Monday, September 26, 2011

RWC 2011 - a candle's point of view

Getting up to flying speed now. The AB's gave the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys the required trousers down, six of the best and pleasant enough viewing it was as well. But the Frogs were pissing around, surely. This amply illustrated when damned substitution time arrived in this match. I hate tactical substitution as it ruins games. A bloke breaks his leg or one of his arms falls off, then fair enough, put a replacement on. But this tactical stuff is bollocks. You spend all week in great angst picking your best team and then after 55 minutes stuff it all up by putting on your second best scrum half and your reserve first five onto the wing. Put a second rower on the blindside flank and there you have it, a very good team transformed into a middle of the road bunch of talented individuals. Except our friends (sic) from across La Manche. When they start playing the substitution game their team gets palpably better. Only inference was that the run on XV was not the best - which was what I thought from about last Wednesday. I mean I could tackle better than that recycled scrum half who ran on wearing 10. Well, I couldn't, but you get my drift.

Argentina beat Scotland with the only try of a game described in the paper this morning as one of 'dreary attrition' and will now likely have to come to Eden Park to get a trouncing before repairing to the Duty Free at Auckland Airport. Other results? Can't really remember but the time when that is an excuse no more is not far away. I told you I would get into the swing of things once we had seen the back of Namibia, Romania and Russia. And Scotland.

Driving to the fields from Obald Acres just now with Radio Sport as entertainment as is my wont in the predawn. Amusing interview with the Mad Butcher, to be fair, but my attention was grabbed by the advert following Sir Butch. This was the second I have heard of what is obviously a series put out by the New Zealand Fire Service. It is aimed at tourists here for the fun and games and is ersatz singing of foreign national anthems. Onto the tune they have grafted the words of bloody safety messages. So we had that South African anthem (which lasts about half an hour) entreating you not to 'drink and fry'. Get it? like 'drink and drive' but different. Drawing a long bow I thought but who cares? Then this morning those who go to work clad in kevlar had a go at butchering the Welsh national anthem. The only reasonable go at this I've ever heard substitutes sardines for w(h)ales but now the firemen have another go.

This load of errant nonsense tells you not to use candles in a camper van. Eh? This is a big problem in New Zealand? So big that it requires an expensive radio advert to nip it in the bud? Mortuaries being inundated with Welshmen toasted to a crisp in the charred remains of Maui's finest? This is safety nonsense in the way that only New Zealand could manage. Or no, I'm wrong. The UK could do it much better. Now I see, the advert is being run to stop all the Taffs feeling homesick whilst they are away from the Valleys. I mean all these poor Welshmen are so impoverished that they can't afford to turn on the lights in their camper vans and they are saving a few bucks and using candles. This after they've flown half way round the world, bought multiple match tickets at $300 a pop, bought a gallon of beer a day and shelled out loadsa dosh for World Cup souvenir tatt. They spend the left over lucre on candles. I don't think so.

Next well be having Hi Viz clothing catalogues read out to the tune of Flowers of Scotland. Or perhaps not as they are going home.

Friday, September 23, 2011

RWC 2011 - a flag's point of view

I suppose we had better give some mention to this. If you live in the Land of the Long White Sporting Hype you would have to have spent the last fortnight under the Long White Rock to not have noticed that the Rugby World Cup is taking place. Big event, sure, and I am enjoying selected games on the 100" screen. I have not wasted my time with most of the games so far despite the breathless enjoinders of the spinmeisters employed by the organisers. USA vs Russia for example was billed as the 'continuation of the cold war'. In New Plymouth. Tarankai's most famous aviator, weatherman Jim Hickey, is hardly Gary Powers. All this bollocks does not disguise the fact that USA vs Russia is going to be crap rugby and so, apparently, it turned out. One of the teams won (there hasn't been a draw yet) and I neither know or care which it was. I have little enthusiasm for watching any of Romania's games and noted in passing that England looked very ordinary overcoming Georgia. Last night, not five kilometres from Obald Acres, South Africa took on Namibia. Shall I go? Tricky one but after much soul searching I decided not to bother shelling out North of $150 to see a 87-0 drubbing. But you wouldn't know that was the score before the match, you may well say. Well, yes I did. I certainly knew the 'nil' bit (it might have been three or even five - it matters not) and the larger number was going to be greater than sixty and then who cares.

Must admit I was quite tempted to get a ticket for NZ vs France at Eden Park tomorrow night but at $400 a pop it is back to the home theatre at a time when I am normally watching the Saturday evening murdering.

What is in full swing, though and what I am quite enjoying is having loads of cars running around with little flags attached to the windows. About $5 a pop apparently and some cars have multiple embellishments; two common and four not unusual. Vast majority, of course, are All Black flags and depending on where you drive in Auckland second are South Africa (on the Shore where I do most of my driving), Tonga or Samoa (South Auckland). Very few Aussie flags. Some are really inventive and have two countries up - generally the ABs and the country of the driver's origin. Lots of scope for inventiveness here. Two different flags and do you put the ABs on the driver's side or the passenger side? Four flags - two each side, different front and back or, my favourite, diagonally? Not really been tempted to go for car flags for either of the Jags but I must admit I quite like them.

But what do we have in the Herald this morning? Some sour faced Plod 'reminding' people that the flags must be securely fastened to their cars or they may face 'criminal charges'. Wowser on steroids and you can just fuck off.

No, the World Cup is going to be good when the real stuff starts in a couple of weeks. There has been one 'upset' to date which was Ireland upsetting the Wobblies. This has to be the most welcome result of the tournament so far for most Kiwis and will remain so until the ABs give France a seeing to tomorrow. It also gave rise to the best bit of public display of team support I have seen thus far. Flags - good, face painting - naff and so yesterday. But last Sunday night I met an Irishwoman who had an Irish flag in nail polish on every one of her ten digits (she might have done her toes as well but I was not forward enough to ask her to remove her boots). I thought they might have been transfers but she assured me they were all individually painted. Very nice.

I'm off to try and find a Yaapie female similarly decorated - now that would be impressive.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Dream of White Horses

It only lasted two summers, well one really, but hell, it was good. Born in Kent in 1967, flowering nicely in 1968, the glorious 1969, the fleshpots of London rearing their definitely not ugly heads in 1970 and killed on Portland Bill in June 1971. My rock climbing career was over by the time I was nineteen.

