Friday, November 16, 2018

David Byrne


David Byrne, erstwhile singer and songwriter of Talking Heads, is touring the world with his new album American Utopia. Unlike some bands I could mention*, his world tour includes Australia and New Zealand. Not only that, by New Zealand he means “other cities as well as Auckland”! Yes, he’s playing Wellington. It would be churlish not to go and see him.

First up was support act, Kimbra. I’m not really aware of Kimbra other than as a name, but she is apparently quite successful, in a modern way with the young folks. She played eight songs, including some from her new album. I’m not rushing out to buy it on the strength of this performance.

Now, I know some Talking Heads songs from way back in the 80s, but since they dissolved in 1991, I haven’t really been following what David Byrne has been up to. But, as you’d expect, he’s been busy. Not just musically, but also in film, writing, collaborating (notably with Brian Eno), and musicals. American Utopia is, however, his first solo release in nigh on 14 years.

I’ve never been to a Talking Heads/David Byrne show before, so I don’t know if what he did was normal. I was expecting him to sing songs and have a band. And he did, it was just the way that he did it that was different. You see, in a “normal” gig, the members of the band play their instruments, usually tied to one spot by a guitar lead or other electrical connection – especially the drummer, who you expect to sit behind a set of drums. This was manifestly not the case here. All the musicians were mobile. There wasn’t a lead in sight, all the instruments were connected wirelessly. And they sang, and danced, whilst playing their instruments, in a highly choreographed way.



“But wait!” I hear you cry. “How did the drummer manage to dance around, with a huge drum kit?” Well, they’d come up with a solution to that. Instead of one drummer, there were five (and sometimes six – one of the band was a multi-instrumentalist), and they each had one, sometimes two, items of percussion to strike. Between them, they made up a drum kit, and were able to march and dance around to their heart’s content.


Which is what they did. As I mentioned, this was a very choreographed show, and as well as Byrne himself, there were two backing singers/dancers, a keyboard player, bass, guitar, and one general purpose musician, who swapped instruments as needed – sometimes additional guitar, sometimes additional percussion. Naturally, this set-up freed them up to do all kinds of exciting things.

Did I mention what they were wearing? They were all kitted out in matching grey suits. And all barefoot, as there was a lot of dancing to be done. The lighting, too, broke with traditional ideas of what lighting at a gig is – for the first six or so songs they played under bright white lights only, before introducing any kind of colour into the mix. The set list was a mixture of old and new – some Talking Heads in there, but not necessarily ones that I recognised, until we reached the culmination of the show, when they strung together Blind, Burning Down The House, and Road To Nowhere. A lot of the set was from the new album, which I have now ordered and am awaiting arrival.
  
So that was David Byrne. Probably the best gig I’ve been to for a number of years. It’s well worth checking out if you get the chance!


* Yes, Duran Duran, I’m talking about YOU.

Sydney


 Our first day in Sydney, and the weather forecast was for rain. Undaunted, we set out under cloudy skies, in search of breakfast…and found it fairly quickly down the road at a café on Clarence St. Duly sated, we set out to explore the indoor options for the day.

We started at the Australian National Maritime Museum, which was showing a film made by James Cameron about his voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Exploring The Deep. We had a quick mosey about the museum first as the next showing wasn’t for half an hour. After that, it started to rain, so we ran out to The Endeavour. This is a replica of the ship sailed by Captain Cook in the 18th century, built by Alan Bond. The ship regularly sails with crews who pay for the privilege. But it was in port at the moment, so we joined a guided tour of the vessel, where various guides gave us information, mostly about his Australian adventures, and also the conditions for the crew and officers on board.

Ahoy, matey!
We’d spent quite a bit of time on board, and it was still raining, so we crossed the Darling Harbour bridge to get some lunch at The Port, snaffling their lunch burger special. We then walked up the harbour to visit the Sydney Aquarium. I’ve been there before, but they’ve now opened up the penguin enclosure more so you can see them properly, taking a short boat ride to their enclosure. They also have fish, and sharks in a tank that you can walk under and through.



In the evening, we went for dinner at a Greek restaurant that we’d located nearby, Medusa. They were serving Greek food in a more modern way and setting. It was pretty good, but there was a load of it. Afterwards, feeling a bit knackered, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Maleny


We’d just about exhausted all the possibilities of Noosa. On our final day, we drove down to Maleny to go to the Botanic Gardens and Bird World. After buying tickets to the next tour in half an hour, the first order of business was to get covered in birds!

