August 2007


Blindness is the tale of a man who, while stopped at a red light, goes mysteriously blind. It’s as if a veil of white has been lowered over his eyes.  Worse still, the blindness is contagious and transmits somehow between people who have only seen each other. Spooky.

But I’m being facetious. Blindness is a chilling tale of a society collapsed when one facet of our necessary senses are removed. Saramagos begins his novel with the blinded man, then widens it slightly to a small group of individuals exposed to him. He uses no names, instead referring to that first blind man as “the first blind man”, thereby keeping the emphasis on the traits of the person, and strangely, making it easier to  follow his characters.

This non-naming works well, and is necessary, because Saramagos writes exceptionally long paragraph, sometimes blurring the dialogue into the action, and that into the perceptions of the characters. It’s fascinating.

I’d recommend the book to anyone who’s interested in the fictional what-ifs surrounding the organisation of our daily lives. By removing the characters sight, and placing them in the most hellish situations, Saramagos attempts to draw out the goodness inherent in all of us. He also demonstrates how easy it would be to fall into ‘Lord of the Flies’-type brutalism.

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Like many things in life, you need to know the basics to get the finer point of it all.

Meeting Tom for a drink the other week I was a bit shocked when the barkeep looked at me sideways when I asked for a gin and tonic.

“What’s in that?” he asked.

The lesson learnt? Don’t bother drinking at Juniper.

Food is a bit different to booze though. You need it to live. And if you can’t get your head around the basics, how the heck will you make deceptively simple but seriously tasty dishes like a roast chicken?

Now, I figure that most readers haven’t got huge disposable incomes. So let’s start simple. A ham and cheese toasted sandwich. What I actually wanted was a cheese and onion toasted sandwich. But we didn’t have any onions. I’ve learnt to cope with disappointment.

Vogels BreadThe next thing to note is that you could just use one of those toasty-pie machines. But that would defeat the purpose. What you’re learning is temperature control, and patience.

The other day the other half was at the supermarket, had to settle on this bread. Nothing wrong with it really. Nice loaf. But, cut oddly.

So, what to do. The obvious thing is make toast, or a sandwich. And then I thought, what about a TOASTED SANDWICH! The best of both worlds.

It doesn’t matter if the bread is a bit stale. In fact, this is actually a good way to use up this old stuff. OK, onto the business end of this post.

All the shit you'll needSTEP ONE. Switch on the stovetop, and put a pan on it. Any old pan will do. The thing to note is that you put the pan on really, really low. Stoves keep putting out heat, so eventually your pan will get to the temperature you want. That temperature is low.

STEP TWO: Get everything together. Here I have non-dairy spread. Damn farmers have enough money already. Cheese. Ham. And the bread.

all the way to the cornersSTEP THREE: In this case, cut the bread in half, and put the spread on one side of both halves.

It’s important to make sure you get the spread all the way to the edges. There’s nothing worse than a bit of bread not properly toasted by the pan. It looks ordinary, and is ordinary.

No-one wants ordinary. Ordinary is for takeaways.

And remember, this becomes the outside of the sandwich. The spread makes it golden brown

sandwich builtSTEP FOUR: Build the sandwich.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Put the ham on the bread. Then make sure you’ve put enough cheese on there to not make those farmers richer, but enough to bind the sandwich together.

There’s nothing worse than a cheese sandwich that falls to bits. So a tip is to put a little cheese on the underside of the ham. This will bind the whole lot together.

one sandwich in panSTEP FOUR: Put that bad boy in the pan. The sandwich should sizzle a little, but not too much. If it’s really putting out some smoke you’ve gone too far with the heat. Take the pan off the heat to cool for a bit, and flip the sandwich over to soak up some of the heat.

Now for the tricky bit. You’ll want to check if the sandwich is browned underneath. Just lift the edge of the bread slightly with your fish slice/flipper thing. If it’s golden brown get the flipper all the way under the sandwich and lift it. Also lift the pan, and tilt it slightly. You have to kind of flip the sandwich over while moving the pan towards it.

If you screw that up, leave the kitchen. Never return.

yum tumSTEP FIVE: Your sandwich should look something like this.

