Pokemon Gone

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This, from the Twitter feed of Zach Braff  says everything that needs to be known, or said, about the Pokemon Go thingy.

Apart from the fact that, really, it’s not an internet fad until those Pokemon whatjamakallits start planking.

Oh, and if you don’t know who Zach Braff is – he played JD in the comedy ‘Scrubs’ which made me laugh immoderately on many an occasion.

New Year’s Eve: ‘Here’s to what the future brings…’

I only started celebrating New Years when I left home: it was a bit of a culture shock to find the rest of the world made such a big deal of it.

Back home, New Years was – weather permitting –in the middle of haymaking. Staying up to midnight to see the year in was the worst possible indulgence, if you had to get up in the morning to milk cows and then spend much of the day in the hay paddock.

So the first few New Years away from home kind of made up for it. They’re a bit of a blur.

Some were memorable: a three day-er in Whakatane, with a 21st on December 30 (happily, a Friday) spilling over into a New Year’s party at the same venue the following afternoon/evening/night/morning/ and then New Years Day on Ohope Beach.

Or a toast to the New Year on Mt St John in Auckland, a few years later: or stopping half way across Mangere Bridge at midnight having just picked up a friend from the airport.

Others were spent in tents in places like the Kaimanawas, and one memorable one in a cave on the edge of the Beansburn River, watching the rain come down, the river raise, and – further up, the snowline come further down the pass.

There was an exhausted, altitude sickness one in Kathmandu in Nepal, in the late ‘90s.

The last one I saw in was the Millennium, from the top of Mt Victoria.

A couple of years later, having done the Heaphy Trail and torn an Achilles tendon, I was with a bunch of fellow trampers at the Last Resort in Karamea, awaiting the midnight hour.

Pretty stuffed. A couple of games of pool had come and gone. The proprietor had excitedly promised us, when we checked in, “something special!” for New Years and when we asked us what it was he proclaimed “JELLY WRESTLERS!”

He looked a bit shocked when we just stared blankly black.

I was on about the third or fourth beer, and it was starting to taste soapy – a personal warning indicator light.

Checked the watch. It was 11:15pm.

O to hell with this – I’ve seen in enough New Years, I thought, and limped off to the bunkhouse.

In that spirit, I don’t think I’ll be seeing 2016 in at midnight. Unless either the daughter or the neighbours get me up, in which case, there might be a certain lack of the seasonal spirit.

I may commit sarcasm.

But, in the spirit of the New Year, here’s the Kinks, with probably their last really decent single.

I love the vocal – as Ray Davies starts with,

Here’s wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.

he sounds like a drunken uncle rising unsteadily to his feet and beginning New Year’s (or maybe a 21st ) speech.

So here’s to everyone who had a crap year and is planning on a better 2016. There’s plenty I know like that.
And for everyone else, too: here’s to better things.

 

I know you’ve got a lot of good things happening up ahead,
The past is gone, it’s all been said.
So here’s to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you’ll find better things…

Rugby, New Zealand, and a civilised sense of perspective

A bunch of blokes tossing around a ball in an impromptu game of touch; a few people resting on the edges of Chaffers Park, reading and picnicking, while behind a jazz band played in the produce market. Over towards Te Papa, the fruit & veggie market was in full swing, albeit a bit quieter than it is usually at this point on a Sunday.

A long weekend, with some folChaffers Civiisationk away; plus a few more regulars grabbing some extra zeds after getting up early to watch the All Black vs. Springbok semi, all played their part, I suspect.

The general atmosphere is one of a chilled out, civilised and relaxed Kiwi Sunday.

I’d like to think the scene this morning – and, more importantly, the general mood around it – would have been the same if the ABs had lost.

Perspective is all.

Edge of the seat stuff while the game is on – and today’s game was a traditional All Black-South Africa match in that it was incredibly intense, quite scraggly in bits, and not all that pretty at times.

Oh, and we’re bitching about the reffing.

The more the ruck ball rules changes, the more things stay the same.

The French should come up with a saying about that, though perhaps it should be rendered partly in Afrikaan & partly in Welsh.

