The Hobbit Premiere

November 29, 2012
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It’s Hobbit week in Wellington! The action began at weekend with an outdoor artisan market for the five days up to yesterday’s much anticipated premier. The market featured folk that actually worked on the film, including our friend Gen Packer.

Due to dropping my car off at the garage I found myself walking through Wellington town centre shortly after 8am. I decided I’d go and take a look at the Embassy Cinema, where the Hobbit was to be premiered later in the day. I already planned on going down later but I figured now was as good a time as any to take a look at the huge Gandalf and hobbit hole that had been attached to the building. Even to an old cynic like me, this facade was bloody good.

Not surprisingly there were already some elves, wizards and at least one king hanging around the railings. Indeed, the best spots right up near the cinema were already filling up.

Funny how it’s always the beautiful people that people choose to be, no goblins, no Gollum, not unlike the fact that few people have past lives where they cleaned toilets.

I’d heard that the red carpet was to run the full length of Courtney Place, which must be about a third of a mile long. But it’s one thing to be told something, quite another to see it. I wonder if it’s the same carpet they used for Return of the King?

The main events were planned to begin at 4pm, but wafting in at five to four and expecting to get a chance to see anything felt like taking wishful thinking all the way to Middle Earth itself. So we headed down for 2pm, and braced ourselves to stand up for six hours straight.

With such a long red carpet there was plenty of railing spots to go around, but even arriving two hours prior there were no spots left. So we settled for what appeared to be a nice place with relatively short people in front of us.

We were pretty close to the front, just mere feet from the railing, with two loose lines of folk in front of us. If it had been a gig this would have been a prime slot for an opening riff surge to the front, but it was a lot more civilised than that.

Then the quality of our spot was somewhat disrupted by a television crew from the Brunch show, who wafted in and surged to the front. Along came Samantha Hannah and charmed her way to the railing – displacing some long waiters in the process. I’m not sure if any of those squeezed out actually appreciated that they were giving up their spot for the duration. However, perhaps the crew would draw the stars to us.

At 4pm we got some music, in the form of Neil Finn, who I couldn’t really see, except on a video screen, but at least I can say I’ve sort of seen him in his homeland now. I wonder if he ever plays Te Awamutu, his hometown.

Once Neil was finished, we could see on the same faraway video screen and hear on a speaker system that seemed able to broadcast the sounds of words without any of the information, various stars that were being interviewed at the beginning of the red carpet. James Nesbitt, Peter Jackson, Andy Serkis all did some chatter which we could hear but not well enough to know what was actually being said.

We anticipated their release from the press coral with bated breath. Someone should do a film where all the stars are bulls, and have the red carpet premier at Pamplona. The stars would chase the fans down the red carpet. That would be unusual. As would be the ritualistic killing of all the film’s stars in an unfair fight. Still, that’s entertainment.

We waited for some time. We got a supply of people who we didn’t recognise but had probably worked very hard to be on that carpet and then everyone got really excited. There was a countdown and I wondered what the hell was going on. I followed the line of sight of someone more clued up than I and looked behind me and up. There, flying overhead was the Hobbit liveried Boeing 777.

This was pretty awesome and made up for a disappointment of the day before, when it had landed at Wellington airport to disgorge the cast. Not only did I miss it coming in, I missed it going out again, which was pretty shocking when all I had to do was look out the window. I blame Air New Zealand, who only seemed to Twitter and Facebook about each event after it happened. Bastards.

Then was some more hanging about and craning of necks, then they came. And frankly, it was a little like the running of the bulls. James Nesbitt was the first to come down the carpet and he passed us at such a pace that I thought, and still think, that he must have been legging it for the loo. I don’t know what he was like elsewhere but along out stretch he looked pretty grumpy, providing further fuel for the potty run hypothesis. Whatever was wrong, it didn’t last, because he was chatting outside the cinema over an hour later.

Both Jackson and Serkis must have been in the same speed walking team, as they yomped past apace. My two key targets were Hugo Weaving, who I’ve liked ever since I was a kid and he played Douglas Jardine in the Australian mini series “Bodyline”. Given that it was an Australian production I don’t think I was meant to like this rendition of the English cricket captain, but it made me very proud. My other prize was Cate Blanchett. Having seen Nesbitt, Jackson and Serkis going for gold I quipped that Cate would likely pass us on a motorbike.

