Sunday, 21 August 2011

Today's Print - Plateau

Plateau ........................................................... Roger Smith 2011
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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

An Expensive Place To Live

The world's 20 most expensive cities according to a survey by Swiss bank UBS:

1: Oslo
2: Zurich
3: Geneva
4: Copenhagen
5: Stockholm
6: Tokyo
7: Sydney
8: Helsinki
9: Toronto
10: Singapore
11: Vienna
12: Paris
13: Luxembourg
14: New York
15: London
16: Munich
17: Montreal
18: Frankfurt
19: Sao Paulo
20: Dublin

Auckland is 24th but two years ago it ranked only 43rd.
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Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Rugby Heartland

The 2011 Rugby World Cup is almost upon us in New Zealand and the hype has already reached fever pitch in the local media.

Those of us who last played the game some forty plus years ago have fond memories of the then amateur code.  No doubt they too have, from time to time, rummaged in their stored possessions chancing upon memories of teams past.

Coming from a strong rugby secondary school (New Plymouth Boys High) where I played well enough to make some of the top junior school teams in Taranaki, I was keen to continue this sporting passion during my Teachers College days in Palmerston North.
Two us, Dave Bullot and myself, represented the province of Manawatu as rugby reps in our first year at the college which was quite an honour.  I played prop and Dave, who also happened to be my childhood neighbour for Waitara, was fullback and had a prodigious 'boot'.  The thrill of running from under the stands in Palmerston North, wearing the green and white striped Manawatu jersey is with me still.

Our Manawatu 3rd grade team beat all comers that year.  I also recall a bus trip through the Manawatu Gorge to play a rep team from Hawke's Bay who were playing a grade higher than we were.  Their side was made up of rough-whiskered young farmers and the inside of the scrum smelt like a brewery.  No wonder we thrashed them.

It was in this cauldron that I learn the 'dark arts' of forward play.  Brought up on the idea of fair play I was somewhat surprised when our rep. coach instructed me to stand on the foot of the opposing jumper in the lineout.  It certainly worked but I can't say I enjoyed doing so; the referee never spotted my deviousness so I guess I performed up to the coach's expectation.

After the Teacher's College games we would adjoin to the Grand Hotel on the corner of the Square and Church Street in Palmerston North.  They served a nice pub meal and we shared a jug of beer.  Being under age on licensed premises made one rather nervous and eventually the police raided the hotel and caught several of us.

My first and last court appearance resulted in a fine on $19 for drinking under age, much to the chagrin of my parents, as my father happened to be a Judge of the Maori Land Court.

The magistrate who conducted my case had been dining with our family the week before and clearly wanted to make an example of me so that I never darkened the doors of the Grand again, which I never did.
The next year I made the 1st Xv which played in the Senior B competition.  I was probably a little too light in build to play against the older men who made up these sides but nevertheless we won the competition.

Players who I remember from this time were our fullback, John Brebner, who was studying art and got me interested in doing likewise. John Watson I had known from my school days in New Plymouth. He went on to become one of New Zealand's finest actors. Manasi Vaka was a Tongan studying in New Zealand and Peter Potaka was one of three brothers who went to Teachers College. His family came from a potato growing area called Rama.

This was the last team that I seriously played for. The following year I was transferred to the town of Turangi in the centre of the North Island to undertake my Probationary Assistant year. I played one social game in Turangi but was no longer fit enough to enjoy it.

So this year, as others squabble over the price of All Black replica jerseys, I shall be remembering a time when raking boot sprigs on one's back was a feeling set aside and the gladiatorial crunch of the front row engaging brought on a primeval sense of satisfaction.
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Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Presidential Check List

Choosing a President is never an easy task as many of my Singaporean friends will no doubt tell you.  Later this month they go to the polls once again; this time to choose President Nathan's replacement.

I confess to be living back in a country that doesn't have such an office.  We cling to the last vestiges of our colonial past with a Governor General as our Head of State and the Queen's representative.  There are those who would like to replace the G.G. with a President but I am not one of them.  This preference is based on my observations of the shenanigans that surround the presidential electoral process in other countries -  the States and Italy being amongst the worst examples.

Despite my reservations I couldn't help but wonder what my own checklist for picking a suitable President might be?  I have come up with the following:

  1. Pick someone who hasn't been born with a silver spoon on their mouth.
    A man of the people needs to have been fully immersed in the day to day life of the community through face-to-face service throughout their working life. Only then can they truly claim to be the people's president.
  2. Removed from Government machinations
    Even though the presidential role is largely ceremonial a President need to be perceived to be clearly aside from the ambitions of the government of the day, and to have been so for some considerable time.  Not out of touch nor diametrically opposed to those in power, but able to provide the necessary impartial political checks and balances as and when required.
  3.  Sound moral fibre
    A predilection to the demon drink and chasing hotel maids (or airline stewardesses) might be seen as an attribute in some European countries but it does not project the country in the best light and such a candidate should be discounted with alacrity. And don't be lulled by the false sense that the average age of most presidential hopefuls is at least seventy; many still have the libido to make themselves a nuisance if they are that way inclined.
  4. Gravitas
    Pomp without pomposity should be a defining attribute.  The ability to carry out Presidential ceremonial duties with the dignity of the office in tact I see as essential.  A mumbling moron with a slouch, one who doesn't know his knife from his fork simply will not do.
  5. Fiscal Prudence
    If your Presidential salary is in the millions and you banquet by candlelight most nights of the week it could be very easy to lose touch with reality.  Someone who has been able to manage a family budget in reduced circumstances would have the edge when it came to my pick.  If they knew where the best value for money chicken rice was in the Heartland, even better!
As to the Singaporean election we can be assured of one thing; the next President will be a President Tan.  The questions remains, which one?

