Murray Ball

Murray Ball, RIP. Got a huge collection of Footrot Flats books. You didn’t have to have grown up on a farm to have got the humour of them, but by crikey it helped.

IMG_3274One of my favourites: just a one frame shot of Wal and Cooch, cleaning out either the shed or a pigsty, in the pouring rain. Wal is looking particularly grim and determined, and an air of resigned misery hangs over the entire picture.

Dog is looking out at the viewer, and is saying, ‘Well, it was either this or do the accounts.’

Ball was a junior All Black and perhaps could have gone further but, having spent some formative years in South Africa was particularly vehemently opposed to apartheid. I recall a story of his being on one of the early protests against the 1981 tour – it may even have been the Hamilton riot – and being appalled when fellow protestors starting pulling down the fence to the ground.

When a tour to South Africa was planned in 1985, he withdrew Dog from being the All Black mascot, in an open letter to the Rugby Union.

I clipped it and its selotaped on the inside of one of the collections of Footrot Flat cartoons [see pic]. It captured the turmoil a lot of us felt about rugby contacts with apartheid, at the time: his drawing of Dog taking off his black and white scarf and walking away in sorrow was eloquent and sad and so, so bang on.

Happier was the film of the cartoons strip the following year: it brilliantly caught the entire New Zealand farming world at a time it was changing forever.

Saw the film at Mission Bay cinema: it was thrilling to see something so New Zild on the screen, so recognisable; hilarious in bits and I remember even shedding a tear at one point.

RIP, Murray.

For Waitangi Day….

A favourite spot, over the past summer, has been the hills above Makara. The bottom left-hand corner of the North Island, the area is wild, open, and glorious. The daughter loves it there, I’m pretty fond of it myself.

There’s a high tensile toughness, as it looks out at the world. The plant life is not tall – under constant pressure from howling seaward winds, it sticks close to the ground, even though the ground itself is not the most fertile you would find. It’s scrabbly, rocky, and gives up its nutrients grudgingly.

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Remnants of how New Zealand faced past threats are there: concrete gun emplacements built at the start of World War Two glower out at the sea.

To the north, you can see Mana & Kapiti Islands. Wheel your view around to the south-west and there’s the South Island. You’ll often see at least one of the Cook Strait ferries, possibly more than one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Silver blue, the sea like sheets on a bed
At the edge of the world a ferry boat crawls away like a snail…’

…as Don McGlashan wrote in the great Mutton Birds song, ‘Along the Boundary’. I don’t think the song is actually about this spot – I remember McGlashan saying, somewhere, it was about a specific place and memory, but I suspect that place is on the other side of the strait.

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There is a ferry boat, crawling away here, if you squint hard enough

 

But anyway.  It’s off an album which came out in 1995, around the time I moved to Wellington. It’s always had a special place in my heart and I think of this particular song almost every time I go up to this place.

It’s about a child climbing a tree, and struggling to keep up with a bigger child – a friend or, more likely, a sibling or a cousin – who is ‘much older’.

The song tells of a child discovering he/she could keep up with the ‘much older’ person.

‘You never thought I could get such a long way up, but I looked straight ahead…’

And there’s the evocative memory…

‘I feel the branches move around me
I see the thistles along the boundary
Up along the boundary…’

And, from up there, the child’s feeling of, if not omnipotence, then certainly strength and potential:

‘I move patches of wind round the bay of glass
I move shadows of clouds over the grass
I’m at the controls, there isn’t a shelf or a rock on the beach
That I couldn’t reach…

The sun pulls the hills the way the tide pulls on the sea
Waves and waves of grass are breaking, rolling over to me
And the sky’s like a wheel
Like a wheel…’

It’s sheer poetry. McGlashan’s one of our best songwriters: he is certainly our best at evoking the New Zealand space – both headspace and physical space.

He’s kind of a rock muso version of Maurice Gee.

Today the threats those concrete blockhouses were built to face are gone. Behind them, the flat area dug out to house soldiers’ barracks is partly overgrown with lupins.

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Sheep may safely graze there. Children play noisily and happily in the old buildings once built by khaki-clad soldiers in deadly, fear-filled earnestness of an overwhelming threat.

