Wednesday, 26 December 2007

One for the parents

Christmas was excellent this year. Yes, it was cold, and yes, we and the other 5 kiwis we were with would have been in NZ with our families if given the choice. In spite of this, though, we had a fabulous 48 hours camping at our Ealing flat eating, drinking, playing games, watching Bro town, eating, drinking, and then eating some more. Here are some of our Christmas photos that are appropriate for parental viewing:
The Christmas Plant. Mum and Ray and the Benneydale lot - note your parcels are there unopened on Christmas morning in spite of wanting to rip into them from the moment they arrived. Stephen practically had to be physically restrained. Stephen, Erica, Sarah, some badges from home and a crazy plastic banana holder. Cool. I a m jealous of the badge that says "Oma Rapiti". Heh. Speed scrabble. AKA best game ever.

Chocolate pudding. Mmmmm.
Phil and the sangria. Who knew it dripped like that ..

Tim catches up on some holiday reading

Thanks for our presents, whanau!

Saturday, 22 December 2007


In the Tate Modern, you can see some really stunning art -Monet, Picasso, and other fabulous modern paintings. Problem is, though, there is an awful lot of stuff there that made me wish that I had not gone to the Tate alone so had someone to roll my eyes at. A red blob of paint on canvas? A piece of fabric with a cut in it? The most laughable "art" there though was a giant crack in the floor of one of the galleries.

Not to be confused with a health and safety hazard, this crack in the floor apparently symbolises the divide between Europe and the rest of the World. Call me a pleb, but to me it just looked like a crack in the floor. Lucky there was plenty of other art in the crack room to look at - in particular this fabulous piece that I am sure you could throw a 'ism' on the end of word to describe as art as well. Do you consider either of these art? Is there something about the crack that I have missed? If a crack like the one above appeared on your floor in between the TV and coffee table would you be happy to have a piece of modern art in your living room? Just some food for thought ...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Tane's Reviews: The Golden Compass, and others

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass is the latest of the slew of movies to adapt a popular fantasy novel, in this case Northern Lights, the first of Phillip Pullman’s brilliant but flawed His Dark Materials trilogy. It is set in a parallel world where everyone’s soul takes the form of an animal that travels with them. The plot is too complex to be summarized quickly, but involves a rebellious girl, Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), her father Lord Azriel (Daniel Craig) and various allies – including a talking armoured polar bear – clashing on the totalitarian government and its coldly glamorous agent, Mrs Coulter (Nicole Kidman).

In these days of digital effects so realistic they are difficult to tell from the ‘real’ parts of a movie, the most wondrous scenes in any fantasy novel can be brought to the screen. However, this does not guarantee the wonder of the book will come across too.

The problem for moviemakers is that most fantasies are set in alternative worlds, with complex histories, politics, geographies, beings and magics – not to mention large casts of characters and multi-pronged plots. That’s a lot of information to try to bring across in a couple of hours.

Like the Harry Potter movies and the Lord of the Rings, the Golden Compass suffers from trying to be too true to the books and as a result cramming in too much plot. I suspect that if you’ve not read The Northern Lights, you’ll struggle to understand everything that’s going on.

As a result, the formidable talents of Craig and Kidman, the precociousness of Richards, magnificent costumes and special effects, and two smashing battles cannot lift The Golden Compass above mediocrity. It also suffers from being unable to find the perfect pitch – it’s a bit too dark of children, and a bit too shallow for adult fans of the series.

See it if you liked the books, or if you love fantasy, but don’t have your expectations high.


Capsule reviews


Ah, now this is how you adapt a fantasy. Beowulf is an entirely (and beautifully) computer generated version of the oldest story in English, which tells of how an aged Dark Age Danish king (Anthony Hopkins) calls on the warrior Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his men to help deal with the monster Grendel and his mother (Angelina Jolie). It’s a story charged with sex and violence, but don’t be fooled by the promotion – Beowulf is more than just CGI brawn and boobs. As you might expect from screenwriters Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction) and the great fantasy author Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, American Gods), it’s not only exciting but has humour, depth and emotional clout.



