Sunday, June 16, 2019

Brian Cox

Brian Cox is back in town, with a different show to his last visit. He was here about 18 months ago with his Scientific Phenomena show. This time he was focussing specifically on space and the universe. We sacrificed a night at pub quiz to go and see him.

For a quick dinner beforehand, we decided on Bin 44. Mindful of our previous mishap when dining out before a show at the TSB, we booked a table and rocked up at 6:15. This caused a bit of kerfuffle as they were fully booked, and someone had walked in and just sat down at a table, without waiting to be seated, so the staff had to evict them from our table. Bin 44 is more pub grub than fine dining, so we had a burger and pizza. The pizza was enormous so Nicola could only finish half of it (the burger was pretty substantial too) so maybe we’ll just share one next time we go there.

Then it was across the road, and taking our place up on a side gallery in the TSB Arena. Brian came on to huge applause, thanked us for coming out on a cold, windy Wellington night, and said how delighted he was that on such a night 2,500 people are prepared to come out and listen to someone talk about science-y stuff. He then launched into a quick explanation of relativity, time and events, drew some charts, and explained how time can be different for different people. It was quite science-y. From this, he moved into a discussion about black holes and what they look like. To illustrate this he drew on his experience with the people who made the black hole model used in the film Interstellar, and how it was based on real, actual science, not just fancy special effects (although they used some of those as well). He then showed us the famous picture taken a couple of months ago of a black hole, and demonstrated that it looked pretty much as predicted by the model used in the film. 

Black hole from Interstellar

Black hole from reality

Not only that, but that the basis of the model was Einstein’s theory of relativity, showing how this 100-year-old theory was still the basis for astrophysics today. We had a picture of the universe from 380,000 years after the Big Bang, and why it looked like it did, all the way through the formation of planets and the conditions necessary for life to form. He went through some recent discoveries and theories about planets within our solar system that might support life, and once again mentioned the ice fountains of Enceladus.

This all sound like heavy going. How about some light relief? Of course, his old mucker and co-presenter of Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince,  was there alongside him, to provide some comedy and break up the evening a bit. Also to give Brian a rest, as he spoke non-stop for nearly an hour in the first half. Robin amused us with some talk of dressing like a scientist, and how he is mistaken for Brian’s dad (they’re the same age). He also had several requests for his cardigan supplier.

As at the previous talk we went to, he opened up the second half to questions from the audience, and also digressed into philosophy. Once again an enjoyable evening.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

West Side Story

West Side Story is playing in Wellington for a limited season. We’d be fools not to go.

This outing was organised by Nicola’s chorus, the current world champions Wellington City Chorus. We met up with a few of them beforehand in one of Wellington’s ever-increasing number of brew bars, Whistling Sisters. We’ve been there before and found it to produce good food, which I washed down with one of their brews. Nicola had wine (which they didn’t make). We both had scotch eggs for dinner, accompanied by salad and chips.

We walked up to the Opera House and found our way to the gallery, where we are seated. The gallery hasn’t usually been open for other shows we’ve seen at the Opera House – it’s certainly the first time we’ve had seats up there in the nosebleed section.

The show got under way, with an elaborate set representing the back streets of New Yoik – all railings and drop-down fire escape ladders. It switched in and out to allow street scenes, and also the interior of the dress shop where Maria works. With all this design in the set, it was remarkably underused, I thought, with nearly all the action taking place between the two swingout sections. All the singing and dancing is done very competently, and the story progresses with gusto.

They did seem to leave the break between acts very late, but this seems to be in accordance with the original production. Uncomfortable Opera House seats can leave you a bit saddlesore after an hour and a half, so it was a relief when the interval came. The second act, in which the consequences of all the violence at the end of Act One have to be faced, is mercifully shorter. The ending is sudden, and given its emotional impact, there’s no grand finale song’n’dance number, nor an encore. The cast came out and took their curtain calls, then that was it, show’s over.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Night Tour

The observant among you may have noticed that I’ve been spending quite a lot of time at Zealandia over the last few months. In fact, since doing a number of training sessions in August and September last year, I have been a volunteer guide at the sanctuary, working at weekends. This involves helping people out around the sanctuary, pointing out the wildlife (which some people walk right past without noticing), feeding some of the birds, and also giving short talks on various subjects around the valley. 

As summer moves into autumn, one of the events at Zealandia is an Open Weekend. This allows Wellingtonians to visit the sanctuary for a measly $2 per person instead of the usual cost of a 2-day pass, $19.50. Which is still a bargain, by the way. But Wellingtonians love a freebie, and there is a positive stampede on this weekend. Naturally, they need as much help as possible, and so all volunteers and other staff are roped in to help. As a reward for this, they offer a free night tour to volunteers.

On a windy Wednesday evening, therefore, Nicola and I arrived at the Visitor Centre at the allotted time of 4:45pm. They actually start the tour in the dusky twilight as there are some crepuscular creatures to be seen. At the beginning there is a health-and-safety briefing, then we’re kitted out with earpieces and red-light torches (which don’t disturb night-time animals). Before we set out we’re subjected to the Zealandia film, which is basically a guilt-trip about all the damage done by humans to New Zealand since arrival, but culminates on an upbeat note with the building of Zealandia and the release of native species within.

There are six of us on the tour – one couple from Auckland, one visiting from the USA, and us. The tour is led by Katie, who does all the talking, and assisted by Julie, who scouts out ahead, looking for kiwi. Kiwi are the main attraction and objective of the night tour; they are nocturnal so, despite being in the valley in reasonable numbers (130 is the current estimate), they’re not seen by the public on a general admittance ticket. Indeed, I’m often asked where they are when I’m working during the day, and explain that you’ll need to come on a night tour to see them. Some species of kiwi are still found in the wild in remote areas of New Zealand, but the species we have at Zealandia, little spotted kiwi, are only found in reserves and on predator-free islands. They owe their existence to a far-sighted conservationist, who transferred five birds to Kapiti Island in 1912. The species was already extinct on the mainland, and shortly afterwards became extinct on all other islands. Since the 1980s populations have been established on other offshore islands, and in Zealandia.

