Monday, 4 April 2011

Fulham Follies And Other Foibles

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 03:  Fulham chairman M...Image by Getty Images via @daylifeMohammed Al Fayed's increasingly bizarre shrine-making has reached a new zenith.

According to Today newspaper and the BBC he has unveiled a statue to the late 'Wacko Jacko' outside Fulham Football Club's grounds.

I doubt very much if Michael Jackson ever entered Craven Cottage or had much of an interest in football, but that  has not deterred the super rich Al Fayed from spending some of his Harrod sales spoils on a  a statue of his departed friend.

Critics of this idea (and there are a few fans who are not enchanted by this development) can "go to hell" or "Chelsea" according to the club's owner.  I would have thought backing Chelsea was a kind of purgatory in itself but no doubt there are those who think otherwise.

The majority of the front page of the Singapore paper seemed to focus on the merits of new PAP candidates although another snippet also caught my attention.

Why is it that so many young, Singaporeans (and the not so young) still want to leave the country?  According to a recent survey, 20% of young Singaporeans did not feel a strong bond to the country and despite feeling differently about their family, were quite prepared to fly the coop.

The more disquieting news is that this same segment are in the better educated demographic and are pessimistic about Singapore's economic future.

26.4 per cent of all respondents expressed a desire to emigrate within the next five years which must be of concern to the country although expect like New Zealand, once the O.E. is out of the system many of these dame people will feel happy to return to the land of their birth.

If any of them are Fulham supporters I would suggest they stay put!
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Saturday, 2 April 2011

No Joke

Yes, it is real: Scrubby Bottoms
The first of April has come and gone and with it the usual line up of gags, spoofs and false news stories.

We have Chaucer to partly blame for promoting this strange annual observance, some 700 years ago in his Canterbury Tales.  Certainly by the 16th century April 1st was celebrated for its foolish japes.

According to an entry in Wikipedia in 1698, several people were tricked into going to the Tower of London to "see the Lions washed".

There have been other classic pranks such as the Dutch television station in the 1950's who informed their gullible viewvers that the leaning Tower of Pisa had finally fallen over.

In more modern times companies such as Google have continued the tradition.  This year is was a new piece of funcionality called Google Motion which claimed one could control Gmail with your body.




Another prank by Google has been to promote the often revelied font Comic Sans, because ithey discovered it "consistently outperformed all others when it comes to user satisfaction, level of engagement, understanding web content, productivity, click-through rates and conversion rates. We’ll therefore be rolling out Comic Sans as our default font across all Google products on April 4, 2011".

However not all strange stories on the first have been April Fools jokes.  Take for example news that a 50-strong gang of chickens that terrorised residents in Southport has been evicted by Lancashire Police.

Or, news that a baker has been flooded with complaints after calling his shop Nice Baps. 

But perhaps once of the most bizarre has been the revelation that Britain's National Trust has published a list of the UK's top 10 "silly walks" to such colourfully-named locations as Scrubby Bottoms, Pembrokeshire, Booby's Bay, Cornwall and Windy Gap in Surrey.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Kerikeri Capers

Paunch compost is not for the faint hearted.  It features in a large street sign in the Northland township of Moerewa and is one of the many things I noted on our three day trip to sub tropical Kerikeri.

Suffice to say it is several decades since I last visited Kerikeri and it has undergone a major transformation.

Where once there were dusty roads, forlorn farms, brightly painted and semi-derelict weather board houses, there are now organic farms, a smart cafe culture and wineries.

We deliberately timed our visit to beat the heat of summer and the peak tourist season.  Late March always has more settled weather and the region is not called the 'winterless North' for nothing.

Banana palms in fruit, magnificent nikau palms and tropical foliage grows with wild abandon in these parts and we were fortunate to sample the season's newly picked mandarins.  Kerikeri has been well known for citrus fruit and the fruit we tasted were some of sweetest I have ever had.

