Ain’t no cure for the summertime muse

This ‘relaxation’ thing…its quite neat, isn’t it? Must remember to try it again sometime.

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Sustenance and reward for writing words and things. Then deleting them and swearing a lot.
Napier has an establishment called the ‘Allergy Free Cafe’ – don’t get me wrong, it does good coffee, but I can’t help but think ‘surely, that depends what you’re allergic to’

Next door is the ‘Fat Latte Cafe’ which has to be a deliberate, firm, extended digit, to its neighbour. It’s also a lot more relaxed. The bods in the allergy free cafe all look uptight and very ill.

Oh, and the Fat Latte has a fantastic lambs fry and bacon.

Strongly recommend ‘The Ottoman Endgame’ (Sean McMeekin, Penguin, 2015)  for a host of reasons.

One – or rather, two, ‘cos they’re separate and they’re both important – is the historical context it lends to today. One of those contexts is the strategic one provided to New Zealand’s enduring Anzac legacy.

McMeekin provides a detailed and thoughtful analysis of just what the hell they were doing there, and also sets out what he sees as the biggest strategic blunder of the campaign – the option of landing in the part of the Ottoman Empire then called Alexandretta, now called İskenderun, was considered and rejected.

What attracted me to this book – apart from a few highly appreciative reviews from elsewhere – was a doco I saw last year on the Ottoman-Turkish winter battle in December 1914, which saw the Turks send an army over the mountains at the start of the winter, with most of the casualties coming from frostbite (a lot of the troops didn’t even have boots). They still gave the Russians a fright: a plan for a much more ambitious, and never attempted, invasion caused a Russian panic which led them to ask the Brits and the French for some sort of attack on the southern Turkish side.

Hence,  Gallipoli. The Russians were supposed to coordinate with the Gallipoli campaign, but they didn’t: they were more than happy to see the British, especially, batter themselves senseless in a stalemate and in any case the last thing they wanted was a British army in Constantinople, given the historic rivalry between the two powers in the entire region from Greece across to India.

The other insight is of course into today’s wars in the Middle East. McMeekin lays to rest a few myths around the “Sykes-Picot Agreement”, the perpetuation of which has a lot to do with the popularity of the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. It was really the Sakarov-Sykes-Picot agreement and was reached in 1916 with Russia calling the shots because Britain and France had had their backsides kicked by the Ottomans at Gallipoli and Basra.

The Ottomans were supposed to be backward and useless – “the sick man of Europe” and all that, but here they were beating the crap out of the Allies.

So Russia got the lion’s – or the bear’s – share of the Sakharov-Sykes-Picot agreement which carved up the Ottoman Empire. Trouble was, in 1917 the Russians had a revolution, then another one, and it was all off. The Brits and the French redrew the agreement.

There was quite a bit of squabbling with the new Turkish regime, post-war – well, one of McMeekin’s points is it might have been “post-war” the way we usually think of it but it wasn’t post war for the Turks and nor was it, really for the Brits and the French, at least in the Middle East.

But then, I suppose, since when has it ever been “post-war” in the Middle East? Not for a wee while, anyway.

Anyway, highly recommended. It’s an excellent, clear and readable history, as clear as any history can be of this fractured and fissiparous region.

I pitched camp..well, when I say ‘camp’ I mean I rented a farmhouse..in a valley in the Hawkes Bay, all the better to write a lot. It didn’t have decent internet connection, which for about 30 seconds I was worried about before concluding it was exactly what was needed. Wrote in the mornings, when I’m brighter anyway and before the sun got over the hills and turned the cottage into a broiler house. Then went walking in the afternoon.

Got a little more than 14,000 words done, probaimg_2175bly at least a third of which I’ll dump as being not up to scratch, but its certainly a base to work off.

Good old fashioned steam powered trains

Happened to come across this item about a place close to the origins.

The railway station featured, the main one for the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, is about 10kms from where I grew up. It’s just down the hill from my grandfather’s farm, and across the road from another relative’s farm.