Kiwi are supposed to be nocturnal. This one didn't get the memo.
Katie led us on the usual tour along the Lake Road, down to see the takahe, and through the jungly Te Mahanga track, where we saw cave weta, glow worms, and heard the night-time activities of kaka. But no kiwi. We could hear them calling in the distance, but couldn’t see any. At this point, Julie left our group to go and scout for kiwi in likely locations. And it was as we walked back along the Lake Road, with Katie giving us some further information on something or other, that she was interrupted by a call on the radio. Kiwi ahead! We strode purposefully forward as quickly as possible without making a noise, and sure enough, foraging on the cliff by the side of the road, was a little spotted kiwi! Despite being highlighted by Julie’s red light, it seems unconcerned by our presence, and continued snuffling through the leaf litter and undergrowth, in search of worms, beetles and other inveterate invertebrates, for around five minutes.

So we saw a kiwi in the wild! Mission accomplished, we headed back to the Visitor Centre for a cup of kawakawa tea, returned our equipment, and headed back home.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Comedy Festival

New Zealand’s Comedy Festival took place between 2nd and 26th May. We took a look through the programme and made a selection of five shows – all people we’d not seen before:

The Fan Brigade

A Friday night gig at the San Fran – usually a music venue, but set up this time for comedy. They have some strange narrow tables there which you sit at perpendicular to the stage. They’re wide enough for drinks, but not for eating. Fortunately, we’d booked ourselves into Heaven afterwards, so weren’t tempted by the food options, which aren’t great. The beer is good, though. The Fan Brigade are two Kiwi women who sing songs about life, particularly New Zealand life, and their take on it. They are frequently rude; in their songs, to each other, and to the audience. And very, very funny. Here’s a taster: 

Afterwards we went to Heaven for pizza.

The following week, we took in two shows in one night. With only half an hour between shows, we decided to have an early dinner at Capitol, it being near to our first venue, BATS Theatre.

Kura Forrester

Kura Forrester is perhaps better known as an actress, from What We Do In The Shadows, The Breaker Upperers, and various New Zealand TV series. Her show, Kura Woulda Shoulda, draws on her family life, and introduces various characters as aunts and uncles, all of whom we have to keep up with. She also gives a lot of detail about her sex life, and in particular, finishes with a story about then-unknown, now rugby multi-code megastar, Sonny Bill Williams. This show eventually won the Billy T award this year.

David Correos

A short walk up the road took us to the Fringe Bar, one of the full-time comedy and cabaret clubs in Wellington. This looked like another sell-out night (we went on Cheap Wednesday), and we were near the front. Not too near, as we have had instances where, upon seeing an act that we were unfamiliar with, we were invited to become part of the show. David Correos is a Filipino comedian, and specialises a lot in gross-out comedy. Fortunately for us, most of his show was merely describing his previous comedic shows and experiences. These sounded bad enough being related to us, so what they were like when he actually performed them beggars belief. He finished on a high with a tale about boats with no toilet facilities, relieving oneself whilst swimming in the sea – I mean, hey, who’s going to notice? – and the effects of currents in water. Oh, did he mention his parents were on board? His parents were on board.

Alice Snedden

The following week, on cheap Wednesday, we headed back to the Fringe Bar to see Alice Snedden. Alice has been writing, and appearing on, New Zealand TV shows for the last couple of years, with such shows as Jono And Ben and Funny Girls, and now has a show called Absolute Monster. She is, I think, a standard comedian. Yes, she has funny stories and tells them well, but she doesn’t seem to have a hook on which to hang it, anything unique. Still, an enjoyable night.  Afterwards we crossed the road to Fratelli, an Italian which we have so far managed to avoid in all our trips out. They do standard Italian grub, pretty well but nothing unusual. So it complemented the comedy quite well.

So You think You Khandallah?

The next night out was our final pick for this year’s festival. So You Think You Khandallah? Is an ensemble piece by Kickin’ Rad, performed at BATS Theatre. It’s set in the Khandallah Academy of Performing Arts in the Eighties, and comes with a warning: may contain legwarmers.

So what’s the title all about? Khandallah, for my international readers, is a suburb of Wellington. Previous years’ productions have included Mirror Miramar and Deep Space Naenae. The premise is an improvised soap opera, set in an acting and dancing school. It is played over five nights, and I’m sure there are some aficionados who go every night to find out how it works out. We weren’t that committed, and only went for one night. There is a sort of compère who announces the plot changes, scenes, and generally moves the action on. One of the actors decided to play the entire evening as a horse, which led to some interesting situations (lots of “what’s that, Skippy? Timmy’s fallen down a well?” – type dialogue needed to convey her thoughts). It was all very silly and enjoyable, but we had no real need to go and find out how it all ended.

Afterwards we went for dinner at a new(-ish) place that’s opened up around the corner, Brown Brothers. This is an Indian fusion restaurant featuring a chef who worked under Chetan Pangam of 180°Restaurant. It wasn’t bad, but I felt that they could have been bolder with the spices.

So that’s our comedy festival adventure for this year.

Waiting For Godot

Well blimey! I’ve fallen way behind on this blog…here’s an update. Last month, we went to see Waiting for Godot, at Circa Theatre. This was their headline production for May, and we went along to a matinee performance on a Sunday afternoon, so no dining experience beforehand or afterhand.

Waiting For Godot, as you may be aware, is a play in which very little happens. Not only that, the second act is very similar to the first act so, in the words of Vivian Mercier, it is “…a play in which nothing happens, twice.” Further, the stage directions were provided by Becket so there isn’t a lot of room for improvisation. I’ve not seen it all the way through before – I seem to recall watching part of the Stewart/McKellern version on the tell-o-vision many years ago.

