Greetings from Great Barrier Island – April 2015

Heading for Great Barrier – Sam (L) and Dominic (R)

My boys are giving me that “you don’t know me at all” look. We’ve rented a cabin on Great Barrier Island, an island north of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand, and we’ve opted for economic accommodation – possibly unwisely. The boys’ eyes have widened. The enormity of a week without their iPads has been hard for them to accept, but the thought of sharing a kitchen and toilet block with strangers is testing their limits. This trip was planned as a week to get from it all, but I think my boys were quite keen to bring it all with them.

DAY 1  – Tuesday (Auckland to Great Barrier Island)
It’s been an early start today with Sam’s watch unnecessarily waking me in the middle of the night, followed by final packing, arrival at 6.50am at the wrong dock, and then 7.05am at the right dock. At 7.10 we’re the first car to drive onto the ferry, and being the first I forget that I should have reversed on. Fortunately there’s enough time to turn around without anyone getting impatient. The ferry leaves just before 8am, and I enjoy watching my phone reception disappear. I’m now out of the clutches of my clients and work colleagues, so the holiday can begin.

The ferry trip takes four and a half hours, and the highlight for the boys is a small pod of dolphins that leads us across to Great Barrier. It’s not easy to time the photos to catch the dolphins as they leap out of the water, or as they twist and splash back under the surface. They seem pretty happy – maybe meeting the ferry might be the highlight of their day too. I manage many photos of water with dolphin-shaped shadows lurking below. Fortunately some dolphins manage to time their jump well.

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We arrive just before 1pm, and drive to our lodgings in Blind Bay, near Okupu. The main house is open, but no-one’s home. We recognise the cabin that we’ve booked from the website, and it’s also wide open, so I unload while the boys recover from the shock of no bathroom. Or TV. Or any plug socket for a heater – that one concerns me too. There was supposed to be a horse too. They did tell us to bring a torch, but I think the boys hoped that was just for exploration. Their trepidation is obvious. “This is the wilderness, isn’t it Dad?”

We have no way of locking the place yet, so we lie around reading up on our options for the week, and it isn’t too long before we’re greeted by Jazz the jumpy dog and her owner. We’re given a quick tour and told not to worry about the constant smell of gas in the kitchen – my boys still choose to worry. Sadly the horse just died – “You should have been here last week”. On a brighter note, the tour includes a socket in the owners’ garage, so I can recharge my phone in the evenings. I later find that phone reception is limited to a spot half-way down a long driveway, which strangely shifts every day. The neighbour’s cows seem to find my careful steps forward and backward quite intriguing. It probably looks more foxtrot than waltz.

Blind Bay

Blind Bay

On finding that the torch is broken, which should arguably have been checked before leaving home, we head off, looking for a replacement and some dinner. We find a warm welcome and delicious vegie pizza at the Lunch Box café in Claris, although their swing ball would be better if there was a ball attached. There’s also a distinct lack of torches in the local shops. Tonight the phone will have to double as a torch.

20150417_162854Sam wakes just after midnight, and we use the phone to navigate our way to the toilets. It’s a perfectly clear night, and we can hear the occasional morepork. There’s no light pollution on Great Barrier and the sky seems completely full of stars.

DAY 2  – Wednesday (heading South)
We’ve decided to see as much of the island as possible by driving in a different direction every day. Today we’re heading south and our first stop is the General Store in Claris. I’m sure someone is just ahead of us, buying all the torches on the island. There’s no shortage of bread in Claris, but no-one ever used a sandwich to find their way in the dark.

Medlands Beach

Medlands Beach

The beaches on the East coast of Great Barrier are spectacular, and we have a brief stop at Medlands with plans to return for a longer visit later in the trip. The southern-most point on the island is Cape Barrier, and we’re heading to Cape Barrier Road to see how close we can get. The map shows the road as unsealed, but that’s no problem. It’s only an issue for us if the map were to show the road as 4WD only. After about half-an-hour, the map lies to us, and we’re confronted with a 4WD sign. We decide that eating is our best option, and that the side of this seemingly rarely-used road is the ideal spot to lay out our blanket for our picnic. It won’t be the last time the boys have sandwiches and fruit for lunch. We finish lunch with a feijoa peel throwing competition into the neighbouring farm.

We head back home to Blind Bay via Tryphena, where the ferry arrived, and where we find some interesting-looking rock pools. There’s a disappointing lack of beasts in the pools, so have a session on the correct technique for skimming stones. After much perseverance, Dom has his first success.

Possibly Pah Beach

More skimming practice – possibly at Pah Beach

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The Burger Shack, Claris

On the way home, we find the last torch on the island at the Mulberry Grove Café (they missed one) and have quick photo stops at what I think is Pah Beach. Dinner tonight is the famous toasted sandwiches from the Burger Shack in Claris, followed by fruit salad specially imported from Auckland.

DAY 3 – Thursday (from West to East)
The highlight for two of us today is the Kaitoke Hot Springs, reached after a 45 minute walk through the Kaitoke wetlands to hot pools. There are numerous signs for rare birdlife that can be found here, and we’re on the lookout for a bittern. The bitterns may be having a sleep-in today, so we keep an eye out for unusual looking mushrooms. The pools are very secluded – you can’t get much more secluded than at the end of a long trail on Great Barrier.

A family is just leaving as we arrive, and we have the pools to ourselves for a while. The bottom the pools is very muddy, with the temperature in the mud quite hot at one end of the pool. We’re soon joined by a Banded Rail, now rare on the mainland, but not uncommon on Great Barrier. Dom’s enjoying lounging in the pools, but with splashing and swimming under water not allowable options, Sam’s soon getting bored. We’re joined by a family getting away from the Waiheke Island rat-race, which says a lot for the pace of life on Great Barrier, and we leave them to enjoy the pools.

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Kaitoke Hot Springs, before the Rail

A lot rarer on Great Barrier than the Banded Rail is the traffic jam – but we manage to experience both on the same day. We picked the wrong day to see what could be found at the end of Whangaparapara Road – and we never did find out. We do find a sign to Harpoon Hill – given the history of whaling in the early years of European settlement, it must have a view. No chance – it does have houses that look exactly like our street back in Auckland. The name promised so much.

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AoteaFM HQ

20150415_153241 Another treat for the boys is the chance to have a request played on the local radio station with their names announced. AoteaFM is based in a cabin at Claris between the Burger Shack and the Lunch Box – possibly situated to keep two rivals at bay. The boys have the chance to choose the last track for the session and their blank looks mean I choose it for them – Jokerman by Bob Dylan. They get quite a kick out of alternating between listening from the car radio and from the speakers in the picnic area outside the cabin, and back again, and back again….

We finish the day with a swim at Medlands beach – freezing at first, but once your body losing all feeling, it isn’t so bad. It’s hard to complain about the east coast beaches here.

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DAY 4  – Friday (heading North)
The simple tricks are usually the best. We’re heading north today, with an initial stop at Blind Bay, the beach that we’ve driven past at the beginning and end of each of the last few days but have yet to visit. Sam decides that the easiest way to identify the various beaches in our photos is to write the name on the beach itself with some handy driftwood. Fortunately the name of our first beach today is quite short.

definitely Blind Bay Beach

definitely Blind Bay Beach

On the drive north, we see spectacular views over Awana Bay from road – this is the place where I’d love my GBI bach. It won’t happen – too hard to get back to Auckland for the gigs. We head down to the beach for more tagging on the sand.

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Awana Bay

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Our main target today is Windy Canyon – it’s not clear whether the name refers to the wind blowing through the hills, or the winding of the road. Both would have worked today – I’m not sure you get that many double entendres in place names out here. Our lunch is at a handily positioned picnic table opposite the entry to Windy Canyon lookout. The fact that there is a quarry next to the picnic table makes it feel a bit out of place, but we have a very interesting view of impressive rock formations above us.

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We walk to the lookout, unfortunately past one very large but very dead bird. There are many rare birds on Great Barrier. If this was a rare one, sadly they’re even rarer now. The end of the walk to lookout gets a bit hairy with very high and steep stairs, and ample opportunity for a long fall. The boys do well though, but we’re all happy to stop when the handrails disappear. I get to go a little further despite the lack of handrail for the official photo. It’s a great view towards the coast at Okiwi – sometimes quick views are the best views.

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We continue north down the unsealed road to Whangapoua Beach. This beach is the location for graves from one of New Zealand’s worst shipwrecks, the SS Wairarapa. The ship hit rocks near here in October 1894, causing 140 people to drown. We share the two kilometre-long beach briefly with another human family, and then only with a family of dotterels.

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20150417_123533 that says Whangapoua Beach

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Rakitu Island looking arid

The beach looks directly out towards Rakitu Island, also appropriately known as Arid Island. The boys do more beach-naming, but it’s a bit tricky with dryer sand and a lot more letters. They have a great time doing what kids have always done – jumping waves, digging holes, making dams. It’s the perfect beach. Less than perfect is having to share the portaloo with an angry bee – a very unwelcome and untimely visitor.

20150417_124008 20150417_124110 20150417_132209From there we drive to Port Fitzroy – I can’t remember why I thought this was going to be the biggest town on the Island. Far from it – it consists of a jetty, a caravan selling snacks, an overpriced fruit and vege shop, a few recycling bins and another spectacular setting. There must be houses up the long drives around here, but nothing very visible. It’s a great place to relax with an ice cream, and amazingly the only place right on the jetty doesn’t do ice creams. We pop up the road for some overpriced ice creams and bring them back to jetty. This is a beautiful spot.

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Fitzroy

20150417_161739We have dinner at the Lunch Box again – and they’ve attached a ball to the swingball. They have bats too; a nice touch. It’s our last taste of the vegetarian pizzas for this trip. On the way home we have a quick sidetrip to Blind Bay, but Sam’s writing has long gone.

DAY 5 – Saturday
The much requested fishing day has arrived and we pay a visit to Hooked On Barrier to buy bait. It’s suggested we get squid, as that won’t come off the hook. I should have asked for that in writing. We’re also told that the jetty at Blind Bay is a good spot, which is perfect for us. There are very nice views across the bay to Okupu.

20150419_124704The weather is a bit cool, but we’re all well wrapped up. The boys haven’t used handlines before, and I help them by slinging the lines out. We’re soon getting bites – it’s a promising start. All goes quiet and we check our lines – no bait. These guys are cunning. More sophisticated baiting follows, with the same result. Biting followed by missing bait. The weather’s now getting a bit damp as a drizzle sets in, but the boys aren’t put off by that. A pattern is starting to emerge – bait is hooked by man, bait is unhooked and eaten by fish. The weather is not improving, and gets wetter and colder until we suddenly find ourselves in an outdoor carwash. Our slightly cool day with possible rain has turned into a torrential downpour with a chance of sunshine late tomorrow.

20150418_130209At least we have a shed on the jetty for shelter and to untangle two interwoven handlines. The rain eases enough for the boys to venture out again. And once more, we get many bites, but these fish want to eat in, not takeout. I’m amazed we’re still getting bites – surely they must be full by now. We’re joined by a collie who looks curious and confident we’ll get something. His mood slowly descends into despondency and I don’t think he wants to be associated with us. The boys don’t give up until we run out of bait. We head home for the big clean, wondering what we would have done if we had have caught a fish. This would have been at odds with my anti-whaling stance anyway, so my conscience is clear. Somehow even the clothes that we weren’t wearing today smell of bait.

DAY 6 – Sunday (Great Barrier Island to Auckland)
It’s the last morning of our Great Barrier Island tour, and it’s time for the big tidy. We finally meet the husband of the owner and he has only marginally more to say than when he wasn’t around.
We’re not sure what food options will be available on the ferry back so we grab a combined morning tea and lunch at Mulberry Grove road. The crew of the ferry are playing cricket on the parking deck, but the game has to finish to load cars. The boys watch while I reverse on. When I get back, Dom has camouflaged his face with a chocolate cupcake, and we leave a trail of chocolate crumbs as we embark.

20150419_152623There are a lot more people on the ferry this time, so we make sure we get a good seat to watch the islands go by. We’ve become quite familiar with this coastline quite quickly. After we run out of islands to watch, the boys finally get to watch their Mythbusters DVD. The ferry takes a few hours so we make this last as long as possible. We buy the only food available on board that could arguably fit within a very broad definition of dinner. There aren’t any dolphins this time, but darkness soon falls and the boys have a clear sky to watch Venus and Jupiter.

Quietly cruising past the night lights of Auckland harbour is a fun way to finish the trip. The boys haven’t seen this view of the city at night before. They seem happy to have had their trip away from it all, but I’m sure they’re just as happy to get back, find their chargers, and plug in again.

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Boys watching Venus and Jupiter

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A Day In The Life – 27 September 1969

Has it really been that long since my last post? Moving house seems to be a process that never quite finishes. With only a few boxes left to unpack, I don’t feel too guilty visiting the 60’s again.

27 September 1969, Mt Eden, Auckland, New Zealand – a boy celebrates his first birthday, blissfully unaware of his parents’ lack of interest in the Beatles or the Stones. There’s no Sgt Pepper or Satisfaction here. Mum prefers Nana Mouskouri, and she sings over and over….even her record cover admits it.

…and over and over and over….

In the Studio…with the Velvet Underground

Following their first two records and having replaced John Cale with Doug Yule, the Velvet Underground moved from Verve Records to parent company MGM Records, releasing their self-titled third album The Velvet Underground in March 1969. A management change resulted in MGM releasing less profitable bands from their roster, and the Velvets found themselves without a label. The band had already recorded tracks for their second MGM album, but these were forgotten until a resurgence of interest in the Velvet Underground several decades later. Among these was an instrumental track recorded on 27 September 1969 named “I’m Gonna Move Right In” and finally released in 1986 on “Another View“.

Keith Richard, Let It Bleed rehearsals, September 1969

Other albums that were being recorded in September 1969, but without any evidence of activity on Saturday 27th, include the Rolling Stones’ “Let It Bleed“, “Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water“, David Bowie’s “David Bowie“, and Van Morrison’s “Moondance“. Perhaps the lack of activity was due to a late night listening to the Beatles’ “Abbey Road“, released on 26 September.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water recording sessions, 1969


On the Road…with Jimi Hendrix

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Well….almost.  Following the final show by the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” in June 1969, Hendrix performed at Woodstock in August with a shortlived band – “Gypsy Sun and Rainbows”. Hendrix was then scheduled for further dates across the US in September, including this show on September 27 at Will Rogers Coliseum, Fort Worth. This and other shows were cancelled while Hendrix recorded new material and auditioned members for his “Band Of Gypsys”. Fort Worth would have to wait until May 1970 for their Hendrix show – one of Jimi’s last. On 18 September 1970, Hendrix was found dead in an apartment at the Samarkand Hotel, London.

On the Road…with Dr. John

Dr John at the Whisky A Go Go, September 1969

Dr John’s interest in voodoo was a major influence on his stage performance in the late 60’s and early 70’s, as well as on the music of his first four albums. The band selected by Dr John to play at the Whisky A Go Go on 27 September 1969, and five other nights, were soon to record Dr John’s third album,”Remedies“, the following month in New York. The cover photo for “Remedies” was taken at one of the September shows at the Whisky.

On the Road…with the Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia at the Fillmore East, September 27, 1969

Originating in San Francisco and quickly becoming one the West Coast’s leading examples of psychedelic rock in the late 60’s , the Grateful Dead were equally at home at New York’s Fillmore East, playing at least 45 times between 1968 and 1971. Replacing Mountain, the Dead performed early and late shows on both 26 and 27 September 1969, playing a selection from their first two albums, along with a range of covers and tracks later to be released on “Workingman’s Dead”.

In an April 2014 article for New Yorker, Alec Wilkinson recalled the late show on 27 September 1969 as his first experience of the Grateful Dead. It clearly left a lasting impression, as he describes “tie-dyed fabric…like something from a bazaar in a country it was difficult to reach and a little scary to visit…the spooky flames, the disorder that seemed only half under control, the carnival atmosphere….the powerful, serpentine music”.

To complete the documentation, the early show can be heard here:
https://archive.org/details/gd1969-09-27.early.aud.warner-jupillej.12064.sbeok.shnf

On the Road…with Santana

Sept 1969

September 27 1969 was a busy time for Carlos Santana. On the same day that the fourth line-up of Santana played the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in California, their debut album entered the Billboard album charts, eventually reaching number 4, and staying in the charts for two years. It was also a success in Europe, reaching number 5 in France and the Netherlands.

On the Road…with Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath in 1969

Heavy Metal pioneers Black Sabbath didn’t always sound too threatening. They first performed in 1968 as Polka Tulk; history isn’t clear whether they were named after an Indian /Pakistani clothing shop or a brand of talcum powder. Later in 1968, they changed to Earth, until they found another gigging band had already taken that name. On 27 September 1969 at the Drill Hall in Dumfries, Scotland, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne  performed as Black Sabbath for the first time.

On the Road…with Pink Floyd



1969 saw Pink Floyd adjusting to life without Syd Barrett. As well as regular touring around the UK and Europe, they started recorded the studio tracks for Ummagumma in January, and the soundtrack to Barbet Schroeder’s film “More” in late January-early February. They also contributed to the BBC’s coverage of the moon landing in July with “Moonhead”, and in December recorded background music for the soundtrack of “Zabriskie Point”.

On 17 September 1969 Pink Floyd began a nine-date tour of the Netherlands and Belgium, which started in Amsterdam and ended with three shows at the Theatre 140 in Brussels on 26, 27 and 28 September.

Pink Floyd, 9 fois au 140 entre 1968 et 1969


On the Road…with Fleetwood Mac

Apparently organised by the local Rugby club, 10,000 people were believed to have attended this indoor all-night festival. This was the blues era of Fleetwood Mac, lead by Peter Green, with Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan joining Fleetwood/McVie to complete the band, and with no hint of the commercial direction that would follow.  The festival began promptly at 8pm, with Fleetwood Mac scheduled to appear at 2.30am, the early hours of 27 September.

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There are many recollections of the festival and Fleetwood Mac’s performance here. Apparently John Peel’s jokes were too long and not very funny, and the floor was very hard to sit on all night. Fleetwood Mac didn’t come on until 3am, and played their soon to be released single “Oh Well”, as well as some blues covers and tracks from their recent album “Then Played On”. Peter Green is reported to have worn orange pants, and one audience member recalls a conversation with rhododendrons in the gardens outside the hall.  Many attendees mention how cold it was when the festival finally finished on the Saturday morning.

On the Road…with The Who
Meanwhile in Germany, The Who were performing in Bremen on Beat Club, the first German TV show dedicated to popular music. Footage of The Who’s performance can be seen from 6.10 into the video below.