A powerful condemnation of one of the ugliest aspects of the US’s War on Terror – rendition. This has seen terrorist suspects covertly flown to countries where they can be tortured into giving up information. In the movie a man suspected of being in touch with terrorists is sent to North Africa by steely CIA executive (Meryl Streep). There he is questioned by a tough police officer and rookie CIA agent (Jake Gyllenhaal), while in America, the engineer’s desperate wife (Reese Witherspoon) makes contact with an aide (Peter Sarsgaard) in the office of a senator (Alan Arkin) in an effort to get her husband home. There’s also a strong subplot involving the police chief’s daughter and her boyfriend.

Some might find it worthy, but I really liked Rendition. It’s a gritty, well written and very well acted film, a worthy follow up to Tsotsi for director Gavin Hood.



One of the most overrated movies of 2007, Atonement is – to quote Lauren – less than the sum of its parts. Based on what my book-addicted partner tells me is an excellent novel, Atonement is again a case of sticking too close to the source material and not adapting it properly to a different medium.

The film is set in late 1930s England, where a relationship between an upper class woman (Keira Knightley) and a lower class gardener (James MacAvoy), is seen through the fevered imagination of a young girl (Saorise Ronan). Atonement’s strengths are impressive, particularly the ravishing photography and fine performances, and have seduced many critics. MacAvoy is immensely likeable, Ronan is fascinating and though Knightley can still only strike one note – surly determination – at least that note is rings truer than in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

What lets it down is the structure. Jumping around in time is fine in many a novel, where it’s a lot easier to follow, and works in some films. But not here, where the chopping and changing makes the movie disjointed and drains it of most of the drama built up in the compelling first act. Likely to be the worst film nominated for many Best Picture awards.


Sunday, 9 December 2007

Adventures in Portugal

Living in London, Europe is so close it seems a shame not to hop on Easyjet or Ryanair and pop to the Continent for a weekend. Tane declined to accompany me on account of the environmental cost of air travel, so Erica and I travelled to Lisbon to experience a place that I will not be forgetting any time soon.
Apparently they like soccer in Portugal ...

Our first experience in Lisbon was what I will refer to hereafter as the Taxi Incident of DOOM. We ambled from the arrivals lounge to the taxi stand to quickly learn that our driver was very angry and slightly nuts. He had more than a few impolite words to say about us not wanting to put our bags in the boot, then got into an angry sounding conversation with a near bye police officer. I have no idea what was said, but the driver then drove like a try hard Formula One champion while talking some very angry Portuguese to himself. He eventually pulled over by a busy roundabout in a part of Lisbon we did not want to be in, and angrily ordered us out of the cab. He scared me, so was happy to oblige and we both scrambled out as fast as we could. He then made a show of slamming doors and snarling angrily, before speeding off into the distance. It all happened so quickly he was well gone before I realised that one of my two bags were gone also. Gutted.
A typical Lisbon street scene
Given that my first Portuguese experience involved losing a lot of my stuff and us having to find our way from a random roundabout in what felt like the middle of no-where to our guesthouse, I was almost surprised to be enjoying Portugal by the time I left.
So, how did Lisbon redeem itself? First, for a capital city, it feels an awful lot like a small town. The streets are narrow and cute, the trams create a neat Old-World atmosphere, and the pastries officially rocked my world. The best thing about Lisbon for me, though, were the tiles. An amazing number of the houses there are covered in tiles which means that there was always something to admire. It also gave us a good excuse to stop and rest while walking up the huge hills.
Not a very good photo, but an example of a tile house

We also happened to be in Lisbon the same weekend as the Africa/EU summit, so were treated to seeing a number of very exciting motorcades carrying various world leaders zipping past us during an early morning stroll. I was chatting to a woman from Malawi in Lisbon for the summit who had talked to Kofi Annan himself. Nothing that exciting happened to me, although given the numbers of motorcades we saw I can pretend that he was in one of the cars I saw zipping past. I would like to think that Mugabe was inside this one ...