There’s not much more to say about it, really. The production was up to standard, but they didn’t do anything overtly new with the material. Pozzo was played by Hobbit actor Peter Hambleton (Gloin), and the other parts by Circa stalwarts Jeff Kingsford-Brown and Andrew Foster. We emerged, into the now dark and cold wind of a Wellington night.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Tim Minchin

Tim Minchin is Back. That’s the name of his new tour, which contains “old songs, new songs, fuck you songs” according to his publicity. He’s not toured for seven years (we last saw him in the UK) so when this was announced, I was all over it like a rash. Possibly too rash-like, it turns out, because we were allocated seats in the second row of the stalls, so we were looking up to the stage.

First, though, we have to stuff our fat faces, as is tradition. On this occasion, with an 8pm start, we could take our time over dinner, and so decided to revisit the scene of many a lunch and dinner in the past, Wellington’s finest, Logan Brown. At one time I was visiting this establishment so regularly that I started calling it the staff canteen. As it is, we’ve not actually been here for a while, so it’s always worth checking out whether it’s still Wellington’s finest. You’ll be relieved to hear that it is.

We then walked along to the Michael Fowler Centre, which we’d managed to park nearby earlier (all the better for a quick getaway), and bumped into one of Nicola’s chorus colleagues. Then we took our seats, discovering quite how close to the stage we were. There’d been a delay with opening the doors to the general public, and so the show started about ten minutes late. What was the problem? Tim explained: “Apparently, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has been in here today, rehearsing. Making me late! Fuckers!”

The stage set was quite simple, with a black backdrop and his piano in front of it. He gave us a couple of songs, Plane Goes Down and F Sharp, and told us how he loved us more than his kids. “They never cheer when I come into a room!”, gave us some interesting facts about statistics and bell curves, and was generally funny. A few songs in and he’s doing Rock & Roll Nerd, a song about wanting to be in a rock band, and failing, when the backdrop falls down, there’s banging of drums and the squeal of guitars, and behind the backdrop there’s…a rock band! Wow! How cool is that? So he plays the rest of the song with an actual rock band, who then provide backing for the rest of the show.

The rest of the set contained songs as advertised, including a 8½ minute rock opera dedicated to cheese, Woody Allen Jesus (with audience participation), and other songs old, new and fuck-you. There was Leaving LA, a song about leaving LA (no shit, Sherlock!), which he introduced as “the very definition of white privilege: writing a song whining about how your $100 million singing cartoon film project has been cancelled”. Interspersed, as always, with his comments on life in general, his family, and other comedic targets. Go see if you get the chance!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Children

Circa Theatre’s main offering for April is The Children, a play which opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 2017, and has now been produced in New Zealand. The play centres on three people dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear disaster caused by a tsunami, in a reflection of the 2011 Japanese Fukushima tsunami. All three actors are veterans of New Zealand’s screen and stage, and we’ve seen them many times both at Circa and on TV and film, including The Hobbit.  

As it was an early show, we decided to have a glass of wine at Noble Rot beforehand, and dine afterwards. Noble Rot is Wellington’s premiere wine bar (admittedly, from a pretty small field – most of the wine bars of yore have shut up shop) but they are only open of an evening, so when we’re usually in the area (Cuba Street) we’re looking for lunch, so don’t get there much. We took advantage of their early evening opening, and then walked along to Circa for the show.

There’s been a tsunami. The nuclear power station has been damaged, and the surrounding area contaminated. Two of the physicists who worked there have left their home inside the exclusion zone, and decamped to a cottage just outside the irradiated area, where they live a simple life of organic vegetables and compost toilets. A former colleague, Rose, turns up, and they start talking, and arguing about, what, if anything, they should be doing as a consequence. A lot of the past is dug up and raked over, and newer things also come up. In the end, a kind of decision is reached, and we all go home somewhat more enlightened than when we arrived. It’s powerfully done, not least because it’s so understated.

Afterwards we decided to give Pico Bar & Eatery another try, as it’s very conveniently located. I tried their burger this time, which was competently executed, and Nicola had the gnocchi. Again, these were done well, but I can’t help feeling that this place is now a shadow of its former self. Hopefully they’ll bring their 'A' game when WOAP starts in a few months.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Fringe Frolics

The Wellington Fringe festival has been upon us – from the 1st to 23rd March – and we’ve been to see a few things. Nicola has also been helping out with the organisation, by taking tickets, payments and generally pointing people in the right direction. Like fringe festivals everywhere, the standard of the material can be variable, but we were mostly entertained by the shows we went to see. One of the performers we wanted to see, Tessa Waters, was cancelled, for unspecified reasons. Hopefully she’ll be back in the comedy festival later in the year.

2 Ruby Knockers, 1 Jaded Dick

This is a one-man show by Tim Motley as Dirk Darrow, a hard-boiled private dick in the style of Marlowe or Hammer, with a good line in bad jokes. He also does magic, starting the show by asking us to answer some questions on a card, and then cold reading people in the audience to see if he’s got it right. He plays all the characters in the mystery of Ruby Knockers, a bank robbery and a murder; it’s all interspersed with card tricks, bad puns, a misfiring gun, and real, genuine, magic at the end. We were rolling, and sometimes groaning, in the aisles. Definitely one to watch – he’s been hawking this and other shows in the same vein around the fringe circuit since 2014, but this is his first time in New Zealand. Hopefully he’ll come back.

The Mournmoor Murders

This is a two-hander performed by Alice May Connolly and Maria Williams, at BATS theatre’s Studio. They play all the characters in a mash-up between Midsomer Murders and New Zealand’s own Brokenwood Mysteries. There’s been a murder in Mournmoor, and two detectives from the Big City (Timaru) are sent to investigate. Cultural references abound as the bodies pile up, but, incredibly, they managed to miss out saying “there’s more ‘n’ more murders happening”. This was more miss than hit, as they only seemed to have one volume (high) and one emotion (histrionic), which got a bit wearing after a while. All their mates from drama school were in the audience with them, giggling at them even when they weren’t trying to be funny. Good concept, poor execution.

