The Creeping Scourge of Plastic

January 18, 2018




The farmland about Cambridge in the Central Waikato is flat, green and effortlessly bucolic, much like the place where I work. Some of it is in pasture feeding a small herd of Herefords some is an arboretum. A good half of it is a factory complex and the rest is in formal lawns, about 8 hours in mowing time.

Across the road is the main cemetery for the Cambridge district and after the road the next worst source of plastic pollution. The prevailing winds kicks through here and on a brisk day the air will be alive with plastic flowers and that soft nylon wrap florists like to put around their floral arrangements.

Otherwise it is pie and candy wrappers, drink cans, disposable coffee cups, bottles and fast food packaging – all but a sampling of the detritus thrown carelessly from cars and not counting the wide a selection of plastic bits and pieces from god knows where. Maybe pieces broken of the some of the thousands of vehicles that speed by on an average day?

The factory itself is well governed and the myriad waste streams go to various bins for recycling, still bits still manage to escape and most everywhere about the property will be found pieces of plastic twine and wrap, the sort used to bind goods to pallets.

When it wet the cows hooves churn up the pasture and bring to light all manner of plastic, some of which is decades old. Here is an archaeological history of plastic litter in the countryside including packaging from brands long deceased, parts broken off outdated farm implements, long forgotten children’s toys and pieces of nylon hay bale twine.

During my first week I collected two sacks of plastic detritus, the next a sack and every week for a few months after, a supermarket carrier bag equivalent. Now it’s down to pocketfuls as I traverse the property stooping here and there to pick whatever up.

After a heavy wind the ground about the arboretum will be littered with birds nests. What would once be mulched back into the lawns now requires careful disposal for woven amongst the dry moss and grasses is all manner of plastic fines. Clever birds for using what’s at hand but…….


These days plastic is an all-pervasive element and for those with eyes to see you’ll see it everywhere. It sits on the sides of roads, on beaches and riverbanks and lies caught amongst exposed tree roots. It sits amidst mulch in municipal gardens and lays about the grass in parklands. It drifts onto far-flung pastures and blown about by storms, settles into isolated pockets of native bush.

Farmers, distanced from recycling and landfill facilities burn it and bury it and tradespeople leave irretrievably minute bits and pieces of it wherever they are working. The thoughtless chuck it from cars, dog walkers toss plastic bags filed with turds into shrubs and lazy hikers toss it into gullies, waterways and underbrush. Kids partying about the countryside leave it where it has fallen and those disinclined to pay for a municipal trash sack dump it wherever.

As for the smokers, those butt ends of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable nylon fibres are tossed with uncaring fluidity into the environment to settle into soil, riverbed and estuary for the 10 years it takes nature to break it down.

We buy shoddy goods stamped out of plastic and five minutes later consign then to landfill while filling our supermarket trolleys with one use plastic packaging. Recently I watched a machine make ‘one use’ and unrecyclable plastic ice cream spoons at a factory in Tauranga. I asked the guy how he felt about being a part of this chain of waste. He looked at me blankly and not without a degree of hostility.

We have some bad habits that are going to be hard to break. Numerous times of late local bodies have tried to ban the plastic detritus that litters our cemeteries only to back down when confronted by a tsunami of outrage. ‘Who are these busy body bureaucrats dare to tell us how and how not to honour our dead’?

Strange in light of the disdain plastic flowers were greeted when they first started appearing on the market a few decades back. Now plastic flowers are an inalienable human right. And as for those florists, so much garbage to wrap a natural flower in.

But we are all culpable, we all partake and we all think we are making a difference by putting our recycling out on the street every week, so much of it destined to go nowhere for there is no where to go or it is uneconomic to reprocess.

It is a crazy problem, like acid rain and ozone depletion was crazy. Like smog and dioxin and lead in petrol was crazy but we proved that once we put our collective minds to it we could actually change things for the better.

Judging by the recent explosion of science, opinion and commentary humanity is waking up to the scourge of plastic, but no matter the positive changes the future brings, like the elemental stones of the earth, the plastic already at large is here to stay.


The Current State of Time Travel TV (Among Other Things).

January 1, 2018



Kawerau born singer John Rowles was blessed with an exceptional voice. He left for greener shores as soon as he could and thanks to a savvy Aussie management team scored big in 1968 with If I Only had Time. It managed a solid 18 weeks in the British charts peaking at number 3. He has two more substantial hits, Hush not a word to Mary (1968) and Cheryl Moana Marie (1970), an Australasian smash that went top 60 in the USA.

He could have been as big as Tom Jones or Humperdinck but ignoring the guidance of his manager, he who had done him so well thus far, he frittered away his formative years living the high life at the Hawaiian resort he purchased with his recording profits.

When he awoke from his tropical dream too much time had passed,  his international career was over and he was reduced to the ‘groundhog day’ of the Aussie cabaret circuit.

In 2004 a renewed interest in Rowles flared briefly when hip British electronica duo Lemon Jelly sampled If I Only Had Time for their 2005 track ’68 aka Only Time. Though he appreciated the attention he said of it, “it’s not my kind of thing”.

Rowles song is all about the joy of living and not having enough time to fulfil all of life’s promise; The Jelly’s is an existential treatise on regret and time squandered. Clearly John had a grand ole time for while but given the outcomes would he go back and change the past? It’s here that three of the hottest time travel shows on television find their muse but more on that later.



We might be forgiven for thinking that time travel is modern phenomenon given the all pervasive influence of H G Welles 1895 story The Time Machine but it is not that way at all. Welles’s story was just the latest incarnation of a narrative device so old it fades into immemorial.

Until Welles and his machine potions and enchantment and sometimes a bang to the head were the main method of navigating time – bonk, unconscious, wake up hundreds of years in the future.

As late as 1889 Mark Twain used this method to send a Yankee back to the Court of King Arthur (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court). Twain’s morality fable is a critical examination the social mores of his time, the time displacement is but a handy narrative device that gives the story ‘novelty’ value.

An earlier time travel narrative is out of 7th century Japan. Urashima the Fisherman rescues a turtle and as a reward is ferried off to a magical city of wonders for a few days R&R. Trouble is it’s in another dimension and back in Urashima’s world 300 years have passed.

His life and family gone he looses his equilibrium and the result is tragic. What’s the subtext at play here? That it is better to do good things without reward or recognition? In Urashima’s defence he didn’t actually want the reward. The Japanese have a unique way of viewing the world and I wonder if I am missing the point entirely?

The future turns out better for American Rip Van Winkle. Washington Irving’s 1819 story is about a ‘put upon man’ (a nagging wife is the central point here) who falls into an enchanted sleep after drinking session with mysterious strangers in a forest (?). He sleeps for 20 years and when he awakes most everyone he knew is either dead or very old and after some initial confusion Rip adapts and free of his unsatisfactory marriage ends up living the life.

The future as escape from a disappointing present is explored to its fullest potential in Robert Heinlein’s classic 1957 novel The Door Into Summer. Now in the modern age and firmly in the footsteps of H.G Well’s instead of enchantment we have we have technology, in this case cryogenic suspension.

Betrayed and bewildered, Daniel Boone Davis takes the long sleep and is awakened 30 years into the future where he meets a man who has made a time machine. Using the technology he returns to the past determined to set right wrongs made against him by his treacherous fiancé Belle and his equally treacherous business partner Miles.

Returning to the past to set right the future the theme of three current time travel TV shows, 12 Monkeys, 11.22.63 and Travelers (2017). In all these series time travel is being used to alter the timeline in aim of a more satisfactory future outcome. Yeah, the future is grim but changing the past in aid of a better future is not as straightforward as everyone involved had hoped.


12 Monkeys is based on Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film of the same name, which is in turn based on Chris Marker’s 1962 film La Jette. La Jette tells this now classic post-apocalyptic story through a series of still photographs with a voice over narration. Sounds dull but it is actually quite effecting. The TV series draws from both it’s predecessors vision while adding some suitable flourishes of its own.



In 12 Monkeys an operative called Cole mounts a seat set in the path of a giant laser. There is an injection of serum and lots of writhing about then bam, gone and thrust into the past. Obsessive scientist Dr Katarina Jones (played by Barbara Sukawa a former Reiner Werner Fassbinder acolyte – more on the German film master later) is determined to stop the release of a deadly virus that took the life of her daughter and most everyone else. Cole is her tool, a battered survivor sent back to the past to prevent the release of the virus. The job turns out to be barrel of confusion for the hapless Cole.

Meanwhile over on Travellers 2017, (there is an earlier short lived incarnation from 2007 drifting about so be aware), a similar scenario is playing out. In the deep into the future a small remanent of humanity clings precariously to life under the guidance and protection by an all-wise A.I called The Director (think ‘god’ and yes, there are plenty of provocative religious allusions). The Director has a plan to alter the catastrophic events that have sent humanity into freefall.

