Friday, July 29, 2005

Straight outta Oxford

Yo yo yo!

It's an Oxford crew slammin' on Tuesday. Get yo self and yo bruvvas down to da Zodiac to see Straight out of Oxford, it's gonna be wikked!

Oh, forget it, I don't know how to be street... But the gig will be excellent.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Self Interest

It's election year in New Zealand. The country goes to the polls on the 17th of September. The Labour government has been in power for the past six years under Helen Clark. I voted for Labour in both of those elections (and, scarily enough, a recent election elsewhere). I'm not sure that I am eligible to vote in this election, although usefully I will be in the country just before so I can find out for myself. In the previous two elections it has essentially been a foregone conclusion that labour was going to win, but in this coming election it seems that the country of my birth could be in for a change. The National party under Don Brash is currently equal with Labour in the opinion polls on 39%, with the New Zealand First party under Winston Peters next on 7%. Under New Zealand's Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system the government will almost certainly be a coalition, with National and NZ First aiming to be coalition partners.

Simply put, from Left to Right, we have Labour - NZ First - National. In addition we have the Greens, the Progressives, Act, United Futures and the Maori Party. In my ignorance, I have no idea about much of those other parties, suffice to say that it is likely that almost all of them will win seats. All of this is by the by. I am hoping that NZ doesn't get a change in government because I don't trust Brash and Peters as they are both populist and reactionary politicians of the worst sort. I do here that Clark is losing the plot a bit, but in this case better the devil you know. But then, I am living in the UK, am essentially out of touch, except for what I am fed via the NZ Herald, Public Address and an email chat group of likely lads in NZ that periodically comes to life in NZ, but which most often discusses rugby.

However, in the past day or so, first National announced tax breaks and then secondly Labour announced a new policy for student loans. Now, I hate finance, I live in denial about it, but the second announcement did perk my ears up. The announcement went something like this:

"The Government will scrap interest payments on student loans held by people living in New Zealand, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced today. She said the proposed change, which would begin on April 1 next year, would massively reduce loan repayment times. "

Maybe it's an April fools joke. Now, I have a student loan and it's large. The reason it is large is because I studied from 1992 to 1999 with a year off in the middle. I lived away from home for most of that time and sure, I was a little (or a lot)irresponsible with my borrowing. In 2002 the government finally stopped charging students interest on their loans while they were studying. While I was studying my loan was rocketing while I could do nothing about it. Even if I had stopped borrowing (and eating) I would have been seeing my loan rise. Since I have been in the UK I have stepped up student loan repayments and are now making a sizeable dent in the bastard. If I felt inclined, I could go to a website and see how much I could save by going home using an online calculator. When I visit home next month I know I am going to be nagged about this by my mother. And if I was an economist I would work out how much I would be better off if I were to return home. I am sure I should be making these sorts of financial decisions, but as I say, I live in denial about it.

Maybe I'm being short-sighted, but I choose to live in Oxford because I have carved out a life for myself here. It is a life that I could not have lived in NZ, not because of what I am paid, or because of it's proximity to Europe, but because when I grew up in NZ and then later as an adult, I lived in the shadow of a lot of people. It took travelling 16,000 miles for me to effectively become my own man. Since discovering this, I have started to use this knowledge and self-confidence to spread my own shadow, if you like. That is, I have got myself involved in things I never thought I would have got involved in and I have been to places and met people that have challenged the way I think (thanks Patrick). I am now as content here as I have ever been. Sure, if I had bit more
money (or a love life) I might be more content, and maybe my decision to not go home and save money on my student loan might come back and bite me in the arse in a few years time, but that seems to be a risk worth taking.

Still, this could be a moot entry 'cos Don and Winston might win and then I certainly won't want to go home anyway.

Oh, and by the way, in response to, I like what you are trying to do. But, I need to say that I am afraid. However I have no plans to change how I lead my life. Next time I am in London (Sunday) I plan to use the tube. There's nothing to be afraid of in being scared, as it were, but it is all about how you respond to that fear and the terrorists WON'T be scaring me home.

Maybe we are on the same wave length after all.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Postcards from Southern Africa

Two folk I know are making a bit of a name for themselves in southern Africa. My friend Dave Ball is writing for the South African Sunday Times as one of the sports editors. Here's his most recent work.

