an autumn visit

The weather has suddenly gone all settled and warm. This is perhaps not unusual for autumn, but given the crap summer most parts of the country have had for the past few months this is somewhat unexpected. In fact the forecast for Easter was so dire that it played a reasonable part in us deciding to hunker down at home.

Anyway, yesterday being another in this run of fine, fine days, I thought we should all trek into the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, or Zealandia as it is now called. This, for those unfamiliar with it, is a large area of wooded valley not far from the centre of Wellington that has been enclosed by a rat/cat/possum/stoat-proof fence, with lots of fairly rare native species “liberated” inside. We’re members, but we never remember to visit often enough.

This time, I really wanted to get further up the valley into some areas I had not been to before, and also to see if I could spot and take photos of the resident falcons (Kārearea).

The first of these objectives was reached, but not the second. Lots of good exercise, and many not so good photos were taken…


The first animals we saw were the beautiful green geckos sunning themselves in their terrariums:

Wellington Gecko, Zealandia

These are pretty hard to find, being so cryptic. Even in their terrarium it can sometimes take a bit of effort to spot them, such is their camouflage.

We’ve seen one in the wild once, while we were on a bush walk in the hills west of Napier some years ago. It was lying on the path, presumably close to death or it would have scuttled away. Another time, I found one of their more common cousins in a high-rise in the centre of town, which was a pretty peculiar occurrence… but that’s another story.

I find the texture of their scales very pretty indeed:

Wellington Gecko, Zealandia

Sadly, these are not animals that can co-exist with rats, so we are unlikely to find any of these around our house, prime habitat though it is.

Along the valley’s side

We were pretty keen to stay out of the way of the mass of people trundling along the flat, stroller-friendly valley floor. There are lots of tracks that twist up and through the pines and regenerating bush.

Up there, it’s clearly autumn:

Fly Agaric Toadstool, Zealandia

The dry, brown pine-needles also provide quite a nice contrast to the Hound’s Tongue fern that were everywhere under the pines:

Hound's Tongue Fern, Zealandia

Then we heard a new (to us) birdcall. After a bit of careful observation R. found a pair of Stitchbirds (Hihi) in a bush full of berries beside a track further up the hill… but just as we were bringing the cameras to bear a pair of Tui (Tūī) arrived on the scene and chased them off. Tui are pretty aggressive and like to lord it over the local Stitchbirds and Bellbirds (Korimako), to the point where special supplementary feeders have had to be constructed that the larger Tui can’t get into.

That was the last we saw of the Stitchbirds. But there was still plenty to see and hear: particularly, noisy little flocks of Whiteheads (Pōpokotea), a few Waxeyes (Tauhou), the occasional Grey Warbler (Riroriro), and the omnipresent Tuis - the latter three species we have around our house every day. (The Tui only since the Sanctuary was founded - they’ve gotten enough numbers now to spread right out across the city whereas before they were rare here.)


One rare bird we did see a lot of was the North Island Robin (Toutouwai), particularly further up the valley past the top lake. Like their cousins, the Tomtits–who we saw on a very similar autumn day three years ago–the robins tend to be a bit territorial and will stand their ground, often advancing quite close.

It certainly makes them easier to photo:

North Island Robin, Zealandia

That one was banded - should any Zealandia staff stumble across this blog posting the original photo is here - the numbers on the metal ID are fairly readable.

And judging by the angle on this photo you can see how close the robins get. This bird was almost under my feet.

North Island Robin, Zealandia

I shouldn’t call these wee birds cute. But I will. They’re cute.


The other rare bird we saw a lot of was the Saddleback (Tieke). This was a slightly amusing point, as we were passed at one stage by a chap whose fondest wish was to spot one. There was one here just a minute ago, we told him, but he steamed on. Of course, once he was gone, the saddleback returned.

Sadly, they seemed to hang out in the most shady spots and our photos aren’t that fantastic.

We have a blurry saddleback:

Saddleback, Zealandia

One on a twig:

Saddleback, Zealandia

The same one - but check out those wattles!

Saddleback, Zealandia

(OK, that wasn’t that impressive.)

But I console myself that I probably managed to get the best picture ever taken of a saddleback’s arse.

