THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!!!!!!! (Subject to background and credit checks.)

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I was exactly five and a half the day Thunderbirds first showed on TV.

I know where I was too. On the sofa at 45 Montpelier Road, Brighton, just as I had been the previous November for the first episode of Dr Who and with my Dad sitting beside me saying “This ought to be really good!”

He was quite the TV sci-fi fan in those days. I don’t think he ever found anything quite as good as the original Quatermass Experiment, but he kept trying.

Anyway, Thunderbirds was AMAZING. I’d goggled in childlike manner at Super Car, Stingray and Fireball XL5 over the past couple of years but at five and a half I was ready for something altogether more impressive. Jerry & Sylvia Anderson, bless ’em, didn’t let me down. Everything about Thunderbirds was exactly right. The designs, the grasp of futuristic technology, the chiselled determination of the IR lads, the hilarity of Parker the chauffeur and the elegant poise of his aristocratic employer, not to mention the beastly villain whom you could TELL was up to no good since he was obviously foreign.

Then there was that immortal opening title sequence with it’s stentorian countdown, the close ups of the five Thunderbird machines and the final wide screen shot of the colossal oil refinery which then exploded magnificently and for no adequately explored reason.

Utter and complete BLISS.

And here’s something else that set if very far apart for its times, it was backed up with an astonishing level of marketing, the sort you’d expect nowadays but had no idea of back then. There were exquisite models and action figures, costumes, comics, books and bubble gum cards. Tie in merchandise that was not only perfectly timed and marketed but had the incredible effect of colouring in a show that children were watching in black and white.

Go on…If you are of that generation, think back. Did you ever think of Thunderbirds in monochrome? Unless you came from a very fortunate background indeed you almost certainly watched those first screenings on a black and white Rediffusion rental set with a wobbly vertical hold. But while you remember watching William Hartnell and Partrick Troughton playing the Doctor in black and white with colour transmission only arriving with Jon Pertwee, Thunderbirds creators found a way to get our fizzy little child brains to overlay the colour onto their show for them. If that’s not bloody MAGIC I don’t know what is.

The set up for the series went like this; Millionaire ex astronaut Jeff Tracey bought himself an island in the South Pacific and named it after himself. With the help of a genius known as Brains, he developed five powerful new craft, each one piloted by one of his sons. These made up International Rescue, a philanthropic venture which set out to respond to emergencies both on Earth and in space and rescue everyone in need of such assistance.

There was Scott Tracey in Thunderbird 1, a high powered rocket plane capable of reaching the scene of each week’s disaster and coordinating the subsequent rescue.

Virgil Tracey, who had the biggest eye brows of all the five brothers, (The Andersons took much the same approach to eyebrows as Cher did to sequins. Bung ’em on, the more the better.) flew the amazing Thunderbird 2. Huge and squat, this toad like machine could lift vast weights and started each mission by selecting a ‘pod’ full of whatever equipment might be needed once it arrived.

Alan Tracey flew Thunderbird 3, a space rocket used for sorting out awkwardness in orbit or even on Mars. He was the youngest of the five sons and seemed the most inclined to romantic stuff. Not that the Andersons cluttered up their shows with even the mildest romantic nonsense. Their audience was made up of pre adolescent boys who wanted maximum explosions not yucky kissing.

Gordon Tracey piloted the submersible Thunderbird 4, a sort of multi purpose submarine which would be delivered by one of 2’s pods. He would also take charge of other T2 borne items such as ‘The Mole’.

John Tracey must have had a sick note the day the roles were allotted, not to mention a very high boredom threshold. It was his task to man the orbital space station that handled all of International Rescue’s communications. The Andersons must have realised this eventually as John was drawn into the stories in an active capacity as the series went on.

All five Tracey boys were named after real astronauts from the Mercury programme, a fact that has turned up in pub triv quizzes to numerous to count.

So each episode would feature some gorgeously designed plane, train, factory, mine, ocean liner or suchlike in which some dire emergency would suddenly strike. International Rescue would fly straight to it and, using intelligence, courage and dazzling technology they would sort it all out just seconds before some huge and enormously satisfying explosion took place.

It is testament to the show’s genius that I, like most chaps my age could, rattled off that entire introduction without having to look up a single fact on Wikepedia. In fact it may well turn out to be the measure by which the ageing marbles of Generation Jones are assessed. “Mr Knight? What did Thunderbird 6 turn out to be?”
“Whaaa? No idea!”
“He’s gone gaga. Off to the old folks home with him!”

So the news that the show was to be revived brought some cautious delight in middle aged circles. Weta Workshops were involved, the original concept was not going to be mucked about with, this might actually be rather good.

I myself got very excited and sat down immediately to write a ‘treatment’ that I planned to send to the new show’s producers. But for a jaded and nasty old cynic like myself there could be no way of going directly to the sense of child like optimism needed for a great Thunderbirds episode. I’d have to start out with a more realistic and zeitgeist laden version and then peel away the cynical layers to get at the fun stuff underneath.

Sadly, owing to a late night drinking accident I hit send on the wrong version and surprised the show’s producers with my original, realistic 21st century notes. These were returned to me some months later with a very short note explaining that my ideas were ill suited to their purposes.

Still, I thought I’d share them around before binning them so here goes;

THUNDERBIRDS!!!

Property billionaire Jeff Tracey has a problem. His planned bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2032 could falter pretty damn quick unless he finds a way to tidy up his somewhat patchy reputation. Those bastards in the liberal media just won’t let all that old stuff go for chrissakes! What self respectin’ businessman and wealth creator hasn’t cut a few corners from time to time? And you tellin’ me none of those guys ever had a dead hooker in the trunk of their car? It’d make you weep it really would. So a return to decent American values is what’s needed and ol’ Slippery Jeff is the man for the job.
But nothing he does seems to work. Even the knuckle draggers in the Bible Belt ain’t buyin’ his well publicised conversion to Christianity and the IRS have guys watching his office from unmarked cars across the street.

So when some deadbeat had a bright idea and suggested the International Rescue concept to him he’d realised it could be the image polisher he was looking for. So, a few months later there he was outside his New York offices, grinning like a goddamn fool though a hangover and promisin’ to set up the world’s biggest rescue contractors.

He got a couple of his boys on board. Scott and Vergil both work at head office, Scott doing the CEO stuff and Vergil chasing up the invoices for services rendered with the help of his shadowy department of ex-Black Ops enforcers. Keeping those flyin’ machines going ain’t cheap. You want rescuing, you PAY.

John’s playboy lifestyle ended with the operation that removed his entire nasal septum in one glistening, crystalline chunk. He checked out of the Swiss clicic that performed it and checked straight into the sanitorium next door where he’s been ever since. He doesn’t even come back for Christmas these days. Not that Jeff gives a damn. The sight of that little faggot twitchin’ and sniffin’ fair stuck in his craw.

Gordon got well clear and now runs some kind of tech operation in California. Though he’s nobody’s idea of a serious businessman, his detailed knowledge of his Father’s business and tax arrangements during the 2020’s has meant there’s always a timely bail-out when needed. The old man curses him sometimes but never without a certain good humour. After all, it’s not REALLY blackmail if it’s done to a family member is it? And Ol’ Jeff would have made his first billion a goddamn sight quicker if he’d had that kinda leverage over his old man.

Alan never really got over the kidnapping. He lives in an ashram in India now and keeps the hand with the missing finger well hidden. Scott, Vergil and Gordon pretend they don’t know who he is. John has genuinely forgotten.

Some PR fag suggested it might look good if the boys took part in operations but he shot that idea down pretty damn quick. That shit is DANGEROUS pal! The craft themselves are manufactured to pretty low standards in whichever countries come up with the right tax breaks! They had five T1s blow up before they got a single one to fly, and it’s just a mercy they ain’t actually been called on to take T3 into space as we’ve literally no idea what will happen.
Nah, those birds git flown by expendable nigg…I mean ‘African Americans’ who come to us from the military. They don’t cost much and we keep their sleepin’ quarters away from everyone else. Those boys do a lot a screamin’ in their sleep.
Scott did fly T1 that time they showed it off at that air show. But then he went and spoiled the effect by getting’ his huge fat ass stuck in the door when he was gettin’ out.

