Sunday, 28 April 2013

STOP BEING NICE TO ME ......

...... otherwise how can I be a curmudgeon?


I've been reading the Millennium series books again (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest) and have been enjoying them so, today, when shopping in The Warehouse (that unashamedly insidious retail chain that is tearing the guts out of the fabric of New Zealand's society - but opens to 9pm daily) after I'd dropped The Old Girl off at the bus station and I was looking for a BBQ cover (get this - they said that as it was out of season they weren't stocking any - I would have thought that if BBQs were 'out of season' then people want to cover the fucking things and put them away - sheesh), I looked in the DVD section for the films made from the books.


















We've seen them before and they are bloody good. I don't know if they have had major distribution but they deserve to have had. These films are Swedish as is appropriate for the  novels and settings (in Sweden). There was a surprisingly good USA film made of The girl with the dragon tattoo but it's unlikely that there will be follow-ups as the second and third books in the (current) trilogy are more detailed and cerebral.

Anyway, I couldn't find any of the DVDs and asked at the counter if they had them. The woman said yes but they were in the $10 specials section which turned out to be 5 or 6 tables of assorted DDDs (thousands of the buggers). These are randomly 'displayed' unalphobetically. Now normally I wouldn't bother but as the staff member had said they were there I started to look.

I rapidly flicked through, speed-reading titles in the stacks. A woman next to me said "you look like you know what you're looking for - can I help?". I told her the titles I was looking for and asked her if she was looking for anything in particular. She said she was just browsing but would let me know if she found one of the DDDs I wanted. As it turned out she enlisted the help of her daughter to search as well (the daughter wanted a DVD that wasn't on special - the mother said she could have it if she found "one of the gentleman's DVDs"). The result was that we found all three which, amongst the thousands on offer was a miracle (settle down Second, I don't think that Pope Frank will recognise me yet).

I thanked the woman and her daughter (and another guy who got roped into the search) and made my purchase.

It's amazing how helpful people can be sometimes and I've experienced several wonderful acts of kindness recently.

The trouble is: how can I be a misery-guts and complain about life when this happens.



Wednesday, 24 April 2013

I WRITE MY BEST BLOG POSTS WHEN I'M WALKING



I usually walk for about an hour but if I climb one of the 'mountains' around here it takes longer. Walking is a great chance to think and often my thoughts go to a blog post. I structure it, write it, edit it and select images - all in my head. The results are usually pretty good being well-crafted essays, often on a contemporary theme.
I don't go into long rambling philosophical wonderings about the existence of god and the mysteries of the universe. I leave that to clever people who know a lot about it - and Richard and Robert.

The only problem is that after I'm home and when I sit at the computer I've totally forgotten what I was going to post on.


ON THE ROAD AGAIN




The problem with the car is as I thought - alternator failure.
The thing had to be rebuilt with new brushes and bearings - $380 but at least it didn't have to be a new one. Every part of the Rover is expensive. Hopefully this will mean we won't be stranded again.


Tuesday, 23 April 2013

FAR AWAY

Yes, I know that that's where you should stand at a double bass concert but Richard (of RBB) is going to sing, not play at his next performance.
This song would be good for his repertoire don't you think?

FAR AWAY (This is Jinsy)

Monday, 22 April 2013

RHUME AT THE INN


Yes, I have a cold.

The Old Girl, poor thing was crook as a dog all weekend and left for the big smoke yesterday in torrential rain. I miss her but she left me a present - her cold. I think that 'cold' sounds a bit wimpy which is why men always say that they have 'flu even when it's not. 'Man Cold' used to get taken with a degree of seriousness until women rumbled it. So, I have a cold. It's coming on real heavy and I know that tomorrow and the next day my eyes will be streaming, my throat will feel like there's broken glass in it and I will be sneezing and snuffling. I'll have to ring in sick for Tuesday and Wednesday as I will be infectious and I have some meetings so it won't be fair to contaminate other people. I'll tell them that I have a 'Rhume' (French for 'Cold') it sounds more serious.