Just over the hills, the Makara wind farms whirl, while under them, a stream of mountain bikers, all sweaty and multicoloured exuberance, whirl their pedals in a kind of mock tribute.

So: here’s the Mutton Birds, doing ‘Along The Boundary’, live. Bit rough, but its still a great song.

Kaikoura

 

Kaikoura is a favourite region. I’ve had numerous escape long weekends there in recent years:  it’s pretty much perfect because there are plenty of walks.

And I love that Coast Road.

Yeah.

The coast road.

If you have a writerly urge is part of the way you cope with life and that includes events like this one.

It can seem a bit self-indulgent, but what the hey. If you can’t be  a bit self-indulgent on a blog, where the hell can you be a bit self-indulgent?

(Genuine question.  As a slightly uptight,  culturally Presbyterian, Kiwi farmboy,  this is an area I probably do need some tips about).

…..Yes, *slightly* uptight. Don’t want to get too carried away about this or anything).

It’s included, in younger and fitter days, some great tramping trips, including climbing the magnificent Mt Tapaonuku back in the late ’90s, and several trips over the Kowhai Saddle, up Hapuku Valley and down through the other side.

Second time on that saddle was a landmark in a different way – going down towards the hut in the dry riverbed, I had one of those ‘hmm..will that collection of rocks hold my foot…yeah should be all right’ moments of hesitation.

And, seconds later a more dramatic moment involving turning a 180 degree turn as the rocks gave way and I struggled to hold my balance. One of the blokes in the group, who was ahead and below me, rekkined afterwards I’d hovered for several seconds and he thought I was going to be ok, before tumbling down the rock slope.

Looked magnificent, he said. Poetry in motion, or something.

Perhaps one of Ezra Pounds more deranged Cantos’, maybe.

The left knee has never been the same since.

Much more sedate visits since, including an immensely productive writing week in an old farm cottage last January.

But it’s a great part of the country: a mix of relatively sedate dairy land, the dramatic Mt Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikouras generally, and that magnificent, and now closed, road.

When I looked onto my digital photo file, I found nearly 200 photos of the region, about half from that road.

First visit was 1990, hitching through from Christchurch with a German marine biology student who had come out to see the whales. I hadn’t heard of Whale Watch at that point – it had been going a couple of years, if that – but word had spread and it was going to be the high point of her trip.

I’ve since done the Whale Watch thing myself: it’s great, though I found the dolphins we encountered more spectacular. About 500 of them, on the port side of the boat, and with the ones furthest away jumping higher, in great spirals, as if to say ‘Wee!! Look at us!!’

The same trip, we did the ultimate Kaikoura meal – crays from Nins Bin, and fried chips. Washed down with some Marlborough Chardonnay (Grove Mill, from memory).

The Kekerengu Store, ideally situated as it is between Kaikoura and Blenheim, is a compulsory stop-off point – the staff and owners are great hosts, the coffee packs the requisite punch and I’ve sat there, written up a journal or edited stuff I’ve been working on.

The shingle beaches – too dangerous to swim off, but wonderfully rugged and desolate. You look out, east, and feel you are on the edge of the world. Somewhere out there, half a hemisphere away, is South America.

It’s a great place to go, to gather your thoughts, and in that isolation locate and settle yourself.

Here’s hoping the geology can also settle itself.

 

Talking on the wireless again

Matthew Hooton is visiting the Americas,  I gather from the Twitter, to make a close study of the current nervous breakdown convulsing the United States’ body politic.

Personally, I rekkin Prozac is at the heart of the problem. Around 15% of Americans are on some form of anti-depressant and I think they’ve been overdosing.

Lescreen-shot-2016-12-28-at-3-45-28-pmad pipes were blamed for the fall of the Roman Empire. The elites all got lead poisoning and went bonkers, started making their horses into zodiacs, masturbating while the city burned, that sort of thing.

In centuries to come, I suspect, historians will recall anti-depressants had a similar role in the collapse of the American hegemony. Certainly, according to legend, the water supply over there is full of the stuff.