The Man Who Was Thursday

A classic GK Chesterton story, performed by one man in the form of Peter Coates, this follows the investigation and infiltration of the Organisers Of Anarchy, an anarchist organisation. There’s poetry, anarchy, cross and doublecross, and characters named after days of the week. What’s not to like? It shows what you can do when you have a decent script to work with, and Coates plays all the characters convincingly.  Good fun.

How To Win A Pub Quiz

This is a one-man comedy show, where Alex Love demonstrates how to win at pub quiz. Spoiler alert: the trick is to remember facts and information. He then gave us some facts, including a recitation of the fifty states of the USA in alphabetical order, followed up by the periodic table: “gold, silver, copper, tin, aluminium…and all the others”. Easy. He also demonstrated the use of his “fact bell”, which he rang every time there was a genuine fact. He then got us into teams (we were joined by the lady sat next to us, Jackie), and we did a pub quiz. Some of the questions were hard, and he did set out to trick us a bit. One of his techniques was to deduct points from teams for bad behaviour, answering back etc. – there was a rather rambunctious team in the front row who started the quiz on a score of -4. The audience were encouraged to assist this with a chant of “Take one off! Take one off!” if anyone was misbehaving. We finished a creditable third equal (out of around 20 teams), let down by our lack of knowledge about Smurfs and S Club 7 songs.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Black Caps vs. Bangladesh

As the cricket season draws to a close, one final test series is being played in New Zealand. Bangladesh are here for a three-test series, and played the first test in Hamilton. As you may have heard, South Africa’s loss to Sri Lanka has helped New Zealand move up the test cricket rankings, and at the beginning of this series they’d grabbed the no. 2 slot, behind India. By a precarious two points, in the way that world rankings are calculated, but still…a test series win, even against lowly Bangladesh, would help to cement that ranking.

And so it was that New Zealand, after bowling out Bangladesh in the first innings for 234, put on what may possibly be their greatest display of batting ever. With three centuries, from Raval, Latham and Williamson (200 not out), they eventually declared at 715 for 6; setting the visitors a mountain to climb – 481 just to get New Zealand to bat again. They made a valiant effort, but fell short by 52 runs, and lost to an innings defeat.

Test two was in Wellington, and kicked off on Friday. When it rained all day. Really rained. Saturday wasn’t quite as rainy, just on and off drizzle, but with the pitch already waterlogged, the chances of play faded as the afternoon progressed.

What to do? A five-day test had been reduced to three by the time Sunday dawned, and even then the weather was looking iffy. Having won the toss, New Zealand again decided to bowl at Bangladesh, and skittled them for 211 in 61 overs. A good start, but then Bangladesh took revenge on the Black Caps openers, taking them out for 3 and 4, and New Zealand finished the day on a somewhat dodgy 38 for 2. On Day 4, however, New Zealand really let fly, and with another double ton, this time from Taylor, complemented by a century from Nicholls, they quickly amassed a defendable total, and declared at 432/6, giving themselves 23 overs to bowl at Bangladesh before the close of play. They used this to good effect, taking three wickets, and left Bangladesh on a precarious 80/3.

We decided to go along for the final day’s play, starting early again at 10:30 to try to recover some of the lost ground from the two-day wash-out. Bangladesh needed 141 to make New Zealand bat again. Once again, the weather forecast looked doubtful early doors, and there was a possibility the match could go either way, or end as a draw, depending on the conditions. Bangladesh were certainly batting well, but the wickets fell regularly. Captain Mahmudullah tried to hold it together with the tail, but when he was out for 97 the match was only going one way, and the threatened interruptions had failed to materialise as the clouds broke and the day improved. New Zealand asked for, and got, a 15-minute extension to the first session before lunch in an attempt to wrap the game up, which they promptly did, taking down the last three wickets with ease. They won by an innings and 12 runs; also taking the series 2-0 with one more match to play in Christchurch, confirming their ranking as the second-best test team in the world.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Side By Side By Sondheim

Circa Theatre’s flagship musical offering for late summer is a celebration of Sondheim’s musicals, with songs from many of his shows. We thought we’d give it a whirl.

First, however, we decided to try the phoenix that has risen from the ashes that were Zibibbo – a new restaurant on the same site called Pico Bar And Eatery. It was supposed to open on Wednesday, but they’d been delayed a day, so they informed us. As we crossed their threshold they told us that we were, in fact, their very first diners! We’d been pretty much the last out of Zibibbo, too, thanks to winning a competition to dine there on Christmas day, before it finally shut its doors on 31st December. So what’s changed? Well, it’s now a more casual eatery, with the so-last-year “sharing plates” concept. We ordered four plates from the available selection of six. Two of them involve potatoes, so you really only want one of those, which somewhat limits the rest of your choices. The food was good, and we went on to have desserts as well, but my feeling is that they’re going to have to change up the menu pretty regularly if they want us to keep going there. We’ll see how it evolves (as I’m sure it must), and also what they offer during WOAP, but my first impression isn’t 100% favourable.

Then we crossed the road to Sondheim, in what appeared to a sell-out night. Many’s the night been when we’ve sat in one section of the seats in Circa with only the first few rows occupied, but this appeared to be a popular choice.

The set was pretty bare, apart from two pianos, with just some incidental seating and furniture to lounge on. There were three singers – one man and two women. They talked us through the songs they were singing, giving biographical and historical details about the show they were from, and generally filling in the gaps with chat. The singing was excellent, and included some songs that had been cut from the original shows, as well as popular crowd-pleasers like Send In The Clowns. Follies and Company dominated the schedule, with smatterings from other shows including A Little Night Music and Gypsy: A Musical Fable.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry, erstwhile singer of Roxy Music and long-time solo artist, is touring the antipodes at the moment. Unlike many an artist, upon whose heads I metaphorically heap copious amounts of ordure, he has noticed that Wellington is part of New Zealand, and has created a tour schedule accordingly. Yes, he came to Wellington.