The minds of highly trained operatives are sent back in time and placed into the bodies of the ‘about to be deceased’. Our particular team of Travelers ends up bodies of an overdose victim, a young mother battered to death by her boyfriend, a sociopathic sports star killed by a punch, a retarded girl beaten to death on the street and an FBI agent about to die from a fall down a lift shaft.

To the shock of all those around him the Jock gives up sport and his old wicked ways and turns into a reasonable if not saintly sort while the battered mother (this Traveler is a trained combat expert) hefts it to her abusive man and as for the FBI agent, this meat eating workaholic is suddenly Vegan.

Yeah….. it’s true, there is no meat in the future, in fact there is barely any food at all and the series lighter moments involve Travelers having mouth orgasms over things like fries, burgers and chocolate. Otherwise it turns out that the ‘past’ is an ever-shifting game of numbers made all the more difficult by a war with Travelers who have broken ranks with The Directors grand plan.

Conceptually solid ideas, good writing and a charismatic cast make for a superior a sci-fi series. A massive hit for Netflix, season two is down with season three in production.



Back over in deranged 12 Monkeys land (yes, the TV series stays true to Gillian vision – remember Brad Pit’s weird turn? It’s all there) it turns out that time itself is sentient and does not kindly to tinkering leading us into an increasingly bizarre labyrinth of realities as Cole and company wrestle with ‘Times’ obtuse methods and the terrorists responsible for the release of the deadly virus.

Like Gilliam I had severe doubts about this show imagining a dumb smash, bash, crash set of American clichés. Boy was I ever wrong. A critically acclaimed third season is all wrapped up and a fourth and final season is now in production.



Recent Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63 (2106) like 12 Monkeys and Travelers is all about changing the past in aid of the future, in this case preventing the assassination of US President JFK in the hope of averting the horrors of the Vietnamese war. James Franco does a fair job as a high school teacher thrown in deep in aid of the cause but it is mostly dullsville.

I lost interest after episode four but the reviews tell me I should have held on because the series really starts to fire toward the end. As for the time travel, this takes place via a portal in the back of a Diner. It’s an inter-dimensional thing with time guardians and the usual King flip-flappery.



In German series Dark (2017) the time travelling has no higher purpose, in fact it’s just an unfortunate accident set upon the unwitting inhabitants of the small German town of Winden. An ‘event’ at the local nuclear power plant creates a series of time traversing wormholes that suck unwitting locals into a nightmare of endlessly repeating cycles linking decades and generations.

At it’s heart this a psychological thriller that is not afraid to taste the dark meat of human experience. The result is uncomfortable, emotionally dense and riveting. Dark has been compared to Twin Peaks and Stranger Things but it’s a flimsy comparison. Dark has a tone and reality all its own though their might be some comparison to German filmmaker Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s triumphant 1973 TV series World On A Wire, a similarly bold speculative sci-fi entertainment.



And do yourself a favour – turn off the clumsy American voice over and listen to it in German with subtitles. It serves the series and the actors so much better. Season one ends on a cliffhanger with oodles of unanswered questions still sitting in the in-tray. Season 2 is currently in production.



A side note – 2009 German film The Door is all kinds of similar. Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen stars in this strange time travel thriller that like Dark, uses a cave as a doorway through time. Mad’s is supposed to be watching his young daughter while his wife is out, instead he is ‘seeing’ to his sexy neighbours needs. Daughter is killed in an accident and Mad’s is inconsolable. It turns out a cave at the end of the street is a portal through time so he sets about rectifying his big mistake but it turns out to be more difficult than he first imagines (of course it is). If you can find it, it is worth a look.




1966 American TV series The Time Tunnel comes from the same era that gave us camp Batman (1966), Star Trek (1966), The Prisoner (1967) and Land of the Giants (1968). The Time Tunnel has not endured as well as its cousins but was smart enough to influence a generation or two to come. 2016 series Timeless is drawn from this stock.



Bad guys steal top-secret time machine and start changing the timeline. Good guys are in pursuit. It’s standard wholesome action and adventure with conspiracies galore and a solid cast lead by Abigail Spencer. You’ll know her from Suits, Madmen and Rectify. As watchable as cool water on a hot day, Ms Spencer is an asset to any show and without her this operation would be 25% less than it is. If I were a kid, I would be drinking it up. Solid B-grade schlock, fun if predictable.



Time travel is a notable sub plot in Gene Roddenberry’s iconic Star Trek franchise, so much so that the Federation of Planets has a whole philosophy devoted to maintaining the sanctity of the timeline. It’s called the Temporal Prime Directive.

Time travel is the featured device of two of the franchises best films, The Voyage Home (1986) and First Contact (1996) and as for the numerous series, just about the best time travel concepts to be found anywhere on TV lie scattered about this vast cannon.

Among my favourites are: Times Arrow (1992 – The Next Generation), Futures End featuring Sarah Silverman and Ed Begley Jnr. (1996 –Voyager) Year of Hell (1997 – Voyager) and the various time travel scenarios involved in the triumphant Xindi story arc that tied up season three of Enterprise from 2003-2004. You’ll find them all and more on Netflix.



In short-lived 2016 series Time after Time H.G Wells invents a time machine. He shows it to his friend John who steals it. John it turns out is Jack the Ripper. Wells makes another one and goes after him. Seriously? This is the kind of idea that probably sound awesome when your 15 and stoned and thinking up shit. Based on the classic 1979 film the TV version is dull, dull, dull and cancelled.



Making History (2017) is time travel comedy, a sub-genre that includes classics like Time Travel Bong and Time Travel Hot Tub. Funny man goes back in time and stuffs up the timeline so ropes in Straight man Historian to help to sort it all out. It is about as amusing as a cup of day old coffee and was cancelled after 9 episodes.



There are some 60 odd time travel series available for viewing somewhere including the granddaddy of them all, the incomparable Dr Who. The Dr’s first hit the small screen back in 1963 and are still doing their shtick today. Among the current crop of international shows is The Ministry Of Time (El Ministerio del Tempo – 2016) out of Spain. Some critics are referring to as the Spanish Dr Who though the makers consider it closer to Timeless, a show they are suing for ‘stealing their ideas’. Apparently it is coming to Netflix.

While we are in Spain I should mention 2007 time travel thriller Timecrimes, which must rank among the smartest time travel films ever made. A scientist is caught up in an ever-tightening time loop after an experiment with a time machine throws up some unexpected results. If time travel is your thing and you haven’t seen this then Happy New Year, you have a treat in store.



In 1889 Mark Twain sent his Yankee back to King Arthur’s Court with a blow to the head but a revolution was just around the corner. In 1894 Englishman HG Wells imagines a machine that can traverse time and opens the genre up to a whole new order of possibility. The Time Travel genre has come a long way since but perhaps it’s most progressive forward step is by way of Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The Time Travellers Wife.

Offering something utterly new and unique, the time travel device here is a rare genetic condition that causes a man to randomly move through time. Charting the course of an unconventional life, Niffenegger’s story is deeply affecting and utterly compelling. Given the phenomenal success of the book a clunky sentimental film adaptation was sadly inevitable.


If I was to pick one time travel film and say it was the ‘best ever’ it would be this. Using the cryogenic suspension first touted in Robert Heinlein’s novel The Door Into Summer, the original Planet of the Apes (1968) sees ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ star Charlton Heston thrust into the far future and the result is  audacious and groundbreaking. Echoing the existential fears of a world teetering on the brink of nuclear annihilation this film hits every mark (including the magnificent score by Jerry Goldsmith).

Side note – as with 12 Monkeys, the Ape’s franchise originated from the work of a Frenchman. This time by way of one Pierre Boulle whose 1963 novel La Planete des Singes kicked it all off.



There is more, so much more but like John Rowles, I have run out of time. Bon Voyage.



How I Learned To Get Over Facebook and Get on with Living

December 30, 2017


I discovered Facebook in 2009 and before I knew it I was engaged in all kinds of discussions with all kinds of people with all kinds of opinions. There were anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, the obsessed, the angry, fascist and racist. There was the bitter, the disconsolate, the liberal progressive and Green extremist. There were religious zealots, the similarly constructed atheist and the most outsized believer of them all, the hard-line libertarian. There were even some normal people who just wanted to do friendly stuff like connect and share stories about family, food, travel and work and even have a laugh.

“You used to be half useful before Facebook,” said former employer Dr Richard Swainson motioning contemptuously toward the shop computer. He never joined knowing his own weakness for idle chitchat would be his undoing. I admired his honesty but was in deep and a quickly fading cause. “Did you know that Auteur House has a Facebook page?” I asked. “Set up by a former employee,” he harrumphed. “Can I look after it?” I asked, “Do what you want” he said unaware of the shit trail of trouble ahead.