Well she might as well have done, she flew past, gracefully, but at speed nonetheless. Hugo Weaving, on the other hand, was lured our way by the camera crew and then had a conversation right near us. All things considered, you’d have thought I would get a better photo than I did.

Did I mention we had a guy dressed head to toe in green (with no eye slits) in front of us?

When we thought all the stars had passed we walked up towards the cinema, where we could see on the big screen that many of the stars were still there, being interviewed. This included all the speed freaks. But the crowd was too deep to see anything.

Knackered from standing in the sun for so long we left to get some food and review my snapping efforts. Despite the fact that I was sure I’d failed to take advantage of Martin Freeman’s proximity, it turned out that I utterly stole his soul, which made me actually skip with joy.

But the biggest surprise, and one that I still don’t understand, is that I did mange to bottle lightning and grab a photo of Cate Blanchett.

This was pure luck though, next time I’m going to make my own luck and take a bolas.







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Snow Joke

August 17, 2011
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Wellington does not have a very broad temperature range. Just one look at the flora and an expert (not me) will tell you that it’s not a town where frosts are a problem. At the other end of the scale the heat is never crazy – although the sun will burn unprotected skin as if you were a vampire. Rain falls in fairly plentiful dollops, sun shines brightly at random times of the year, wind is plentiful and thunder storms are rare. Even rarer is snow, and even when it does flutter down, it doesn’t settle, such is the ground temperature. But on Sunday it did, and even more surprisingly it came again on Monday and Tuesday.


Living where I do I should be thankful that snow isn’t very common because, to get to my house, you have to take a road that can be fairly described as a little bit precipitous. Although, if you did drive off the edge, chances are that your potentially terminal rolling and bouncing would be broken by an unsuspecting house. Although, should the occupants of the house survive your intrusion, they might beat you up for wrecking their home.

On Monday night, the narrow, long and winding road that leads to my door was coated with a thick slush. I was nearly at the top, when… a RAV4 was parked across the road, squarely across the road, like something out of an Austin Powers movie. Someone approached my car and I ventured into the blizzard to find out what was going on.

As far as I can recall, one car coming up the road had met one going down the road, parked cars making the road a single track. These cars had hit each other but the RAV4, behind the car coming down, had braked and swerved right, towards the edge of the road, towards the void. The front right wheel had left the road, and dropped into the well caused by steps down to someone’s house; pitching the back left wheel into the air. This being a toy 4×4, not a proper off-road vehicle, I doubt it had the necessary diff-lock options that would have made it possible to reverse it out of this dog-cocking-a-leg-for-a-piss position.

The occupants were safe, although they may die of the irony of being in an SUV and ending up like that. One should also pity the poor owner of the scooter that was parked at the top of the steps that the RAV4 encroached upon, and was hit squarely by it – seriously, what are the chances?

There was no chance of moving the RAV 4 in those conditions, especially considering there was no way to get a tow truck above the vehicle. So I parked up as best I could (traction was not in my favour) and trudged the short distance home.

Knowing the conditions, the width of the road and how much trouble I’d had getting the car into that parking space, I had a feeling my car wouldn’t be safe. And guess what, I was right. But was it just a scratch? No. It was a scratch down both the front and rear door and a gouging into the back left wing. The gouge, which is above the wheel arch, is so deep and open that you could use it to store things in. The cars around mine showed the same damage.

If you're going to add a pocket to a car, then do it to your own bloody car!

Whoever did it, knows they did it, and knows they did it to several vehicles.

Wish me luck in finding the bastards.


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August 4, 2011
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I’ve fired tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousand, maybe even millions of rounds of ammunition. Many times I have wielded a shotgun, at every range, in all conditions. But none of these events were real, they all took place in made-up videogame land.

Last Sunday I actually unloaded a twelve gauge for real, and it was fantastic.

Me and the Benelli - I didn't once notice the shell ejecting at the time...

Like many boys I was born with a fascination with guns. Once on a visit to the seaside I was allowed to get a toy from one of the many shops selling a wide variety of plastic toys, the inventiveness of which only exists in seaside towns. I chose a gun, a gun with a magazine that took a vast number of little grey plastic bullets.