We drove into town, having uncharacteristically failed to pre-book a dinner venue. “We’ll be able to pick something up easily on a Tuesday night” I thought. First, we tried Crab Shack. The maître-d’ was taking phone numbers to call people when their tables would be ready. “No matter, we’ll pop next door – Shed 5 didn’t look as busy.” Nope, fully booked. “Let’s try Foxglove then.” The restaurant was fully booked, “…but you can have food from the bar snacks menu.” We had a quick look at that, spotted that burgers were a key component of said menu, and ordered.

What’s going on? Well, you have to think of the Bryan Ferry concert-going demographic. Mostly our age, or older, and generally people of wealth and taste, who’d already spaffed a three-figure sum on tickets. And what do such people do before a gig? Why, take in a leisurely dinner. The barman at Foxglove was equally puzzled as to why the average age of his customers had suddenly skyrocketed. “Is there a concert on?” he asked. “Yes, Bryan Ferry”, I replied. “Who?” “Bryan Ferry. You know, from Roxy Music.” “Who?” Bless him, he wasn’t even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes when Roxy Music were in their heyday. His granddad was probably in the audience. And, when we looked around the crowd during the interval between sets, there weren’t many faces under forty to be seen.

Having consumed our burgers, we walked over to the TSB Arena, and staked our place at the Row E, seat 56 and 57 bar. The support act, who appeared to have been drafted in at very short notice, were The Miltones. Actually The Mil, or possibly The Nes, as there were only two of the five band members. They performed their songs competently enough, but in a rather one-dimensional way as they were missing most of their instrumentation.

Some of The Miltones
And then, Bryan Ferry. Now, we’ve been rather spoilt lately by David Byrne’s recent performance, so the idea of a band, playing their songs, whilst standing on a stage, seems almost quaint. And yet, that is what they did. Mr Ferry sometimes stood, sometimes sat at a keyboard, and was assisted by a band of eight, including Chris Spedding on guitar, a musician who has had a long-standing association with Ferry and RM since the seventies. Yes, that Chris Spedding. He also had a viola player, sax, keyboardist, bass, drummer, and backing singers. They belted out a selection of songs old and new – mostly old, in fact, with a good choice of RM tunes, most of which I was unfamiliar with. Unlike certain bands I could mention, he wasn’t just playing golden oldies hits, but choosing with care from his extensive back catalogue. He mixed in the occasional big hit to keep us interested, then finished up with Jealous Guy. They didn’t do the usual encore routine whereby the band leave the stage, there’s much whooping and whistling, and then they reappear – Ferry had left whilst the band finished up the long instrumental outro, then reappeared to perform a belting version of Let’s Stick Together. The house lights came up immediately after that, indicating that there was no more to come.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Measure For Measure

We stayed on Waiheke for a further two days. We’d been down to Blackpool beach at the bottom of our street in search of shore birds, but they were being rather uncooperative – standing around on a patch of grass instead of posing more picturesquely by the sea. Undeterred, we set out further afield in search of Whakanewha Regional Reserve, where we’d been told there might be better prospects. Indeed, we found them, in the form of New Zealand dotterels and variable oystercatchers aplenty. We also managed a substantial walk around a loop track, and did a bit of the Dottie Track where we saw banded rails.

New Zealand dotterel

Variable oystercatchers, demonstrating variability

Banded rail

We lunched in Surfdale at Found, which, despite running out of halloumi, nevertheless managed to provide us with some decent nosh.

The following day we were back out on the wine trail – this time to Cable Bay wines, where we were welcomed by Jamie, a Canadian who was on a working visa for a year and had previously worked at Noble Rot in Wellington, so we chatted to her about Wellington and wine, whilst tasting her wares. Then we headed over to the other side of the island, to Waiheke’s most-awarded winery, Passage Rock. Again we had a good talk, with the owner and winemaker, David. We’d decided to stop there for lunch, as they also have an exceptional bistro attached, and had salmon and escargots.

In the afternoon we revisited the cultural centre to see Whittaker's Music Museum, where we learnt about pianos and other musical instruments, some of which could be played, others were "Do Not Touch". They'd been collected over a lifetime by Lloyd Whittaker

In the evening we drove out to 372 in Onetangi for our final meal on the island. Having been so impressed by them a couple of days ago at lunchtime, we decided to give them the pleasure of our company again, and they did us proud – I had the salmon tiradito that Nicola had had previously, followed by a slow-cooked lamb shoulder, and Nicola had shiitake dumplings followed by fish of the day. All delicious, and definitely gets my recommendation!

We were up early the next day to catch the ferry to Auckland, and, after dropping off our bags and rental car, headed into Auckland CBD for some lunch. Once again we were making lunch the main meal of the day as we would be at the Globe in the evening, so had burgers at Danny Doolan’s, an entirely inauthentic Irish pub. So inauthentic it didn’t even have a bicycle on the wall, which I understood was mandatory for Irish pubs.

In the evening, it pissed down. We started out towards the Globe on foot, but were eventually defeated by the weather so finished the journey by taxi, arriving in the nick of time and unfed. We managed to procure some food in the interval – chips and wine, two of the main food groups.

Despite the weather, the show must go on. The groundlings were equipped with rain ponchos and similar, and it was noticeable that the actors stayed away from the edge of the stage, which was exposed to the elements, unless forced to (at some points they have to descend the steps at the front and exit via the crowd). Occasionally the swirling wind gusted some rain at us, but for the most part we stayed dry. The play itself was well-executed, although as with all Shakespeare comedies, the convoluted plot leaves you thinking “why bother with all that?”. But they pulled it off with much comic effect, throwing in some more modern touches again – such as having wheelie suitcases to indicate that they were going on a journey. Elbow, the policeman, was dressed in completely modern police garb, whilst the other characters where in mostly period costume.