It went well and stories about the Dr. and his eccentric World Cinema DVD rental store rapidly transformed 250 followers into a thousand. There were pieces on new films, old films links to scholarly and not so scholarly articles, news and gossip. Gaining confidence I wondered if a little provocative opinion might stir up debate and drive interest in the House, a marginal proposition given the rapidly changing times.

In 2010 the Government of Prime Minister John Key bowed to pressure from Hollywood Studio Warner Bothers and changed the nations labour laws to suit their requirements. “If you don’t we’ll take The Hobbit Trilogy somewhere else.”

Responding to criticism from Unions franchise captain Peter Jackson explained that he had nothing to do with any of it, in fact he was just a wide-eyed yokel at large in a world of which he understood little. “Yeah right” I proclaimed arguing that a people as successful as Jackson don’t get to where they are without a hearty degree of political wit and business savvy. I even dared suggest that Jackson was being downright manipulative.

The first lesson – you don’t publicly criticise a national treasure like Jackson and walkway without consequence. After an avalanche of phone calls from the outraged Dr Swainson demanded that I remove the post, only backtracking when reminded of his historical opposition to censorship.

But the damage was done and for the next year I was hounded by three especially vocal trolls one of who was certain that I was the sole reason for the House’s precarious financial position. “You are ruing my dear friends business with your lies about Peter,” he screamed at me as one screams on Facebook – with capital letters.

I checked his account. He had joined but had never rented. I pointed this out suggesting that his money might go some way toward helping the cause. This only served to fuel the fire and the attacks became ever more vociferous. “You don’t know anything about me you dirty filthy pig vomit,” he screamed and I imagined him lying writhing on the floor, tears of despair running down his cheeks, urine flecked with blood. (According to the Dr the dear friend in question was actually more a passing acquaintance confirming my growing suspicions about the strangeness of the digital social sphere).

I should have learned my lessons here but a bigger storm was waiting a couple of years down the line when I found myself the co-editor of the rapidly failing Rip It Up magazine. It was late 2015 and I had been to a preview of a movie called Dope, a nice if unremarkable little Californian film about what it means to be a ‘Nigga’.

With a sparse 250 words at my disposal I attempted to deconstruct the word back to its roots in an attempt to remind the interested that for all it’s colloquial joviality, this word was drawn from an insidious past and to make my point I dared use the root word itself.

The story sat on our social media feed for two weeks with nary a like or comment until it was noticed by a prominent journalist who shared the story with the by-line that accused the magazine of harbouring racist sympathies. All hell broke loose. There were comparisons to Adolf Hitler, speculation about KKK membership and death threats.

“Go back to South Africa you white racist c**t,” said one message (fourth generation Irish/Scottish/Polynesian Kiwi), another said I was the most evil person alive in the world today (suck on that Kim Jong-un). Otherwise I was the subject of numerous opinion pieces across the NZ media landscape and quickly become the worst kind of poison. ‘Friends’ and associates crossed the street to avoid me and as for my position at the mag, I was a dog’s dinner.

On my last day at the office I flicked through some 950 emails relating to the matter, choosing to respond to the last of them. From a kid living in New York, it explained I was responsible for all the pain and suffering at large in the world today.

“Did you read the review,” I asked somewhat taken aback by the claims he was making on my behalf. “No” he responded, “I heard about you from a friend who heard about you from a friend of a friend who read about you on Twitter.” And there you have it, the power of supposition and second hand gossip in the social media sphere. Also an abject lesson in how the media works as it seeks to add spice to the daily news cycle.

It was bruising experience but the wounds healed and before I knew it I was back in the swing of things and hard at work with my own liberal/progressive agenda, arguing the toss with the multitudes while forgetting how badly things can get out of hand if one is not careful. Looking back I am aghast at how quickly I lost the important lessons of the recent past but unlikely redemption was just around the corner.


On the 25th September 2016, striding over a swamp of violence and bigotry, Facebook’s Decency Algorithm found me out and held me to account for my crimes – the possession an image of 1960s Burlesque band The Ladybirds. In this image, as in most others, they were topless and on planet Zuckerberg nothing is more offensive than the female breast. I was banned.

All a little frustrating especially since said picture had been sitting forgotten in my image folder for about 5 years but there you go. I sucked it up and sat it out. Seven days later I was allowed to rejoin the family and logged back on only to find this message: “It has come to our attention that you might not be who you claim to be. Please provide proof of identity.”

As instructed I took a photo of my drivers license and sent it through. The faceless at Facebook explained that once I was verified they would unlock my account. Six weeks and numerous unanswered queries later my patience ran out and I decided to open a new account and by altering my last name with a hyphen hoped to claim some semblance of who I actually was.

As I constructed my new account I realised an opportunity to reinvent my online persona and decided upon a new strategy. No more of the ‘friend’ collecting business that seemed so central to the process, this time my correspondents would be a select few folks of similar disposition and the whole package would be as tightly wrapped as the security settings allowed.

No more open and frank debates with diametrically opposed viewpoints, no more getting worked up at people with marginal critical thinking skills and no more battling trolls. I was over all that. From now on I wanted nice.

And nice it was for a while but then things got crazy again. Facebook can be deceptive, one minute you’re standing on sure ground and staring up at azure blue skies and the next it has clouded over and you are knee deep in festering shite.

Saved by another weeks ban. My old account suddenly reappeared almost to a year after I was locked out. I signed out of my new account and logged onto the old one and the image of the Ladybirds reared its fulsome head again, and ‘hey presto’ – gone burger.

“Goddammit,” I railed firing numerous and increasingly fraught messages to FB central. “I had deleted that image a year ago just like you asked, I mean WTF?” But there it was and because I had both accounts tied to the same email address I was totally locked out.

Once I got passed my outrage a surprisingly tranquil week unfolded before I signed back in, shut down my old account and settled into the new, improved and hyphenated version of myself.

This latest ban had been a freeing experience and as I cast my eyes about my timeline I felt uneasy about a lot of things not least of which was the corporation itself. Lets face it, ‘The Book’ is a monopoly with a stunningly successful method that means it can do and act as it feels fit while remaining strangely immune to the needs of the multitudes that make it all happen.

Unhappy? Feel misused and mistreated? The opportunities for redress are limited. The only forces that seem to be able to turn heads at Facebook Central are sovereign governments concerned about the Books penchant for tax avoidance and the platform it provides for the those dedicated to the dark arts.

In protest of Facebook’s offhand manner and inability to get ahead of the nefarious I have turned off the advertising that makes it all possible (no easy feat), besides I am a lifelong vegetarian and the algorithm responsible has deciphered this as an interest in meat and meat related products. Endless ads for BBQ’s, sausages, steak and bacon have been driving me to distraction. It’s nice to get my own back a little.

It has been three months since I last posted but I still manage a brief daily stroll across timeline to check on the activities and well being of friends and to peruse news stories from the various media organisations I have ‘Liked’.

Messenger is also quite handy (I hate texting – large hands, little screen, exhausting) and what better way to promote ones professional activities (aka this article)? Otherwise I say nothing and totally ignore the comment sections least my gander gets the better of me. I’ll admit it, I am my own worst enemy, a conundrum of shifting emotions with an obsessive streak and penchant for provocation – a certain recipe for disaster.

With one foot outside the digital media carnival a new peace has descended upon me and I have more time for things like friends, family, gardening and daydreaming. It seems that for now at least, I have fallen out of love with Facbook and it feels great. I hope it lasts.



I Googled my name the other day and to my dismay discovered I am forever marked as a racist. Otherwise the new government is preparing to repeal those dubious ‘Hobbit Laws’ and Peter is doing as he always done when he does not get his way – issuing threats (here I am referring to his recent reaction to the bureaucratic idling that his holding up his plan for a movie museum in Wellington).

As for Facebook, it appears to be working hard at being a better corporate citizen as it experiments with new measures to counter ignorance peddlers. The Book is also bowing to international pressure and preparing to be less of a dick about paying tax.


Food on Film, Documentary and Television.

July 15, 2017



TV Review: Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown

(Food and Travel)

8/10 Stars

By Andrew Johnstone

There are three constants that define the process of being alive and living: survival, reproduction and nourishment. The first two are not possible without the last, the method by which living organisms obtain the energy that fuels the machinery of existence from the biosphere This energy is extracted from the light of the sun, from the mineral substance of the planet and from the gaseous chemicals of the atmosphere and passed about between species about in a vast cycle that feeds billions in a bewildering variety of ways and means.

In the human species, energy extraction is an impulse that has transcended the base process of survival and has morphed into an art so profound and fundamental to the human experience that we cannot be properly examined without reference to the food we grow, prepare and eat which perhaps explains the popularity of television food shows.

This genre offers a bewildering variety of options but of them all, one shines like no other. The host is Anthony Bourdain and the show is called Parts Unknown.