 

And at Number One this week on the New Zealand charts…

Topping New Zealand charts on 27 September 1969 was “Saint Paul” by Shane. Written by US Producer Terry Knight about his failure in auditioning for The Beatles Apple label, the song contains numerous musical and lyrical phrases copied directly from The Beatles.  Initial copies of the single listed Terry Knight’s Storybook Music as the publisher of “Saint Paul.” After receiving a cease and desist letter from The Beatles’ publisher, the record was initially pulled from distribution. In May 1969 “Saint Paul” was re-issued with a publishing credit to the Beatles’ publishing company.

When Shane rerecorded the song later in 1969, it became an instant success, reaching number 1 on the New Zealand charts for six weeks, replacing the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women. Despite follow-up singles and tours of the United States and Europe, further success eluded Shane.

 

An arguably more globally enduring song received its first broadcast on 27 September 1969. Replacing the original theme song, the more notable “Scooby-Dooby-Doo” version was recorded on Wednesday 24 September and aired the following Saturday, 27 September.

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Laneway Festival, Auckland, 26 January 2015

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Here are some quick memories from Laneway 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. A fantastic day, beautiful weather, great music, and a $5 carton of hot chips for dinner. What else could you ask for?

The bands seemed to enjoy it too. I saw Mac DeMarco watching Ariel Pink, Future Islands watching Angus and Julia Stone, Belle and Sebastian and some guys from Jungle watching Future Islands, the Future Island guys watching Belle and Sebastian. I think I’ll be there again next year.

And yes, the Future Islands guy did his David Brent meets the Exorcist dance.

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Connan Mockasin

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Angel Olsen

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Courtney Barnett

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Mac DeMarco

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Ariel Pink

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Julia and Angus Stone

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Future Islands

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Belle and Sebastian

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St Vincent

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Disneyworld Hollywood Studios, Orlando: September 2014

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Disneyworld Fast Pass Plus Passes – better known as FPPPs.

Like sand after a day at the beach, New Zealanders seem to get everywhere. We’ve just entered Orlando’s Disneyworld Hollywood Studios and are exchanging our vouchers for day cards with our pre-booked rides scheduled. It’s called Fast Pass Plus and is hopefully easier to use than it is to say. There’s something wrong with the accent of this “Cast Member”, as all Disney employees are called – she doesn’t have one. Saskia from Auckland has done well to end up in Florida for her holiday job, and seems genuinely pleased to talk to fellow kiwis. Apparently they’re quite scarce here; most New Zealanders head to Los Angeles for their Disneyland experience.

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the day before – thanks International Heli-Tours!

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Home Sweet Home

Yesterday was a much-needed day off. We’ve maintained a busy schedule on this holiday and the trip across Florida from Orlando to NASA and Cape Canaveral was tiring for all of us. I had the chance to grab some supplies, and noticed a Venezuelan takeaways that I hope to try later. There’s also a helipad down the street and Sam and I enjoyed a ride in the afternoon. We had very clear views over our Hotel and various amusement parks. It was Sam’s first time and he loved it. Dom wasn’t keen, but I’m sure he’ll get another chance one day.

Our Disney days are the main reason for this entire trip, and today is the day when my Mum finally gets to take her grandkids to Disneyworld. This morning we’ve arrived in the middle of a Frozen frenzy. My boys have heard that “it’s a girl’s film”, so none of us have seen it. I can’t see that changing. Our first pre-booked attraction is the Toy Story ride, and we’re a bit early, so after a quick encounter with some very green soldiers, we pop into The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow.

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IMG_5880 Dom meets generic green soldier. I had loads of these a long time ago.

 


No flash photography is allowed, and my photos capture little more than the fact that we’re in a dark room.  The video above is thanks to the good people at UndercoverTourist.com. A talking skull introduces us to Captain Jack, and the figure before us is so realistic that we’re not sure if this is a projection or a very impressive Johnny Depp look-a-like. Dom is convinced that he’s in the presence of Captain Jack and is slightly nervously obeying all instructions. If he’s enjoying this, it’s quite subtle.

We confidently scan our cards at Toy Story, but are met with a very unpromising beep. A beep of rejection. Our expected pre-booked times don’t match the order we thought we had booked, so we’re a few hours early. It turns out that Star Tours is scheduled first, and we have plenty of time to get there.

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IMG_5882 Almost showtime in the Muppet Show theater. Not sure if Dom likes pink glasses.

 

Once more, we’re in need of an interim attraction and Muppet Vision 3D is chosen. This one’s a winner, much better than Captain Jack. Statler and Waldorf are in fine form, and the 3D effects are impressive. If every show is like this, we’re in for a lot of fun. I get no photos of this one at all, so it’s thanks to Martins Vids for this video above this time.

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Getting ready for Star Tours. Black Glasses this time.

IMG_5883Finally we reach Star Tours, a 3D ride which turns out to be more like a simulator than expected or promised to Dom. After an initial panic, Dom enjoys the ride, but Mum’s back isn’t supposed to be subjected to sudden jolts. She assures me that she’s fine, and it’s a bit late to stop now anyway – we’ve already made the jump to lightspeed. The boys tell me that this was even better than the Muppets. It’s a very successful day so far.

IMG_5888 We have a quick break for ice creams from Toy Story’s Pizza Planet – not because we’re hungry, but because we’re on holiday and ice cream at any time of the day is just fine. There was a very impressive photo in the guidebook from the Honey I Shrunk The Kids Movie Set Adventure, so we head there next, but unfortunately it’s a dud for my boys. It looks more like a daycare with babies everywhere, chewing on oversized props that are supposed to be blades of grass. The guide says that this is best for ten and under; more like 2 and under.

We needed to make an early start to catch the first bus to the Park, so despite the ice creams, the boys are getting hungry. We try to increase the nutrition factor for lunch, but nutrition is off the menu today. The boys make do with chicken nuggets with fries, and I thought I had surprised the “Cast Member” by ordering the wrap. In retrospect, it wasn’t a look of surprise; it was a warning. The “wrap” too comes with fries – everything comes with fries.  We can’t help but notice that there are some very large people here, moving very slowly through the foodcourt. They don’t look very happy. They also come with fries.

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Indiana Jones and the Dominic of Destiny

IMG_5898 IMG_5899 IMG_5900 IMG_5901We catch the end of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular so that we can get good seats for the next session – but not too good. My boys aren’t the kind that want to be picked to go on stage. Dom gets a photo with a dirty Indie between shows – it’s genuine dirt, not stunt dirt.  The show starts and it isn’t long before we get a feeling that this is all very familiar.  It appears that we didn’t see just the end of the previous show; we’d seen all but the first few minutes. We see the same stunts, hear the same jokes, meet the same Abdul, it’s a new and cleaner Indie, but the same smiles from our overly ebullient hosts.

IMG_5904Finally we’re back to Toy Story. We’re shown to our vehicle and spin through various scenes, while firing beams at targets with our toy guns. This ride is Sam’s turn on the victory dais, and while he’s thrilled, I’m slightly concerned at his shooting skills.

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IMG_5891It’s been a great day, but we’re now running out of time and energy. We have one show left – the modestly named Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at vehicle action sequences, and is held in a large outdoors area. To get there we head through the “Streets of America“, a series of facades depicting San Francisco and New York.

Today has been a steamy day and the skies are now starting to look very threatening.  We decide that being stuck outside for the next hour may not be smart, and that finishing off with an indoor attraction would be a safer option – although with potentially fewer explosions. We head to The Great Movie Ride in the replica of Mann’s Chinese Theater. We sit in the dark and are slowly guided through scenes from famous films. Compared with the technology of other rides, it’s all a bit lame. Occasionally Mary Poppins or Toto move a limb, or a Pirate repeatedly gives us a wink. Its like taking a slow train through Madame Tussaud’s.

IMG_5877We leave the Theater to the sight of rain bucketing down. We still have time before the bus arrives, so a quick decision is made to catch another indoor attraction – hopefully not as tragic as the last one. We try Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. It’s an interesting series of displays and memorabilia, followed by a 15 minute movie. The footage of old Disney movies brings back a lot of memories for me, but many are unfamiliar to my boys. I realise I have a few gaps to fill in my kids’ movie education – it may be too late to introduce them to Dumbo.

We make one of our quicker fridge magnet purchases, and take our bus back to the Hotel. Some of the bus drivers here are more skilled than others in the art of tip generation. Today’s driver has spotted a kid called Jeroen, and singles him out for special attention. A A series interrogation is just met with laughter, so our driver is left with no option but to call a colleague to the bus for back-up. Together they loudly call for security as “a situation has arisen”. My boys also find this hilarious, and fortunately so does Jeroen. Picking the wrong kid could easily end in tears.

The night finishes with a view of the fireworks from Disneyworld that light up the city. It’s been a memorable but long day, and for once it isn’t too hard to get the boys to bed. Luckily, the frogs in the pond outside have the same idea. We have another early start coming up tomorrow.

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A Day In The Life – 27 September 1968

“I was born the same year the greatest automobile in the history of automobiles was created, the 1957 Chevrolet. Thank God only one of us had tail fins.”
― Michael Buffalo Smith, Prisoner of Southern Rock: A Memoir

I think I can beat that. On the day I was born, 27 September 1968, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham walked into Olympic Studios in London for Day One of the recording of their debut record. Little over 30 hours later, and at a total cost of £1,782, “Led Zeppelin” had been completed. So in a sense you could say that Led Zeppelin and I were born on the same day.

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Led Zeppelin, 1968

The possibility that Robert Plant was giving his vocal cords a workout on “Good Times,  Bad Times” at exactly the same time that I was first putting mine into practice is arguably not interesting to most people, but I’m quite chuffed. If you’re going to have a backing band for a momentous event as childbirth, Led Zep aren’t a bad choice. You only get one chance at being born, and I think it’s worked out quite well for both me and the band. Maybe not well enough for Mum to want to go through it ever again, but that’s another story.

So that made me think – what else was happening in the world that day? There was almost certainly a war on the front page of the paper, but what was happening in the music section? This was the 60’s – surely someone was doing something of interest.

And with that, the successor to Musical Micropause has been found. The idea of tracking the international soundtrack to my various birthdays could uncover some very dodgy sounds, particularly if too much time is spent on the New Zealand hit singles of the 1970’s. But sometimes we have to confront these songs, disturbing as they may be.

And let’s not worry about the fact that New Zealand was (and frequently still is) a day ahead of most of you – 27 September is the day that I’m looking for.  So just when you thought the sixties were over, it’s back to 1968 we go.

In the Studio…

The Beatles were recording their White Album in September 1968, but having spent Monday the 23rd to Thursday the 26th recording Happiness Is A Warm Gun, they thoughtlessly decided to take Friday off. I’m sure Yoko was behind that.

The Who started recording something variously known as Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, Amazing Journey, Journey into Space, The Brain Opera, Omnibus and eventually named Tommy on 19 September. Weekends were kept free for UK concert dates to keep some money coming in, so it is probable that some recording was happening on Friday the 27th. Or maybe they were at their local with Ringo.

The only studio activity that I can be certain about as started and finishing on 27 September is Carl Perkins recording Restless, released as a standalone single on Columbia Records, and reaching no 20 on the Billboard country chart. Perkins later rerecorded the song in a duet with Tom Petty.

 

On the Road…with Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd 1968

Pink Floyd, 1968

On 27 September 1968 Pink Floyd played at the Queen’s Hall in Dunoon, Scotland as part of their 1968 World Tour. Syd Barrett had been relieved of his duties earlier in the year, and the band were now touring as a four-piece with David Gilmour on lead guitar duties. Due to bad weather, the band’s flight north had been delayed, causing them to miss their ferry to Dunoon. Rather than desert their Scottish fans, the band hired their own boat from Gourock, arriving late, but eventually appearing in front of 400 fans. Nick Mason recalls the gig in his book “Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd”

“At the end of the gig the grateful promoter announced that as we had arrived late he would, with regret, be unable to pay us. After a brief argument where it was made clear that he was within his rights as exercised by his six-foot frame and even larger Highland friends, and with no flights till the next day, we climbed aboard the van for the endless journey south.

Or it would have been endless if the by now exhausted Peter had spotted the sign saying ‘Road Works’ before we hit them. The van was damaged beyond immediate repair and we spent the rest of the night in the police cells of the local village, which were kindly made available to us until we could catch an early morning ferry. Our fellow passengers, a hardy bunch of local farmers, marvelled at our exotic snakeskin boots, Afghan jackets and beads: we looked more like itinerant goatherds than the natives. Eventually we made it to Glasgow airport and the comparative safety of London.”

…with Big Brother and the Holding Company

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Big Brother and the Holding Company at UCI, 27 September 1968

The good people who run the official Big Brother and the Holding Company Facebook page have given me their approval to share this poster advertising their performance at a Dance Concert at UCI (University of California, Irvine) on 27 September. In August 1968 the band had released their second record, “Cheap Thrills”, along with the single “Piece of My Heart”.  The band are photographed below following this release but before the record hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts for the week of October 12. It would go on to spend eight non-consecutive weeks in the top position, and “Piece of My Heart” would become their signature single. The band’s success made a star of Janis Joplin, who left for a solo career in December 1968. Less than two years later, Joplin was dead.

The photo below of Janis and the band during the 27 September show is courtesy of Anteater Antics, a blog of the UC Irvine Libraries, Special Collections and Archives.  

Janis Joplin in full flight, 27 September 1968

Janis Joplin in full flight, UCI, 27 September 1968

…with Big Joe Williams

Big Joe Williams

Big Joe Williams, Austin TX, 27 September 1968

Born Joseph Lee Williams in Mississippi in 1903, Big Joe Williams was a delta blues guitarist, known for the distinctive sound of his nine string guitar. Williams spent much of the 1920’s and early 1930’s busking, and it is believed that he added the extra strings to keep others from being able to play his guitar. In Chicago on 31 October 1935, Williams became the first to record “Baby Please Don’t Go“. Others to have recorded the song include John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison’s Them.

The above poster is for a show at the Vulcan Gas Company in Austin, Texas on 27 September 1968.  “The Vulcan”, as it was known, was the first successful psychedelic music venue in Austin, opening in 1967, and closing in 1970.  The Vulcan Gas Company’s Facebook page remembers Big Joe:

Big Joe Williams use to drive over from Mississippi and arrive Friday afternoon. He would pull up to the office door, which was on 4th street. Pull his nine string guitar out of the trunk….no case, bouncing around with the jack and spare tire and sit in his car like the picture below, and play for hours. If there was even one or two people listening to him he would play. At night he did long, long sets. Nobody ever tried to get him off the stage and that is one reason he like to play the Vulcan. He always had a rep for being hard to get along with and crazy. But not with us. He wrote “Baby Please Don’t Go” around 34′ or 35′. A true gentleman of the Road.

…and with John Mayall (and C.T.A.)

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John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers at “The Bank”, Torrance CA, 27 September 1968

By 1968, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers had already farewelled Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, John McVie and Mick Fleetwood. The version of the Bluesbreakers that Mayall took to the United States in early September 1968 now included 19 year old future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor. The band played three nights at “The Bank” in Torrance, California. “The Bank” was a short-lived venue, operating only from August to December 1968.

Among the support bands at “The Bank” was C.T.A, or “Chicago Transit Authority” who were yet to release their first album. When it was finally released in 1970, it was so successful that the real Chicago Transit Authority requested they change their name. The band shortened their name to Chicago and have now sold in excess of 40 million records.

And at Number One this week on the New Zealand charts…

Topping New Zealand charts on 27 September 1968 was Allison Durbin’s “I Have Loved Me a Man”. Written by Janice Weaver and initially recorded by New York Jazz singer Morgana King, “I Have Loved Me a Man” was the first of five charting singles in New Zealand for Durbin.  Despite being born in Auckland, New Zealand, Durbin won Australia’s award for Best Female Artist for three consecutive years from 1969 to 1971. It wasn’t the first or last time Australia has claimed one of ours as their own!

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Cape Canaveral – Mission Accomplished: September 2014

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NASA!  They’re happier on the inside.

Cape Canaveral. As a kid growing up in the 70’s, the word Canaveral had a wonderfully evocative sound – the sound of a place where great things happen. You couldn’t call a small country town Canaveral. I had no idea what it meant. What was a Canaveral? Was there a Mr or Mrs Canaveral? All I knew was that Cape Canaveral was where space travel ceased to be the domain of the unfortunate Robinson family, of the Starship Enterprise, of Thunderbird 5, or of the crew of Moonbase Alpha. Like most of my friends, those shows were always my favourites, but I knew that Cape Canaveral was where real space exploration took place, or at least where it took off. Even after Lyndon Johnson changed the name to Cape Kennedy to honour the late President, the name Canaveral couldn’t be banished to history, and the State of Florida soon restored the name.

My boys also have the space bug, especially Sam. But fortunately for him, he hasn’t had to wait almost forty years to get here. It would be ideal to say that we’ve woken to a beautiful day, but the weather is pretty awful. I don’t really care – nothing is stopping me today.

We’re staying in Orlando, and at 8.40am a Mercedes mini-van driving by our guide Nicky arrives to collect us. Nicky’s a fast-talker with quite a strong accent. He gives us a very quick rundown of today’s options and times. I look to Mum – she didn’t understand either. Fortunately Nicky doesn’t seem to mind my frequent requests for him to repeat himself. We aquaplane across Florida for around an hour before reaching the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It’s time to raise the boys from their iPad trance and rejoin us.

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The Rocket Garden – after the weather cleared up

The success of NASA’s Mercury and Gemini programs resulted in the need for a visitor center, and the first Visitor Complex opened in 1966. Our first view of the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) is of the Rocket Garden, where rockets from those early missions tower overhead. I don’t tell the boys that those early rockets didn’t come back, and that these are mostly restored missiles with the appropriate paintwork. They’re impressive nonetheless.

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This way to the Atlantis Shuttle Experience….

IMG_5751We’re directed towards the “Atlantis Experience” walking under a gateway of full-sized replica solid rocket boosters and the external fuel tank so familiar from footage of the Space Shuttles. They’re massive, dwarfing the building that holds the shuttle Atlantis. The rain continues as we’re passed to a new guide, who is particularly vocal of his family connection to the British Queen. I don’t think he’s aware that just about everyone in the United Kingdom is at least distantly related to the Queen, even me, so no-one is too impressed. He assumes that no-one has heard his references to his “British cousin” so repeats the same leading references, hoping that someone will take the bait. We pretend to be interested in the rain – but we really just want to get started.

Finally we’re allowed inside to a theatre and a short movie on the development of the Shuttle program. The movie concludes and with a dramatic fanfare a seemingly opaque wall in front of us transforms into a transparent curtain. It’s a suitably impressive unveiling, and as the curtain parts we find ourselves directly before Atlantis.