So that’s our Pop-Up Globe adventure for this year…we will probably make this an annual fixture for as long as they continue to offer it. The following morning it was back to Wellington and more wet weather.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


After a leisurely breakfast at the Coffee Club down the road, we packed up our bags and headed into Auckland to pick up our hire car. When we arrived at the city centre office, it was packed! There were at least five other groups ahead of us, and to make matters worse, one of the staff was involved in a dispute which it turned out had been going on for an hour already! The other two, clearly flustered, were not coping well with the influx of customers – all of whom had booked in advance to pick up their cars at 11:00. I suppose it’s a popular time as kicking-out time of most hotels is 10:00am. But no, not a word of apology, or even acknowledgement of the wait. We finally got our car after 50 minutes, and drove out of town to Half Moon Bay, from where the car ferry departs.

We in fact arrived there in plenty of time, so had a bite of lunch to eat (we’d breakfasted well), and explored Half Moon Bay. That took about 10 minutes, so we had a further beverage and did a crossword before boarding the ferry. The crossing is about 60 minutes, and we sat up on the top deck to watch Auckland disappear behind us.

We drove off onto Waiheke Island, and the short distance to our accommodation, the Kiwi House bed & breakfast on Kiwi Road. There we were welcomed by Tracy, the proprietor, and settled ourselves in, then booked ourselves a table at Fenice restaurant for dinner. Good Italian food – I had a caprese salad and steak, Nicola had the house salad and agnolletti with prawns. Substantial servings meant we didn’t hang around for pudding, and walked back to our B&B.

The next day after breakfast we wandered into town, checking out the location and access to beaches along the way, and after a bit of a walk, visited the Oneroa arts and entertainment complex. This comprises cinema, theatre, museum and art gallery. It was the art gallery we were particularly interested in, and we perused the arts on offer. After a quick stop for refreshing hot beverages and a few moment’s planning, we decided to visit three vineyards all on the central valley, and set out.

First on the list was Stonyridge. This was very busy at the time with what looked like several tours all arriving, and I don’t think we got the best service from them. It seemed to be a bit of a sausage factory, and we were given a choice of tastings. We selected the standard – a sauvignon blanc made from Marlborough grapes, sauvignon blanc made from their own grapes, and a cabernet sauvignon from their own vineyard. Frankly, I don’t know why you’d bother making sav blanc in Auckland, but presumably the market requires it. It was an indifferent wine, and the cab sav wasn’t much better. We paid for the tasting and left.

Our next stop was just down the road at Tantalus Estate, the newest vineyard on Waiheke, and here we were welcomed with open arms. I selected the Reserve tasting, and we had four red wines to taste, starting with a 2015 merlot cabernet franc, and Voilé syrah, followed by 2014 Evoque merlot blend, and Ecluse cabernet sauvignon. The staff were clearly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their wines, and we had quite a long chat about the different techniques and flavours. We looked longingly at the restaurant, but as we’d already booked dinner at The Oyster Inn for tonight, decided to give it a miss.

Our third stop was at Te Motu. We’d been there before, for a dinner at The Shed, which was definitely one of the highlights of our previous visit. Unfortunately they only open it up at the weekends, so our best-laid plan to have lunch there went somewhat aglay. Chatting with our server, however, we found out that the former chef of The Shed was now working at a new place in Onetangi, called 372, so we decided to head there for lunch instead. We finished our tasting with their premium wine, just called Te Motu, of which they gave us two vintages to compare – 2009 and 2012. Whilst both very good, strong, well-matured wines, they demonstrate the difference that the growing season, vintage, and age have on the wines, and why no two wines are the same. Very enjoyable, and good that they have older wines available for tasting.

We drove the short distance to Onetangi and immediately located 372. There, we selected a beef kofte and salmon tiradito, both of which were excellent. I commented at the time that you’d be hard-pressed to find something similar in a seaside resort in the UK. Duly impressed, we resolved to return for dinner on another evening.

We came back and decided to go for a swim at our local beach, which is at the far east end of Oneroa Bay. The water was like a bath compared to our usual outing in Scorching Bay, and there was a bit of a swell with breakers coming in. After that we returned to the Kiwi House to chill out on the deck and have a preprandial beverage or two.

Monday, February 18, 2019


We flew up to Auckland on a Sunday to catch some Shakespeares. Landing early, we took instruction from the kiosk jockey at the airport Skybus, and got off at stop 7, crossed the road, and picked up the 70 to take us close to, if not actually all the way, our accommodation on the Great South Road.

We were a bit early and the room wasn’t ready yet, so we went down to a local café to have  a beverage and do a crossword. When we returned, all was well with the world, and we settled in quickly before heading straight back out to the CBD for some lunch at Frida Cocina Mexicana.

In the afternoon, we went down Queen Street to find the Odyssey Sensory Maze in the basement of a building on Aotea Square. This involves a number of rooms with different sensory experiences – there’s one with different smells, a jungle room, some very dark tunnels that you have to feel your way through, a mirror maze, balloons, and scary stuff. Also, you go in shoeless, and there’s often different textures underfoot – swampy and squishy. We’d bought the one hour experience, so once we’d finished, we went through again, knowing what to expect this time. We still managed to get lost in the mirrors, though. Took us a while to get out!

We didn’t have time to get back to the motel so we went along to the Britomart station, there acquired two HOP cards so we no longer look like tourists when we get on the bus, and took the train directly to Greenlanes to walk up to the Pop-Up Globe. This is its third year of operation and, coincidentally, our third year of going to visit. This year has an increased production run and more plays, and has been open since December. Tonight’s choice is advertised as The Best Play In The World – Hamlet.

We’d arrived early so that we could avail ourselves of the onsite catering, and grabbed ourselves a cheese platter, some wine and beer, and found a table. After we’d finished, we took ourselves up to our seats on the middle gallery. The play was performed mostly in traditional style, but with a couple of modern touches: in order to correct the gender imbalance, some of the other characters were played by women as women – for example Guildenstern (or was it Rosenkrantz?)  as were Voltimand and Cornelius. Also, Polonius carried a mobile phone, which went off at crucial moments to comic effect, and eventually led to his death (sorry, spoiler alert: they all die). At the end, they all have a good song and dance (always end with a  song!) and we cheered and hurrahed them all.

