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.


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


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.


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.


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.


Awana Bay

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.

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.

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.


20150417_123533 that says Whangapoua Beach


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.



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.


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

Jimi H

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:

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.

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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

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

Big Brother and the Holding Company

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.)

John Mayall

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


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.


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.


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.



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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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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