Odd facts

Odd facts learned over the break.

1. In 1974 the new Chinese Embassy –  allowed in to the country after Norman Kirk’s government recognised China 18 months previously – was being built and couldn’t get the electricity cable it needed. The Ambassador wrote formally to Finance Minister Bill Rowling asking if he could help them.  Rowling checked with Government Stores and wrote back saying no: there was a shortage everywhere and they’d have to wait their turn.

2. The company once known as Silvios Recycled Records – back in the 80s the hippest grooviest Second Hand Rekkid Store in Wellington – later traded as Wellington Menopause Clinic.

3. Lashings of Ginger Beer is the name of a radical lesbian separatist burlesque collective.

4. Until the early 1800s people were buried in church yards and it is only since around that time the practice of municipal cemeteries has become widespread. This is why there are so few churchyards with cemeteries in New Zealand – they post-date the change in approach.

5. OK, I already knew this, but it was kind of made more stark: New Zealand governments never used cuts to interest rates to stimulate the economy in downturns prior to the 1990s. They couldn’t, simply because interest rates were already kept artificially by whoever was finance minister. There was no scope to do so. Muldoon, of course, tried to regulate finance company rates downwards in the early 1980s, but that kind of backfired on everyone.

6. There is a Wanganui-based horticulturist named Good Boy which produces the most delicious boysenberries and blueberries I have ever tasted.

7. Historians working on the Soviet desk for the British secret service developed a ‘Esau-Jacob’ theory of Russian despots. The smooth bald leaders were modernisers, while the hairy ones tended to be Slavophile reactionaries. Theory may have broken down a bit with Putin.

8. Danny John-Jules, the actor who played Cat on sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf,  also sang backing vocals for David Bowie at one point in his career. Here he is, as Cat, making suggestions. 

Coffee House Babble

Pre-dawn on Thursday: The Coffee Shop With No Name,
beside the Reserve Bank Building,
The Terrace, Wellington.

One late summer morning in Ohope, after a fairly heavy night back in the mid-1980s, the hosts of the party emerged, suggesting a coffee.

There was a  general consensus all round that this was probably a Good Thing.

The hosts then produced something I’d never seen before.

Firstly, there were coffee beans. 

These were ground, and a kettle was boiled.

The water was then poured into a glass jug before a plunger was inserted in the top.

After a few minutes, and with an air of solemn ritual, the plunger was gradually depressed, care being taken to make sure the water was dark enough.

The coffee was then served in glass cups.


It probably can’t be exaggerated just how exotic coffee – real stuff, that is – seemed back in the Bad ‘Ol Days.

Instant coffee was the norm. Greggs for preference  was usually the one in the newsrooms where I worked , for some reason.

The friends who produced this strange, foreign thing had been overseas – in fact one was a native of Jersey – so I put this dubious innovation down to the offshore influence.

It was, though, very nice. I treated it as a bit of a one-off which, while pleasant enough, would probably never catch on.

A year or two later, in Auckland, I had my first espresso. I’d heard of these things, and had gathered they were good for waking one up. I had something of a hangover and was heading for an appointment, so stopped in at this small place in Queen St’s Canterbury Arcade.

“Single or double?” was the query. Err. How big was the cup, I asked. They were, it was explained to me, the same size: a small thing which looked about the size of a film canister was shown.

That seemed a bit of a rip off, but I needed  that coffee. So I ordered a double, thinking this was probably going to be a waste of time.

Several hours later I was still bouncing off the walls. That stuff really had an effect.

I’m still a tea drinker, mostly, but tea is comfort drink. It plays a different role.

Coffee has function as well at atmosphere. First, it has that fantastic aroma. Secondly, it has musical associations.

Whenever I hear a Miles Davis muted trumpet solo, I crave a coffee.

The other times of course is Reserve Bank monetary policy statement lock ups – a topical matter this week,with governor Graeme Wheeler deciding to “pull the trigger” to use the term some economists have used, on interest rate cuts.

The coffee shop next to the Reserve Bank produces the best coffee in Wellington. Bar none. It is strong as well as having a well rounded flavour. Often you get strength but not such a balance: such coffees have their place but they’re a bit like heavily peppered and chilli-ed curries.

This is like a vindaloo with ample flavours, or perhaps the magnificent Railway Cochin Curry in Rick Stein’s India.

I still call this place the Coffee Shop With No Name because they’ve been there for several years but there is no sign on the frontage. It seems apt. They don’t need a name.

They do, though, trade under the name of Old George, and sell their beans in the store or online here. 

From 6:30am, especially on monetary policy lock up days, folks are queueing early in that shop.

Junkies, yeah. Junkies with taste, and whole lot of crunchy economic stuff to get through.

If they played Miles Davis over the PA in those 7am RBNZ lock ups, it would be just about perfect.