The cheese will be melting slowly. The ham will have warmed, and the whole thing will be extremely delicious.

Wait a little longer while the sandwich browns on the other side, then remove from the heat. This is a good time to put the second toasted sandwich on the heat.

You have prepared a second sandwich while the first one browns, aeh?

tuck inSTEP SIX: Serve your sandwich. I suggest a condiment of iodised table salt.

There’s an iodine deficiency in NZL soils, so you’ll be needing that.

The best accompanying refreshment is probably a Tui.

At first I wasn’t too sure what to make of this book. It was written in 1947, shortly after the Nazi occupation of France, so there is apparently an inevitable tendency to associate the story with the application of National Socialism.

I’m not so sure though. While the story does have obvious parallels with a city or country under siege from an extremist government, it is more like the story actually uses the device of the bubonic plague to push a set of characters through the high and lows of the human existence.

But I get ahead of myself. The Plague is about a fictional outbreak of the bubonic plague in the North African city of Oran. The story centres on a Dr. Rieux, and follows his experiences as the plague unfolds, envelops the city, and begins to murder its inhabitants. And… that’s about it.

The Plague plays on ideas of heroism, true love, despair, courage, but doesn’t ever really unpack or explore them. Instead, it makes great human virtues little more than abstract features of the lives of ordinary people put through extraordinary stresses in a time of great misery. In this way the humanity of the characters is increased, because the reader sees them as willing but helpless actors in the face of a colossal calamity overtaking their lives at a pace they cannot control.

The characters are very much trapped in Oran, the city gates are locked for the duration of the plague, so they are required to interact with a tragedy beyond their reckoning. This serves to make the plague itself the only character in the story worth tracking, because all the lesser (human) characters are helpless and powerless.

Camus uses this situation to reduce the high and mighty to humility, and grant the criminal or insane a respite from their real lives. He also demonstrates how in times of great hardship people will cling to tenuous hopes of a better day, and old habits too hard to break. Finally, when the plague finally releases its grip on Oran, people will flock back to their old ways and resign themselves to their luck, without ever acknowledging that calamity could ever again overtake them.

The message, it seems, is that we are all just pawns being pushed to and fro by forces greater than our capacity to understand. Best just be the best person you can, and enjoy the ride. Sartre would have been proud.

In light of the numerous conversations about stripping going on, I put this up on PA System, but it’s such a good story I thought I’d put it here too. It’s about a decent bastard, my middle brother Khan.

A few years back he was engaged to a girl from Queensland, and attention-seeking little bitch, who unceremoniously dumped him on the day of his stag do. The guys, overjoyed at the prospect of not losing their mate to a complete nutter, resolved to keep the stag do going anyway. A better cause for celebration none of us could think of.

I turned up to the party venue, and it was shed in a mate’s backyard, in the middle of Arataki, Mount Maungaui. A seedy place. You walked into the shed and there’s a big home-made table in the middle of the room. There’s a couple of tapped kegs at the back, and a huge pile of grass on a chopping board on the big table. A few of the boys were already well into that.

After a few hours of half-arsed speeches, rousing rounds of back-slapping, and numerous jokes at the Queensland girl’s expense, my youngest brother noted that this “stag do” had thus far not had the obligatory stripper. Khan attempted to put the kybosh on that idea, but it had legs of its own, and pretty soon a whip-around was organised. A portable phone and yellow-pages were produced as if by magic, and the necessary calls were being made.

Now, the Mount is a small place. A very small place. This was evidenced by one call to “a place that will send you strippers” where the guy making the call goes, “sorry, what’s that girl’s name? Cherry? You mean Cherry [XXXX]? Ba-hahahaha! Matt! You’re ex is stripping bro!”

Matt: “Shut the fuck up man…”

Finally a girl who wasn’t related to, formerly a partner of, or currently a partner of, one of the guys was located, and we were assured they would be at the shed, in a dark backyard, in a seedy part of town, in no time…

The table is moved, and all the chairs moved against one wall, stadium style. And we wait in anticipation.