I remember one of the Pink Panther films and Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) asking for a room in his affected, nasal accent. The Swiss hotel desk clerk interpreted him asking if he had a 'rhume' to which he said no - hilarious.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

STRANDED IN PARADISE II

Last night when driving out to the bay the car had a problem. The dash lights and headlights dimmed and then went out before the engine cut out. We were on the country road and it was foggy but fortunately I was able to steer the car off the road (tricky when not being able to see) and nestled as close to a fence line as possible. It was almost pitch dark being after 8pm but fortunately there was an almost half moon that peeped out from the clouds from time to time.

I looked under the bonnet and with the help of light from the Old Girl's blackberry ascertained that there was nothing obviously disconnected. It was hard to see though (note to self: buy a torch for the car) so I had to feel around to check that things were OK. This is tricky in the dark with a hot engine.
I assumed that it was alternator or coil failure and there was nothing I could do to fix it. We were still about 5kms from home and could easily have walked it even though we had bags of groceries but I didn't fancy leaving the car overnight on the side of a country road. When we first moved up here I noticed a car broken down on the side of the road almost exactly where we were. A day later it had been trashed. See:

MEAN SPIRITED BASTARDS

The road has some patches where cellphone coverage blacks out but fortunately we were in a clear bit. Funny that as we subscribe to Vodafone (a little telecommunications joke there to lighten the situation). The Old Girl called AA and explained the problem. They said they'd send someone out but it would be about an hour as we were about a half hour out of Whangarei. As we waited a few cars passed (I put my foot on the brake lights, which fortunately still lit up, when cars approached from behind as I didn't want to be crashed into even though we were off the road). Two actually stopped to ask if we needed assistance which was pleasing. The first was a young woman with two little kids in the car. She drove her car up so that her headlights shone under the bonnet but we still couldn't identify the problem. I thanked her and said that hopefully a tow truck would be there soon. The second was a young guy and when I thanked him and told him that we would be OK soon he said 'no worries mate, I was hoping it might be a chick who needed a tyre change". It's good to see that there are still people willing to help strangers.

When the tow truck arrived it was the same guy who helped us a few weekends back when the car overheated. He and a guy from the Repco store spent ages installing a couple of new radiator hoses for us. See:

ARE YOU BEING SERVED

He winched the car up onto his truck, drove us home and then took the car back to a garage where we get the car serviced. It has a locked yard but he has the key-code so was going to put it safely there which is much better than being on the side of the road. I don't know when it can be checked and repaired as the garage is closed until Monday. The Old Girl is getting a lift with neighbours into town tomorrow evening to get the bus to Auckland and I'm booked to go back Monday afternoon. If the car's not ready then I'm stuck here. I'll have to ring work and tell them I'm staying up here until after Anzac 'weekend'.
Still, there are worse places to be stranded.



The car is a bit of a worry though. It is now 15 years old and starting to give problems. We may have to replace it or just resort to using the Peugeot only.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

FOOD FOR THOUGHT ...

.... or certainly memory.

I was a bit bored the other day (actually this is most days when I'm in Auckland) and got to thinking about the best things I've ever experienced. When it came to food I came up with:

Best pies (meat):  The tuck shop at St Patrick's college in the 1960's, no contest. These were gravy-filled with peas. They were so delicious that you had to order one in the morning well before lunch (particularly if that joker from 3G was lurking about).

Best pies (fruit):  There have been a lot and The Old Girl makes a pretty good one but I thikg the apple pastries that are on sale everywhere in France are hard to beat. Sure they vary a little bit in quality but whether you are in an airport or railway station or in a cafe/deli or 'dejeuneur bar' they are there and bloody marvellous.

Best roast dinner:  Mum's. Meat that fell off the bone. Crunchy roast potatoes that were deliciously moist in the centre and coated with meat browning. Gravy.

