his listener's votes. Some of the artists I recognised (The Wedding Present, who I saw late last year, Billy Bragg, who I'd like to see, and The Fall, who I wouldn't like to see), but much of the others were a mystery to me. However, part way through, in fact Track 9 of 15, I suddenly realised that I was really really enjoying a track. Some group called the Bhundu Boys were playing something called My Foolish Heart/Waerra. Looking at the sleeve notes I saw that Peel regarded the Bhundu Boys as some of the most perfect music he had ever heard. The BB come from Zimbabwe and combine African rhythms with, I guess, the blues. This resulted in me vainly scouring Edinburgh music shops all Saturday afternoon in the hope of finding an album. The scouring finally ended on Monday in Oxford's Virgin Music Store.

For Saturday evening I watched a stunning sunset (alhough to call it evening when sunset happens at 3.30pm is streching 'evening' a bit thin) from the Elephant House before meeting my old housemate/landlady Kirstin at the Filmhouse to see the movie The Devil's Miner, the story of a fourteen year old boy who mines silver in Cerro Rico, Bolivia. Cerro Rico is a mountain that has been mined for 400 years and the mining has cost an estimated eight million lives. The irony is that even though the conditions are horrific and that the mine is running out of silver there is still easily accessible silver there, that is if the miners were able to knock the top of the mountain off. But... the site is a UNESCO world heritage site and it can only be mined if the shape of the mountain isn't changed. So the miners dig deeper and more dangerously and thus more of them die each day.

Somehow I ended up Saturday at the house of Ian Braithwaite in Polwarth. I have never met Ian before, but he had mince pies and mulled wine, and Rebekah, Wendy, Phil and Fi were there and that seemed a good reason to go.

Sunday was spent hanging out with Wendy, mostly sitting in Costa Coffee on Prince's Street and avoiding the thousands of people below, and then exploring the German markets that spring up each winter in the Prince's Street gardens. We decided to take a ride on the Ferris wheel beside the Walter Scott monument (aka Thunderbird 1), and it was only as we started up that I remembered that I don't do heights all that well... Finally, I rounded up the day by taking a bus ride down to Portobello with Ruth to her cottage by the sea for tea and soup. We took it upon ourselves to walk along Portobello beach, me in my bare feet as I didnae need sand in my only pair of shoes...

I'd forgotten how much I enjoy hanging out with the people I know in Edinburgh. It's another place where I love and am loved in. Overwhelming to have three such places in my world that this is the case. Makes for a very comforting Christmas.

Time to run off now for more mulled wine and more mince pies. This time at the house of Sarah and Mike. Who have just asked me to be the Godfather for one of their twins. Again I remain overwhelmed...

Currently enjoying (as well as the Bhundu Boys), the Band, Everything But the Girls' Back to Mine (the second finest one after Groove Armada's majestic 2000 album) and Paul Weller's Stanley Road.

To brighten up my darkest day,
and the world fades away,
With her smile
-Wings of Speed, Paul Weller

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Silent Nine, Holy Nine

On Sunday the 18th of December hOME is having its carol service at St John's, Iffley Road. I've checked out the space that this is going to be held in and it is a very very cool space. This site has some info about the church, although fer some reason the images don't load in Mozilla so it's best viewed in IE (but you can use one of the funky 'view this page in an IE tab within Mozilla' extensions to do this).

I'm supposed to be finding a creative way to do Matthew 2:1-12, which is the tale of the wise men. I'm open to suggestions....

Anyway, everyone's welcome and for some strange reason I am rather excited about this service. Odd.

Propaganda is below:

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lost in the Plot

I'm completely addicted to Lost. It shames me to admit to being sucked into something as trivial as television programme, but I have to confess, Lost has me hook line and sinker.

In September Chris went to Canada and brought back the first series on DVD. Watched them all in far to short a space of time. Now someone is dealing me downloaded episodes from the second series, as soon as they screen in the States. Dealing being the key word. It feels like a drug, but it is so damn good...


Two quotes on community, one from Naomi and one from Wendy, although the one from Wendy comes via Justice so is somewhat paraphrased.

From Naomi:
"But in some cases it feels to me more like looking for new ways of doing things for the sake of it, a loss of confidence in the gospel (so other religions are seen as a source of inspiration, not a form of deception) and the power of the Spirit, an obsession with style over content to please ourselves and the intellectual in-crowd that we respect, with no real reference as to whether this glorifies ourselves or God more ... and an attitude that actually seems to communicate very little grace for those who don't 'get' it - including the very people who the gospel is supposed to be for - the outcasts, the uncool, the disabled, the poor (which every time God catches my attention I am reminded that I am part of... my spiritual poverty is embarrasing). We will 'do' things for 'them' that don't cost us too much (I'm especially talking about myself here) i.e. give money, write letters, but I don't see space for those we perceive to be these things to go and ask them to become friends with us, to be part of our communities, for the Spirit to give us the grace to be changed and challenged by their presence in our midst day to day..."

And from Wendy:
"Often when we're after community, what we are actually just after is a cool group of friends. Community isn't the goal of what we do in life, it's the fruit of what we do in life."

And a random paraphrased quote from Sayid in Lost:
"I came here with hopes, not expectations."

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I should have thought harder

Today I bought an i-pod. It's black and it is one of the 30Gb jobbies. You can get it engraved. In a fit of imaginationless thought I went with 'put your hands in the air like you just don't care'. Justice told me tonight I should have gone with 'Just an Object".

Damnit, he's so right.

You Can Call Me Al

"Cranberries!", Mr Richard. "You like Cranberries?"
"Um, sure, why not?"
"Def Leppard, Mr Richard!" shouts Akok as I twig that he is talking about music. I am sitting in a four wheel drive in Banjar, Central Java, and Akok is driving me back to my hotel so I can collect my power adapters.
"Lin-kin Parrrk, Mr Richard! Lin-kin Parrrk."
I start to giggle.
"Bon Jovi!"
More band names are coming.
"Nirrrvana, Mr Richard! Currrt Cobain". To emphasise this Akok points his fingers at his throat and pulls the trigger. The giggling has metamorphised into thigh slapping. This carries on for the ten minutes it takes to drive to the hotel. Then, of course, he has to spoil it all.
"Phil Collins, Mr Richard. Phil Collins".

Work has sent me to central Java for a week to teach flood forecasting. Banjar is about eight hours drive from Jakarta. Nobody has heard of it. It is a small town yet somehow over 100,000 people still call it home. But then on an island smaller than England where about 120 million people live, I suspect it is a small town.

