Rugby – that ’70s Show version 

lions 1971

There was a time when rugby test matches had a sense of occasion. Now, it seems, they’re a bit like the latest software upgrade. Don’t worry about missing this one, there will be another along in two or three clicks of a Yes I Have Read The Terms and Conditions.

Even the Rugby World Cup…hell, it only seems the other day the first or second* most famous whitebaiter in NZ history (and son, btw, of my 7th Form History teacher) was lining up a shot at goal at Eden Park.

This year?  I have an uneasy feeling. And so, for now, I’m going to take a dip in the steamy bathtub of nostalgia. I like it, and besides, it has a cute rubber duck.

So, here, first: an excerpt from the fillum Footrot Flats about rugby.

It might as well be a documentary. Captures the attitudes and dreams of an era perfectly.

And then there’s this moment, from winter 1977. The try that won the series against the Lions. It wasn’t the first test series I’d followed – that was the previous year, when the All Blacks went to South Africa – but this has happier memories.

Firstly, of course, the ABs won, unlike in South Africa, when the tests were almost 16 players versus 14, partly because the All Black selectors did not take a first class fullback or an in form goal-kicker, and partly because the referees were South African and delivered some crucial, dodgy decisions at critical moments, especially  in the fourth test (one referee is reputed to have half-apologised, afterwards, to an All Black by saying ‘you have to understand, I have to live in this country’  .

Secondly,  and of growing importance in the mid-1970s, was the Lions series did not have the moral ambiguity  attached to the South African tour.

Personal example: at the age of 12, I could follow the 1976 series: by the 1981 tour, I was not watching any of the games (and never have since, btw, even on Youtube), rowing with my parents and getting into scuffles at school on the issue. (note, too – I didn’t start scuffles physically, but being unable to keep a smart arsed comment to myself used cause situations to develop )

The  NZ Listener, in those days, had a monopoly on listing what was on TV. Yes, that’s right. The newspapers were allowed to print the TV listings for that day, but no one else was allowed to print them 10 days or so ahead, as the state owned Listener did.
Whenever the All Blacks had a test series, the Listener would have a big preview edition, usually with the All Black captain of the era on the cover (can still recall a great pic of Andy Leslie, the 1974-76 captain, balancing a ball and looking purposefully into the middle distance, before the South African series).

There was a centrefold pull out, with all the games n the tour: you could pin it on the wall and market off the scores in each game.

They were kind of neat. Well, I thought so.

The other oddity was around whether the tests would be broadcast live on the telly. This  was never officially announced or included in the tv listings.

The Rugby Union, you see, was worried fewer people would go to the games.

It didnt’ make a blind bit of difference because everyone assumed the tests would be on the telly.

And everyone was right. Rioting in the streets would have eventuated if the games hadn’t been broadcast.  Would have made what happened in 1981 look like a friendly game of swingball in comparison.
The first test of the Lions series coincided with National Field Days at Mystery Creek, and me and my brother   were there with Dad. One of the the stalls – it may have been Livestock Improvement – had connected up a tv and the place was crowded out well before the official kick off time at 2:30pm.

Remember: this is despite it being officially uncertain whether the games were to be broadcast or not.

The other thing I note about this Lawrie Knight try is how people are reacting to it. The crowd, of course, goes wild, but then by this point in the game the crown was probably fairly well lubricatd.

Look at the players, though. They’re probably quite pleased, but in most cases its kind of difficult to tell.

They’re certainly not going berserk and hugging each other like soccer players.

That’s another thing which has changed, changed utterly.

Russell Brown has a piece on this here:  he points to a wider degree of comfort with emotions amongst New Zealanders, especially men, and I think he’s right there, but of course he suggests it might  be something to do with drugs.

Now, this is not my area of expertise, so I have to defer to Russell’s much greater knowledge of the topic. And it is quite possible – very possible in fact, – that the use of various substances is more widespread than I have noticed.

But I have my doubts.

No doubt a Colin Meads or similar would put it down to too much pasta and salad eating by test players, not enough mutton, and far too many women teachers.

Again, I think this is unlikely.

I just think we’ve loosened up a bit. Also, there is a degree of emotional incontinence   around now which has probably swung too far the other way.