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013 -)

Anthony Bourdain (Born 1956) is acerbic, ironic, informed and opinionated and he has a unique take on food and its centrality to the human experience. A former professional chef and author of the groundbreaking expose of life in the restaurant kitchen, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000) Bourdain has progressed into television and has made four shows: A Cooks Tour (2002-3), No Reservations (2005-12), The Layover (2011-13) and Parts Unknown (2013-).

Music, art politics and history are all part of the Bourdain formula and as for the food, he lsays little more than a “mmm, that’s good” as he tackles everything from ‘baby beaver in blood gravy’ to nasty looking NY street food. He loves mystery meat. “If it does not have the potential to give you the shits it isn’t worth it,” he explains to the camera.

In an age when American has turned inward and closed itself to social equitability and new experience, Bourdain (refreshingly) is a strident and unrepentant American Socialist and his cause is equality and inclusivity. He has seen too much of Britain, The EU and Scandinavia to be taken in by the self-serving economic truths espoused by Conservative America.

While he acknowledges America’s faults, he never forgets that America is more than shouty Christian Republications with guns. Mostly this is a people of good countenance seeking the best from life and each other. He also loves American food – street food, fast food, fine dining, BBQ ……all of it and the rest.


Season 5 Episode 5 Madagascar.

He explores that mysterious Island off the lower East Coast of Africa with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan – 2010) and finds a unique biosphere teetering. Bourdain never says much when doing the face to face (he says what he wants to say in voiceovers). Mostly he just prompts people along and they talk and tales of corruption, exploitation, over population, poverty and lawlessness spill out explaining the conditions that have led to the environmental shambles that is modern Madagascar. Regardless, he finds people of good heart with hope in the future as well as a ton of spicy meat laden food.


The thing that sets Bourdain apart from all his peers is his unwavering dedication to reality. An unapologetic carnivore, he never flinches from the hard truth of meat and the camera never turns away from a creature being slaughtered (he often participates) lifting the veil on an unappealing aspect of food.

For all his liberalism he does not get vegetarianism and has no time at all for hipsters and food Nazi’s. Opinionated yes, fanatical about it… He mocks others, he mock himself. In the Bronx a guy on the street says “Hey, ain’t you that Anthony Bourdain?” Bourdain, “Nah, I wish I had his money!” Guy, “Yeah, that prick – fuck him”.

He is honest and straightforward and he is not afraid to reflect on his years as a heroin addict, He knocks back the booze like he’s on a mission and one time in Amsterdam he gets high as fuck and raves about his CNN contract. In Season 4 Episode 7 Massachusetts, he explains his proclivities while reflecting on that nations Pharmaceutical opioid crisis. This is a ‘hard’ episode that still manages to serve up some pretty tasty looking local food. Go figure.


Season 9 Episode 7 Oman.

He reveals Oman to be a moderately liberal Muslim society governed by an enlightened Sheik. The people practice a mild form of Islam, which prompts Bourdain to remind us that like Christianity “Islam is not a monolith”. Woman have broad rights and are championed by a progressive leader but later out on the edge of the desert while eating and dancing with Bedouin men we are given a surreptitious glimpse of a heavily veiled woman standing far in the background and off to the side. Bourdain can be as subtle as he can cynical and opinionated.

Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan (QOTSA) wrote and recorded the shows raucous opening anthem. As artfully grunge as the man himself, it sets an appropriate tone. This is a sharp production with a decent budget and there is emphasis on lighting and composition, editing and research…. stuff like that. In one episode, it may have been Philadelphia, he is not in a good mood and gets drunk while waiting out the interminable time between setting a scene and filming it. “Those fucking lighting guys and sound guys and camera guys….. it goes fucking on and on,” but he has way too much conscience to let himself behave too badly or take it too far.


Season 3 Episode 6 Russia.

Bourdain shares tasty looking Russian food and alcohol with some interesting locals who are not as jaded as you imagine Russians could be. It’s his outright disdain for Putin that makes this episode so compelling.

Season 9 Episode 2 Los Angeles.

Trump is now president and Bourdain talks to Latino Americans about food and not being white. Acknowledging that undocumented workers “do the work most of us don’t want to do” Bourdain is unforgiving in his disdain for Trump. He finishes up with this: “Dear Mr President, Muslim Americans pay more taxes than you do”.

He has another go at Trump while in Antarctica, Season 9 Episode 6. What he finds at McMurdo is a community dedicated to scientific endeavour and co-operative egalitarianism, and in an age where science is being undermined and money counts more than community, this is all a big beautiful breath of bullshit free air.


They eat a lot of meat in Argentina and the people of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia (the birthplace of wine) are fighting to sustain a modern progressive democratic culture. Nashville was a musical eye opener and Quebec came across as odd. Sichuan Ethiopia Borneo were among the most compelling episodes ….. oh and his chef/guide in Sicily, he who goes out to catch the seafood for the meal he is about to cook. Well it goes that Bourdain’s crew catch the guy dropping market bought fish and octopus into the sea and then diving in and retrieving it while proclaiming to one and all the natural abundance (these waters are long fished out). Bourdain rolls his eyes and spends the rest of the episode avoiding him as much as possible.

Bourdain’s Dogma is thus: “To eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice. Over a meal they open up to you in ways that somebody who is driven by a story may not get.”




Rick Stein’s Long Weekends (2016)

English celebrity chef and mega wealthy restaurant mogul Rick Stein is in many ways Bourdain’s opposite. While they both travel and eat, Stein is all about food and nice scenes. Stein avoids political commentary and has little of interest to say outside of a few pedestrian observations. Nice light entertainment that’ll easily fill out an evening. If you like there is more, lots more. The Rick Stein food franchise is mega. This series is all about easily reached but slightly ‘off the radar’ European weekend destinations. Bugger about Brexit.



Nigella Lawson.

Everything in Nigella’s world is sensuous and sexy and eating seems to be her fetish. She can be informative, occasionally entertaining but mostly she is just strangely fascinating (for the reasons I have noted). She is not a chef, “just someone who cooks and eats for pleasure”. Lately she has been doing a lot of Reality TV, cooking contests, that kind of thing. Sometimes she sounds like a character Enid Blyton might have written, mostly she is entertaining, knowledgeable and pleasantly unique.


River Cottage (1999-2015)

If Anthony Bourdain is Rock and Roll and Rick Stein is AOR Pop then Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage) is Morris Dancing. Gentle, rural and resourceful, Hugh is a Jamie Oliver like figure for the allotment set. A bit dull.

River Cottage is a brand used for a number of ventures by television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. These include a long running television series, cookery courses, events, restaurants and products such as beer and yogurt – Wikipedia



Cooked (2016)

Food writer and philosopher Michael Pollan examines food from the most primal perspective in his Netflix series Cooked. This 4 part series explores in order: Fire, Water, Air and Earth and the relationship of these elements to food.

The broad conclusion of the series is that the evolution of our energy hungry brain has been aided by ever more efficient methods of extracting nutrients from the environment. So far so good but in the end Pollan, is like his conclusions, is pedestrian. Still worth a look but.


Chef’s Table (2015- )

Chefs Table is documentary series that explores the lives of notable Chef’s. It tackles muse and philosophical motivation as well as ingredients and technique. This series is challenging and perhaps a little overblown – this last statement depends on how prepared you are to accept the Chef as an artist worthy of deep analysis. Many of these chefs are thoughtful people. Some a little mad, one or two crazy. Just like most ‘artistic’ professions. Made by the guy who bought us the acclaimed ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ (imagine Studio Ghibli as food documentary). Pretty good overall.



Food Films:

City of Gold (2016)

Jonathon Gold is a journalist who fell into food writing when he grew bored with his job as a sub-editor at the L.A Times. He decided to review every food joint on a particular strip in L.A. His project turned heads and later he become the first food journalist to win the Pulitzer Prize.

At ease with food trucks and haute cuisine both, Gold is a trained musician, successful writer and cultural philosopher. He is an assiduous researcher and a fountain of information. We go about with Gold in his pickup truck as he seeks out opportunity for his prodigious appetite, “They have good chilli fries”, “that place has good Korean”, “over there is the best Ethiopian,” and so it goes. He seems to have eaten everywhere and the mind boggles at the scope of his ambition.

Later the film weighs up Gold’s food writing against food review sites like Zomato (where “amazing” seems to be standard – the filmmakers) and we get some insight into what it takes to be a vocational food critic of integrity. Gold can make or break a business and understanding the responsibilities he goes about his work with diligence, sometimes visiting a restaurant 17 times before writing his review. Very satisfying.



The Search For General Tso (2014) and Deli Man (2105).

‘General Tso’s Chicken’ is one of the most popular dishes in America, possibly second only to pizza, and this documentary sets out to discover the story behind the dish and in doing the doing reveals something of the Chinese/American experience and the evolution of the ubiquitous suburban Chinese Restaurant.