Akok is my driver for the trip. He speaks very limited English (I speak very limited Indonesian; Hatur nuhun - thank you, goreng nasi - fried rice, ayam - chicken and pasi - can, being the sum total of my Indonesian), but when he does speak English he speaks much like English tourists speak to the inhabitants of the country they are visiting. So very loudly and slowly with hand gestures Akok will tell me what is happening. I find him extraordinarily funny. He is also an exceptionally gifted driver. No one can judge the exact amount of room it takes to pass a truck and get back on the right side of the road as well as he can. After the first few trouser filling moments of seeing this skill, I relax. Jane, having driven with you in London and seen how nervous you get, don't go to Indonesia...

Akok is also very fond of The Horn, as is, it seems, the whole of Java. Akok uses The Horn at the following times: When something is in the way. When something might be in the way. When he wants attention. When it is raining. When it is dark. When the Cranberries are on the tape deck. When he's happy. Akok is always happy.

Much of the roads in Java are exactly what you imagine they would be like. Narrow, rough two lane roads that somehow manage to accomodate a truck and two motorcycles in each direction. The motorcycles have a minimum of two people on them. Three people was common. I saw four on one averagely sized bike. Only the driver wore a helmet. This was small and the straps were not tied up. Surprisingly I only saw the aftermath of one accident. This was a truck that had tipped over while climbing a steep hill. It was precariously perched on a ledge overlooking a paddy field. Its cargo was in the process of being looted. On the steeper hills there are people waiting for trucks to stall. When they do, they all get behind it and push. I don't presume the Indonesian Highways Authority pays them for this. I also suspect that there are no Accident Compensation or National Insurance payouts here either.

Where there are motorways, these are just as scary. Technically there are two lanes in each direction. In practice this means four. The two lanes get three cars in them and hard shoulder is used as the fast lane. This is a risky business at best as there a lot of broken down vehicles

For more on third world driving, I recommend PJ O'Rourke's book Holidays in Hell.

The pace of work in Banjar is slow. But to be fair it did get up early. I arrived at work most mornings at about 8.15. The pace of work would then make an initial check on the flood forecasting system to see how many metres of rain fell over night. Then TPOW decides it's time for a sit down and a snack that comes in a box. TPOW mulls over this and then slowly wanders off. Around 12pm it comes back for a boxed lunch and a couple of cigarettes. A little while later you realise it has gone again. At about 3pm it appears again for another cigarette (although you suspect that while it was away, it was behind the bikesheds smoking). It then demands an hours hard time, before winding down for 5.30pm, when it slopes off. TPOW has, at all times, at least three friends.

On the third day I bought a tennis ball and spent parts of the fourth and fifth day bouncing it against a wall.

Also on the third day I went down to the local school and spoke, um, about being Richard. The reason I ended up there was the wife of Subuh, one of the Indonesians I was working with, was the head teacher. So at 1.30pm I found myself in front of a class of teenagers. I gave them a few minutes about me and then told them they could ask me anything they liked. There were a few questions about New Zealand. After a while the questions started to dry up, and because it was hot, I started to sweat. This provoked a young girl to ask "Are you nervous, Mr Richard?". "Always". We all had a good laugh and the questions came thick and fast, although "Mr Richard, you look like John Travolta", didn't really qualify as a question. Besides, one of us is short and fat and belongs to a cult, and the other is tall and gangly and belongs to a cult. In these situations there are the correct things to say: "Mr Richard, is New Zealand pretty?" should be answered by "Almost as pretty as Indonesia". Then there are incorrect things to say: "Mr Richard, what is your favourite Indonesian food?". This should NOT be answered by the first thing that comes into your head. Answering "tempi" resulted in me being fed tempi for the rest of the week.

After the questions finished, I had tea with the head teachers. And tempi. The mandatory photos came and went, I turned down a couple of marriage proposals and then I was done. It was utterly surreal and utterly delightful. It was one of the most entertaining experiences I have ever had, and I don't mean this in a patronising way.

However... it is much to my chagrin that I am nowhere near as culturaly adaptable as I thought I was. There were times in Java, a lot of times, that I really had no idea about what I was seeing and what I should be doing. I really struggled with the food. I simply cannot stomach fried rice for breakfast. To be fair, I generally can't stomach food for breakfast. Banjar has been hardly touched by western culture, and I found myself clinging to it when I could find it. For a long time I felt like Al in the Paul Simon song You can Call me Al.

A man walks down the street,
It's a street in a strange world.
Maybe it's the Third World.
Maybe it's his first time around.
He doesn't speak the language,
He holds no currency.
He is a foreign man,
He is surrounded by the sound, sound ....
Cattle in the marketplace.
Scatterlings and orphanages.
He looks around, around .....
He sees angels in the architecture,
Spinning in infinity,
He says, Amen! and Hallelujah!

I did have the currency (I was a millionaire for a morning as I carried the 1,200,000 rupiah to pay the hotel bill) and instead of cattle it was motorbikes in the marketplace. I'm not going to beat myself up about this, you have to start somewhere, it just came as a bit of a shock. I don't think I did very well and there were times when I deliberately tried to insulate myself from it. And that is patronising. I clearly didn't do it very well because I've been sick all week.

On the window of the hydrological office (more of a wee hut, really) I was working in there was a poster advertising a reward for the capture of the Bali bombers. There were pictures of the two bombmakers and pictures of the bloated heads of the suicide bombers. My colleague Tom descibed yesterday how and why the suicide bombers always leave behind an intact head. This resulted in my colleague Emily running from the office. And the Indonesians would cheerfully point out that the masterminds were Malay. In the same breath they would mock me for putting on insect repellant and tell me how much I could look forward to Avian flu.

When I came to leave Banjar, all of a sudden TPOW decided it needed to make up for lost time. It also decided it needed some reports done. About 6 copies of them. Then it needed engineering explained. Finally it declared it needed another report because it hadn't read the first one. This took about five hours and nearly resulted in violence.

Akok managed to negotiate the drive home and after four hours of delay in Singapore and sleeping pill induced sleep I made it home.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

High in the Sky

I'm posting this at 40,000 feet. Due to the wonders of wireless internet and Boeing and Singapore Airlines I can surf the web, sorry, work, while a 747 takes me to Singapore. And then on to Java tomorrow morning. This is pretty sweet.

Which is not entirely a good reflection on how I really am. I'm feeling rather drained emotionally and physically. I've been putting a lot out recently, some on other people, but mostly on myself. I think sometimes when I give it is done selfishly, that is I also give to my own ends, whether wittingly or unwittingly. As a consequence I think I give too much and then I resent it. It all becomes a bit unsustainable, really. I've been pondering this for some time now and have been rather useless in looking after myself. I need to become aware when I am burning myself out and I need to realise that there are times when I need to take energy in and that there are times when I need to leave well enough alone.

Right now I'd like to give the screaming child in front of me something. I'm not a nice person on long haul flights.