The idea of basin’ those death traps on Tracey Island didn’t work out too good either. Whatever that propellant shit is that Brains uses is so toxic even the Chinese won’t touch it. Even if they get a launch away safely, the poison levels mean you can’t have humans anywhere near for years after so all the launch pads have to be kept in places like Mexico and the Philippines.

But hey, the whole shootin’ match looks wonderful! They got uniforms and logo stuff an’ everything! Next time YOU got a passenger liner or jet or some goddamned thing goin’ to shit all around you, just call International Rescue! We’ll be on the scene just as soon as we’ve checked out your line of credit.

You folks take care now and remember to vote Tracey in ’32!

ART AND ME

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Art and I have had a troubled history. I like art. I like it very much. My home town in England was, and still is, a very ARTY place. One of my earliest memories was seeing the annual Summer art exhibitions that took place on the seafront beneath specially provided tent structures. In their shade, artists would work and exhibit the results. I used to watch in awe as quiet men and women, hunched over sketch pads or easels with brushes, pencils and charcoal would produce an amazing range of works and then offer them for sale.
Watching them paint and draw made me want to be just like them. I wanted that skill and I wanted that life. The complete concentration as the work was done followed by the satisfaction of being able to stand back and appreciate it. Art, I rapidly decided, was really COOL.
My parents could not have been more supportive. I was provided with as many paint boxes, brushes, paper and increasingly sophisticated modelling clays as I could have wished for. I went to good schools with well appointed art rooms and enthusiastic teachers. I took Art seriously and continued to do so right up until the age of sixteen, when, looking at my Art O level results I finally admitted to myself the terrible truth.
I have NO TALENT. None at all. Not a sausage, smidgen or skirrick. My composition, grasp of texture, depth, colour and perspective were, quite frankly, crap. I can’t draw and I can’t paint. I had just a slight talent for ceramics but not enough to ever dream of calling myself a potter or sculptor. I’d seen real ones at work and I knew I couldn’t match what they did.
Over the years, any number of people have told me that artistic skills can be learned. But they miss the point. I don’t want to have learned them! If I was to have skill, then I wanted that skill to be real, instinctive and natural, not artificially tacked on over a hopeless base.

‘Bugger’, as the famous saying has it. Still, don’t be a whinger. Move on, find things you CAN do naturally. Writing, acting and singing all came effortlessly so I concentrated on those instead. Then I found a medium in which I felt comfortably skilled. Brewing beer. I found I could do with special seeds, flowers, hot water and yeast, all the things I wanted to be able to do with paper and pencils. So that was all right. Phew…

In my 6th Form years, having admitted that trying to create Art was a waste of everyone’s time, I took to studying its history instead. This I liked very much indeed. The second year module on architecture was pretty damn fine but not a patch on the first year section on Dutch and Flemish Masters. Learning what made Van Eyke’s ‘Arnolfini Wedding’ so revolutionary and then being taken to London to look at the thing close up…Sheer bliss.

Anyway, I wave all this personal blithering at you to show that I do really CARE about this stuff and by way of a preface to my critique of those who, like me, were entirely devoid of talent, but who still persisted in trying to foist their arrant garbage on the world regardless. The ones who went on to do Art College courses aimed at instilling the pomposity to be able to pass off rubbish as somehow ‘Meaningful’. Never mind not having talent! Just learn the right condescending sneer and repeat after me; ‘Oh..I suppose you are still hung up on ‘Representational Art’ then?’ and so on.

Which brings me to the contemptuous snort inducing articles in the last few Waiheke Weekenders by my dear friend Alex Stone in which he sets the scene for this year’s Sculpture on the Gulf event with a look back at the absurdities of the previous six biennials and a couple of ghastly encomiums on local artists likely to be inflicting their nonsense on us this year.

Now I like Alex. I’ve known him for years and have spent many and amusing hour with him over beers or in the radio studio. He’s a funny writer and has the rare ability to manage to get a word in edgeways when I’m around. He is, in short, A Chap. But blatant nonsense is blatant nonsense and deserves to be noted as such. So when he recalls the embarrassing exhibit from 2005 in which a posturing ninny saw fit to place a door across the path and call it sculpture then what else can I do but call out ‘This is CRAP! Once again the stupid Emperor has no CLOTHES! We can all see the pimples on his flabby arse!’

Alex’s take on it goes as follows; ‘Aiko Groot’s ‘Door’ (2005) was-as the title implies- simply a door placed squarely across the path. The idea was you’d simply have to turn the handle, walk through the door and continue-in either direction, no matter.’

Bloody hell…Talk about Turd-Polishing. But wait, it gets worse…

‘But the power of what cannot be seen behind a closed door became a significant feature of the work. The vast majority of the folk walked around the door, creating a new pathway to the side. As Aiko said in his artist’s notes at the time; ‘A door is a powerful symbol for both inclusion and exclusion; it can welcome or keep us out.’

I’ll pause a moment while you laugh hysterically or, if necessary, vomit.

A more honest title for this exhibit might have been; ‘Oh shit! I forgot the event was this year! I’ll have to come up with something in five minutes and hope for the best.’ The tragic thing about it, and about so much of what gets the nod from the pseuds who run this event is that it involved NO SKILL of any kind. Unless you count ‘Being able to locate Placemakers and carry out a simple transaction involving the purchase of an item of household joinery.’ as a ‘skill’.

And believe me, I really don’t.

I have noted before how, several years ago, I undertook, with three friends, to include a segment called ‘A Payne in the Arts’ into a sketch comedy show. One chap played the host of the TV show while the rest of us took turns playing his guests. The lengths we had to go to to come up with artistic concepts that were more absurd than those proffered by real ‘artists’ were quite extreme and even then I am not entirely sure that we managed to imagine something so silly that you couldn’t imagine some idiot actually doing it.

The noted performer Barry Humphries tells of the horrible avant garde film director Martin Agrippa that he played in his shows during the 1970’s. This hideous and aggressive buffoon would lecture the audience on his ‘art’ at great and hilarious length. Humphries, and Australian film director Bruce Beresford had assembled a film for Agrippa to show. It was, they felt, utterly nonsensical and lampooned the serious works being offered by such fellows at the time. They were both surprised and amused when a few years later they discovered that some wag had entered it into a REAL avant garde festival where it had done very well.

The key to understanding how desperately shallow this kind of stuff is lies in the way the artists have to construct huge slabs of impenetrable guff to explain it to the viewer. Alex Stone calls this nonsense ‘The arcane obscurities of art speak’, which is posh for ‘Load of old wank produced to somehow explain the contemptible in terms that raise it to the level of art’. A genuine work of art would not require an explanation like this. Did Michaelangelo or Giotto feel the need to accompany their works with drivelling explanations involving terminology learned by rote at art school? Of course not. But then they were real ARTISTS, not fatuous hacks cobbling bits of tat together and trying to look clever.
There is, I feel, a world of difference between “Here is Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. We’ll understand if you feel the need to weep.” and “Here’s Denis O’Connor’s ‘The Tangler’s Cave. Please move away a bit before sniggering openly.”

Those who can sculpt, do. Those that can’t ‘install’.

And there I suppose is the real reason I get so fumingly irritated by this display every two years. ‘Sculpture on the Gulf’? Oh please! There’s no actual sculpture. That would involve skill. Installations, on the other hand require nothing but the ability to phone some engineering works in Onehunga or Penrose and arrange for them to weld up your stainless steel box or whatever else you fevered brain has come up with.

Alex also feels the need to state that the selectors are ‘Always an independent panel’. Independent of WHAT exactly? Taste? Discernment? Understanding of the concept of irony? He doesn’t explain. Probably just as well. It would only annoy us further.

Still, I suppose ‘Vexatious Installations on the Gulf’ wouldn’t have the same ring would it? Especially if the titles and explanations were required to be honest for a change….

Exhibit 1. ‘I’m Off My Meds!!!!!Hahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!’ By Cornelius van der Ploppy.
Fourteen cinder blocks arranged in a circle, each with a fresh egg placed on top, surrounding a fifteenth block on which no egg is placed. We attempted to get Mr van der Ploppy to explain but he ran away giggling.