It would not do to greet every success as if we are slighty embarrassed by the whole thing. (although, surely, if we are embarrassed by the whole thing, it should be ok to express that)

Besides, emotional repression has been unfairly maligned, at  times, I feel. There is a place for it. Sometimes you do have to Not Make a Fuss – be it about a good thing or bad thing.

There is such a thing as a happy medium.

Well, a reasonably content medium, anyway.

We don’t want  to get too carried away.

* Whether you like The Bone People nor not, I rekkin Beaver has to compete with NZ’s only Booker Prize Winner for this title. 

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.

WHAT NEW TRICKERY WAS THIS?

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.

MILTOWN STOWAWAYS – Strong and True 1983

One of the great, if slightly weird, New Zild songs from the first half of the 1980s.

Some would call it a golden era for NZ Music, a lot of time time it was more a rather grubby yellow colour, though that grubbiness was despite rather than because of the music.

This is a lovely mix of styles – jazz, ska/reggae, and a hint of Stax-Volt soul.

And that vocal! There is something very ‘strong Kiwi sheila’ about the contralto – is that the right term? – tones of the lead singer.

This came out around mid-1983. Picked up the EP in the Whakatane rekkid store, use to play it on Saturday mornings while I washed my work shirts in a bucket.

Happy days.

City of a thousand….meh

Spent much of the week in Auckland. It is always a bit weird going back there: I lived there for 10 years and the fingerprints of memory are still grimily splattered around the place.

Mostly the inner west and south: Of the 11 years in the Sprawl I lived most of the time in a run of flats in an arc from Western Springs, through to Kingsland/Sandringham and across to Royal Oak.


It bucketed down on the Saturday and I was having flashbacks to long aimless Auckland weekends, the feeling you often get in your 20s, life hasn’t really started yet and there’s all sorts things, a lot of them undefined, you need to do but for various reasons can’t yet.

This was pre-property boom Auckland: arrived in 1985 just as the sharemarket frenzy was taking off and even though the first two years saw me working for business magazines all that stuff struck me as being a bit inflated.  In retrospect it was a bit weird, being exposed to that mirror glass world and then going home to crappy, un-gentrified villas, passing round the cider or the Baileys (or a cheap home made substitute) and listening to Flying Nun bands and the Smiths.

I have a theory – and its a long way from being original – that some people are born to be a certain age. There’s an assumption that someone’s prime is in their 20s or so – its there in that word “prime” – but that’s utter balderdash.

I wasn’t all that good at being young. Nothing particularly horrendous happened: it was just a bit meh.

Some of us are rather good at being middle aged. I probably got the knack of this when I was about 15, in fact. It’s been a long wait.

The only big birthday I’ve celebrated as an adult was when I turned 30 because it felt like I was leaving all that crap behind and as it turned out I was right. Left Auckland a year later.

It is a very different city now. In 1985, for all the surface froth, there was a sense of subsidence. A legacy of the Muldoon-era orphan-of-British-Empire vibe, perhaps.

It was a lot more mono-cultural and becoming more so in the central city: in 1986 I chucked in full time journalism and became a postie (it paid more) and was delivering mail in the Ponsonby area.

Again, major dissonance: gentrification was under way at the top end of places like Norfolk, Summer and Anglesea streets. There would be BMWs parked outside, I’d be delivering mail which included listed company annual reports and Labour Party membership newsletters to houses which, in the weekend, always seemed to have the soundtrack from The Big Chill blaring out of expensive stereos.

At the bottom of those streets were still the last of the Pacific Island immigrant families, slowly being forced out. Sometimes I’d be taking in registered letters: they were damp and horrible houses and often the registered letters would obviously be from debt collectors or landlords.

Now, of course, those houses are worth more than a million bucks.

Anyway, the music from that era still resonates. The attached clip is a mournful Celtic-type number from a Flying Nun band who may have done other songs but I never heard them.

This though, “Actifed Blues” is a lovely, sad number. [Warning: clip contains the Kiwi Bacon Factory, a lot of trains, a phone box at Auckland Uni, and more trains. ]

It’s a Happenin’ Thing….Kiwi Music Munff

According to John Dix’s monumental history of New Zealand music, ‘Stranded in Paradise’, Happen Inn – referred to in the previous post – was a less “hip”, more family friendly version of ‘Come’On, the 1960s pop show hosted by Pete Sinclair.

I’m too young to remember ‘Come On’ but I remember Happen Inn: it was the more pop version of ‘Country Touch’ the other music programme run by NZBC televsion in the late 1960s.