Saddleback, Zealandia

But aside from trying to take photos of them, they were lovely to observe. I watched one bound up and down tree boughs, inspecting little leaf-falls and bark clumps for insects. When it had caught something, it would bounce back through the branches arching over the track to another saddleback. The second bird performed what looked like begging movements: bobbing and wing flickering. It got the food - so it must have been a pretty much fully fledged chick.

Lazy bugger needed to leave home, I thought.

Back along the main track

We rounded the upper lake and rejoined the main track back down the valley. Sadly, all the Kaka (Kākā) were out and about - on fine days they apparently don’t like to hang around the Sanctuary and instead venture out into the suburbs and beyond.

(One fine day in springtime last year we had a kaka visit our house, four km from the Sanctuary. Judging by the various videos and photos taken by people living close by, it appears kaka have learned that if a house has a deck, then one can obtain food by boogieing up and down the deck railing in a fetching manner (as our visitor did). We weren’t smart enough to figure out what it wanted… but then we wouldn’t have fed it either. It flew away before I could get a photo.)

We passed the terraria containing baby Tuatara. The girls and R. thought they’d grown quite a bit since January when they were last here:

Juvenile Tuatara, Zealandia

Like the geckos, they actually took a little bit of spotting in their little scrapes under pieces of bark.

But as for me, all that walking, together with the name “Tuatara”, was making me feel thirsty for beer. I am a chap of simple needs.

And so on to the top of the lake, where there was a couple of Takahe (Takahē) lurking. OK, so they’re practically tame and wander about at your feet, so pictures are easy:

Takahe, Zealandia

I don’t think it’s an especially pretty bird (not that that matters, and of course opinions vary), but I like the way the sun catches its eye.

The exhibition

Since the last time I’d been to the Sanctuary they’ve spent up large and built an “attraction” - an exhibition and café. We skipped the café and had a quick look at the exhibition.

I found the whole thing a bit of a downer really: really interesting, but very very sad. Stuffed birds yes, but lots of good info and interactive displays. But in the stairwell to the upper level there were plaques for a whole lot of extinct species I’d never even heard of. And then there was the thing they show every half an hour, a five minute montage of the last 1,000 years of biological history, a epic disaster movie showing just how all those species were lost. It was so sad and disturbing our youngest couldn’t watch it.

I ended up wondering if, given how badly the human race had f••ked up on these islands, was it worth trying to save anything that couldn’t now save itself? If all we humans disappeared tomorrow, the Sanctuary would be overrun with pests and every one of the rare species killed within just a few years. Is this “mainland island” a sustainable approach to conservation?

But I suppose the point is not so much sustainable conservation, as awareness that things need doing. But frankly, I’m not sure we’re up to the task of doing it. Humans themselves are a plague, a dangerous monoculture of maximal resource utilisation at the expense of all others. We’re at a stage now where there’s decreasing room for other species, except those that can live in parasitic or commensal relationships with us.

What a happy thought.

Home again

I never got to see the falcons close up - maybe another time. Even so, I’m not likely to get photos as good as these by Steve Attwood, who hung out in the Sanctuary for days getting them.

Still, we had a lovely walk of around eight kilometres, which made me happy. Then back at home, I had my beer, which made me happier.

Easter was not wasted.


Bear with me while I horribly and lengthily belabour an analogy.

The Magic Book Shop

Imagine a magic book shop that delivers. Imagine that if you want to read something, you just announce your request into the air, and the book appears on your bookshelf.

Of course, this still costs money, but the books are cheaper than those from your regular book shop, and the selection is an order of magnitude better.

Sounds great, doesn’t it. You’d quite like to live near a book shop like that.

But what if this book shop only sells books that are a certain shape? It’s a shape that is fitted to a little book case the shop has individually made and sold to you.

Well, you say, that’s OK: although I did have to pay quite a lot for my special book case, it is magically small and portable, and all these books can be with me all the time. So what if they are a special shape?

Well then… what if you wanted to lend your new favourite book to your friend? Great! Except that, while your friend also bought their own book case from the magic book shop, theirs had its own peculiar shape and your book wouldn’t fit on it.