Chips: Golden Chips in Wellington (1970's)

Ice cream:   Difficult as I can't particularly remember as a kid except that Adams Bruce was pretty good. Today, Movenpick, Rush Munroe and Kapiti make good stuff but I rarely eat it.

Ice blocks and ice creams on a stick: Nothing comes close the the Pink Elephants in the early 1960's. There was also a delicious milky confection (not quite ice-cream) that had fudge at the top which I can't remember the name of but our corner grocer couldn't keep up with demand.

Soft drinks: Poisonous stuff that I don't go near nowadays but in the 1960's in Wellington, Orange Smash was the thing. It had bits of real orange pulp in it. Then, in about 1964 Fanta came on the scene and destroyed the market for other fruit flavoured drinks. Camroc ginger ale was the real deal as was Schweppes bitter lemon (now only available on airlines and overseas).

Sandwiches: I've got fond memories of soggy tomato sandwiches at school and Marmite and raspberry jam (combined) sandwiches but the best ever were the 'make-your-own' which sprung up in the 1980's and '90's. Unfortunately today the plethora of Vietnamese-owned bakeries and Subway franchises with those boring bread rolls and tasteless ingredients have taken over.

Bread rolls: France. Anywhere where those delicious apple pastries are sold you'll find filled baguettes (crispy outside with fluffy centre) filled with simple but elegant ingredients - cheese and ham, tomato and cheese, tuna mayonnaise and lettuce etc.

Steak: I'm not a big meat eater and never ordered steak in a restaurant until, in Anaheim which is not known for gastronomy, I was with some neanderthals fellow conference attendees who wanted steak. We went to a bar bistro and the chef, obviously a wannabe Michelin star, delicately cooked New York-cut sirloin. He prodded and massaged it while cooking to result in meat that was soft and smooth. Delicious.

Lollies and chocolate: I don't eat them but remember a toffee bar in Wellington (again in the 1960's) that had toffee or hard caramel 'knucles' covered in chocolate. It was unbranded and so hard that you could break a tooth trying to bite into it.

Milk shakes: The best ever and never to be replicated was to be found at McKenzies in Cuba Street between 1967 and 1969. After that McKenzies was taken over by Woolwaorths and went downhill. The milk shake was made in a kind of snow-freeze machine and was offered in two or three flavours only. Caramel, Chocolate and maybe banana. They were delicious (and no, those McDonald's and Burger King offerings don't even come close).

Breakfast: Italy. In a private hotel paid for by the wine company I was visiting. A private dining room just for the two of us with a table stacked with fresh breakfast goodies (enough for 20 people).

Wiener Schnitzel: I've never been to Austria but remember good schnitzel at The Matterhorn in Wellington in the'70's. The Old Girl makes a pretty good schnitzel but the consistently best is to be found at Da Sette Soldi restaurant in Auckland. I always have it when we go there.

Fish and Chips: Apart from the ones I make (freshly cut oven baked chips) the best is near home in McLeod Bay. They use fresh caught John Dory or snapper and have fantastic thick-cut chips.

Hamburger: The kiosk in Kelburn park near Victoria University (in the '70's. They used fresh salad including beetroot and hamburger patties (home-made) that shock:horror had seasonings and hence flavour - not like the pap served up nowadays.

I'm hungry now so better go and get some lunch.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

PROPERLY VETTED

I had a scare last weekend when coming up North on the bus. The cat-sitter sent a text saying that Willow hadn't been eating and she was worried about her.
All sorts of distressing thoughts went through my mind as I made my way home.
Willow, as usual, when I drove up the drive was waiting for me at the back door. She seemed OK and she did eat some of her food when I gave it to her.
I made a booking for the vet on Monday just to be sure.
At the vets she had a good check-up and I arranged for some blood tests to be done.
They shaved her just below the neck and took a lot of samples.



During the week the vet called me to say that all the indicators were good (for a 13 y.o. cat) which was quite a relief.
She's back to eating normally again so maybe it was just a tummy bug or something.