Covered in birds!
These birds are tame, and an experienced handler decorates you with them. Once on, they stay pretty much where they’re put. Many of them are recovery birds so not able to be released into the wild, or even integrated into the general population in the aviary.

Inside the aviary, our guide told us what birds he had and how to behave around them. In particular, make sure you look where you’re going so you don’t step on one on the ground! The first house contained smaller birds – finches, some varieties of pigeon, and others. The next cage was the parrots, cockatoo, macaws etc – many of whom would land on you, sometimes without warning. One of them was very interested in my backpack and travelled around with me for a while.

 

After that we wandered around the botanic gardens for a bit before spurning the rather basic offerings of the café to find something more suiting to our needs in the town of Maleny. This we found in an Italian restaurant who were able to supply us with caesar salads. We carried on down to the airport, dropped off the car and awaited our flight. We’d needed something substantial for lunch as our flight times and arrangements left us with little dining time when we arrived in Sydney. As it was, the flight was delayed a further hour, so by the time we arrived we just wanted to get to the hotel and go to bed.

Fraser Island


Fraser Island, or K’gari as it is now known, forms the northern part of the Great Sandy National Park, named with typical Aussie literalness. This stretches from Noosa to Rainbow Beach, then on to Fraser Island, which is the world’s largest sand island, and features rain forests, creeks, and freshwater lakes. Due to the nature of the sand, it retains water like a sponge, and is said to be able to survive a 20-year drought. Many of the lakes on the island are “mirror lakes” caused by the surrounding sand being below the level of the water table, so water simply seeps to the surface.

It’s a bit of a trip from Noosa, so we were picked up at the ungodly hour of 6:05, and again took a tour of the various accommodations of Noosa to collect other passengers. This took longer than usual due to detours and road closures in place for the triathlon. Nevertheless, we finally hit the road and set forth to Boreen Point again, to board a purpose-built battlewagon four-wheel drive transport. This then drove us up to a petrol station, where they let some of the air out of the tyres (all the better to drive on sand), then onto the ferry to cross over to Fraser Island.


Finally on the island, we stopped for morning tea before continuing along the beach, then into the interior. Our destination was Lake McKenzie, the largest of the freshwater lakes on the island and a popular tourist venue. It took us a couple of hours to get there, as the track was an extremely bumpy and pitted sand track, which made me feel a bit seasick at times. We were exhorted to look out for dingoes, as Fraser Island is one of the few places which still have pure-bred dingoes in Australia. We were given instructions on how to behave in the event of seeing a dingo (don’t run, don’t feed them (instant $400 fine), don’t show fear, be assertive). We didn’t see any.

On arrival at Lake McKenzie we went for a swim in the lake and photographed the picturesqueness, before having a lunch of a chicken and salad roll. Beer and soft drinks were available to buy for cash, but as we were on a completely cashless trip, these were unavailable to us. After lunch we went for a 2km walk through the rainforest where we again saw no wildlife other than a goanna.


The rest of the trip was the reverse of our journey out – bumpy ride, ferry, put air back into the tyres, drive back to Boreen Point. At Boreen Point we had a short stop – just long enough to get some pictures of the kangaroos, but not long enough to get a beer – before reboarding the bus and getting back to our hotel, this time managing to be the second-to-last drop-off.


In summary then: a 12 hour bus ride to swim in a lake, have a chicken roll, go for a walk, not see any of the famed dingoes. The rest of the time spent in a bus. Won’t be doing this trip again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hinterland


 On Saturday, Noosa was full of people involved in the triathlon and other related events, so we got the hell out of Dodge. We planned a drive into the hinterland to take us away from the crowds.

Our first stop was the town of Cooroy, home of the Noosa Botanic Gardens. We took a walk around there, on the lookout for bird life, and immediately spotted some moorhens on the lake, as well as what was once known as the purple swamp hen, which now goes by the more dignified name of Australasian swamp hen. Here in New Zealand we know it as pukeko.

Australasian swamp hen - aka pukeko
We also spotted some insect life.



And a catbird, which sounds like a cat.