All that is by way of aside.

The immediate issue is that Matthew’s departure to the heart, and spleen, of the 21st Century Roman Empire has left a gap in National Radio’s programming.

So it was that late last week, from deep within the labyrinth of Radio New Zealand House , the call rang out, ‘Send for Hosking NO NOT THAT ONE.’

Anyway, I shall be on Nine to Noon this morning, shortly after 11am, discussing the state of the political world.

If anyone wants to hear me more regularly, I’m at NBR Radio here.

UPDATE: you can hear the audio here. http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201821190/political-commentators-stephen-mills-and-rob-hosking

 

Mental health, walking, putting one foot in front of the other metaphorically and literally, etc…

‪#‎mhawnz‬ It’s been Mental Health Awareness…umm. Well… its been going for more than a week but I’m not sure it’s lasting a full month.

Lake Benmore
Lake Benmore

There was a challenge, with the hashtag ‪#‎mhawnz, where you posted a different type of photo from the outdoors every day to mark the period.

The idea is, from what I can gather, to highlight the general benefits of getting out into nature.

I seem to know a lot of people going through mental health issues at the moment.  And – in what now seems like a different life – I was, for five years, a volunteer on Youthline’s crisis line, which gave me a bit of insight into all this.

Personally? I’m not unacquainted with the black dog sniffing around the room at 3am, or waking with what I call the Boulder of Dread on my chest.

Anyone, I’ve learned, can hit overload. It’s not something I dwell on or go on about. I can hyper-intellectualise this by saying self-dramatisation is one of the ills of our age – and that is true, I think.

The other,  probably more important reason is that I’m just, culturally and emotionally,  a bit of an uptight Presbyterian about these things.

I’m okay with that, by the way. I love and accept my attitude problem.

Omarama Bridge
Snow, Omarama Bridge

Anyway, I started doing the photo challenge and then got sidetracked by combination of work and a viral chest infection.

But here’s two pics from the McKenzie area – Lake Benmore, from June a few years back, and just up the road at Omarama, snowing, last year.

More generally, I’ve written about how walking is kind of beaut,  last year.

The old mental appetite is certainly stimulated – and fed – by books, as well as by conversations, chats over coffee,  shouting matches over the Shiraz, gesticulating over the Glenmorangie.

But it is digested by walking.  This is about balance, and the interaction between walking, thinking and feeling.

The full piece, which is a review of a really great book called ‘A Philosophy of Walking’ by Frederic Gros, is here.


Apt, with Labour Weekend looming. Did some of my first tramping trips on Labour Weekends as a kid, back in the 1970s.

It rained, usually.

Nothing so ambitious this weekend, just wombling around the Wellington hills. But I’m kind of happy with that.

Kiwi Music Munff: – ‘Come With Me’ and ‘Kaleidescope World’

Very few New Zealand hits by New Zealand bands were in fact New Zealand songs in the late ’60s.  The general idea was find a catchy but obscure number published overseas, perhaps a hit in some country other than the UK or the US, and have a local group record it.

This lot were an exception.  This isn’t as famous as their big one, ‘Nature‘ but I like it just as much.

Wayne Mason, the bloke who wrote this (as well as ‘Nature’) used the line ‘the horizon is much closer than it seems’ in a mid-’90s song of his as well.

It’s a line which calls out for the #spockDissectsLyrics treatment – if something looks a certain way, it pretty much certainly seems that way as well.

Style wise, its half Brit invasion, half psychedelia.

I was about four when it came out – yes, I do remember hearing it on the wireless, when staying at relatives.

This, much later, song from the Chills, which came out the first year I was out of home, seems to me to have a similar vibe to it and I can’t help but wonder if Martin Phillips was influenced by the earlier New Zild outfit.

Both are about going to other worlds, somehow, in a dreamy rather than a dystopian sense.

It only occurred to me, many many years later, that perhaps ‘Kaleidoscope World’ was about drugs. At the time, I simply assumed it was about using the imagination to go to another place, at least internally.

Ah, well. I was never very good at picking  up on these things.

