Friday, June 22, 2018

Don’t Date Androids

Summer Is Coming.

On the winter solstice, longest night of the year, we headed out to The Tasting Room for some dinner. I had the rack of lamb, which was good, and Nicola had a burger. A couple of glasses of Roaring Meg and The Ned rosé helped it all go down.

What were we doing out? Well, it being a Thursday, we were out at the theatre again. Keeping with the theme of futuristic stuff, tonight’s adventure at BATS theatre was Don’t Date Androids. Oddly enough, this is not a play warning about the dangers of dating androids. Instead, it’s a courtroom drama, which give the prosecution and defence of Zach, who is accused of murdering his android girlfriend. Set in the future (duh!) where androids are a part of society, and following the Android Protection Act, this is the first case to be brought where an android is assumed to have the same rights as a human being.

The facts of the case are clear, and they are not disputed: Zach strangled Ida. But was he acting in self-defence, or was it murder? Evidence is presented by both sides, and at the end of the play, the audience joins the brotherhood of the three obols, and vote on whether they thought Zach was guilty of not guilty.

It was quite good, but once you take the “is she human?” part out of the equation, it becomes a simple court case. Apart from some anti-android sentiment expressed by some of the witnesses, there wasn’t really any discussion of whether androids should be treated as humans, or are they machines which can be switched off? That part has already been addressed by the APA. That the rules are set by humans without android input, in a similar way to such issues as women’s suffrage and slavery were decided by the people who already had the vote, or freedom, wasn’t really discussed. I think they missed a trick there with the more philosophical aspects of the case.

Monday, June 18, 2018

All Blacks vs. France

The French rugby team are in New Zealand for a series of three test matches, played at Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin. The first match last week was a resounding 52-11 victory for the All Blacks, despite not having played together as a team since last year’s Rugby Championship. Some say the match was gifted to the All Blacks by the second-half sin-binning of the French lock for a high tackle. The ABs scored two tries whilst he was in the bin, but then ran in a further five more for an eight try haul overall.  

We had tickets for the Wellington game, where France were expected to try and show up a bit more than they had in the first test. We’d planned to dine at the stadium, as they have recently sacked their old caterers, who were of the cheap pie and chips type, for something a bit more upmarket, in keeping with Wellington’s reputation as the foodie centre of New Zealand. This is a trend that is being seen in stadia around the world, with the public demanding a better quality food experience when they go to see big matches. As part of this, the Piri Burger was announced, designed by former All Black Piri Weepu – the man who almost singlehandedly won the quarter final against Argentina in the 2011 World Cup, thus setting up New Zealand’s win in that competition. As we were queuing for the burgers, a man asked if we had a voucher for a free burger, and promptly handed us one. Wait, was that…? Yes, it was! Piri was helping out at the burger stand, and posing for selfies as well. We’d already acquired one free burger voucher, so we got our burgers for free, and a picture to boot.

We took our seats up in the nosebleed section behind the posts, and settled in for an exciting encounter. As in the previous week, a slow start from the ABs resulted in France opening the scoring with a penalty. Then, disaster struck! Beauden Barrett leapt high to catch the ball, and was dangerously impeded by a French player, landed badly, and was taken off. The French player was sent off for dangerous play, so France were down to 14 men after only 11 minutes. You’d think that this would mean the ABs would romp home, but some lacklustre play, a lot of handling errors, and failure to capitalise on the reduced French team meant that at half time, whilst they were ahead 21-6, they weren’t really demonstrating the dominance that you’d expect. The French team weren’t giving up, and were turning over the ball far more frequently than they should have been allowed to. In the second half the ABs only added one more try, and missed the conversion, whilst the French, in the 81st minute, ran one in themselves, to give a final score 26-13.

The All Blacks have won the series, and recorded another win over France, but they’ll have some soul-searching to do before the final match in Dunedin. This wasn’t the thriller we’d expected from them, so I hope they’ve got their act back together by next Saturday.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Up The Hutts

Last week, a person who shall remain nameless managed to put their foot through the cello, which was on the floor in its gig bag at the time. This necessitated a call to our insurers to make a claim on the contents.

Now, I wasn’t expecting the person in the call centre to be particularly knowledgeable about musical instrument repair, but the conversation did take a slightly baffling turn when she asked what brand it was, and whether it was electric. Nevertheless, the claim was lodged, and a short while later I received a letter by email confirming my claim:

Another email and call later, and it was established that the claim was for a cello, not a chiller. The claims handler still didn’t have much of a clue though, so I gently suggested to him that maybe I’d find out what it would take to repair it; to which he readily agreed.