Catbird
We then drove on to our second stop, Kenilworth, where we stopped for lunch at the Kenilworth Dairies. They make cheese, and offer cheese tastings to the passing punters in small cubes which you stab with a cocktail stick to taste. As I was posing for a picture of me with cheese, a kookaburra, who had clearly planned this, swooped in and nicked the cheese right off my stick in front of me! He then sat on the wall and ate it, looking smug. This is what he does every day, I guess.

We had a platter of cheeses and meats, and then decided to round it all off with freshly made gelato.

Next on the agenda was two parks with waterfalls. The first was the Mapleton Falls National Park, where we took the Wompoo walk around the forest, spotting a yellow robin along the way.


The final stop was a bit more arduous, as we went to Kondalilla National Park. This involves a long downhill to the waterfalls and waterhole – a journey which most people seemed to be making in swimming gear, we noted. We’d left ours in the car. D’oh! We got to the bottom where people were disporting themselves in the substantial waterhole at the foot of the falls.


Of course, walking downhill has a downside…you have to walk back uphill. We climbed and climbed and climbed, taking a shortcut back to the carpark so we didn’t have to walks so far. Even so, our phones (which track our daily steps) were inordinately pleased with us that day!

We drove home along the Bruce Highway, washed the dust from our feet, then made it to Maisie’s Seafood & Steakhouse for a well-deserved steak dinner.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Noosa Everglades


 What is an everglade? According to dictionary.com, it’s a tract of low, swampy land, especially in Southern Florida. Noosa Everglades claims to be “one of only two everglades systems in the world”. (Guess where the other one is!)

We’d booked a day trip to go cruising and canoeing in the Noosa Everglades. We were picked up outside our hotel at eight o’clock, and then toured the accommodations of Noosa to pick up all the other passengers, before setting off for Boreen Point on Lake Cootharaba, about 20 km north of Noosa. After stopping for a short while there, we then boarded our boat. Fortunately we were all in shorts, as the boarding process involves wading out to the boat! Even so, I had to roll mine up a bit. The water is distinctly brown, due to the tannins leached into the water from the tea tree plants which surround the lake.

We set out on the lake, passing some pelicans on the way, as our guide gave us some historical and nature notes along the way. We saw a water dragon, and a goanna when we stopped for morning tea (he hangs around the site expecting scraps – an unfortunate example of behaviour modification which is now discouraged), but not much in the way of exotic bird life.

Goanna, or lace monitor

Sleepy pelicans

Mirror lake

More mirror-y water

Water dragon

At this point, half of our party boarded canoes to paddle up the river (there’s no real current as such, so going upriver is about as energetic as going downriver), whilst we set off up river to Harry’s Hut – built by a chap called Harry, whose family had lived on the land before it was a National Park. He took the Queensland government to court when it first designated the area a park, won, and used the money from the settlement to ensure public access to the river and park remained.

The canoers eventually caught up with us, and we switched over to canoe downstream. Nicola and I hadn’t originally been put down for canoeing due to some oversight, but we wanted to go, so we were split up and put with other boats. I had the pleasure of the company of Eva and Peter from Munster in Germany, who were doing the whole Australia and New Zealand tour. We canoed very efficiently downstream, and saw two raptors flying overhead – but on the advice of our guide, hadn’t brought our cameras, as a boating accident wouldn’t do them much good.

After returning to shore, we then sailed back to Boreen Point the way we’d come, and again waded ashore. Lunch was served at the camp ground here – roast pork and veggies, an odd choice in the warm sunshine. There is a microbrewery on site, which boasts that it is the only brewery in a national park. Still, they made beer competently enough, so I had a pint to wash down my lunch with. We then had a short period to try and capture some wildlife shots around the place, where we saw more bird life than we had on the boat trip! We also looked out for kangaroos but failed to spot any – apparently we wandered off in the wrong direction.




We were delivered back to our hotel, and had a quick spa and swim to wash away the river water. In the evening we headed into Noosaville for dinner at the Boathouse on Gympie Terrace.


Noosa


We had an early morning flight to Noosa, our destination for the next seven days, so we’d booked a hotel at the airport in order to be able to make a quick start. We’d handed in the car the night before, and took the hotel shuttle to the airport, as Quest Melbourne Airport, despite its name, isn’t actually at Melbourne Airport. A short flight later we were arriving in Noosa, where I felt ridiculously overdressed in long trousers.