Exhibit 2. ‘We Don’t Know Where the Other Bit Is.’
Formerly entitled ‘Large Metal Thing Placed Precariously on Top of Other Large Metal Thing’
In this evolving installation, noted Japanese artist Ogesana Masukaki attempts to reconcile that which ‘IS’, (Namely the bit that turned up) with that which is ‘NOT’, ( the bit that Freightlink lost somewhere and which no trace can now be found.) We think the bit you are looking at is the top bit but we can’t be sure. Mr Masukaki says he can’t remember.

Exhibit 3. ‘My Unhappy Childhood’ By Hortensia Smythe-Buttock.
Numerous cakes, sourced from an upmarket Newmarket Patisserie, placed on individual paper doilies and violently smashed. With tears.
(Ms Smythe-Buttock’s mother is on the committee and her father’s law firm are one of our major sponsors. We know what you’re thinking but fuck you. This is ART darling. These things happen.)

By Exhibit 4 you are starting to flag. Go on, admit it. It’s hot and you are thirsty and wondering why you came. Good question, because it’s time for CORRUGATED IRON! Nothing says ‘I’m a talentless poltroon who never had an original thought in my worthless and vapid life’ like bits of New Zealand’s most iconic Crap Art medium littered about the place.

Still, in another three weeks it will all be gone again and a good thing too. All we must hope if that this time around our local body politicians can resist the blandishments of the organisers and refrain from spending our money on yet more tat for Alison Park.

The Vegan Option

Flagellants

Some years ago I found myself working in an assortment of breweries over in Australia. One of these was a curious and ramshackle operation in a far flung corner of rural Victoria. The owner, my client, was a go-getting sort of fellow. He was smart, but in that limited way of the intelligent person who never got round to reading a few books and whose frame of reference was therefore somewhat limited. But he believed in getting his money’s worth from me and was forever asking whatever questions happened to drift across his mind. One of these concerned a substance known as isinglass. There was a large package of it in the brewery store cupboard, well past its sell-by date and long overdue to be thrown out. My client was curious about it and knew that at some point in the past this substance had been trialled in the conditioning tanks but then forgotten about.

I’d explained its function to him and assured him that I wasn’t keen to use it. I thought no more about it but clearly the subject had taken his fancy and he’d looked it up. A few days later he followed up on the matter, concerned that the use of isinglass at some unspecified point in the future would jeopardise the product’s appeal to what he described as ‘The Vegan Market’.

He was looking at me expectantly. I was clearly required to answer this patently foolish question. I quickly ran through a brief summary of veganism in my head, trying to put together a full and final answer for him. I pondered the unlikely idea of vegans buying and enjoying beer, concluded that he’d never actually met a vegan, (Rural Victoria remember?) and then tried to work out how to explain the motives of those who deliberately choose life’s minimum wage for themselves, taking in a look at the flagellants and hair shirt wearers of history. I considered the importance of making a clear distinction between the simple dietary choice of Vegetarianism and the far more serious social statement implied by Veganism.

Then I remembered that I was talking to an Australian and wisely decided to keep things simple.

“Mate,” I said, “Who gives a FUCK about vegans?”

And there the matter rested.

But I was reminded of this a couple of days ago when an off hand remark of mine on a local Facebook page regarding the importance of letting vegans starve as it wasn’t good to encourage them drew a seriously clenched up response from a person who concluded that I ‘wasn’t a very nice person’, (Which is no less than the truth) and that we would probably ‘Not Get On’ (Like I give a damn.)

I confess that I have an overwhelming urge to mock and belittle vegans. If I owned a restaurant I’d add a note to the bottom of the menu saying; “Yes! We have a Vegan Option’! It’s called The Front Lawn. Fill your boots Hay-Breath.”

Why do I behave this way? Aside from the whole ‘Not Really Being A Very Nice Person’ stuff I mentioned earlier? Many would say that I should respect other people’s choices in life and not be so judgemental of those who opt to eat nothing but potato peelings and hedge trimmings. But then those people are, I feel, missing one of the main areas of appeal for the vegan lifestyle. Deep down, vegans WANT to be disliked. They dislike themselves after all, so the scorn of others is as sweet as honey to them. (Though not real honey obviously since its production involves the exploitation of bees.)

“Oh come now!” I hear you say. “That’s surely nonsense! Vegans are simply people with deeply held ethical positions on animal exploitation and a need to eat a healthy diet”.

Well, bear with me and I’ll explain why you are mistaken. Because what you are describing are vegetarians, who are entirely different. Vegetarians are no bother to cater for. I know, I was one for a whole decade. If you are holding a barbecue or dinner party then the inclusion of a vegetarian or two on the guest list is no problem at all. The rise in availability of delicious products such as Quorn and haloumi cheese has made it all entirely simple. Vegetarians stopped squatting on the moral high ground years ago. The fact that Hitler and his odious side-kick Himmler were both staunch steak-dodgers and the Dalai Lama isn’t has rather put paid to that flimsy notion and that’s just fine. The important point is that vegetarians do not challenge the basic give and take nature of hospitality. Vegans on the other hand, challenge it quite aggressively. That famous joke about ‘How do you know if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.’ is quite true. Vegans revel in their outsider status and will take any opportunity to bore you shitless with it. Because they know that their strident dietary demands are what sets them apart from normal social interaction. They have suffered for their diet and now, should you be unlucky enough to get one of them a s a house guest, it’s YOUR TURN.

The health aspect is decidedly questionable. I am quite sure that there are some people who can survive on a vegan diet and even a few who may thrive. But I’ve met quite a few vegans in the last year or two and it was quite plain that for most of them the health stuff is not that vital. I met one young German couple recently who were hilarious examples of this. Both were extensively self mutilated and both smoked heavily. The male one in particular had the pallor of a corpse and looked like he’d shrivel up and burn if exposed to sunlight. Clearly neither of them were vegans for the health benefits.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that so many vegans one meets these days are German. Germany has always been a big player in the ‘Self-Harm for Sanctimonious Reasons’ business. They didn’t start the Flagellant movement in the 13th and 14th centuries, that was the Spanish and Italians, but they developed it in their usual rather gloomy and mechanical way until it became a vast undertaking with hordes of glum, penitent men marching about the countryside whipping themselves bloody and moaning loudly. They also spread plague, which some people found a bit annoying.The important thing about this self flagellation was not just that you did it but that as many people as possible got to SEE you do it. The same is true of veganism. What’s the point of going to all the misery of a fun-free diet if you can’t go about shoving that misery under people’s noses?

So while it is tempting to simply write vegans off as half witted toddlers refusing any food they find ‘yuckky’, it is more interesting to look deeper into what makes people wish to go to such sad extremes in the cause of public suffering. In its most developed form we can witness the appalling self mutilation of Phillipinos each Easter, nailing themselves to crosses to prove something or other which I for one can’t be arsed to investigate. Devout sects in Italy do similar stuff as do Shiite Muslims in Iran and Catholics in New Mexico. The important thing to realise is that this pain is in no way hedonistic. These are not Peter Plomley-Walker style shenanigans involving riding crops, stern women in corsets and safe words. This is not meant to be fun and it clearly isn’t. It’s about genuine suffering, inflicted to strengthen resolve and define one’s imagined purity and singleness of purpose. These examples are all religiously driven of course, humans are always at their worst when doing nasty stuff that they imagine will make their ugly, bad tempered Gods happy.

But the dour and self denying lifestyle is not confined to those who imagine gods for themselves. Our increasingly secular world still has to provide outlets for expression among those for whom less is MORE. The stern, the unbending, the neo-puritans and the anti fun types.

I dislike these people. They annoy me and I want to annoy them. Which I clearly do.

The dissident feminist writer and academic Camille Paglia, who had already won my admiration for declaring that she cherished “performance, artifice and play rather than earnestness.” then went on to win it even further by predicting, quite accurately in my view, that this century would be defined less by the oppositions of gender, politics and faith and more primally by the opposition of the followers of Apollo and those of Dionysus. Which is pretty much what I see from where I’m sitting, (which is above a brewery, overlooking a vineyard and pondering the new drink driving laws….)

If you don’t quite get the classical allusion to all of this then look it up. That’s what Google is there for.

So if we must choose between those two vastly different sons of Zeus, then I’m with Dionysus all the way. It’s fun, frolics and great big meals with ALL the trimmings for me thank you very much. And if you are of a different view then you go for it. But don’t expect me not to mock you mercilessly. I’m only human.