So, no more lending your favourite books to them, nor they you. Everyone has to buy their own from this book shop. And don’t even think about going to a second hand book shop, or borrowing from the Public Library: their books won’t fit in your book case either.

Still like this book shop?

Worse, what if you buy a book from this book shop, only to find that at some point later the shop has reached into your house and removed the book from your special book case, casting it down the memory hole? It’s magic, right? Anything can happen.

A bit worrying though, eh.

Ignoring all that

So yeah, I figured it would be good to get a special book case Kindle.

so much kindling

I am a sad, sad gadget-loving geek. I knew the issues but I did it anyway.

I made excuses. I figured that it might be a good way to get hold of various textbooks I need for work; and also to provide a bit of convenient holiday reading and the occasional free classic from Project Gutenberg.

I got a no-ads Wifi Kindle 4, as per Marco’s review. And… I like it. A lot.

It turns out that the Kindle is simply superb for consumption of the linear narrative: any book that you can start on page one and read to the end without breaking out to refer to a map, an index, or some earlier passage, is well suited to the device.

This means that your holiday reading is well looked after; and the low power requirements of the e-ink display means you’ll almost never run out of battery when you need it. It’s the perfect travel companion. SOLD!

It’s not so good for those textbooks though. Mostly when I’m trying to learn something new I have to re-read chapters, jump back and forward to refer to facts and concepts mentioned earlier, and generally consume the thing in a non-linear fashion. You just can’t do that easily on a Kindle.

There are exceptions: the eBooks generated by Instapaper are wonderful examples and come with an easy-to-navigate table of contents and the ability to easily jump backwards and forwards between “articles” – but most electronic textbooks I’ve bought so far don’t use this kind of formatting. (Ironically, a very useful and completely free textbook does: Pro Git.)

Perhaps advances in technology will improve upon this aspect of current e-reader technology and make riffling, referring, and re-reading through an eBook just as simple and convenient as the paper version. But maybe not.

So what to do?

Thinking a bit wider, I am a little worried by where this eBook thing is going. The Amazon ecosystem is incredibly tempting, but it comes with real restrictions.

I have made a point of stripping the rights management off all the Amazon books I buy, so that they can be used on any other eBook reader I might purchase in future.

That’s good for me, but it doesn’t alter the bigger problem. By supporting the Amazon ecosystem with my cash, I am also reducing the viability of my friendly local paper book store. Over time, collectively me and all the other eBook buyers will affect the rest of the community through a reduced paper book availability as local book shops either disappear or stick to higher volume titles.

As more of the book market moves to electronic formats, the ability to read and gain new knowledge and enjoyment from books becomes dependent on being able to afford a proprietary book reader and the associated technologies required to access the electronic book shop.

And that’s a couple of gatekeepers that we don’t have now when we pick up a paperback, or buy a book for the kids’ birthdays.

So I’m definitely conflicted about the whole thing. It’s a great device. But I’m thinking I’ll just use the Kindle for the kind of shitty holiday fiction I’d be too ashamed to buy; reading the classics; occasional textbooks; and for Instapaper.

Books that I want to own and keep and re-read: those I’ll continue to buy on paper.

a new path

I know it wouldn’t be top of the list for most people, but I’m a bit pleased about the new walking route to work I figured out last week. (In case you haven’t noticed, I lead a quiet life.)

I live in the suburbia behind Te Ahumairangi Hill, and to get into town I must traverse the hill’s shoulders (over the top is doable, but not paved). For the last ten years I’ve walked around the southern end of the hill; and this has been from where I’ve taken a series of 211 photos over the past seven.

But it turns out that my new way, around the northern shoulder of the hill, is about 500m shorter, and quite a bit faster with a long shallow gradient that can be walked down at speed. And I get to look at a whole new bunch of things on the way.

This morning I had to go to work a little earlier than usual and the sun was just over the eastern rim of the harbour. I was rewarded with this photo down Wade Street:

The ship parked at the end of Wade Street…

And closer to town there was this rather large chap:

Urban fauna

It (probably a “she”, but I’m not sure) had been sitting on a pole beside the Molesworth Street overbridge most of last week, the only nearby cover a patch of low and likely inedible conifers, and I meant to shift it into the undergrowth before it got eaten or otherwise killed.

