Sunday, February 27, 2011


Christchurch, seen from the slopes of Victoria Park, circa 1996
For more years than I care to remember this is how Christchurch and I have related to one another: at a studied distance. Coming from a small town a little under the halfway mark of the mainland the city was unavoidable as I grew up. It was the other big smoke after the nearer and more accessible Dunedin, and it differs from its more southern sibling by being almost the opposite of my overcast, damp, hilly once second home - flat, wide, with dazzling blue skies. In winter it broods with seemingly perpetual rising damp from the swamp land it was built over. In summer it bakes, its centre streets too far from the sea to cool themselves, all the better to maintain its main river Avon snaking its way under willows through suburb and CBD. As a child I holidayed there with my family, staying in the Meadow Park caravan site with visits to the Orana wildlife park, the shops of Cashell and Colombo Streets, or Ferrymead. Usually there'd be a visit to an elderly relative. As a teen I saw it less; Dunedin was where my brother flatted, the bands I liked came from, and was just more interesting, I thought. By my university years, now ensconced in the Edinburgh of the South, Christchurch was even farther away, but reasserted itself as the location of some more testing life experiences: I got hellishly sunburned there one summer with friends, my band toured there several times on equal occasions successful and frustratingly under par, and after hope against hope I got my heart broken there. So for years Christchurch and I weren't friends.

The thing I've realised after all those years is that nearly every time I stayed in the Cathedral City, it was on someone else's terms, or on someone else's time. I've slept there in caravans and motel rooms, on the floors of lounges and church halls, on the sofas of friends' flats and in the spare bedroom of a great aunt. I've never lived there, never explored and got to know the city's inner streets and outer suburbs at my own pace. I've been in the Cathedral but never up its spire, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to do that now. That same spire is rubble and twisted copper sheeting now, and too many of the city's grand and historic buildings have been destroyed, or are awaiting destruction in the name of public safety. The Avon is grey from liquefaction, the city's heart momentarily stilled. A big part of me wants to visit Christchurch's CBD, perhaps to try and grasp fleetingly what remains of the city centre that will surely be erased by time and recovery. Certainly I want to go there to put the pictures present and past into some context, the scale of the city's destruction being too large for the TV or computer screen, and too vast for my mind's eye to capture it. Only now, for the best and saddest of reasons, Christchurch's inner environs are as closed to me as they are to anyone else whose business isn't to aid in the awful task of recovering its missing citizens and begin the slow and painful process that will be the city's own recovery.

The Christchurch I knew and regarded with mixed sentiment is all but gone, and its future will be built upon the distressing moments of last week and their aftermath. It's also the current home of a good number of good friends and family members. When that future begins to be realised in whatever form, and when the time is right, I feel I owe it to Christchurch to go there, stop and have a closer look, to remember and reflect how it was and be a part of what it might yet be.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

More Stuff I Have Dug From Out of My Garden.

It's been some time since I last posted an updated inventory of the Monkeyhouse's backyard treasure trove, and here it is:

The reason for this is that it's simply harder to find the stuff by accident. So what's here is a canny compilation of foreign objects from our current house and back yard, plus what we found in the garage on moving in, and some more stuff from under the back deck. Oh, and at least one bit there - the lower half of a lead miniature (probably a horsie-riding kerniggit) from our last ever Dunedin flat. Yeah, I indulged in suburban archaeology there too and discovered lots of cool stuff - old bottles, a tin bath that ended up as a planter in my mum's garden (naturally), and some RPG discards that, by pure Otago coincidence, may have belong to a gaming acquaintance of my brother's well before we lived there.

Other items of interest: the aforementioned train/wagon wheel, plastic flowers (we got a lot of those in various states in the soil), two Super 15 hacky-sack things (one of which had an operating voicebox at time of discovery, the other had been disembowell'd) and the round yellow thingy top centre-ish. I think it's supposed to be a haystack as there have been a few agriculturally-themed toys discovered so far (well either that or we had Lilliputian farmers occupying the land before settlement). In my opinion it's headed straight for the bitz box as a future native hut or even maybe a Baba Yaga conveyance.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Oaken's Twelve

In 2007 Games Workshop began to reach the logical end to its highly-lucrative Lord of the Rings license. Or so it seemed - the movies were well in the past, and the game itself was losing players as those kids introduced to GW through the trilogy connection were either consumed by GW's greater product range, or simply moved on the the next big thing. Those who stuck by the game (and there was a lot going for it) saw some radical redesigns - 'battle companies', allowing true mass army play rather than the skirmish-based scenarios offered to date, and even more obscure models - characters from the novels but not the movies (allowed, under the license), characters based solely on mentions in the book's appendices (also allowed, apparently), and a model for this dude:

But still there was more. Plastic figures to supplement the already classy metal sculpts, armies of 'Wood Elves', 'wandering' Uruk-Hai and a new Ent model. And there were Dwarves - more of them than you could shake a stick at, and certainly more than were ever depicted living or dead in the movie trilogy and book.

Namely these guys:

Oh sure, GW couched their description in carefully-worded snippets, such as "Dwarf Rangers patrol the lands around every Dwarf Hold, ensuring the safety of their homes from the Dark Lord's servants and wandering monsters..." and " help them track their foes and blend in with their surroundings, Dwarf Rangers are more likely to wear natural colors than their kin." In White Dwarf game designer Adam Troke claimed:"We know that Dwarves travel around a lot and don't do so in full armour...", but most fans seemed to know what was more likely to be going on. GW had a license for Lord of the Rings and its appendices, but crucially at that time not The Hobbit and not The Silmarillion. And these guys - a set of 24 plastic Dwarves in hoods and simply armed for 'travelling', looked for all the world like a way to include the Company of Thorin Oakenshield, of whom we'll be hearing a lot about now that The Hobbit has been kicked off and those same travelling Dwarves fully cast.

As it happens I picked up the set - not because I was playing the game, but because I could see how these plastic figures could easily be turned into something approximating Thorin's Company - they were halfway there already, right? And so I did - mostly. But not entirely. And so, with the film Company announced and not yet revealed in their screen attire, I thought I might as well finish the job I started, before the Hobbit movies reduce my versions to being either hopelessly naive or just waaay off the mark.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gary Moore

A crappy crappy way to start the week. Gary Moore is dead, aged 58.

Moore's music was a passing interest for me, and in all that interest probably didn't outlast my sixth form year. At the time though he was The Man - a very ordinary-looking bloke with a prodigious talent for guitar, evidenced by his very early career start with Thin Lizzy and later on his series of solo albums where his rather decent vocal talents were also employed. Around the time of my interest in his canon Moore shifted genres and became predominantly a blues guitarist. Blues was my brother's music, had an air of superiority and snobbishness in its audience, and so that was enough for seventeen-year old me and that was that. But Wild Frontier - some way into his solo career and perhaps not as good as earlier efforts, is still an important album for me, introducing me to a broader set of musicians after my enthusiasm for heavy metal had waned. Most importantly it introduced me to Thin Lizzy, although the Skids got a not-small look in as well, the three being roughly 'Celtic rock' and therefore to my still in-training ears, a very good thing.

Above, Moore get reacquainted with his former bandmate in a very ropey and over-earnest video for his Run for Cover album (it's Lynnott's last recording before his death the following year). Below, Moore joins erstwhile compatriots Knopfler, Gilmour - oh, and a couple of bassists, in a rather amusing Raw Sex/French and Saunders skit from a little further back in the day.

There, that's cheered me up. RIP Gary.