The branch line closed in the mid-1960s: I have a very vague memory of watching a small engine, without any train, chugging under the bridge by the old electricity board building on Waiuku’s Kitchener Road, probably around the time the line shut. I would have been, though, only about three or so.

Bit of a story with how the railway line came to be built in the first place: in the late 19th century, the locals agitated for a branch line to be put in.

Such decisions were made by cabinet ministers in those days, and the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon, tended to award such infrastructure projects to electorates which had been farsighted enough to elect an MP which supported his government.

As the area was, at the time, part of the electorate held by the then leader of the opposition, William Massey, the locals were told to go whistle.

The government changed in 1912, Massey was PM, and he got them their railway, though not right away – World War One intervened.

I gather it never made a profit and had to be constantly subsidised by the government. According to that story linked to above, the line now manages without any such government support.

When I was a kid, after the line closed, the station premises were used by Karaka Bulk Spreaders as a fertiliser depot.

The vintage railway went in, gradually, from the early 1980s. The bit that extends into my home town, Waiuku, runs through another relative’s farm, where we used to do hay every year.

It was kind of neat – we’d be part of the show, it seemed, as the train came through.

The vintage railway is recommended, for any of you Aucklanders – or anyone in holidaying in Auckland and wanting a day trip out to the country .

I’m biased, of course, but its a great place to visit.

There was even a song about it, albeit written and recorded, oddly in 1977 – during the period between the railway being closed circa 1968; and the vintage railway opening sometime in the mid-1980s.

Warning: contains yodeling. Catchy, though.

As a bonus, here’s the Kinks, singing about trains. It’s off their masterpiece, the low-key, out-of-its-own-time, Village Green Preservation Society album, which, by a coincidence, was being recorded around the time the Waiuku branch line closed.

 

‘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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burn Baby Burn…

Here’s some tales for the Slip Slap Slop Brigade, now that summer is finally making its tardy appearance.

Rob’s Top Five Worst Cases of Sunburn:

5. First indication I had of a thinning pate was a long cycle ride about 10 years’ ago. It was high summer and I put plenty of block on…but failed to make allowances for the air vent on the top of the cycle helmet. Result: a nasty rectangular blister on the scalp.

4. Burns on the underside of the feet while canoodling on a beach. Everything else covered. Made walking difficult for a day or two.

3. The ears. A real pain if you sleep on your side.

2. Backs of the legs, working in the market gardens one summer as a teenager. A bit tender that night, sure enough: the real kicker was when I got out of bed and straightened my legs. The skin sort of snapped just behind the knees. Nasty.

1. This is the worst – didn’t happen to me, but was a legendary incident in the Auckland University Tramping Club. A tramp which ended up on the top of Ruapehu as part of the post-exam Summit Luncheon Party. Sunny day on the snow. The victim had put on sunblock almost everywhere…BUT he wasn’t wearing underpants under his shorts. The reflected rays off the snow…well, you get the picture. You’d never think of putting 15 Plus on your carrot and beetroot, would you?

A Good Day

Today is the sort of day which, as vouchsafed in song and fable, Wellington is difficult to beat on.

According to the temperature gauge in my car (which never lies) , it was 33.5 degrees down on the ashfelt on Oriental Bay at 3.20 this arvo.

Took my first dip of the year. There was a time, only a few years ago, when I did a circuit from the beach beside the Freyberg, across to the fountain and back. It’s a kilometre there and back and when the sea is choppy its a damn good workout.

Not up to that at present but am quietly working on it.

The capital is settling down again after the Sevens Invasion which began on Friday. It was pretty ugly, and most of the country has now seen the Sevens fans running amok in Borat-like scrotum-bulging costumes.

The hell is now over. Mind you there were some very nice young women in short skirts around the place. Well, it was hot.

I did watch some Sevens, but that was in about 1991, I think it was. Sevens is only rugby in the sense that a minnow is a fish.