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Atlantis was the fourth operational shuttle, taking its first flight in 1985. It was sent on 33 missions, taking 207 crew into space, traveling 125,935,769 miles, deploying 14 satellites and docking with MIR or the ISS 19 times. Its final flight in 2011 was also the final mission of the entire Space Shuttle program, and it is maintained in as close as possible to its condition upon its return. Atlantis’ impressive new home at the KSC Visitor Complex cost over US$100 million, and covers 109,000 square feet. There are more than 60 interactive exhibits, but unfortunately the boys don’t have time to try them all. They do have some fun with astronaut gloves, but lunch is now calling.

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IMG_5771When I was looking at tour options for this excursion from Orlando, I noticed at the more costly end of the scale the opportunity to have lunch with an Astronaut. I had images of this as Major Tom, Mum, the kids and me outside around a picnic table, but that probably was never going to happen. Hopefully it wouldn’t be at the other end of the spectrum, with a distant figure in a hall of thousands. As it turns out, we’re ushered into a medium sized conference room and given a very healthy meal – a rarity on this trip. I’m pouring the boys an orange juice and a figure in familiar blue NASA issue overalls appears beside me. I’m a bit starstruck and find myself asking a strange question about his plans for lunch. Dr James Reilly quickly recovers from this encounter with the man with the strange accent and we’re treated to a very interesting speech about his history and experiences in space. Our new friend Jim the Astronaut is an impressive guy. How about this for a CV that covers the globe and beyond:

  • Research scientist in Antarctica, Antarctic Service Medal.
  • Oil and gas exploration geologist for Enserch Exploration Inc.
  • Expert in the development of new imaging technology in deep water engineering projects and biological research spending 22 days in deep submergence vehicles.
  • Selection by NASA in December 1994, and crew member on Shuttle missions STS-89 in 1998, STS-104 in 2001 and STS-117 in 2007.
  • 517 hours in space, including three spacewalks totaling 16 hours and 30 minutes.
  • Working on both on the ISS and Mir space stations and appointment as the Astronaut lead on Shuttle training.
  • US Marshall

So, he’s clearly quite an achiever. But despite Jim’s fascinating stories, it’s hard to compete with a good jelly.

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“I can get more out of this…”

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In the Q&A session that follows lunch, Sam and I both get to ask questions (mine doesn’t involve food this time), with Sam’s question leading to a long answer that the crowd enjoys.


We finish with a few photos – and despite appearances there were after I wiped the jelly off the boys’ faces. They started off looking far worse than this.

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Post-jelly photo shoot

IMG_5787 We’re rushed from the photo session to the bus that will take us to Cape Canaveral and are soon driving past NASA offices. NASA may have spent a lot of money on making the Visitor Center look impressive, but the Admin offices don’t look like the kind of place that has put men on the moon. We’re briefly shown the memorial to Astronauts that have died. We’re told that it used to spin but doesn’t anymore. Hopefully there’s a plan underway for a better memorial than that.

We’re driven via the NASA Causeway across the Banana River to Cape Canaveral itself. Our original plan was to see a launch or a landing, but rescheduling by NASA and then our decision to be based in Orlando for the full week meant this was no longer possible. Our schedule was always going to be inflexible and we knew that the likelihood of a delay was high. We don’t miss a launch by too much though, and when we stop on the Causeway, we can see Space X Falcon 9 rocket through the mist, patiently waiting on Pad 40. Its mission is to boldly supply cargo to the International Space Station, including equipment to improve weather forecasting, a launcher of small satellites from the ISS, and 20 mice who are unlikely to ever see a cat again.

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Rocket In The Mist

No-one mentioned that the launch would be in the middle of the night either, so seeing it with two kids was going to be tricky, but this is what we missed.


As well as the Pad 40, we can also see in the distance the historic launch pads for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects, in addition to current sites for unmanned launches. I’ve always assumed that launch pads are re-used, rather than left to decay, and they are – but not forever. Different launch pads are used for different programs, but the proximity to the Atlantic Ocean creates an ideal environment for corrosion of metal components. Some structures are still standing, while others have been dismantled for safety purposes. Even without the full original launch complexes, the coast is lined with a series of circular concrete reminders of past missions.

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Vehicle Assembly Building – as close as we were allowed to get

We head back north towards Launch Complex 39, which includes two current launch pads, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) and the Launch Control Center. The site has been used for the Apollo program, the Space Shuttle program, and is now planned to support launches of the SpaceX Falcon 9. We’re inundated with statistics – the VAB encloses 129, 428, 000 cubic feet and covers 8 acres. Built in the 1960’s to allow for the vertical assembly of the Saturn V rocket for the Apollo program, at a height of 160m it’s the largest single-story building in the world. The interior volume of the building is so vast that it has its own weather. On very humid days rain clouds can form below the ceiling, which the moisture reduction systems are designed to minimize. And of course the American flag on the side is the largest in the world.

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Bald Eagle nest

The drive out goes by many ponds – we see one alligator, a few bald eagles and two nests (one has been continuous for 49 years with only two couples), many egrets, black crows, and I just miss seeing a manatee (several times). The most popular joke of the day from various drivers is the one about the guy sent to count gators not coming back. Fair enough, it’s not a bad joke.

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Crawler – either Hans or Franz

IMG_5805 IMG_5806We stop for views of Launch pads 39A and B, the massive Crawler Transporters (known as Hans and Franz), the seemingly endless landing runway for the Space Shuttle, before we finish at the Apollo / Saturn V Center. It’s getting increasingly hard not to get blasé about seeing these historic sites and equipment. We’re being spoiled today – but the day isn’t over yet.

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Firing Room Theater, Apollo / Saturn V Center

IMG_5823 The Apollo / Saturn V Center is a tribute to the entire Apollo program, from unmanned tests starting in 1961, through to Apollo 17 in 1972, the final mission to land on the moon. We start with the Firing Room Theater, where we’re shown footage from NASA’s early years, including the fire that killed three astronauts on Apollo 1 during a launch pad test. The theater contains the original launch consoles used by NASA during the Apollo program.

There’s a comprehensive set of exhibits, including original suits still covered in moon dust, the Apollo 14 command module, an unused Apollo service module, an unused Lunar Module, and a slice of Moon rock that visitors can touch. One particularly interesting exhibit is the Command Service Module rescue book, used through the near disaster of the Apollo 13 mission, and signed by the Apollo 13 Commander, James Lovell. On a lighter note, I recognize a familiar face from my childhood – the Robot from Lost In Space.

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“Danger Will Robinson!”

But even in the presence of a Robot celebrity, the highlight is without doubt the fully reconstructed Saturn V rocket.

IMG_5836 IMG_5827 IMG_5830The bottom stage is from a test version, and the second and third stages were destined for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission. The rocket is 60 feet long and runs the entire length of the Center. It comprises 3.5 million parts, and assembly at the peak of the Apollo program required 26,000 workers.

After a rushed visit to the Gift Shop to track down a second space pen and the obligatory t-shirt souvenirs, we make our way past Constellation Sphere Plaza and the Rocket Garden for the last time.

It’s finally stopped raining, and I rush around retaking this morning’s photos, this time with a beautiful blue sky in the background. The weather today hasn’t bothered me, and the boys don’t seem to have cared either. It’s been a long day and while it’s a shame that it’s all over, I know how lucky we are to have made it here. That lunch with Jim was pretty special. I can call him Jim now. Back in Orlando, everyone is keen for an early night – except me. I’m still struggling with my addiction – I have new guidebooks to read and NASA videos to watch on youtube. For me the night is just beginning.

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Musical Micropause: Z

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Zoot Woman: Grey Day (2003)
Zoot Woman is a three-piece electronica band from the UK. They released their debut EP in 1995, and in August 2014 they released their fourth full-length CD. During that time they’ve picked up a range of high profile supporters. They’ve been included in monthly “free” CDs from Mojo and Uncut, they’ve had songs on CSI and in cosmetics TV campaigns, and they have a vocal fan in Noel Gallagher (describing them as “Krautrock at its best“. I hear more New Order than Kraftwerk, but maybe that’s just me hearing New Order in everything electronic.

 

Thalia Zedek: Body Memory (2008)
Most biographies of Thalia Zedek include comparisons with Patti Smith and Nick Cave, and this track goes a long way to justify those references. The Chicago Tribune described Zedek’s voice as having “spellbinding power” and a “raw, barbed-wire twisting intensity matched by few rock singers.”  With a viola dominant in her current band, the Cave parallels continue, as it can sound like she’s hired The Dirty Three for back-up. 


ZZ Top: Tush, live from Crossroads Guitar Festival (2004)
Before ZZ Top and MTV crossed paths to create some of the most memorable music videos of the 1980s, ZZ Top had been building a reputation as technical masters of blues-inspired rock. Their willingness to show their sense of humour was already evident in these early days, and 1975’s “Tush” gave the band their first top 20 hit. ZZ Top’s line-up of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard has been unchanged since they signed to London Records in 1970. “Tush” has been their most frequently played song through their career of almost 45 years.


Warren Zevon: Carmelita (2003)
A quick glance at the backing musicians on the 2002 compilation “Genius” says a lot for how highly Warren Zevon was regarded by his peers. Names such as Phil Everly, Lindsay Buckingham, Bobby Keyes, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, J D Souther, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Graham Nash, Roy Bittan, Benmont Tench, Mike Campbell, the members of REM and one Neil Young all appear in the credits, while others like Bob Dylan paid tribute through live performances of Zevon’s songs. Lyrically, Warren Zevon worked with a shade of black humour that others would never consider approaching, causing no shortage of headache for his record label – despite a track describing werewolves mutilating little old ladies in London becoming a global success. I’d love to dig deeper into the Zevon catalogue, but I have no idea what could be lurking there.

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Legoland Florida: September 2014

Sam and Dom are ready for Legoland

Sam and Dom – ready for Legoland!

My boys were always destined to be legoheads. My own Lego had been kept in a suitcase at my parents’ house for decades, with each set stored in its own blue plastic bag, and instructions meticulously hole-punched and numerically filed. “You may have boys of your own one day”, I recall Mum saying. She was right, and the choice of which plastic bag to choice became the highlight of any visit to their grandparents.

I’m not exactly sure what it is about Lego that sparks the imagination of boys across the world, and it does seem to be mainly boys. It also gives Dads the chance to relive childhood memories, sometimes long after their boys have gone to bed.

Lego has never really been out of fashion, but recent years have seen the release of an ever-increasing number of themes, allowing Lego to enjoy mutually beneficial relationships with the people behind Harry Potter, Batman, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Simpsons, and many others.

In addition to the video games, board games, TV shows and movies, children can enjoy a trip to Legoland. Legoland is not a new concept, but in my day a trip to Legoland involved a trip to Billund, Denmark, home of Lego. For a six-year old boy in New Zealand in 1974, that didn’t sound a very realistic goal. A trip to Europe was as likely as a trip to the moon. At least you could see the moon. But sometimes the unexpected can occur, and in 1993 I met a Danish couple from Billund who travelling through New Zealand. I was invited to stay with them when visiting in Denmark in 1994, and at the age of 25 finally achieved my boyhood dream.

What happened to Nana?

What happened to Nana?

Fast forward exactly twenty years to 2014, and there are six Legolands around the world, and now I do have boys of my own. We’ve decided on Legoland Florida and the boys are checking out the attractions on the website. My kids are not really daredevil kids – you won’t find them anywhere near a rollercoaster. Their thrills are a lot more sedate, but sometimes a parent doesn’t mind that at all.

Fast forward a few months more, and we’re sitting in the Market café. We’re here in September, which is the least popular time of year for visitors – maybe because of school schedules, maybe because of the weather. Regardless of that, we have the café to ourselves. I’m slightly disappointed that nothing we order is rectangular with eight studs (the official terminology for those bumps on top), but it’s a healthy start to the day.

The boys want to start with the Driving School, and they soon find themselves sitting behind the wheel of their own vehicles. At ages 8 and 10, they don’t have a lot of experience driving, so there’s a lot of over-steering and over-correction. Why drive in a straight line when you can do a figure of eight. They’re also not familiar with driving on the right, as we drive on the left in New Zealand, but I’m impressed that they quickly adjust to that. There are a few encounters with the fence line, and without a reverse gear, they have to be pulled back into circulation. We also find keyrings and magnets with Sam and Dominic’s names (a rarity for Dom), so it’s a great start to the day.

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What side of the road do we drive on here Dom?

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After a slightly disappointing session with some remote control cars that (a) don’t do what they are told, and (b) have nothing to do with Lego, we’re off to the NFPA Rescue Academy. This is not advertised as the ride where the parent has to do all the work, but so it eventuates. Someone has to man the pump if the volunteers are to put out the lego flames.

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This wouldn’t look quite so dodgy from a different angle

IMG_5688The steering issues from the Driving School resurface at the Boating School. Each boy needs an accompanying adult, so Dom captains our craft and Sam takes his Nana for a spin. Unfortunately, there was more spinning than progress. Clearly the adults are there to assist, but this assistance may not always be accepted willingly, and we somehow find ourselves going the opposite direction to every other boat, blaming our issues on a non-existent current. Sam quickly realises that the more the boat strays off course, the longer our circuit will take. He’s loving it – it’s not every day you get to ram a boat into your brother and your Dad.

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Don’t touch my steering wheel again Dad.

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Sam taking some enjoyment from ramming us. Nana not impressed.

DSCN0305IMG_5694The next ride takes some convincing, but soon becomes one of the highlights of the day. Aquazone is a ride where two people sit in a buggy and spin around in a pool, with the ability to change their height and speed. Non-riders on the sideline can also set off explosions of water around the pool as the buggies approach, but a poorly timed explosion can soak the spectator more than the rider – as Dom finds to his surprise. This is no roller coaster level of adrenalin, but lots of fun.

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Dad giving Dom a pep talk up top while Sam shows how it’s done.

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Dom now happily behind the wheel

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Dom accidentally drenches himself. Not impressed.

DSCN0306 The weather is still behaving so we buy lunch at Lakeside Sandwich Co and watch water-skiing practice on Lake Eloise. I think this is a sneak preview of the water-skiing display later that day, so having our own personal show is just fine. We’ve already signed Sam up for a programming workshop and test at 2pm, so lunch has to be finished by then.

The chance to play with Lego Mindstorms, one of Lego’s more pricey products, is definitely the highlight of Sam’s day. He’s one of four boys to be given laptops and programming challenges to complete – which sounds a lot more like school than a holiday, but he loves it. The success of the programming is judged by the ability of his Lego vehicle to move the correct distance, in the correct direction, and do all the tasks required, with each challenge being dependent on successful completion of the previous task. He hasn’t played with Mindstorms before, but he grasps it all very quickly, and is rightfully very proud of himself when he completes all tasks within the allotted time. Unfortunately, he has to give the laptop back at the end. It’s a shame Mindstorms has to be so expensive.

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Your challenge should you choose to accept it…..

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It wasn’t like this in my day

IMG_5701 IMG_5702 IMG_5703 IMG_5705While Sam has been immersed in Mindstorms, Dom has been in competition to design and build with limited pieces a vehicle built for speed. Races are held against other kids down ramps, and the competition is intense. Dom’s pretty pleased with his result, and Sam has time for a quick turn too.

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Praying might help

IMG_5706 IMG_5695 IMG_5698 I’m finally allowed a break as the boys cycle themselves in circles on the Technicycle, before we all head to Miniland. This bears a bit more resemblance to the Legoland I remember from Billund, but updated to include the latest crazes. It’s good to see Star Wars in Miniland – another phenomenon that has survived the years to be equally loved by my kids. I suspect like many fathers and sons, we’ve agreed to disagree on the merits of Jar Jar Binks.

IMG_5713 IMG_5714 IMG_5715 IMG_5718IMG_5725 DSCN0323 IMG_5726 IMG_5727 IMG_5728 IMG_5729The boys are divided on Beetle Bounce – a ride that promises to boost the boys to new heights, 15 feet to be exact. It’s more the rapid decent that Dom isn’t keen on, but this ride is another winner for Sam.

IMG_5732IMG_5733The promised rain is now lurking, so we quickly find an indoor ride. Dom seeks clarification from the Lego helpers that he won’t be dropped from a great (or minor) height, or spun upside-down, and that the ride is flat for the duration. Once he is convinced of his personal safety, we embark on the Lost Kingdom Adventure. On this ride, we fire lasers at anything that vaguely resembles a target, not always successfully. The photographs taken during the ride show that one of the adults in the car is perhaps taking this a bit too seriously. We don’t often buy ride photos, but this one’s a bit different. The photo of the four shooters can be superimposed onto a small white Lego brick wall, complete with scorecard of laser strikes, thus immortalising forever the concentration required for shooting ghosts and other unwelcome guests in your own personalised Lego set.

IMG_5730  IMG_6359I’m surprised that the boys are keen for the Royal Joust. This ride takes tame to a new level. Maybe it’s the opportunity to be the only two kids on the entire ride, or maybe it’s the fact that on fixed wooden horses Sam can’t crash into Dom. The fact that there is no jousting involved can’t hurt, and they cruise around with big smiles.

IMG_5741 IMG_5737 IMG_5738 IMG_5739The rain suddenly changes from threatening to torrential, but the boys are keen on one of the Chima rides. Sadly for them, everything either involves getting even wetter, or the guides have already deserted their post, assuming that no right-minded kids would want a ride in this weather. And they are right of course.

IMG_5742I play the “Nana’s getting tired” card, and we head back towards the entrance. We take a brief look at the Studio Store, but decide against any purchases. We’ve already taken up a lot of the allocated souvenir space and are down to fridge magnets and pens.

Our last stop is the Lego minifigure store, where the boys dig through fours barrels, one for heads, one for bodies, one for legs, and one for accessories. The result of much consideration is their creation of their own unique minifigures, and given the combinations they choose, I’m confident that they are unique.

The minifigures are a great way to finish a very successful day, but we’ve been here since opening time, and now have eight very tired feet. These boys have had so much fun, but they’re understandably starting to wilt. We all know that we didn’t come here to relax. It’s time to regroup and start again tomorrow. Cape Canaveral awaits!

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Nick Cave – live in Auckland, 7 December 2014

It has to be a sign of a great gig, where you can’t stop the songs from going around your head a day later, and after listening to nothing but Nick Cave for weeks, you don’t want to stop.

My build-up for this show started a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t listened to some of Nick’s earlier albums in some time, and reacquainting myself made for some very enjoyable and noisy drives to work. Apart from seeing Grinderman in a storm (very fitting), I’d only seen Nick once before, in another “solo” show, that time in Mainz, Germany in 2006. I wasn’t familiar with all his songs in those days, and wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Despite that, the show in Mainz was fantastic, so my expectations for Sunday night in Auckland were in danger of spiraling towards unattainable levels.