Each day I would note the beast but keep walking on, fixated on reaching work in time (why, I know not). Usually a couple hundred metres down Molesworth Street I’d think I should have rescued it but of course by then I was never going to circle back for it.

Even after the weekend’s storm I was surprised to see it was still there today, so I picked it off and carried it into the nearest patch of likely looking native plants, its legs slow windmilling until it found purchase on a broadleaf.

This was, I am pleased to report, the highlight of my working day.

spring, damp and green

Spring, damp and green

Unusually for Wellington, today is a day of vertical rain. The sun pokes through from time to time but generally it’s a soft light, a growing light. Sadly for our tree, the sparrows have returned again this year: it is they who account for the fallen blossom, not our wind. We are lacking a tuī to take a stand and own the tree against all comers.

And I regret now the freakshow filter I put on this hastily shot iPhone photo. But here are plenty from earlier years to make up for it.

Previous springtimes:

how I learned to stop worrying and love the RWC

rugby world cup 2011I’ve never been much of a sports fan. This is partly related to the fact that I am terrible at every sport I ever tried except the one that involved a good deal of lying down (small-bore rifle shooting, before your mind runs away with you).

At our country primary school there were two sports available in winter: netball (for girls) and rugby (for boys). Our school was very small, and there weren’t many boys in mine and the adjacent year groups, so it was semi-compulsory to play just so a team could be fielded.

I never really enjoyed it. I was much smaller than the other boys, and my lack of speed, complete unco-ordination, and poor eyesight (I couldn’t wear my glasses playing) meant that often as not I was placed on the wing where I could trail around after everyone else without being expected to either catch the ball or pass it on, two things I was pretty hopeless at. Many games I did not even get to touch the ball, and any attempt of mine at tackling the opposition usually resulted, at best, in being shrugged off like an errant piece of dandruff.

On the plus side, there was always the pie and fizzy drink at the end of the match. But the attractions of these were not enough, and I refused to play in my last year at primary school1. The next year, at boarding school, despite the plethora of new choices available, I again refused to play any winter sport. At one point I was threatened with the cane unless I took one up (they were very interested in keeping the boys gainfully occupied at the weekends: sport on Saturday mornings, church on Sunday mornings) but by keeping a very low profile out of view of the masters I was able to quietly read books instead.

That year was the year of the Springbok Tour. A prefect, the same one who in the interests of science had once attempted to fold me into a small cupboard above a wardrobe2, now visited each boy in turn, asking them pointedly as to what their views on the tour were. There was little doubt as to what the correct answer should be.

At that time I had no view (and at the age of 13, why should I have had?), but I resented being forced to have one under threat of violence. So then, and more so over the next few years as I came to an understanding of what happened in 1981, rugby became associated for me with fascistic compulsion, mindless violence, racism and societal conflict. I came to hate it.

That was a long long time ago. It became OK to like rugby again, after the so-called Baby Blacks won the inaugural 1987 World Cup (even though over half of the players in that team had been on the rebel tour to South Africa the previous year). And I have to admit to having enjoyed watching the occasional game over the years: many sports, when played at the highest level, can have a beauty and power that transcends their form, and rugby is no exception to this.

But even today I find myself disinclined to be interested in the upcoming Rugby World Cup, in a way that never happens for any of the other quadrennial sporting events that pass by. I am disturbed by schools having Rugby World Cup teaching programs; school holidays being moved to accommodate it; the government having a minister for it; sponsors trumping the rights of free speech; ad campaigns of unprecedented, though amusing, idiocy; tenuous but intrusive product associations; endless parade of “Official Providers” of this or that; the expense of the tickets; and the general implied assumption that all New Zealanders love the game and should be so jolly pleased to have the Cup here (and stop your moaning: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things).

I feel like I have to give a shit: I am writing a blog posting; I am thinking about it. I don’t want to.

Countering all this long and complicated personal history, baggage, and (I admit it) general whining though: maybe I should just lighten the fuck up. R. and the girls carry none of this and are more interested in rugby and the tournament generally than I am. For example, B₂ proudly told me the other day that she had asked to play in a “tackle-rugby” tournament for her school3; while R₂, out of the blue, explained to me who her favourite All Black is (Conrad Smith). Their excitement is uncomplicated and true, though perhaps borne of the hype that surrounds us like air at the moment.