Our motel was but a short walk away, so we toddled along the road and went to bed.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Summer Sci-Fi

Last year, we went to see Summer Star Trek. This was their fifth year of performing an episode of Star Trek in the open air, in Aro Park. It was the end of their five year mission, to boldly perform Star Trek etc. etc.

But they couldn’t leave it at that, could they? What would people do? The demand was still there, so this year it has morphed into Summer Sci-Fi. The first instalment this year is The Shakespeare Code, an episode of Doctor Who from the David Tennant years.

We packed ourselves a picnic and took ourselves off to Aro Valley. The crowd was already ensconced when we arrived, but we found a patch out to the side to set up our chairs and enjoy an early dinner. The pre-show entertainment was in full flow, and required audience participation at times – in particular when they split us into two sides to perform the Doctor Who theme tune, with one side doing the bass line and the other doing the wheee-oooh bit. Tricky when you’ve got a mouthful of samosa!

The show started, and one thing was immediately apparent: Martha had been transformed into Mark. Other than that, they stuck fairly accurately to the script, and performed with their usual set made of repurposed estate agents’ signs. As well as having to cope with being an open air venue, and thus needing to shout their lines, the “stage” is on one side of the footpath through the park whilst the audience sits on the other; the performance is thus regularly punctuated by joggers, cyclists, and people walking home. Tennant never had to work under these conditions.

Nevertheless, they pulled it off, and at the end the Doctor won, the baddies were seen off, and (spoiler alert) the play – Love’s Labours Won – was destroyed for all eternity. All jolly good fun! And now, with the wider remit of Sci-Fi, it will be interesting to see what they tackle next year.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rants In The Dark

Circa Theatre’s first flagship production of 2019, Rants In The Dark, is an adaptation of the book of the same name, published by Emily Writes from her blog. I don’t think Writes is her real name. She blogs about being a mum of two small children. Sounds interesting, eh? She blogs about all the things you won’t find on Mumsnet, and tells it like it is. She, quite literally, rants in the dark. It’s stunningly popular.

We went along on Wednesday night to see it. The presentation is of “Emily” basically talking to the audience. She provides little vignettes into her life, with the help of two other actors, one of whom plays her husband (mostly), and with the other they play the parts of all the other characters who come and go – mother, sister, toddler, friends, not-so-friends, doctors and midwives. There’s singing, dancing, and swearing. A lot of swearing. Being a mother makes you swear. She goes through the highs, and lows, of her mothering career so far, including the original rant in the dark, how she blogs, why she blogs, what it’s all about. It was all jolly good fun, and you should catch it if you get the chance. Whilst the audience was predominantly female, it is aimed at “anyone who’s been a baby”. It stars Renée Lyons, known for 800 Words, appearances on Jono & Ben and other New Zealand tv work; Bronwyn Turei, also known for NZ tv including Auckward Love; and Amelia Reid-Meredith, best known as a long-time Shortland Street actor.

Afterwards we crossed the road to go for dinner at Field & Green, who provided us with a  great steak and snapper.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Black Clash

Friday dawned, and the reason we’d come to Christchurch was finally here: the Black Clash cricket match. This is a T20 match between the Black Caps and the All Blacks.

But that’s not until the afternoon. In the morning, we decided to take a tour around the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. They’re in Hagley Park (everything is in Hagley Park – the cricket ground is there, too), so we walked from our motel to the park. They have all the usual stuff – glass houses, rose garden, New Zealand section, and rock garden; we perambulated these in no particular order, including a stop for refreshment at their café. The plants in the rock garden, in particular, were attracting a lot of bees.

We spent all morning there then headed into the city once again to find somewhere to eat lunch. Our map of Christchurch had clearly marked “shopping and restaurant” areas delineated, so we headed for one of these and ended up in a restaurant called Original Sin, where we had salads of prawn and seared beef.

In the late afternoon, we set out for the Hagley Park Oval for the cricket match. Now, you might think that the All Blacks would have a bit of a disadvantage here, but there were a number of tweaks to the teams that evened things up a bit. Each team was allowed to pick a player from the other sport, and the qualification rules were very relaxed, such that Brendon McCullum opened for Team Rugby as he'd turned out a few times for Matamata. Both teams featured a player from their respective women’s teams as well – Liz Perry for Team Cricket and Kendra Cocksedge for Team Rugby. Both teams included current and former players from their respective sports – notably, Team Rugby featured Richie McCaw, as well as two Barretts (Beauden and Jordie).

The match was advertised as starting at 4:30, but was clearly underway by the time we arrived, so I guess they must have pulled it forwards by 10 minutes or so, and the score was already 23/1 when we found a suitable patch of grass to view from. We hadn’t brought any of our usual paraphernalia (cushions, keep cups, scorebook etc) so just plonked down on the grass. Shortly afterwards a group further up the bank from us decided to move elsewhere so we were able to snaffle their spot and get a better view than the worm’s eye position we’d started in.

Whilst the game was hard fought, there weren’t going to be any shenanigans – when there was a run out, the player walked without waiting for a replay, no review system for lbw etc. There was some good cricket, including batting from the Barretts, bowling from McCaw, and some spectacular catches (McCaw again). Having batted first, Team Cricket set a target of 169 for Team Rugby, and they made it with five balls to spare.

All jolly good fun! Next morning we were back to Wellington, and ready for some proper, real cricket on Friday when the Firebirds try to redeem their somewhat patchy season. They can technically reach the playoff if both the Stags and the Aces lose their next two matches and the Firebirds win both of theirs…so they need to beat the Stags on Friday.

