22 December 2015

Neutral monsters of the third class, neither benign or malignant

Patrick O'Brian imagines a conversation between an elderly Chinese sage and his six-year-old grandson (described with typical flair as 'a child destined, it may be added, for a public death by boiling just forty years on'), as they behold the European crew of the Royal Navy's far-wandering ship HMS Centurion, travelling with palanquins along the banks of the Pearl River in Canton in 1742:


'There is a foreign devil marching by the nearest palanquin, grandpapa'

'A barbarian, my child. The educated man does not say "foreign devil"'

'A barbarian, grandpapa. Pray, grandpapa, tell me about the barbarians?'

'They are engendered by the apes of the farther western deserted regions, and by certain unclean spirits of those parts, my child : they are covered with hair, but they are capable of a rude speech for their simple communications among themselves : and they have, from the very supernatural side of their ancestry, a curious ability to travel in very large sea-going machines, which waft them up and down. They first had the happiness of finding the Celestial Empire in the reign of Sun Chi, when it was reported that they were capable of domestication and responsive to kindness ; and it was ordered that they should be regarded as neutral monsters of the third class, neither benign or malignant, to be officially preserved as curiosities and allowed suitable nourishment, but to be shunned by unauthorised persons'.

'What is suitable nourishment for a monster of the third class, if you please, grandpapa?'

'A small brick of a very hard farinaceous substance will sustain one for a week,' replied the sage. 'They are not costly to maintain : but neither are they pleasant, having the hairiness of the one parent joined to the intractability of the other, together with the unbelievable lack of polish of both, doubled'.

- Patrick O'Brian, The Golden Ocean, London, 1956, p.228.

See also:
Books: The thing about Patrick O'Brian, 8 October 2015
Books: A little light blasphemy, 18 October 2014
Books: Crafted with all the skill of the shipwright's art, 21 January 2013

20 December 2015

The Force is strong with this one

JJ Abrams' first installment of the next Star Wars trilogy is hugely, deeply derivative. It intentionally mimics the original film to such an extent that scenes can often prove quite predictable to seasoned Star Wars fans. It's as if an identikit portrait of a successful Star Wars sequel was stitched together out of the components most actuarily likely to result in a blockbuster.

And thank goodness for that, because The Force Awakens is every bit as exciting and engrossing as its greatest fans had hoped. In it, Abrams has managed to pull off a truly impressive feat - satisfying old and new devotees, producing a story that is instantly recognisable as a carbon(ite) copy of the original trilogy, but one that is simply so much fun to watch that all concerns of repetition are banished. In lesser hands this could have been tedious, but Abrams knows the right elements and how to arrange them expertly.

Key to reinvigorating the franchise (ugh) is the casting. The new, young castmembers are uniformly excellent and potential major stars in the waiting, with Daisy Ridley in particular standing out for her steely determination and old-fashioned pluck as the scavenger Rey from the quite-like-Tatooine-actually desert world of Jakku. With the stars of the original trilogy aging gracefully, it was definitely time to both give them their moment in the spotlight and then move on to the boisterous energy of new-found heroes like Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver.

The remarkable skill of the filmmaker shows in the sense of momentum onscreen, which never flags despite a 135-minute running time. There's so much plot that it feels as if two whole films have elapsed by the time you reach the end, but it never commits the ultimate sin of being boring at any point. And it's such a relief to see a major sci-fi epic that understands the importance of providing strong female lead roles and a truly multicultural cast.

Half a star knocked off for the familiar storyline and for the unforgivably naff villain name ('Supreme Leader Snoke'?!) but realistically no-one should quibble with entertainment this powerful. See it in the best cinema you can, and then see it again, because you'll definitely want to!

See also:
Movies: Love & Mercy, 21 July 2015
Movies: Oil City Confidential, 4 July 2015
Movies: The Ground We Won, 8 May 2015

15 December 2015

Elite Dangerous v1.5 ship size comparison

Youtube user Mat Recardo has updated his short video comparison of all the vessels in Elite Dangerous to include the new ships included in update 1.5, like the Asp Scout, the Keelback and the Imperial Cutter. An excellent way to get a perspective on the various ships, plus a spot of the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange for an added garnish.

13 December 2015


Last night at St Peter's hall in Paekakariki the Eastern European / gypsy-style orchestra The Balkanistas played up a storm for a loyal Kapiti crowd, treating the audience to a range of songs from the former Yugoslavia, Greek and Roma traditions. It was great, high-tempo party music; I particularly liked how even the ballads sneakily turned into roaring knees-ups. Will definitely be keeping an eye out for their gigs in future. The short video below is from mid-song, and clearly shows where the Ting Tings got their inspiration for Shut Up & Let Me Go

See also:
Music: Lawrence Arabia, 24 October 2015
Music: Dobbyn & Orpheus, 25 July 2015

07 December 2015

Benjamin Franklin's plans to colonise New Zealand

'On 13 July 1771 the Endeavour was back in England [from Cook's first expedition to New Zealand], and within six weeks a plan for planting a colony in New Zealand was hatched by American Benjamin Franklin and Scots-born Alexander Dalrymple. Franklin had been in England since 1764, returning 11 years later to the United States, where he helped draft the Declaration of Independence; Dalrymple was a hydrographer who had been passed over in favour of Cook for command of the Endeavour. No doubt thanks to information that came back with that expedition, these aspiring colonisers could advise that New Zealand was inhabited by 'a brave and generous race', but one that was without corn, fowls and 'all quadrupeds, except dogs'. As outlined in their 'Plan for Benefiting Distant Unprovided Countries', Franklin and Dalrymple proposed to take such benefits of modern civilisation to those remote regions, and bring back plants that might be usefully cultivated at home.

Perhaps to compensate for his earlier disappointment, Dalrymple intended to command the three-year expedition, which would involve 60 men and require an outlay of some £15,000 to be raised by subscription. Out of duty to share Britain's bounty, the plan suggested that 'Providence ... seem[ed] to call on us to do something ourselves for the common interest of humanity'. But funds were not forthcoming, so the scheme did not go ahead'.

- Richard Wolfe, A Society of Gentlemen: the Untold Story of the First New Zealand Company, Auckland, 2007, p.14-5.

See also:
History: Wellington anniversary day 1850, 22 January 2015
HistoryA cure for scurvy, 16 June 2013
HistoryShipping in Wellington 1850-70, 12 June 2009

06 December 2015

Thorndon Fair 2015

Today's annual Thorndon Fair wasn't favoured with bright sunshine, but the rain stayed away and permitted an impressive crowd of visitors to throng along Tinakori Rd and Hill St, sifting amongst the traders' wares and and sampling the food stalls on the bridge. It's hard not to run into at least one fellow Wellingtonian when wandering through, and I was no exception. I didn't expect to spend much, but came away with more than usual - a booklet from the Thorndon Historical Society, some lime-infused olive oil and a tasty souvlaki for lunch.  

02 December 2015

Rush hour - Port of Wellington

Interislander ferry Kaitaki returns to its Port Nicholson berth, in between day-visitor cruise liners Golden Princess (left) and P&O's Pacific Pearl (right).