Saturday, July 22, 2017


Should cannabis be legalised? For medicinal use, or for general use? In a country with a professed target to be smoke-free by 2025, is it a good idea to be legalising a product which is mostly consumed by smoking it?

None of these questions is answered by the comedy Weed, but with cannabis back on the political agenda big-time, Circa Theatre has revived Anthony McCarten’s 1990 play.

The backdrop to the original production in 1990 was the removal of agricultural subsidies, and the need of farmers who had previously carried on with a loss-making farm to diversify into new areas to turn a profit. This has mutated into a more nuanced critique of the pitfalls of marginal hill farming in modern New Zealand.

It’s quite a long play, so with a 6:30 start we had only a short window of opportunity for some dinner. We decided to give Eva Street newcomer Shepherd a try, as it’s had some good reviews and also its pedigree, being the love child of Ti Kouka café and Golding’s Free Dive. The menu is an eclectic mix of flavours with an emphasis on Korean and Japanese fusion-type dishes. As were in a bit of a hurry we ordered a selection of dishes to share: steamed milk pikelets with mushrooms – theses turned out to be like steamed buns; confit duck porridge; cured salmon with kimchi; and fried rice with kale and kimchi. This all turned out to be very flavourful, and also plenty to eat! Unfortunately we had to rush out without a chance to try their desserts but I think we’ll be back when we have a little more time to give them another go.

I’d already picked up the tickets so after a brief pause at the bar, we took our seats. The play is a four-hander, focussing on the two main characters, the farmers Henry and Jack, looking to diversify into growing weed; Jack's nephew Hugh, who has some hands-on knowledge about the subject; and Terry, an artist who had befriended one of the farmers at a conference in Wellington – the point at which the play opens – and is totally enamoured of an idealised rural lifestyle.

The premise of the play is that the bank is about to foreclose on Henry’s loss-making hill sheep farm. With the help of his neighbour’s lawyer, he manages to get an extension of six months, and between them the two farmers devise a plan to grow cannabis to pay off the mortgage. Their initial calculations go awry as they discover the realities of the pot-growing business. Henry is increasingly taken advantage of by the manipulative Jack, and as the six month deadline approaches is desperate to wash his hands of the whole affair.

The whole thing makes for two hours of comedy, angst, and a plot twist. Great fun!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Evolving Universe

The Expressions Gallery in Upper Hutt is currently showing the Smithsonian Museum’s exhibition of The Evolving Universe. This is a series of astrophotographs, taken using a variety of wavelengths and technologies, and relate what is happening in our universe as part of the timeline of Earth. The time it takes for light to get to us from distant parts of our galaxy, the Milky Way, and galaxies further afield, are related to the Earth’s development and general information about astrophysics and telescope technology. It’s all fascinating stuff and the pictures are, of course, very high quality and detailed.

As it’s in Upper Hutt, I donned my wifebeater and mullet wig so that I’d fit in. If you don’t know about Upper Hutt, it’s the smallest of the four cities that make up the Wellington conurbation (along with Wellington, Porirua and Lower Hutt). I haven’t actually been to Upper Hutt town centre before, but I’d heard bad things about it. It’s not the most prepossessing of town centres, and has frankly earned the derision of most Wellingtonians, in much the same way as places like Croydon do in the UK.

After looking at the exhibition, we then had a look in another room, which had information about the Upper Hutt Blockhouse. This was built in 1860, at the height of the New Zealand Wars. For further information about the New Zealand Wars, see this. What was remarkable about this exhibition, however, was the text accompanying one of the photographs. It said that the blockhouse was built “after a series of squeamishnesses” – a sentence which had us confused. We eventually figured out that it was a spellcheck replacement for “skirmishes”. Really, someone should proofread these before pinning up huge boards with mistakes like this.

After a brief squeamish with the traffic, we headed back to Petone for some lunch. Our best-laid plan to dine at Bella Italia gang aglay when they told us there was a half hour wait for a table, so we ended up in café Chavi at the other end of Jackson Street.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Hurricanes vs. Lions

If you’ve been keeping up with current events, you’ll know that the British & Irish Lions rugby team are currently touring New Zealand. If you haven’t, here is the news…

They’re playing three test matches against the All Blacks, and in between they’re playing a number of other New Zealand sides. They have fixtures against the 5 New Zealand Super Rugby sides (that’s Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes, in case you don’t know) as well as the Provincial Barbarians and Māori All Blacks. Whilst they were solidly beaten by the All Blacks last weekend, their record against the provincial teams has been somewhat better. It must be noted that both sides are fielding a less-than-full-strength team for these matches, as the All Blacks who normally play for them are mostly excluded, and the Lions are giving some of their second-string players a run out (the Lions squad numbers 49 players, so they’ve plenty to spare).

This week, the party comes to Wellington, with two games: one against the Hurricanes on Tuesday, and one against the All Blacks on Saturday. We scored tickets to the Hurricanes match. After work, I headed up the road to the stadium so that we could get in early and avail ourselves of the catering at the stadium. In response to customer demand, they have now improved the options from the previous pies/burgers/fish’n’chips with Tui beer, and now have a slightly classier mezzanine bar that serves a better class of take-away food, and also some halfway decent beers on tap. Sounds good, yes? When we got there…closed for a private function. If we’d known that we’d have gone somewhere else first. Nul points, Westpac Stadium.

We feasted on fish’n’chips and burgers, washed down with Steinlager.

The expected chilliness of a clear night failed to materialise, so we weren’t too cold – didn’t need hats and gloves. We were up in the gods at the Southern end, right behind the goalposts. The stadium management had maximised their revenue by providing more seating in areas usually unoccupied – the walkways around the top of the stadium, and on the pitch itself. So a full crowd of what turned out to be 38,690 people attended. A lot of them were wearing red, and they were very vocal.

So, to the match. The Hurricanes were beaten in the first half, as the Lions took full advantage of a couple of lucky breaks and bounces, and also collected points from penalties in the way that New Zealand clubs rarely do (penalties usually being seen as opportunities to get into a try-scoring position, rather than kicking for goal). Handling errors and a couple of turnovers were the pivotal points of the first half, and the Canes failed to capitalise on their position when they were in the 22.

But it’s a game of two halves, and the Canes came out roaring with a  try in the first minute of the second half. Further tries followed and although the Lions managed another try and penalty, the second half definitely belonged to the Canes. There were two yellow-card incidents – one per team – which stretched the teams and led to most of the point-scoring opportunities. In the final few minutes they were tied at 31-31, the was clock ticking down, the Canes were in the Lions’ 22 and going forward. Jordie Barrett was waiting in the pocket for the drop-goal pass to come back…but it never did, as they were unable to get clean ball back to him. The moves eventually broke down, and play moved up to the Canes’ 22, where the Lions tried exactly the same thing. The ball came back to Halfpenny, he went for the drop-goal…and missed. The Canes tried to keep the ball alive but it went back beyond the dead-ball line. Game over. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. The match was tied – an unlikely result, but probably one that the Canes would be happy with after their first half. The moral victory also goes to the Canes as they scored 4 tries to the Lions’ 3.