I‘m not sure if it was the 22nd Wimbledon Scout troop that gave rise to all this but I think it probably was. They took us pony trekking (as naff as it sounds), gliding (quite amusing if a little chilly in an open cockpit glider) and then rock climbing. This was it. One trip to Harrison’s Rocks at Groombridge just outside Tunbridge Wells and I was hooked. This is what I wanted to do. I left the Scouts, much to my mother’s consternation, and put my lot in with Mark Lee from school. Mark was a climber. A proper climber who, even at the age of sixteen had been to the Alps. I was never really interested in Chamonix other than gazing at black and white pictures of Joe Brown and Don Whillans smoking whilst belayed to bits of alpine rock and wishing I were just like them. But I had zero money and Chamonix might just as well have been on the moon as in France. I started bouldering (although I didn’t know that is what it was) at Harrison’s as often as I could which was most Sunday’s of the summer of ’67. Mark was older than me and had three things - a motorbike license, a scooter and a mate who also had a scooter. The mate was Richard Borysiewicz (Borrie) who was to become my climbing partner for the next couple of summers. Borrie was a mod (hence the scooter) and liked dreadful music and Ben Sherman shirts but the possession of the motorised transport far outweighed his awful musical taste.

Harrisons Rocks is a collection of sandstone outcrops no more than thirty feet high and was but an hour by multi headlamped Vespa from home. All the climbs were done using a top rope so it was as safe as houses. You walked round to the top of the climb you wanted to do, put a sling around a stout tree, attached a karabiner, threw both ends of your manky ‘Harrisons rope’ to the bottom and tackled the route of your choice in absolute safety; and with the option of a bit of ‘tight rope’ to ease you over tricky moves. The doyen of Harrisons was Trevor Panther who had written the guide and was known as ‘Tight Rope Trev’. As well as telling what was where, Trev’s guide also introduced me to the concept of grading climbs. All single pitch and so they only got a numerical grade. 1A was scaling a phone book – laid on its side. The highest grade circa 1967 was 6B which I regarded as very difficult but not impossible. A look at the internet now reveals that grading has gone up to about 17F. The first climb I ever did once the nannying of the Scouts was removed was a thing I later learnt was called Long Layback and was graded 5A. Easy peasy. Borrie and I settled into a steady diet of 5C-6A fare with a side of 6B now and then.

We’d soon done all the ‘hard’ routes at Harrison’s and most of them repeatedly. We had heard of ‘proper’ rock climbing but it was all a long way away; certainly too far for the Vespa. To us the Peak district was not really very appealing and North Wales beckoned. Not for us the old school Ogwen Valley, all tweeds hobnailed boots and climbs graded difficult - which meant they weren’t. Climbs on proper cliffs had several pitches and lost their numerical grading and now had descriptive labels ranging from moderate (a 1 in 12 on tarmac) through difficult, hard difficult, very difficult, severe, hard severe, very severe (VS), hard very severe (unsurprisingly HVS) to extreme (XS). Individual pitches weren’t numerically graded in that summer of love. It would appear they now are and XS has gained grades up to E8 or something. Back then there were standard XS, f. difficult XS and no thanks. The Ogwen Valley was all diff and hard diff and this appealed not at all. Borrie and I wanted the real deal and for that you went to the Llanberis Pass; Dinas Cromlech was where we wanted to be. But how to get there? For the rest of 1967 we were marooned in Kent.

Borrie was a couple of years older than me and had a job (apprentice toolmaker) that bought in money. He bought an ex Metropolitan Police minivan in the winter of 1968 and our anticipation of the start of the 1968 cricket season was only heightened by the purchase of climbing magazines and scraping together some proper equipment. The manky Harrisons’ rope patently would not do as the stakes were about to go up big time. Where we were going we could die if we fell off onto a bit of mum’s washing line. This was brought into sharp relief when Mark Lee returned from an early season trip to the Alps on a stretcher. Big peel somewhere high and foreign and lucky to escape with two broken legs courtesy of one of these new fangled German kernmantel ropes. I scrimped and saved every penny I could for months and took it all into the YHA shop in Sutton to emerge with 150 foot of 11mm yellow kernmantel. I remember to this day that it cost me £12 17s 6d and was my most prized possession. Ever. As we tackled more complex routes we graduated to using two 9mm ropes to cut down the friction - all very modern. All the various chocks and nuts and things we need to set protection were not a problem as Borrie made them at work. We also bought one of those little plastic covered pocket guides to crags and pored over it during the winter months. I knew what Dinas Cromlech looked like in intimate detail months before I ever saw it in the flesh.

The Llanberis Pass in 1968 was my idea of heaven. For openers the best climbing shop in Britain was in Llanberis; the one owned and run by Joe Brown. You often had a chance of actually being served by him. I would go and buy half a crown’s worth of sling just to interface with the great man. You see, Joe Brown was a climbing God. He and Don Whillans (and a few others of the Manchester based Rock and Ice Club) had turned British climbing on its head just after the War and Brown style climbing was still the thing in the mid sixties. Don Whillans appealed to me almost as much as Brown. Don was short like me and climbed in a flat hat. I obviously had to do the same and routinely left my helmet in the van and took to the rock in an ‘orrible cheese cutter from a second hand shop. At the time one of Joe Brown’s principal claims to fame was Cenotaph Corner, the iconic route on Dinas Cromlech. More of that later. Llanberis had all the ‘hard’ crags that were the domain of EB and PA rock boots (I preferred EBs) and jeans and not the hobnails and tweeds of Capel Curig and the climbing 'establishment'. Do I look like a bloke who listens to Perry Como? Llanberis had crags with great names; Craig Ddu, Clogwyn y Grochan, Carreg Wasted, Dinas Mot, Cyrn Las and Dinas Cromlech itself. The summer of ’68 was spent polishing off all the HVS and ‘easy’ XS we could find on all these crags. It seems now we drove up the A5 every weekend for months and slept in the van in the Cromlech car park but we probably only made half a dozen trips. But it was up at dawn and climb until we dropped.