And a guy who guided me round Namibia last year is setting off on his own. He's Sven Strohmenger and while he doen't yet have a website you can email him using this address: He's a great guy and a someone who knows his stuff. He's a big believer in environmentally sustainable tourism. He's also the sort of bloke who can be driving a truck and spot out of the corner of his eye a mongoose in scrub at 200m whereas the people on his truck who are peering through binoculars don't see a thing. If you're planning on going to the Nam, Botswana or SA, look this guy up. Really. He's the white guy in the middle of the picture.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A Reference

Messing about in boats

The office I work in is bordered by the Thames, and due to the water related nature of the work we do, it is inevitable that we would own some boats. There is a proper riverboat, the Florinda II (the name 'Florinda' is awfully close to the name of a girl I used to go out with in KiwiLand - it aint Jo and it aint Linda) and two three person Canadian canoes. Given the hot weather, it seemed a good weekend to go for a wee trip on the river. So...

Yesterday my friend Jane and I took a picnic lunch and our panama hats and with the aid of one of the canoes paddled our way upstream. We managed to get on board without tipping either the canoe or ourselves into the river, a significant achievement in itself, after a relatively short while managed to develop a rhythm that didn't involve driving into the side of the river bank. Negotiating the wilds of Oxfordshire, including not being picked off by the dozen or so Red Kites that were circling the river we made it to Benson Lock. Here we enjoyed the free ride up two metres of the Thames. The river broadens here and on the banks are old WWII bunkers that were designed to stop that nasty Mr Hitler. There are also some decidely posh houses along this stretch. The other trick was to avoid the vanguard of fisherfolk that were trawling for trout and salmon. Once we had passed under Shillingford Bridge we then began to looking for the 'Perfect Spot'. The Perfect Spot was an undefined spot that would allow us to have our picnic. The main consideration was that there weren't hundreds of other people to share it with. The trouble with this part of the river is that there is lots of unfriendly riverside vegetation, and any gaps in them were occupied by the aforementioned fisherfolk. Finally we found our 'Perfect Spot', a small and unoccupied break in the nasty vegetation and ran our boat aground. I produced my bottle of Villa Maria Pinot Gris, which, much to Jane's surprise was chilled (note to self: it is always good to have a cold bottle of wine up your sleeve).

When it was time and when we were suitably tanned, we gently made our way home on the shady side of the river, back through Shillingford Bridge and Benson Lock, under the circling Red Kites and after avoiding the fisherfolks lines back to the boat house.

It had been a damn fine day. We had got out of our respective cities and gone country, we had put our world to rights as we discussed the issues of the day, and we'd even got some exercise.

Today I am very very brown.

Next year we are thinking that now we have got this canoing lark sussed, we are going to take on the Nile.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Kia Kaha

It's been a week since the London bombings. Once the initial confusion and then horror passed, I have been astonished with what followed.

From my observations the response here in the UK has been very measured. There has been more shock at the idea that the bombers were/are British but outrage? Not so much. I don't think they understand how one of their own could do this, but they aren't going to damn the whole community for it. Every single noted public figure, from Tony Blair through Michael Howard (a man I normally associate with appealing to the masses and political point-scoring), through senior policemen to church leaders and imans have either stated their desire that the British public not alienate any community in this country, and that they recognise this for what it is, a bunch of extremists committing an extreme event.

Maybe it is the circles I move in, but I haven't seen too much overreaction. Even the virulent Daily Mail has reacted with restraint. It has been one of the truly remarkable things about these events that the (vast majority) of the British public have been stoic in their response. They might not take a sporting loss very well, but they respond a lot differently in the face of national tragedy. There's been a lot of nostalgic comparisons to the Blitz and the chin-up spirit of the British, and I don't think this is entirely unreasonable.

Every community has their bad eggs. There are plenty of nasty people in Britain. Read this story to see what I mean, but from what I have seen this week, people like this are a minority.