I put in a call to Wellington’s premier classical music shop, and spoke to the proprietor, Alistair, who put me in touch with a luthier based in Upper Hutt. I arranged to take the cello to him on Saturday.

Thus it was that we took ourselves on a trip Up The Hutts. Wellington, as you know, is made up of four conurbations: Wellington City, Porirua, Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt. The two Hutts, on the Hutt River, aren’t places we visit often – we normally hoon past them on State Highway 2 on our way to the Wairarapa and beyond. But, as we were going that way, we decided to make an adventure of it. After Nicola’s usual orchestra practice on Saturday morning, we drove up to Lower Hutt, to the Dowse Art Museum, which is currently showing an exhibition of contemporary jewellery.

Some of it is just jewellery, but a lot of it is based around what is the idea of jewellery, what it’s for, and how it can be used to challenge people’s perceptions. Art, in other words. We felt very cultured.

The Dowse museum is also home to the Bellbird Eatery, so we stopped for a lunch of Vietnamese chicken salad there, before girding our loins for the trip to Upper Hutt. In fact, the area we were going to was a residential suburb, Totara Park, where we met with the estimable Mr. Collins, and chatted to him about stringed instruments in general, and repairs in particular. He reckons it’ll take him three or four weeks before it’s ready again, and, in his words “it won’t look pretty”. So Nicola will make up some story about how she escaped from Eastern Europe using the cello as a sled, or similar.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Atom Room

We’re back in Wellington now, and well into the winter season at Circa Theatre. This week was the world premiere of The Atom Room, a new play by Philip Braithwaite. Yes, that Philip Braithwaite.

As we’d not been out for dinner for a while, we decided on Zibibbo as an appropriate venue for dinner beforehand. We selected the pre-theatre menu as there was plenty on here to please everyone. There have been some changes since we were last there – the maitre-d’ who can’t remember my name has gone, to be replaced by a Scottish woman who didn’t ask. We did have a question for her, however: as the latest Wellington On A Plate catalogue has just been published, listing all the delights available between 10th and 26th August, one establishment was conspicuous by its absence…Zibibbo! This year, they’re not doing degustation! Quelle horreur! We asked why, and apparently it’s because the owner is concentrating all his attention on his latest project, Union Square. This is handily located in the Martinborough Hotel, in Martinborough, so a bit of a long way for us to go for dinner. Looks like we’ll be skipping that one then, which is a shame, as the Zibibbo degustation had become one of the highlights of WOAP for us.

Before the show begins, there’s a virtual reality show available. You put on a headset and are guided through Wellington of the future, with the bucket fountain listing in Cuba Canal, before virtually crash-landing outside Circa Theatre (which made us a bit seasick) and walking into the virtual theatre.

So, to The Atom Room. 150 years in the future, and global warming, rising sea levels, and nuclear catastrophes have basically buggered Earth. Wellington has been doubly buggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake as well. Danny, an environmentalist, works as a civil servant trying to protect the planet with good grammar. He meets engineer Sarah, played by Circa regular Harriet Prebble. They fall in love, and after three months he takes her to a part of the country where the air is breathable without masks, points out the lovely view – both Wellington and Hutt Islands are visible – and proposes to her. This is a weirdly retro thing to do, but it’s coming back into fashion. Shortly after this, she is recruited to go and work on a new project on Mars, and that’s where the problem starts. They continue to meet in a virtual environment provided by her employers, The Atom Room – where they can see, hear, and even touch (but not smell) each other. This is where the majority of the play takes place, as Sarah’s career blossoms and she is offered an open-ended contract on Mars, whilst Danny loses his job on Earth. As you might imagine, there’s some tension, particularly as they want to have children. Complicating things further are the machinations of Sarah’s boss, Margaret.

The play basically covers the problems of long-distance relationships and distance, the ways and means of overcoming them, how to misunderstand someone, and all the usual problems. And fart jokes. There are fart jokes. Catch it if you can.