Every time we were on the Cromlech we stood at the bottom of Cenotaph Corner and thought of an excuse not to have a go. 'It is going to rain'. 'Oh, look there’s already someone on it'. 'You left the third MOAC in the van'. All bollocks; we were scared of it. Its aura was such that although it is not exceedingly hard (it is certainly not easy, I can assure you) it was getting a place in our minds where it was impossible. Just standing at the bottom and looking up does not give lie to this notion. Writing this now it is sobering to note that it was first conquered sixty years ago but in the mid sixties the route was only seventeen years old – a heartbeat considering the rock had been there for millennia. Cenotaph Corner in 1968 was a real benchmark. There were those who had done it and those who hadn't and I didn't reckon I would be anything until I had done it. It seemed important, no vital to my continuing existence, then. I put a tentative hand on its first couple of moves once and was terrified only three feet off the ground.We didn’t dare have a proper go in ’68.

If it rained (and this happens a lot in Snowdonia) we would take Plod’s van down to Tremadoc. There is a cliff here that is in Snowdonia’s rain shadow and you could climb bathed in sunshine when it was pissing down in the Pass. Routes here were short (two pitches the norm) but could be quite hard and there was a good (I’m not sure I would call it that now) cafĂ© attached to the petrol station across the road. Petrol was very important to us as it was expensive, our biggest outlay and probably our biggest constraint to progress as we were seriously hard up. If we didn’t have enough money to get to North Wales we would go and climb the sea cliffs at Swanage that were only three hours drive from SW London.

Autumn ’68 arrived and A levels took the place of cliffs as winter approached; I had no interest in winter climbing anyway. 1969 was my last year in school and with exams finished in June and University not starting until October we had four months. All we needed now was some weather. I recall the summer of 1969 as being a pearler; but then aren’t all the summers of your youth blessed with endless blue skies when viewed through the retrospectoscope? By this time we knew our way around the Pass and were determined to have a good go at Cenotaph Corner. Over the winter we had also come to hear of Clogwyn d’ur Arddu – Cloggie.

This was the new Holy Grail of British rock climbing. A massive complex of cliffs near the summit of Snowdon which were protected by their remoteness from the road (as I recall it took about three hours to walk in from the top car park) and their greater than fair share of inclement weather even for Snowdonia. The reputation of the place was that all the routes were big and they were all bloody hard. Not far wrong, but to me at a bulletproof seventeen going on eighteen this was what I wanted. We went there only once but had an epic day doing Cloggy Corner and White Slab in a day. Even now I reckon that was a bloody good effort. Cloggy Corner was not my style, all grunt and jamming but White Slab was a ripper. Easily the biggest climb we had done to date and we were probably out of our depth. But, hey, we were under twenty and could do anything. I don’t really remember much of it except that you have to lasso a rock spike at some point and use a rope to get across a seemingly holdless bit. I think we lassoed the spike on the first attempt but I really can’t recall the details.

Cenotaph Corner still loomed over us and I now cannot recall the mindset that got us to the foot of it where neither of us could think of an excuse to back out. The crux is at about 25 feet and I found this very hard. Once I had done it I was absolutely certain I couldn’t reverse it even if I wanted to. No choice, carry on. The fact that the worse was behind me didn’t seem much comfort when I looked up and the top seemed miles away and its just vertical and both the left and right walls look vast and I know getting out of the little cave at the top is also hard and I’ll be knackered by the time I get there and….. Can I really remember this in all this detail over forty years later? I think I can. We knew there was already a peg in situ for aid at the top (I think there might have been a couple and I think they both looked manky) for which I was very grateful. I was crap at putting pegs in, we had a very poor selection (no money) and by the time I got to the place where it was needed I hardly had enough remaining strength to think let alone wield a peg hammer. Well we did it. Great feeling of triumph, knackered, elated (but not overly so) and I can’t remember what we thought the future might hold for us.

At this point we had done most of the stuff we wanted to do in the Pass. We weren’t interested in anything under HVS and there was, even then, a load of stuff that we knew was beyond our abilities; we were good (well above average of those climbing in the late sixties) but we weren’t that good. Using footballing parlance we were nowhere near Premier League but might have given most First Division sides a good game. If Brown and Whillans were the mega stars of the fifties, new names were the ones to watch in the late sixties. The only names I can now remember were Pete Crew and a bloke called Ed Drummond. Drummond had been climbing on sea cliffs on the North West coast of Anglesey. In particular we had heard of an ‘amazing’ route of his called Dream of White Horses. This was a sort of traverse that you had to abseil into and then the final pitch was supposed to be the most exposed thing you could imagine. And it wasn’t that hard – honest.

Back in the Minivan at the end of September 1969 to drive right to the end of the A5. You drive to the car park by, I think, North Stack and then walk over a sort of cliff top moorland bit and then you see Wen Zawn and Drummond’s creation. You have got to be joking. The moment I saw it I just knew this was all I ever wanted out of rock climbing. I was absolutely gobsmacked. The first three pitches across this vast white slab were obvious and magnificent. But the final pitch; deary me. The traverse took you to the bottom of a series of hanging buttresses that, well, just hung there. 200 feet, maybe, straight into the sea; fall off here and you would just be dangling above the puffins in the middle of nowhere with any rock tens of yards away. Totally mindboggling. How the hell Drummond ever saw a way up the seeming maze to the top was beyond me. We looked at it from the other side of the zawn and it was obvious that it had to be done. Abseiled in and then the only way out is to climb out or prussic back up your abseil rope. I insisted that I led the final pitch. If I can remember little of climbing Cenotaph Corner forty two years and a few weeks ago I can remember virtually every move of Dream of White Horses forty two years ago. It was what I went rock climbing for. It was hard but not too hard and it was exposed – shit it was exposed - and it was absolutely the best climb I had ever done by the length of the straight and then some.

And that was it. Dream was the last proper climb I did and from forty years away that is just the way it should have been. I can think of nowhere I would have wanted my climbing career to progress from there. It couldn’t have got any better and it, therefore, could only be downhill from there. And it was until I put it out of its misery, because that is what it became. I went to University a couple of weeks later and that was in the middle of London. London had no cliffs but it had members of the species who had no Y chromosome and it had beer. Neither was conducive to proper rock climbing. I joined the University Mountaineering Club (it was already going wrong; I was never a mountaineer) and doodled pictures of karabiners on the side of my biochemistry notes for a term. I fell in with a new mate in the Mountaineering Club who thought a good day on the crags was a gentle v diff in the morning and then repair to the pub for a few beers and a game of darts. I started to agree with him. The Mountaineering Club had females who wanted to walk the Pyg Track. Borrie was still setting tool heights in South London but was long gone; the bloke with whom I repeatedly trusted my life (literally) I now wouldn't recognise if I tripped over him. My climbing summer of 1970 was shameful. V diffs, beer and darts.