My Nick weekend started on Saturday with a screening of 20,000 Days On Earth, followed by a Q&A session with Nick. Some of the questions drew interesting answers, others drew a laugh, and others groans of embarrassment from the audience. I had some questions ready, just in case Nick was met with an audience of shy kiwis, but there was no shortage of people wanting to engage with Nick. There’s a compete review of that on Graham Reid’s Elsewhere site here. I hope he doesn’t mind that link. I don’t think my readers will cause anything to crash.

And so to Sunday. Built in 1929, the Civic Theatre in Auckland is a beautiful venue, the perfect place for Nick to play. As well as being my favourite place to see movies as a kid, I’ve seen some great shows here – Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, the Waterboys. This description sums it up: Indian-inspired motifs, seated Buddhas, turrets, minarets, spires, Abyssinian panther statues, a domed blue ceiling  with twinkling stars and floating clouds. It leaves quite an impression and is probably the only venue in Auckland that may impress an overseas artist.

The two Auckland shows sold out almost instantly, so after my my initial disappointment at being in the back row, at least I was going to my first Nick Cave show in over eight years. When Nick comes to town, you don’t miss that opportunity. And he was as fantastic as I had hoped.

The advantage of the back row was that I was sitting very close to the sound guys, so I managed to secure the setlist.  There were a few changes, with four songs added (Watching Alice, Into My Arms, More News From Nowhere and Babe You Turn Me On) and one taken out (Love Letter). I’m not completely sure where these were added, but the following is my best recollection:

1. We Real Cool
2. The Weeping Song
3. Red Right Hand
4. Nobody’s Baby Now
5. Higgs Boson Blues (incredible solo by Warren – even Nick and the band applauded)
6. Mermaids
7. The Ship Song
8. From Her To Eternity
9. More News From Nowhere
10. God Is In The House
11. Into My Arms
12. Up Jumped The Devil
13. Water’s Edge
14. Black Hair
15. Lay Me Low
16. The Mercy Seat
17. Jubilee Street

Encore:
18. We No Who U R
19. Breathless
20. Watching Alice
21. Babe You Turn Me On
22. Jack The Ripper
23. Push The Sky Away

So here are some dodgy photos taken from the back row. If you have the chance to see Nick on this tour, cancel all other plans and get there!

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Musical Micropause: Y

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Neil Young: Rockin In The Free World (1989)
How do you pick one Neil Young song? Do you choose acoustic Neil or noisy Neil? There’s a world between “See The Sky About To Rain” and “Cortex The Killer”, but both would be contenders for me. “Rockin In The Free World” has arguably become the fist-pumping highlight of his electric shows; it’s Neil’s “Born To Run”. I hope he doesn’t get tired of playing it any time soon.

 

Thom Yorke: Harrowdown Hill (2006)
Harrowdown Hill was Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s first solo single, from his CD “The Eraser”. Yorke has confirmed that the song refers to the suspicious death of David Kelly, a British scientist. Kelly had engaged in off-the-record discussions with BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan about the British government’s dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He was identified publicly as Gilligan’s source and appeared on 15 July 2003 before a parliamentary foreign affairs select committee.  Two days later, Kelly was found dead on Harrowdown Hill.


Yeasayer: Fingers Never Bleed (2012)
Yeasayer were one the bands on my must-see list for Laneway 2013 in Auckland, and they didn’t disappoint. “Fingers Never Bleed” is from their 2012 CD, “Fragrant World”, initially made available to fans via an internet scavenger hunt. The band would send clues via their twitter stream three weeks prior to the official release. In an interview with fastcocreate.com, lead vocalist Chris Keating described the band as “still a niche kind of band, even if I’m not sure what that niche is.”


Weird Al Yankovic: Bob (2003)
I was all set to find the clip for Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise“, when I came across “Bob” – Al’s tribute to Bob Dylan and the power of the palindrome. Ideally this would be written in palindromes too, but I’ll have to leave that to Al. Dammit, I’m mad! Weird Al’s video is based on Dylan’s original film clip for Subterranean Homesick Blues, released in 1965, and generally regarded as one of the first promotional music videos. Al managed to squeeze one final palindrome into the song’s title.

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Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center: September 2014

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – remember the name!

Who doesn’t like a good waffle? These have become a key part of the daily routine for my boys, and Sam is more than happy to share his new skills on the waffle maker with anyone looking slightly nervous. Most people make their way around Sam, make their waffles, and move on, but one small boy is looking slightly bewildered. He hesitates in front of the machine for slightly too long and Sam pounces on his opportunity to demonstrate Waffles for Dummies. Whether it be via a redemption of air miles or a Christmas present, I’m seeing a waffle maker in my future.

Waffles – fit for a President

As we’re heading out today, I meet two of our neighbours in the Hotel. I knew the Hotel allowed dogs, but I’m surprised to see two terriers exiting just as we do. I hadn’t heard so much as a muffled woof, and usually there’s a sign on the door warning guests of the canines inside. They’re either very well trained, or they appreciate a full night’s sleep. And I thought that only happened in France!

The goal today is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but requiring too much space for central Washington DC. If you have your own car, it’s an easy 40 minute drive to the Center in Chantilly, Virginia. If you don’t, it requires a bit more patience and a lot more time, but it’s well worth the effort.

We first need to take the metro to the end of the silver line (Wiehle-Reston East). That’s a 45 minute trip. My boys are old hands at the metro now. Our only incident was during a rush-hour crush when the boys were already safely inside, but the doors slammed shut on me, threatening to send the boys on without me. We’ve been careful to avoid rush-hours since then.

At the end of the silver line, an official helps us top up our tickets for a further 45 minute bus ride to Udvar-Hazy. Thought is given to finding the Gents (or bathrooms as they are called in these parts – although don’t go expecting a quiet soak), but they either don’t exist or are very well hidden. Fortunately the wait for the next bus isn’t too long.

Through this trip, I’ve tried to share my time evenly between my boys, and today I’m sitting next to Dom. You never quite know where a conversation with my boys is going to lead, and Dom’s area of questioning today is the weaponry used during the New Zealand Wars of 1845 to 1872. I didn’t see this coming – he is only eight. I should know more about this aspect of New Zealand history, so my answers aren’t too precise. I don’t think he can tell that I’m bluffing some of this.

IMG_6121Udvar-Hazy is enormous. There are two hangars; one is the length of three football fields, and both hangars are about ten storeys high. Aircraft are everywhere, all at different angles – they sit on the ground, they hang from the ceiling. Past foes now rest together. There are currently around 160 aircraft on display, with the intention of passing 200. When I ask where the additions are going to go, I’m told that they can “shuffle them around a bit”. I bet these guys are great at packing car boots too.

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SR-71A Blackbird

I’m not really a plane buff, but there are four must-sees for me here. The first is the SR-71A Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet propelled aircraft. Operational from 1964 to 1998, a total of 32 aircraft were built with none lost to enemy action. The data they collected is now provided by satellites. The last flight by this Blackbird was to set the speed record for flying from the West Coast: Los Angeles to Washington in one hour, four minutes. It was then turned over to the Smithsonian.

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Space Shuttle Discovery

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Gemini VII

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Mercury – Freedom 7 II

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Behind the Blackbird is the Space wing, and pride of place is held by the Space Shuttle Discovery. This craft spent 365 days in space, over 39 missions, carrying a total crew of 251. It is preserved at the Center as intact as possible after completing the 133rd Space Shuttle mission in 2011. There are many other space displays in this wing as well. The boys and I could spend a long time here.

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Enola Gay

IMG_5665 It’s not easy to match a Space Shuttle in terms of historical significance, but the next plane on my list might just do that. Piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets, the Enola Gay is a  Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber and was named after the pilot’s mother, Enola Gay Tibbets. On 6 August 1945, its crew released the first nuclear bomb over Hiroshima killing an estimated 100,000. A second bombing followed over Nagasaki, leading to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II a few days later. One of the guides here gives us a very interesting speech on the plane’s background and its involvement in both bombings.

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Air France Concorde

IMG_0408My top four is completed by Concorde, the world’s first supersonic airliner. Operational from 1976 to 2003, only 14 Concordes were ever used for passenger flights, seven by British Airways, seven by Air France. The Concorde here is a donation from Air France and was used to fly from Paris to New York, Washington DC and Rio de Janeiro. At over 60 metres in length, it is without doubt the hardest plane to photograph in the Center.

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There’s so much more to the Udvar-Hazy Center than these four craft. The website lists 3762 other objects, and I’m sure the more trained eye would select other objects for their top four.

IMG_0393 IMG_5629IMG_5633A highlight for the boys is the chance to take the controls on a Cessna, fortunately without breaking anything. I suspect the instructor thinks the boys aren’t listening, so I ask the boys to repeat everything back to him, which they do. I might have pilots on my hands. The Center has a very comprehensive gift shop, and after lunch we stock up on souvenirs. They have an excellent supply of fridge magnets here.

On our bus trip back to the metro, Sam and I have another look at our guidebook for Washington DC. We’ve done quite a bit over the last week, and don’t seem to have missed anything too major.  This is the boys’ first taste of the United States and they’ve had new experiences every day. That’s what it’s all about.

Next stop…Orlando!

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Musical Micropause: X

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XTC: Making Plans For Nigel (1979)
It’s generally a sign that a single has been a major success in the UK if it manages to find its way to New Zealand airwaves, and this was particularly true in the late seventies. MTV was still a few years away, but I remember seeing the video for “Making Plans For Nigel” on a weekly music show. Formed in 1972, XTC started life as a glam-rock band, before becoming caught up in the New Wave. Their years as a successful live act were numbered though, as lead singer Andy Partridge suffered from major stage-fright, reducing XTC to a studio-only band from 1982 until they called it a day in 2006.

 

The XX: VCR (2009)
The XX’s self-titled debut CD was released to universal praise in August 2009, and when they appeared on a small public square for Auckland’s Laneway festival in February 2010, they looked like they were still getting used to the idea of global acclaim. They were soon playing larger venues, having performed at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits by the end of 2010.


X: Arms For Hostages (1993)
X started with great promise, with their debut album being produced by Ray Manzarek, and their second album being named “Album Of The Year” by Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and others. I discovered X from a KCRW “Rare on Air” compilation from 1994, where they performed an acoustic version of “Arms for Hostages”, from their final album, 1993’s “Hey Zeus!”.


Xela: Afraid Of Monsters (2002)
I also found Xela through a compilation, this time an mix of electronica from Mojo. Xela’s mother refers to him as John Twells (I assume), and “Afraid Of Monsters” is the opening track from his 2003 debut “For Frosty Mornings and Summer Nights”. This is where my knowledge of Xela ends, but I read that he has an obsession with horror soundtracks. Sounds like fun; I’ll be looking for more.

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I need my Space! Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington DC: September 2014

National Air and Space Museum, Washington DC

I confess to being a maker of lists. While some people count sheep, I might be working out my top ten bands that I have yet to see, or my top ten unvisited destinations in Europe. Barcelona is still leading, but Istanbul is challenging. Washington has been heading my “cities yet to visit in the US” for several years, and in the sub-list of attractions that Washington has to offer, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is right at the top.

Yesterday’s exertions have taken their toll on Mum. We wandered from Washington State University and the Watergate complex, around the Potomac, visiting a string of monuments and memorials, before finally heading home. It was a beautiful walk, but as we reached the hotel, I realised that Mum was now smiling because the end was in sight. As soon as we arrive at the Air and Space Museum today, Mum knows that she’s not up for this, and we get her a taxi back to the Hotel.

So today is just me and my boys, and the Air and Space Museum isn’t such a bad place for a Dad’s day out.

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Air and Space Museum Guide, along with official bookmark to the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rover Exploration Program

The initial impression is like seeing a famous monument for the first time. It doesn’t matter how many time you’ve seen photos of the Apollo modules; it’s not until they’re at touching distance that they become real. It’s almost as if you need proof. Now they exist.`

I find myself quickly reverting to the ten-year old kid who would constantly have books on Space out of the local library, and who would cut pieces of cardboard and paper into the shape of Saturn to write his own guide to the Solar System. The Solar System had a lot fewer moons in those days. Fortunately, Sam is just as hooked as I was. If I don’t recognize something in the museum, it’s quickest to ask him, and he’s generally right. Dominic’s getting into this too. He may be two years younger than Sam, but he’s old enough to know that he doesn’t have a choice. Our first half hour is spent bouncing from exhibit to exhibit, spending barely enough time to take a photo, before being distracted by something equally as fascinating.

We pause for breath, plan our day and decide to start with a space documentary at the Einstein Planetarium. We’ve seen many similar movies at our local planetarium in Auckland, but this is on an entirely different scale. One aspect it does share with its poorer New Zealand cousin is its ability to put me to sleep soon after the movie starts. This is no reflection on the quality of the show; those seats are just so comfortable. Through the movie my head is constantly gently dropping before suddenly jerking back up. My kids just shake their head – they’re not angry, just disappointed. But I can recommend the movie – well, I enjoyed the opening and closing credits.

It’s time to tackle the museum again. This time our circuit of the two floors is much more orderly – we even read some of the signs. Everything of major and minor significance is here. And if it isn’t here, there’s usually a good excuse – like it’s on Mars or some other inconvenient location. In that case, there’s a test version or other replica. We’re surrounded by the history of space exploration, starting with Ptolemy’s Model of an Earth-centred universe and many historic artifacts, through the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, to moon rock you can touch, and replicas of Skylab, the Hubble Telescope, and Mars rovers. I could list many more, but these guys do it so much better.

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Friendship 7, Mercury Program. In 1962 Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth aboard this craft.

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Columbia – brought back Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins safely back to Earth and 1969 lunar landing.

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Yuri Gagarin’s test suit in preparation for his journey aboard Vostok 1 in 1961, to become the first man in space.

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Test version of Lunar Module, 1969 Apollo program

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So why is my head blue and the kids’ heads are yellow?

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Telescopes – old school style

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Hubble Telescope replica

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Moon rock

IMG_5569 For the record, the moon is very smooth, but that could be more due to the millions of fingers that have rubbed this sliver of moon rock 70215 since it was loaned by NASA to the National Air and Space Museum in 1976. Despite all that handling, it’s not looking a day over 3.7 billion years old.

Being eight and ten year old boys, Dom and Sam are impressed by many exhibits, but don’t see what the fuss is all about with others. The Spirit of St Louis in the central hall is just like theirs, except this one is bigger and not made of Lego. They’re in agreement about the importance of trying the simulators though, and just in case we experience a bumpy flight, I suggest we do this before lunch.

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Simulators! They even work upside-down.

Our instructor mentions how to spin the plane, which sounds like fun. Dom and I take the first turn, and I soon accidentally send us spinning. Dom isn’t thrilled, and he can be heard all over the museum yelling “Put it back Dad!! I’m having a heart attack!!! Dad!! You are the worst simulator pilot ever!!” To be fair to Dom, we do spend quite a bit of time in the plane hanging upside down, but he may not get too many chances to do that in a plane. He’s very relieved when the door slides open, and we’re greeted by many onlookers curious to see what I was doing to my son.

When Sam takes his turn, he takes the pilot’s seat, and it’s smooth sailing all the way. Where’s the fun in that?

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Space food version of a toasted sandwich

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Space version of crackers and cheese. Not impressed.

Dom isn’t impressed by what passed for Astronaut food during the Apollo program, but that reminds us that we need to eat. We check out lunch choices and find that the options that aren’t McDonalds are all full, so we head off in the opposite direction looking for golden arches. What we find in the courtyard outside is a small caravan with the McDonalds logo attached, with a few tables under umbrellas. There’s also a grassy area with trees and bushes, separated from the courtyard by a long wall at just the right height for boys to sit on. Most importantly, it comes with fresh air, and it’s a beautiful day. We’re trying to resist the fast-food temptation on this trip, but today seems a worthy exception.

We take our place sitting on the wall, and we soon notice a rustling in the bushes behind us. A very huge and very well fed rat scampers out of the bushes, looks at me, my kids, and our lunch and swiftly retreats. I’m not sure whether he’s sick of McDonalds and is hoping for something different. A shriek comes from the bushes followed by more rustling. Either our rat is having an argument with his neighbour, or he’s not taking at all well the idea of McDonalds for lunch yet again, Once more he scurries out, eyes us up, and darts back into the bush. More shrieking. This animal definitely has anger management issues. I’ve never seen my kids interact with rats. They’re not afraid, so I feel the need to remind them to keep their distance, and that I bought those fries for them, not our furry friend.

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Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, flown from New York to Paris, May 1927. Good choice.

The Real Wright Brothers' Flyer

The Real Wright Brothers’ Flyer

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Amelia Earhart display

Amelia Earhart display

Of course, an Air and Space Museum would only be half a museum if it didn’t also have exhibits on the Air side of things, so that is our priority for our afternoon session. This is equally impressive with comprehensive exhibits on the Wright Brothers and their Flyer, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, along with more recent endeavours. I can see people taking a very close look at engines, nodding approvingly, and talking a language that I know is English, but I don’t recognise the words. I don’t really speak the language of engines – but I know people who do, and that’s what counts.

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Space pen! Any time, any angle.

From previous travels, I’ve learned that heavy pictorial books aren’t great souvenirs unless they are bought on the last day of the trip. Of course we can’t leave the museum without some souvenirs, so we quickly purchase a set of space chess, (ie chess where you can’t recognize what the pieces are, because everything is a rocket, and nothing resembles a bishop or a rook), t-shirts (which are useful because they extend the supply of clean shirts) a space pen (for those annoying moments when your only option is to write when hanging upside-down – maybe in a simulator!), a thin and light guide book, and the obligatory fridge magnet. For some reason the boys are also given a lot of marbles by the check-out assistant, but they seem to like them. An unexpected souvenir of the Air and Space Museum. (They later change their mind and give these all away to anyone who will take them).

And with that, the top line of my list of “must do’s” in Washington now has a metaphoric tick next to it. We’ve had all day at the museum but the boys and I have loved it. A new adventure must now take its rightful place at the bottom of the top five – but ideally one without rats this time.

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Official Air and Space Museum Fridge Magnet

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Musical Micropause: W

Alphabet W

White Stripes: You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl) (2000)
I wish I’d seen these guys live, but hopefully I’ll see Jack White one day. This song seems to contain all the elements of a classic White Stripes song: slightly ragged but full of hooks, no unnecessary flourishes, a quirky sense of humour, and over too soon.

 

Waterboys: When You go Away (1988)
When Record Executives received the follow-up to the Waterboys’ international breakthrough “Whole Of The Moon”, they probably weren’t expecting an album rooted in Irish and Scottish folk music. “Fisherman’s Blues” signalled that Mike Scott’s “Big Music” was no more, but the scaled back sound resulted in the Waterboys’ best selling album.