Friday, May 25, 2018

More Old Stuff

There were a couple of things that we’d missed out on, so decided to use our final day in Malta to take a shorter day trip and try to fit them in. We again stopped late to make use of the swimming pool before leaving for the Ghar Dalam Cave. This is the site of some ice age fossils of dwarf elephants and hippopotami, and other creatures, which proved that during the Ice Age there was a land bridge between Malta and Sicily, due to falling sea levels as all the water was locked up as ice. It’s a fairly small museum with a load of bones in it. We did the museum part, learning about gigantism and nanism (which is not your nan saying “I don't like that forrin muck”) before touring the cave itself. The final area of the cave is blocked off as it is one of only two habitats for a rare woodlouse, Armadillidium ghardalamensis.

We call this "the bone room"

We drove back to the picturesque village of Marsaxlokk for a spot of lunch in one of the many waterfront cafes, before heading into the Three Cities to visit the Maritime Museum at Vittoriosa. This contains many artefacts and models from the maritime history of Malta, including some very impressive sailing ship models.

A little further along the way is the Fort of St Angelo, which was also an integral part of the defences of Malta from medieval times up to the end of the 19th century. There were some films which told the story, filling in the gaps from a naval perspective for the history of the island that we’ve so far seen.

After all that, we were pretty well done. The only final objective was to fill the car with petrol to take it back full to the rental place at the airport. As we have an early start in the morning, and I’m not confident that Maltese petrol stations will be open at 5:00am. We found a petrol station, pulled up, and started filling. At this point the owner comes out and says “you know we don’t accept credit cards? Cash only!” This was a bit of a bugger, as we’d been managing down our €€€ holdings in anticipation of our departure, and didn’t have enough to fill the car…or pay what we’d pumped so far! No problem, the friendly garage assistant got in the car and directed us to the nearest ATM, where we obtained sufficient cash to fill the car, then drove back and filled up the rest of the tank, paid, and made our way back to the apartment. Phew! What a palaver.

Our final night in Gzira will be spent at the same restaurant that we went to on our first night, as we liked that one pretty much and seem to have exhausted all the other decent establishments around here.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Around The South

We drove out to find the places on the red route of the hop-on hop-off bus. First off the rank was the Tarxien temple – a Neolithic megalithic temple. We fairly whistled round this site as we were somewhat illegally parked in the coach zone, but fortunately no coaches turned up and demanded droit de seigneur with our little Peugeot, so we got off scot-free on that one.

Neolithic temple carvings. More modern liths in background.

Next stop was the picturesque fishing village of Marsaxlokk. We found a parking space pretty easily, and walked down to the tourist information office to get a map. We walked around a bit and decided it was very picturesque in one direction, but less so in the other, as there were all the signs of a large working port in that direction. Studiously keeping our backs to that side, we took lots of pictures of the picturesqueness. There was also a market, where we bought some table furnishings, and succumbed to the requirement to buy an “I’ve been to Malta” polo shirt – suckered in by the smooth-talking salesman who offered us two for 15.

Picturesque village
Some of the boats are smaller than the others
We drove up the coast road towards the windmill at Zurrieq, but failed to find it. Instead we found ourselves on a an increasingly narrow road, along which I seriously worried about our ability to get back out again, as the wing mirrors were literally millimetres from the walled sides of the road. At one point I had to get out and clear a minor rock fall from the wall so that we could pass. Thankfully we managed to get back to a “normal” road, and then back onto the more main roads.

As we drove along, there was a sign for a lookout point. We parked, and had a look around, and found the Blue Grotto. This is different to the Blue Lagoon, except in colour. We were quite high above it, but able to see tour boats going in and out. There was also a chap there hawking a falconry show (do you see what I did there? 😉), and we put on the glove and had a falcon stand on it, whilst we took pictures. A little further up the road was the turn-off to the Blue Grotto itself, so we went down there, and booked ourselves onto one of the tour boats. There was one waiting to leave, they just need another two people, so the queue meister beckoned us forward, and out to sea we went! Our captain took us around the various grottoes – others called temple, circle, and cat-trap were also included, and demonstrated the cyanobacteria which cause the blue glow. The water is very clear and despite being several metres deep, the sandy bottom is clearly visible. Groups of scuba divers were also expediting around the rocks. On the way back we were sailing into the wind so it was a little choppier, but we made it back to dry land without mishap. We debarked and walked up the hill a little way to get  pizza for lunch.

The Blue Grotto from above

Disapproving falcon disapproves of you
Do not underestimate the blueness

Our next destination was more Neolithic temples, at Hagar Qim. There is a new complex here, with a “4D” experience film, which promises 3D film and strobe lighting, water droplet effects, sight, smell and sound! I didn’t notice any smells, but the water droplets (during a huge thunderstorm) were welcome – in fact we could have used a few more of them to help us cool down! After the show, we walked around the two sites of the temples, learning about how hey were aligned to the solstices and equinoces, carvings of fat-bottomed girls, and the inevitable ritual objects.