Dirty Waiheke Politics

By Michael Tavares

dirty waiheke politics
Nicky Hager’s book ‘Dirty Politics’ threatens to destroy the facade of #TeamKey’s image of a ‘Mr Nice Guy’, who sits above the fray and ties him directly to this behaviour, as well as implicating his staff and ministers in potentially illegal activities.

This is a little more disturbing than the muckraking of earlier eras, which sought to cast light on the abuse of power, this is the abuse of power! John Key seems quite comfortable with members of his staff and/or party helping themselves to the private information of Labour party members through hacking their website, and he continues to stand by his justice minister Judith Collins after she admitted giving the personal details of a public servant to Slater, opening him to death threats. The Greens have rightly called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry and in Government would instigate it.

Yet Waiheke has not been immune to the rise of the attack blog. Ever since being voted out of office in the 2013 local body elections, former Waiheke Local Board deputy chair Jo Holmes and her sidekick Jerry Flay, along with ‘anonymous’ guest bloggers have been publishing daily blogs attacking: The Mayor, the new Waiheke Local Board Members, especially Paul Walden, Denise Roche, Green MP based on Waiheke, her partner and daughter, me, and anyone associated with Green or progressive politics anywhere.

Far from being a discussion of policies and ideas, the daily blog posts have been heavy on the personal attack, making unfounded accusations and relying heavily on superficial comments on people’s appearance. As Martyn Bradbury points out “Politics can be angry, politics can be loud. – but hateful? Hate politics has no place in a modern democracy”

In the Waiheke Whale Oil ‘joholmes.com’, Denise Roche is referred to as ‘an old bag’, Becs Ballard is referred to as ‘Barbie’ I am called ‘a silly little boy’, and implications alluding to physical characteristics of Denise’s 15 year old daughter have been made too.

Whilst for many the blog may be a form of light entertainment, as it is far more entertaining than any satire of the subject material could be, it is scarily serious. Jo has written or hosted pieces in favour of single use disposable plastic bags, blogged against the public fruit tree project in Blackpool, railed against the concept of ‘fairtrade’, and has called Generation Zero (the youth climate change action group) “just like the Hitler youth”! Whilst it would be amusing if read as satire, like The Civilian, or The Onion, there is no reason to believe that the views expressed there are not genuinely held. Jo admires and models herself on Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil blog. I’ll say that again: Jo admires Cameron Slater, and proudly considers her blog the Waiheke equivalent.

It’s not so much that anyone outside her close circle of attack dogs takes her seriously, however, in fact the most frequent response of a new reader of the blog is “Is this for real? Or hilarious satire?” It’s more a question we need to ask ourselves;

“Is this new medium of the attack blog what we’re about on Waiheke?”

Jo Holmes still holds that the path that her administration was taking on the Waiheke Local Board was the right one, despite the community opposition, and that she and the rest of the ‘A’ Team lost their positions not because they were making unpopular decisions and ignoring the public sentiment, but that it was because of a conspiracy and media bias against her by the Gulf News paper on the island. She refuses to see that the Waiheke electorate made a very clear judgement on her time on the board, believing herself to be the victim of an orchestrated conspiracy against her benevolent regime.

This lack of insight, and unwillingness to examine ones self and their actions, preferring to blame everyone else around them, is undignified behaviour, and the daily barrage of negativity is not in the spirit of the Waiheke. This is not the direction I think we want local politics to take.

Other bloggers on this site have encouraged people to just ignore the blog and deny it an audience. But like a screaming toddler in the corner, ignoring only makes the shouts louder. Jo and Jerry patted themselves on the back when members of Generation Zero took to the comments section of her blog responding to the outrageous Nazi claims. Measuring success in having upset people.

No, I would encourage the opposite. Steel yourself and go and a look at what is being put out there on that blog. Challenge the accusations made and ask for proof. Be informed as to what she is about, what she stands for and how she conducts herself. Waiheke’s own Whale Oil. Is it gonna fly on the island of the Rainbow Warriors?

In light of the dirty politics revelations, I encourage Jo to put forward a positive alternative vision of how she would like the island and the city to go. Engage in the conversation, discuss policies and proposals, rather than slimy Whale Oil attacks on individuals and the community. Talk about issues.

“At the end of the day” Spreading rumours is not journalism, and slander is not debate.

#LoveWaiheke

Michael Tavares
Michael Tavares is an Environment, Transport and Sustainability advocate, the Convenor of the Waiheke Green Party, a Trustee on the Waiheke Resources Trust and a Committee Member of the Hauraki Islands Forest and Bird Society Branch. He maintains the blog www.micheltavares.net, a positive Waiheke Blog celebrating this wonderful island and it’s community. His views are his own.

I Wish To Meet Your Inner Child. (Then put a plastic bag over its head.)

Kid

School holidays are with us again and small children are everywhere. Some noisy, some quiet, but all with demands. Lots of demands. Food, treats, toys, stimulation, you name it. Children need LOTS of stuff and demand it the only way they can. With endless repetition and the threat of tears and copious quantities of mucus and noise if their requirements are not instantly met. It’s horrible, but it’s part of growing up.

“Oh God,” you’re all thinking, “That beer bloke is going on about kids again. What does he know about it? He doesn’t even have any!”

Well bear with me because that is NOT where I’m headed with this. I know you all love your offspring. You give them names and dress them up in little clothes and so on and that’s lovely I’m sure. But its ADULTS I want to look at today. Adults that employ the tactics of toddlers because somehow the world has bent out of shape enough to make them think they can get away with it.

I was drawn to this subject by a curious article that appeared on the net yesterday. You can find the link here;

http://news.distractify.com/culture/craigslist-surveillance-restaurant/?v=1

The gist of this is that a New York restaurant found itself facing complaints about service. It reviewed security footage from ten years before and discovered that it was doing the same stuff, just as efficiently, but that the CUSTOMERS had become less efficient. Their obsessive use of mobile technology meant that everything took longer. Rather than order food politely, wait patiently for it to arrive, eat it and then bugger off again tidily, most restaurant patrons are deep into their online lives and everyone else can damn well wait until they take a break from tapping ‘LOL’ and so forth into their little electronic chums.

Of course it is a common complaint these days that people really do spend too much time looking at phones and tablets so I’m not going to add to that. Besides, I am far from innocent of such behaviour myself. I simply LOVE my little Black Mirror and use it a lot too so I can’t take issue with people who do it excessively.

What shocked me more than anything with that article was not the electronic bad manners but the revelation that in 2004 just three people out of forty five were rude and arrogant enough to demand a different table while ten years later that figure had risen to EIGHTEEN out of forty five. My limited grasp of mathematics is not up to working out the percentage increase in people being ill mannered but then it hardly needs to when faced with a rise of that magnitude in just a decade. That figure is simply astonishing, not to mention deeply disturbing. There have always been people for whom having more than enough money acts as a substitute for being polite or considerate. The sloppy rich twit who thinks being rude to waiters is clever or endearing will always, alas, be with us. But, given that the ordinarily paid have grown poorer in the last ten years, what are we to make of the fact that BEHAVING like a spoiled, rich wanker is growing more popular even if these folk don’t have the money to make the rudeness genuinely gold plated? What on earth has happened to us in just ten years to make us think this is a fine way to carry on?

If there is one thing any sensible adult knows it is that being rude to people in shops, restaurants, airports and other such places is really dumb. I have a friend who never grasped this and was always full of bracing tales of how forcefully he demanded better service on airlines during his many business trips abroad. He seemed to think this showed some sort of prestige. I just smiled quietly during his bumptious monologues on the subject and imagined just what hijinks went on in the aircraft galley as the flight attendants added bodily exudates to his meals.

Because, make no mistake on this point, THEY DO. So do waiters in restaurants and if you believe otherwise then you are deluded. The old axiom of ‘Always put a little of yourself into every job’ has a very specific meaning to service industry staff who have to smile politely out front during some childish rant from a customer with an inflated sense of self importance. Once those harried waiters get behind the scenes then THEY are in charge and the rude customer will find their smiles just that bit more genuine once that specially treated meal is placed before them.

All of which should be perfectly obvious and if the wealthy and inconsiderate find themselves dining on the contents of a waiter’s nose then this is right and proper and all is well with the world. But, this is going off topic just a bit. Let us get back to the way in which even the most runny nosed service industry staff are finding themselves hard pressed to keep up with demand for their nasal contents and having to fall back on good old fashioned spit in the coffee.

