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.


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.

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.


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.

Heavy Blanket

I don’t normally do this sort of thing on social media – but this is an exception. I can vouch for the usefulness of these blankets – they didn’t solve the sleep issues we have with our daughter, but they helped a lot, and she loves her ‘heavy blanket.’

And I’ve seen other kids on the autism spectrum benefit from the anxiety-reducing properties of them.

They’re not cheap – and if you’re a not-so-well-off parent of a child on the spectrum, they’re of a price that can hurt.

So, anyway. Here’s the givealittle link.


A rare visit to the pictures…

Saw ‘Starter for 10‘ last Friday. Set at a UK Uni in the mid 80s and about a bloke who is determined to go on University Challenge and bed his blonde teammate.

It doesn’t quite work out, of course, but it’s a damn good laugh. They seem to do Uni Challenge a bit different in the UK to the way we used to do it here.

The year I was on it only a couple of teams took it seriously. Auckland wasn’t one of them. We took the attitude it was a week’s free holiday in Dunedin, and that was about it.

The attached picture is from the Listener sometime in late 1989. I’m amazed I ever had that much hair. Note the mixed image – underneath the scarf and long dark overcoat is a check shirt bought from the local Dairy Factory back home.

There was quite a bit of partying but I had glandular fever at the time and I’ve never drunk so much tomato juice in my life.

The first night there the organisers – TVNZ – figured we’d like to see a video. They put a great deal of thought into it. You can imagine them thinking ‘what sort of film would people who go in for University Challenge most like?’ and came up with Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The room we saw it in was packed. Many of them there knew every word and kept talking along with the film. This completely annoyed the manager of the Massey team, because she was the only person in the room who had not seen it at least three times.

Nerds? Who said nerds?

Some of the teams had done a lot of training. One team was reputed to have creative visualisation exercises to motivate them, whereby they visualised the prize – a PC – on their desk. At least two of the teams – Waikato and Vic – had been selected quite a while before and had spent the ensuing period doing training quizzes.

We’d had one training session. It was meant to be three hours but after the first hour we went to Shadows.

We still nearly won. Came up against Vic in the semi and they were all completely hungover.

The final – against Waikato – initially, was a draw. We’d got one question awarded though which turned out to be not right – from memory we had to name a bunch of South American countries which had something in common. Can’t recall what.

Anyway, we’d named Paraguay, I think, which wasn’t right. Waikato challenged this, were proved right, and we had to re-enact and refilm two thirds of the game.

When we got on the bus to the airport afterwards, the Waikato team got on after us and we starting singing ‘Don’t cry for me Paraguay…’

That was the last Uni Challenge they had in NZ.


Forgot to add one of the best bits….the manager of one of the previous year’s teams was recounting a discussion they had had with Pete Sinclair over the dinner on the final night. Talk had turned to things that had a surprisingly aphrodisiac quality. Sinclair volunteered, with a deadly straight face, that “one thing, which beleive it or not, is a mild aphrodisiac, is Marmite.”