Why should I be the wet blanket then? The Rugby World Cup is an Event, the likes of which we shall not see here again. Soak up the atmosphere; join the party; submit to the inevitable. Don’t think, enjoy.

So I relented and booked tickets for us all to see a game4; and the girls are very excited at the prospect.

I’m a little bit excited too. Just a little, even though I don’t really want to be. I will probably summon the kind of coolly logical interest that, with a bit of infectious situational enthusiasm supplied by others, leads me to follow the Football World Cup every four years with a degree of closeness. We’ll have fun at the game; we’ll stick up a wall chart and follow the teams we saw on the pitch. I may even come to know enough to have a passable conversation about rugby at work.

Let RWC Inc. chalk up a small victory.

And though I may be crushed, I am not completely bowed. A small piece remains mine. Yes: nothing, ever, will make me like Heineken.

1 The one exception to this was in a weight-graded tournament - probably the only time I ever enjoyed playing the game - where I, at 12, was captain of a team of 9 year olds, and for once better co-ordinated, faster, and harder than my team mates and opposition. Not that it resulted in much winning, of course.

2 I did not fit: my head stuck out. Even slamming the cupboard door repeatedly did not seem to alter this fact. (But I should also say that this sort of thing was pretty rare and in especially in later times, I was no innocent victim either. This was nothing like the Rugby School of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.)

3 Although the tournament is weight-graded, she has not played any contact sport before. And she’ll be playing against a whole lot of boys who have. I suspect she may have an idealised view of what all this will involve, in which case participation may prove traumatic. But I would be happy to be proved wrong.

4 Though not one with New Zealand in it as that would have been too expensive: we’re off to Tonga vs. France.

raketa domino

Last month I realised I hadn’t yet spent my birthday money from a few months back. This realisation coincided nicely with a resurgent interest in those ever interesting and cheap Russian watches, of which I have blogged about several times here, here, and here and which now I track on a dedicated board at

Anyway, all this mindless cataloguing of stuff led to an inevitable purchase with those “spare” birthday funds, and yesterday the postman delivered the parcel1.

Here it is, as modelled on my twig wrist:

the watch's face

As you can see, the day of the week is indicated by the red dot. I have decided that the week starts on Mondays, so for me the sixth dot shows it’s Saturday. I like the large and clear numerals, and the elegant fine hands. The overall design is that of a stainless steel rectangle overlaid by a black circle - very simple and strong.

It came with all its original papers, which seem to indicate it was made in September 1992. So a long period in storage may account for its stiffness of winding. Some of the sellers on eBay also caution that watches transported by airmail may need servicing afterwards - presumably the oil evaporates in low pressure environments. And then, this morning I noticed it had lost about 10 minutes in less than 24 hours. So it may have to go in for a lube and adjustment2, even though it’s actually brand new (or in eBay’s parlance, NOS - “New Old Stock”).

Despite all this I am very pleased with it. It’s a lovely piece of engineering.

the watch's face

And yes, it has a lovely tick.

1 Poor postie had to come down all our steps to get me to sign for it, for which I apologised. Great service though - typically the courier drivers just dump stuff in the letter box and bail, regardless of signature requirements.

2 The next problem is that the major local watch servicing outfit refuses to handle Russian watches.

obscurity uncovered (iii)

Last year I ripped all my CDs. And I posted about it here and here. The (friendly) advice received was that I was doing it wrong (or at least, not to a sufficient bit rate if I was insisting on not ripping to FLAC). So I started from scratch. And now I’m finally there and I can pack the CDs into the ceiling space and never think about them again.

As before, I’ve found the need to take photos of a small proportion of CDs whose cover art doesn’t seem to be widely available. Given that most of the cover art I do use comes from the net in one way or another, I thought it best to give back: and so the following are roughly 200x200 pixel thumbnails linking to each roughly 1000x1000 original.

Abbasalutely: A Flying Nun Tribute to the Music of Abba

Abbasalutely: A Flying Nun Tribute to The Music of Abba

Oh how we laughed at the irony of it all as we purchased this CD, secretly pleased with the chance to reconnect with the music of our primary school years. Of course now, we just buy the 66-song Thank You For The Music from iTunes. For the kids, right? Just for the kids.