No one would call a programme ‘Country Touch’ these days.  They might, I suppose, call a programme The Grunt Machine, which was the later, mid-1970s, predecessor to Radio With Pictures.

Anyway, here’s a clip from, I think, Happen Inn, circa 1969.

This song came out round the time I started school. A wet winter, and I found school a huge disappointment. They expected me to sit still in class, not just in my chair but on the mat. With everyone else, and all.

Pfft.

And they wanted to read to me, rather than teach me to read. I felt quite short changed by this whole school thing.

Anyway, this was around on the radio at the time. This particular song was, as noted earlier, one of those songs which was a hit overseas – in this case, Greece, by Aphrodite’s Child. Their lead singer, Demis Roussos, later went solo. He was a large bloke, with a beard and I have a vague memory of him wearing kaftans.

He had a huge hit in the 1970s called ‘My Friend the Wind’, which I recall being subject to some inventive  and witty lyrical alteration when I was at high school.

This tune is a straight rip off of Pachelbel’s Canon in D (there’s a lovely version here by the London Symphony Orchestra), as are many other famous pop tunes. Everything from ‘Let it Be’ to ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ to ‘Don’t Marry Her‘ to…oh, this Canadian guy has a rant on the subject.

Later, the more venerated Radio With Pictures had great local clips like this one: Chris Knox’s first post-Toy Love offering, Nothing’s Going to Happen.

I seem to remember this clip being a big deal at the time: the nature of the video, in particular, was weirdly different, and the dolorous  but intriguing tune was the first inkling something new and interesting was being cooked up in Christchurch and Dunedin.

I don’t know if the Clean’s Anything Could Happen was intended as an Answer Song  – a bit like the Jim Reeves/ Jeanne Black He’ll Have to Go/ He’ll Have to Stay numbers from the early 1960s  – to the Tall Dwarf’s effort.

I would kinda like to think so, though.

I’ve written about this one before so I won’t ramble on it again.

For NZ Music Month: Bill & Boyd – Abergavenny (NZ) 1969

Not, technically,  a New Zild song – it is about a place in Wales and was a big hit for English singer Marty Wilde in the late ’60s.

But hell, ‘Gumboots’ isn’t a Kiwi song either. Nor is ‘Ten Guitars’. Yet New Zealanders have taken them to their hearts, like a kind of musical cholesterol.

Back in the Bad Ol’ Days, on NZBC television, local singers did versions of the current hit songs, in a characteristic New Zild way.

So here we have marching girls. Are marching girls still a thing?  They used to be huge in this country. I have no idea why.

This was probably on Happen Inn, a music show on the telly in the late 1960s hosted by Pete Sinclair. They used to do things like this.

The singers are Bill and Boyd. They later grew moustaches, moved to Australia, sang ‘Put Another Log on the Fire‘ and ‘Santa Never Made it in to Darwin’. 

I think there’s still a warrant out.

Here’s to 2015

It is usually around this time of the year a lot of folk take stock, discard the old, wheel the new into place, and make various promises to themselves about the coming 12 months or so.

I’m not going to get too carried away with this stuff. There’s a few priorities I’d like to be able to put a tick next to by around this time in 2016, I suppose: these involve nothing particularly earth shattering or original.

A bit less weight around the middle: a bit more money in the bank: that sort of thing. I’ve started a regular walking programme, or rather, a Sweating and Turning Red programme. By the time I’ve walked to the bottom of Mt Vic, done some weights at the Freyberg, and then walked back up the hill, my face makes the pohutakawa flowers in this picture, here, look a bit on the pale side.

Also doing a bit of writing, in a bit more of a focused and organised fashion. Deep in Muldoon-related stuff right now: it is oddly cheering, not so much about what happened then, but about today’s economic issues.

It was a uniform thing

Story in the Haerald, linked to by Danyl, had me swaying slightly uncertainly down memory lane.

University pub crawl, sometime in late ’80s.  I wasn’t drinking a huge amount but I’d had a couple of beers & we’d reached the best pub on the crawl  – the Shakespeare.

We’re on a table next to the window and three traffic wardens amble past. I muse to the group, “I’ve always wanted one of their hats.”

Its important to remember that at the time traffic wardens wore fairly formal uniforms. Oh, and I had a bit of a thing about women and hats.