World Party: Sweet Soul Dream (1967)
Karl Wallinger was one of the Waterboys during their “Big Music” era. As lead Waterboy Mike Scott wrote, “Having Karl [Wallinger] in the studio was like having a one-man orchestra around.” Wallinger’s departure from the Waterboys after the success of “This Is The Sea” allowed him to pursue his own music, forming World Party. “Sweet Soul Dream” is from his second album “Goodby Jumbo”, rated by Q as their best album of 1990.


Wilco: I’m The Man Who Loves You (2002)
The turmoil around Wilco’s fourth album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was documented in the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Changes in record producer, band personnel and record label all made this a difficult birth, but the resulting album became their most successful release. “I’m The Man Who Loves You” has become a concert favourite, and is now Wilco’s second most frequently played song.

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Natural History and Many Memorials – Washington DC: September 2014

National Museum of Natural History

National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC

Day Three:  Our first stop at Washington’s Museum of Natural History has been booked well in advance. Not far behind my mum’s wish to take her kids to Disneyland has been her visit to the Gems and Minerals section of this museum, and in particular, the chance to see the Hope Diamond. This branch of the Smithsonian Institution is the size of 18 football fields and houses over 1000 employees, but this stone the size of a pigeon’s egg is arguably the Museum’s premier exhibit.

The Hope Diamond, valued at US$220 million!

The Hope Diamond, valued at US$200 – US$250 million!

In the mid-17th century, French gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier brought from India to Paris a large uncut diamond, which by the end of the century was sold to King Louis XIV of France. The stone was then cut and passed through the French royal family until 1792 when during the French Revolution it was stolen as part of a theft of the royal crown jewels. It is believed that the stone was taken to London, and cut into two pieces, the larger piece becoming the Hope Diamond. Although there is no record of ownership in the Royal Archives, the diamond is suspected to have been purchased by King George IV of the United Kingdom, before being acquired by a London banker named Thomas Hope. Now known as the Hope Diamond, the stone eventually passed to New York diamond merchant Harry Winston, who donated the diamond to the Smithsonian in 1958, sending it to the museum by US Post wrapped in brown paper. It was insured via registered mail for $145.29; it is now valued at US$200-US$250 million.

It’s interesting to hear the number of young girls excitedly squealing “Mommy, diamonds!” The taste for jewellery is clearly already entrenched. My boys are impressed, and upon hearing the value of the diamond, Dominic declares that he’d like to be a miner. I suspect he sees this as a way of cutting out the middle man, when he finds his own Hope Diamond. Their focus on the diamond doesn’t last too long – after one photo, they’re distracted by the size, colours and angles of the extensive crystal collection, ranging from Apophyllite to Zoisite.

Crocoite crystals

Crocoite crystals

Fluorite

Fluorite crystals

Fossil Ammonite

Fossil Ammonite

The Geology section is also very comprehensive with many interactive exhibits – the boys touch a piece of Mars, see fossils, search for New Zealand within displays on volcanos and earthquakes around the globe, hear radioactivity emitting from zircon, and try out the magnetic strength of Magnetite.

T-Rex, coming soon to a Museum of Natural History near you

T-Rex, coming soon to a Museum of Natural History near you

I’m slightly surprised to find that the boys less impressed by the next set of rooms. I had assumed that halls full of whale, shark and manatee skeletons would be a highlight. They are more intrigued by the genuine T-Rex skull – part of a display still under construction. Similarly, the Egyptian section, with wrapped and unwrapped mummies, doesn’t get the boys rushing around with cameras snapping.

Rosita the tarantula, about to have the crickets over for lunch

Rosita the tarantula, about to have the crickets over for lunch

We’re all getting a bit peckish now, but before we find our own meals, we get to watch a more permanent guest of the museum enjoy her lunch. Rosita the Tarantula seemingly never tires of crickets, and the boys enjoy a front row seat.

We’re soon justifying another quick, easy and unhealthy lunch, and I introduce the boys to Ghiradelli chocolate. I know this is going to be a winner, and the boys look as happy as a Tarantula chewing a cricket leg.

Angler Fish - Neno version

Angler Fish – Nemo version

Angler Fish - reality

Angler Fish – reality

After lunch, Mum decides she wants another look at the Gems, while the boys and I head for the Ocean Hall. We soon see a couple of Giant Squids, one a lot more giant than the other, but both very impressive. We also see an Angler Fish, which my boys and I all recognize immediately from Finding Nemo. It looks smaller and more friendly in person. But for me, the highlight of this section is the Coelacanth.

Coelacanth - back from the dead

Coelacanth – back from the dead

There are only two species of coelacanth, the West Indian Ocean coelacanth and the Indonesian coelacanth, and both are threatened, making this the most endangered order of animals in the world. But it isn’t the rarity that makes this fish special.

I remember from my childhood seeing a photo of the coelacanth, and reading how they were thought to have been extinct for 66 million years, until one was caught off the coast of West Africa in 1938. They are still critically endangered, but have been found in the Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, and South Africa. Fortunately for the coelacanth, they hold no value for fisherman as they reportedly taste terrible, but they are still threatened by commercial deep-sea trawling.

This museum really does have something for everyone, and one day goes nowhere near doing it justice. Sadly that’s all we have, but I intend to get back here one day.

Foggy Where?

Foggy Where?

Day Four – Our metro destination this morning is Foggy Bottom. There has to be an interesting story behind that name – and apparently this area by the Potomac River is believed to have been susceptible to concentrations of fog and industrial smoke. Foggy Bottom is home to many Federal agencies, so surely there a few jokes about the appropriateness of the name. There’s no sign of fog today, as we walk past embassies, George Washington University, and the Kennedy Arts Center, towards the buildings that I want to see – 700 New Hampshire Ave, also known as the Watergate Complex.

Watergate Complex

Watergate Complex

I had only ever heard or read references to the Watergate Hotel, but as well as the Hotel, the Watergate complex also includes contains an office building and three apartment buildings. Built in 1967, the trademark curves were intended to complement the planned Kennedy Arts Center (which later changed its design) and a proposed expressway. It looks exactly as I recall it from news footage following the 1974 scandal that lead to Nixon’s resignation.

IMG_0141While we’re trying to fit the façade of the building on our cameras, a series of helicopters seem to swoop on the hotel. There’s an open area between the buildings, and they feel so close, it’s almost as if they are flying among the buildings. They soon pass, but for an instant it feel as if something dramatic is about to happen. Is history repeating itself? No it isn’t, and we head off in search of the Lincoln Memorial.

Tom Bradley Memorial Bridge - to Arlington

Tom Bradley Memorial Bridge – to Arlington

It’s a beautiful day, and joggers and cyclists are constantly competing for the pavement as we wind our way around the Potomac. We can see Georgetown along the river to our right, while planes are constantly taking off from Arlington, now opposite us on the other side of the river. I find out later this is Ronald Reagan airport.

The team - towards Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument

The team – towards Reflecting Pool and Washington Monument

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

We reach the Lincoln memorial in front of the Reflecting Pool, and the boys get a quick lesson on Lincoln’s place in history. Following Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, proposals for a fitting monument saw a series of rejections, from the initial bill passed by Congress in 1867 until acceptance in 1910. The memorial was opened in 1922, in the presence of Lincoln’s then 79-year old son Robert Lincoln. The site has also become famous for being the location of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech to 250,000 people, as part of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”, one of the largest rallies for civil rights in US history. A 22-year old Bob Dylan also played that day.

Uninvited lunch guest

Uninvited lunch guest

IMG_5495

Korean War Memorial

IMG_5498

Korean War Memorial

IMG_0222

Roosevelt Memorial

IMG_5500

Roosevelt Memorial

After unintentionally sharing our lunch with squirrels, we move on via the impressive Korean War Memorial to the Roosevelt Memorial. This is quite a contrast, and seem a tad underwhelming. I can’t help but wonder who is responsible for these memorials. If a memorial is proposed during the term of a President from an opposition party, how would that impact the grandeur of the monument? Maybe it’s more a question of how tight the coffers are. The design competition for the Roosevelt memorial was won in 1974 by Lawrence Halpin, but for over two decades Congress failed to find the funds. Halpin’s design was finally opened by President Clinton in 1997. Criticism had been voiced about Roosevelt’s depiction in a wheelchair, with concerns that Roosevelt was being made a hero because of his disability. The memorial also includes braille for blind visitors, but unhelpfully mounted eight feet above the ground.

We unfortunately miss the path to the Martin Luther King memorial, only spotting it across the Tidal Basin when we reach the Jefferson Memorial. They definitely knew how to build monuments in those days.

IMG_5507

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson was clearly a busy man – the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the 3rd US President, he also found time to double the size of the United States, be fluent in French, Greek, Italian, Latin and Spanish, and following the death of his wife, he appears to have fathered six children with his slave, Sally Hemmings.

As with the other Memorials, this too had its detractors. In 1925 the site was initially proposed as a Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt but Congress did not fund this. President Franklin Roosevelt was a fan of Jefferson, so proposed a memorial to him, with more success. The building was opened in 1943, but due to wartime shortages in bronze, the statue could not be completed until 1947.

It’s been a long, hot and tiring day, and our feet need a rest. Despite all that, the boys are enjoying themselves, and seem to be taking in the significance of these grand buildings and their imposing statues. Washington is living up to all my expectations. Tomorrow – the National Air and Space Museum awaits.

Just keep walking....

Just keep walking….

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Musical Micropause: V

V-Letter-V

Townes Van Zandt: No Place To Fall – Live At The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas (1973)
I’d come across the name of Townes Van Zandt in many interviews and articles, with one quote attributed to Steve Earle getting my attention: “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”  Townes’ supposed reply was “I’ve met Bob Dylan and his bodyguards, and I don’t think Steve could get anywhere near his coffee table.”
I was given a bunch of CD vouchers on leaving a job in Dublin (they knew me too well) and I was happy to take a punt on Steve Earle’s recommendation. I had no idea where to start with Townes, but a live album would hopefully double as a “Best Of”.  It was a lucky choice, and this is probably my favourite live album by anyone.  There are so many great songs to choose from here – Pancho and Lefty (covered many times by Dylan), If I Needed You, For The Sake Of The Song, Tecumseh Valley….and he tells jokes too.


Suzanne Vega: The Queen and the Soldier (1985)
It took me a while to cross paths with this song, but I finally discovered it on a trip to London in 1997.  I think I drove my friends slightly mad with the frequent repeat plays. It was also the trip where I discovered the qualities of a Gin and Tonic, so it was a successful few days. I had no idea that it had been a fan favourite for so long, and I still hope to hear Suzanne play it live one day.  I was chuffed to receive replies from Suzanne to a couple of tweets, but so far my campaign to get her to New Zealand again has been unsuccessful. I’m not giving up!


Velvet Underground: Venus in Furs (1967)
If I could travel to one time and place, it would be to see these guys assaulting the senses of New Yorkers in 1967. Not too many seem to have been listening at the time, but the Velvets have now received their recognition.  While the Beatles were hanging out in Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, the Velvets were capturing a sick and dirty lifestyle on the streets of  New York.  Their uniqueness owes as much to John Cale’s grating viola as to Lou Reed’s lyrics, and when Cale left the band after two albums, the Velvets were the poorer for it.


Velvet Underground: I’ll Be Your Mirror (1967)
Lou Reed’s songs always seemed personal, but fortunately they weren’t always about the darker side of New York life.  He gave this gentle song to Nico to sing on the Velvets’ debut. This was the first song I ever heard Lou Reed play – not a bad way to start a show.

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Washington DC: September 2014

Well this is a bit embarrassing. It feels a bit like ringing my mum having not called for far too long. I made some very nice friends in these parts, and hopefully some of them still live in the neighbourhood.  Has it really been over nine months? I don’t like to point fingers, but in this case I blame my boss. There’s something about doing the job of at least two people that discourages mental activity at the end of the working day. Fortunately those days have recently come to an end, so hopefully this won’t be a false start. So without further ado…

Guess where I've been!

Guess where I’ve been!

Day One – When a taxi driver says “that’s all I’ve got to say”, you know that there’s a lot more coming, so get comfortable. We sit helpless, knowing that only our arrival at Auckland airport can end this. It’s not that our contributions to this discourse are unwelcome; we just know that they’ll go unnoticed. We’ve tried to get back to the main road, but this former bus-driver insists he knows the best way to the airport. We’re about to board a 13 hour flight to San Francisco, so this exercise in enforced patience is perfect practice.

My travel companions on this trip are my mum (76), and my sons Dominic (8) and Sam (10). Mum has been wanting to take her grandkids to Disneyland since before they were born, probably since before I was born. It’s the boys’ first trip to the United States, and apart from a trip to Europe when Sam was 1, it’s their first experience of trying to sleep on overnight flights.

Air New Zealand - we get one of the new black ones!

Air New Zealand – we get one of the new black ones!

We farewell Mum at Auckland Airport – she has the Business Class lounge to look forward to. She’s earned that. The adventure of Economy Class awaits us. For thirteen hours…and that’s just the first leg across the Pacific.

There are advantages to travelling with kids of my boys’ age. You know who you are going to be sitting next to for over half a day, and bad luck there can make a long flight seem endless. The boys also don’t take up too much room, and at their age, they’re unlikely to cry through the journey. As long as window seat allocation is agreed in advance, in writing, there’s every chance of getting through the flight without bloodshed.

There are some seat demarcation issues between the boys, as Sam exercises his option as older brother over half of Dom’s seat, as well as his own. Dom isn’t keen on that arrangement and Sam’s feet are repeatedly pushed back to his zone. Eventually we all get some sleep – enough to arrive in San Francisco feeling in focus and ready for the next leg.  Between games of battleships, chess, tetris, and cartoons, the boys seem to be taking well to long-distance flights.

We didn't even see this much....

This would have been a nice view…didn’t happen

I’ve flown into San Francisco a few times before, and I’m sure I was able to see the Golden Gate. Sadly I can’t share that with the boys, as all we can see is fog. We spot Mum way ahead of us in the immigration line and unfortunately she misses my signals that we will join her, and she weaves her way back to us at the wrong end of the queue. We seem to spend as much time in this line as we did in the plane, but this time the boys don’t have an entertainment system to distract them. The only point of note is a woman with a dog hanging out of her hand luggage. “Madam, did you pack this dog yourself?”

We’re rapidly running out of time to make our connecting flight to Washington, and carrying Mum and both boys on my back seems the only way to get through the airport more quickly. As departure time gets closer, it’s getting a bit tense. I hear “Mrs Cold” by Kings of Convenience being played over the airport speakers, a fact disappointingly of no interest to anyone but me. Great song.


The boys barely look up from their iPads during the five hour flight across the States. We’re on Virgin America for this one, so the games are different. One that we haven’t come across before is the ability to send messages to other seats. Dom tries to send me one, while sitting next to me, but accidentally sends it to the stranger dozing across the aisle. Even asleep he doesn’t look too friendly and Dom tries to hide behind me.

We arrive in Washington late at night, and there’s a brief scare when our luggage takes an age to turn up. I’m convinced someone else has taken it, mistakenly thinking it was their own, but it eventually arrives. I track down our shuttle company and after a conversation that may have been Spanish with an American accent, or American with a Spanish accent, I give up and find the shuttle myself. I hadn’t thought of language barriers being a problem on this trip. It won’t be the last time.

The boys slept through it, but it looked like this.. Image source: Homeland, Season 1

The Pentagon – the boys slept through it, but it looked like this..
Image source: Homeland, Season 1

It’s been a very long day, but when we unexpectedly pass the illuminated Pentagon, it’s the first time I see anything that I recognize. I have one boy on each side, both asleep leaning on me. It’s a proud Dad moment. Almost there….

Day Two – At our first Washington breakfast I receive a tap on the shoulder. Oh dear – what’s happened? We’ve been making waffles – have we broken some unwritten waffle etiquette? We’re strangers here. We barely speak the language. It’s one of the breakfast staff and fortunately she looks friendly. “I like your boots”.  I’m quite proud of my boots, so the compliment is appreciated.  Washington is off to a good start, and we haven’t finished breakfast yet.

It’s time to leave the comforts of the Residence Inn, and hit the streets. And the golden rule when on American streets is: stick to the right. At least that’s the rule in countries where you drive on the right. It doesn’t take too many collisions to realise that walking on the left in the US is like swimming upstream. Similarly, standing on the left of an escalator is asking for trouble, but fortunately Washington at 11am is hardly rush hour.

Have SmarTrip cards, will travel

Have SmarTrip cards, will travel

We buy our SmarTrip tickets and my boys experience a Metro system for the first time. From McPherson Square, we walk to Lafayette Square and the back-end of the White House. Tourists are outnumbered by protesters, and the rooftop security look like they’ve seen it all before.

White House - back door. Roof Security have a great view of Washington Monument but are looking the wrong way.

White House – back door. Roof Security have a great view of Washington Monument but are looking the wrong way.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). Mark Twain wasn't a fan.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). Mark Twain wasn’t a fan.

The building next door looks interesting – built between 1871 and 1888, this is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (or EEOB). Mark Twain described it as “the ugliest building in America.” and Harry Truman called it “the greatest monstrosity in America.” That seems a bit harsh, and Mark and Harry could have been more constructive in their criticism. It looks to me like it’s trying to be a cousin of the Louvre, which isn’t a bad ambition. It currently houses the Office of the Vice President, and the National Security Council, among others.

White House - Mum and Sam

White House – Mum and Sam

We have the obligatory photo session with the White House behind us, and head off in search of the White House Gift Shop. This is as close are we going to get to a visit of the White House.  Unfortunately we can’t find it. We probably walk past it several times, but finding lunch soon becomes more of a priority than finding a White House fridge magnet.

Potbelly hits the spot!

Potbelly hits the spot!

Dom and Sam at Potbellys

Dom and Sam at Potbellys

The Potbelly Sandwich Shop seems popular and we soon take our place by the window. I’m still having accent issues though. Something is said with a smile about my Calexico t-shirt, or at least I think that’s what was said. I nod, hoping it’s an appropriate response. This starting to remind me of needing subtitles to watch The Wire. I agree to everything they suggest for my sandwich because I can sense a crowd building up behind me. It’s probably not a combination that has ever been served before, but it tastes fine.

The International Spy Museum - recommended

The International Spy Museum – recommended

In the week we have in Washington, I’m hoping to see many famous landmarks: the White House, the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Roosevelt Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial – not a lot for kids there. I’m hoping they’ll get a kick out of the International Spy Museum. We’re required to take part in some corny identity game, which both boys and adults soon forget. I don’t think it’s needed, as the museum itself has many fascinating exhibits, more than enough to hold the interest of both adults and kids.  There’s a lot of original spy equipment from the KGB era – umbrellas that kill, lipsticks that kill, tobacco pipes that kill. There’s even a shoe phone – maybe Maxwell Smart was onto something. There are also historic examples of the use of invisible ink, and the history of espionage. The museum finishes with a temporary exhibit of James Bond memorabilia, but it’s not as impressive as the real thing. It’s an insight into a world that must still be thriving, and one day today’s toys that kill may one day be on display. I’m glad we made it here; it’s a very comprehensive museum and definitely recommended.