I started playing water polo and the Tour every year was to Dorset. You played in the evening so had the day to play the goat, eat crab sandwiches and drink beer. In June 1971 Fisty Palmer made a guest postgraduate appearance on tour. Great water polo player (played for British Universities) and sometime rock climber of the v diff variety I was now moving amongst. We set off to mess about on some inconsequential cliffs at Portland Bill to fill the day before playing Bridport in the evening. I had a filthy hangover and was sweating like a pig. Hands like dish mops. I was about twenty feet up a bit of limestone with no protection in and lunged (I shudder to think of it even now – I never lunged for anything. I was never very strong but I managed what I did by economy of movement and balance) for a sort of bosselated lump the size of a baked bean tin. It was poor technique in spades and I paid for it big time. Inevitably peeled off backwards straight onto the rocky beach. Shit it hurt. I had obviously broken something in my back and I had to be winched off the beach by helicopter. This was quite good fun as I got some morphine prior to the flight. A crush fracture of L1 and a smashed left scapula – and I was bloody lucky at that. First my Mum knew about it was when it was reported on the TV News that a 19 year old holiday maker (holiday maker – how embarrassing is that?) had been rescued by helicopter……Not amused. A week in Portland Navy Hospital with my mates visiting me daily. What decent chaps thought I until I realised that I was the only one on tour that had any money left and they just came to win it off me at three card brag at which they knew I was useless.

This episode just confirmed the bleeding obvious; give it up – you’ve done the Dream, there is nothing else you need to do. So I did. Got to be quite a good darts player and put on weight.

(Of necessity none of the pictures in this post are mine - no digital cameras in the late sixties. I think all the pictures are in the public domain; if they are not I will happily take them down. None of the people in the pictures is me or Borrie - but the places where they are pictured are where we were. To the millimetre. It was just a very long time ago)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Do as I say and not................

A chap who's opinions on all sorts of things often hit the mark with me advised a while back that doing less was a good thing when one felt a little overwhelmed. I have found this to be good advice but recently have been studiously ignoring it. Busier than a one armed paper hanger and it is mostly of my own making. There is very little that really has to be done now; like this minute, hour or even day. Getting off the train tracks as the 0814 bears down on you would qualify but most of the 'really important' stuff we surround ourselves with is no such thing and can wait. And wait with advantage as I am finding that doing things after a bit more thought generally ends up with a job done better. This doing less has to be tempered by the temptation to drift into doing absolutely nothing mode but there in lies another truth of life; balance.

Well I have been particularly remiss on this front over the last month and I will try and make September better. Going from Point A to Point B in a completely straight line is as dull as ditchwater but the amplitude of the sine wave that describes from absolutely nothing to far too much must be damped down to just enough to stay awake to pleasantly busy. Note to self.

What has been happening whilst I have been consuming myself with things that don't matter nearly as much as I can make them appear? What has been going on whilst I worry unnecessarily about things I can do nothing about?

Absolutely the last application of digits to keys concerning the blasted penguin. A pox on the bird. Now he has been at last unceremoniously biffed off the back of a ship in a suitable cold place may he be eaten by a pelagic animal forthwith. May the GPS superglued to his feathers stop bleeping within the day indicating his totally ridiculous profile has at last been snuffed out. I cannot get my head around the world wide (no less) fawning and cooing this stupid orthine animal has generated. When he eventually left the land of the Long White Saccharine it was in a specially constructed 'enclosure' (read cage) on the back of a NIWA research vessel accompanied by a farewell card signed by hundreds of people (read idiots). Did the damned bird put down his collected works of Voltaire to peruse his greetings card? Nero fiddles? Deck chairs on the Titanic?

In a few (four if the 'Countdown Clock' before the 6 o'clock News is to be believed) days a sporting tourney will kick off (literally) here in NZ. We are told that the country is in the grip of 'World Cup fever'. Really? I am looking forward to six or seven weeks of good rugby, but fever?. Well I am not looking forward to six or seven weeks of it and am not going to regard Georgia vs Russia as 'good rugby'. In truth there are going to be a handful of matches I'll watch and that will not be Scotland vs Canada. There are 48 games (as the drill sergeant on the Sky ads has been barking at us for months) and about eight of those will be worth watching. What to do with forty games of dross? The organisers have lots of cunning (sic) plans. They get small towns to 'adopt' teams of no hopers. So we will have something like Paeroa adopting the USA. No idea what this means. The good ole boys get invited around for a cup of tea and a home made slice behind the net curtains? But they have to do this or an ersatz 'World Cup' will fall flat. This is a World Cup much like the Cricket World Cup represents the world. Go look for wall to wall (or even any) TV coverage of this in the US (even thought hey are competing) or in China or India. I'll not be holding my breath as you'll be gone a long time. This is a World Cup just as much as the World Series in Baseball represents the World.

Still it is the best we can do with the resources available and despite all of the above I am looking forward to it. As a country we have prostituted ourselves to the IRB and will run this at a loss. We knew this when we signed up for it but I still don't understand how it all works. I do know that for a month the stadiums have to be 'clean'. Not litter free, you understand, but advertising free in a regard that does not offend the official sponsors. Thus the Westpac Stadium in Wellington is no such thing for a couple of months but is the Wellington Regional Stadium. Buy your hot chips there with Mastercard or cash only. No Visa, Amex or even EFTPOS cos they are not kosher brands. Even the Ambulances that transport Heineken altered punters to the cooler have had to have their ACC sponsored minute logos painted out. All this advertising cleanliness apparently has a geographical fallout zone around the stadiums as well much like that accompanying a thermonuclear device; within x metres of the stadium no Steinlager. Daft - but then I don't work for Heineken.

iPad update. This is an intrusive device and my opinion that I will still be buying a MacBook Air next year may well be revised down. The iPad is by far the best way I have come across for browsing the web. I now even prefer it to having a wander around on a 27" screen. Flipboard is the best way to base one's web wanderings and has to be the best value for money (read free) software about. I would even pay money for it. StumbleOn is not bad either but is a real time waster. I have frittered away hours (literally) reading the stories behind seventies hit singles, watching videos of 1950's Austin Healeys, trying to learn the real names of heroes of my youth (I really didn't know until yesterday that the totally gorgeous Grace Slick was born Grace Wing) and confirming that perpetual motion machines don't work (and haven't done since the thirteenth century). I Have made a presentation from the iPad both round a table to two people (good) and to a room full of people via a projector (so so). I am a convert to eBooks. Reading in seat 1C is a positive delight when one doesn't have to carry a separate book for the purpose. Kicking off with Stephen Fry's autobiography. A little surpised by this; a fairly dark read and self flagellatory almost to excess.

