Wellington (Part One)

19 01 2011

Salutations and welcome to the first post of 2011! I hope that this year has started well for you all. Apologies for the delay in posting my first epistle of the year, however I can report that this year I have resolved to post on a much more frequent basis. I also have plans for this blog – here’s to the year of shininglikeadiamond!

Text from Maurice GeeAs I wrote in Hijacking Rainbows and Christmas 2010, I journeyed to New Zealand in December where I spent time back in Wellington with family and friends.  This and the next post were inspired by the trip back home and the opportunity I had to re-visit some of my favourite things in my favourite city with renewed eyes after two and a half years away. 

Wellington is absolutely, positively the best little city in the world.  It sits nestled between hills and harbour and has a vibrant mix of suit-and-tie CBD and tie-dyed bohemia.  About a 30 minute drive north from Wellington is Porirua, which is a city in its own right and part of the greater Wellington region.  I have fond memories of growing up in and around Porirua.  Over the years I moved a little further south to Tawa, one of the outer suburbs of Wellington.  During this time Wellington Railway Station became a daily destination for me as I travelled in and out of the capital for school, then university and finally work. I became accustomed to the station’s nuances, nooks and crannies and in the end I came to really enjoy passing through it on my daily commute. As the station is such an integral part of the city, and since I have spent a fair bit of time passing through the building, it seemed somewhat fitting Wellington Railway Station was the first of my favourite things. 

Wellington Railway Station is, as far as railway stations go, an attractive building.  It was completed in 1937 and was at that time the largest building in the country; it is currently New Zealand’s busiest station.  The façade of the building reminds me somewhat of the clock tower in Back to the Future, which may add to its coolness factor.  The station even has a claim to international fame – it was used in an advertisement for thetrainline.com (the one with all the sheep).  I find this amusing as 1) they have used a New Zealand station to advertise travel solutions for within the UK and that 2) they have filled it with sheep. 

Next to the station is Westpac Stadium (right).  The stadium was built in 1999 and its yellow seats are visible from the plane as you fly into Wellington (the city’s colours are yellow and black).  I have been to many a rugby game at the stadium and also the odd concert.  While I have a strong attachment to the old Athletic Park, the stadium still makes it as one of my favourite places in the city.  I have dearly missed attending the Lions, Hurricanes and All Black games that have been played there while I have been in the UK.

Outside the front of Wellington Railway Station is one of a series of signs that can be found around the city.  These signs use a three-dimensional image as visual embellishment.  Wellington Railway Station’s sign (left) has a train on it, while the sign for Bunny Street has a Buzzy Bee and the sign for Cable Car Lane has a cable car (both below).  I reckon these signs are pretty awesome, they are certainly more enjoyable than your average street sign. I made a point of taking a photo of each during my expeditions to the city.  These signs also point the way to my next two favourite Wellington things for this post: the parliamentary grounds and cable car. 

As a Wellington Girls’ College student, one of the routes to school took me past the Beehive.  This was my preferred route to school – in part because it took longer, but also because I enjoyed the parliamentary scenery.  New Zealand’s parliamentary buildings consist of the Beehive (right), Parliament House, Parliamentary Library and Bowen House (which is across the road).  The Beehive is probably the most iconic of the buildings and its nickname clarifies why the sign on Bunny Street (right)  has a Buzzy Bee on it and not a rabbit.  The reason for a Buzzy Bee in particular (as opposed to a common garden bee) is that the Buzzy Bee is an absolutely iconic Kiwi childhood toy (I had one growing up).  When Charles and Diana visited with baby William in 1983 one of the photos from that tour was of them and William on the lawn of Government House (Auckland) with a Buzzy Bee.  I imagine that if the Buzzy Bee did not exist (and what kind of world would that be?!) that William would have received a toy sheep instead.  The parliamentary grounds are also a favourite spot for lunching Wellingtonians on warmer, dryer days.  I’ve spent more than one lunch time lying under the trees there. The photo (right) is my particular, favourite spot: warm but with enouigh shade to avoid the worst of the Kiwi sun.

The Cable Car is the last of my favourite things for this post.  It is one Wellington oldest tourist attractions and an icon of the city.  It runs between Lambton Quay and the Wellington Botanic Gardens, stopping at The Terrace, Kelburn Park and Victoria University on the way.  During my first year at Victoria University, I used the cable car on a near daily basis to get to lectures.  There is a good reason why the Cable Car is a tourist attraction. Aside from the history of it, the views from the top are stunning.  If there is one thing about Wellington that I love, it is that no matter the weather – no matter how skin-scorching the sun is, or how knock-you-over strong the southerly wind blows – the view of the city and its harbour always take my breath away.  The city’s landscape has a blend of rugged and tamed that makes it indescribably beautiful.  There is a saying amongst Wellingtonians: “you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.”  In truth, you can’t beat Wellington on a bad day either.