Friday, 12 April 2013

CON(E)SPIRACY THEORY

Latest news this week in Auckland is renewed discussion of Rangitoto and the likelihood of it erupting again soon.
The popular belief of the island volcano having burst up out of the sea between 600 and 800 years ago has been exploded with revelations that old 'toto has been doing this for a while (at least a couple of thousand years. Whether this is because it rises and sinks like a (imagine for yourself a disgusting simile - I'm too sensitive to mention one), or has just been there refreshing itself with new layerings of volcanic ash and burnt material.

Rangitoto - one of the world's most picturesque volcanoes generally seen as an island not a time bomb


There has been a lot of discussion on what it would be like living by an active volcano. We aren't short of actual evidence of this and only have to visit Hawaii, Iceland, Italy and Chile to see this. The slopes of Mount Vesuvius are heavily populated and recently a hospital was built there (admittedly it was a Mafia-driven rort) and Vesuvius is rumbling and blew up as recently as 1944.

Mount Vesuvius - one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes

Rangitoto has been sitting out in the Whatsthematter Harbour longer than Auckland has been invented.
It's an interesting oddity and well worth a visit and a climb (you can kayak out to it from Auckland city). Apart from the Auckland museum exhibition featuring a virtual experience of a volcanic eruption destroying Auckland and a poorly made TV film of the same theme that was screened a couple of years ago there hasn't been a lot of media interest in 'toto. Until now.

Over the last couple of weeks Bill English has been ranting on about property price increases (that have been undermining his grand plan for New Zealand's economic future) and has been particularly focusing on Auckland. This isn't surprising as the greatest real estate capital is held there and, with the pressure on housing driven by increased population in Auckland it is inevitable that property prices will increase.. His doom and gloom forecasting tends to fall on deaf ears for people who own property and want to realise it later for their retirement, property speculators, and, bizarrely, even those who want to enter the property market but can't afford to - but no-one wants to buy something that isn't going to appreciate in value.

No, not Rangitoto. This is Bill English but they both look a bit craggy.


Poor old Bill hasn't been making headway. What does he do? Suck it up and see what market forces will eventually happen? Or, as he and this government have got used to doing, sign off on some underhanded trickery (laws, bills, authorisations) - like he did with the GCSB investigations.

Maybe. Just maybe, old Bill with or without his old adversary and now boss Shonkey (who is conveniently out of the country) gave the nod and a wink to some friendly (and desperate for funding) scientists and said "hey fellas, find a way to put the wind up property investors in Auckland can you?"

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

BEGGARS INC.

It beggars belief how far scammers will go. I'm sure you've experienced bogus beggars and 'homeless' people asking for money like bass players in Cuba Mall for example.
I've seen a few in my travels:

  • the early morning assembly of beggars in Verona who were bused in by luxury coaches. They assemble at the railway station and play football and fool about for a while until the organisers hand out crutches, wheelchairs, blankets and.... believe it ... babies for them as props. They can be seen during the day hanging around tourist spots with begging bowls.
  • the young people in Chicago shopping district sitting on the footpath with cards and begging bowls or hats. Their ringing cell-phones give them away or, as we saw, the mother of one of them dropping off her kid in the morning from a luxury car saying "have a good day darling - pick you up at 3" before said kid took up a position on the footpath.
  • the 'down and outers' at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco (a tourist spot) who all have their clever and printed-too-well begging cards that have been centrally organised.
In Auckland we are starting to see the same things. K Rd and Queen Street from 7PM onwards is being populated by pretend beggars coming in from the suburbs. Most of them are young and do a couple of hours stint to collect some beer money before meeting up with friends. Some of them are real, don't get me wrong but the majority are bogus. The crappy, hand-scrawled signs are beginning to be replaced by ones that have been thought out a bit better and clearly printed out.

This got me thinking.

What the beggar business needs, as seen in overseas cities is a bit more marketing.
I'm not talking about the 'mafia-type' organisation that takes place in Italy, UK and other parts of Europe but to take the whole business more upmarket.