Baddiel & Skinner & Lightning Seeds: Three Lions

Baddiel & Skinner and the Lightning Seeds: Three Lions

Arriving in the UK in time for Euro ’96 I got this song the first time around. Not that it helped the English team very much: “30 years of hurt” is now “45 years of hurt” and counting.

Björk and David Arnold: Play Dead

Björk / David Arnold: Play Dead

Following on from her Debut, this is a lovely piece of sixties-inspired film theme music co-written with Jah Wobble (and so with a lovely big slow beat behind it).

Black Grape: England’s Irie

Black Grape: England's Irie

And this was Black Grape’s Euro ’96 single, done with Keith Allen and Joe Strummer. That summer every man and their dog were doing football songs1 but you have to like the vocal layers of Ryder’s casual‘s chant of “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” with Keith Allen’s2 “We live in a land of crass hypocrisy / We’re gonna win the National Lottery”. Yes!

Black Grape: Fat Neck

Black Grape: Fat Neck

Not one of their best.

Black Grape: In the Name of the Father

Black Grape: In The Name Of The Father

This is more like it: the woozy dance drug-thuggery of the Happy Mondays tightened up: “Well I don’t do what you do / and you don’t do what I do / but you should do”. Er. no thanks, Shaun.

Black Grape: Kelly’s Heroes

Black Grape: Kelly's Heroes

I love this cover. And if I knew more, I’d be able to tell you what pose Shaun is aping through those bilious Central Station Design colours.

Black Grape: Reverend Black Grape

Black Grape: Reverend Black Grape

This is a brilliant single. “There’s nothing more sinister / as Ministers in dresses” is another great throwaway line—Shaun would not appear to be a fan of the Catholic Church—but I can’t really make any sense of the rest of the lyrics. Luckily the music carries it all the way home.

The Blue Hearts: Train Train

The Blue Hearts: Train Train

I first heard this track in 1990 as the theme song to a Japanese tv programme. Not that I remember anything of the TV show, but I really liked the tune. Apparently The Blue Hearts were Japan’s answer to the Clash, and the song certainly sounded punky enough for me to insist on it getting into the playlist of Radio One in Dunedin when I came back from Japan.

Bluespeak: Late Last Night

Bluespeak: Late Last Night

Auckland jazz-lounge featuring the multi-talented Greg Johnson, the standout track being about an obsessive women who makes sculptures out of fingernails.

Christine Anu with Paul Kelly: Last Train

Christine Anu with Paul Kelly: Last Train

Another of those singles you like the sound of, so you buy. And then never get around to listening to because it’s not part of an album that you also own.

Cinematic: Cinematic

Cinematic: Cinematic

Christchurch janglepop band, and former crew of our leader at the Wellingtonista, James.

Grant Lee Buffalo: Mockingbird

Grant Lee Buffalo: Mockingbird

So memorable I’m having to play the song just so I know what it sounds like. At one point I had the album this single came from, but it’s long sold in the face of declining listening interest on my part. [Later: actually, it wasn’t bad, was it.]

The House of Love: Babe Rainbow

The House of Love: Babe Rainbow

These guys were alt-MoR, now that I think about it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but maybe that’s why their albums remain lower on my playlist many of their contemporaries. I need to revisit them.

The House of Love: Untitled [Butterfly]

The House of Love: Untitled [a.k.a. The Butterfly Album]

This was their first on the major label they went to after Creation. It’s actually pretty good (as I skim through it to reacquaint myself).

The House of Love: Untitled [A Spy In The House of Love]

The House of Love: Untitled [a.k.a. A Spy In The House Of Love]

If I remember rightly, this is an album of outtakes and lost tracks assembled from some abortive studio sessions between the previous two albums. It’s not as good as either, though it has its moments.

James: Laid [Single]

James: Laid (single)

Probably James’ best known track (even more than Sit Down3) it is now more tragically known as that song in American Pie.

James: Seven [Single]

James: Seven (single)

Just as with the previous James single, this is the confusingly named single from which the album takes its name.