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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

From Slate to Smart Phone

I have just been listening to a very interesting programme on BBC Business about the rivalry between two German pencil manufacturers; Staedtler and Faber Castell. Both have a centuries old tradition of the craft of pencil making and remain at the forefront of the business.

It reminded me that my first attempts at writing took place on a slate with apiece of chalk.  After World War Two when I was born I guess pencils from Germany and the rest of UK / Europe were in short supply, chewed up in the mouths of anxious army clerks by the boxful.

The expression 'wipe the slate clean' is meaningful to those of use who literally did so. The new entrants classroom at age five meant a change of writing tool and wooden desks with ceramic inkwell holders. These holders were cracked and stained with ink giving the impression of what I later came to appreciate as precious Chinese Ge ware, although of course our receptacles were anything but.

Laborious copying of text using pencils came first and later, the use of dip pens and ink when we were taught the beauty of cursive script.

How technology has moved in one short lifetime.  In the age of smart phones hand gestures such as wiping are digitised and thumbs 'text' at a speed faster than the old nib pen of my early school days could ever have traveled.
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The Cult of Celebrity

Her botoxed lips reminded me of the nether regions of a female baboon in heat.

The siliconed breasts seemed grotesquely out of proportion as she struggled with her friend (should that be bosom buddy?) to secure the frontal position in a glossy woman's magazine in our local supermarket.

The bottle-blonde coiffure of her multiple-married companion matched that of her own and both were a  less than edifying picture of middle age neurosis . Or, as we say in these parts "mutton dressed up as lamb".

This mutton should have been out out to pasture long ago, but the aged glitterati never seem to be able to retire gracefully.

My local newspaper summed up the pair: "In their nihilistic search for fame, we fed upon their every gum-chewing antic and cosmetic enhancement. But haven't we had enough? "

We surely have but they clearly haven't.  Just so long as the editors of women's and society magazines are prepared to pay money for these posing 'party has-beens' then they will continue to project themselves from the checkout racks.

On reflection it is a sad indictment of our society, but it should not be confused with 'Mutton Bustin' which is a peculiar Canadian pastime.  Small children are encouraged to ride a rampaging sheep around the rodeo ring, all the while trying desperately hard to hang on.

Perhaps there are similarities between this and society girls who refuse to age gracefully after all.

Monday, 1 August 2011

National Day Parade 2011

Singapore's National Day is always celebrated in song and heavily promoted by the government and Mediacorp. The above video is of song composed and sung by Lorraine Tan.

The official song for the NDP is called "In A Heartbeat and is sung by a former Singapore idol runner-up, Sylvia Ratonel. She is a Euro-Filipino who signed a fulltime contract with the government's MediaCorp after Singapore idol so it is not surprising she is the chosen one for this rendition.

I much prefer the Lorraine Tan offering as I find Ms Ratonel's effort vocally insipid.  However this is a matter of personal taste.

The country's greatest asset is its people as it has no natural resources to speak of.  Although the lyrics and sentiments may seem rather 'saccharine' to outsiders, they reflect the importance of family as the key unit of social stability and support.

It is interesting to review such ditties from previous years and all have a similar perspective.
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Saturday, 30 July 2011

Today's Print - Melbourne Moves

Melbourne Moves 2
Roger Smith  2011
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Friday, 29 July 2011

Today's Print - Tai Chi Fort Canning

Tai Chi Fort Canning
Roger Smith 2011

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Sweet Spot and Sweet Victories

I don't know which has the most cataclysmic possibilities; the news that a trojan asteroid called 2010 TK7 has been quietly circling above or that our earth's population is reaching 7 billion.

Apparently trojan asteroids need not be feared as they are not the same as the one that wiped out the dinosaur population some sixty five million years ago. According to the media "the 200-300m-wide rock sits in front of our planet at a gravitational "sweet spot", and poses no danger".

One would certainly hope that they have got their calculations correct. Science has been known to get things wrong before but if this proves to be the case there is little we can do about it anyway.

As to the global population we have apparently slowed our birth rate since the 1960's but even then there will be yet another billion mouth to feed twelve years from now.

In Singapore however life is focusing on more mundane matters. A woman has been fined $4,000 for stealing $390 worth of products from a pet shop in Sengkang in June last year. She is reported as having a penchant for feeding stray cats.

Senior Minister Grace Fu
The national football team vanquished their bitter rivals Malaysia to progress to the third round qualifiers for the World Cup for only the second time in its history.  They did so in the face of overt intimidation in the crowd, were some idiot brandished a kris knife.

But the sweetest spot of all belongs to Marina Bay Sands casino in Singapore which has contributed US$737.6 million to its  parent company's coffers and is on its way to become the most profitable casino-resort ever.

It's a rich now ( if you will excuse the pun) for Minister Grace Fu to express in her Facebook pages that she is now "concern(ed) about the social effects".

As part of the then government that introduced casinos into Singapore she, and other members of her party, were made well aware of the downside of such a decision at the time.
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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Today's Print - Towards A Harsh Darkness

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Monday, 25 July 2011

Today's Print - Asleep Over London

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'Asleep Over London' is a montage of two images I took during a visit to the British Council HQ in Spring Gardens and the British Museum.