Instead of either crappy hand-drawn signs or 'witty' smart-arsed signs I advocate doing the full marketing and advertising collateral with pull -up banners, point-of-sale displays, hand-out brochures, business cards , PowerPoint presentations and maybe even the full audio-visual extravaganza.


The whole thing could be franchised with merchandise and maybe even brands carrying the message:


Sunday, 7 April 2013

OH, WHAT A DAY THAT WAS

A great day up here today. Sunny with cloud, no wind, no rain. Ideal conditions for a good walk which is what we did. We did the long walk around Reotahi and then up and over Mount Aubrey from South to North. This way means that at the top you are looking down on McLeod Bay, looking down on our house and the the boats in the bay. It's a great outlook.

"Down come a bolt of lightning Start an electrical storm Starts a chain reaction Go pull a fire alarm
I'm dreaming of a city It was my own invention I put the wheels in motion A time for big decisions"
- David Byrne Oh what a day that was. 

I like Talking Heads and David Byrne's music and as I was walking I had this song in my head. I have the Catherine Wheel album and have always liked this track.

We have been thinking about our future of late. The plans haven't been helped by me working part-time only and planning to jack even this job in soon. We have things we want to do (travel etc) as well as making sure that we are secure for our dotage. We have our living places (house and apartment) with a small mortgage but have no savings or other assets. The old 'own your house and have a million in the bank' as a retirement mantra makes sense but we are way short of that.

At the top of Mount Aubrey I had the thought of divesting assets. We can keep the apartment but why own a house that we basically won't need when we 'pop our clogs' We have no one to leave an inheritance to (no direct descendants and family on both sides have their own stuff). A while ago we discussed the idea of reverse mortgaging the house. The more I looked into this though I decided that it's really a scam operated by finance companies who end up with all the benefit. Bugger that. We need to control our own lives, money and assets. What I thought of was, in some time in the future - maybe five years, maybe ten - to sell the house (at a good price not being under any pressure to sell) and to bank the money. We can then rent a similar house that will give us everything we want or need at the time and the interest on the money will pay the rent. The capital, in the bank can be used to fund travel, lifestyle etc as long as we are compos mentis to enjoy it.

Things always change and maybe there are a lot of flaws in this plan but it does ease the pressure a bit and The Old Girl is in agreement so we'll quietly work on this.

Meanwhile the strenuous walk and climb did us good and we felt that we'd earned a relaxing afternoon reading books and doing crosswords - although The Old Girl worked on the computer. Hey! She has to for at least the next five years if I'm not working.




Saturday, 6 April 2013

INK SPOTS

I like the Ink Spots music. They were one of my dad's favourites along with The Mills Brothers, Dick Haymes, Ella Fitzgerald etc. Songs like If I didn't care, Whispering Grass and Java Jive take me back to my childhood.

I'm re-reading The Millennium series books at present (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels). These are intelligent, well-structured thrillers that are good reading second time round.



Today, while I was waiting at the bus stop for the Old Girl to arrive from Auckland I was looking at a young woman (18'sh) and thinking how nice she looked especially as her flawless skin was not ruined by tattoos.
Tattoos can sometimes be good if they are well thought out and professionally done but most are ugly and stupid. The ones that piss me off most are those 'cultural' ones that whitey kids get (Pacific Island and Maori arm and leg bands etc). They look out of place and are inappropriate. The next type that I find offensive are the trailer trash logos ('tramp stamps')young women get at the base of their spine. I wonder if they know the true and not very flattering significance of these?

Anyway, the young girl I was admiring turned around and on her afore-mentioned flawless skin, had a green tattoo on her right shoulderblade. It was about 10 cm long and was a map of New Zealand.
It had been professionally done and looked really good.

I didn't look at the base of her spine.

FEELING GUILTY

I hate to say this but in a way I sympathise with Robert and his hatred of retirees and beneficiaries and the handouts that they recei...