The town is far more laid back and less touristy than its near neighbour, Paihia.  I remember a summer holiday in Paihia when I was ten years old.  Our family tented in the local camping grounds and had the beach front largely to ourselves.  I first learnt to row a dinghy from these shores and got as brown as a berry -  skin cancer was largely unknown at the time!

The camping ground has disappeared and has been replaced by a rows of motels, each vying for custom in what has become a Bay of Islands mecca for the tourist trade.  Being only fifteen minutes drive from Kerikeri we decided to spend a morning in Paihia.  Some T-shirts caught our eye as these were heavily discounted to $NZ8 at the end of the season.

The rock oysters were as plentiful as ever and the old ferry from Paihia to Russell still plies its trade. Russell was formerly known as Kororareka. During the whaling and sealing days it became known as the "Hell hole of the South Pacific" with rampant prostitution and a complete absence of any laws.  It is a much more sleepy place now.

We stayed in three and half star accommodation in Kerikeri; the Colonial House Motel.  The place was nestled in the trees and a tui sang each morning and evening from the highest branches.

Our cabin was clean and comfortable for the two of us and our deal provided for a free continental breakfast tray and 20 Mb of broadband.  Our affable hosts Alan and Andrea whipped up a batch of complementary cookies for us as guests which was a nice touch. All for the princely sum of $NZ120 per night.

It took us four hours to drive from our home in Auckland to our motel, allowing for a good break enroute.





Kerikeri and it environs are best known as the first place of European occupation in new Zealand. The Mission House or Kemp House as it is often known is the oldest building in the country and was constructed in 1822. The adjacent Stone Store is also one of the first.  Both have been lovingly restored by the Historic Place Trust.

It is also the home of Makana chocolates which offers free tasting which were yummy but pricey.  Best value for money along the Kerikeru Road leading into town, was the bakery at Reeds Vege Express.  Their filled rolls and savoury muffins were great value.

For those who enjoy a stroll through native bush, there are several interesting walking tracks to suit all levels of fitness.

If you are visiting New Zealand and fancy experiencing our heritage, natural beauty and some of the best that New Zealand has to offer in local produce then don't miss Kerikeri.  It is an easy car journey from Auckland.

All in all for us, a very pleasant three days away from city life. 
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Death By A Thousand Cuts

Source: Captain Capitalism
My death by a thousand cuts took place in a claustrophobically small aircraft toilet, some thirty eight thousand feet about the Earth.

I had forgotten to pack a razor and had resorted to using the one provide in a cellophane pack by the airline.

Being early morning in the time zone I had left eight hours before didn't help my mood as I wrestled to open the packet in the small confines of the toilet cubicle.

The trick, of managing to keep any hot water in the stainless steel basin also eluded me.  It was then I discovered that the small tube of shaving cream provided was of sufficient vintage to ensure that it had hardened solid and could not be coaxed out, no matter how hard I squeezed.

Not to be outdone I resorted to using liquid hand soap form the dispenser attached to the wall.  The arrival of turbulence prompted the announcement from the stewardess to "please return to your seats and securely fasten your seatbelts".

It is the first and only time that I decided to disobey this instruction.  My shirt had been removed by this time to stop the liquid soap continuing its run and there way no way I was going to repeat the procedure after the airpockets had passed.

The hand held plastic razor was of the twin blade variety.  Not that I had any problem with reverting from the  usual four blade version I was used to, to this more primitive and flexible piece of plastic and sharpened steel.

The fact that razor manufacturers always seem to add another blade to their product on an annual basis I find slightly absurd.

A more apparent problem soon emerged with the first sweep of the blade across my chin.  Forgetting that the blade was of similar vintage to the tube of cream I was therefore mortified to notice that large bloody welts had suddenly appeared on my face.

I am not sure if it was the altitude, but blood seems to run more freely in a pressurised aircraft cabin.  There was no choice but to forget about shaving and focus on first aid with the help of a dwindling supply of paper tissues.

Thankfully when I emerged from the toilet as a bloodied version of the Australian comic Norman Gunston, there were few awake in the cabin to witness my sheepish return to my seat.