New Zealand is into the final, against the Pumas or – more likely – the Wallabies – but I hope that whatever the result next weekend, we’ll take it in our stride.

British author Kingsley Amis used to rekkin a bad book review might ruin hs breakfast but he wouldn’t allow it to ruin his lunch.

It’s a good rule which I think we should apply to All Black losses – even if I don’t quite believe Amis took his own advice (oh, and one of the reasons he might not have allowed it to upset his midday meal was his lunch was generally of the alcoholic variety).

But it’s the principle of the thing.

Win or lose next week, New Zealand will still be the relaxed, civilised country we can, at our best, be.

 

 

 

 

Ferry from Massey Memorial

Light, intelligent, witty reading: ‘Dear Committee Members’ by Julie Schumacker

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacker Doubleday 2014

“I’m glad we have different last names” was the reaction of Julie Schumacker’s  husband when he read the first draft of this book.

The prudent chap was no doubt worried about the hostages to fortune in this neat, funny novel of decaying campus life. I think Schumacker and her husband are both American academics, and the characterisation of Jay Fitger, a cynical and verbosely angry English professor in a decaying Midwest university is not flattering.


I don’t know if letters of recommendation (LOR) are a thing in New Zealand academia  – I kind of hope the Kiwi informality means people just pick up a phone.

Or, more likely, work out who they know in common  – ‘cos there’s bound to be a few people – and call them.

Anyway, this is a short but very funny novel, made up mostly of letters of recommendation, or letters and emails about letters of recommendation.

“Epistolatory Novels” have been around since the start of the novel as an art form – Ol’ Sam Richardson kicked the genre off around about the time of the War of Jenkins’ Ear. They’re a good way to do comedy: they can reveal so much character. They also give the smart alecky folks who read campus novels a chance to smirk knowingly.

Which is what happens here – but as the book goes on the sardonic distance between the reader and Fitger gradually closes. He isn’t just a generator Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 10.06.32 amof witty, knowing and disconsolate lines.

Fitger is bored and frustrated, mostly: his own career as a novelist has fizzled and his marriage has busted up after having an affair: unfortunately both his ex and the woman he had the disastrous affair with are now people he needs to beg for professional and personal favours, and many of these letters show him doing just that.

His department, English, has had its funding frozen if not shrunk and much of the time he is fighting a rearguard action, and petty turf and status wars, against more favoured faculties (Economics, which has inherited some of English’’s resources, is a particular enemy.

Yes, as well as being an epistolatory novel, it is also one of that more recent genre, the comic campus novel, something which is more of an English than an American speciality, and there is something of a middle aged, disappointed and jaded trans-Atlantic ‘Lucky Jim’ about Fitger.

Much of the time he is trying to stave off boredom and a crippling sense of futility: a former pupil seeking preferment at a supermarket is recommended as a writer who had submitted a story

about an inebriated man who tumbles into a café and surfaces form an alcoholic stupor to find that a tentacled monster –  a sort of fanged and copiously salivating octopus, if memory serves – is gnawing through the flesh of his lower legs, the monster’s spittle burbling ever closer to the victim’s groin….
Whether punctuality and an enthusiasm for flesh-eating cephalopods are the main attributes of the ideal Wexler employee I have no idea, but Mr Leszczynski is an affable young man, reliable in his habits, and reasonably bright.
You might start him off in produce, rather than seafood or meats.”

Attempts to recommend the department’s surly IT “help” desk staffer for a job grow in intensity, and I think we’ve all dealt with the type who” clearly suffers under the burden of our collective ignorance. Mr Napp demonstrates  all the winsome ebullience one expects these days from a young person inclined to socialise with machines rather than human beings….whatever I can do to assist in your – or any other firms – hiring of Mr Napp I will accomplish with resolution and zeal.”

Those excerpts give the book’s flavour…but as the story develops Fitger shows his heart – well, some of it – in highly guarded fashion.

It’s well worth a read.

Recommended, in fact.

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.

To Blog or not to blog

I started blogging back in the middle of the last decade when my Better Half was quite unwell and it became a surrogate social life.
Its become somewhat moribund the last couple of years as other things have taken over, but it is 10 years old this month and a decade is kind of a put up or shut up point.