Deli Man is strikingly similar to General Tso’s Chicken except the subject matter is Jewish American food culture. At one time the American food landscape was defined by tens of thousands of Chinese Restaurants and Jewish Deli’s. Unlike the ubiquitous Chinese Restaurant the Deli is in decline but there are those dedicated to maintaining the tradition of this culturally significant food style. Cue Ziggy.

A third generation deli owner and trained Chef, he has made a name for himself as the torchbearer for traditional Jewish American Deli food. A man of outsize personality his insights are compelling as his big heart.

Besides the chicken itself, General Tso’s Chicken explains the famous Jewish love affair with the Chinese restaurant and Deli Man responds by explaining about the Jewish Chinese relationship, one forged from their mutual experience as social outsiders. As for General Tso himself, he is an historic provincial hero whose name is attached to many things as an honorarium and the reaction of locals to this American Chinese food innovation is as startling and hilarious. “Did General Tso love chicken? We don’t know the answer to that question”.



A Film About Coffee (2014).

Coffee is a mildly ‘consciousness altering’ beverage that turns the effort of waking into an anticipatory experience and this documentary seeks to be a hip and poetic exposition on the beverage from farm to cup. The story of America’s ‘small’ coffee industry contribution to rising incomes for growers in the third world is probably the most useful part. A bit wank at times but at least the kids care.



Soul Kitchen (2009, Directed by Faith Akin)

Drama, Comedy

Zinos is the owner of a shabby backstreet restaurant in Hamburg. He is behind on his taxes and his life is a shambles. Things get crazy when he decides to make sort things. In short, the Germans are crazy and Soul Kitchen is a lot of fun. The German Trailer is much better than the American one:




Babette’s Feast (1987, Directed by Gabriel Axel)

Drama/Morality Fable

A refugee from the French Revolution, aristocrat Babette finds herself in Denmark and cooking for a pious Danish family and their congregation. Many years later she wins a lottery and rather than return to her old life in Paris, she decides to spend the money cooking her community a feast born of appreciation. If you need a little unaffected beauty without the schmaltz factor, this is your film.




The Lunchbox (2013, Directed by Ritesh Batra)

Romantic Drama

Everyday, wife prepares loving lunch for indifferent husband. One day the Dabbawala (Mumbai style Lunch delivery specialist) delivers the food to the wrong man. The food keeps coming, he writes her notes of appreciation and back and forward it goes. A friendship develops and …… well, you’ll see. A delightful film about love, longing, flavour and appreciation – You won’t find a more perfect meal anywhere.


The Bird Is The Word

June 12, 2017



In 1963 a band called The Trashmen took a song called Surfin’ Bird  to the top reaches of the US charts. It was their only hit but the song endured and these days is best know for the phrase ‘The Birds the Word’ a line I happened across when I caught a segment of animated comedy show ‘Family Guy’ on YouTube recently.

It was revealed to be star character Peter Griffin’s fourth favourite song ever and for about half the episode (‘I Dream of Jesus’ Season 7 Episode 2) Peter drove everyone crazy with the question.

Peter: “Hey have you heard the word?”
Some Poor Sap: “What word?”
Peter: “The bird is the word.” 

But what does it mean? I had no idea until US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited NZ recently. I was driving around Hamilton when they started talking about it on the RNZ evening show. “Is the Bird impolite?” intoned the presenter “Well of course it is” he added fending off texts from the easily outraged, “I am simply asking the question to facilitate debate”.

This being public radio however it was mostly thoughtful people sending in considered opinion laced with witty asides and it was all very amusing but I had no idea why the ‘bird’ was being discussed. Maybe it was because I was in and out of the van and missed crucial bits like ‘Visiting US Secretary of State’ ‘motorcade’ ‘bemused American press’.

It all came clear the next day when I went online and there it was, a story about Wellingtonian’s letting the US Government know what they thought of its current policy direction. Besides the much-reported ‘bird’ there was the thumbs down, some jeering and a big Greenpeace banner hanging from a crane (yes, of course there was).




The story went global and was for a day or two something of a ‘hit’. Was there a better way to get under the thin orange skin of the Trump than to flick him or his representatives the ‘bird’ asked the ‘Fake News Media’? While some Kiwis were horrified by it all, (after all the US saved us from the Japanese during World War Two and didn’t we owe them some kind of respect?), most it seems were comfortable with using the ‘bird’ to express discontent.


For the last couple of hundred years the world has been coalescing in on itself and we have been forced to examine and reflect upon how we interact with each other in light of the harm that has been set loose by disparate cultures being thrust together so unevenly. It has been a hard and grievous journey but the last 50 odd years of endeavour has yielded results that could be described, by most standards, as positive and central to this process has been the USA.

With the recent and unexpected election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency (the worlds most powerful and influential leadership position) unified standards of human rights, environmental laws and a host of other measures designed to improve the way we interact with each other and the planet are suddenly under threat and it is unsettling many.

New Zealand has always been a world leader and lately I have been worried that we have forgotten our long tradition of social innovation and have fallen (somewhat) behind the frontlines of positive human endeavour but on the streets of Wellington the other day we witnessed ordinary Kiwi’s standing up and offering the world a potent new weapon with which to fight retrograde politics and this is how it goes:

Whenever a ranking member of he Trump Administration or the man himself is in town, take to the streets and flick them ‘the bird’. It’s a simple as that. Forget the Molotov cocktails, barricades and stone throwing; here is a non-violent way of making dissatisfaction clear. After all, nothing hurts a narcissist more than rejection and if we have learned anything about Trump over the last few months it’s that he is a textbook narcissist so dissenters lets hit him where it hurts the most, in the Ego.


As for the phrase itself The Urban Dictionary has this to say:

The Bird – To extend the middle finger and “flip someone off” is sign language for “Fuck you!”

The “Word” originated in U.S. Prisons. Original meaning was, “my word is my bond”, shortened to, “Word”, meaning to, “Speak the truth”.

Bird is the Word = Fuck You!


14 Films About New Zealand.

June 4, 2017

 Sam Neil, Sleeping Dogs (1977)


I tried to count all the feature films ever made in New Zealand but I have never been very good with numbers and got about halfway through the list before I lost my place. By the time I fumbled the third go I was over it so lets just say about 250 films have been made in New Zealand including television films and big screen feature films. This includes a handful of overseas productions that have been made entirely here and excludes dozens of others (mostly Hollywood and Bollywood) that have been partially made here.

The first feature was by Gaston Méliès brother of legendary pioneering French film director Georges Méliès (A Trip to the Moon 1902). The Méliès brothers were struggling financially and Gaston was sent out into the wider world in search of the exotic and hopefully a reversal of fortune. It didn’t work but Gaston managed to make three fictional narratives, one feature documentary and a series of documentary shorts.

The first of these was a film called Hinemoa (1913) of which no copies survive, but it’s the example that matters here. Gaston inspired the locals and in 1914 the first NZ film proper was made. This was also called Hinemoa and was based on the same story about a Maori princess and her lover. That we made any movies at all so early on is a miracle in itself considering the lack of population, resources and technology but that’s Kiwi’s for you – always keen to try new things using whatever is at hand.

It took until the 1980s for the industry to fully engage and another 20 years for it to build up a full head of steam. These days it is a major industry and is pumping out a regular diet of art, box office and blockbuster, some of it successful, some not.

As for the best of this New Zealand film, I am offering a subjective list that is mostly way off beam with the mainstream of thinking on the subject. A good friend, an authority in fact, thinks my Kiwi favourites are mostly ludicrous but to be fair, while his list is politically ‘correct’ it is also hard work as in “bloody hell, these films are difficult to watch.” We agree to disagree.

Except for Once Were Warriors nothing from the nations ‘go to’ agency – ‘New Zealand on Screen’ – is on my list. ‘New Zealand on Screen’ is a taxpayer-funded archive of all things film and television and the essential guide to New Zealand’s screen heritage.


NZ on Screen – List of Essential New Zealand Films:


Goodbye Pork Pie (1981)

Smash Palace (1981)

Utu (1983)

Vigil (1984)

The Piano (1993)

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Once Were Warriors (1994)

Whale Rider (2002)




14 Films About New Zealand.


Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1983).

Dairy farmer Arthur Allen Thomas is accused of murdering his neighbours Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. The police can’t prove it so fix the evidence and have Thomas put away. Years of re-trails and government commissions follow before Thomas is finally set free and richly compensated.

For almost a decade this story gripped the nation and the whole sordid affair is neatly summed up in a film renowned film critic Roger Ebert called “remarkable”. The case has never been solved.






Bad Blood (1982).