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Musical Micropause U: 35 years of U2 live

Just as Q is dominated by Queen, so it is with U and U2. Underworld did have a great track with Born Slippy, and UB40 were nothing to be ashamed of in their early days, but it gets tricky after that. Did Ultravox have more than one song?

With a new album coming in 2014, U2 aren’t prepared to rely on their back catalog just yet, and there are few bands whose concerts can compare to a U2 experience. From humble beginnings in Dublin, over the last 35 years Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry have performed around 2000 concerts in over 30 countries. Fortunately for us, they show no sign of slowing down just yet.

1970s – Street Mission: live in Dublin (1978)
If every journey starts with a single step, every stadium filling band starts with an embarrassing video. For reasons unclear, there’s no shortage of confidence, and Bono clearly isn’t afraid of the camera. It would be a brave bet that this mob are destined to be the dominant band on the world stage for decades.


1980s – Bad: Live at Live Aid, London
 (1985)
Seven years, four albums, and countless hair stylists after their first steps on Irish TV, U2 were now not just sharing a stage with the biggest bands of the eighties, but stealing the show. Bono had long been dragging girls out of the crowd for some audience participation, but at Live Aid, the “grab” took longer than planned, causing Bad to be extended by five minutes. U2 may have missed out on playing their final scheduled song, but their performance to a global audience turned them into world superstars.

U2 live in Auckland, November 11, 1989

U2 live in Auckland, November 11, 1989

1990s – Until The End Of The World: Live in New York (1992)
The Eighties turned into the Nineties, and the acclaim turned into backlash. With references to Billie Holiday and Elvis, and performances by BB King and the Memphis Horns, Rattle and Hum was perceived as four Irishmen trying to teach the United States about their own music. U2 were forced into reinvention and the result was the stunning double-hit of Achtung Baby and Zooropa. The epic performances of desert songs where the streets had no names were replaced by electronica against a wall of TV screens and suspended Trabants.


U2 live in Auckland, December 4, 1993

U2 live in Auckland, December 4, 1993

2000s – Vertigo: Live in Milan (2005)
Between 2000 and 2009, U2 released three albums, all featuring a return to more traditional guitar-based rock, complete with singles that sounded written for stadium performance. Changes in the music industry were reflected in the decreasing album sales: “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” (2000) sold in excess of 12 million copies, while “No Line on the Horizon” (2009) sold around 5 million.  Touring became the primary source of earnings with U2 embarking on major tours after each album.

U2 live in Auckland, November 24, 2006

U2 live in Auckland, November 24, 2006


2010s – One Tree Hill: Live in Auckland (2010)
Whenever U2 visit New Zealand, they are expected to play “One Tree Hill”, a song written for a New Zealander who worked for the band as a roadie in the 1980s, and who died in a motorcycle accident in Dublin.  “One Tree Hill” is a real place in central Auckland, very close to where I grew up, and my kids love being taken to the summit for 360 degree views over the city.  The song is now rarely played outside New Zealand, so it has become Our Song.

On 19 November 2010, an explosion in the Pike River Mine, northeast of Greymouth in New Zealand’s South Island, killed 29 people. When U2 played in Auckland on 26 November, they included in their performance of “One Tree Hill” a tribute to the 29 miners, listing their names on the screen above the band. Being at that show, it was clear that the crowd was touched by this moving performance.

U2 live in Auckland, November 26, 2010

U2 live in Auckland, November 26, 2010

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Musical Micropause: T

TV On The Radio: Wolf Like Me  (2006)
Rated as Spin’s album of the year, no 2 for Pitchfork, and no 4 for both Stylus and Rolling Stone, it was hard not to hear the positive reviews received in 2006 for TV On The Radio’s second studio album, “Return to Cookie Mountain”. Along with Neil Young and Arctic Monkeys, they were one of the three main reasons I thought I should get to the Big Day Out 2009, and they didn’t disappoint. I think they deserved better than a mid-afternoon slot, but they soon had the crowd’s attention. I’d love to see them do their own show – but maybe not in the same year that Springsteen and the Stones visit these shores. The year hasn’t started and I’m running out of budget.


The Temptations: Ain’t Too Proud To Beg (1966)
I’m not sure if the Temptations had a minimum height requirement, but these guys all look about seven feet tall. A classic that I never get tired of hearing. The Stones seemed to like it too – this is a live version from them with Amy Winehouse on the Isle of Wight from 2007. I’d be happy to hear them play this in April.


The The
: Slow Emotion Replay (1993)
If I had to make my list of underrated albums, “Dusk” by The The would be my immediate first choice. It has everything – production that doesn’t sound too dated, poignant lyrics (although maybe not the best choice if you’ve had a bad day), and a hefty dose of Johnny Marr. That’s his harmonica at the start of this track. As an aside, I had to check the difference between “dose” and “dosage”. Apparently, dosage is the rate of application of a dose. Anyway, this track is/was great for singing to yourself on a cricket field when you’re stuck on the boundary far from the action.


Teddy Thompson: Tonight Will Be Fine (2005)
I don’t know a lot of Teddy Thompson’s own music, but I love what he does with this song by Leonard Cohen. Possibly surprisingly, Cohen’s original is the raucous version. Thompson participated in a series of Leonard Cohen tribute concerts called “Came So Far for Beauty” alongside with Nick Cave, Rufus Wainwright, Jarvis Cocker, Beth Orton and others. The concerts were performed in New York, Brighton, Dublin and Sydney, with the Sydney show filmed for the concert film “Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man”. This video is from that performance.


Talking Heads: Life During Wartime (1984)
I find it impossible to listen to watch a video of Talking Heads without smiling, whether from the early pre-Jerry Harrison days as a three-piece, or the ten-person live line-up for the Remain In Light tour. These guys were took the visual aspect of performance into areas no-one knew existed.  Freddy Mercury or David Byrne as the ultimate frontman? Hard choice…

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New York – first taste of the Apple: May 1994

Manhattan from Empire State Building, May 1994

Manhattan from Empire State Building, May 1994

My neighbor is very chatty, and as she’s a New Yorker, I try to get some hints that aren’t covered by the guidebooks. I’m on the countdown now. This is my first visit to New York, and I’ve managed to get the window seat. Maybe she’s a recent arrival, because her answers to my questions always start with “Barry?” Her husband is sitting on the aisle, and doesn’t seem to mind having his reading regularly interrupted. I’ve learned quite a bit from Barry’s suggestions over the last couple of hours, but I’ve probably learned more about his wife’s family, friends, eating disorders and last vacation to the Virgin Islands.

I’m going to be staying with friends who live on East 47th Street, but they’ll be working late at the World Financial Center, and they’ve suggested I meet them there. One question Barry can’t answer is how I can get a bus there at this time of night from JFK. The passenger across the aisle from Barry overhears, and asks around his neighbors. They aren’t sure, and the row in front of them offers ideas. Soon there are six or seven people, with what I think are New York accents, all debating the best way to get to the World Financial Center. It’s all a very welcoming start to my first experience of this iconic city. And as hoped, the views as we approach the city are spectacular.

The consensus is that I should take a taxi, and I’m soon sharing a ride with an elderly Jamaican lady. I wasn’t expecting that, but she doesn’t look too threatening, or mobile. If she does a runner, we can give her a head start and still catch her by the corner. The driver’s name is Mustapha – he asks me where I’m from and I tell him New Zealand. I’m not sure he’s heard of it as he looks at me as if I’ve misunderstood the question. For some reason he sees me as an expert on leather sandals, and is very keen on getting my advice. He seems surprised and a little disappointed when I admit that it’s not my specialist subject. We need to stop for petrol, and then again for Mustapha to buy some peanuts. Waiting in a taxi in Brooklyn for my taxi driver to get peanuts feels surreal, but maybe that’s what life is like in New York.

As a music fan, one of the band I associate with New York is the Velvet Underground, and I’m a fairly recent convert. There had been optimistic rumors that their 1992 reunion would extend to Australia and New Zealand, so I felt the need to know more about this band. Every artist seemed to be listing them as an influence, so it seemed time to do more research. I’d previously been given a compilation of the Velvets, but I guess my mind wasn’t quite ready. How could I not have loved this the first time around? Dark and seedy, this music was captivating. I spent a lot of 1993 listening to the Velvets and read the few books that I could find on this short-lived band. I came across Tom Wilson’s name, whom I associated with Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel – names that were eternally linked to New York City. The wonderfully jarring and grating noise from the Velvets seemed a world away from the Sounds of Silence. I soon discovered the connection with Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. I’d love to track down that building. And this is where Lou Reed was walking on the wild side? I need to get to this city.

It’s now May 1994, and I’ve been in New York for a couple of days. It’s just before midnight in Manhattan, and I can’t get the relentless chug of the Velvets out of my head. Maybe at the next corner I’ll find myself confronted with these guys…

Cale and Reed

John Cale and Lou Reed in New York, 1968

This superb photo of John Cale and Lou Reed, the architects of the Velvet Undergound, was taken by Joel Meyerowitz on 5th Avenue in 1968, “just a casual shot of an interesting looking guy, only to discover later on that it was Lou Reed and John Cale”. He published it on his Facebook page on November 11 2013, after the death of Lou Reed.

Any why shouldn’t I spot Cale and Reed? This is their town after all. Well, because they hate each other (again), the reunion is over, and it’s not 1968, it’s 1994. It won’t happen – but I can’t stop hoping that it might. It’s as ridiculous as going to Stockholm and hoping to run into the four members of ABBA, holding hands and skipping down the street. Who would hope for that? But that’s another story.

I spend hours walking in New York City. Partially because I’ve been warned against using the subway, but partially to convince myself that I’m really here. There’s so much to see above ground and I see many familiar sights – the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building. I start to walk the length of Broadway heading south, passing Madison Square Garden, and Union Square, and get distracted by sidestreets into Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown. Eventually I get lost, but it doesn’t bother me. I’m in no hurry – which is just one of many differences between me and the locals. It frequently feels like I’m the only one in this city that is relaxed, or at least trying to relax. This doesn’t feel like a city where you can sip a coffee and watch the world go by; I get the impression here you that you are expected to either keep up or get out of the way. No-one’s being unfriendly to me at all – quite the opposite, but I’ve spent time in cities like London and Paris, and this city operates at a completely different pace.

Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building

My explorations continue with a visit to Wall Street and the NYSE viewing platform. The courts around City Hall are cordoned off as the World Trade Center bombers are being sentenced today. On February 26, 1993, a truck bomb was detonated below the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing seven and injuring thousands. I hear later that all four are sentenced to life imprisonment.  I keep heading south and take the Staten Island ferry, passing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It’s a welcome change to let the ferry do my walking.

That evening my friends have to work late once more, but their roommate is there with her boyfriend. I’m not sure if the roommate is impressed, but I spend the evening with the boyfriend talking sport over a few beers. We also cover recent mafia history and the bloody events outside Sparks Steak House at 210 East 47th Street (my friends live at 212 East 47th), as well as Woody Allen’s frequent appearances at “Michael’s”. This ends sometime between 2am and 3am. These guys can talk.

Shooting of Paul Castellano outside Sparks Steak House, 1985

Shooting of Paul Castellano outside Sparks Steak House, 1985

Most days are spent walking with visits to the UN Headquarters, Grand Central Station, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, and MOMA. Clutching my bag, I even brave the subway for the first time for a visit to the Guggenheim. Clearly a tourist (possibly because I’m the only person in New York wearing purple baggy surf shorts), I attract attention, but it’s soon clear that this isn’t some cunning diversion while the accomplice grabs my wallet. People just want to make sure I’m not lost. This isn’t the first time strangers have gone out of their way to help the weary visitor – which isn’t easy when they don’t seem to understand my accent.

Times Square

Times Square

Lunch is sometimes on the grass in Central Park, where I discover that pretzels are more filling than they look. One large pretzel is plenty. Being a Beatles fan, I have to locate Strawberry Fields and the Dakota building. I notice on the billboards throughout the city that they all have web addresses listed for the product advertised. This must be this internet thing I’ve heard of, but haven’t tried yet. Maybe it will catch on at home and we’ll have web addresses on billboards in New Zealand one day.

Evenings are passed in institutions with names like Edward Moran’s, Jamesons, and the Fulton Street Cafe. One particular night is spent in a bar watching a Stanley Cup playoff match between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, with the seven match series tied at 3-3.  New York scores early but New Jersey equalises with seven seconds to go in regulation time, causing overtime and major discomfort for my new friends. We need to get home, so we make flying visits into multiple bars on the way back to get updates. The match needs 25 minutes of sudden-death play, so we’re able to get home in time for the finish. Fortunately New York wins, giving a great night out a fitting ending. I’m not sure how my friends would reacted if the night had finished with a New Jersey goal. I suspect the night would not have been so memorable for them.


TV Hockey 5

A good night to be a Rangers fan

On my last day in New York, I come across the Turtle Bay Festival on 2nd Avenue. It’s a great place for souvenirs, which double as clean clothes, so I stock up. From there, I walk to the South St Seaport, followed by a wander across Brooklyn Bridge. They take the bike lanes a bit more seriously here than at home – again, it’s a mistake I make only once. Night is again spent with friends of friends, as mine are yet again working late. I’m not sure if people ever really stop working here – even when I’ve met people for a drink on the Friday night, they have had to go back to the office later that evening. That isn’t the Friday night that I’m familiar with.

Turtle Bay Festival - May 1994

Turtle Bay Festival – May 1994

Work is the last thing on my mind on my last night in New York. The door to the roof of their apartment building is open, and I take a seat with a view over the lights of Manhattan. The spire of the Chrysler building look close enough to touch, and I reflect on how lucky I am to have been offered accommodation in this part of the city. I have my trusty Walkman, and on New York radio I hear Crowded House, a band that New Zealanders like to think of as our own. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” sings Neil Finn, but with a flight to Paris tomorrow, there’s not much I can do about that. Could I live here? I don’t think so. In the last week I’ve been to so many fantastic places that I’ve read about for years, and people have been so helpful, but I haven’t really felt comfortable. Maybe that’s unrealistic after just a week, but I’ve been to other cities where I’ve felt at ease almost immediately. I’d love to come back, but I have no ambitions for a long-term stay.

Months later, I’m back in Auckland and daydreaming about my week in New York, and I realise that I was so busy I completely forgot to look up Andy Warhol’s Factory. I find that the original Factory was on the fifth floor of 231 East 47th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. I can’t believe it. I was staying at 212 East 47th, also between 2nd and 3rd Avenues – almost directly opposite the Factory building, and I must have walked past it every day. Now I definitely have a reason for a return visit.

Andy Warhol with the Velvet Undergound and friends in happier times

Andy Warhol with the Velvet Undergound and friends in happier times

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Musical Micropause: S

Letter S

The Smiths: Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want  (1984)
I first became aware of the Smiths in 1985 when a friend who was far cooler than me took to wearing a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt at every opportunity. I was a little intimidated by anything cool, and was still quietly playing The Cars. A Smiths singles collection later pointed out my glaring mistake, and I quickly found all their albums. These days when I listen to the Smiths, I sometimes wonder why I bother listening to any other music at all.


Sugar: Helpless (1992)
Another band where my ravings to friends appears to have caused their immediate demise (as with Pixies, Luna, Grant Lee Buffalo and others). Bob Mould’s Sugar signaled his return to a band format after a pair of solo albums. Loud with great melodies – what else do you need?


Sigur Rós
: Ágætis byrjun (1999)
Icelandic for “A Good Beginning”, Ágætis byrjun was well named, as it brought Sigur Rós global attention and inclusion in high profile TV and movie soundtracks – Vanilla Sky, CSI  and 24 to name a few. Variously labelled as cosmic rock, ambient rock, or whale rock, they have a reputation for stunning live performance. They’ve been on my top 5 to see live for years, and it looks like the wait is far from over.


Straitjacket Fits: Down In Splendour (1990)
One of Flying Nun’s greatest successes, Straitjacket Fits thrived on the contrast and diversity that their two songwriters brought to their music. Shayne Carter’s songs were generally known for their rough edges, while Andrew Brough preferred more sparkle. Eventually the differences led to conflict, and Brough left the band after a lengthy tour in 1991. “Down In Splendour” is from their 1990 album, “Melt”, and in 2001 was voted as number 32 in New Zealand’s top 100 songs of all time.

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Amédée Island, New Caledonia: September 1991

I’m sure I’ve imagined this island, probably at about 3pm on a Friday, when the “to do” list for the afternoon is drifting into the “must do” list for Monday. And it exists – Amédée Island, 24 kilometres due south of Nouméa, New Caledonia. Just sticking a few french accents above letters makes a name sound that much more appealing – it does to me anyway.

Amédée Island

It even has its own shipwreck – not right on the beach fortunately, but clearly visible.  (thanks to http://www.artificialowl.net)

Not exactly prospering - the "Ever Prosperity"

Not exactly prospering – the “Ever Prosperity”

I do have one regret. I should have brought a book. Having skin that alternates between white in summer and blue in winter, I’m not here with any plans for the perfect tan. I’m here because my workmate and drinking buddy Pat suggested a week up here would be a timely break from the office, and he wasn’t wrong.

Actually two books may have been a better idea, because there really is nothing to do on this island except swim, walk in circles, and sunbathe. Having sunbathed for five minutes, I can now tick that off my list. Time for a dip.

Being the generous sort, I’m going to share my lunch, which I grabbed earlier from our hosts weren’t looking. It’s just a baguette, but in a matter of seconds, I’m surrounded. It feels like hundreds of eyes are fixed on me, mouths open in anticipation. All for a piece of bread. The water’s only about eight feet deep, but with one hand I’m clutching a rock to hold myself down, and the other is offering up the baguette. They love it, and I’m in the calm at the centre of the storm. Unfortunately, the lack of a third hand means I have no photos, but according to the wikipedia page on the Biodiversity of New Caledonia, they may be cousins of these guys:Epinephelus fasciatus "Fish A" Caesio cuning "Fish B".jpg or evenBalistoides conspicillum "Fish C".

Pat’s remembered his book, and he possibly doesn’t want continual interruptions, so I decide to do a lap of the island. That fills up another fifteen minutes.

It’s quite an enjoyable stroll, so I do it again. Then again in the other direction.  Then back to the original direction, this time twice. And then again in the reverse direction. I continue this for some time, which gives me time to reflect on the week.