Within hours it had been confiscated by my father. While my older brother lay prone on the floor I aimed the weapon at his groin and pulled the trigger. It was in the years when Fame was on TV, and even though it’s probably not true I like to imagine that the scream of his dismay was in time with the title line of the Fame theme song, and at the same pitch. I was six, my brother was 16; it must have been a lucky shot to have had such an impact through his trousers.

My untrustworthiness with anything firing projectiles was backed up by another incident, this time the gun in question fired spinning propellers. Fired vertically into the air they would gaily whirr skywards, before their rate of spin slowed to the point where gravity would pull them down again. Not much of a weapon, some would call it a launcher rather than a gun.

But what if…

Sat in the living room, playing next to my friend, I attached a propeller to the gun and wound it as tight as it would go. I turned, pointed and fired it into my friend’s face. He exploded into a wail. My mom scooped him up and consoled him. I got the usual “what did you do that for?” I guess I did it to see if it would hurt, and how much – I didn’t tell my mom that. I’m not proud of this action, I feel guilty about it on a frighteningly regular basis, but I am glad that I wasn’t daft enough to test it on my own face.

None of my fellow clay pigeon shooters were aware of these incidents on Sunday. They may not have come if they had been; people are very judgemental.

It took some time to reach Hotshots Clay Target Shooting, in theory about an hour out of Wellington, and we were late. The large lateness was a compound of various smaller latenesses, only some of which were my fault. Upon arrival I apologised profusely to Julia, our host and teacher. She was very nice about it all.

Once there we took a thrilling off road ride further into the hills, along a track of wild ruts that threw us around inside the Toyota as it teetered on the edge of a precipitous drop. I was nervous, but not about the drop. What if I cocked up, what if I spun round and pointed the gun at my companions, what if I was Dick Cheney. Although, if I was dick Cheney, I think my gun skills would be the least of my problems.

The ride ended in a beautiful spot overlooking a conifer carpeted valley, with the view expertly framed by nature itself. We were talked through the two weapons on offer, a sturdy looking Winchester over/under and a high tech Benelli something or other. I paid careful attention to the bits about safety mechanisms and not pointing the gun at people or my own foot, especially the bit about my own foot – the pain would only last for awhile, but the shame would be eternal.

Fearful that my rampant nerves would consume me if I didn’t have a go quickly, I threw myself forward to go second, it was a birthday outing and it wasn’t my birthday, so I couldn’t justifiably go first. I chose the Winchester for no good reason. Julia made sure I had my ear defenders on properly, was holding the gun well and got my stance sorted out. Then it was up to me.

“Pull” I said as confidently as I could manage and stared intently down the sight. The clay pigeon was flung out over the trees ahead of me. I lined it up as I saw fit and squeezed the trigger. They always say to squeeze the trigger on TV shows. I might have snatched at the bugger like a kid being offered cake, but I don’t really recall, so I’m going to say I did it correctly. I expected the thing to kick hard into my shoulder, but it was more of a really forceful shove, like a drunk mate making a point. It was the mad rearing of the business end (I learned that from TV too) that disconcerted me.

After two shots I got to break the gun and take out the still smoking shells, I enjoyed that immensely, once I realised they weren’t hot. After five clays it was time to pass on the boom stick. I hit some of the targets, which was good enough for me.

On my second set I switched to the Benelli, which was incredibly light compared to the Winchester but seemed ridiculously long. I got lucky with this high tech weapon and hit all five targets. Amazement consumed me, but I knew it was a fluke and my skills went downhill from thereon in.

For the next five I switched back to the Winchester and my sighting was still okay but the high of the adrenaline was affecting my stability. I couldn’t stop the gun from quivering, I must have been shaking all over, and the firmer I tried to hold it the more it jittered about. I still took down three of the clays but the strain was immense.

Fifteen shots is what you get for your $50 dollars but me and Adrian, whose birthday we were there to celebrate, went for another five. This may have been five shots too far. That would be a great name for a western, although it wouldn’t be a very compelling story if is based on what was to come.

I couldn’t get the gun comfortable and those shakes were now crazy. I was looking down the barrel and it was shuddering wildly. I could have made a sweet martini for Mr Bond.

How many clays did I hit with those final five rounds? Let’s put it this way, I might as well have just picked up the cartridges and chucked them into the void.