The call goes up that a car has arrived, and we’re all baited breath when in walks…. the most pregnant stripper you’ve ever seen. She must have been 8 months if she was a day. She strides in, and starts pointing to and naming guys she recognises. She’s fully dressed. And she’s seriously loud. This is not sensual. The guys are all a little freaked out. And then walks in the next stripper. A bloke about 6 ft high and 3 ft wide. He’s also very fully dressed. The boys are relieved. But also a little worried.

The chat from the pregnant woman continues for awhile. The big guy just stands by the wall watching everyone. Khan is looking increasingly uncomfortable. He didn’t want this in the first place, and now it’s looking like the big guy is about the start a stereo he’s produced from christ-only-knows-where (remember the table, the big pile of grass, and the two kegs? These are seriously gone by now), and the pregnant girl is going to get her gear off.

No-one is excited. No-one thinks he’s going to get his money’s worth.

Then striding in comes this woman who must have legs fifteen feet long. She’s in heels and a little outfit, the usual stuff. The music has kicked in, and it’s you know, a strip show.

Now, what you need to know about Khan is that he’s just a good bloke. He’s always genuinely liked women, the company of women, and having respect for them. So right now he looks like he wants to crawl under a rock. He’s already having a bad day, and now someone is trying to get his gear off in front of all his mates, for their amusement. She’s getting her kit off, and he’s mostly squirming. The boys are cheering half-heartedly, and the whole thing is just a bit ugly.

When it happens. The stripper has decided to do her climatic part of the act. She’s down to her birthday suit, and is going to do this complicated forward cartwheel thing, and land in Khan’s lap for a dance. He’s sitting on a stool, and the boys are waiting with baited breath.

The shed is small. There’s a dozen guys in there, a pregnant woman, the Terminator, a stereo whacking out the worst songs of the 70s, and an incredible acrobatic act is about to kick off. You could cut the tension in the room with a knife.

She takes two steps and vaults forward.

And stuffs it up.

She catches Khan square in the the chest with her crotch, and knocks him back off the stool. They both fall to the ground, Khan flat on his back, her on her knees with her crotch in his face. She looks mortified but just keeps on dancing there, Khan just can’t believe what he’s seeing.

The boys have collapsed laughing in heaps.

And the whole time, Khan never tried to lay a single finger on her.

I’m glad to have made it to the last night of Sexual Perversity at the San Francisco Bath House this past Saturday. It’s a great little play full of a range of social commentary on sexual politics in the 1970s. But, it’s a commentary that seems to have amble relevance to contemporary, apparently more enlightened times.

The story centres on four characters living and working in Chicago, although the city could probably be just about any American metropolis in that decade. Danny, Deborah, Bernie and Joan are just four 20-somethings getting along and “gettin’ it on” with all the hilarity the latter entails.

It’s an interesting play because of its apparent exploration of masculinity in a time of extreme social turmoil and ongoing change. Women are waking up to patriarchy and are becoming increasingly ‘stroppy’, a change best characterised by schoolteacher Joan, a woman who seems to constant raise the ire of the guys.

Then there’s latent homosexuality and investigation of the borders of it, best represented by Danny, who in one scene makes suggestions to alpha-male Bernie. But they’re so subtle they go over the guy’s head.

Finally there’s the girl just looking for a decent guy Deborah, who finds out that men haven’t really changed, and ends up back with her old room-mate Joan.

The story isn’t a complicated one, the playwright David Mamet uses his character’s dialogue to drive messages to the audience. And that’s a pity. My main gripe about the play is that sometimes the audience wasn’t permitted to see what I assumed was being intended in the script.

The Bath House was used well, but the plays one act doesn’t allow for a major crisis point to end an Act. Instead, there is a point at which the two love-birds Deborah and Danny have a falling out, and part ways. My impression is that this scene was the pivot on which the play turned, the point at which the irreconcilable differences between the genders was emphasised. But, it seems to have escaped someone. The play drifts over this scene and moves onto the return of Deborah to Joan, and attention switches to the guys hanging out ‘being guys’. Kind of made me wonder if I had read too much into Mamet’s intentions, or whether the emphasis was in fact somewhere else altogether.

Ah well. Thoroughly enjoyable, and a recommendation, should you get a chance to see it in future.