We first headed for our hotel, the South Pacific Resort & Spa, but it was too early to check into the room, so instead we decided to explore Noosa by means of the hotel’s shuttle bus, as we were advised by reception that parking was extremely limited due to the events taking place at the weekend. These are the Noosa Triathlon and related events. The Noosa Triathlon claims to be the biggest in the world, and a lot of the car parking had been covered in seats for spectators, changeover areas for the athletes, and the finish line. So bus it was.


The first order of business was to get an early lunch. The “breakfast” supplied by Quest was a pre-packed selection of foods which were largely unappetising, apart from the cereal, so that’s all we’d had to eat – and that at six in the morning. We’d gained an hour flying to Queensland (they don’t do summer time there) so although it was late morning to them, it was lunchtime to us. We zipped into Café 63 and got lunched; then found our way around Hastings Street, noting the location of Bistro C and booking a table there for the evening.

At 2:30 we met the shuttle bus again and went back to check in to our room. It was spacious and clean, and had a pool just outside. Not bad. After unpacking we headed round to the nearby Aldi to stock up on supplies. In retrospect this was a bad idea, as Aldi’s range of goods is eccentric, to say the least. If I’d known that Woolworths was just around the corner I’d have gone there instead, but the hotel, for some reason (money?) directs people to Aldi. Among the items they failed to supply us with was tomato juice, and coffee in reasonably-sized packets. We had to head to Woolworths anyway to find a bottle shop in the same retail park. So I’m really down on Aldi.

Nicola, meanwhile, had located leaflets by the dozen, so we happily spent some time perusing these before selecting which trips we were going on. It’s the end of the whale-watching season so the chances of seeing a humpback were diminishing by the day, and I didn’t fancy it after my last experience with whale-watching, so we booked trips to the Everglades and Fraser Island instead.

In the evening we went out to Bistro C for cocktails and dinner. On the advice of the maitre d’ when we booked, we’d reserved one serving of the daily special, and decided to fight over who would have it when we got here. When we spoke to the waiter, however, she told us it was a pretty substantial dish – whole snapper – and we could easily share it. Which we duly did. It was delicious.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Hanging Rock


It was time to leave Castlemaine. We went down to Tog’s for a last breakfast, then packed up our stuff, said our goodbyes, and hit the road. Our destination? Hanging Rock.

You’ve probably heard of Hanging Rock because of the book, and film, Picnic At Hanging Rock. It’s the story of a girl’s school expedition to Hanging Rock, with a packed lunch. Spoiler alert: some of them are never seen again.


Hanging Rock is a real place – a volcanic rock formation; the story, however, is fictional. Nevertheless, it is treated as real by many people, who resolutely refuse to believe that it’s not based in fact – a myth that the writer has done nothing to dispel. It’s a popular tourist destination, and has facilities to host music events and, yes, picnics. The main feature is the volcanic pillars formed from cooling magma, which can be ascended on foot. The whole area is a conservation area, so we looked around for signs of wildlife, and spotted several SBBs (small brown birds), as well as a more distinctive crimson rosella.

A small brown bird

Crimson rosella
We climbed to the top of the rock, passing the actual “hanging rock” itself, which is about halfway up – a rock suspended between two others. Close to the top is an inscription “T SCOTT 1866”, an early example of tagging.


By Nick carson at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

The way down was a lot quicker, and we then had a quick lunch in the café before heading in to Melbourne. We explored the National Gallery of Victoria for a bit, before heading to Gazi for a cocktail, and Tonka for dinner.





Happy Birthday


Sunday was Jason’s birthday. A few friends and family were coming round for lunch. Elissa sent us out of the kitchen so she could prepare lunch, so we went for a walk up to the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens to see what we could see.

On the pond there were ducks, and in the trees there was a kookaburra.





We also went up to Gwen’s to look at the gardens, where we saw a little blue bird on the lawn.


We’d seen these on our trip to the Pyrenees yesterday, but had been unable to capture a pic of one – they move around like nobody’s business! It’s called the Superb Fairy Wren, which just makes all the other fairy wrens feel inadequate.

On the way back we stopped in again at the Shedshaker for a cooling beer – I tried four of the ones that I hadn’t had on the previous visit, including one called Breakfast Lager, and a chocolate stout. Then we returned for lunch. Folk were arriving as we turned up, and lunch got underway.