It was time to get a pint. What a buzz. You should try it.


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Frozen Chicken

July 16, 2011
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I’m not unaccustomed to cold water. I don’t like it, but I know it well enough. I’ve jumped in lakes and felt like my heart was going to stop, I’ve waded waist deep through rivers (well, one) in the middle of winter, I’ve gone from a natural thermal pool into a frigid plunge pool and I’ve been in the sea on England’s north east coast.

Yet, despite these nithering (adjective: damned cold) conditions of yore, I do declare that my nether regions have never been quite so cold as they were today.

What was the cause of this frozen cods condition? Once more I was wearing a chicken suit and trying to get folk to switch to free range eggs.

Next up in the chicken suit? Who knows, I’ve hobbled 10k in it, probably hamstrung my chances of procreation in it, I guess I should jump out of a plane in it next.


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The Egg Came First

June 21, 2011
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Running, like riding a bike, is a fairly easy thing to remember to do. As is the knowledge of how far you’ve run in one go on previous occasions, which is 13 kilometers for me. This is unfortunate; it makes you say things like “yes” when you’re asked by your better half if you’ll run the 10k race on Wellington’s Marathon day.

Some chickens have all the fun...

I knew I wasn’t fit enough when the idea was thrown at me a couple of weeks ago and I continued, through lack of effort, to remain just as unfit, in fact more unfit because my birthday landed a bounty of cake on my doorstep, which travelled to the kitchen, then onto a plate, and finally into my belly.

Running has been an irregular event this year: My globetrotting shoes finally got some speed up in foreign climes (the UK in February), where they returned the verdict that it was far too cold, and my lungs concurred. Back in NZ for the arse end of summer I put in the odd few kilometres, not enough to be fit but enough to keep me accustomed. Or so I thought.

Or at least half thought, because there was a twist in the mix that I suspected would create problems – I had to dress as a chicken. The purpose of the costume was to help in the campaign to put and end battery hen farming in NZ, please buy free range eggs. Technically this suit was a pretty good excuse for any kind of poorness, its extra weight, heat insulation and wind resistance all being high grade A excuses.

So, on Sunday morning I stepped out as a human turducken – on the outside a chicken, then inside that a fat, then inside that a skinny lad who’s too lazy to get out.

I was not the only chicken, there were several of us but I’m not a pack animal when it comes to running, I like to go at my own pace – slow enough not to hurl, which is very slow indeed. And I pecked and scratched my way around that course. That’s a metaphor for grim determination, I didn’t actually act the part of a chicken.

Running makes you look like you've lost your teeth...

Wellington knows how to do fancy dress, the whole town wears costumes for the Rugby 7s, but us chickens seemed to be the only people in costume. And partly because of this I got a huge amount of support from people, both crazy bystanders, lounging about in the rain and fellow runners, on a mission to get out of the rain. If it wasn’t for the crowd and kids shouting out ‘go chicken man’, people jogging past and saying how much they admired the message and the marshals flat out lying about how well I was doing, I think I might well have just ground to a walk.

Mind you, that might not have been much slower, at one point I was passed by the 80 minute pace setter, and they were walking.

You can read other accounts of my poor running here.

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May 13, 2011
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A couple of years ago I was walking into Wellington’s fair town at dusk. I was on my way to purchase pizza from a place called Pomodoro. Overhead I heard a screech, and when I looked up I saw a silhouette against the faint lit sky, of what I thought was two parrots. Why not, just over the hill from my house is Karori sanctuary, I’d been there and they had Kakas, a native NZ parrot. And birds fly, that’s what they do, so popping over a hill wouldn’t be too much trouble for them.

In some quarters the verdict that was returned could politely be described as poppycock.

A parrot with another parrot growing out of its head...

Time marched on. Then we started to notice them feeding at some of the other houses in our immediate vicinity. After weeks of hope and luring we finally got a visit, which was lucky because we had a load of pears we’d gotten in a fruit and veg box, and we were doing a bad job of eating them. Since then the parrots have been around and about quite a lot, but their visits to our place specifically are sporadic at best. Then last week my better half fed some parrot visitors some almonds. That certainly brought them back the next day, whereupon I took far too many pictures.

Oh yeah, one thing about Kakas – they never turn up when the light’s good, at least not at our place.

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