 

 

Nu Zillun

While taking a vaguely nationalistic bent and watching “Coast – New Zealand” on the Teev, this evening – and in particular listening to the way  Scottish born presenter Neil Oliver says “New Zealand” I found myself recalling a theory  expounded by an old English teacher from my school days.
He reckoned the way New Zealanders pronounce the name of the country – “Nu Zillun” – was derived from Peter Fraser, Prime Minister 1940-49.

Nu Zillun prime minister, 1940-49
Fraser was born in Scotland. This teacher – himself of Scottish heritage and a pillar of the local Presbyterian Church – had a theory Fraser’s diction was picked up and copied by New Zealanders.

It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Fraser was the wartime Prime Minister and that first Labour government was an extremely enthusiastic user of the publicity techniques of the time which included radio and of course newsreels.

It was the first government in New Zealand’s history to use such publicity mechanisms in quite such an aggressive way.

My old teacher’s theory came back to me this evening as I watched the Scottish presenterof “Coast: New Zealand” talk about the country and yes, pronounce it ‘Nu Zillun’.

‘It may not be the new sensation, but it’s the nearest thing to heaven….’

 

Something exuberantly innocent about this song

 One of those online discussions that you get into, or rather arguments I should say, this week featured the pros and cons of National Radio’s “Matinee Idle” programme.
I’m a defender of the programme. I enjoy it. It’s often a bit naff, and to be frank I don’t want to listen to it for long stretches. But it’s fun.
The comparison I use is that it is like one of those old motor camp lounges. These may still exist. I hope they do.

They’re the sort of places that are furnished with ancient, dishevelled chairs and lounge suites, out-of-tune pianos, a rich supply of books, many of them Reader’s Digest versions, slightly dodgy novels from the likes of Harold Robbins and Sven Hassell, probably a few new-agey books on meditation or transactional analysis, plus the occasional gem such as Evelyn Waugh’s ‘Scoop’ or Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’.(Don’t laugh: I’ve found both these in motor camp lounges)

There will be books about World War Two – of course there will. The large ones about tanks will have pages torn out, and perhaps drool stains.
And there will be one of those ancient Ultimate radiograms, probably stocked with scratchy recordings of the Beach Boys Golden Greats, Trini Lopez Live at PJ’s, the Howard Morrison Quartet, and various 20 Solid Gold hits volume Umpteen compilations.
On wet days, and even and the occasional dry days, there will be some kids either playing on ping-pong tables, or some sort of go-round-the-room-by-leaping-around-the-furniture-so-you-don’t-touch-the-floor games on the ancient long-suffering furniture.

Someone will have “Spiders and Snakes” or “Fernando”  going on the stereo. There will be some kids trying to bash out ‘Chopsticks’ on the old out-of-tune piano.

That’s the Matinee Idle vibe. It suits the Kiwi summer brilliantly  like a battered, over-worn jandal.

Okay, I’m sounding completely nostalgic here. The list of examples  outlined probably betrays my own age, a 1970s childhood. It’s been much on my mind the past few weeks, partly because summer always seems to engender at least some wafts of nostalgia.

Someone once called this the “L & P Tinted Spectacles”  view of Kiwi summers. I can’t claim credit for that phrase – I wish I could, it’s brilliant – but I’m inclined to engage in the behaviour, while being aware of the pitfalls.

My earliest memories of summer are of the ground. I suspect this is not unusual: one is rather close to it at that stage of one’s life.

Drought-hardened ground, often with Onehunga weed, particularly noticable as childhood involved going everywhere in bare feet. The pads toughened up by the end of summer, which was useful for going to school: a half mile walk up a gravel road at the start and finish of each day.

There was the hard dry ground of the farm in summer: being taken over to either the hay shed or whichever hay paddock was being worked at the time.

The dirt tracks, usually graded at the start of the season because they would have become so puggy during winter, flattened by the tractors towing the hay tedder and baler, and then the truck carrying loads of hay.

The sounds, too: the rattle of the old tedder we used when I was young, a converted International make which had originally been towed by horses.