Black Forest gateau


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pyrenees Wine


On Saturday, Elissa had a wedding to cater so was out of action all day. Jason, Nicola and I took ourselves off to the Pyrenees region to sample some wines from an area which I’ve never been to before, and Jason hasn’t seen for nigh on twenty years. It’s a bit of a drive from Castlemaine, but as most wineries don’t open up much before eleven o’clock, we were still able to have a leisurely breakfast at home before setting out just before ten.

It was a good job we did set out early, however, as we got lost on the way! Relying on satellite directions from “Satty” on the mobile phone only works as long as you have a mobile connection, and out in the wopwops of Victoria it isn’t the most reliable, once you get between towns. Fortunately we were able to correct our mistake fairly quickly, and headed up to the first winery, Redbank. There we tasted various wines, whites, reds and rosés. Unfortunately they’d chilled all their wines to within an inch of their lives, including the reds, so tasting was a trial as I tried to warm them up sufficiently in my hands and swirling the glass. I’m sure they make good wines but you’d never know from this tasting.

At the next vineyard, Dalwhinnie, we again tasted but didn’t buy as we were travelling, and we’d have to carry it around with us. Dalwhinnie have a very good reputation for their reds and Jason bought a bottle of their premium shiraz to lay away and ignore for 15 years or so.


Equus at Moonambel is a relative newcomer, opened about four years ago. You wouldn’t know it from the state of their organisation, though – you’d think they’d opened yesterday! We managed to get a tasting, and decided to buy some wine for consumption at Jason’s birthday party tomorrow. They hadn’t got around to it labelling yet, so the owner happily went and got some bottles and stuck the labels on in front of us which is frankly an unprofessional, and somewhat dubious, practice. He was selling it at $14 a bottle though.

Our final stop of the day was our lunch venue, Blue Pyrenees winery. We’d booked for one o’clock and arrived just in time, so decided to take lunch first and taste afterwards. Lunch was a platter of meats, cheeses, pickles etc, which we washed down with the local beer in a leisurely fashion.

Our tastebuds were pretty exhausted by then so we did a quick tasting and were on our way back to Castlemaine.

Castlemaine


Next time I’m not leaving my laptop behind when I go on holiday. I get so behind on my blogging!

Two weeks ago we got up at some ungodly hour (well before sparrow fart), flew out to Melbourne, picked up a car at the airport, and drove the short distance to Castlemaine, arriving in time for a second breakfast at Tog’s Café. This somewhat surprised Jason, as I’d told him we’d be arriving around lunchtime. What can I say? We made better than expected time both on the plane, car rental place, and drive.

After breakfast we dumped our stuff at Jason’s then went for a walk around Castlemaine’s wild side – Kalimna Park, to be exact – with the intention of capturing some bird life on camera. In this I was relatively successful, as we saw lorikeets, long-billed corellas, rosellas, a grey fantail and a spotted pardalote.

Rainbow lorikeet 

Long-billed corellas

Grey fantail

Spotted pardalote

We walked back via the Burke & Wills memorial and Castlemaine anticline, which appears to have grown since we last saw it; then went up to the other end of town where there is a brewery. No, not XXXX, but a proper one. It’s called Shedshaker, and after a fairly energetic day’s walking in the hot hot sun, a selection of beers in a tasting paddle was the very thing. So rested we, by the tum-tum tree.


There's much more anticline to be seen these days




Thursday, September 27, 2018

Medusa


Wednesday night rolls around again, and tonight we’re off to see something that is a bit off the beaten track. As part of WTF!, Medusa is billed as “performance art meets power pop politics”. Sounds interesting, I thought.

First up, we’re out to dinner. I managed to secure a park along Wakefield street and we went around the corner to Hot Sauce, the ground-floor dining establishment of Museum Hotel. They’ve recently had a bit of a revamp, both décor- and menu-wise, or so the maître d’ told us…didn’t look that different to me. Anyway, we ordered cocktails (wasabi bliss and 5 spice clover) before ordering a selection from their “asian-inspired” menu. The food was all tasty, although some of it was a little hard to manage with chopsticks. We manfully and womanfully persevered, though, without too much spillage or indecorum.

The dessert selection was uninspired so we headed round to Circa Theatre early, with the intention to get an ice cream from their café…an intention thwarted by their dismal lack of stock. They normally have a selection of Kapiti flavours, but all they had this time was Magnums. Get a grip, Circa!