Having pondered the matter for a while, I’m doing the WordPress migration. So here it is.

Do not expect frequent posts. I usually do something on the weekend, but not every weekend.

It’s a hobby. I’m not going to make the mistake of thinking of it as anything much more than that, even though it is, obviously, a hobby which dovetails very closely with other interests and with work.

For those who read it all eight of you – you may have noticed I tend to do less politics these days.

Partly –  a very big part, in fact –  it is too much like the day job. When the blog started, I was still doing mostly weekly print work. The work work which was online tended to be business, finance, superannuation and insurance stories. Since around 2008 the online political work has taken off.

But theres a bigger, more important reason.
Blogging in the New Zealand context has come to be associated almost exclusively with politics. 

For a whole lot of reasons Ive never liked that and, more recently, its come to bug the hell out of me.

It annoyed me a lot, last year, when there were a few feature articles about the New Zealand blogosphere and it focused almost totally on the political ones. 

This was well before what people had been writing on blogs became – for the media around and about two thirds of the political class anyway – the story of the election campaign.

There are plenty of other things to write about, argue about, even get quite angry or excited about. And to me the most interesting stuff going on in the blogosphere wasn’t – and still isn’t – the particularly inane high school gang/sporting team level of “debate” (and here I use the word “debate” ironically if not totally and utterly wrongly) which goes on.

There are many different types of bores in the world but one of the worst type is those who think their political views are the most interesting thing about themselves instead of – usually – one of the least interesting.
Which does not mean one cannot have an intelligent,interesting debate about politics on the blogs.
My word, one certainly can. And the blogs I have always enjoyed often have a political aspect, and are frequently written by people with strong political views.

But they keep politics in its place. Where it should be. 

There are a number of specialist blogs adding much to the country’s conversation – on books and on economics, to take two examples not totally at random. 

I’ll write more on this, somewhere else, some other time. 


A note on Beer and Beervana

‘Find yourself at Beervana’ the banner stretched near Wellington’s Cake-tin Stadium recommends those who draw near.

It is a strangely new-agey slogan for Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.42.10 amsomething associated with beer. Self actualisation amid the hops seems a stretch, somehow, although I suppose beer has been associated with rites of passage in New Zealand since time immemorial* so there is some sort of link to matters of meaning there.

Beer has changed. It isn’t flavourless, oversugared swill any more.

Wellington has become, for reasons which may not be totally clear, the craft beer capital of the country as well as being, you know, the real capital.

It is great for Wellers to be associated with something which didn’t have its origin in politics or government or those bloody hobbit movies.

Or does it?

OK, we can, thankfully, skip the political angle.

But I rekkin the emergence of craft beer as Wellington thing is linked closely to the Peter Jackson movies.

Firstly, something was needed to replace coffee for my fellow Wellingtonians to get precious about. Peak coffee snobbery in fact was reached sometime in the mid-late ‘90s – (for Auckland this happened around a decade later) and a replacement was a long time coming.

But the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings brought a new wave of people to the capital.

Extras.

In this case, extras who played hobbits. Who, in the way of fillum extras everywhere, had to spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for the film technical folk to get film technical things just right.

You can see what happened.

Someone, one day, surveyed this bunch of intense, nerdy, short, bearded blokes hanging around listlessly with nothing to do, and had an idea.

“[click of fingers, lightbulb going off above head] BEER!

Not just any beer, but crafty, fussy beer these fillum types can make a big deal about. Beer which, it is claimed, is “hand crafted” – a term which always triggers a mental image of someone kneading the stuff.

And thus an industry was born.

Do not get me wrong. There are a couple of brew in this lot which I love. Tuatara comes tops – their Helles is a fantastic lager, and I’m a recent convert to their Copper-top.

Hallertau also has a couple of very good products – again, the red brew, ‘Copper Tart’ has a fine flavour which goes well with curries.

A darker brew is the Hallertau Deception. I’m quite a fan of dark lagers – I really miss Christchurch Dux de Lux brewer’s Hereford Dark Lager.

Anyway, enough of this.

Beer is for drinking, for talking over – not about.

*when Wilson Whineray retired from the All Blacks