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Blues From a Gun

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Blues From A Gun

Another single I brought home from Japan, this one is one of those fiddly three inch CDs. And I just happen to have lost the adapter that would let me rip it. Bother. Because this has a nice cover of My Girl on it.

JPS Experience: Precious

Jean Paul Sartre Experience: Precious

In which former art-pop Flying Nun types go all crunchy indie-dance-ish and start affecting Thames Valley accents. This was a weird, but quite listenable transition.

Jules Issa: Dangerous Game

Jules Issa: Dangerous Game

A declaration of intent from the Deep Grooves people, who went on to produce a rather awesome album of groovy tracks from many New Zealand artists.

Keeping the Faith: A Creation Dance Compilation

Keeping The Faith: A Creation Dance Compilation

The change triggered by Andy Weatherall’s radical reworking of a jingle jangly Primal Scream b-side into a monster dancefloor hit was cemented in with this, an actual dance music compilation from Creation Records. There are a great number of awesome tracks on here. And I’ve burgled the intro to the Farley remix of Loaded herein for my ringtone.

Kenickie: Millionaire Sweeper

Kenickie: Millionaire Sweeper

London, oh London! There I was, working a boring job in the photocopier room of Britain’s largest architectural firm. The highlight of my week was walking around the corner to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and seeing what the cheap new release singles were. And this is one: second string brit-pop; but lovely all the same.

Morrissey: Everyday is Like Sunday

Morrissey: Everyday Is Like Sunday

I would rate this single as one of the best things ever released by Our Moz. It has four beautiful songs on it, products of that wonderful immediate post-Smiths era4 when he worked with Vini Reilly from my long-time faves The Durutti Column.

Morrissey: Suedehead

Morrissey: Suedehead

Not as good as the previous, when considered as an EP. The standout b-side for me is I Know Very Well How I Got My Name, a typically epically titled yet mostly acoustic and whiny Moz song5.

Morrissey: You’re The One For Me Fatty

Morrissey: You're The One For Me, Fatty

Surprise! Another Morrissey single!

The Mutton Birds: The Heater

The Muttonbirds: The Heater

Continuing the theme of human-appliance interaction which started with that Front Lawn song about the bloke marrying his washing machine.

New Order: Round And Round

New Order: Round And Round

Not sure why this was in the pile to have a photo taken. It’s another of those cursed 3” discs, so I haven’t managed to rip it yet. There’s yet another football song on here, of a sort: apparently it was a theme song the band did for a TV program on football, hosted by Tony Wilson.

One Dove: White Love

One Dove: White Love

Contains an unbelievable 10 minute version, all squalling quitar, sweet vocals and Weatherall beats. Just brilliant, it used to be one of those listening-with-headphones-in-the-dark type songs for me.

The Shangri-Las: Leader Of The Pack

The Shangri-Las: Leader Of The Pack

When I was a kid I’d fossick through my Mum’s collection of 7”s, bought (I think) mainly during her years in London in the early sixties. Thinking about it now, I bet some of them are collectable! Anyway, I always loved The Shangri-Las Leader of the Pack; hence this, which is another of those 3” discs awaiting ripping. It was one of a series issued in the eighties, each containing four of the best known songs of some sixties pop group. I really should have bought a few more.

I hope that’s the last time I have to do this job, fun though it it to listen to all these old tracks.

1 I also have the one Primal Scream did with Irvine Welsh and The Barmy Army; the latter being mostly those members of Tackhead responsible for one of the best Football songs ever written.

2 Who co-wrote both New Order’s World in Motion, a rather crappy song for the 1990 World Cup, and the amusing but appalling Vindaloo. He has form, does Mr Allen.

3 Whose best version, the rattlier, more acoustic original, may be found on Youtube here.

4 Viva Hate, the album, is a bit uneven. But I will use this footnote to announce that I once had a copy of the mis-printed Viva Hate called Education In Reverse, apparently its original title and the name on the first pressings in Australasia. Naturally I took it to London and sold it for profit (along with my lovely green vinyl 12" of The Cure’s A Forest). Sad, eh.