Dairy farmer Stanley Graham is under pressure. He snaps and starts shooting people. Seven bodies later and Graham’s rampage is over. Based on actual events from the summer of 1941 this economical portrait of a man being undone by paranoia is a triumph for both British director Mike Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and Aussie actor Jack Thompson (Graham).

PS No accident that two of films on this list are set on dairy farms. Dairy is our biggest brand and the farm can be an interesting place. Worth a look is fantasy/romance The Price of Milk (2000) and sheep farming drama Mahana (2016). The latter features the endlessly reliable Temuera Morrison (Jake the Muss from Once Were Warriors).






Out Of The Blue (2006)

In 1998 a man wrestling with demons and paranoia starts shooting the people of Aramoana. David Grey prowls about the village taking pot shots at pursuing police while locals hide as best they can.

Harrowing and intense, this ‘based on actual events’ thriller, is a formative example of ‘the cinema of unease’, a term coined by Kiwi film star Sam Neil to describe the nations brooding film style.




Once Were Warriors (1994).

‘Jake The Muss’ is disenfranchised and drinking heavily. His emotional state is precarious, his temper is explosive and his shell-shocked family is riding his chaotic wake, their heads barely above water.

We flocked to the cinema in our droves to see the worst of ourselves writ large on the big screen. It was huge success critically, culturally and financially. Director Lee Tamahori turned New Zealand cinema on its head and actor Temuera Morrison gave the performance of a lifetime. This is not just a great NZ film; this is great cinema.




What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? (1999)

Though not the cinematic powerhouse of Once Were Warriors, sequel What Become of the Broken Hearted has its moments. Jake has calmed down but still struggles with demons and misdemeanours. When his past stands up and slaps him in the face one day he finds himself at a turning point. On offer is opportunity for redemption and he is of two minds. Despite its occasional slide into predictability the film has enough heart to carry it through to a satisfying conclusion.




Forgotten Silver (1995)

Peter Jackson (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings) is a force of nature but before the big Hollywood blockbusters came a whole other career that includes a couple of splatter films, a musical helmed by foul mouthed puppets and art-cinema classic Heavenly Creatures, based on another ‘true life’ Kiwi murder.

The killing narrative, it seems, is a right of passage in Kiwi film and Jackson’s done it twice. Controversial The Lovely Bones (2009) was poorly received but it has its defenders including me.

Documentary Forgotten Silver explores the life of pioneering Kiwi filmmaker Colin McKenzie whose achievements included the invention colour and sound film. But there is more, so much more. McKenzie, it appears was a towering genius, confirming the unspoken truth about NZ, that we are indeed a special and blessed people.

It turned out to be a well-executed hoax that left many red-faced and others outraged. It is my favourite Jackson and joke aside, it is a well-made film.




The Locals (2003).

The Waikato is better known as the land that powers the nations behemoth Dairy Industry but it has also been the locale for two of the more interesting films made in this country. The regions capital serves as the backdrop for Geoff Murphy’s 1985 sci-fi mystery The Quiet Earth and the bucolic farmland is the canvas for Greg Page’s supernatural thriller The Locals.

Page migrated to the region from further South in his late youth and cut his teeth making music videos for Hamilton city bands. The Locals is the only feature film in his catalogue but sums up the regions landscape, atmosphere and culture with a clarity no one else has yet too match.

Page: “We wrapped the film and while we were in post-production I went off to see this new movie everyone was talking about and it had the same kind of twist ending as ‘The Locals’. I had been beaten to it.” He was talking about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense.

The Locals is a smartly executed film full of ironic Kiwi sensibility. The soundtrack features superstar Waikato rockers The Datsuns and it flies by at a rapid rate of knots. Much like the Director himself. Criminally underrated it is well deserving of rediscovery and adulation.




The Devil Dared Me To (2007).

The dominant feature of Kiwi film humour is a strain of ironic absurdism not unlike that which you might find in Irish films and when you consider that some six hundred thousand out of a population of four and an half million claim Irish ancestry this seems a reasonable supposition.

As for the narrative: Stuntman Randy Campbell has a dream, he wants to become the world’s greatest stuntman by becoming the first person to leap across Cook on a motorcycle. Before his dream can be realised numerous obstacles have to overcome aka a classic hero’s quest. Base, absurdist, cheesy and surreal The Devil Dared Me Too is as warming as a petrol station pie on a cold day.





What We Do In The Shadows (2014).

Writer Director Taika Waititi has had a phenomenal run at the NZ box office and his films Boy (2010) Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) are the two biggest ever-grossing NZ films respectively.

What we do in the Shadows, made in collaboration with Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), was also a big hit and possibly one of the best examples of the dry, ‘straight-faced’ style that dominates Kiwi humour. More cohesive and refined than The Devil Dared Me To it was an instant cult classic. Perhaps our best ‘cult’ product since Hamiltonian Richard O’Brien thought up The Rocky Horror Picture Show back in the late 1960s.




Desperate Remedies (1993).

This is not the kind of film I would choose to see off my own bat but when I asked Geoff Lealand (Associate Professor Film and Media Studies University of Waikato and all-round doyen of all thing cinematic in NZ) what his favourite Kiwi film was he said this.

A surreal psychodrama set in early colonial New Zealand it tastes like a ‘golden age’ MGM spectacular directed by Stanley Kubrick by way of Orson Welles with Ken Russell in as the production supervisor. The result is unique, imagine ‘splatter era’ Peter Jackson on opium. A grand testament to the tightly guarded madness lurking beneath the Kiwi facade.




Worlds Fastest Indian (2005).

Roger Donaldson was born in Australia and migrated to New Zealand (which is confusing in itself as the migration trend is mostly the other way around) and made two defining local films: Sleeping Dogs’ (1977) and Smash Palace (1981).

After a long Hollywood stint he returned to his adopted homeland for The World’s Fastest Indian’ in 2005. Invercargill Burt Munro’s and his Indian go to America and breaks’ a number of motorcycle speed records on the salt flats of Utah along the way. Welshman Anthony Hopkins manages a reasonable facsimile of the Kiwi accent while leading a charming Biopic that is as honest as the day is long.




Sleeping Dogs (1977).

Roger Donaldson’s first film arrived on the scene at the most opportune moment. New Zealand was in moving headlong into a period of social upheaval and many old values were being asked hard questions and found wanting. Authoritarian Prime Minister Robert Muldoon (the model for the PM in the film?) was leading the rear guard action and this usually peaceful and bucolic land was getting restless.

Smith (a somewhat startled looking Sam Neil in his first leading role) is a typically self-possessed Kiwi bloke reluctantly drawn into the fight against a dictatorial fascist government determined to maintain the hard line.

Based on C.K Stead’s 1971 novel Smith’s Dream, this is a parable that set the nation alight and allowed us to imagine ourselves in a different way. Paradigms shifted, new doors were cast wide open and the modern NZ Film Industry was born. What followed was beautiful chaos.





Angel At My Table (1993).

The strange life of NZ writer Janet Frame is explored with inventive flair by Kiwi acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano).

A critical and commercial success this biopic is a riveting portrait of an artist struggling to swim with the tide. Rather than go on, here is a poem by Frame written in the last years of her life. One of the better meditations I have encountered on the subject of ageing and death. The film maintains a narrative of similar quality.


When the Sun Shines More Years than Fear
– Janet Frame

When the sun shines more years than fear
when birds fly more miles than anger
when sky holds more bird
sails more cloud
shines more sun
than the palm of love carries hate,
even then shall I in this weary
seventy-year banquet say, Sunwaiter,
Birdwaiter, Skywaiter,
I have no hunger,
remove my plate.





Honourable Mention:


Came A Hot Friday (1985).

I was not taken by it at all when I saw it many decades ago but many of my peers rate it so out of respect for them and my love of all things Billy T James I have added to the list with the intention of watching it again soon. Based on a novel by Ronald Hugh Morrieson, Came a Hot Friday concerns a couple of Grfiters getting up to all kinds of mischief in Taranaki.

Something of a rogue, Morrieson was not well considered in his Taranaki hometown of Hawera and after he died they pulled down his house to make way for a McDonald’s hoping to expunge his memory from the record. In reality all the locals managed was make Morrieson more famous. All four of Morrison’s novels have been adapted for film, as have two of his short stories.

The film features the late great Billy T James as The Tainuia Kid. According to legend James’s was the Tainuia kid from the moment he arrived on set and remained that way till the shoot was over. James’s ‘Prankster’ character is a testament to the man’s subversive comedic genius.



Billy T James as the Tainuia Kid


The Cake and The Rain (St. Martins 2017) written by Jimmy Webb – Book Review.

June 4, 2017





Didn’t We came to Jimmy Webb while he was out driving. It was the only time a song came to him unbidden and fully formed. He rushed home, transcribed it and started shopping it around. Aging pop star Tony Martin expressed an interest and called him in for a meeting at a theatre. Webb was told to wait in the ‘Green Room’. He took a chair and sat quietly so as not to disturb the elderly man asleep on a sofa.