If the iPad is fast becoming my favourite device for getting information out of the world it falls well short on the getting information back in the other direction. Fine for a one paragraph email but I would not be writing a doctorate on it; nor for that matter composing this blog post. Proper typing (if what I do can be described as that) is impossible and I am not going to buy a keyboard with blue teeth; I already have a laptop. You can make presentation slides in Keynote in the iPad (and a fully fledged presentation program at NZ$15 is a snip) but you wouldn't want to. Make the slides on the iMac or MacBook Pro and then flick 'em over to Dropbox (or the Cloud next month) is the way to do this.

We'll make an assault on September, armed with an iPad, a healthy regard for sorting the good rugby from the crap and no bloody penguins.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We drag ourselves into the present

Away from the keyboard for almost a fortnight as events that I were not expecting washed over me. Details don't really matter but it is rather sobering to realise how important one's health is when it starts to look threatened. Just ask Steve Jobs - all the money in the world and he ain't going to see sixty.

Well I have (last Monday) and the day was the bestI've had since my elder daughter's wedding nine months ago. Surrounded by family and a good meal - all the important stuff in life. Even going to work wasn't too bad; got a jolly yummy cake and was let out early.

On top of all this I got a present. Regular readers of these ramblings will be aware that my computing and tech needs are met from Cupertino. I was lured from the dark side of Redmond years ago when I nicked a G4 iBook off number two daughter for a business trip. I sit typing this (not at work for reasons related to yesterday's momentous events) with two iMacs, a MacBook Pro and an iPhone 4 on the desk. But there is a new member of the clan that has foundhimself some real estate.

When did the iPad come out? Eighteen months ago - dunno. Never got one because I didn't need one (although if I only bought things I need I would purchase nothing). However I now have a bright shiny 64G Wifi only model (I have the phone and its personal hotspot) sitting in front of me courtesy of my generous family. And you know what, it is every bit as good as it says on the tin.

Is this thing going to change my computing life.? Well having unboxed it just last night (I told you I had been busy, that's three days after it arrived) it is certainly going to make it hard to justify buying a Mac Book Air to join the stable. I think it is absolutely brilliant on the evidence of twelve hours use. It is touted as the best way to surf the web. And I agree. There is an app ('There's an app for that') called Flipboard which is easily in the 'most useful bits of software I've come across' list. It's touted as a personal magazine and I reached for the vomit bowl. But they are right. Load up all your interests (cars, cricket, tech, fishing, news etc etc) and it runs around the web picking up news and tid bits for you. Very impressive. There is an app that just wanders aimlessly (well sort of) around the web landing on sites you might be interested in. I can see hours of potentially productive time going down the gurgler there. I now have Stephen Fry's autobigraphy for $9.99 in a format that can be employed in seat 1C next Monday. I've tried reading books on the iPhone and it is stupid and totally unworkable.

Yet to find a decent weather app but I don't expect that state of affairs will last for long. Small scale engineering sites optimized for IOS might be a little trickier to find. The mobile version of Dropbox might at last have some use apart from looking impressive in the Utilities folder on the phone.

I think I'll get a MacBook Air next year anyway, though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Same old, same old. If you want to know what is in this post, just read what was written three weeks ago. I am again in the darkened skies somewhere over the central North Island when I should be wiping the sleepy dust from my eyes in Christchurch. It is again the hexagonal crystalline form of the water molecule that has caused the problem. Very nice tickets on NZ 543 and NZ 484 generously purchased by the New Zealand Tax payer have been consigned to the bin to be substituted by a NZ 401 to Wellington which still insists on taking off at 0600.

I really have had enough of this disruption to my work. As it was three weeks ago we have the nation going gaga over Jim's polar rodent. Usual pictures of snowmen and even an idiot in Dunedin running around in the snow wearing shorts. When quizzed about this totally inappropriate dress code he said he was an impoverished apprentice and couldn't afford trousers. Plonker. And liar. This winter nonsense is worse than last months. We had a bit of snow in Auckland which apparently makes things even cuter. Wrong. Yesterday they had snow falling on The Terrace in Wellington (where I am currently heading) and this was further cause for wonderment. I'm sorry but this is all peripheral to the point that all this bad weather is a pain in the arse. I lived in Singapore for many years and not once did I lose a day's travail to snow.

To compound my grumpiness I am baled up in 1E for the next thirty five minutes with most of the vastly overweight Member of Parliament in 1D oozing into my little part of the 737-300. When I get to the 'Winter Wonderland of Wellington' (quote from no less than the Prime Minister) I have a day of putting out strategic fires stretching in front of me. Almost all of these are being started by idiots occupying positions that require levels of skill way beyond their feeble capabilities. A few of them think they are the best thing since lace up shoes and I am quite looking forward to disavowing them of this notion. Others are so far up themselves that they couldn't be found with a search party. Happy times. And there is the other thing to which I vaguely alluded a few days back. Sod it.

Cheer myself up with a flick through the Herald in there Koru Lounge prior to departure? Fat chance. Pages and pages of Winter Wonderland bollocks to be followed by a quarter page on a foot and cycle crossing for the Harbour Bridge. PIcture of the simian grin of the Auckland Mayor gleefully announcing that by a vote of seven to four council has decided to authorize someone to look into possible budget sources for further study of the stupid idea. And we waste food on these fools.

No life is not all beer and skittles at the moment and the only slight pleasure I can currently feel is that of wallowing in my own misery.

It'll pass.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Normally of a cheery disposition

I pen these wafflings for amusement. Mine.

Recent events have put a little dent in my normally cheery disposition and I am unsure this morning whether a few minutes at the keyboard is the trip to the panelbeaters that is required. Like everybody I was ten foot tall and bullet proof when I was twenty and blithely thought that status carried on forever.