More Neolithics
Final stop on this Cook’s Tour was the Limestone Heritage Centre. An unlikely venue, I’ll be the first to agree. It did seem to be enormously popular, however, as there was no room in the substantial carpark attached to the place. We parked along the side of the road, emulating a couple of others, and walked in through the open gateway. There didn’t seem to be any kind of ticket desk, so we wandered around and looked at the exhibits. It was only as we approached the end that we realised that in fact we’d gone in the back entrance, and that we should have walked all the way back to the front to buy a ticket! I think what had happened was they were hosting a function in the venue, as there seemed to be a lot of people crowded into what appeared to be a dining room as we entered.

Phew! That’s enough adventures for one day! We drove back to Gzira, and had an idea to check the pool. You’ll remember that the first day we did this it was overflowing with Italian adolescents so we beat a hasty retreat. On this occasion, however, there were but two German couples, so we got changed into our togs and headed back for a short swim again.

In the evening we went out along the seafront to look for another Sicilian restaurant from the panoply available to us. Unfortunately the one we decided on had no tables left outside, so we gave the Indian restaurant the pity vote. Turns out we needn’t have pitied them, as they turned away another family while we were there, “as they were fully booked”. So far as we could see we were the only people in the place. Weird.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Gozo And Comino

We booked a day tour to Gozo and Comino with Captain Morgan Tours. It was cloudy in the morning but we figured the day would improve over time. We arrived at the ship at 9:30, which turned out to be plenty of time. There was a short queue but nothing unmanageable. The crewman checked our ticket, and then strapped the correct-coloured wristbands to us so that we (and they) could make sure we were getting on and off at the right places.

We left at 10:00am and chugged out of the harbour and up the coast to our next pick-up point, Bugibba. As soon as we were under way, the bar opened, and yes, there were some folk determined to take advantage of the free beer and wine on offer straight away. At this point, however, we stuck to water. After picking up more passengers at Bugibba, the captain then informed us of the possibility of getting off at Comino and spending three hours there, with a boat tour to various sites around the island only accessible by sea, finishing up in the Blue Lagoon. We’d already booked to go to Gozo, so declined this offer.

We dropped off a number of passengers at Comino, then went on to Gozo. The captain told us what would happen when we got there: a visit to a tomato factory, followed by a church. Um. OK, we’ll go with the flow. The “tomato factory” turned out to be a Gozitan crafts outlet, where they attempted to sell us overpriced Gozitan produce, including some made from tomatoes.

As we reboarded our bus, we were treated to an impromptu piece of street theatre. It seems that one Italian couple had decided to sit in a different seat to the ones they’d arrived in, and the former occupants of said seats objected. There followed an argument which lasted about ten minutes, and involved around half the bus – i.e. all the Italian speakers, each of whom felt duty-bound to offer their opinion. Italians, eh? No wonder they lost the war (pick any war…they lost them all).

The next stop was a church at a place where god spoke to a woman, and then someone decided to build a church there because of this. This was a short stop just to take pictures, and fortunately no-one decided to change seats when we got back on the bus.

The driver then dropped us in Ir-Rabat, or Victoria as it’s known to English people, the principal town in Gozo. We managed to secure a table at a café for lunch (there were about three different tour operators all dropping people in the same area at the same time, so this was an achievement) and had a rather hurried lunch, as the Italians had cut heavily into our schedule. We practically ran up the steps to the citadella, took a few snaps, and then headed back to the pickup point in time for the bus, as there was to be no hanging around for stragglers – if you’re not on the bus, you get left behind, as the boat is on a schedule.

The boat took us back to Comino, and we had around an hour on the island to visit, and swim in, the Blue Lagoon. This is a sandy lagoon with very clear water. We did New Zealand proud by marching purposefully into the water and diving straight in, unlike some lesser nationalities who crept in, waving their arms around, and generally behaving less than heroically. We had a nice long swim, then dried off and returned to the boat. From here on in the cruise was back to the pickup points. At one point the captain alerted us to the presence of dolphins, but we didn’t see any.

 After returning to our apartment to wash the salt from our bodies, we headed out to Ali Baba, a nearby Lebanese restaurant, for some (no shit!) Lebanese food.