The old man opens and eye and looking at the portfolio Webb was cradling asked him what he had there? Webb handed it over and the man pulled out Didn’t We and after a quick read through began humming it. Then he took a trumpet from a case and played it through. Louis Armstrong to Webb, “You got a special gift kid”.

It was Sinatra who turned it into a standard. “So you’re the kid who writes them like they used to?” he said to a startled Webb at their first meeting. Webb was given granted regular access to the Chairman who would listen while Webb played. Sinatra wanted first dibs on anything special. Webb, “He didn’t say so but you knew when the meeting was over.”





Webb’s mum and dad had hauled the kids to California in search of ‘opportunity’ but after the sudden death of his wife, Webb senior lost heart and decided to return to Oklahoma. “Dad, I’m not going”. The 17 year old had decided to stay and write songs. Dad was unconvinced but gave him forty dollars, “It’s all I have.”

Webb was a musically literate grafter. He searched them out, wrote them down and knocked on doors. He got to know the right people and his songs were passed about. Glen Campbell was L.A’s busiest sideman and was ambitious for a bigger career. By the Time I get to Phoenix provided him with the breakout hit he needed.

A melancholic song about a restless love affair, By The Time I Get To Phoenix is astonishing for its emotional maturity (Webb was barely18 when he wrote it). Campbell worked it up with legendary session band The Wrecking Crew and the result is so perfectly complete that none of the dozens of versions that followed have come close to achieving Campbell’s clarity of vision.

“Write me a song with a name in it,” demanded Campbell, perhaps thinking that place names were going to be his thing. Wichita Lineman took a few days and was missing a third verse but Campbell was so convinced he took it as was and detuned his guitar in order to mimic the vocal. The third verse became the home to one of ‘Middle Music’s’ most revered guitar lines.

Webb pumped out one more place name for Campbell, anti-Vietnamese War song Galveston. It was a sensation and cemented Campbell into superstardom but it was their last major hit together. Next Webb/Campbell single Where’s The Playground Susie broke the place name rule and the result was middling.





At the end of Webb’s book is a list (partial) of the artists that have recorded his songs. It is 12 pages long and among them is the unlikely figure of Irish Actor Richard Harris.

“You got any songs for me Jimmywebb?” Webb played him a few and Harris hummed and hawed until Webb played him a new one that had been written on commission for, then rejected by The Association (Cherish, Along Comes Mary).

Harris demanded Webb play it over and over, 12 times to be precise. By this point Webb’s fingers were bleeding and Harris was weeping uncontrollably. “I’ll turn it into number one for ya Jimmywebb” he sobbed, “A bloody number one”. He did. A genuine all purpose international sensation, the kind that makes people very rich.

Webb was on the phone to Paul McCartney a few weeks later when he let slip that MacArthur Park’s unconventionally long length meant that he was receiving three times the standard airplay royalties.

McCartney drops the phone. “Paul, Paul, are you there?” but he was gone and on his way to Abbey Road where he sets about tweaking the length of new Beatles single ‘Hey Jude’ so it could be suitably hitched to this wondrous new gravy train.

It was Webb’s only number one, a feat it managed twice when Donna Summer’s version took down the international top spot in 1978.





Webb was a genuine all purpose Wunderkind who wrote the kind of songs that made stars of singers and paid for a ‘Jet Setting’ lifestyle – Up and Up and Away as he explains in his most famous song. Mansions, fast cars, cocaine and women, (the later being the source of the angst in his music) followed. A lot of it is outrageous and some of it is crazed. Buddies Harry Nilsson and John Lennon come out of this looking a little crazed. Webb less so, wide-eyed and hanging on for dear life is more to the point. He regrets none of it.

Of all his work, most underrated are the songs he wrote for vocal group The 5th Dimension. “They were Black but didn’t make ‘Black’ music. They were more show tune style and while they were open to suggestions you could only go so far as Producer. They were a team and knew what they were doing.”

The record company were unenthusiastic about Up Up Away and let it loose without any promo or backup. It caught on regardless and by mid-1967 was sitting at number 7 in the US pop charts. The money poured in and Webb could write his own ticket.

A month after the Beatles released their ‘album as art statement’ the ground breaking Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, The 5th Dimension released the Webb written and produced concept ‘art’ album The Magic Garden. And yes it has a sitar. And a Beatles song (Ticket To Ride as show tune) but as Webb explains, The Magic Garden is mostly inspired by Brian Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds (1966).





His words run swift and lean and his tales about 60s pop stardom fill out some lesser know details of a much mythologized time and place. There is no judgement, recrimination or agenda just an honest memoir about a first three decades of a man’s life. Webb is 70 and has lived a lot of whole lot of other life since then. Of that he says nothing.

One of the more significant songwriter, producer, arrangers of the 20th Century, Webb’s memoir is made of readable prose whose invention does not get in the way of a goodtime. Music and shenanigans aside, Webb comes across as a centred mid-western boy who has revelled in the fruits of his ambition.




*The Details in this review may not necessarily coincide with the timeline in Webb’s book. I had to return it to the library and left my notes in it and the dates on the Internet conflict so fuck it. I just wrote it as I remember reading.

** BMI – Broadcast Music, Inc. is one of three United States performing rights organizations, along with ASCAP, Global Music Rights and SESAC



The Cheese Grater.

May 28, 2017



So it took me three years to get around to buying a cheese grater. Oh dear, it’s going to cost money. And where will I put it? I have no space for a cheese grater. Do I need a cheese grater anyway? Then I think about all the cool things I’d grate like beetroot.

Grate beetroot then cook it over a fast high heat with a little olive oil to moisten proceedings. Throw in some spice, a dash of sugar and some balsamic. Cook off the liquid, chill then eat. Goes well with crusty bread and a boiled egg.

A grater (also known as a shredder) is a kitchen utensil used to grate foods into fine pieces. Frenchman François Boullier invented the cheese grater in the 1540s to grate cheese, which is why we divide time into two epochs: Before Grated Cheese (BGC) and After Grated Cheese (AGC). Is it just me or does cooked grated cheese taste better than cooked slice cheese? I wonder if this is a thing. I am going to google it. Back soon and P.S: Microsoft Word, why are you urging me to capitalize google?


Toasting cheese in a toaster can be trouble but careful avoids that. The Internets favourite toaster cheese sandwiches are made from sliced bread but the goods are prone to run out the side and catch on the electricals, which is why I use Pita.

A Pita is a self-continued miracle of cooked bread dough that will hold a filling secure and stand up to a little heat. And you don’t have to tip the toaster sideways (to stop the filling running out of the bottom).“If toasters were meant to be used sidewise they would be ‘sideways toasters’ and not ‘upright toasters’” – Wise Chinese Sage. (Pita has a sealed bottom making it fine for upright toasting).

But first, why am I toasted cheese sandwiches in a toaster and not a toasted sandwich maker? Because I have toaster and I don’t have much space and the toaster and toasted sandwich maker together would push me out the door. Beside when you are frugal about money, a speciality machine for making toasted cheese sandwiches seems excessive.


Cheddar cheese (the most flavoursome of the cookable cheeses) is full of fat and leaks and burns and makes smoke and alarms go off. A low fat cheese like Edam avoids this. Likewise Mozzarella. NZ makes most of the Mozzarella used on Chinese pizza, which means this commodity is in demand, scarce and expensive. Hey I’m not complaining. Those exports pay for what is mostly a wonderfully carefree and relaxed Socialist Democratic paradise so the cheap flavourless Edam no one else wants will do just fine.

Grate cheese, mix in finely chopped onion, some diced olives, Kaitaia fire, pepper, herbs, smoked paprika whatever you want. Slice pita in half, stuff halves with cheese mix and toast on low heat (Pita is delicate around high heat). And don’t over fill the pita. It’ll stick and burn and make a mess. On the matter of cooked grated cheese Google/ says:

Finely grating the cheese creates more surface area, allowing heat to permeate quickly for even melting. Large or irregular chunks of cheese melt at different rates, can melt first on the outside and then overcook, or become clumpy or oily before the inside of the chunk starts to flow.


The first time I heard the word google I thought it weird and unwieldy – clumsy and silly. When I realised what google could do the word became more meaningful. I got to like it but I never got to like U2. First time I heard that name I thought “dumb word play” and could never really take them seriously after that. This probably makes me a prat or a snob or some such. As for Google/google here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet using the search engine Google’.

It tells us that you can only goggle on Google. Little g is fine when using the word to describe a search on Google Corporations information gathering algorithm machine but a big G is in order for describing the auspicious company behind the brand. It is improper to say “I will just google that” on any search engine other than Google’s but you can ‘bing’ on Bing or ‘duckduckgo’ on Duckduckgo.