Help me out here. I’ve worked in various service industry jobs and as a result I have NEVER gone into a restaurant or café and demanded a different table to the one I was offered. It has simply never occurred to me to do so. It’s just a bloody TABLE for heaven’s sake. I’m not planning on buying it. I’m not looking for a relationship with it. I just want somewhere to sit as I find eating food while standing up to be disagreeable. But surely someone reading this must have done it and I’d love to know why. What was it about standing there like a huge toddler and saying “I don’t want that table! I want THAT one!” that met some need in you? Looking back at that figure of three complaints rising to eighteen complaints indicates that behaving like a confused infant in public is far more popular than it used to be. The average article on this site gets fifty or so readers, so statistically at least a few of you reading this have sunk to this level of public nastiness. ‘Fess up. Let’s hear WHY.

Until I get a different explanation from someone who behaves like this then I can draw just two possible conclusions. Firstly, it is possible that, as chaps like Desmond Morris explained so well, humans copy behaviours from the more powerful of their species. We indicate status by adopting clothes and mannerisms from those we perceive to be more successful. For example, a hundred years ago, the wealthy viewed suntanned skin as being a mark of manual labour and stayed well out of the sun lest they end up looking like a navvy. Yet within a lifetime suntanned skin had changed its social signal entirely and the poorly paid were rushing off to destroy their complexions in horrible sun beds so as to give the impression of having been overseas on an expensive holiday. Styles of clothing and the naming of children follow the same top downwards trajectory. So it might be possible to infer that the arrogant and puffed up attitudes of some wealthy folk towards their social inferiors has become something that the less well paid seek to ape in order to appear better off than they inevitably are.

Which is pretty bloody tragic.

Personally though, I have another suggestion. It’s not a nice thought but I have to say it. We are becoming infantilised as a society. The idea that we should laugh and play like children has always been a pleasant one. It IS nice to do so from time to time, but we seem to have grown more accepting of the darker side to this and begun to believe that screaming, pouting and yelling like children is also good. Sadly the proof of this is becoming more apparent.

I was a child at a time when the retail industry hadn’t quite figured out what we now call ‘Pester Power’. Back then, the good stuff that we kids could throw a tantrum over was all kept in sweet and toy shops that our parents had the ability to keep us out of if they chose. The rudimentary supermarkets of Britain in the 60’s simply hadn’t got round to filling the shelves by the checkouts full of sweet and colourful things that drew our eyes and made us fractious. But by the late 1980’s the first pester power kids were entering adult life and the results were not always pretty. I particularly remember a tubby lad from Montreal that I used to work with. Ten years younger than me, he’d grown up as the youngest child in a large family and appeared to have been wretchedly indulged. The smug look of a kid whose mother gave in every time he screamed was writ large upon him and it was a sad thing to see. For now he was discovering that adult life was full of people that couldn’t have cared less for his sense of entitlement and who simply laughed in his face or ignored him when he drummed his heels and pouted when things weren’t exactly to his liking.

But that was twenty five years ago and nowadays he and his type are a lot happier. Because now there are enough overgrown toddlers infesting the world that commerce has found it profitable to embrace them. Fast food chains in particular have discovered that enough adults exist in a perpetually infantilised state to make their businesses flourish. Bright and gaudy colour schemes combine with squashy burgers packed with sugar and fat to create a dining environment in which four year olds of ALL ages can feel entertained and satisfied.

Now that would be fine if they stayed at McDonalds, but the overgrown toddler mentality is creeping out all over, and the result is the unpleasant statistic discovered by that restaurant in New York. And it’s the same here. Businesses run by grownups FOR grownups are having to tolerate the infantilised market in order to compete and this is a tragedy. For it is not just the sugar and fat eating crowd that we have to listen to these days but that other dreadful manifestation of the spoiled infant, The Food Faddist. The snivelling, self-obsessed little twerp for whom no meal can possibly be acceptable until their gamut of obsessive high fibre/gluten free/organic/lactose intolerant bullshit has been run through in front of everybody. I think I despise these types of overgrown children the most.

How nice it would be to visit a restaurant in which a fatuous ninny at the next table was simply called on his toddler-like behaviour! Imagine the scene if you will…. Screen goes all wavy…..

“Excuse me! Excuse me! Waiter!!!!”

“Sir/Madam?”

“I don’t like this! The table is the wrong size and in the wrong place. I want to sit by the window on a better chair and I want my egg cooked like that person’s over there and whatever those green bits are in the quiche look yucky! There’s a salt shaker on my table which is offensive ‘cos I’m on a low sodium diet and this coffee tastes like it still has some caffeine in it and I don’t do caffeine. There should be more gluten free items on the menu ‘cos I’m eating gluten free now since I read a thing on the internet about Gwyneth Paltrow doing it. Basically, I want everything changed round and I don’t want to have to pay my bill ‘cos you didn’t do any of the things I want properly.”

“Sir/Madam?”

“What?”

“Now, what we are going to do is this. You are going to leave now. Go away,and don’t come back until you’ve learned to behave in public like a grown up. If you can manage that and do wish to return then bring a fucking note from your DOCTOR proving you are intolerant of certain foods or we’ll just assume you are a wanker who just likes whining about stuff instead. Your infantile behaviour falls below an acceptable standard and all the other patrons around you think you’re a fuckwit and can’t wait to see the back of you. Are we clear on this? Good. Now, off you fuck.”

THAT, I believe is a restaurant I’d be proud to visit.

I would like to add that if anyone is ‘offended’ by any of the above then I am delighted. Feel free to let me know how much my observations have annoyed you as this will amuse me greatly.

In conclusion I would like to sign off with this list from the great journalist Michael Bywater who has written an entire book on the tricky topic. In order to appear publicly as at least vaguely adult he makes the following suggestions;

How to be an adult.

Don’t be affronted.
Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about ‘inappropriateness’) is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance

Mistrust anything catchy, whether it’s the Axis of Evil, advertising slogans, or blatant branding (‘New Labour’). Catchiness exists to prevent thought and to disguise motive. Grown-ups can think for themselves

Ignore celebrities, except when they are doing what they are celebrated for doing: acting, playing football et cetera. Skill does not confer moral, political or intellectual discrimination. (Except in the case of writers. Writers know everything and can lecture you with impunity.) If a celebrity is not celebrated for doing anything but being a celebrity, smile politely but pay no notice

We should not assume that market forces will decide wisely. The market is rigged by manipulation and infantilisation

Consider our own motivations. We may rail about being treated like children, ordered about, kept from the truth, nannied and exploited… but are we complicit in it? Could the reward actually be infantilisation itself?

Autonomy is the primary marker of being grown up. Babies, children and adolescents don’t have any. We don’t want to be in their boat

Suspect administration.
Its purpose is to free the organisation to do what it’s meant to do: but the triumph of the administrators – the lawyers, the accountants, the professional managers – means that too many organisations now believe that what they are meant to do is administer themselves. This is a profoundly infantile attitude

Do not love yourself unconditionally. Such love is for babies and comes from their mothers. Ignore fashion, particularly in clothes. You don’t want to look like a teenager for ever

Never do business with a company offering ‘solutions’ as in ‘ergonomic furniture solutions which minimise the postural strain associated with sitting’ (chairs) and ‘Post Office mailing solutions’ (brown paper). The word suggests we have a problem, but since we are grown-ups, that is for us to decide

Denounce relativism at every turn. Shouting ‘not fair’ is childish. Demanding respect without earning it is childish. Don’t fear seriousness. Babies aren’t allowed to be serious

Watch our language.
Is there really much difference between a six-year-old in a fright-wig and his father’s waders shouting ‘I’m the Mighty Wurgle-Burgle-Urgley-Goo’ and an ostensible grown-up demanding to be called ‘Tony Blair’s Respect Tsar’?

Hide.
Grown-ups are not required to be perpetually accountable, while the instincts of government and big business, both of which are, almost by their nature, great infantilisers, are to keep an eye on everyone all the time

Eat it up.
There is nothing more babyish than having dietary requirements

Never vote for, do business with or be pleasant to anyone who uses the words ‘ordinary people’

Let Us Speak Of SPAM.