The way this flight is scheduled I'm landing at midnight UK time but in the morning Singapore time so I don't realy get a night so I best work now and then get some shuteye.

Au revoir from somewhere over the Middle East

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Higher Lower

Most of us have been in the situation where we know a fact and we want to demonstrate that knowledge by playing the game of higher-lower with a friend. On Saturday night as I walked through the streets of Hammersmith to see 'The Constant Gardener' I played that game with Jane. 'Jane', I said as we walked past a Starbucks, 'guess how many new Starbucks open every day.' 'In the world?' she asked. 'Yes'. She paused for a second and then said 'three'.

'Damn, yes' I replied instantly deflated.

Don't you hate that.

The Constant Gardener was fantastic. Lots of handheld camera action set in the slums and wilds of Africa, as well as the Eurostar platform at London Waterloo. Good tense conspiracy action for those of us who don't like big nasty multinationals.

Back to the higher-lower thing I'm trying to drink less. I don't drink a lot but I do drink often. So this week I am seeing if I can go with out. Aside from the instinctive purchase of a beer with my sunday lunch I haven't drunk since Friday night. I've been making it hard on myself by hanging out with Chris last night, and by arranging two meet at two different pubs tonight and then again tomorrow night and then by going to dinner with Rhys, Monica, Megan and Jane on Friday... Not to mention the free alcohol on tap on the Singapore Airlines flight on Saturday. My goal is not to cut it all out, but to not drink as a default activity when out and about. This is going to be tricky.

Java on Saturday....

Friday, November 11, 2005

Boom Boom

A man goes to a zoo. But when he gets there, all he sees is one dog.

It was a shitzu.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

My country needs me

There's an article on the Beeb website about New Zealanders being called home.

The article is here

But I'm choosing to use the get out clause vocalised by Jonathan Hunt:

New Zealand High Commissioner to the UK, Jonathan Hunt, says timing is key - expats must be ready to make the move, and some may need a little encouragement. "I say enjoy what you're doing, but don't fight when your own feelings tell you when it might be time to go back.

And I'm not ready yet.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Looking for meaning in song lyrics

So if you got a trumpet, get on your feet,
brother, and blow it,
If you've got a field, that don't yield,
well get up and hoe it.
(There She Goes, My Beautiful World - Nick Cave)

On the 3rd of November I quietly observed the fact that I have been in the United Kingdom now for four years. Crikey. Where does 40% of a decade go?? Now I qualify for the indefinite right to remain. I originally planned to be away from NZ for two years, and somehow I kept saying to myself "two more years", and after two years I was still saying that. I'm not sure I'm saying that anymore, and I get the feeling that with too much provocation I might end up taking SQ321 back to Singapore and then on to Auckland Airport. Yep, two more years might be a stretch. But... I reckon a year might not be out of the question as I will be able to to Charles Clark's citizenship test and nab a passport in a years time. When I originally quit NZ it was to see a bit of the world, but mostly to see my friends Sarah, Craig, and David, who had moved across in 2001 and 1999 respectively. Sarah, Craig and David have long since gone home, and I have seen them in NZ this year. Of my remaining kiwi friends in the UK, Rhys, Monica, Jane, Megan, Steph, Grace and Jane, Rhys and Mon are off home in about four weeks. I will miss them.

I spoke briefly with my friend Wendy the other day about community and about our commitment to it. Wendy's observation was that it is easy for people to move onto other things and places under the guise of 'it is what I need to do', but that very few people take the time to consider the effect that this will have on the people who are left behind. She figured that if you are a contributer to a community, be it a defineable one such as Hammer and Tongue, or a more intangible one such as my group of friends, then it is not simple to up and leave, but that you should consider the implications on that community. She also argued that the community should fight harder to keep them there. I'm not entirely sure what I think about this, especially since I am not the confrontational type, but I think it bears consideration.

Which is not to say that Rhys and Monica should stay, they go home with my blessing and love; this is more of a reflection of myself. The tricky thing about living abroad is that you invariably split your community and unless you can create this sort of solution, you're kinda screwed. And don't think that I haven't thought through the practicalities of such an enterprise.

And really I have to think long and hard about my movements. The scary thing is that I have a fair idea about what it will be that breaks the proverbial camels back and will result in me going home, and it's a reason that I have mocked a friend over in the past.


Last night I had dinner with my friends Sarah and Mike, who live up the street from me. At least I thought it was just the three of us. It turned out that there would also be four other people. And these four people just so happened to be single. Sigh... lovely people, one and all, but once I spotted this, and decided that it amused me rather than annoyed me, I resolved to do nothing about it. Funny that maybe because they were all a little bit older than me I felt I couldn't really relate to them. Felt a little bit out of my depth really. Odd experience.

I'm off to Indonesia in ten days for nine days. It's all work, I'm afraid, and I'm shitting myself a bit about it (don't really know the material I'm teaching). But I reckon I can wing it. Banjar is the destination. Should have some great material for blogging on my way back. Might get an ipod on the way home.

Have got tickets to the Go! Team next year. Chris (fellow GT junkie), Kate and hopefully Jane will join me. I've done a big thing and lent her my CD to convert her. The last time I lent it out Jon gave it back a year later.

Tonight out with Chris and Jim. Gonna watch the Daily Show and then find a pub.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Hit Me

The beers might be small and expensive, but at least in Norway the drugs come in lemon.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Mixing Your Messages

On Sunday the Observer reported at length the tale of one of its reporters out on the booze in Reading, which, I suppose, is one way to dull the pain of being in Reading, and how they were each sold 32 units of alcohol (the equivalent of a large bottle of whiskey each) by the same barmaid. The story took the tone of a sermon about how the drinks and pub companies are unashamedly fueling the drunkeness on our streets.

The trouble is, the point was somewhat undermined by the following advert, which was placed directly under the story. And yes, I am aware that this entry is directly above a rant concerning the loss of my local pub.

Marlborough Sounds

My local pub, the Marlborough House, has recently changed hands. Where it was once run by a local couple it's now in the hands of Pub Master appointed manager. I used to love walking the hundred yards from my front door to the pub. There was always a small collection of locals in varying stages of intoxication, one of whom I once saw directing traffic on the Abingdon Road at about 12.30am. It was very much a locals pub, and when you walked in the door for the first time a whole lotta faces turned to look. The pub was fortunate enough to have a cricket team. In my first match for them I knocked up 67 and in the second I managed 39 and that was enough to get me accepted as a local. The pub had a sufficient collection of memerobilia to be tasteful, and upstairs there were the mandatory pictures of dogs playing snooker and poker.

Last night Chris and I walked in. As I opened the front door the barman got a shock and was forced to take his feet of the table and his eyes away from the telly. There was no one else in the room and nor was there anything on the walls. Chris and I asked for a pint of 1664. It took the barman about ten minutes to pour the pint. We took a table in the corner, although we could have sat anywhere, except, of course, at the table with the telly on it. The beer was off. We chatted, we knocked the pints off and we left, resolving not to come back.