Well, it doesn't and I don't like it one little bit.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Making things simple

If you are going to do anything of a complexity greater than making a cup of tea a spot of planning is in order. Depending on whether the task on hand is a plate of Marmite soldiers or a factory to produce the 200,000 DB9s Apple is going to buy with its war chest of cash will determine the complexity of the plan required but a plan is definitely required. Put the Marmite on the toast before the butter and breakfast is a disaster. I've learnt a bit about planning in the last year and there are a few rules to be followed. Structure and simplicity do it for me. In the structure department a strategy is the absolute numero uno. No idea of where you want to go and you end up somewhere else. Scrambled eggs for instance; and they are horrible. After that a little bit of organizational stuff (get Mrs O to be in charge of the Marmite as she walks past the larder) and you're onto the operational (the Vogels slides effortlessly into the Breville). That's all you need. No less and certainly no more.

Let's see what happens if it is not done properly. Auckland got rid of dozens of local councils and replaced them with the dreadfully named Supercity. The idea was to streamline all the planning and have a lean mean organisation that would get things done liskety split for very few dollars. Big problem was that a complete idiot got elected as Mayor. He couldn't organise a nun shoot in a convent and as a substitute for his genetically determined lack of decision making ability he did what his sort always do and set up committees for everything. We are worse off than when we started as we now have literally dozens of planning committees for everything you can think of and lots more for things you could never have thought of in a month of Sundays.

We have 60 high level planning mobs who are apparently required by legislation. Well there's the strategy gone; you can't have 60 high level things by definition. These include the 30-year Auckland (spatial) plan, a detailed land use regulatory plan (which if it is detailed can't be high level, fools), a 10-year activity and budget long-term plan, an annual plan, 21 local board plans and, separately, 21 local board agreements setting out what each council will actually do for the the local area for the coming year. Confused? I'm not even up to flying speed yet.

Councils (and you thought we now only had one; so did I) are also required to develop a financial strategy, a local board funding policy, a slew of assets management plans and plans related to council's statutory functions. These include a waste assessment plan and a (separate) waste management and minimization plan. After morning tea they have to write plans (plural) related to alcohol control and regulation of the adult entertainment industry.

So we've already got a nice mixture of strategy and organizational and even a bit of operational sticking its head over the Gantt chart parapet. But don't get weary because this is bureaucracy on steroids land and we've got miles to go before we've wasted enough of my money. Deep breath and we need 40 (yup forty) plans and strategies (not allowed to sleep in the same room, remember) so the council controlled organizations (COOs) don't feel left out. They include a plan each for economic development, business improvement districts, transport, sport and recreation, children and young people, housing, major events, energy and climate change (please no), urban design, infrastructure, heritage and master plans for the waterfront, city centre and the East Tamaki business precinct. Stomach for any more? How about plans and policies for parks and reserves? A policy for air land and water? How the hell can you have a policy for air? The Point Chevalier COO has decided to phase out air by the end of 2013 and needs $2.5 million to implement this much need vacuum.

It is plainly barking. With that amount of simplified (sic) bureaucracy you are never going to get any breakfast. And you will remain hungry at enormous expense. I'll tell you what Auckland will end up with. Two trams that cost $8 million.

To great fanfare in the Herald this morning two trams are announced. The last trams to ply their trade in Auckland for money were taken off the streets in 1956. Obald was just walking up the path to Bushey Primary. The South Africans were on tour in NZ, Jim Laker took 19 for 90. It was a bloody long time ago. Auckland wants to bring them back and had to get some form a Melbourne museum. I'm entirely serious. Museum sees a hoard of Auckland bureaucrats on the horizon and puts the price of a couple of time expired exhibits up to a couple of mill each. They were obviously a bit slow as they didn't sell us a couple of old bridges. Council numpties then spend $339,00 to refurbish a shed to put these white elephants in. A third of a mill on a garage that is half built before you start. These lumps of century before last technology are going to ply the streets somewhere down by the harbour. The bloke in charge says he is, and I quote, 'thrilled' at what he is getting for eight million big ones.

There is no bloody hope.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Some things I do not understand

These could be the first few of a very long list.

How does the United States owe $14 trillion?

Who do they owe it to?

Who lends anyone anything approaching that amount of money?

Where can I find him?

How do you imagine having to paying $38,000,000,000 interest a month?

What REALLY happens on Tuesday if they don't pay it back?

Is paying it back what they have to do on Tuesday - seems an awful lot to find over the weekend?

I went to this site to make it more understandable but it served only to confuse further. Good fun though.

I really never have understood money. This means I am no good at it. Mr McCawber is my style of an economist.

What haven't we heard of recently?

All sorts of things, I suppose. I haven't heard a good fondue recipe for a decade or two (thank God). Shane Warne had disappeared off the planet but recently resurfaced looking like an effeminate stick. What ever happened to the paperless office? Martin Luther hasn't had much to say for himself of late; but I suppose he has an excuse being as he's been dead for over five hundred years. Anthropogenic global warming. Where's that been hiding?

Remember AGW? It was all the go, ooh, only a couple of years ago. The weird beards of the world were telling us all that the end of the world was just around the corner and it was all due to polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. My running of several four litre cars was principally to blame. We had 'air miles' on imported fruit and veg in Europe so the socially responsible could buy carrots on the basis of how much fuel they used to get to Waitrose's shelves. There was a never ending stream of similar bollocks which the great unwashed swallowed hook line and sinker.

Al Gore touted his corpulent carcass all over the globe and told porkies to anyone who would listen. We had heads of government and captains industry prostrating themselves at the altar of the Almeister. Countries started wasting billions of hard earned cash on Emission Trading Schemes and Carbon Taxes. And so it went on. And still goes on I think. It was bollocks then and its bollocks now. Al Gore gets fatter and richer by the week and even scored himself the Nobel Peace Prize. Give me a break.

All this alarmist bullshit got the highest possible press profile. The Royal New Zealand Herald even used to run The Green Pages where breathless cub reporters would extol the virtues of tofu fuelled power stations and public transport. I say used to as they no longer run this rubbish. We no longer hear of Indian Ocean atolls disappearing beneath the waves. Where are all the stories of polar bear deaths and melting ice caps? These were once the darling stories of the popular press. They are no longer fashionable, they are no longer even heard of.