While Heathrow customs did look somewhat askance at my appearance, the rest of the journey into London proved uneventful.

However I learn a valuable lesson: I pack my owner blade razor and will never again try to use the complimentary airline version.

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Saturday, 26 March 2011

Today's Print

Click on image

Great Inventions

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Sweep Me Away

Singapore Sweep
I could never quite understand the attraction of 4D, the officially sanctioned version or the illegal HDB-hawked version. Having 'Big' and Small' versions of the same draw is thoroughly confusing to the uninitiated.

Neither seemed to give great returns and I can but wonder how they are faring with the two casinos mopping up all the Uncles and Aunties' spare change?

In all my time in Singapore I only managed to recoup a couple of dollars; mind you I was rarely tempted to out money down in the first place.  The Singapore Sweepstake lottery also failed to spark my interest with a maximum prize of 2.2. million and odds that made winning almost impossible.

Not that Singapore Pools established in 1968 and who run these lotteries are missing out, as Sport betting is big business. Both football and motor racing attract the punters.  

Singapore Pools reportedly (dated 2006) make $5 billion Singapore dollars per year but are parsimonious when it comes to give back to charities.  In its first 38 years of operation is only gave back $S1.6.billion

We used to see big queues forming at the betting shop on the corner of Alexandra Road and Commonwealth Drive before they pulled the small coffee shop complex down.  The other casualty in this redevelopment was a much patronised noodle stall.

Those who lost their shirt gambling were never too far away from redemption, with both the True Way Presbyterian Church and another religious grouping in Sanctuary House within easy walking distance from the betting shop, although I very much doubt that those afflicted made the association.

The New Zealand Lottery Board this past financial years sold $NZ782.3 million of tickets and made an overall profit of $NZ159 million.  This profit was distributed to New Zealand charities which compares more than favourably with the charitable distribution rate of its Singapore cousin.

As I write the New Zealand Powerball lottery has jack-potted to an impressive $NZ25 million which unlike the Singapore sweep will not be shared by a dozen people when finally struck.  Perchance to dream!
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Monday, 21 March 2011

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Wrong Prince But Love The Mug


An enterprising firm in Guandong has been keen to get it's royal wedding merchandise in front of the market.

The "Fairytale Romantic Union Of All The Centuries" as described on the their web site features 'ornate detailing' and the wrong prince.

Which just goes to prove that Harry's no mug!

The Japan Earthquake Swarm



This shows the smaller quakes which were a precursor to the larger magnitude 8.9 earthquake in Japan.

The Pacific plate also affects New Zealand and both countries are prone to these forces of nature.  Thank goodness though that New Zealand has remained nuclear free. 

The serious reactor problems in Japan threaten to be even more destructive than the earthquake and tsunami.
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Monday, 14 March 2011

Today's Print

Kiwanas   .....................................  Roger Smith 2011
Click on the image for a larger version

Vifil Baboon

I love the way certain Asian proprietors appropriate trademarks for their own use.  There is a small row of shops near us and a now defunct Indian hairdressing salon proudly boasted the following sign.


Vidal Sassoon would have been less than amused by this transliteration but, judging by the state of the sign, the business folded some time ago.

Perhaps I do Vifal an injustice but I can feel fairly confident that his or her second name was not 'baboon'.

Mind you, on the Indian sub continent there are some strange English variations of common terms.  Here is an example of a road sign that surely has some merit in the eyes of those behind the driving wheel.

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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Kuling Thoughts

Meilu Villa
They say you learn something new every day; at least this is an an approach to life  that I try to adopt..

I mentioned earlier in an earlier article that we discovered that there were now two Chinese channels on New Zealand television when we returned for Singapore.

From time to time there is a good documentary and today was no exception.  The programme's focus was on Lushan Mountain which is in Jiangxi Province, sprawling alongside the Changjiang (Yangtze) River and near Poyang Lake.