I need a new local.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Go South Young Man

Hullo now from Oxford. I've now returned from a week of bliss in Tromsø. Aside from (although maybe because of) the frighteningly expensive cost of eating and drinking there, I had a great time. The reason for being there was to attend the ACTIF conference and give a paper on a flood-forecasting system that my lovely friend Emma had written. Due to the same reasons that she couldn't present the paper that she had written for the conference I went to in Australia, again I was forced out of my comfortable life in Oxford but this time instead of it being the searing heat of Australia I was driven north to the frozen wastes of the Arctic.

Life is hard sometimes.

The ACTIF conference was largely a academic/bureaucratic affair on the uncertainty in flood-forecasting (think our inability to predict where and how much rain will fall with much confidence, for example) with limited scope for applied case studies, which was where I came in. The obvious question that comes up a lot is 'why on earth was it is in Tromsø?. By the way, it is not 'Tromso' but 'Tromsø' when you pronounce Tromsø you need to turn the ø into a quick 'er' sound, and not an 'o'. For a start Tromsø is a lot less frozen than you think it is. In fact, its coldest recorded temperature (-18C) is warmer than that recorded at Benson (-20C), which is about a mile from where I work. But the principal reason that it was held in Tromsø was that this is where one of the organisers lives. I can't say I was that upset about it.

Tromsø is quite simply magnificent. Hell, here's a picture. It's the view from the room that I spent five nights in:

I miss this view.

A lot.

The country pulled together people from about 25 countries, including the UK, NZ, the USA, Columbia, Oz, Denmark, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Belarus, Iran, Rumania, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Slovenia, Ukraine, Russia, China, Italy, Spain... There were only about 100 delegates, so from many countries there was only one delegate. This made for a whole lot of meeting and greeting. The beautiful thing about this was that almost everybody was up for it. As we all nursed and bemoaned and laughed at our £5 'pints' (pints a way to generous a word for the 400mL glasses I was served) the ice, as it were, was broken. I knew a couple of people, darren and Paul, from work, and there were two Belgian girls, Severien and Siegi, that I had never met but have dealt with a lot as they are clients of my companies. Then there was Albrecht, the Dutchman who organised the last ACTIF conference (see here for my coments on that one - where the hell does a year go?), and he had a colleague Micha, and with that we had the bones of a drinking posse. On the Sunday night we managed to add Brummie Tim and Jan, a colleague of the Belgians.

Come the brewery tour that wasn't (a long and dull story - essentially the £40 that we each paid only covered entry to the brewery, a meal and a half glass of wine that Darren, using his authority as conference organiser and indignation at being ripped off, managed to turn into a 'pint' of beer), and the realisation that some of had unwittingly eaten seal and/or whale as part of the meal (yes, that is a legitimate part of the diet up in those parts), those of us left started wandering the streets of Tromsø in search of a pint that cost less than £40 and didn't come with a side of marine mammal. By this stage we had picked up the Dutch Maaike, the lovely and engaging Anna from Sweden, and the ever-so-quiet but very pleasant Markus from Finland, as well as 'three missed planes' Dave from the UK Environment Agency.

It's hard to put into words, but the vibe in the group was really nice. There were no knob-ends of people, no-one dominated the conversation, and we all seemed to become good friends, despite having met in quite odd circumstances. If I could bottle the vibe and live off it I would. About the way I can think of describing it that it is like crawling into bed and listening to the rain on the roof and feeling all snug. And that probably sounds naff, but that's how it feels. The following night we added a trio of Italians, and another dutchman and all talked about nothing and nursed pints in Skalvern, a pub that had seemed to become my local (I went there three times in five nights). the group photo is below (the names are for my benefit so I don't forget).

Cinzia, 'three missed planes' Dave, Anna, Markus, Moi, Brummie Tim (but he's behind the pole and you can't see him), Darren, Albrecht, Micha, Severien, Jan, Luc and Enrica. Siegi, who is expecting had long since offed to bed. To the right (and out of shot) is a bunch of loud-singing-glass breaking Norweigans who seemed to being singing an Arctic version of Bliss, the New Zealand drinking song. Ja-ja-ja-ja-jah-ja. Forget about the last one, get yourself another. So long as you have the deed to your house and a promise of your firstborn when you attempt to buy a round, that is.

By the time I managed to get round to presenting my paper the following day, and, with the belief that even though she hadn't got my desperate email for prayer that Jane would still have prayed in hindsight, it went really well. It was not really my goal but I seemed to make my audience laugh several times (try to remember, Richard, that this is a academic conference and not new-faces in Tromsø comedy scene) and I was complemented on my paper by several random people. Nice. And with that, a first multinational contingent made a dash for Tromsø airport (a surprising amount of flights - about a dozen 737s each day - come in to Tromsø each day, and most of them are full, which isn't bad for a city of 60,000). This time the group was comprised of myself, the two Italians girls, a Chinese man living in Holland, a Columbian living in Spain, and (you can't make this stuff up) an Ethiopian living in Norway. This group was a brilliant way to end the conference. We all sat at the airport and laughed some more.

By the time we landed at Oslo, it was down to just Cinzia, Enrica and myself, as we were all staying in Oslo that night. Despite it being 10.30pm, the three of us wandered the streets of Oslo to find food (no Scandanavian Airlines - budget or traditional - serve food for free to the Economy classes). This required dodging all the prostitutes that were on every street corner and offering a variety of goods and services to ageing Norwegian men. This just seemed desparately sad. Almost all of them were African women and it didn't take much to wonder at the pimps who no doubt ran them and the journey they must have taken to get to Oslo. With one last 'pint' I escorted the girls to their hotel (what a gentleman) and then ran the gauntlet back to mine.

Tromsø: what a fantastic place. Beautiful, but like any great place it is the people that make it so. Thanks to everybody who made it so, be they Belgian, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Italian... or be they Jim, Matt, Tom, Jon or Jane who prayed for me, or a Canadian-Czech guy in the blogosphere who encouraged me. Life had been hard before I left. I'm not saying it isn't anymore, but I needed to have an experience like this.

Did I see the Northern Lights? Did I Bollocks.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Go North Young Man

Goddag from Tromsø. That would be in Norway. At the top part. NORTH of the Arctic circle. I am here for a conference; I am speaking on Wednesday. I learnt the other day that the definition of the Arctic Circle is that it is the line of latitude above which there is at least one day that the sun never dips below the horizon, i.e, the line of latitude that marks the midnight sun. It also marks the point of the all day darkness in winter, for the pessimists in you.