And why is that? It is because it was, and still is, all bullshit. As we shall see all this trendy ecobabble is being destroyed by some inconvenient truths which come to us as facts. Funny that. But is the realisation that the emperor has no clothes (and if that emperor is the Al Meister, what a hideous image that conjours up) getting the headlines the bullshit received? No.

The emissions trading scam. We here in the Land of the Long White Confidence Trick have bought into this. You know, buy and sell stuff that does not exist on the promise that if you make some more you've already paid for it and planted a tree so there won't efectively be more of it because you bought it off someone who had lots anyway and we save the planet. Sound like a scam? Well of course it does because it is. Carbon markets (save me) are closing down wholesale because it is reckoned that 90% of the trade is fraudulent. Got that? 90%.

The great white whale Al Gore, stood up and said in 2007, 2008 and 2009 that the entire North Polar Ice cap would be gone by the summer of 2014. Ludicrous though it sounded people believed him and stuck pins in wax models of Bugatti Veyrons. The polar ice caps are in fact expanding. Sure at this time of year they get smaller because it is Northern Hemisphere summer and we have one of those every year. Its the time when Al goes North to take pictures of polar bears clinging to melting ice floes; these photos to be released in January, of course to 'prove' his point. Sorry, but overall polar ice caps are bigger. Is Al Gore in jail? Next cell to Bernie Madoff would be good.

The underlying cause of all this predicted mayhem is the computer model predictions that all this carbon dioxide pollution will allow less heat to escape from the atmosphere. It all gets reflected back by this evil greenhouse gas. We've been through all the water vapour stuff before so I won't tire my fingers with it all again. If you don't understand, then Google is your friend. Well these computer predicitions are just that - mathematical modelling of what might happen. Right up there in the precision stakes with knitting fog. What about some boring old data, you know actually measuring stuff that really is happening.

Well NASA has done a bit of that with some of their satellites and stuff. NASA is good at satellites and stuff. And I'll tell you what, data over the last eleven years (so we are not talking an astronaut sticking his finger out of the space shuttle window here) has shown that the atmosphere is releasing far more heat than the doomsday computer projections would have had us believe. Well there's a shock (a bit of sarcasm thrown in there). The discrepancy between the predictions and the observations is most marked over the oceans. So there's more greenhouse bollocks down the pan. The central plank of the alarmist global warming theory has just been proven to be a complete and utter crock.

But what will we hear of this in the mainstream media? Nuffink. You could have Anders Breivik debating the alarmist case armed with nothing but bullshit against Pippa Middleton armed with a wheelbarrow full of data confounding his every preposterous claim and the papers would still report that Obald is wrecking the planet every time the XKR leaves the garage.

Keep going, we'll get there.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weather is bad and needs to be punished

I long ago learnt not to get upset by things over which I have, and can never have, any control. However the bloody weather is giving me a run for my money at the moment. I like to be organised and because of this my travail away from the paddocks around the house run like a Swiss watch. I have over the last year learnt that Mr Gantt had two things going for him. He had a seriously odd name and he knew what he was doing. I could never have made the progress I have over the last fifteen months without some of the rudimentary basics of project management. I run to a schedule and love it. I, for the first time in my working life, have a number of synchronized Get Things Done lists on all my various electronic aids to an existence and they all have timelines. Sounds nerdy, but it works.

Thus, months ago, it was decided that today I would work in Christchurch for the day and then catch the early evening flight to Wellington to be in time for the weekly pub quiz. That is how you do things; meticulous planning. In order to get a full day in ChCh we will arrive the night before and sod the seismic risks. Then tomorrow we have things to do in Wellington and then its back to Obald Acres. All ship shape and Bristol fashion like what it should be. When those two days work are done it ensures that next week is teed up nicely. And so on. All mapped out and charted on one of Mr Gantt's bits of paper through to mid October. Perfect.

Then it bloody snows. And snows and snows and snows.

Worst cold snap for sixteen years the media breathlessly inform us. As if this is something to be celebrated like a couple of batsmen (not batters, please) breaking New Zealand's opening stand record. A winter wonderland the 6 o'clock news gushes forth. Pictures of kids making snowmen, drunk students throwing snowballs and frost on seven wire fences. Just to pretend they realists the media show a few obligatory pics of rubbish drivers getting no traction and sliding rear door first into ditches, a farmer or two in his blue overalls and RD1 beanie dishing out hay to cows and the winter landscape is complete. We cross to some reporter at a ski field who finds someone to say their takings are up on last week when the piste was so much mud and then more pictures of kids tobogganing on tea trays in lieu of going to school. Cross to Jim Hickey who tells the terminally stupid that we have all this snow courtesy of a blast of cold air from the Antarctic running into a moist atmosphere (no shit, Sherlock). For the nth time this winter he calls this a polar rodent and entreats the denizens of Middlemarch to repair to the log box. Back to the studio to interrupt one day of winter with the news that the United States is broke and there is a nutter shooting people wholesale up where all the snow should be.

Cold snaps and snow are not cute and cuddly. They are a pain in the arse. They have disrupted my carefully organised Gantt view of the next three months. I should be in Christchurch now and I am at 30000 feet somewhere over Taranaki. The only similarity between the two is that it is as dark up here as I'm sure it is down there. And just as bloody cold. I will be in the Wellington office far too early; but at least the Coffee Nazi will be open. I am very grateful to the Air New Zealand Gold Elite hotline for getting me on this flight at fourteen hours notice after they said that even all the Gold Eliteness I could muster would not get me on a flight to Christchurch today, but flying at 0600? Please. But I've learnt something already this morning. The Auckland Domestic Terminal does not open until 0500. More bloody disruptions to my comfy routine in having to hang around the McDOnalds (hell, I hoopoe I wasn't spotted) for seven minutes waiting for security to open. I will now spend most of the rest of the morning trying to fit the work I am not doing today into next week. And that will mean that next week's stuff will have to find a new square on Mr Gantt's sheet of paper . And. Well you get the picture.