The hay baler, with its spurt, spurt, spurt, engine pushing out the hay bales and which always managed to sound more urgent when there was a rush on – either because of looming rain clouds or simply because there was so much to get done.

First time I heard the word ‘message’  was about haymaking – I was about four, and was told Grandma would be coming down ‘with a message about the baler’ – and Mum would have to take it over to the where Dad and Grandpa were working. I had to look out and tell her when Grandma was coming.

I wanted to see what this ‘message’ thing was. I pictured something physical and was disappointed when, in the event, nothing was actually  handed over.

The smells, of course…freshly made hay smells uniquely sweet, but not in a sickly way. It has an uplifting freshness, even when – as when I got a bit older – you’ve been hauling the bales around all day.

The hay smells though are mingled, in the hay paddock, with other aromas: old fashioned baling twine has its own, grease-like smell, and of course there’s is also the smell of grease itself, from the continually working hay tedder and baler.

‘..across the fields of stubble where the bales, they had been….’

Grease, to me, always smells no-nonsense , businesslike. It’s a very practical smell.

Summer holidays, usually a week, sometimes 10 days, one landmark  year a whole two weeks at Camp Morley on the shores of the Manukau.

It’s still there but very different now: all Lockwood chalets.

Back then it was four buildings, two family sized units in each. The buildings were old army huts from World War II – I think they’d been used by the Americans in New Zealand. at the end of the war they’d been put on barges in Onehunga and shipped across the Manukau.

They were pretty basic. Everything in them was second hand.

Ancient beds, with sagging wire bases. Didn’t matter after a while: a lot of the time we’d camp out somewhere along the beach. It tended to be roughly the same families at the same time every year and we all got to know each other pretty well. Friendships – and alliances and rivalries – built up over successive summers.

After dinner: the whole camp would usually join in a huge game of longball which lasted until the sun went down, sometime after 9am.

There were no TVs in the camp. Some of the caravanners would bring in portables but this was widely regarded as kind of copping out on summer. It missed the whole point.

It was on the southern side of the Manukau, across from Mangere Airport. The year the first jumbo jet landed – 1971, I think, one of the first years we went there – the entire camp sat along the edge of the foreshore to see it coming in, One of the older kids (i.e. about eight or nine) running up and down and yelling ’the jumbo jet! The jumbo jet!’ As it came in low towards Mangere.

Being the Manukau, the tide went out a long way. At low tide, in the distance, were two rocks. A couple of kids walked out to them one day and came back reporting there was a whole lot of bombs out there, and the rocks were in fact very large slabs of concrete.

No-one believed them, of course, but enough curiosity was roused for a general expedition the next day.

This produced about half a dozen little bomb-like things, in various stages of corrosion and general dismemberment. Full size they were about the length and diameter of a fully grown guinea pig.

One of the adults at the camp – a Territorial in his spare time – took one look, turned puce and phoned up the Ardmore Military Camp (it dates this piece that there still was a camp at Ardmore).

A couple of Serious Uniformed Blokes turned up in a landrover. Looked at the bits of bomb spread out on the footpath by the temporarily abandoned home made go-Karts, chuckled, and suggested they had once been smoke bombs, probably, but 30 years previously. They were no risk to anyone now, at least not explosively.

Lurking on the edge during all this was a lad, about 17 I’d say, who worked on the farm next door. He was hanging around because – as was plain to me even at that age and with my tendency to be oblivious to these nuances – he had a huge crush on one of the girls.

He mentioned, to the army blokes, there was a bomb-like thing over at the farm. it was propping up the door to one of the sheds, he reckoned. “Oh, go and get it, we’ll have a look,” says one of the Army guys (they had relaxed, and someone had made them a cuppa and had brought out the biscuit tin.)

The lad returns, 10 minutes or so later, with this missile-shaped device: bigger than the ones hauled out of the Manukau mud, about a foot and a half long  and in pretty good condition.

The army blokes leap up from their tea with some urgency, carry it delicately out to the middle of the field where we played longball and indicate, with some  degree of excitement, that everyone should keep away for a bit.

A bit of historical research turned up a few facts: there had been an air-base further along the spit of land the camp was on, and both the blocks out at low tide, and the concrete building in the paddock next to the camp, had been used for target practice during World War Two by squadrons based there.