We took our seats, the doors closed, the three performers sat on stage and…nothing happened. For about five minutes, they simply sat there in silence, with the lights up, so they could see the audience. Every time someone coughed or shifted in their seat, one of them would glance at the culprit. The lights went down, three microphones descended from the ceiling, and the next part of the performance started. This show is part performance art, and part…something else entirely. To find out more of what happens, read this review.

It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. At the end I didn’t particularly want to smash the patriarchy, or change my white-cis-male privilege, or do something intersectionally aligned. Hey ho.

We got back to the car, and it wouldn’t start. I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something. Using my white-cis-male privilege, I called the AA, who gave us an object lesson in expectation management by exceeding our expectations twice in the space of one hour. The AA man was unable to fix it on the spot though, so we arranged for it to be towed to our mechanics, and got a lift home in his truck instead.

Next week, it’s La Bohème.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Mrs Krishnan's Party


We’re not supposed to go to the theatre on Thursdays now – Thursday night is dancing night. But I’d booked Mrs. Krishnan’s Party months ago, before dancing at Two Right Feet was even a twinkle in my eye…so we had to miss dancing. Mrs. Krishnan’s Party is a sequel to Krishnan’s Dairy, which was the first production of Indian Ink 20 years ago. We’ve not seen that, but we have seen The Pickle King, another of their productions, and enjoyed it. So when another play was announced I naturally bought tickets straight away.

The show wasn’t until 8 o’clock, so, decadent sybarites that we are, we went for cocktails at CGR Merchant before dinner. Nicola had an “Isn’t She Lovely” and I had a cinnamon-infused martini, whose name escapes me. We then went for a curry at Great India, Wellington’s premier Indian restaurant, where we enjoyed the food but were disappointed by the service: when we arrived they asked us whether we needed to be out by a certain time, and we said yes, by 7:45, to catch our show. No problem, and at least three waiters confirmed this to us as they seated us, took our drinks order, and food order. Given that, as the clock ticked inexorably on to 7:35, we began to feel a bit anxious and called one of the waiters over, to find out what was happening. The food arrived seconds later, but, having gone to so much trouble, you’d think they might have informed the kitchen. Or something. Anyway, we had to rather bolt our dinner, then hurry up the road to Te Auaha, a new venue on Dixon Street that is part of Whitirea and WelTec.


As we entered the venue, we were seated by DJ Jimmy James, in full headdress and Indian party costume. We were seated in the “cheeky seats” i.e. barstools just beyond the inner circle.
  


Before the show began, James noted that, despite the advice in the email sent a few days ago to ticket-holders, very few people had come in Indian party garb. To correct this, he co-opted various members of the audience to distribute coloured scarves and garlands to everyone. Once he was satisfied with the audience, the show could start.

Onam is the Hindu harvest festival, and is full of music, dancing, food and general merrymaking. James, a student, is Mrs. Krishnan's lodger, and has decided to organise a surprise Onam party for his landlady. To this end, he has invited us to his party, and he briefs us on how he’s going to spring the surprise on Mrs. Krishnan. When he does so she is understandably shocked, horrified even, and initially tries to get rid of us. But, as James had predicted, she is eventually mollified and, as her guests, starts to cook a dhal to help us celebrate Onam. Yes, they do actually do live cookery on stage, with a little help from some audience members. This is a hands-on, audience-involvement event, and Mrs. Krishnan isn’t beyond a little sly matchmaking! As the play progresses, the history of Onam is acted out by Mrs. Krishnan, and we find out more about her history, and also that of James.

At the end of the play, the dhal is served to the audience so that they can join in the celebration. It’s all good clean fun, and you should go and see it if you get the chance!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

All Blacks vs. Springboks


The All Blacks have been going from strength to strength this year. Firstly they crushed the Wallabies in two tests to retain the Bledisloe Cup 38-13 and 40-12; then Argentina visited these shores for the first test match to be played at Trafalgar Park, Nelson, where they were beaten 46-24. Next, it was South Africa’s turn.

The Springboks test was in Wellington, and I’d booked our tickets ages ago to make sure we weren’t disappointed. The weather was looking good, so after parking in our usual secret spot we walked up to the stadium in plenty of time, to take advantage of the now somewhat improved catering available and grab a quick pre-match dinner. There were no Piri-burgers on sale this time, so we had lemon and garlic marinated chicken burgers instead. Then we took our seats, and let the action begin.