I've always hated snow. It is cold and wet and just plain horrible. I have never seen the attraction of skiing either. It is cold, wet, you have to wear expensive stupid looking clothes and you break things - like legs and arms and stuff. Today I think I hate snow more than anything I can think of. Mr Gantt doesn't like it either.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Odds and ends from around NZ this week

Saturday morning pre dawn Stygian gloom and its pissing with rain. Therefore golf is right up there with sticking pins in one's eyes, there can be no agricultural work around Obald Acres and I'm at the beck and call of the damned telephone for forty eight hours. Enforced indoorsness means one of two things; do some preparatory work for next Monday and Tuesday (has to be done and a bit dull) or repair to the barn and apply the HSS to free machining steel (infinitely preferable but should really wait). The next two days do not fill me with much enthusiasm.

Random thoughts on the week. Rotorua really is very smelly and I can't imagine why anyone would live there for that and a few other reasons. The sulphurous nature of the atmosphere has other downsides in addition to the assaults on the olfactory apparatus. I had to stay in Rydges Rotorua which is the most bizarre hotel in the southern hemisphere. The first peculiarly Rotorua affliction is that all the bright ware (taps, towel rails etc) are so tarnished by the aforementioned air that one is afraid to touch them in fear of getting contact dermatitis. The rooms are inappropriately vast with a five minute trek from wardrobe to chaise longue. The furniture looks to have come from a second hand store in Ngaruwahia and the atrium restaurant is crap. Stay there in the winter and you have to tape up the door to the spa room to stop all heat from the puny in room heater disappearing into the sulphurous outdoors and stay in the summer and you are told to tape up the windows to stop flies getting in. No, a nasty hotel in every way. Mercifully staying somewhere else in a couple of weeks which cannot be worse - I hope.

Then when the time comes to mercifully exit Rotorua you go to Rotorua International (sic) Airport. I think it gets the flash International appellation courtesy of a flight a week to Sydney. Didn't see the duty free shopping mall that International Airports pride themselves on in order to fleece the punters. In lieu of this Rotorua has joined the other nasty New Zealand Airports (I'm looking at you Hamilton and Palmerston North) in charging a development tax before you are allowed to escape over the perimeter fence. This really pisses me off as I can't see it ever being used to develop a really poor airport. The biggest downside of this transport hub though is not the airport's fault. I have a lot of time for Air New Zealand (good grief I spend enough time with them every week) but the lack of a Koru Lounge in Rotovegas is a national disgrace; get it sorted. I am back in three weeks and I expect, nay demand, Kapiti smelly cheese and Kaitaia Fire for my tomato juice to be in place by then.

Christchurch and Wellington next week. Both are prone to more seismic activity than I would like. Had a palpable tremor in Wellington a couple of weeks back but was ensconced in a suitable earthquake proofed building and all we got was a rather diverting swaying of the leaves on the office pot plants for fifteen seconds or so. As nothing compared to the ongoing disruption in Christchurch where the number of quakes since September 4th last year is now well over seven thousand. One night for me and when I requested a single storey hotel next to the airport the predictable response from my travel agent was 'That is what everyone wants'. Still, the denizens of Christchurch want in for what I am up to despite being given several opportunities to back out, so the least I can do is front up. Thoughts on the shaky city later in the week.

Back in Auckland and we find that after two days of clear skies in my absence normal service has been resumed and its raining. I know one shouldn't complain about things about which one can do nothing but it really does rain an awful lot in Auckland in the winter. I would not like to be one of my sheep having to spend the weekend in my bottom paddock where the ovine residents have just now been joined by a flock of ducks. The birds would be more at home than the woolly ones at present. My mowers (all four of them) will think I have found a new object of weekend affection and ones whole life takes on a seasonal dampness.

The enforced time indoors for the weekend means I can indulge in playing with Apple's new operating system as an ersatz excuse for not doing any real work. It was revealed this week that Apple has more cash than the GDP of 126 of the world's countries. Not really comparing like with like, I know, but it doesn't disguise the fact that they have serious amounts of dosh. A portion of this which probably equates in percentage terms to the sort of money you and I wouldn't mind losing down the back of the sofa has been spent on OS X Lion. They are getting a bit short of large feline animals for the next one. We've had, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and now Lion. What is next? Ocelot? Cheetah? - not a good commercial name, I would suggest. Cougar? - vide supra. Bornean Clouded Leopard? - that one really trips off the tongue.

I quite like Lion, but then it is only a computer operating system and not the meaning of life. For openers the price was right - free. I timed the purchase of the 27" iMac with this in mind but for $0.00 I got a new shiny operating system on all three of my Macs. The only downside was the 4Gig download throttled my broadband back to dial up speed for 24 hours as it exceeded Vodafone's 2Gig per day cap. Now what is that about? They should reward you not penalise you for big downloads as it means you are using their service more and potentially giving them more dosh. Non comprende.

This minor irritation turned into a major one, however, when I lost all phone line (hence Internet) connectivity to the rest of the planet during a storm. This occasioned a call to Vodafone's Help (sic) Line. Now these are an easy target for opprobrium but all of it is deserved. I am unsure whether the female at the other end was physically in New Zealand but she certainly was not a native of Te Kuiti. Call VF on the shoephone (obviously) and we get past the mother's maiden name stuff. 'How can I help you?'. I laudably refrain from 'I suspect not all' and tell her my land line is down. 'If the problem is inside your house it will cost you money'. 'I know, but the problem isn't inside my house as next door has no land line either' 'Are you in Auckland'. Again, supreme self restraint stopped me from asking her the same question. 'Can you disconnect your phone from the wall socket?' 'Well of course I can, it is a very easy technical manoeuvre, but why would I want to do that?' 'I need to see if the problem is in your home'. Deep breath. 'I believe I told you about next door'. 'But I need you to disconnect the handset' A bit of cruelty now - why not? 'But all my handsets are connected to the land line through a PABX'. This did not go down well. My new friend had to contact her supervisor as to the next move which I suspect was finding out what a PABX was. 'You have to get your telephone engineer (hang on, I thought that was your mob) to check your PABX before we can troubleshoot'. 'Stormy weather, next door - any pennies dropping yet?' And so it goes on for three quarters of an hour. Eventually this automaton agrees to log a fault only after I have agreed to sell my first born if the problem is not outside the confines of Obald Acres. And we pay an arm and a leg for them to do this to us. All's well that ends well as service was reconnected in about eight hours (although Miss Te Kuiti would only commit to 'between 24 and 72 hours') and the engineers sent me a couple of texts to say the deed was done. A minor irritation in an otherwise entirely agreeable rural existence.