“I dare ya,” says one of the group – who is now, by the way, a highly respected university professor of philosophy at  an Ivy League American college.

“Twenty bucks?” I ask, knowing that with his family background he can well afford it.

“You’re on,” he says.

The three wardens are by now waiting at the traffic lights on the corner by the pub, so I dip out and sneak silently – or so I thought – up behind them.

I figured I’d go for the middle one because I didn’t want to make it too easy.

As I got to striking distance she whirls around, grabs her hat in one hand and the other one shoves a finger under my nose.

“You want it?  Its thirty five bucks,” she says.

With as much dignity as I could muster I pulled out my wallet and asked if she’d take a cheque.

“You’ve got to be joking,” she says.

Quick calculation tells me if I fork over the $35 and win the bet I’m still $15 down.

I’m stingy. Besides, by then the ‘cross now’ signal had gone and they headed across Wyndham St. Laughing, the heartless cows.

Still. Nice uniforms they had in those days.

There is some ill a-brewing towards my rest

John Birmingham has a post about how the economics of home brewing are well and truly rooted.  He’s right.  Personally I have never trusted any home brew.

I recall little of my own first experience of home brew but I do recall the next day, waking, whimpering and clinging to the carpet, ripping my eyelids open and having a vicious little pixie with a pick-axe rise up and smite me between the eyes, and go on smiting for the next two days.

God help me, I was only 17.

A few years later, at uni,  a bloke I knew produced some lovely homebrew at a party:  tasted like a particularly light and refreshing cider. It slipped down easy and was about 12% proof. To the unititiated, it said ‘drink lots of me, I’m easy’.

To wiser heads, it screamed BEWARE.  I had half a glass and kept steady while the rest of the room degenerated into mayhem, wreckage, and debauchery.

The bloke who made the home brew now heads up one of the country’s more prominent and successful  fund managers.  Read into this what you will.

The spiritual home of the Home Brew kit is of course the all male flat, something which Mr Birmingham alludes to….there is a reference back to his meisterwerk, ‘He Died With A Felafel In His Hand’, where he notes all male flats tend to bring out The Beast.

I am still friends with the blokes I knew in my last all-male flat.  Wonderful chaps, who have gone on to  become sober and upright….well, upright-ish… citizens and family men.

But the day a couple of them decided to make home brew in the new wheelie bin the council had thoughtfully provided was the day I decided to move out.  I could see where this was heading.

The 1981 Tour: The Protests, the Rage, the Moustaches

“That’s a bit too bloody corny,” I thought last night, watching the two lovers across the 1981 Tour divide embrace in Onslow Road, next to a group of protesters overturning a Holden Kingswood.
The scene – the climax of Rage, a drama about the ’81 protests – was reaching a bit too hard for some sort of symbolic reconciliation and redemption.
 
He, a protest leader from conservative provincial New Zealand who had been radicalised at University:  she a Maori cop who had been working undercover with the protest movement and had, despite herself, fallen in love.
Staging their first honest kiss next to that up-ended Kingswood – which was one of the most memorable photo-images from that bitterly divided year – seemed a bit too cute.
But despite my natural cynicism, I found myself choking up.
There is what might look like a similarly stagy bid for a feel good ending, with Julius Nuyere, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM)  later that year, saying how the New Zealand protests gave black Africans hope.
The speech looks a bit contrived, but the co-writer of the programme, journalist Tom Scott, was at that CHOGM meeting and, at the time, reported Nuyere saying pretty much what he says in the film.
‘Rage’ is very well done.  There’s a couple of liberties taken  – I don’t think the Clean’s ‘Boodle Boodle Boodle’ came out until after the tour, for example  – but these are minor.
The small touches are neatly done and they give the drama depth.  It is all too easy, when writing history of large events like this, to turn every dialogue into a speech and to paint all the action in large brush strokes.
This is mostly avoided.  The characters are real, not sloganeering archetypes.
One small example: Ginette McDonald, who has only a minor role as a middle aged, middle class, woman caught up in the protests. 
The mark of a great actor is being able to capture a character with a few lines and a look, and McDonald is a great actor.  Here, she conveys not only a character but a whole sub-stratum of New Zealand who were opposed to the Tour, not because of radicalism or any great bolshiness, but due to a  slightly bewildered but determined decency.
If you missed ‘Rage’ last night, get hold of it.  Its very very good.