Spam 1

The other night I was talking, over an ale or two, naturally, to a friend who has just returned from a holiday in Hawaii. He was explaining how popular Spam seems to be over there and how this strange and frankly horrible product is now being made in assorted ‘gourmet’ flavours. Somebody decided that Chorizo flavoured Spam was a good idea and others seemed willing to accept this strange decision and actually eat it. Not only that, but he even saw macadamia nuts, (Which Hawaii produces in vast and delicious quantities) available in Spam Flavour.

This revelation produced a horrible moment of shared disgust among the assembled company and we all took that half gulp, half deep breath that all humans do when faced with something too vile to contemplate. Spam is not something that any of us present had eaten in decades. As a foodstuff it rates only very slightly above pet food in most people’s perception.

I first met Spam at the age of four. I went to a very good primary school and I can think of half a dozen friends and relations that went there too and I am sure they will remember this as vividly as I do. The school took its teaching responsibilities seriously and while it went to great lengths to show us kids that the world could be full of colour, fun, music, games and shouting for joy, they also took similar care to demonstrate to us that the world could also be a bleak and joyless place in which sadness, adversity and gloom had to be met head on and accepted. This they did using Spam.

At least once every two weeks we would troop hungrily into the hall for lunch and be faced with the horror of Spam. It was clearly taken from some huge catering pack and served in perfectly round slices along with the scraps of greenery that passed for salad in 60’s Britain. It was, quite simply, inedible. It was a depressing synthetic pink in colour, smelled of chemicals and tasted of sadness. We’d sit and cut faces or shapes into it, putting off the horrible moment when we would have no choice but to eat it. And eat it we would, since this was post war Britain. Rationing had only, finally, been abandoned less than a decade before and the country still ran on the ‘Food-is-Fuel’ mentality and you were still meant to be pathetically grateful for anything not actually poisonous.
“You’ll eat it and like it!” “That’s good food! You can’t let it go to waste!” “There are starving children in India!”, and of course the terrible; “No pudding until you’ve eaten your MEAT!”

Once I left primary school they found other ways of showing us how crap life could be such as compulsory rugby and beatings and I was never again to eat Spam. In fact I had almost forgotten that it still existed until Monty Python suddenly gave it a boost in their unforgettable ‘Spam Sketch’. The hilarious spectacle of Terry Jones as the proprietor of some gloomy café, reeling off the endless list of meals containing more and more improbable quantities of Spam while a table full of Vikings in the corner broke into song about the stuff suddenly made it seem at least funny.
spam 2

Almost iconic in fact. Though neither funny nor iconic enough to make me want to eat it again. Indeed, during my impoverished and drunken younger days I ate many revolting things, especially late at night. I’ve even eaten saveloys and doner kebabs (and kept them down too) but I have never been hungry or degraded enough to have touched Spam.

(Just an aside here. My research on the internet into Spam reveals that the famous Python sketch led to the name Spam being applied to unwanted email, though who first decided this is unclear.)

Many countries boast revolting foodstuffs. Scotland has Haggis, which, despite its seemingly disgusting provenance is actually delicious. In Iceland they eat rotted shark which people have weed on. Yet these ‘delicacies’ are presented with swagger and a knowing grin. There’s something defiantly fun about them. But Spam makes no such claims. It is simply nasty, cheap canned ‘meat-style’ food substitute, cheaply packaged and without flair of any kind.

So where could it have come from? Personally, I was AMAZED to find my own country guiltless. I had always simply assumed that anything so deliberately joyless could only have been developed in Britain. But no. Spam is as American as apple pie and school shootings. It was invented by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937, and while its brand name is taken to mean ‘Spiced Ham’, it appears that the name actually means something else which they don’t want to tell us and I don’t want to think about.

The American do produce a lot of CRAP food. But, no matter how squashy, fake, horrible and unhealthy these foods may be, our American cousins usually manage to package and advertise them as if they were wholesome, nutritious and fun. The Big Mac is the ultimate example of this on the worldwide scale though a visit to an American supermarket will turn up foods even more unlikely and appalling. Yet even the worst of these will be presented in bright and irresistible packs, hinting at untold gastronomic delight.

Not Spam though. Oh dear no. Spam is, for all its horror, presented in dull and honest tins that promise nothing save for disappointment and self-loathing. Spam is the ultimate anti-fun food.

Yet it is still made, and, we must assume, sold. A look at the tinned meat shelves here at our local supermarket shows that Hormel’s Spam occupies a standard one metre shelf and is available in standard ‘Inedible’, ‘Inedible Low Sodium’, ‘Bacon’ and ‘Turkey’ flavours. Yet just a few feet away lie the inexpressible delights of a New Zealand meat chiller, containing meats of a quality unheard of in many countries. Ten dollars will get you a rump steak so tender you’d think it came from a cow tended by angels, pork chops so rich and flavourful they look like they’ll cook themselves for you, and of course the best lamb available anywhere on Earth. Yet enough people are prepared to bypass these fresh meats and buy Spam instead. It defies belief.

Over the last couple of days I have asked pretty much everyone I’ve encountered if they have eaten Spam recently. None of them have, which came as no surprise. But every single one of them reacted as if I’d asked them if they’d eaten dog roll. Or drunk from a puddle. But then the kind of people I know tend, like me, to be serious about food. So I decided to sit down, write about my curiosity and see if anyone else feels like saying, as Eric Idle’s character did in that sketch; “I LOVE SPAM!”

Who still eats it? Do you have favourite recipes for it? What is it that draws you to its jellified and synthetic delights? Do you feed it to children? (And if so, what did your children do to deserve this?) Answers below please. I’ll even waive my normal refusal to allow replies from anonymous responders in this case. I can see why you’d want to keep this habit a secret.

An Unsung Hero

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Gather round everybody, gather round. I have a tale to tell of a hero tragically unsung. His obscurity is something that any decent person would wish to see swept away and if ever a chap deserved to be sung about in loud tones then this is the fellow.
Now your basic Unsung Hero is hardly a rare beast. For every statue erected of grumpy monarchs, self-serving legislators and blood spattered generals there should be similar monuments to any number of men and women who have added, in some way or another, to the sum of human knowledge, security and happiness.

That’s life though. Few of these folks will ever find enough champions to demand that their memory be honoured with some lasting memorial, but the gentleman I wish to tell you of really does require greater recognition, and if this tale serves to bring his honourable name to wider attention then I shall have at least made a start.

There’s a personal aspect to this story too, since the chap in question is buried in my hometown of Brighton in Sussex. As a youngster, I’d walk through the churchyard of St Nicholas at least once a week on my way into town, noting the more famous resting places of Nicholas Tattersall, (the sea captain that sailed the future King Charles the 2nd to France following his defeat at the battle of Worcester) Martha Gunn, (The large and terrifying woman who first encouraged visitors to the town to get their swimming gear on and actually immerse themselves in sea water) and the remarkable Phoebe Hessel whose life story deserves an entirely separate article. Their names I knew. But for some reason the most illustrious inhabitant of the quiet church yard was unknown to me. I must have walked past his simple but handsome gravestone a thousand times and I blush to think that it is only now that I realise what I was missing.

The man in question was Sake Dean Mahomed.

Admit it. You haven’t heard of him either. Yet this was a man who should rightly be a household name, his statue in every town and his portrait on the wall of every…. But wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
I discovered Mr Mahomed, or ‘Doctor Brighton’ as he was known in his lifetime, simply because I wanted to know where the word ‘Shampoo’ came from. That strange word is in front of you in the shower every morning. Where could it have originated? French perhaps? No. The French word is exactly the same only with ‘ing’ on the end. (What a crazy day THAT must have been at the Academie Francais as the learned gents deliberated on how to admit this curious new word into their obsessively over-protected language.)

Well, if the good lord had meant us to be in the dark on such matters he would not have given us Wikipedia. It was the matter of a moment or two to discover that the word derives from the Hindi word ‘Champo’, meaning head massage, and was brought to the British Isles by Sake Dean Mahomed who opened the first Shampoo parlour in Brighton in the early years of the 19th century. Well, all things Brightonian are of interest to me so I read a little more on this splendid Bengali gentleman. Mr Mahomed was born in Patna, India in 1759. His exactly birthday is unrecorded, which is a crying shame as it should be marked as a day of international celebration, but no matter, we can surely pick another date for the purpose, but more on that later. At the tender age of ten he met an Anglo Irish army captain by the name of Godfrey Evan Baker and found his way into the service of the East India Company as a surgeon. He remained in Captain Baker’s unit until Baker’s retirement in 1782, at which point he decided to accompany his friend back to Britain. Two years later, while living and studying in Ireland, he met an attractive young lady by the name of Jane Daly, and, despite the objections of her family, converted from Islam to the Anglican faith and eloped with her.