Theoretically it is also a place where you can see the Northern lights. That would also require a little less cloud in the sky...

It's a beautiful place - there will be photo's to come later in the week when I get home - and a weird mix of suburbia and barren wilderness. Out my window at the Rica Ishavshotel I can see the sound, the bridge, snow capped mountains with waterfalls and the amazing Tromsdalen Church, or Arctic Cathedral.

Before the business side of things here started, I spent Saturday walking round the island alone, ok, not alone but with a stuffed cow (long story), and asking God a few things. I think I found a few of the questions I need to start exploring (that will make sense to Matt, Jim, Patrick, Tom and pretty much no one else till I write more), which was useful.

Tonight (fifteen minutes from now), I am off to Macks, the world's northern most brewery. Although being the northernmost anything here is a little bit taken for granted. I am sure the world's most northernmost stuffed cow is in my room. And in actual fact, there is a brewery in Murmansk, Russia, that is further north.

More to come when I return from the brewery. At NOK59, or £5 a pint, it's very likely I won't be under the influence. This would be an expensive place to get drunk...

Monday, October 10, 2005

An Epistle to the Oxfordites

The following is from a friend of mine. It is a very late letter from last Christmas. Due to his request for anonymity/paranoia that the feds will get him I have removed any reference to him. He shall hence be known as Mr K.

Every Christmas letter should be written in this style.


Mr B.
You jammy bastard. I do not know how you managed to time it, but your card made its way to me on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, damn your britches and damn your duck pond! I of course look the complete prat as I never sent you one. Until now. And it doesn’t support a charity but I am a complete prick and stand to inherit a small share of a small forest so I am as keen as an Asian in a karaoke bar and insist that as much paper be wasted as soon as possible, as fast as possible, where ever possible.

I regret to inform you that my loot was neither large, nor shiny nor made in Japan this Christmas past. Some of it did fold, but there were far less zeros than there should have been. In fact the loot this year was rather light, I trust the same cannot be said for you. However I am more than happy to report that the beer was cold and the food plentiful. The belt has been let out more than one notch and this occurred well before 4:30pm on Christmas Day. I am delighted to inform you, sir, that in my new position as a CLERK I was rather spoilt as far as wine, beer, food and lunching went. In fact I have had three rather pleasant and relaxed business lunches and one dinner in the past four weeks in some of the best eateries that CITY 1 and CITY 2 have to offer. All completely over rated and utter wank fests but there you are. Shipping companies really seem to like us. Don’t know why.

Do not hurry home for summer Christmas’ sir as they are wet and windy and not the ones that make up the memories of your youth. If one is going to be cool and wet at Christmas, one may as well stay in England. Trust that you had a white Christmas. Ours was verging on grey.

New Year’s was a complete write off. We won’t even go there. Nor was there a day at the beach with cricket, as the weather has stayed consistently wet and I hate getting sand out of various wrinkles and crevices that seem to creep up on you when your back is turned or as you pluck hair out of your nose.

I trust that your mooching paid dividends especially as far as snogging went and that you took suitable precautions if you weren’t being too fussy. I hope that you haven’t caught anything too new nor too exciting. Trust that the slam poet in Prague was … well… slamming and the beer flowed freely and without much fuss. Trust that you have seen ‘Team America. World Police’ because it is damned hilarious and worth a watch after a beer or two… with a port chaser.

The force is with us… always.

Happy Freakin New Year. (Where’s my jet pack!!?)

Mr K.

PS Guess who got a ‘shot’ chess set for Christmas? (Courtesy of Mr and Mrs X). I await a chance to match drunken wits against you sir upon such time that fortune favours us both and smothers us in the ample bosom of favourable timing.

Sunday, October 09, 2005


For the sake of completion and humility I am going to keep this post up, but I've decided I don't hold the opinion below all that tightly. I'm also willing to accept that I might be wrong and that Jim (read the comment below) is more likely to be more informed.

Flakey? Moi? Yup.

Go to the Wikipedia entry on DDT. When you get there read the section on the environmental effects of the pesticide. In particular, read the piece on the effects on humans. Surprising, huh? Then go and read the section on the effect that DDT has on malaria.

So DDT might kill a few fish, but think about the number of human lives it would save.

Battle Scars

On the road that I drive down to get access to my house, one of these is often parked. Apparently it is 1.94m wide, which is an arse in the narrow streets where I live. Last night it was illegally parked and came close to preventing access to my street.

I feel an almost irresistable urge to kick it whenever I see it. Perhaps if I do the owners will appreciate it because it will look like they have actually taken the car off road once in its life. And do you think that when Toyota named this beast Amazon they had any sense of irony?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

High Fidelity 2

Ok, so we made the tape. I broke some of the rules. There are two by The Go! Team (but we knew I would do that, didn't we?) and two in the middle by Taylor Mali.

The complete track listing is:
Ladyflash - The Go! Team
Welcome Home - Dave Dobbyn
Good People - Jack Johnson
Dry the Rain - The Beta Band
Call Me Names - The Specials
Superstylin' - Groove Armada
All the Way to Reno - REM
Amen Omen - Ben Harper
The Impotence of Proofreading - Taylor Mali
Playing Scrabble With Eddie - Taylor Mali
Fake Plastic Trees - Radiohead
I Believe - Stevie Wonder
Lost in the Plot - The Dears
Evil - Interpol
Everyone's a VIP to Someone - The Go! Team
Redemption Song - Bob Marley

I figure it's a reasonable slant on what I'm about. Had to leave out the eleven minute live version of Sultans if Swing, Danny Solis' One Match Fire, Coldplay's What If, Tears for Fears' and Groove Amarda's Pharoahs and a whole lotta Eels 'cos to really appreciate them you have to listen to the whole album.

And there is a nice comedic spoken word break in the middle, which I suspect will annoy more than amuse....

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

High Fidelity

My friend Grace has asked me to make her a mix tape. As soon as she suggested it I thought of the movie (ok, and book) High Fidelity, where record shop owner Rob has to assemble a mix tape for his then girlfriend:

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter-- there's a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You've got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention...

I like music. I am almost always with it, when I work I indulge, and quite frankly, I almost always use it in the definition that I create for myself. Right now I'm listening to Pop Art by the Pet Shop Boys (they write the best pop music and Pop Art has great minimalist album art) and exulting in the news that Jack Johnson is coming to the UK in March. I am hypocritically intolerant of overly manufactured music, submerge myself in fine lyrics and can air-guitar every note of Dire Straits live album Alchemy. I like a lot of my collection, but are willing to accept that there are too many greatest hits (the Stone Roses, Bob Dylan, the Jam, Bob Marley and Neil Diamond spring to mind) in my collection, especially where those collections are the only body of work by those artists, and there are a few too many lemons (TWO albums by the Corrs, but then they do look good, and Orbital's The Altogether, which I could not get into despite loving Illuminate, which I heard in a CD shop in Auckland in 2000). There are two hundred plus albums in there and I have to get fourteen songs down. This is a lot of pressure here. It's like a little window on my soul. I gotta be true to myself but I've also got to make a balanced tape that she will actually want to listen to. Man, I hope she likes this...