A great number of Westerners came to the Mt.Lushan area during the period from the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) to the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908).

There they engaged in business, missionary work, cultural and educational work, scientific research, and the operation of hospitals.

In 1886 a European missionary and opportunist businessman, Edward Selby Little came to China.  Then aged 22,  he carried a map of the world and a guidebook to China which had been compiled by a British missionary.  Such were the travel preparations of the day!

He saw Mt Lushan as an ideal retreat from the heat of the valley below for the western expatriates based there.  The middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze river plains get extremely hot in summer and his compatriots from Shanghai to Nanjing were literally getting hot under the collar.

Through a combination of bluff, bribery and persuasion he managed to secure the lease form the rapidly disintegrating Qing dynasty.

In consideration of both the Chinese name of this town, Guniuling, and an implication of “cooling,” Little gave this place a new name - “Kuling".  He then subdivided the land and sold the plots off, although technically the land was not a concession; it remained a lease.

He also built a 12 mile track up the mountain that wound through tea plantations.  A British family ran the general store and the Fairy Glen Hotel.

The son of a London banker opened the Journey's End Inn on the lower slopes and is reputed to have equipped the rooms with both bibles and volumes of French pornography.

By the 1920s, Lushan was already home to more than 800 villas representing the architectural styles of 20 nations, including the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and Sweden.

The western-style villas left by Edward Selby Little and his followers used to be Lushan's most precious attractions.

The most famous of the houses built there is Meilu Villa, which in its time housed both Mao Zedong  and Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of Kuomintang and later 'founder' of Taiwan.

“Meilu” was constructed in 1903 by a British madame, and later presented by her as a gift, to her friend Soong Mei-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the then central government.

Guling was handed back to China by the British in 1935 but by then Edward Selby Little had long since departed.

He became a senior officer in the British Colonial service and moved to New Zealand's North Island where he became one of the founding fathers of Keri Keri settlement.

The land on which the famous Kororipo Maori  pa stood was gifted back to the nation by Edward Selby Little and both he and members of his family are buried at the cemetery of the St James Church in Kerikeri, overlooking the pa, and the country he loved.

By strange coincidence we are planning to have our first New Zealand short holiday in Keri Keri, which is a three and a half hour drive north of Auckland
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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Painful Postures and Royal Appointments

Painful Rugby Postures
Two things captured my attention this morning.  Firstly the announcement of our new Governor General to replace the incumbent later in the year.

With respect to the current GG, the announcement of his appointment at the time was greeted with "who?" by a great number of New Zealanders.  Sir Anand Satyanand was not a household name but he has fulfilled his duties admirably.

As to the role itself, it is a hangover from colonial days and Singapore has replaced this head of state role with that of President.

What ever you call it, the position is largely ceremonial as the real political power lies with the elected government of the day.

Our new Governor General is to be a recently retired Head of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Jerry Matepara, soon to be known as Sir Jerry Matepara, as a gong goes with the appointment.

Having been in the SAS at one stage of his army career the new GG will no doubt be a dab hand with the sword, which may come in handy for investitures.

The second item of interest is the news that the huge rugby stadium in Christchurch has been badly damaged in the recent earthquake.

This is a real blow to a province that is passionate about its sport and equally adamant that they should retain hosting privileges for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup 2011.

Quite apart from the stability of the stadium itself it appears that the playing pitch has been subject to liquefaction, even creating a bulge in one place.

There may a positive about this raised mound of earth.  Perhaps it could replace the plastic kicking tee that the goal kickers use? 

At least it would speed up the game if this was done as I for one get tired of watching English backs spending forever in strange postures as they line up the ball for a goal attempt.  Their first five, Johnny Wilkinson, always looks as if someone has slipped him a suppository when he crouches over the ball.

I was surprised to discover when we lived in the Republic that rugby is a popular game from a number of Singaporeans. Even though I enjoyed playing the game in my younger days I don't think I would have wanted to do so in the tropical heat

Monday, 7 March 2011

Let's Hear It For 'The Girl'

"It' Spring" said the cheerful voice of my friend from London as we connected via the marvels of Skype.