Lizzie meets a dinosaur*

8 02 2010

*No, not a real-life dinosaur.  But short of acquiring a TARDIS, Doc’s DeLorean or a Puddle Jumper fitted out with a time travel machine, fossils and bones are the closest I’m gonna get to the real-life thing. 

Last week I visited the Natural History Museum in London. Incredibly this was the first time that I had visited this particular museum. A somewhat peculiar feat as it is both free to visit (no entry charge) and it has dinosaurs. As I wrote in this post, I went through a particularly intense dino-mad period as a child. This post is something of a sequel to that post – a second dinosaur themed composition.

Back in the day of my childhood dino-mania there were a couple of problems that I encountered:

1) I never got to see an actual dinosaur (though I saw Jurassic Park twice at the cinema). New Zealand does have plenty of pretty awesome animals (both historic and contemporary) but the Jurassic Park dinosaurs  are not part of that heritage. As a result of this

2) I couldn’t get a real sense of perspective of a dinosaur’s size and proportions. In the books there were the scale pictures of a man next to a dinosaur and this did give some sense of proportion, but when you’re a child (or otherwise shorter than the average height for a man) this doesn’t convey a personal sense of scale. Compared to me, how large is a Tyrannosaurus Rex? How large is a Triceratops? I figured once I could see at least one dinosaur’s size in relative proportion to me then I could fully, and more accurately, appreciate these creatures.

So imagine my delight as I walked in and was greeted by a Diplodocus, it’s head high and tail swishing (well not really, but a vivid imagination is a prerequisite for visiting museums). I instantly became like my ten-year-old self on the inside – all excited and wide-eyed. This excitement was then cranked up to eleven when I entered the dinosaur gallery and saw a skeleton of a Triceratops – one of my favourite dinosaurs when I was a kid. Seeing the dinosaur at its living size and height brought it to life in an immediate and almost tangible way. I meandered through the gallery, quite engrossed by what I saw: the arms of Deinocheirus (to the casual observer, it looks similar to a Velociraptor but much larger), the jaw of Tyrannosaurus Rex and the half buried remains of a Edmontosaurus (sans its tail, which is believed to have made a tasty snack for a scavenger – but it did still have a piece of fossilised skin, which was pretty cool). There were also animatronics of Velociraptors (which are actually smaller than they were portrayed in the film) and further in the gallery one of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Rex in particular caught the attention of the young children who were visiting the museum with their parents. But who am I kidding? It totally got my attention as well.

In the end, I didn’t have the time to fully explore the whole museum (thought this does give me a reason for a return visit). However I did manage to see a lot of the mammals in the Blue Zone, find a couple specimens from New Zealand (moa, tuatara), a sculpture of Joseph Banks (of the Endeavour) and the skeleton of a glyptodont (similar to an armadillo, but larger). The glyptodont in particular was a particularly cool find – you’d recognise it from the opening scenes of Ice Age, and one of the film’s memorable little moments:

Amongst the assortment of animals that are migrating south are two female glyptodonts

Female glyptodont 1: “So, where’s Eddie?”

Female glyptodont 2: “He said something about being on the verge of an evolutionary breakthrough”

In the background you see Eddie taking a running leap of a cliff, as he jumps he cries out “I’m flying!!” before crashing in a plume of dust.

Female glyptodont 2: “Some breakthrough”

What do you call a blind dinosaur?*

10 08 2009

This post is another amble down memory lane, courtesy of a moment of serendipity when I came across Jurassic Park on the telly over the weekend.  This movie was part of a pivotal moment in my life, something that lead to one of those fork-in-the-road major life decisions. 

On my list of iconic, sometimes seminal and always affectionately remembered childhood films you’ll find Jurassic Park.  I have fond memories seeing it at the cinema as a ten-year-old with my dad and brother.  I sat huddled in the darkened theatre, transfixed, with eyes slightly wider than normal, totally drawn into the world Crichton and Spielberg had created.  

There are plenty of awesome moments in the film, not all of them involve the dinosaurs, but a lot of them do: the herds of Brachiosaurus and Gallimimus, the Dilophosaurus (Wayne Knight’s monologue with them is priceless) and the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  However, the star dinosaurs for me were the Velociraptors – a truly terrifying adversary that combined speed, agility and beguiling intelligence with those talons – and the scene with the kids in the kitchen?  Ugh!  Nightmare inducing!  However, some of my favourite moments actually didn’t involve dinosaurs: the debate around the lunch table over the merits of the island being the stand out. 