The pair then moved from Ireland to Brighton, then to London and finally back to Brighton where they raised five children and spent the rest of their lives. While in London, Mahomed worked for the Scottish entrepreneur Basil Cochrane at his ‘Vapour Baths’ in Portman Square and his curious new method of ‘Shampooing’ the scalps of Cochrane’s wealthy clients proved popular. However, his employer must have been a difficult man to work with. A contemporary described this gentleman and his brothers thus; ‘The Cochranes are not to be trusted out of sight. They are all romantic, mad, money –getting and not truth telling- and there is not a single exception in any part of that family.’ Ouch. With a write up like that we can assume that Saturday nights at their place must have been a blast, but not the kind of people you’d find it easy to be in business with.

Small wonder then that Mahomed soon struck out on his own and in 1814 opened his own premises on the Brighton seafront. This combined Turkish baths and shampoo establishment was a roaring success and set the family up in fine style. The patronage of the Prince Regent himself set the seal on Mahomed’s status and he found himself appointed ‘Shampooing Surgeon’ to both the Prince Regent and his successor William the 4th.

This royal patronage was to end with the accession to the throne of Victoria, who took one look at the Brighton Pavilion and declared that she could not possibly spend so much as a night there. She can hardly be faulted for this I have to admit. The Pavilion, though magnificent, is possibly the most hallucinatory and vulgar royal palace ever built. So the party town of the south coast lost its royal connection forever, but by this time Mahomed had his life well in order. He died at a ripe old age in February 1851 and went to his rest in the graveyard of St Nicholas. He had authored numerous books on subjects as diverse as surgery, thalassotherapy and the history of the Mughal Empire as well as an account of his own life and travels. He was, in short, A Chap.
But, you may be thinking at this point, is that it? Introducing shampoo to the world at large is an achievement, certainly, but weren’t you going on about public monuments earlier? Is there something else that he did that got you so worked up? Don’t tell me he invented India Pale Ale as well?

Well no gentle reader he didn’t do anything quite THAT impressive, but he did do the absolute next best thing. You see, I have saved the best bit until now. The bit that should, if you are any kind of decent person have you googling his name and clamouring for his memory to be better looked after. For Sake Dean Mahomed opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain.
Pause for that one to sink in. Now let me repeat that in a font size more suited to such a statement;

HE OPENED THE FIRST INDIAN RESTAURANT IN BRITAIN.

If my design talents were up to the job, that sentence would be surrounded by elaborate curlicues and flourishes, with maybe a bare bottomed cherub or two about the margins, blowing trumpets. Because Sake Dean Mahomed really was that much of a Chap. He brought the first curry house to Blighty. Now tell me THAT isn’t worthy of a bloody great big marble statue or two.
Let me state, and I will brook no argument on this, that the cuisine of the Indian subcontinent is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. In its multitudinous forms it has brought untold joy and fulfilment to everyone who has encountered it. Show me a town without an Indian restaurant and I’ll show you a bleak, desolate and unhappy place in which I would not linger for more than a minute.

So let’s try and set things to rights shall we? Indian restaurateurs, set Mahomed’s portrait prominently on your walls. It’s right there on the internet and he’s a handsome looking fellow. Let his peaceful and intelligent face gaze down from the red flock wall coverings and over the happy throng eating at your tables. Give this man his due. He brought something far better to the world than most of us could ever dream of. I myself shall begin tomorrow and I urge you all to do likewise. I shall print off his portrait, have it framed at my own expense and head without delay to Ajadz restaurant where I shall linger over a fine lunch and present it to the owners with a full explanation.

I’ll even bring a nail.

It’s Sculpture Time Again!

The news that Headland is seeking a new Artistic Director for next year’s Sculpture on the Gulf has Waiheke’s artistic community in a state of excitement. Normally, we’d have sent Tom Payne (Presenter of the slightly popular local arts show ‘A Payne in the Arts’) along to cover this important story, but, as he’s already left for The Bienniale* we had no choice but to send Alan Knight along in his place.

Current Headland Artistic Director Dorothy Pseud has come a long way since co-founding the Condemned Garden Shed Gallery in Ostend in 2003. For the last few years she has headed up the team responsible for bringing the island’s premier sculpture exhibition to life on the hills above Matiatia. But all good things must come to an end and as the search begins for her successor I caught up with her to look back on her work over the last few years as well as contemplate what the future holds. Now it was clear from the start that I’d be lucky to get anything but pretentious nonsense from her regarding the generally ludicrous and shoddy standard of work usually presented at Headland so naturally I took the precaution of adding a generous dose of CIA approved truth serum to her cup of decaff so as to get a more realistic overview of what we can expect next year.

I began by asking her what exactly does the Artistic director do? Ms Pseud sighed heavily, “Look,” she began, “The whole thing is basically BOLLOCKS right? Sculpture? Don’t make me laugh. On Waiheke? Michaelangelo was a sculptor. Bernini was a sculptor. Frederick Hart was a sculptor. You know? Actual TALENTED people who took stone or metal and turned it into bloody ART? We, on the other hand, get fifteen or so total wankers with a scrappy grant and a few sheets of bleedin’ corrugated iron or some other crap they managed to scrounge from the transfer station. Either that or they went off their meds, had some sort of half hearted idea then got an engineering firm to do the actual construction then took all the credit. We stick it on a hillside, tack some slab of pretentious waffle about what it’s supposed to ‘mean’ in front of it and away we go. Pathetic I know but people seem to like it. Why am I being this honest?”

“I drugged your coffee.”

“Oh…..Right….That would do it I suppose…..”

“So how are the sculptures chosen?”

“Well, to begin with, you have to sort out the real stuff from the stuff submitted by people taking the piss. Now that really IS tricky. Let’s say, just as an example, we get an artwork that consists of three sheep’s skulls glued to a plank and sprayed yellow. Now if a Real Artist thought of that then obviously it’s brilliant and may win a major award, but if the same idea came from some group of blokes sitting around, drinking beer and trying to be annoying then it’s just crap. See what I mean?”

“Not really, no. If an idea is rubbish then surely it’s rubbish no matter who perpetrates it?”

“You didn’t go to Art School did you?”

“No.”

“I can tell. Look, the point is, if someone has been to some sort of Art College, spent three years splattering plaster or resin or oatmeal on the walls, had some sort of distressing mental breakdown after living on pot noodles in a basement for a while then got some sort of write up in a magazine that nobody reads then you have to take their work seriously and exhibit it!”

“Ever get it wrong?”

“OK, there was the thing with the traffic cones…”

“I don’t remember that one…”

“Last Headland but one. The notable sculptor Fenton Bulstrode submitted an installation consisting of seventeen traffic cones arranged in a semi circle, right? Utter wank of course, but Bulstrode is ‘Well Known’. He’s the guy that did the pile of sponge cake thing on the Wellington waterfront back in 2004 that caused that big traffic accident. So how could we refuse? He was supposed to send us the cones by courier and then come up and spend a week or so arranging them. But then the council did those repairs on Nick Johnson Drive and put identical cones out. We thought the freight company had dropped them off so we gathered them up and put them somewhere safely. Then the real ones arrived but we thought it was a mistake and sent them back. So we had a furious sculptor who refused to work with the cones we gave him, said they had the wrong ‘feel’, plus all the fuss when that bloke drove his bicycle into the huge hole in the road that wasn’t marked properly because we’d taken the traffic cones away. Bloody nightmare that was.”

“I can imagine.”

“But, as I said, the whole thing is style over substance. You think the average visitor knows what he’s looking at? Come on! We put out a broken horse float covered in scribble and they practically salivated over the stupid thing. Most of them are half pissed and developing sunstroke by the time they get to the exhibits so who really cares? If we say it’s ART they have to believe it right? This year it will probably be a shop window dummy squatting on a child’s potty with some sea shells glued on it for all I know. As long as it’s called something ‘deep’ like ‘Intimations Of Uncertainty, Chapter Nine‘ or some such drivel then who’s going to argue?”