Monday, January 28, 2019


 On Thursday, we took the scenic route out to Akaroa on Banks Peninsula, as it’s very picturesque. It’s a short drive out of Christchurch. First stop is at Little River, a small town whose main purpose seems to be to direct people into the rest of the peninsula. We had a coffee and tea in the café there, and planned a route around the rest. We decided to head up to Pigeon Bay first, then continue on the summit road around to Akaroa.

The summit road is so named because the whole peninsula is an extinct volcano, as is apparent if you look at a map. At Pigeon Bay, we went for a walk and spotted two kereru almost immediately. It was quite hot in the sunshine with little cover from the sun so we didn’t take a walk all the way to the end of the trail, instead turning back after about 25 minutes when we’d reached a shady grove. On the way back, a number of fantails decided to try to tempt me into taking their photographs. Fantail photography is of the type “here’s a branch where a fantail was two milliseconds ago”, but I managed to get a couple.

We drove on to Akaroa and walked along the bay shore, seeking out a place for lunch. Akaroa was originally settled by the French, and the street names and many of the businesses there reflect the French heritage. We settled on The Wharf, and had fish & chips and tuna salad for lunch. Afterwards we walked up to the lighthouse, which was originally placed at Akaroa Heads, at the mouth of the harbour, and moved to its current location by the Akaroa Lighthouse Preservation Society in 1980.

We took the shorter route back to Christchurch, passing the turn-off to Le Bons Bay along the way. Unfortunately there was nowhere convenient to stop so I was unable to take a photo for Duran-spotting.

In the evening we explored Christchurch’s dining scene, and entertainment book, once again – this time ending up in a South American bar and restaurant called Casa Publica. This offers South American specialities such as ceviche, guacamole, and espetadas. We started off in the bar with a  couple of pisco sours before heading upstairs, where we I ordered guacamole casa, which is made at the table for you, and you can chose which ingredients you want to include. I went all in with chillis, red onion, lime juice, coriander and cashews. Nicola had the chicken espetada main, which is basically chicken on a stick.

By the end we were pretty well stuffed, so we forewent dessert and headed back to our digs.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


Our digs are on Bealey Avenue, which could be renamed Motel Avenue. We found it easily enough, and then found that it appears to have merged with the next-door Prince Of Bealey (presumably, King and Queen had already been taken). Our room is a little smaller than in Hanmer Springs, but it is modern and new, with everything we need, and handy for centre-ville.

In the evening we researched our options for dining and decided on Spice Paragon as being within easy reach. Also, it’s in the entertainment book (I’ve recently upgraded our membership to cover the whole of New Zealand), and this pretty much covers the cost of that.

The next day temperatures were forecast to reach over 30°, so we decided that visiting the International Antarctic Centre would be a good plan. Bound to be cooler there! We drove out towards the airport, and got there well before opening time of 9:00 (we’d been advised to get there early as they get crowded), so we stopped for a quick beverage in the café before heading in. They have all kinds of informative stuff about Antarctica, including the original expeditions and the current research stations there. They also have an Antarctic storm experience, where they give you overshoes and a thick coat to go into a snowy room. The temperature inside is -8°, but they then lower this further by introducing wind, and the windchill takes it down to -18°. At this point some of the less sturdy visitors left, but we, being hardy kiwis, stuck it out till the end. In shorts, natch.

Outside, my glasses immediately steamed up, so we waited for them to clear before heading outside for our next adventure, a ride in a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, of the type used in Antarctica. They’ve built a little assault course out the back of the centre to simulate some of the conditions that you meet in the vehicle, then after a short safety briefing (“wear your seatbelt! Hang on to the straps! Press the buzzer in emergency!”) we were off. Our driver took us up and down steep inclines, cambers of 20°, and through snow and swamp. After ten minutes we disembarked, shaken and stirred.

The next stop was the little blue penguins feeding time. Little blues are endemic to New Zealand, and are the world’s smallest penguins. The ones they have at the centre are rescue penguins – they’ve been found injured, recovered under the aegis of DOC, and then transferred to the IAC where they can live out their lives in comfort. This is a life sentence – they’re not released into the wild once they’ve recovered, as many of them have missing or damaged limbs which would make them easy pickings for predators in the wild. On the upside, their life expectancy is greatly enhanced in captivity, as they rarely live more than 6-7 years in the wild, whereas the oldest at the IAC died recently at the grand old age of 25.

We’d pretty well done everything in the IAC so decided to head up the road to the Willowbank Reserve, a wildlife park with exotic and native species. We followed most of the prescribed path through the exotic animals, which included wallabies, possums, otters (we didn’t see any ), but ignored the farm animal section due to lack of interest. The final section was New Zealand natives; unfortunately most of these are in aviaries, and the kaka, kakariki and kea didn’t look particularly happy. Give me Zealandia any day! There was, however, a kiwi house containing four brown kiwi. Unfortunately no photos of these as it’s very dark inside, and naturally, no flash photography is allowed. You have to wait a few minutes to allow your eyes to get used to the gloom, but once you do, you can easily spot the kiwi rootling about and running around.

They also have tuatara, again in cages, and takahe, who were hiding themselves away. We stayed for a spot of lunch in their café, then decided to can our good intentions hatched earlier in the day of a planned walk to Washpen Falls. This was confirmed when we got to the car and the thermometer read 34° - not really weather for a two-hour hike! We headed back to the comfort of our airconditioned hotel room to watch the first ODI against India.

In the evening, we went out to Pescatore, Christchurch’s only two-hat restaurant for dinner. Neither of us wore a hat. Despite this, they let us in and we enjoyed some salmon and snapper cooked cheffy-style, followed by a chocolate cremeux and a curry icecream with pineapple and rice. Although we'd only ordered two courses, they were back and forth with little amuses-bouches and similar throughout the meal - a malt tea and stuffed flower before we began, a "pre-dessert", and petits fours afterwards, so we were well satisfied. It was only slightly marred by the utter dick at the next table who complained about everything. There's no pleasing some people. We left to watch India complete their demolition of the Black Caps in the first ODI.