Why in the hell I wasted money on this is beyond me…

Maaaaatt Daaaaamon returns to play Jason Bourne, ass-kicker extraordinaire in this the third installment of The Bourne series, itself a remake of the exceedingly lame 1988 mini-series. Remember mini-series? They could waste days of your time at once…

With any kind of luck this is the end of the series, but you never know the power of box-office taking to drive crap films. I’m starting to think we’re seeing the age of pulp movies being churned out of a shed in Hollywood somewhere.

This time round Bourne is up to his eyeballs in “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” after a London journalist uncovers some very interesting information about what those pesky CIA spooks are up to. Basically Bourne just wants to get on with some semblance of an ordinary life, but his memories are returning, and he has to sort those puppies out…

Lame.

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Interesting email from a concerned citizen this morning.

The government’s Central Office of Information (COI) is creating a blog monitoring utility that will track hot debates on government policy and forward them to relevant departments.

Reported here. The Central Office of Information is the UK government’s marketing and communications agency, and by the looks of the article they’re monitoring key blogs for information on public opinion. They then package up their findings, and send it on to interested parties.

This type of monitoring could be benign. After all, why should an information-gathering agency pay for public opinion in surveys or focus groups when it can get it for free, right? If anything, they’re saving the public money!

On the other hand, it’s proof that all those keystrokes you’re making is, or could be, monitored somewhere. They’ll also have your URL.

So, you ever worry that the government might not be hearing your voice? Get online! There will be a spook in a well-tailored suit clocking up your comments in no time.

And, they’re not the only one’s. The World Bank is in on the action too. In fact, you’d be surprised who’s watching what happens in the blogsphere. I was.

This is well good news.

Well, I decided that since I’ve used the term, I’d best try to define it.

Stupidification / ‘stju:pIdi:fi:keIs@n’ / verb. 1 the act of rendering complex facts so simply they lose meaning 2 the trivialising of complex facts to increase their popularity 3 the progressive lowering of standards to suit a lowest common denominator

Comments or additions are welcome. And here is the pronunciation guide.

To be honest, I wasn’t planning to see this film. I had a nagging doubt about it that just wouldn’t go away. A doubt that whispered something like, Napoleon Dynamite.

Fortunately I ignored the doubt and just got on with seeing it. If anything the sound-track was worthwhile, let alone the laughs.

I can see why people would associate the two films, but in reality they only have two things in common. First, they’re both geek-flick romantic-comedies. But that’s hardly a bad thing. Geek is the new black. Go on, remember to keep telling yourself that. Second, they’re both unique to the cultural milieu in which they’re set. And yes, only a geek would say ‘cultural milieu’.

I say Eagle is a rom-com not just because it is a funny love story, but because it has some of the key elements. The relatively with-it woman, the hapless bloke, the sidekick, etc. But, it differs from other rom-coms because of that uniquely Kiwi darkness that underlies so many of our films. (more…)

You know, I’m really not sure why I like this film so much?

Punch Drunk Love is an Adam Sandler vehicle. He plays Barry Egan, a borderline obsessive-compulsive who lives in the shadow of his overbearing sisters. The story is based around the introduction of Barry to Lena, a friend of one of the incredibly obnoxious sisters, and the inevitable love match (hey… it’s a romantic comedy. I’m not giving anything away).

Maybe what’s so great is that Punch Drunk Love is not a stereotypical rom-com. Lena for example is not a ‘perfect woman’, and has her own foibles. If anything she is more of a maternal figure for our confused and poorly socialised Barry. Plus, there is no external crisis that might prevent the couple getting together. Instead, Barry fluffs it in the apartment doorway the exact way we all have…

So, a good movie. But this time round there were a few things I noticed that might be interesting.

Barry wears a blue suit for the duration of the film. He’s bought it the day before he meets Lena, and the more the suit is exposed to her, the stronger he becomes. Barry is, in effect, a superhero. One whose potential is only released by Lena.

Lena is a maternal figure, a woman who actually keeps his confidence. That’s something not to be underestimated.

Barry is not autistic. I read someone suggesting it, but after having read A Perfect World I’m inclined to think that’s just a stupidification of “autism”. Barry is just poorly socialised and badly hen-pecked by his SEVEN sisters. Brother just needed to get out and play ball with some guys a bit more…

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