Ouch!

Ouch!

I accidentally kicked a soccer ball into a fellow guest’s face yesterday. These things happen in beach soccer, and it’s so typical that the one kick that I really timed well was the one where the goalie chose to stop it with his nose. He was only a few feet away as well – poor guy. While everyone else was laughing I was the only one helping him when he regained consciousness.

There hasn’t been a lot of culture on this trip. The closest we’ve come to culture is trying frogs’ legs. I’m the only one who’s tried them, and they don’t believe me when they say it tastes like chicken. Actually, if french beer counts as culture, then yes, we’ve had plenty of culture.

Sticking to the day job

But we have tried to participate, unfortunately with success ranging from minimal to mixed. We were made very welcome for the aqua-aerobics in the pool. I think they appreciated having someone there who was born post-WWII. And archery was interesting. Possibly not surprisingly, my archery skills resemble my darts skills, and I’m rubbish at that. Pat suggests imagining the target as the head of one of my work colleagues, who we shall call “Jerk”. That does the trick – a perfect bulls-eye! Despite my new-found success and obvious potential, our instructor from the Maldives does not appreciate our attitude, and has a constant scowl. Maybe he sees me as a threat.

No prizes for fourth

No prizes for fourth

An Olympics Day is organised between the various nationalities, and we’re both keen to come away with a medal. There are several events where we think we have a show – tossing the boot on the beach, limbo, races in the pool, and maybe archery. Sadly our form has deserted us and we don’t feature in the medal table. Throughout the day, one elderly tanned and bearded gent from the States has been very vocal in his support, shouting “Go Kiwis!” at every opportunity. As the day concludes without any cause for celebration, we realise how badly we’ve let down our fanbase, known to us as Captain Nemo.

If they’d had a sailing race, we may have had more success. Pat’s an excellent sailor, and with him at the helm, and me providing ballast, we take out one of the hobie cats. We’re soon travelling with some speed, and it doesn’t take long before we’re a long way out, with a beautiful view back to the mainland. Not wanting to see my camera disappear into the Pacific, I’ve left it on the shore with newly-made friends. Eventually I’ll develop the film to find that they’ve kindly taken some surprising photos of themselves while Pat and I were offshore. How thoughtful.

There are many Australians and New Zealanders at the resort, with a broad spread of age. It’s my 23rd birthday during the trip, and we meet a few people with similar interests. We keep running into an Australian here with his wife and kids who seems more interested in talking rugby with us than being with his family. He seems genuinely sad when he has to leave us – it’s very touching.

There are also a few French people around, and I get the chance to practise my French again. It’s been over a year since I was in France, but it seems to come back quickly. I even get told that I don’t have an accent – and that was without wine. Languages are so much easier with the right drink in your hand.

Not a bad spot - Noumea, New Caledonia

Not a bad spot – Noumea, New Caledonia

There is one slightly awkward moment – actually it wasn’t awkward for me, so maybe it doesn’t count. A couple of the New Zealand guys are trying to chat up some local french girls on the beach. It really isn’t working, but these guys are persisting. The girls start to talk between themselves in french, with some fairly uncomplimentary comments. I leave them to it, and they are clearly unimpressed with the antipodean approach to romance. Finally I say something to them in French, and their jaws all drop. None of them reply to me, but they repeat among themselves several times “He speaks French, he understood everything” – which I could also understand, but it was a bit late by then. I’d always wanted to do that.

The other embarrassing moment is when we are sharing a table with two Japanese girls with limited english. Our “conversation” is soon reduced to names of cities where our firm has offices in Japan, followed by a series of nods and smiles. After a strong start with Tokyo and Osaka, the only names that come to my mind are Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and mid-sentence I stop myself from mentioning those. Unfortunately those names aren’t replaced by anything else. My brain becomes instantly empty and there’s a silence that no-one seems able to shift. Luckily dinner soon arrives, and the potential foot in my mouth is replaced by snails. They definitely don’t taste like chicken.

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Musical Micropause: R

R

Commercially and critically, R surely has to be recognised as one of the most successful letters in the modern musical era. A micropauser is truly spoiled for choice.  Open up and say….R!

Lou Reed: Dirty Boulevard (live in New York, 1998)
My sole encounter with Lou Reed was an acoustic show in a tent in Skibbereen, Ireland during the 1998 Liss Ard festival. Having held my ground in the second row for a few hours, I lost control of my smuggled camera and blinded Lou with the flash. Fortunately he didn’t walk off, but he did a summon a very large gentleman from the wings who came down to me and said “Lou wants you to stop now”. Glad I didn’t spoil his good mood. He played half of Transformer, a couple of VU songs, and more recent songs, including this one – a perfect night.


Radiohead: Idioteque (live at Glastonbury, 2003)
Apart from Creep, which I dismissed as some MTV fodder, OK Computer was my introduction to Radiohead, and made me the Radiohead completist I am today. The electronica of Kid A was unlike anything they had released before, but in concert, Radiohead brought these songs alive.


Rolling Stones: Sympathy For The Devil (live in Austin, 2006)
Where to start with these guys? The 1968-72 years would be a good place – Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street. No wonder they stopped trying. I spent 1997 in Moscow, and I was introduced to Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”, which soon became my favourite book. I discovered later that this was part of the inspiration for Sympathy For The Devil, one of the many highlights from their golden years.


R.E.M: It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (1987)
Similarly to Radiohead, I was introduced to R.E.M. through a hit single (The One I Love) that I heard so much on the radio, it put me off wanting to know any more about R.E.M. Wrong! During a series of uninspiring Finance Law lectures a friend managed to convince me to give them a try – and I became a R.E.M. completist as well. And I feel fine.


Roxy Music: Virginia Plain (1972)
One of my favourite songs, I never thought I’d be present for the final performance of this classic by Roxy Music, but it seems that their show at an Auckland winery in March 2011 may be the last time that Roxy Music takes the stage. Love the end of that organ solo by Eno at about 2.33.  I always thought that the early Split Enz guys were doing similar music at the same time without the acclaim. Guess it’s not just about timing, but location as well.

Roxy Music  - their last show?

Roxy Music – their last show?

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Weathering the Burns Day Storm: 25-26 January 1990

Burns Day Storm - 25 January 1990

Burns Day Storm – 25 January 1990

Is this really a typical Winter’s day in the UK? I’ve heard bad stories, but this is a bit extreme. It’s been a long day and I’m supposed to be in France by now. I feel the need for a change of scenery, so I take a walk outside – or as far outside as I dare to go. I’ve never experienced winds like this, and lighting poles seem to be swaying so much that I’m expecting to see one snap. This makes a blustery day in Wellington feel like an annoying draft.

The day has started with an uneventful train ride from London to Dover, arriving at 10.30, with plans for an 11.30 ferry to Calais.  I’ve passed through Customs, but the weather has deteriorated noticeably, and boarding has been delayed. I’ve learned from the trip over from Calais a few weeks earlier; this time I’m armed with an NME to pass the time. Although I’ve read most of it already, there are still less interesting articles to cover.

Around midday an announcement is made that the weather has improved sufficiently for boarding to commence. Passengers who have been sitting by their suitcases in front of the exit doors get quickly to their feet, protective of their place in the line. Suitcases are shuffled forward and we are slowly let through the gates to buses for the ferry.  Once on board, there is the usual rush for seats, with a sense of optimism that we will soon be making progress. Unfortunately there is no sensation of the ferry slowly moving forward, and eventually we hear another announcement. The winds have picked up again, and there will be a delay leaving Dover.  We’re to stay on board until conditions are again safe for the crossing.

I’ve managed to find a seat, so at least I’m comfortable. I’m hopeful that at any minute we’ll hear good news. Travelling by myself, I’m reluctant to leave my bags for any reason, so lunch can wait. I’m now getting very familiar with this NME.

After two hours of alternating between reading, not reading, staring out the window, and starting at other people, we get the news that it’s not safe to sail and that we need to return to the Terminal. It’s now 3pm – rather than waiting for a possible crossing later in the day, I decide to head back to London and then Cambridge, where I’ve been staying with a friend from New Zealand school days.

courtesy the Milwaukee Journal – 26 January 90

It isn’t until I try to leave the terminal that I’m told that no local trains are running, and that 33 people have died so far in the UK. My options are now limited to sitting tight in the Dover terminal and waiting. I wish I’d bought more than one music paper.

People are becoming noticeably more friendly now that it’s clear that we’re here for a while. It’s the usual exchange – where are you from, how long have you been away, where have you been, where’s next, and watch out for Italian men – but it makes the hours pass slightly more quickly.  Among my neighbours are an Argentinian couple and an Aussie from Perth called Emma. I suspect Emma has just changed her plans and is heading straight for Italy.

The Times - 26 January 1990

The Times – 26 January 1990

The Times - 26 January 1990

The Times – 26 January 1990

I feel I can leave my bags with my new friends, and I take a look outside. I’m able to stand outside the terminal in a spot that is completely protected by the wind, but I can tell from the noise of the wind, and the way that lighting poles appear to be almost flapping back and forth, that this is as far as I should go.  The security of the terminal isn’t such a bad place to be stuck – it may be a tad dull, but it isn’t going to blow away.

And so we wait … 4pm … 5pm …. At 6pm we get good news. It’s time to get back to the buses again. It seems to take an age to fill the bus, and once full we are all staring at the driver, willing him to shut that door and start the engine. He seems very reluctant to make eye contact, and instead, gets off the bus and starts talking to another driver outside. I wish I had my heavy vehicles driving license – it can’t be that hard.  As we wait with slightly more audible impatience, the chances of moving seem to decrease, and we’re finally told to go back inside. There’s a collective groan, but there’s nothing to be done but follow instructions. I’m sure the staff who are stuck here with us would much rather be with their families.

Dinner - 25 January 1990

Dinner – 25 January 1990

Another couple of hours pass and I have a Mars bar for dinner. It’s now pitch black outside. We seem to have been sitting for days – sitting on the floor in the terminal, sitting on a bus, or sitting on the ferry. I’m getting tired of sitting now. Sitting is exhausting. No-one can really be bothered talking now.

At 8pm we get good news – not for the first time today, but hopefully for the last time. We’re heading out to the buses for another try. Emma has disappeared somewhere, so I grab her bags and join the queue. She catches up with us before we get in, and the four of us are on the bus again. The mood has definitely improved and people are chatting and even laughing. One person is missing – the bus driver. He’s outside again, talking to someone looking very official. Surely not….but yes, we’re asked to get off the bus.  This is another moment where staying calm is hard, but there’s nothing to be gained by taking out frustrations on a bus driver.

And then, without explanation, we’re told to sit down again, and suddenly we’re heading to the ferry. There’s a cheer as the bus leaves, but we’ve been through this before. We board, and I head straight to the restaurant. I’m famished and take an ample helping of everything I can fit on my plate, and a pint of beer. For some reason, I’m the only one eating, but I don’t care.  At one point, I foolishly take my hand off my beer and it slides to the other end of the long table. It comes to a rest on the table railings at the end – fortunately without spillage – and I head off to fetch it.  A waiter approaches my unmanned plate and to my horror I see him reaching to take it away. I let him know without room for misunderstanding that I have not finished, and he backs away. Even if we’re told to get back to the terminal, I’ll have had a good feed.

Calais Dover Boarding Pass - 25 January 1990

Calais Dover Boarding Pass – 25 January 1990

Without being able to see much outside, I haven’t even noticed that we’ve left Dover.  The crossing is rough; it’s like navigating the aisle of a plane in heavy turbulence. Several people take a tumble as they’re thrown into walls, causing a few cuts and bruises, but nothing more serious. The crossing seems to pass very quickly – maybe through the relief of finally leaving, or maybe we’re sailing with the wind. It seems no time at all before an announcement tells us they we’ll soon be met by tugboats to assist with our arrival into Calais. It’s 11pm and we’ve made it.

Customs seems conspicuously absent in Calais. In fact, except for a ferryload of recent weary arrivals, there’s a conspicuous absence of anyone. The terminal is completely empty and has a slightly eerie feel. I see Emma the Aussie and a few others scanning the board of train departures and connections, and it soon becomes clear that the last train to Paris was scheduled to leave several hours ago – if trains had been running at all.

It seems odd to be back on french soil, with a complete lack of french people. Fortunately the folk at P&O haven’t abandoned us and they arrange a bus for Paris. Emma and I register for the bus, and once more we wait. I should be getting better at this by now, and I’m envious of my fellow passengers who can doze on demand. There are a few families with young children here, and I’m not envious of them at all. Today must have been horrendous for them. I decide that I’m in no hurry to travel with kids, but given my terminally single status, there’s no imminent threat of that.

Midnight passes with no sign of a bus. I realise that no-one actually mentioned the location of the bus, so maybe it’s coming from Paris? I try ringing home to New Zealand, as we may have made the news after the rugby scores. There’s no answer – they’re probably enjoying their summer….mmm summer. I remember that.  Looking around, almost everyone is asleep except for me.

At 1am a bus arrives – the end may be in sight! Emma and I drag ourselves on board and watch the bus fill up with other stragglers. All the seats are soon full, and the aisle is quickly crammed tight as well. I find that the passenger lodged to my left is Russian. The Berlin Wall has fallen only a few months earlier, I’ve watched Romania free themselves of Ceausescu live on TV a few weeks ago, and life is changing very quickly for Russians too. I’ve never met a Russian, and seemingly not many of the bus have either. As others hear him talking, he soon becomes a celebrity, or at least the most famous Russian on the bus.

We sit here for almost an hour, while the group of people waiting outside and looking hopefully through the window has steadily grown. I’m not sure where they’ve come from, but this bus is probably already past capacity.  I hope they have another bus coming. But no, after waiting for an hour, we’re told to get off for a larger bus. There’s general reluctance, but when we can see that the larger bus actually exists, and even better, has already arrived, we all start our trudge across the car park.

Just after 2am, we start the drive to Paris. I’m getting tired now, and try various strategies for supporting my head. My elbow keeps sliding off the arm of the chair, so I give up trying.

The next thing I know I’m woken by the feeling of a stationary bus. We’ve stopped in Arras, and for some reason we need to change buses again. I don’t think anyone has the energy to ask why – I know I don’t, and we’re soon underway again. I drift in and out of sleep, noticing the gothic spires of the Cathedral in Amiens at one stage, but not much else.

Amiens Cathedral by night

Amiens Cathedral by night

We finally arrive in Paris at the Gare du Nord. It’s just before 5am, and Paris is stirring. My train to Bordeaux doesn’t leave until 7am, and Emma has another train in a different direction, so we share a hot chocolate at a cafe in the station.  We’ve ended up on the same path only briefly, but together we’ve laughed in the face of boredom. We’ve covered a lot of ground in our chats over the last 24 hours, and shared a few stories, safe in the knowledge that we’re unlikely to meet again.

I make it back to Bordeaux later that day, just in time to see TV coverage of the damage that the storm has caused across Europe and the UK, including footage of our ferry during the afternoon, suspended in Dover. I have a well-needed shower and shave, and a quick kip, before heading straight back to Paris for a night-train to Copenhagen. My Eurail pas is ticking, and I’m going to squeeze out of it every last centime.

I also manage a quick call to New Zealand, where I hear more detail on the damage caused by yesterday’s storm, and I’m stunned to hear that the number of deaths across Europe and the UK has been revised to almost 100 people. Because the storm hit during the day, there have been more fatalities than expected for a storm of this magnitude. It’s been categorized as a Category 1 Hurricane, with gusts reaching 104 miles per hour (170 kilometres per hour). Power has been disrupted to 500,000 homes, severe flooding has been caused, and 3 million trees have been downed. The cost to insurers in the UK alone is £3.37bn, the most expensive storm payout ever for insurers.

Almost 23 years later, I find that this long day has earned its own names: it’s commonly referred to as the “Burns Day Storm”, as it started on the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns, and in insurance circles it’s known as “Winter Storm Daria”. As one of the strongest storms recorded, it’s the subject of a wikipedia page and youtube video, and is still referred to as a benchmark of severity when storm clouds gather. Next time I’ll come in Summer.

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Musical Micropause: Q

Q

There’s no way around it. If you wouldn’t recognise Queens of the Stone Age, and don’t know Q-Tip, then Q is for Queen.

Queen: Love of My Life  – Live (1986)
I think my main problem with Queen’s music is overfamiliarity. If I’d have found Killer Queen myself instead of having it forced upon me, I’m sure I’d appreciate it a lot more. There’s only so much enjoyment you can get out of a song when you know every note.  I’d never heard this song on the radio or TV, and had no idea how popular it is. This is a beautiful song and is about as stripped back as Queen gets.

 

Queen: Somebody To Love – Live in Montreal (1981)
“When lonesome goes up as down goes the day” (Bob Dylan’s words, not mine), this song can really help. The louder the better. It doesn’t fix things, but it’s a start. Of course that was back then, life is sweet now.

 

Queen: Under Pressure – Live at Wembley (1986)
This collaboration between Queen and David Bowie was far from an effortless creation. Starting life as a song written by Queen drummer Roger Taylor, Bowie took over the lyrics and Freddie Mercury the musical arrangement. Bowie and Mercury had a falling out over the mixing of the song, and the band had misgivings about releasing it as a single. They may have changed their minds, playing the song at every Queen concert from its release to the end of their touring history with Mercury in 1986.  It became Queen’s second UK number 1, and with its instantly recognizable baseline, it is regarded as one of the classic songs of the eighties.


Queen: The Show Must Go On (1991)
The final track from Queen’s second to last studio album, Brian May’s tribute to his ailing mate was released before Mercury’s failing health was public knowledge. His deterioration meant that the accompanying video was a montage of earlier clips. Issued initially as a single six weeks before Mercury’s died in November 1991, it re-entered the UK charts in early 1992.

These videos have reminded me what an amazing singer and front man Freddie Mercury was – I may have to expand my Q section.

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Westwards to Wales: January 1990

Despite the lack of bluebirds, as first impressions go, seeing the white cliffs of Dover appearing out of the mist isn’t a bad introduction. In my childhood I was in no position to escape my Mum’s musical taste, so I’m very familiar with the Vera Lynn songbook. As the Channel Ferry from Calais gets closer and the cliffs become more defined, it’s impossible to get this song out of my head. The green and pleasant land stopped being home about 15o years ago, but most branches of my family tree lead to England for at least seven centuries. I’m only 21, but this arrival seems to have been a long time coming.