Anyway, after seeing this film at the theatre I went dino-mad and decided that I wanted to be Dr Alan Grant and dig up dinosaurs (previously I had wanted to be an archaeologist and dig up ancient Egyptians).  I then read that dinosaur names were derived from Latin.  So, logically (at least for a ten year old), I decided that I needed to learn Latin in order to name the dinosaurs that I would find.   Consequently when I started at college a couple of years later, one of the classes I found myself in was Latin – ready, willing and able to learn so I could name my dinosaurs.  In fact, one of the reasons I went to that particular college was because it offered Latin, though I don’t think it was offered for the reasons I was taking it… 

I then continued to take Latin throughout my five years at college before leaving for university – and can you guess what subject I took at uni?  Yep: Latin.  However, by now I no longer thought I’d be naming dinosaurs, but I was hooked and couldn’t give it up. 

In total I’ve spent over a decade studying Latin and the reason why can be traced backed to that day, in that darkened theatre in Levin, watching that movie.  Unbeknown to me, this moment lead to a chain of events that ended up shaping a fairly large chunk of my life.  I’ve often wondered (normally in times of intense naval gazing): what if I hadn’t seen Jurassic Park?  Normally I’m too bewildered by the myriad of possible answers to that question to try and hypothesise what life would be like if I hadn’t seen it.   At the time I just thought it was a cool movie and I had no cares about what would happen in the future.  Now that it is the future I can happily proclaim that 16 years later I still reckon it’s a very cool movie and if anyone needs a dinosaur to be named…you now  know where to come.

*And the punch line? “Do-you-think-he-saw-us” Go on and guess what his dog’s called…

Remembering happy childhood memories

2 07 2009

This wasn’t going to be my first post, but Michael Jackson’s death has caused me to reminisce like mad and led me to recall childhood memories that shouldn’t really have been forgotten in the first place.  Which I guess goes to show how special those childhood memories are (especially the happier ones).  In a way this is my tribute to the man’s music whilst skipping through a happy trip down memory lane. 

It’s funny how memory works, sure you gather plenty of them over the years, but somehow some seem to slink into the shadows of time only to be brought back out later when something jolts them out of obscurity.  In this case, it was memories of the very early nineties and my first proper introduction to pop culture and music which have been dragged back into the sunlight. 

Growing up in the mid-late eighties neither of my parents were particularly into contemporary music or pop culture and as the eldest I had no older sibling to emulate (or to not emulate).  This meant I had to amass bits and pieces of this magical world in a rather disjointed fashion from kids’ TV, movies and the school playground.  That was until I discovered that I could tune my radio to any station I wanted, not just the concert programme that the parents listened to.  Now believe me, this was a revelation!  Suddenly I had a better idea what the other kids were talking about in the playground (even if it didn’t make me any cooler it did open up a whole new world and that was cool).  I could now form my own opinions about what I liked and why I liked it.  Needless to say this paved the way to the obligatory teenage rebellion once I discovered the allure of rock music…

Anyway, at this time MJ was HUGE and had been so for quite a while.  The singles from Bad and then Dangerous were getting plenty of discussion in the schoolyard, not to mention the legendary singles from Thriller…This was the time when I bought my first album (which was – inevitably – a cassette of Thriller), the time when me and my brother saw Moonwalker for the first time and then spent hours trying to clock the eponymous game on the Master System 2 (seriously did anyone clock this game?!).  In essence Michael Jackson was my first proper introduction to contemporary music and pop culture.  Sure there were other artists that caught my interest but there were a few more years before I became to really know them as artists.  At this time Jackson ruled supreme and he was the first complete entertainer to ever show up on my own music radar.  I’m sure this was the case for many other kids out there and it means that now his music conjures up good memories from a time when you could just enjoy life with the innocence of youth and in a world that was a much simpler place. 

Over the years this memory has faded as I discovered, re-discovered and stumbled upon different genres of music and different artists.  It’s only now, at his untimely passing and with the massive airplay that his music is receiving, that these memories are being dredged up.  John Mayer twittered it well when he said

I think we’ll mourn his loss as well as the loss of ourselves as children listening to Thriller on the record player

For the family and friends of Jackson they’ve lost a son, brother, father and friend and that is a tragedy and something that rightly deserves sympathy.  But for the fans and those who have enjoyed his music as a soundtrack for their youth we’re now in a world where a part of our childhood has gone.  I won’t pass any judgment on the man, that’s not my place, but as an artist he is in an elite group of entertainers that truly left their own mark.  And now I can appreciate that for a period of time his music created an indelible imprint on my life that causes me to smile and fondly reminisce when I hear it.  In the end I think that is a wonderful legacy to leave. 

Anyway, what do you think?  What memories does his music leave you with?  What are your musical memories from childhood?  And finally – are you one of those who actually did clock Moonwalker?