So anyways I got the damned cheese grater. It cost $3.00 at The Warehouse. If I had of known it was going to be that cheap I might have bought one years ago. Otherwise I have nowhere to put it except under the bed and that feels wrong.


“Do you have a cheese grater?” she asks.


“Yeah. Right there, under the bed,” he says pointing.


“Oh…… really?” She says raising an eyebrow at the thought.


‘Google it/on Bing/Fuck the Man/The thing is/I am a maverick/I keep my cheese grater under the bed/Bing/Bang/Boing/Take that bitch’!

“I’m a Rapper,” he tells her but she has already gone.






Pissing In Public.

May 28, 2017



I have no problem with pissing outside. I grew up on farm where the whole world is your toilet (you are 5km from any kind of civilisation so you just do as needs require. Besides, there is no one about so who is too care?). The only time you might use an actual toilet is when you are at home and even then its easier to go outside and give the ‘gift that matters’ to the lemon and feijoa tree where it will do some good rather than the rigmarole of toilets and seats and back splash and hand washing.

I remember suggesting to my newly minted 8-year-old stepson that he pee outside. “It’s easier and much more fun”. A well schooled town boy, he was visibly upset by the idea but he got used to it and hasn’t looked back. “Yes, it is convenient” he announced when he was about 10. The problem was getting him to stop pissing onto the one spot, that’s where excess piss had killed a good few square feet of lawn. “You gotta spread it around boy. It is potent stuff”.

Different rules apply when you pee outside. Hand washing is not always possible and you have to compromise standards a little. Otherwise piss is sterile and you can learn to hang your ‘willy’ out and do the job without touching anything. If you really have to wash, dewy grass is a good start.

The toilet is good for storms and impossibly cold nights but otherwise outside is easiest. Or in bucket. At one time the whole family peed in buckets and in the morning I would collect it, dilute it down with water and chuck it on the lawn. Visitors would kick off their shoes and walk about the grass marvelling at the velvety softness underfoot. “It was piss that did that,” I never told anyone.

The worst part about pissing is getting up in the night but a bucket close by makes it simple, comfortable and easy. ‘Easy’ unless you knock the bucket over which is why I switched to the bottle. I learned my lessons about peeing in bottles a few years back when I was stuck in traffic.

It was an emergency. I had no choice. I unzipped and let rip. It was one huge error of judgement. I jammed the head of my cock into the head of a bottle and forgot to leave room for air displacement. There was an explosion of urine and I was a bloody mess and the car was a bloody mess. “Fuck you Auckland Traffic,” I screamed helplessly to no one.

Growing up on a dairy farm gets one used to being pissed on and in the end its only “grass and water” (or in my case chocolate and coffee) grandpa would remind me when I was still getting used to this ‘fact of cowshed life’. After a while you stop thinking about it. Even shit becomes a mundane thing. “Grass and water, grass and water.”

I got caught short up on K-Rd the other week and damn did I not regret using the toilet at the café I left five minutes back. Three km’s till home and the pressure is building. In the end I ducked off the footpath and into a byway running through the University of Auckland and let loose against a tree. Jesus it felt good.

I finished and turned around to find a dozen people staring at me out a window, a mix of emotions on display. Some looked vaguely shocked, some offended and others amused. I waved and bowed and mouthed my gratitude for their kind attention. If you are going to do it in the daylight and in public do it fast and without hesitation and if you get caught, be gracious about it. It’ll confuse them while you make your getaway.

Piss is a miracle thing. Lawns, tress, and shrubs (including fruit trees) will benefit from its judicious application. It can be added to compost to invigorate proceedings (the nitrogen in urine is mana from heaven to the bacteria working at breaking down the waste) and used to fertilise commercial food crops. You can do a lot of positive things with urine.

We should not be afraid of piss but we are and for good reason. Historically we discovered that having a whole lot of people pissing on everything in built up areas is no good for anyone (it stinks for a start) so we developed some pretty firm strictures about the ‘where and when and how’ of pissing in places.

But when you gotta go you gotta go. Even on the verge of a busy road in the middle of the day. People are going to toot and point. Ignore them; they know not what they do. A full bladder can be distracting to a driver. Better to be safe than sorry.

I know this woman who can lift her skirt and point her stream as efficiently as any man. She’s a farm girl who does it with practiced amusement and god help anyone who takes offence: “It’s only bloody piss. Get over it”. Ah Kiwi women. Gotta love them.


The Strip Club.

May 12, 2017



So far I had managed to politely wangle my way out of every social invitation that first week on the job (I don’t like going out if I can help it) but it was Friday and my new boss was insistent. “I can’t afford it,” I said meekly. “You have already used that one” he shot back “and I am paying so come on, the Uber is waiting downstairs and we gotta go”.

Uber I wondered? I was only just up from a small provincial town and still adjusting to the ways of the big city and had no idea what Uber was. Turns out it was a car with a driver, like a taxi. “Where are we going?” I ask the boss. “You’ll see” he grinned and ten minutes later the Uber pulls up outside a strip club. I had never been to a strip club and wasn’t about to start, or so I imagined.

“It’s looks a bit flash and there is no way they are going to let me in,” I say indicating my jeans with holes in the knees.“ Ah, but I have this ” he says waving a wad of cash at me, “Opens every door every time”. And sure enough the blank stare on the huge Polynesian guy guarding the door quickly turns into a beatific smile at the sight and he waves us in. Damn.

Dimly lit, read velvet, cut glass mirrors and shimmering gold. Then there is the stage and the silver poles and a guy staring at a naked dancer the way a biologist might stare at a rare specimen. It was a lot to take in at a glance and feeling nervous I turn my attention toward the action at the bar.

“Four tequila shots” thunders the boss at the young woman making the drinks. “Are we expecting guests?” I wonder as the shots appear before us. He pushes two at me and watches to see that I knock them back before ordering the beers. “Two beers,” then “No”. He pauses dramatically then winks, “make that four beers.” So that I was how it was going down tonight.

The alcohol tickles my senses making everything shimmer more brightly. The young woman serving behind the bar carries a thick Italian accent and the kind of dusky Romanesque features I have long considered the epitome of female beauty. I could have happily sat back and watched her do her thing all night long when an arm falls about my waist. I had not been touched by another person for sometime and the sensation causes me to start. “Relax,” whispers an accent that turns out to be Hungarian, Budapest to be precise. She is tall, and by tall I mean very tall. I am tall, very tall, and she is looking me directly in the eye.

“Do you know so-and-so?” I ask blurting out the name of a friend from the same city. Her response is to ask if I want to go upstairs. I follow her eyes toward a stairwell off to the side. “She wants to know if you would like a fuck,” whispers the boss into my ear pressing something into my left hand. “It’s strip club currency,” he whispers and then in a voice that is now no longer a whisper says “To pay for it.” “No” I blurt out at him and at her and just like that she is gone and for the first time I see her in perspective as she hones in on another man who is not tall at all.

The thong about her waist is but a suggestion and I tick off every question I might ever have about what a very tall women might look like naked. It’s all very positive. Two more tequila’s appear in front of me. “From your friend” says the Italian girl indicating that I might tip her with the strip club cash if I so desire. I desire and she smiles beatifically.

The boss was nowhere to be seen and with the alcohol fuelling my confidence I sit down and consider the naked young women swinging about the poles. “We have to wipe them down a lot” says a voice off to the side, “With all that pussy action they start smelling a little ripe after a time”. The speaker is a smartly dressed young woman with a tray. “Can I get you another drink?” I pass her some currency and she returns with another beer. That she is world-weary is obvious and I ask her to sit and talk. She sits and talks.

She is half-Maori and half-Portuguese which explains her exotic looks. She is also a student and appreciates the money if not the clientele. We are watching two well-dressed business types rubbing their crotches as they watch the girls polish the silver. “Welcome to my world.” Her grimace says it all.

I ask her if she dances and she says yes but tonight she is on the bar. We chat a while longer and she unloads a bit then touching my arm asks me to stay put before rushing of backstage. A while later she walks onstage and does a strip routine and some pole dancing. She knows her stuff. Later she reappears and asks me if I enjoyed it? I shove the wad of ‘strip cash’ at her but she politely demurs pushing it back with a blush. “I have to go,” she says, “study then sleep”. Then says “Thanks for listening.” It is my turn to blush.

Later a kid of no more than 18 and wearing something akin to bare flesh eyes up the ‘strip cash’ and asks me if I would like a lap dance. I say no and she takes this as a challenge and offers to throw in something extra. I ask her where she is from. “Guess” she says and I guess Rotorua. “How did you know that?” she laughs. “Your accent” I reply. She gives up with the lap dance thing and I give her some currency regardless. She gets me a beer. “On the house” she winks. The boss reappears and I tell him I have had enough and say I am off home but he is not listening. The girl from Rotorua has caught his attention.