5 This song gives rise to one of the Holy Grail collectables for Durutti Column fans: an outtake called “I Know Very Well How I Got My Note Wrong” in which Vini epically flubs a note and both him and Moz get the giggles. In the roaring days of Napster I procured a copy of this song, since lost of course (and nowadays too low a bitrate). Luckily Youtube does provide.

two favourite things... (i)

…both of them made by humans.

This is the first:

Moahunter's knife

(Apologies for forgetting to take the camera off 1600 ASA. Duh!)

It looks like some flake of rock, maybe volcanic, but its purpose is clear once picked up:

Moahunter's knife

One summer, about 800 years ago, a group of people came up from the coast and camped in the hills of what would one day be called Central Otago. They brought with them rocks of a peculiar and rare type found around the naturally burning coalseams closer to the coast: rocks made of a cooled and somewhat glassified melted clay.

Where the hills’ ridges narrowed to a waist they’d sometimes build a pit, and make a brush fence on either side. Then they’d hunt their prey down the ridge, possibly with the large-jawed dogs whose remains have been found in the region, and trap them in the pit.

And then they’d feast.

They were moa hunters. And this is a blade, possibly for a left-handed person, knocked out on the spot from those special rocks and used for skinning or butchering the large birds. Later, it was discarded; just one out of place rock chip among thousands of others on that hillside.

Hundreds of years later the land was ploughed for pasture, the mark of ages smoothed-over pits and ovens a clear black against the otherwise brown soil. A small boy could wander there, and did, finding many pieces of ancient rubbish.

I liked that I could find things once touched and shaped by the earliest inhabitants of the land.

This one in particular I liked because it was the only black one I ever found, and one of the most shaped (the few other shaped pieces I have are light grey, or brown; and the rest are just chips, the complement to something shaped that is lost). It feels nice in my hand, though it’s probably too blunt now to be much use, except maybe for skinning.

It’s been with me everywhere, even to the antipodes. And held in my hand, it reminds me of my other home, not far from that Central Otago hillside.

two favourite things... (ii)

…both of them made by humans.

This is the second:

Vostok automatic watch

So, some of you will have seen this before, not long after I got it. It’s a watch, a cheap Russian watch, one of several such I own.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, bear with me here, OK?

It’s seen a bit of wear in the last four and a half years. Last year I broke the ricketty bracelet, and had it replaced with a decent leather strap. And even earlier, the numeral 6 fell off and stopped the minute hand from travelling. I had to send it back to Russia to get fixed because the local watch repairers refused to touch it (snobs!).

So I’ll make no pretensions to class for this watch. It is what it is.

And what it is, is engineering magic.

It’s an automatic; in other words, it winds itself. If I wear it every day, I generate enough kinetic energy to power it, and I never have to think about it, never a battery to change.

All I have to do is put it on in the morning. But before I do that, I’ll have a peek in the back, where the workings are exposed behind glass:

Vostok automatic watch

Sometimes I take it off so I can look at it, and be soothed by the sight of cogs and wheels; mainsprings and rubies; meshing together and never stopping. A tiny, precise, and wearable machine that announces itself by a gently fragrant ticking.

I think I like this about it best of all: I can pretend that if worst came to worst I could fix it myself. It’s just a complicated piece of mechanics after all, no electricity involved; like an old car there’d be a hope of me pulling it to pieces and building it back again. This is an illusion to cherish!

And a wonderfully cheap thrill compared to a quality Swiss Automatic, which typically start at 10 to 20 times more than this one cost me.

Maybe one day I’ll find a better automatic watch: it will have a 24-hour dial; it will be classier; and of a smaller diameter; and higher quality… but there’s no way it will be as good value as this one.

And anyway, the way this one’s going, maybe I won’t need another.

recurring dream

I’ve been having this series of dreams over the last few weeks in which I’m employee number 4 of some local tech startup.

I say employee, but I’m not sure if I am. I get the sense I’m only there sometimes, and whenever I turn up, the two chaps are always bickering and playing on a game console, while the girl is hanging about looking anxious.

Last night she was trying to tell me something important, but at that very moment I became aware that I was in my recurring dream again and she, and whatever it was that she was trying to tell me, evaporated.

Perhaps I’m supposed to be the startup’s “adult supervision” - but if so, I’m not doing a very good job of it.

But now I’m wondering: what is it that my dream startup is creating?