I grieve for the people who have lost loved ones, and especially for those who, a week later, still don't know for sure what happened to them. I also grieve for the families who have discovered that is was their sons and brothers who committed these acts. Just as I grieve for the people who died in the latest suicide bombing in Iraq. But I have seen enough this past week to have hope for the future here. The response of the British people may prove more effective in healing rifts than the approaches taken by Bush and Blair in recent years.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


If anybody feels like buying me something nice, I'd quite like this book. The book is a collection of essays about New Zealand edited by Russell Brown. Brown is the man behind public address, a site that mixes media comment with observations from writers around the world.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Enclosed Spaces

The past two weeks have provoked some interesting responses within me. It began with seeing U2 in Cardiff, watching a bit of Live8 on the Roger Mellie, then seeing London win the Olympics, followed by the bombings in London and then, last night, saying goodbye to my friend Evelyn while (and this is NOT a metaphor for something else) watching some badgers frolic on the lawn.

So we'll begin at the beginning. That seems to be a good place to begin. I drove out to Cardiff with Caroline and Evelyn, meeting Justice, Anita, Kate, Jules, Martin and Pete. I became a stress monkey when the pressure on finding a carpark began to mount. Finally achieved this goal and found myself outside the magnificent Millenium Stadium. Kate and Ev had seats whereas the rest of us were unreserved standing. Now, thanks to Jon March who had been to U2 a few nights earlier in Twickenham, we knew about the Enclosure. The Enclosure was the area up the front that the first two thousand only could get into. Abandoning all sense restraint and community spirit we raced down to the floor and then took a brief pause to look at the people who were crammed at crash barrier at the edge of the enclosure. We smiled knowingly to ourselves and the pushed and shoved our way to the side of the stage where they were letting people into the Enclosure. There were no special tickets required, access merely required promptness and knowledge. Now we could be within a few metres of Mr Bono and his little friends.

Here is where I break into a email I sent the day after the concert. There's a lot to write about (as well as a lot of work to do) so I need to be efficient here. And besides, I like this email.

so.... we went to U2 last night. Went with kate, caroline, anita, justice and evelyn. bumped into jules martin and pete. that was kinda arranged. managed to break into the front enclosure with jules and martin being in the last ten through. took a picture of myself with my phone looking smug. noticed a woman laughing and smiling at me. thought she was taking the piss out of me. maybe she thought i was fit. I started talking to jules. realised she was talking to Nathan and that the woman was in fact Nita. Felt extraordinarily stupid. They had by complete coincidence decided to stand in the exact same spot as us. So quite a few past and present homies there.

had a great show, starsailor were good, the killers amazing and u2 were, well, u2. set list lives here: nice symmetry of starting and finishing with the same song. they didn't play one tree hill but apparently that hasn't been played live in 12 years so no great surprise there, then. One Tree Hill is a new zealand institution cos the original one tree hill is in Auckland and not the place where some tortured american kids play basketball and suffer emotional trials. Visuals were stunning, mr bono preached his bit about us all getting along and about it being Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday. she's the leader of burma that has been under house arrest for about as long as u2 have been touring. visuals included her reading the universal declaration of human rights.

bono struck me as being a little smug and quite like a marrionette as he walked around the stage. he didn't appear to bend his knees - his legs looked very stiff. then when we all sang along to 'but I still haven't found what i'm looking for' it seemed we were his prisoners till he decided to start another song. we sang that line over and over again. it seemed vaguely like were the sheep and he the shepherd. and boy did we bleat. happy lambs we were. he seemed a good shepherd. but not in a christlike way. ok, not completely like a christlike shepherd.

It's all quite amusing to me. Apparently at the Croke Park concerts in Dublin, he got told to shut up and play some music when he began talking to his audience. Now it could be just me, but when U2 play, you gotta expect a little 'preaching'. He is not ashamed of his Christianity, and nor does he shirk from his desire to make a difference in this world. And nor should he. I have two observations to make about this. Firstly, when he preaches (if that is the appropriate term for it), there is no overtly mainstream Christian message. He does not call people to become followers of Christ. Instead, and again it could be just be me, when he preaches he uses the model of the only sermon that Jesus is known to have preached, that being the Sermon on the Mount. Secondly, there are few ways to bring about change in this world. One of those ways is to reach the masses via the popular culture, which is precisely what he is doing. How successful he (and Sir Bob Geldolf) will be remains to be seen, but I would argue that it would be irresponsible of him not to use this forum. I'm sure he has an ego about what he does. Find me one person on the planet who could play to crowds of 60,000+ (and let's face it, U2 could sell out 120,000 seater stadiums) and not have an ego.