"Not here" said I, reflecting that the first of March marks the commencement of autumn, or Fall as the North Americans would describe it.

Having lived without seasons for four years in Singapore (if you discount 'wet' and 'dry' as seasonal variations), the change of seasons back in New Zealand is quite pronounced.

Rubber jandals are giving way once again to carpet slippers and the temperature at night makes for pleasant sleeping under a down duvet.

Usually we can count on a more settled time of year in March, but the effects of the La Niña weather patterns have put paid to such predictions.

According to Wikipedia, El Niño is Spanish for "the boy" and refers to the Christ child, because periodic warming in the Pacific near South America is usually noticed around Christmas. The name La Niña means "the girl" and is analogous to El Niño.

When I was young we had never heard of 'La Niña' or its counterpart 'El Nino'; the weather changed in autumn, got bitter in winter and warmed up again in Spring.

We had 'wet summers' and 'dry summers' that were commented upon by straw sucking yokels over the fence.  Spanish terms for weather were never uttered.

Weather dictated the farming cycles -  silage making, haymaking, 'drying off' the cows  - such was the rural rythmn of Taranaki.  We knew we had winter when Mt Egmont had snow and rugby was top of mind.

But being located in the Pacific as we are we are subject to the vagaries of the heating and cooling of that vast ocean - El Niño is the warming phase and La Niña the cooling.

El Niño guarantees more extremes in climate and we have seen such effects this summer as several tropical cyclones have skirted our eastern shores.  Thankfully by the time they get to our latitude they have reduced to storms and lost much of their power

This morning has dawned clear and cool after a 12 degree might temperature.  It is strange to reflect that the term 'cool' in Singapore referred to 26 degree temperature accompanied by very modest breeze.

Time to pull on the slippers.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Off with their heads!

Yesterday it was announced that the New Zealand government has taken over the management of the Christchurch earthquake disaster from the local city council.

This is not a reflection on the sterling efforts of the Mayor and his elected officials but it does show that the time has come to move on to the larger infrastructure issues that face the city.

More than 60,000 locals have decided not to wait for this decision and have voted with their feet, many vowing never to return.  I can't blame them as just last night there was yet another significant aftershock which will have further jangled already frayed nerves.

There is another battle looming; between those conservationists who are determined to see as much of Christchurch's historic architecture rebuilt as possible and the Minister now responsible for Christchurch (known with distaste by some as "Bulldozer Brownlee") who only sees the Cathedral, Catholic basilica, Provincial Chambers and Art Centre as worthy of a rebuild.

He is quoted as saying that other old buildings would be demolished tomorrow if it was up to him. "While they are part of our past history, they have no place in our future history."



This appears at first glance to a remarkably short-sighted observation given that Christchurch's appeal is its architecture.

While human lives and accommodation must be the main priority it is true that the citizens of the future city need to be protected from heritage buildings that are hazardous.  However this does not mean that all 19th and early 20th century buildings should be bowled over with the exception of the aforementioned.

The defined heritage precincts of Christchurch have taken a battering and many buildings are totally destroyed.  Unlike a medieval town such as Girona in Spain, which has survived natural disasters largely in tact, Christchurch needs to rebuild its core infrastructure and quickly.

Singapore's removed many of the old and largely derelict heritage quarters in its drove for modernisation but if you visit the city you can still see many examples of classic architecture that have been faithfully restored or retained. A makeover of Muscat Street is one of their latest projects.

This is the balance that Christchurch needs to retain.  One can't keep everything but save the best; and the best is more than four buildings.

I see a huge opportunity arising out of the ashes of Christchurch.  In a city known for its architecture why not use the spaces where buildings have had to be demolished for a new wave of New Zealand architecture. Demonstrate what is best about the country's architectural style in the 21st century.

Invite leading NZ architects to participate and turn the city once again into an architectural showcase, this time for the future.