I'm thinking about that opening corker, and I'm thinking The Go! Team's Panther Dash. I'm also wondering if there is some room for some of Taylor Mali's poetry, who incidentially is coming to Oxford next month just to compere a Hammer and Tongue slam. How sweet is that? then I'm thinking some Frausdots and the Beta Band's Dry the Rain. But the rest of it, blimey, that is going to take some thinking...

Usefully the web is crawling with stuff about this process and there are some instructions on making a mix tape here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

You think you know who you are. You have no idea.

Tonight I took my hat and scarf for their first winter outing. When the woollen coat comes out we know we're in trouble.

The reason for the outing was it was cold out and I wanted to go see the movie Crash at the Ultimate Picture Palace. The last movie I went to was Downfall (grim, but Bruno Ganz was astonishing as Hitler) and that was in March. I'm kind of avoiding talking about Crash because it is a movie that has hit me hard. Maybe it is because I am a white middle class man and what happens in this movie is so beyond what I experience that this movie is so powerful.

The movie is an exploration of the interactions between the Black, White, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian cultures in Los Angeles and the prejudices that inevitably arise. There are moments in the film that made me sit bolt upright and there were moments in the film when tears were a mere blink away. The movie pieces together five concurrent stories and as these five stories move in and out of each other there is the odd convenient coincidence.

Damn, I think I'm sounding like a movie reviewer.

So I'm going to stop that and try to explain just what it has done to my head. It has made me acutely aware of some of my prejudices. This is not to say that I should put myself over the rack because of this (the movie points this out) but also it endeavours to explain the origins of some of those, as well (for me) revealing some of the origins of the fears and prejudices that exist within the other cultures that the film explores.

Amidst all the corruption, depravity, despair and hopelessness of the characters, from the fall of the beat cop, the powerlessness of the senior cop and the prejudice of the DA's wife, there is also the possibility for a character to experience reformation. God (with a capital G), may there exist such hope and such openess in real people.

This film has not left me with a feeling that the world will heal itself, but instead it shows that within the lowest parts of the human experience there remains a hope that humanity has the capacity to prevail. But it is not so naive to state that all people will rise to the moment, and that we are all fallible and that sometimes there are tragic mistakes.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Matt has pointed me in the direction of a new feature on blogger that requires anybody placing a comment to undergo a word verification test. The font the word appears in can be a bit unreadable. If that happens, just persevere and find one you can read...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Three Down

Hey Patrick,
Happy Birthday! Here's to an excellent year.


(That's three down in the list of to-do's. Just got to wax the Malaysians and update the sidebar. I've eaten and said au revoir to Steve and Flick but didn't feel the need to do that on-line. However I am not sure I am done shooting comments spammers.)

Comments Spam

I post, I get spam in my comments. Often it takes about thirty seconds. Please make it stop. I don't want to prevent anonymous comments.

Why must people persist in ruining good things by trying to make a buck by pointing me in the directions of their ceiling fan website (I honestly got one from them) or candy?

"On the Candidates' Blogs, Writing Right and Wrong
As a former Catholic schoolboy from the Bronx, surely Fernando Ferrer knows that falsehoods can trip you up.
I have been searching for a good blog. I think yours is really nice and I am boing to bookmark it.

See my candy corporate gift store. It has lots of candy corporate gift related items. "

Piss off you bastards and leave me alone.

Under the Weather

Last Thursday I went to the Holywell Music Rooms, a venue I was last at to see the Hammer and Tongue Oxford Literary Festival poetry slam in April, to see the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN) lecture on denial with respect to climate change. The speakers were Georges Marshall of COIN and Monbiot of, well, George Monbiot. They began the evening with introducing the fact that climate change is happening and that despite all the evidence and despite all the associated bad shit, we, as a species, are doing nothing about it. That is to say we are sleepwalking towards disaster. The question was therefore, why are we doing nothing about it? Having just read Michael Crichton's State of Fear, I did wonder about the somewhat bigger question, but I'm prepared to let that go. I'm also willing to accept that one shouldn't get the basis for science from a Michael Crichton novel. But... I'm also quite keen to hear the converse argument whether that be denial that it is happening, or a less dramatic doomsday scenario. Which is NOT to say that I am living in denial, I just want to have a more informed view.

The Georges spoke to a packed audience and I got the feeling that they knew they were on home territory, which without being too stereotypical, was largely comprised of Oxford Guardian readers; of which I am one. However Monbiot riled me up on several occasions. He started by linking global warming with the Judeao-Christian myth. He did it as follows: J-C is a myth that assumes a progression (the coming/second-coming of the Messiah) as opposed the circular nature of Hinduism, Buddhism and Animist religions (I noted that he left Islam out of the progressive religions), the progression is associated with growth, which is development, which leads to increasing consumption of resources, which leads to increased discharge of CO2, which finally gives us global warming. I have just two issues here. Firstly, I think he is being disingenious here (it's easy and popular to blame the Christians) by simplying the J-C myth to that (there's a little more to it than that), and secondly I seem to recall communism (a somewhat athiest ideology) being not that helpful towards the environment. If you're talking about tangible ecological disasters (which is NOT to deny the tangibility of climate change), then the biggest one would be the wreck that is the Aral Sea, and there are relatively significant ones like Chernobyl, and those would be where? But this is a little off the point, but I would like to stress that are far as I call tell the J-C myth is not the same as capitalism.

Monbiot succeeded in riling me a second time when he dismissed nuclear power as a viable source of energy. I don't have a problem with nuclear power. I have a problem with nuclear weapons, but they are not the same thing. But for the sake of brevity I'm willing to let this one go. I don't think we should dismiss glow in the dark energy out of hand. It kills less people than car accidents, it's just when it does go wrong, it's really bad. Like a jumbo jet, I guess. Effectively it comes down to risk and how we respond to it.

Where the Georges did succeed was in provoking a few questions:
  • Is it necessarily a bad thing if oil becomes so expensive that air travel becomes the domain of the rich? Effectively it is already, it's just that we don't see ourselves with our credit card debts as rich.
  • Can we live with a certain amount of environmental damage and therefore climate change? No matter what we do, we are going to change our environment so how about we accept that we are going to raise the earth's temperature by a degree every hundred years, but fight tooth and nail to keep it at that rate? Monbiot suggested that in order to maintain the status quo we would have to become 90% energy efficient. I'd like to believe that is possible but doubt that it is.
  • Apparently the earth would be cooling naturally now but due to our polluting we are causing it to warm. So actually we are almost holding it in balance. Wow. So... do we want it to cool? Ok, so that was a bit silly, but it is 11.30pm and I'm tired.
I'd like to come to a conclusion here but I am tired and I'm rambling so I'm going to stop now.

notes to self

  • rant about george monbiot
  • wish patrick a happy birthday
  • update sidebar
  • wax malaysians
  • shoot comments spammers
  • say good bye to steve and flick
  • eat, damnit.