My reflections on Live8, the Olympics, terrorism and badgers will have to be another entry. I gotta work!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


One Good Move has the wonderful Eddie Izzard empire building and flags sketch here.


(I've never done anything like this before so sorry for the gushing).

Hey all,
It was fair to say that yesterday was just a little bit stressful. The stress began when a certain Canadian poet rang me at 5.00 on Monday to tell me that one of the four poets hadn't actually left Canada. That stress grew some more when he rang me again yesterday at 3.00 to tell me his bus from Cambridge wouldn't arrive in Oxford till 7.00. For a gig beginning at 8.00pm. Now that might sound like an ample window, but these guys have to sound check and be fed. After racing through the streets of Oxford in my little Micra, cursing at the dedication that the Oxford City Council has to repairing roads (councils should not be allowed to dig up two arterial roads at the same time), I discover that my little micra is not designed for three more people plus their kit. Somehow I squeeze them all in. They are all tall but usefully they have narrow hips. I feed them at 7.30pm. First thanks go to the Red Star noodle bar. The rest of Hammer and Tongue are all assembled there. At 8.10 I decide that I at least best cross the road to the Zodiac. I walk into the downstairs part and I nearly die. There are about fifteen people there, at least half of whom I know have not paid to get in (guest list!!!). I wonder if I can hide under the sound desk and cry. People start to drift in, including my performers. I'm still feeling acutely embarassed. At 8.30 the show gets underway with five of the poets (the three canadian fugitives - Brendan, Mark and Barbara, Steve Larkin and the Naked Mystic) doing individual pieces. By this stage there are about 50 people in the audience and I'm starting to settle down. I start to mingle among the various sets of friends I know there and start to feel pretty relaxed. Barabara Adler (the tall and gangly one) gets it under way by swearing at us and demonstrating her anarchy. The naked mystic gets up and stays clothed, much to our disappointment. By this stage I am sitting on the floor at the back, leaning against the sound desk. At this point I'm beginning to enjoy myself. I spot Evelyn and her friend Tracey walk in. I go to talk to them (in between poems, of course, not while they're being performed). I by them a drink ('cos I'm a good person) and turn around and the audience appears to have doubled. Spotting Steve Larkin I ask "where the hell did this crowd come from?" He shrugs and tells me he doesn't know.

The show passes. Much of it is a blur. There is an open mic session, featuring Rich Brotherton (he used it to talk about haemaroids), Lizzie Mc, Alan Buckley, and Justice. I know I'm biased, but Justice was bloody amazing.

There is a set from the Fugitives using the backing music skills of Inflatable Buddha. Again this passes in a contented haze. I know that I am enjoying myself that the poetry is very very good but I seem incapable of taking much of it in. I remember Steve Larkin being in very fine form. He seems very relaxed and free to express himself in whatever manner seems fit, including miming oral sex. There is then a break and a set from IB. Then there are alternate pieces form the Fugitives and IB. The canucks finish the evening with a fine fine version of 'I'll see you in July'. Then the bouncers tell us to get the hell out of the zodiac 'cos it's midnight.

We go to King Kebab on the Cowley Road where IB and the Fugitives get fed. I then drive them to Larkin's house. Except this time there are five people in the car. Brendan McLeod is sitting on the handbrake. I feel his a*se everytime I need (or want) to change gears. I get to Larkin's house and as I pull in I hear an almighty screech. There are now twin scatches down the side of my car as I have hit a concete lump. Luckily the scratches are low down and shouldn't affect my car's resale value. I say goodbye and go home. I have a brandy on my way to bed.

And now the thanks:
  • First and foremost: The performers. You were really really really good.
  • Steve Larkin for helping out so much in putting this together.
  • Justice and Kate and the two Chris's for being such good friends and for making me feel so damn good about doing this.
  • Chris for sorting out the propaganda for me at essentially no notice.
  • Sue for making me dance when I so clearly needed to.
  • Kate, Ev, Sue, Emma, Jenny amongst others for spreading the word and bringing friends.
  • Sophia for emapthy yesterday afternoon.
  • God. It wouldn't be an Oscar speech without a mention of him.

Seriously, I am very grateful to everybody who came and helped out, and those didn't come but were with me in spirit. You made me very proud to be associated with such fine people.

And if there is one random observation I have from the night, ones friends make the best heroes.

The canucks will be back in november. But I've seen them in July.