In the last few matches the ABs have been a bit slow to start – indeed, falling behind in the scoring for some time. Not this time, however, and Jordie Barrett dotted down in the first five minutes. The Boks came back with a try, and it was back and forth for a bit. But Beauden Barrett kept missing the conversions, and with the help of a penalty on half-time, the Springboks went in 24-17 ahead, although both teams had scored three tries.


In the second half, the tries came again in alternate fashion, with the Boks pulling away only to reeled in by the ABs. But they couldn’t quite draw equal, and with two further conversions going astray – Beauden hit the uprights twice – it was all coming down to the last five minutes, with the All Blacks camped out near the Springbok try line. Despite the obvious drop-goal opportunity, none was attempted, and instead a back-line move came from the ruck. With the All Blacks having a 3-on-2 overlap on the right side, Crotty…took the tackle instead of passing. The game ended with the Springboks ahead 36-34, despite having scored one fewer tries.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth, whilst predictable, was short-lived. Clearly, there are lessons to be learned here for the All Blacks. Post-match analysis showed at least three times when they had an overlap, but went to ground instead of passing the ball. Added to that, they gifted two tries to the Springboks, once with a poorly thought-out quick thrown-in, and once when they passed the ball to a man in green instead of a man in black. After dotting it down easily, he went back to thank the hapless Lienert-Brown who’d passed it to him.

According to some commentators, the championship is now “wide open”. Let’s be clear: for South Africa to win the championship (and they’re the only other team who can), the All Blacks need to not only lose their next two games, but South Africa have to win theirs AND score more bonus points than the ABs. It’s a statistical possibility, but hardly “wide open”. All that has happened is that the All Blacks have lost a match. It happens from time to time.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Modern Girls In Bed

Wednesday night is theatre night, and at the moment there is the WTF! going on in Wellington. WTF is WTF!, I hear you ask? It’s the Women’s Theatre Festival at Circa, and therefore there’s a lot of women on stage, writing, directing, and all the other things that go in in a theatre. One of the showpiece events is Modern Girls In Bed, which features a number of women. In bed. What’s not to like about that?


We went for a quick dinner at Monte Cervino beforehand. Monte Cervino has risen from the ashes that were Matterhorn, after they had to leave the building which they had occupied for some 55 years. This was because next door, a heritage building, had been damaged in the Kaikoura quake of 2016. In order to strengthen and save this, buildings on both sides needed to be vacated. Fortunately, in Wellington’s ever-changing restaurant scene, new premises were quickly found on Tory Street, and it was resurrected as Monte Cervino (which is what the folks on the Italian side of the border call the Matterhorn). We’ve been there a couple of times already, and found it a useful venue as they do the now-ubiquitous “sharing plates” with style and panache. We started with a  pizzetta, followed by raw fish, meatballs, and broccoli. We finished in plenty of time to stroll along Tory Street to get to Circa.


Modern Girls In Bed features, unsurprisingly, a bed as the centrepiece of the set. On it is 18-year-old Ally, who invites her bestie, Petra, for a “bed-in”. They’re going to bed, and not getting up for the rest of their lives. Petra is initially dubious, as she has a shift at Countdown in a few hours. As they lie in bed, a number of women appear from between the covers: first Katherine Mansfield, then Kate Sheppard, Heni Pore, Helen Hitchings, and Akenehi Hei. They discuss the idea of going to bed as a cure, and interact with each other. All being from different eras, they often have contradictory ideas of how women should behave – Sheppard is horrified by the idea of having a baby whilst being Prime Minister; and at one point Mansfield is referred to as “Katherine Mansplain”.

All very interesting and that, but it’s the second half where things start to come together. Ally and Petra are still in bed, but the other characters have morphed into their mother and aunts. Also, it becomes clear exactly why Ally has taken to bed in the first place. It’s interesting the way the characters retain elements of their previous incarnations – one aunt is a writer, expecting a summons to a symposium in Europe, whilst another (guess who?) has become a Green MP and is now in government. They all, in their various ways, rally round, cajole and berate Ally for her behaviour, whilst bitching between themselves, and getting drunk.

OK, some parts are a bit contrived, but it’s a jolly romp and even the serious parts don’t take themselves too seriously. In the end, you have to become a grown-ass woman. And wear hot pants (or trousers) in like-minded company.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Piggy McPigface


I’d finished my Saturday morning activities, and Nicola was on a whole day coaching session in Kilbirnie, so I decided to stop off in town for some lunch. I’ve been gazing longingly at Grill Meats Beer’s Piggy McPigface for some time (I’m subscribed to their page, natch, so I get all the updates).