Calais Dover Boarding Pass 1990

Calais Dover Boarding Pass 1990

Britrail Pass 1990

Britrail Pass 1990

The formalities of entry and the first use of my Brit Rail pass have gone smoothly, and the train is now pulling into London Victoria station. It’s January 12, 1990 and I’m about to set foot in London. It’s all getting quite exciting – but there’s a problem. I can’t get out of the carriage. I’m reminded of my first solo train trip in France, arriving in Nice, and realising I don’t know how to open the door. A typically stunning French woman audibly sighs at my ineptitude, and has to open it for me. Smooth, Mo. I now have the skills to open doors of french trains with complete nonchalance, surely impressing locals and novice backpackers, but this is a completely different setup. This time a suited gent smiles, and shows me the trick. He slides down the glass, and reaches through the window to open the door from the outside. My gratitude exceeds my temptation to explain the benefit of handles on the inside of carriages, so I return his smile and tumble out under the force of my backpack.

Mind the gap!

I’m hoping that this is not a typical day in London Victoria. Firemen are everywhere, barricades are up, and people are being evacuated. I hear that there has been a bombscare, and I quickly join the line of people heading out to the street. It’s raining, and my first act is to buy a cheap umbrella. About twenty minutes later it’s blown inside-out and the spokes snap. My second act is to buy another umbrella, hopefully one that will survive the day.

The life of a London umbrella

The life of a London umbrella

I’m due in Cardiff this afternoon, which requires navigation to Paddington for a 3pm train. It’s always satisfying when names familiar from childhood books and posters on walls finally become real locations. I have no idea why but I had a map of London on my wall before I even started school. The only thing I recognised were the characters around the edges (Dick Whittington etc) , so it took me years to realise that this city with the river running through it was a real place.

On the underground trip to Paddington, I hear a sound that is strangely familiar, but that I haven’t heard for a while. I suddenly realise what it is – those are New Zealand accents! Nooooo! I didn’t fly around the world to hear that. In France I loved hearing foreign words and exotic accents – and I was a bit of a novelty. Over here I’m just the latest kiwi who will get drunk with other kiwis, sing “Bliss” by Th’ Dudes repeatedly, and do bad hakas. Time to head to Wales I think.

Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle

Top of my list for Wales had been Caerphilly Castle, and that’s my first trip out of Cardiff. This is more like it – wandering around a castle on a crisp but beautiful day. Over the next week I have a great time in and around Cardiff, seeing the major sites of the city. Highlights have been walking on the turf of Cardiff Arms Park, a visit to Cardiff Castle and then Cardiff Museum. I also stumble across St David’s Hall and a huge record fair. This time I take the risk and buy some vinyl – a bootleg of a live Pixies gig. And fortunately it does survive the many legs back to New Zealand.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

I also manage excursions within Wales to Chepstow, Tintern Abbey and Monmouth, and back into England to Stonehenge, Salisbury, Bath and Oxford. Tintern Abbey in particular is a spectacular sight. I can never visit enough castles or other historic spots, so I’m more than happy getting up and going to different locations every day. Stonehenge lives up to expectations, and it seems very British taking a red double-decker bus for the visit. Sadly I don’t have my camera ready when a tank drives past the ancient stones, and disappears around the corner with a massive L plate on the rear.

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle

I’m still a bit jinxed by the trains though. My time in Salisbury was cut short by a train that was late leaving Cardiff. I thought I’d miss my connection in Reading for my day in Oxford, when that train was late leaving Cardiff too. It arrived in Reading at exactly the scheduled time for the Oxford train to leave. My only hope was that the onwards train to Oxford too would be delayed, and it was.

While in Wales, I’m staying in Cadoxton, and every day I take a local light rail train to Cardiff Central. On my day to Chepstow and Monmouth, my first train to Cardiff is scheduled to leave at 8.23. That never arrives and no explanation is given. My day-trips generally coincide with rush hour, and no-one here seems to be surprised when trains don’t appear, or bothered that they’ll be late for work. The next train is scheduled for 8.33. An announcement is made that this one won’t be stopping because of faulty doors. The next train is scheduled for 8.52. That one is absolutely packed, and no-one is getting on that. I miss my first planned train from Cardiff to Chepstow that day, but I now know not to rely on one train. In France you can set your watches by trains. Here, you should bring provisions to last a few hours because you could be in for a long wait.

But to be fair, I can’t blame anyone but myself for falling asleep on the local line out of Cardiff, snoozing through my stop, and waking up in a empty train at the end of the line in Penarth.

Where?

Where am I now?

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Musical Micropause: P

P

Grant-Lee Phillips: Mona Lisa (2004)
I first came across Grant-Lee Phillips when he was the front man and songwriter for Grant Lee Buffalo, and began another campaign to convince friends that GLB were the next big thing. Everything was on track when they outplayed both REM and Crowded House at the Auckland show of their 1995 world tour. Sadly GLB didn’t last, but Phillips has now released seven CDs in his own name, and gives occasional hope of a return down under. Mona Lisa is from his third solo release, Virginia Creeper.

 

Martin Phillipps and the Chills: As Far as I Can See (2006)
The eternally misspelled Phillipps has been head-Chill since he formed the band in 1980. He briefly changed the moniker to Martin Phillipps and the Chills for his 1996 release, “Sunburnt”. Line-up changes, health problems and isolation from bigger markets haven’t helped his chances of wider recognition, but with the appearance of a new single and live album in 2013, hopefully Phillipps will soon be getting the success he deserves. One question: Martin, why wasn’t this song a single?

 

Pixies: I’ve Been Tired (1987)
I think Pixies is the only band that I can remember where I was when I first heard them. The song was “Here Comes Your Man” and it’s impact was immediate. Another campaign to indoctrinate my friends soon began, and once more (I am also responsible for the demise of Luna, Sugar and Grant Lee Buffalo) the band broke up after only two more releases. “I’ve Been Tired” was a regular singalong towards the end late nights in Auckland back in the day, and with its nod to Lou Reed, it seems an appropriate choice.


Pink Floyd: Bike (1967)
Years before Pink Floyd became the stadium filling corporate giant, Syd Barrett was writing quirky tales of a night-time thief of womens’ clothing called Arnold, a girl called Emily, games involving eiderdowns, and my personal favourite – Bike.  I had always hoped that one day I’d have a son who would like this song; I’m lucky enough to have two and it seems to be a favourite. They’re still young, but musically I think they’re on the right track!

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Musical Micropause: O

O

Okkervil River: Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe (2007)

Another band that I’ve discovered through the pages of Word and Uncut, Okkervil River are sometimes labelled indie-folk, sometimes Americana. Being named after a short story by a Russian author hints at their liking for the lyrical side, which can make their songs hard to sing along with, but fun to unravel. Great performers too.

 

Os Mutantes: A Minha Menina (1968)
Formed in 1966 in São Paulo, Os Mutantes managed to thrive despite the threats of Brazil’s military government. Their first albums were in the progressive Tropicália style, but also had influences from folk – including a cover of Françoise Hardy’s “Le premier bonheur du jour”.  “A Minha Menina” is their signature, and is a good example of how their debut album made #12 on Mojo magazine’s list of “50 Most Out-There Albums of All Time”

 

Oasis: The Masterplan – live (1995)
So was relegating a tune that Noel Gallagher now describes as “one of the best songs I’ve ever written” to being a b-side of the Wonderwall single all part of Noel’s masterplan? I suspect not. But with Oasis having sold 70 million records, the plan hasn’t gone too badly.


Beth Orton: Feel To Believe (1999)
I first came across Beth’s music in 1998 during my year in Dublin, and I thought I’d be seeing her support David Gray in 2003. When the curtain came up, it was Beth Hart instead. Guess those listening skills still aren’t what they could be. I finally saw her play earlier this year in a solo show in Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral. Solo gigs seem hard work, but Beth managed it. She signed everything I could find to throw at her afterwards, and she was even quite chatty. Beth’s music covers everything from folk to electronica, often on the same CD. Feel To Believe is acoustic Beth, from the fantastic CD Central Reservation.


clang….name dropping alert.  And its a baggy shirt, honest.

Briefly meeting Beth - 18 May 2013

Briefly meeting Beth – 18 May 2013

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To Brittany and beyond: January 1990

baaa!

or…Baaaaaa means Non!

Maybe it’s the sheep jokes, but for some reason I feel a certain affinity with Brittany. I wasn’t aware that Brittany enjoys a similarly unfounded reputation for their hospitality to sheep as my homeland. The younger crowd in Bordeaux do seem to have a superiority complex towards their cousins to the North – possibly the same feelings that Parisians have towards Bordeaux. There’s always someone on the receiving end.

Cave cellars of Chateau Villemaurine on a quiet night

Cave cellars of Château Villemaurine on a quiet night

I’ve had three days to recover from a memorable New Years Eve spent in the underground limestone cave cellars of Château Villemaurine, St Emilion. In a disgraceful display of behaviour, a few of us decided to liberate beer to the car throughout the night to be enjoyed at a later date. The father of my host family is a Doctor, and is called to an emergency the following morning. Half-way to his destination, he notices a back-seat lined with about 30 unopened beer cans. He’s very appreciative upon his return, and with every retelling of the story, the number of cans increases.

There seem to be so many impressive locations in Brittany that are beyond the range of my rail ticket. It would be easier to be here with a car, but that will have to wait for a future trip. My train pulls out of Bordeaux just after midnight on 4 January. Fortunately I’m now used to the noise of overnight trains and I sleep well. My first stop is Lorient where I join locals for a pre-dawn breakfast, before heading to Rennes to find accommodation for the next three nights. I quickly find a budget hotel near the station and start my exploration with a day in St-Malo.

St Malo in summer

St Malo in summer

St Servan not in Summer

Tour Solidor at St Servan, not in summer

I do have slightly more daylight now, but only enough to assume that the sun has come up. St-Malo is built on a granite promontory in the English Channel, and a thick mist hovers over the water and the causeway to the mainland. It’s also a bit chilly, and most people have found somewhere warmer to spend their day. I’m quite happy not having to share the old town. Some of the ramparts date from the Middle Ages, and as I do my tour, I pass only occasional shadowy figures. The town feels deserted – which seems far more atmospheric than a beautiful day with busloads of tourists.  The views are fantastic, both of the granite houses within the walls, and of the increasingly wild sea. After more exploration of the old town and the Chateau, I wander around the bay to St-Servan, home to the Tour Solidor, built in 1382.  The mist is thicker now, and the view has almost completely disappeared. Slightly at odds with the surroundings, I find a great record shop on my way back to the station, but decide the chances of vinyl surviving the return trip back to New Zealand are a bit slim.

May Cause Headaches

May Cause Headaches

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on french trains, and have found a need to read something other than travel guides. I’ve found a few english language books in the house in Bordeaux and I’ve borrowed “The Catcher in the Rye” for this trip.  As I make my way back to my base in Rennes, there are three french schoolgirls sitting across the aisle from me. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that the middle girl seems to be hiding her face. While pretending to be looking out the window, I can see that she is trying to see what I am reading, probably noticing that the title is in English. This continues for quite a while. I could just tell her what it is, but a nasty streak gets the better of me. I suddenly turn to face her side of the train, and she immediately whips her head back, smacking it against the metal of the wall of the carriage. It wouldn’t have hurt at all, but it causes a huge noise, making both her friends jump out of their seat. They soon laugh at what has happened, and when they laugh I get a friendly “Bonsoir”.

The plan for 5 January is a quick departure from France to the island of Jersey, in the Channel Islands. The islands are a British Crown Dependency, so not part of Great Britain, and not part of the United Kingdom. I need to get an early start to catch the hydrofoil so I plan to catch the 6.30 train. Those plans come to an abrupt halt when I find myself locked in the Hotel. About an hour later I get an apology from the owner that they hadn’t told me about the after hours exit. Option B is quickly chosen, and I’m headed for the neighbouring region of Normandy. Mont St-Michel is one of the most recognisable attractions in Europe, visited by more than 3 million people each year.  The train stops at Pontorson and I share a taxi to Mont St Michel with three Americans whom I’ve met on the train – Tom and Lisa from Maine, and Patty from New York.

Mont St Michel

Mont St Michel

The tide is out, so Tom and I take the chance for a lap outside the walls of the island. The tide is said to return with the speed of a galloping horse, so we keep an eye out for that. Slightly muddier, we’re soon back on dry land and start the climb. An oratory had been established on the island in 708, and the 13th century abbey that was eventually constructed on this 80m rock has at one time been used as a monastery, a fortress and a prison. After the Abbey, other attractions are the 13th century refectory and cloister, the two great Gothic Halls. The island seems full of winding paths and blind corners, and with few other tourists around, it often feels like we have the place to ourselves. 

Grand Rue

For lunch, we make our way back down the Grand Rue, lined with 15th and 16th century houses. It’s another cool day, and a hot lunch in a cafe on the main street goes down very nicely. While mid-mouthful, I notice a  mustachioed face peering at me through the front window. It’s my English teacher from two years earlier in New Zealand. It’s great to see him, but it feels odd to be talking in these surroundings. It also does nothing to discourage the impression that all New Zealanders know each other, but to be fair, we probably don’t need six degrees of separation. This isn’t the first or last time I run into familiar faces on my travels. In less than a week on a train between Narbonne and Avignon I’ll end up in the same carriage as one of the Americans whom I’ve met today.

For my latest trick...no wallet!

For my latest trick…no wallet!

January 6 starts with a feeling of déjà-vu as I catch the 6.30 train to St Malo after another early start. But the plan starts to unravel when I’m asked for my ticket, and I realise I’ve lost my wallet. I hope that I’ve left it in the Hotel in Rennes, but I have no option other than to pay the fine for not having a ticket (254 francs, but that was cancelled after a subsequent apologetic visit to SNCF in Bordeaux), use my pre-paid ticket to Jersey, and face a long and hungry day. I board the Condor, the hydrofoil bound for St Helier, Jersey, finish the Catcher in the Rye, and fall asleep. The next thing I know, I’m one of the few left on the boat, and we’re in St Helier harbour.

Condor from St Malo

While in the customs queue, I share my stupidity with a girl who has a New Zealand flag on her backpack. Penny, also from Auckland in NZ, is working on the island, and offers to drive me around the island in her boss’s car. The hospitality continues as I meet her boss Ian, and he lets me call my Hotel to check for the wallet. That seems to take an eternity, as the old lady has to make the climb to my room and back, but the wallet is located. I’m then fed, and the circuit of the island begins.

Mont Orgueil, Jersey

Mont Orgueil, Jersey

We head clockwise out of St Helier, through Le Portelet with a stop at St Brelade’s Bay. I enjoy a pie and pint at La Marquanderie Inn, before we head north along the exposed west coat of the island.  We drive back through the middle of the island, through St Helier again, to the east coast, visiting Mont Orgueil Castle, St Catherines and Trinity in the north. We could possibly cut the arrival time back at the Condor a bit fine, but at least I had made the most of my time on Jersey. I feel very fortunate to have fallen in with Penny and Ian, and I hope they receive my letter from Bordeaux upon my return.

My trip back to Bordeaux on 7 January is via Angers and Nantes. The Chateau of Angers, complete with moat and 17 towers, is the highlight. Dating from the 9th century, it was used by the Germans in World War II as a munitions depot and bombed by the Allies in 1944.  It also contains the Apocalypse Tapestries, 77 huge pieces dating from 1375 that stretch for 335 feet. I’m no tapestry expert, but with images of Babylon, Satan, dragons, lions and other characters, these are impressive.

Apocalypse Tapestries, Angers

The old town of Angers is also interesting, with many beautifully restored fifteen century houses. The most memorable is the Maison d’Adam – possibly not the original Adam, but it looks old enough.

Maison d'Adam, Angers

Maison d’Adam, Angers

My four days away comes to an end with a beer watching Amadeus with my french sister. It’s been an eventful few days, and a wonderful introduction to this part of France. There’s so much more to see there, especially in the more remote towns and villages removed from from the rail network, but a start is a start.

Welcome to Brittany!

Welcome to Brittany!

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Musical Micropause: N

N

New Pornographers: Myriad Harbour (2007)
Another band that I’ve discovered through Word and Uncut magazines, the New Pornographers formed in Vancouver in 1999.  This track was one of the singles from Challengers, the CD that the were promoting when they played Auckland’s Kings Arms in October 2008. Lead Pornographer A. C. Newman not only proved himself capable of frequent comic relief after repeated gear failures, but also impressed the crowd with his affection for Chris Knox and his spontaneous register of New Zealand bands.

 

The National: Apartment Story (2007)
The National have progressed to Auckland’s largest indoor venue since their last visit here in January 2011.  It won’t be as cosy as those shows this time round, but I’m just glad they haven’t forgotten us. That happens a lot. Are there other five-piece bands around that include two sets of brothers?

 

New Order: Ceremony (1981)
One of the many bands that have passed through in the last few years that I never thought I’d see (Primal Scream, Pixies, Portishead and others not beginning with P). Their appearance has probably had more to do with ex-member Peter Hook’s threat to do solo shows playing entire New Order albums, than with the current reunion trend – so thanks Hookie. Featuring the guy who gets my vote as the world’s best drummer, Stephen Morris.

 

Willie Nelson: A Song For You – live (1974)
Last word today goes to one of the greats.  Willie Nelson has been on my “top 5 to see live” for a few decades now, but I think I may have missed my chance. This guy has written some classics, but can also make any song his own – even songs by frogs. Recorded for his 1973 album “Shotgun Willie”, but here in a show from 1974, this Leon Russell track leaves the audience entranced. 

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Last train to Lannemezan: November 1989

When three french heads simultaneously stop their conversations and look at you, you know that something is up. In fact, I’m up – up in the Pyrenees, when I should be getting closer to Bordeaux. How did that happen? And possibly more urgently, am I going to be able to get back to Bordeaux tonight?

Help!

Help!

I’m finishing up my day in the medieval Cité of Carcassonne. The city dates from Roman times and is most famous for its three kilometres of fortifications, including 52 towers. In 1659 the town lost its military significance after the Roussillon became part of France. The walls were abandoned and fell into ruin. In 1849 it was decided that the walls should be demolished completely, causing widespread protest. Restoration began in 1853, and the Cité of Carcassonne was granted World Heritage Site status in 1997. And thanks to the good people at wikipedia, here it is today…

Carcassonne! (on a good day)

Carcassonne! (on a good day)

Today is November 30, The fact that I’m here out of season, combined with some pretty average weather, means that there have been very few tourists around. It’s often felt as though I’ve had Carcassonne to myself today, which has given me a chance to experiment with the timer on my camera. Unfortunately, in this pre-digital age, it’s not until much later that I find the results have firstly captured a cloudy sky as my camera falls back, and secondly the top of my head as I overestimate my height.

After a self-narrated tour of the fortifications, I head to the Chateau Comtal where I join a small group of visitors waiting in the light rain for the Chateau to open. The guides surprise us all by walking through the group, opening the main entrance, and then locking the door behind them. As opening time comes and goes, the rain increases, and eventually we’re allowed inside. The delay is never expl