Lazy Student

That lazy student from below has a play on tomorrow night at Oxford Brookes University Western campus. The play is Alberto's 'thesis' for his masters in humanitarian studies. It starts at 8.30pm and concludes with a thirty minute discussion.

Get yo' ass there!

I still can't pretend to be street.

Whatever that means.

Fashion - Turn to the Left!

It was Elizabeth's birthday yesterday. Being the gentleman I am, I didn't ask her age. To celebrate we went out to Anuba, a new bar on Park End Street. Can you see what they've done there? Being the sickeningly punctual man that I am I was there for the opening at 7.30pm. Four years in this country and I still can't get the hang of continental time and give up on lifetimes anal retentitiveness. Here's a tip. If it starts at 7.30, tell me it starts at 8. Three years in the 'shire and I've never been out on Park End Street, despite that Matt and Gareth are often found spinning at Thirst bar, a mere 20m further up the road. Sad really. Anuba is managed by Rob, a Scottish born south african looking bloke. Rob goes out with Jo, who designs jewellery. Having spent a lot of time talking to them last night I thought I'd throw in a quick plug - you can peruse her creations here.

Elizabeth is into fashion. A year and a half or so ago she did a colours course, and she decided she need to practice her new found skills. So for an hour I sat in front of a mirror and studied the imperfections of my face while she draped various colours on me. The hour passed, I grew familiar with the acne that should really have passed before I hit 30 and then learnt that I was a warm and deep autumn. I enjoy throwing that fact into conversation.

Earlier this year Elizabeth put on a fair trade fashion show at part of Women's Week in Oxford. She managed to commandeer the Oxford Town Hall, as well as a bagpipe player. When it comes to bagpipe players, I believe you could murder one in front of 100 people and there would be no witnesses. Two weeks ago I heard one through the traffic in Kuala Lumpur. The bastards get everywhere. Since then she has managed to go from strength to strength. On the 8th of October she is putting on another such show. Except this time it is in Paris as part of Paris Fashion Week. This little fact just happened to creep out in conversation last night. There is a lot to admire in her humility. I was floored when she told me. You can read more about the show here.

So last night I hung out with fashion designers, jewellery makers, night club owners, models as well as the usual crowd of trainee vicars, graduated vicars, hairdressers, actresses, lazy students, and youth workers. Once DJ Gareth finished spinning his tunes (only to be hijacked at the end by DJ Matt who needed to spin Peyton's Higher Ground - which in turn was hijacked by Simon, the co-owner) we were ushered up to the VIP lounge at the Bridge. Now, I'm a pub man most of the time - give me a pint and the associated old man's decor (preferrably with pictures of dogs playing cards or snooker) and I am a content old soak - so I felt particulary smug strutting past all the plebs in the crowded non-VIP lounge into the slightly more crowded VIP lounge. But as by now I'd made some new friends, been wowed my friends achievements and (more importantly) knocked back three Moscow Mules I was in heaven. I need to get to know more bar owners...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Pacific Blue - It's really Choice

To get from NZ to Ostralia I flew with Pacific Blue. They are the cheap version of Virgin Airlines. Very very no-frills. The flight that David and I used to cross the Tassie ended up being delayed by three and a half hours due to a nice duvet of fog. You should know that the flight was supposed to leave at 7am and that we had been up since 3.45am. I had got to the airport via Kamal the taxiu driver. Kamal assumed that traffic signs were mere suggestions, the road was his personal fiefdom and that other vehicles were trespassers. He also saw no need to slow down due to the weather and would high beam anybody who got in his way.

When we boarded the plane at about 6.30, the fog was pretty thick. It was clear to everyone that we weren't going to be leaving at 7am, or even 8am. The Pacific Blue cabin crew realised this at the very beginning so from the outset started to amuse us. Actually, I think they were amusing themselves. They also told us that we were going to stay on board because if we left the aircraft we would lose our slot in the departures order.

The following are genuine quotes from the cabin crew, Mack, Melissa and Sanome:
"Thanks for flying Pacific Blue, that's really choice"
"Hi, I'm Mack and we're going to try and make your flight as sweet as"
(To me when I declined sugar for my tea) "You obviously don't need any sugar, you're clearly sweet enough"
(From the pilot) "we should be away soon as the weather is increasing". Increasing to what???
"Welcome to Brissie, it's a choice place"
"Make sure when you get to customs that you declare all your food, cos if you don't you'll get the rubber glove treatment and you probably don't want that."

OK, so it doesn't actually read that humoursly, and yeah you probably had to be there, but when compared to the captain on the BA flight that I flew on that was two hours late who never said a word to us till we were approaching Heathrow and then said "Thank you for flying BA and we hope you enjoyed the flight. We hope to see you again soon. Cabin crew, prepare the cabin for landing", I know who I'd rather have serving me.

Fly Pacific Blue. It's cheap and it's choice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Hey Ow

It's been four weeks now. I am sick at the sight of my suitcase and the presence of my laptop backpack makes me want to drop it from the six floor of the Micasa Hotel. This is my current 'home' till Sunday when Singapore Airlines and the Oxford-Heathrow express take me home.

Going home has been an interesting experience. When I first arrived I thought it all seemed a bit provincial, and I started to notice the New Zealand accent. To be honest I was rather condescending towards it. OK, so I was very arrogant. After a week or so, I realised I was really enjoying myself. It was also nice to look at the issues of the day in NZ and realise that it's actually a good thing to be worried about little things. Don't get me wrong here, issues are as big or as small as they need to be, but given the choice of having to worry about the levee breaking or the price of petrol hitting $1.50, give me the petrol each and every day. When I first arrived the big story of the day was to do with Helen Clark, the PM, being asked to explain why her motorcade was doing 170 km/h on the road (the speed limit is 100km/h) and when the police motorcade drivers went to court she denied she was aware that the car had been going that fast. Most people would agree that unless you are in the space shuttle or an Malaysian Taxi, it is not that hard to spot that you are in a vehicle that is driving quicker than normal. Which goes to say that unless she regularly gets driven at 170km/h then I think she lied. But I would rather have a PM that lies about that than a PM that lies then starts a war based on that lie, or a PM who lies about what a desperate emigrant threw overboard and then whens an election based on that lie (she never did drop a baby, did she John?). I like that NZ has littler issues. Which is not to say that they are not important!