But, wait! Isn’t Wellington On A Plate over? Why yes it is, eagle-eyed observer…but the finalists in each category (festival dish, burger, and cocktail) continue to serve their entry for the following week, pending judgement. And Piggy McPigface is one such finalist.

What’s in a Piggy McPigface? Pork, you’d think, and you’d think wrong. It’s described thus: Beef patty with Sriracha-candied bacon, bacon marmalade, bacon and pickle aioli and feta whip in a Pandoro bacon bun, with fries. Yes, it’s a beef patty, but with a lot of bacon added. It looks like this:


Biting into it, a substantial amount of marmalade and aioli squirted out of the burger and onto the board. I do wish burger makers would get the hang of this: if you add too much sauce or wet ingredient, (a) it’s wasted as it all squirts out, so you’re not doing anyone any favours, (ii) it causes instability in the burger, and (3) it’s very messy to eat the burger. Stop it! The burger just about managed integrity until the end, but it was a close-run thing. The chips were their standard chunky chip, crunchy and hot, with their own tomato ketchup. The Garage Project beer match was Fuzzbox, a cloudy pale ale, and tasty brew.

Other than that, though, this was a good burger. And so it should be, given that’s what their main stock in trade is. I cannot award it a 10 though, for the reasons above, but I’ll rate it a 9. Not that this counts for anything as voting closed last weekend. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Meet, Mix & Mingle


Wellington On A Plate draws to a close, but we have one last event – possibly the last event of the whole competition?  – to attend: Meet, Mix & Mingle at Coco at The Roxy.

For the past four years, WOAP have been running a Cocktail Wellington competition along the same lines as Burger Wellington: competitors are asked to design a new cocktail, and accompanying tapa. In the first year, this competition was won by Ray Letoa, chief mixologist and barman at Coco at The Roxy. I remember drinking this three years ago.

In 2016, the competition was won by…Ray Letoa, from Coco at The Roxy.

In 2017, it was won by…Ray Letoa, from Coco at The Roxy.

We’re still waiting for the 2018 result.

In this event, Ray took us through the three winning cocktails, with their accompanying tapas, as well as this year’s entry. He also explained his inspiration for the cocktails, how he works, took questions from the audience, asked the audience some questions of his own, and generally entertained us for two hours. With cocktails and food. What’s not to like?

First up, he introduced the Miramar fizzy pop – a combination of gin, pomegranate juice, ginger and lemongrass syrup, mango foam, dried raspberries, and dry ice. He explained the use of dry ice in cocktails and the effects he can make with them. He also explained that he has a background in chemistry at university, which helps a little. He invited us up to the stage to try making this cocktail ourselves:



Next up, the 2016 entry: a cocktail without a spirit base. In this drink Ray combines red wine with a secret mix of foraged herbs and spices, and a bitters of his own concoction. This was the Welly(on)wood. At the time it was served with a tapa of dumplings containing foraged ingredients served on Wellington driftwood, which he was unfortunately unable to reproduce for this event…so we starved for this round. Ray is not he kind of guy to foist some substitute or inauthentic ingredient on us. Meticulous is his middle name.

The 2017 entry was Sonntag’s Journey, a remake of an old-fashioned cocktail. Ray used a little-known unaged bourbon, then aged it himself using a barrel bottle. This was accompanied by pulled pork sliders with his own chilli chipotle sauce, and slaw.


The final cocktail of the evening was this year’s entry. He’s again rung the changes by collaborating with Fortune Favours brewery to create a pina colada beer, and enhancing this with rum, adding toasted coconut syrup, lime juice, and a mango-pineapple foam. Served in Vietnamese coconut shells! He explained the difficulties he’d had importing those into New Zealand, with our strict biosecurity protocols. He also explained why he was using ice (the barman’s enemy) instead of CO2 for this cocktail – as it was topped off with beer, adding CO2 would have had the whole concoction foaming all over the place. This was served with a beef rendang and pineapple slider.

At the end, he asked us which was our favourite. The majority vote was for the Miramar Fizzy Pop, so he offered us another round of these! We staggered out somewhat woozily and caught an Uber home.