“Surely someone must see it’s all nonsense?”

“Well, we did get one review that called it ‘A fatuous parade of self important ugliness seemingly cobbled together at a toddler’s playgroup.’ “

“Ow. That’s harsh. Who said that?”

“You did.”

“Oh….Right.”

“So, coming next year?”

“No.”

“Fair enough.”

* We know it’s not until next year but Venice is a bloody long way when you have to walk and/or swim.

A word or two from Els.



There was a particular thread that came up yesterday on WIPP that featured an inspired reply from Els Verbanck. It was so good that I asked her if she could shuffle it all into one article and send it to me so I could post it on here.
This she has kindly done and so here it is.
Over to you Els…….

With the election over, the supporters of the opposition all of a sudden find themselves to be ‘a not insignificant minority of dissenting residents’ and are hoping that ‘their wishes and interests will be taken into account’. Well. Yes, let’s hope that the minority’s wishes and interests are taken into account by the new Local Board. May I point out that during the last 3 years, the LB represented a smaller section of the Waiheke electorate than the new LB does now, and the un-represented majority – because that’s what we were: the majority – did not have their wishes and interests taken into account.

I was told last night that in an interview on Waiheke Radio, Faye was asked where she thought she had gone wrong to lose so many of her voters, and that she responded that she didn’t think she had done anything wrong, that she had done everything right. This shows to me how incredibly out of touch with the community she was – that she did not consider the amount of dissent to her policies, the amount of protest to her decisions to be significant. She dismissed a huge part of the community out of hand because they did not see things as she did. She seems to consider, or did consider, the people disagreeing with her as misguided, deluded, rabble, trouble makers….

Whilst the new board is the choice of over 50% of the electorate, the old one was the choice of a mere 30 odd %. The previous board got in by fluke – through the left vote being spread too thinly over too many candidates.

And they abused, thoroughly abused and misused the power that fell into their laps, was theirs by error. They never were representative of the electorate of Waiheke – they had the support of less than 40% of the community.

I note that this was something their supporters and adherents and sycophants never admitted. They never acknowledged they had a minority backing – indeed, they had the cheek to cast us in the minority role – which, by default, in their eyes, made us not worth listening to. And now they are displaying breath taking hypocrisy by clamouring to be heard? To express a hope that ‘their wishes and interests will be taken into account’? Am I really hearing this correctly? Are they demanding a right which the board they supported denied us – the former ‘dissenting minority’?

I have to admit: I’m angry. How dare you? How dare the lot of you? How dare you take a stance like that, and all of a sudden play the misunderstood, unrepresented underdog/minority card, and try and appeal to what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘fair’? For 3 years, a small, select group of the island were the ones who were represented, and you laughed in our faces, shrugged your shoulders at our ‘views and wishes’, said ‘too bad’, and ‘suck it up’ and ‘sucks to be you, dunnit’?

Didn’t listen to us, gloated from your exalted position, did whatever the hell you wanted, and now you want us to be the reasonable ones? The inclusive ones? Well, guess what, sunshine, we always were. We always were the reasonable ones, the inclusive ones. We were the ones who wanted the best for the whole of the island, for the whole of the community, we were the ones who protested at decisions made which only served or were advantageous to ‘the select few’.

It galls me that in 2010 the victors were not magnanimous, and now request the 2013 winners to be. It galls me that the 2010 victors pursued policies which were so clearly divisive, and now request the 2013 winners to pursue inclusiveness. It galls me that during this last election, there were orchestrated smear campaigns coming from the A-Team supporters, and now that they’ve lost, they’re appealing to our better nature. And the reason why we will include them and talk to them and listen to them, is in spite of them. Because of who and what we are. In spite of them. So yes, the minority WILL be listened to, WILL have their voice heard – we WILL engage in dialogue and work for the WHOLE of the island.

Because that’s the board WE elected – us, the former rabble, the former dissenting ‘minority’. It fell to us to look for candidates whom displayed a willingness to work together – as a team, and with the community . It fell to us to get behind them, it fell to us to help them campaign and elect them, because that is what we wanted – a board which can represent ALL of us.

My FURY could be dissipated by a showing of humility from the other side, by an acknowledgment of their wrongs, by an admission, ever so slightly, that they did not act in the interest of the whole of the community. But I won’t hold my breath. I will, instead, redirect my anger and use it for other fights that have not been won yet.

I will not forget.

“It’s the MEDIA’S Fault!!!”

Right then Playmates, it’s the day after the elections and the significance of the results are finally sinking in for all of us. Tomorrow will be Monday and a new week will have begun. By then it will be time to leave off flogging this particular subject and get back to real life once more. The campaign was excellent, the result deeply satisfying, but now it is time to wind down the coverage.

So, while it is still the weekend, let me share this parting shot regarding the subject of blaming media bias. I wrote a few weeks ago on this very subject but felt it was worth coming back to look at it again in the light of comment made yesterday by that most EX of Board members Faye Storer regarding the role of the media in her catastrophic fall from office. It was, she opined, the fault of the Gulf News for running a negative campaign against her. She herself had done nothing wrong. She had done the right thing from start to finish, sided with the angels, fought the good fight and ‘Non, je ne regrette rien….’ etc…etc…

If only those bloody hacks at the Gulf News had behaved properly and said nice things about her then she’d have won. Pure and simple.

Well I’m sorry, but that is BOLLOCKS.

Ms Storer and her two chums went down to humiliating and total defeat for the simple reason that not enough people TRUSTED them. To lead off your post result excuses by blaming the media is both pathetic and dishonest. What’s more, it displays a level of self delusion that makes us all feel quite glad that Faye Storer’s political career is over. What’s more, the idea that the local newspaper somehow owes her anything at all is a very disturbing one. The media is not there to simply print whatever silly politicians fancy having in their press releases. And if the political message is rubbish it is the job of the media to point this out.

Alex Stone and I were the subject of what I am assured was a deeply confused complaint to Waiheke Radio from an A Team supporter. This odd fellow took issue with the radio station allowing air time to a pair of obviously BIASED malcontents who then proceeded to criticise the incumbent board! The fact that our spot is called ‘Opinionated Islanders’ and has been running for some time now as an opinion spot seemed to have eluded him. Our light hearted ribbing of the board was in no way a reflection of the bias of the station as a whole. Indeed, Waiheke Radio has emerged from this election process with considerable credit in the impartiality stakes. To make matters worse, the complainant then refused to come down to the studios himself to take part in a discussion. Too much of a ‘Media Talk-Fest’ apparently.

So what are we to make of people that whine about bias on one hand yet refuse to come along and present their views either? Apart from call them something rude? If the Gulf News, Waiheke Radio, WIPP and this website hold up a mirror to our community then it is no good getting all bent out of shape because you don’t happen to like the reflection. Sorry, but as we keep on and on pointing out, this is one seriously LIBERAL community and if such values are not to your taste then that’s your problem not ours.

Finally, let me also mention that I feel for the disappointed A Team supporters. They really thought that the 30% margin their board had entitled them to a big say in how stuff got done and now they are feeling very hard done by. I could develop this theme a little more but everything that needs saying on the subject has been written elsewhere by Els Verbanck in such eloquent detail that it would be foolish to add to it here.

All I can say is that looking back now, I’m damned if I can make out exactly what it was that the A Team supporters actually WANTED. One or two of them always felt the need to reply to posts on here but not once did they ever rise to actually arguing any points made in the articles. It was always a sort of generalised ‘You are totally wrong, and did we mention you are a bastard too’ droning that never actually seemed to go anywhere or make any points.

One vocal A Team supporter is a good friend of mine. We have spent any amount of time sitting up late drinking and discussing politics. He too has never really managed to explain what it is that he wants or what he fears from the new board. What is it that he feels the last board did that was so wonderful? Does he think Paul Walden and his chums are going to reintroduce feudalism or compulsory horse ownership?

All these things are unclear. I could, at this stage, point out that given the election result it really doesn’t MATTER. But, in the new spirit of cooperation and understanding that’s going around at the moment that would be wrong.

So I won’t.

Bye for now, and thanks for tuning in.