But issues aside, it was staying with Simon that did it for me. Simon lives not far from Auckand city centre and very close to Ponsonby Road. Simon has carved out a little world for himself, and in his words, he finally "understands how to live in Auckland" and from what I could see, it was a life that had many things in common with the life I live in the UK. May be it was there all the time and I had to go to the UK to see it. Wandering round the near central blocks made me start to ponder the reason I still live in the UK.

I've often been asked what I love about Oxford and what people should do when they go to NZ. Supposedly I'm an expert on both things. The reason I love Oxford is the people. That is what makes Oxford a great place to live. Just like what Rhys said in an email to me:

Like you say - NZ _was_ great. No, I take that back. A country is never great. It's the people that make a place great.

Auckland is also a great place. There are some good places to live, there are some fun things to do, but there are also some stupendously good people there too. The Simons, Muzz's, Ians, Sarahs, Craigs, Alices, Davids of this world will guarantee that. In the same way, Rotorua, a place I wouldn't normally go will be just as great cos that's where Jolinda lives, and Wellington will be great because that's where Chris, Sarah, Michael, Karen and wee Charlotte live. And damnit all, that is just the people that I know. The richness of these friendships makes me have a hell of hope for this world. Sure, there are bastards out there, and people will still try to screw me over, just like from time to time I'll be tempted to do the same to them. Maybe it's a bit cheesy, and I know I have a cynical streak in me, but when it comes to the human being, I believe that they are intrinsically good. Leaving NZ again yesterday just about made me cry. I'm not sure how many more times I can put myself through that. The names above are people I am going to know and love till the day I die, and the fact that there are about ten names there is pretty damn cool.

Yes I know I get repetitive sometimes on the topic of my friends, but sod it, this is my blog, get your own if you don't like it.

Before other cities get jealous, Oxford, Edinburgh and London are also great places.

I've been listening to Conscious Roots - The awakening of the Aotearoa Roots Movement, a collection of kiwi Dub. It reminds me that New Zealand song writers are some of the finest in the world. No, they are the finest. (Best poet I've read - Don McGlashan of the Muttonbirds.)

And Sarah and Craig introduced me to bro'Town. It's an animated cartoon made by the comedic group The Naked Samoans and if we must do the comparison thing, then yes it is kinda like a Samoan/Maori South Park. bro'Town is hits my spot. It treads a very fine line and, damn, it is funny when it gives the finger and declares "not even, ow" and jumps across that line.

Aotearoa, the whanau (that's a Maori word for family) make sure that it's a great place to live.

Let us sing together
All of us forever
Let the loving light
Lead us to your dawning

-Cornerstone Roots

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Paddock Bashing

I have some family in Matakana, a small but growing development near Warkworth, which in turn is about an hour north of Auckland. My cousins Stephanie, David and Paul are a lot younger than me (15, 13 and 11). They are immensely talanted (it is possible that Stephanie will be representing NZ in the youth sailing world cup in the Canary Islands next year and we kiwis are very good sailors. Actually, when I say we, I really mean the rest of us as I couldn't sail across the bath (as much as I would like to think I can sail round the Horn by myself)). My cousins have a paddock, and they also have a deregistered Mazda 121. This is the basher. The basher is fueled by petrol that Paul and David steal from the lawnmower. After learning handbrake turns from the eleven year old Paul I strapped myself into the basher and drove around the paddock as fast as it will go. There is something very liberating about driving straight towards a small ditch and hit the accelerator. Nice to not have to worry about suspension. When I was finally prised from the drivers seat, David got a turn. After some really impressive turns the car ground to a halt. The young fellers immediately popped the bonnet and reattached the battery that had come loose. Still no life in the car. Being the senior man in the party I had a look. Being as good a mechanic as I am a sailor (my diagnoses with car failures are a short and sweet list: Did a) it hit another car, b) the car run out of petrol, c) the battery die, or d) the alternator die) and having had experience with a, c and d I said get more fuel. So we stole some more from the lawn mower. That didn't work. We tried a few more times and then I declared it to be flooded. So we walked away from it to let it, um, de-flood. After several more attempts an hour later she still didn't start. We popped the bonnet one more time and then I noticed a large accumulation of grass at the base. The amount of grass had compressed a rubber hose leading into the whirry engine thing. I declared it to be blocking the fuel line so we prised it all away and gave the key a turn. First turn and we were bashing again. Big technical fault that, grass under the hood.

But paddock bashing, by golly, that was fun.

(Pictures of the dirt and the basher when I return to blighty)

Different pipe, same cargo

Sir Joseph Bazalgette was the civil engineer behind the design of the London sewers in the nineteeth century. His great-great-grandson is Peter Bazalgette, a television producer for Endemol, and he is responsible for producing Big Brother. I guess the cargo was in his veins.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Somewhere else I could live

Having spent only a couple of days there this week, (although I did grow up there too, so there is some strength in what follows) I figure that if pushed to leave Oxford I could happily settle down in Wellington. It is a beautiful, smallish city (Yes, I know it is bigger than Oxford) that seems to have a great culture.

It also has very steep hills, unlike the low rounded excuses we get in Oxford.

Not as Crooked

I'm still a little ill - I think I unlocked somat when I unpacked a suitcase of old clothes. In future I think I'm just going to throw the suitcase on the fire and enjoy it.

But I'm not as ill as some. Poor Alice spent most of last night being sick on Sarah. Now she has been diagnosed with viral gastroenteritis. Now... I've had that as an adult and it is deeply unpleasant, albeit one hell of an effective weight loss program (try twenty kilograms in three weeks), so I feel very sad for the little one.

This trip has, while being a trip of closure, also been a trip of hellos to a new generation. There are lots of little folk in my world (my brother and sister in law have nineteen month old Charlotte, Sarah and Craig have one year old Alice, Gabrielle and Clint have one year old Fearne, Chris and Sarah have three year old Aimee and nine month old Jessica, and I'm sure there will be more to come... It's been really fun. I've kinda felt like Uncle Richard to a lot of them as well as Sarah and Mike three wee ones, but to actually be a genuine uncle to Charlotte is very cool.

Tomorrow I am off to Rotorua to see Jolinda, then do some actual work with our New Zealand agent (a loud Yorkshireman). Then up to Warkworth with the family, then the three yearly trip to Cityside Baptist Church to remind them of who this person who is on the 'prayers for people who are far off' section lof the newsletter is, and hopefully continue to have my mortal soul prayed for for another three and a half years.

Drove for the first time in NZ today. Managed to fail most tests involving the location of the indicator stick and failed the only test of the NZ give way rule. Luckily no harm done. The drive to Rotorua could be a different matter.