The following year, a bunch of us announced we were going to go along and find the old airbase site.

It was a big expedition, set up with all the focus and serious determination small boys can bring to such projects. We packed lunches, drinks, and set off at low tide to find the base.

Operation Seagrove – ‘Seagrove’ being the name of the base – took a couple of attempts, but like good keen young Kiwi lads, we eventually knocked the bugger off.

That is the other thing summers are for, regardless of your age. Expeditions, voyages into the unknown, whether the “unknown” is river, sea, mountain or other natural spaces, or the inner spaces explored by new books, or old books re-discovered.

Summer break gives the rest of the year some perspective. It involves taking some distance from the day-to-day. This often involves an indirect route, but indirect routes, on such intrepid journeys, only add to the depth and experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rugby World Cup: NZL 62, FRA 13 

So , things went reasonably well in the quarter final against France after all. 

But we would not be New Zild if we were not already fretting about the semi final* against the ‘Boks next weekend. 

 
I once met an English bloke who had played for the Poms’ schoolboy rugby team against their NZ counterparts. The English schoolboys were coached by a former Lion and Welsh rugby forward.

Giving the lads the benefit of his experience, he instructed them New Zealand teams are not motivated by a desire to win.

They are driven, overwelmingly, by a fear of losing. 

This conversation took place in early 1999. Reviewing the ABs results of the previous season , I suggested it was a fear which seemed to have been been, regrettably, overcome. 

Joking aside: the focus now will be on the Ancient Enemy: the Springboks. Who, of course, appear to have got over any fear they mght have of losing by spectacularly coming a gutser against Japan. 

Rugby World Cups are meant to operate like this. The idea is they will raise the standard of less-well-performing rugby nations – espeically, it has to be said, those with the money to hire expertise from the more well performing rugby nations. 

We can see that, too, in the  strong likelihood Argentina will be in the other semi-final. 

Anyway, this morning’s result is not too foul. I rekkin we can feel a bit chuffed about it, without, of course, going berserk or anything.   
*There are people on the Twitter joking about the way we call semi finals ‘semis’ as though it is some rude thing. It probably is, but I’m not going to look it up. 

Marvellous-ish years, seething energies, and the trick of blogging upright

There is an elephant in the room – this computer,
an evolutionary change happening in our lifetime,
reducing our customs to fossils and converting
our children to new formats. As the Digital Age
powers on, I look wistfully at my books,
pen and notepad, and see that language is mutating.
Now the Web is a field of seething energies,
ready to extend and pool consciousness, is this
the transformation of the world to a unified virtual mind
or merely another noisy playground and marketplace?…

That is Roger Horrocks on the effect of the digital world on books, writing, literature, culture – and, ultimately, identity. The full piece is here and it’s well worth a read.

He doesn’t come to any conclusions – sensibly, I think. We’re in the middle of a revolution right now – and for once the word ‘revolution’ is not hyperbole – and it isn’t at all clear what the outcome will be.

Horrocks isn’t sure whether to be optimistic or pessimistic. Personally, I’m tentatively optimistic.

New Zealand has always had a very “thin” cultural scene – it is a function of our small size and distance from everywhere else. The internet has broken that down and will no doubt break it down further.

My optimism lies in Horrocks comments about the ‘field of seething energies, ready to extend and pool consciousness.’

It is in the process of wrenching our notoriously parochial cultural scene out of its small-town-ness: it is also breaking down hierarchies and – dare one say it? – the ivory towers of universities.

Technology is breaking down both distance and walls and this has only just begun, I believe. It makes our small size less telling, provides easy access to a more global perspective and ideas and, obviously, helps ideas get around.

History is also deepening. The passage of time itself is helping, of course. But there is, I’ve noticed, a real hunger to talk, argue and occasionally throw things about New Zealand’s history, amongst the generation coming through.

As for the choice Horrocks outlines in the last line quoted above: I don’t think its a choice. It’s both.

The trick is going to be making sure the extension and pooling of consciousness happens along with the noise.