The most fabulous part of the weekend, though, was a day trip to the near bye village of Sintra. Sintra is just stunning, a small town filled with small cafes and beautiful buildings, as well as some lovely nature to boot. The highlight was the castle overlooking Sintra that was so pretty I won't even bother with the corny adjectives and show you some photos instead.
In summary, I don't know if I'd recommend Lisbon as a place to visit. If you do, though, make sure you visit Sintra. And most of all, don't take a taxi.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

When acting like a cheesy tourist is worth it

Isn't it cool when you go somewhere with low expectations and it turns out to be great? Lauren, Erica, Sarah and I had that experience today when we visited the famous waxwork exhibition, Madame Tussauds. It wasn't cheap, and there was an hour-long queue, but it was sooooo worth it.

I'll let the pictures do the talking.

No, I don't know where your mother f***ing wallet is.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Jonah is unimpressed at my joke about his kidneys.

Sarah vs Lance. We took a urine sample, but she wasn't on steroids.

Dratted over-familiar colonials.

Justin brings sexy back.

While Tane skanks it up.

And that's why we're replacing tap water with Coke Zero. Hey, it wouldn't be the stupidest thing we've done.

Is that the Gettysburg Address in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?

Henry IIIV with wives 7 and 8

Those darn kids!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

On Flanders Fields

I'd like to share a little family war story I found out about when I told Mum and my aunt that Lauren and I were heading to the World War 1 battlefields in Belgium.

During the war, my great grandfather Arthur Baynes was a Lance Corporal with the Royal Engineers Regiment, fighting in the trenches near Ypres. Arthur was near the town's cathederal when it was hit by a shell. The next day he walked into it and found the wrecked organ's ivory and ebony keys scattered about. Being a practical chap, though apparently not a terribly God-fearing one, he collected the keys and some fragments of the oak confessional box. A cabinet maker by trade, he used a penknife to carve the wood into a trinket box for his wife and inlaid it with some of the ebony and ivory. He took the rest of his war spoils home and used to beautify tables and other furniture. My aunt now has the trinket box.

My great grandfather, Arthur Baynes. They say he was a bit of a devil.

So when Lauren and I went to Ypres, I was pretty keen to track down the place my ancestor pillaged. Trouble was, I mistook the cathederal for the town hall, so we ended up at another church. As this one had also been destroyed during the war and in any case, we are not exactly sure if it really was the cathederal that curious Arthur had pillaged, we grabbed a snap of it.

Then, as we hurried off to a chocolate shop, I realised where the cathederal was, and took a slight detour.
Imagine walking into this after it had been shelled.

The land around Ypres is much like it was before WW1; low hills covered in fields and patches of trees. It's a pretty place and, like Gallipoli, is strange to think that this was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting ever. We got an idea of what it would have looked like at an excellent museum, which was crammed with photographs, slides, uniforms and the various shells, weapons, helmets and other paraphenalia the locals had dug up over the years. They had also kept a section of trench-crossed, shell-cratered battlefield intact.

There were four major battles here during the war. In just the third battle, which is also known as Passchendale, about half a million men were killed. Half a million.

Among the dead were 3,596 New Zealanders - making Passchendale the deadliest battle in our history. Many of them are buried at Tyne Cot Cemetary, the largest Commonwealth war graveyard. Tyne Cot also contains the Memorial to the Missing - the soldiers whose bodies were lost in the mud. There are nearly 35,000 names on it, 1,176 of them New Zealanders.

Tyne Cot. It was a cold, gloomy day, which suited the place perfectly.

Do you have any family war stories? If so, we'd be interested to hear them.

Monday, 19 November 2007

The land of beer and chocolate

Belgium is one of those places that many people drive through without stopping. It's often considered a bit of a non-country, a few fields squished between France, Germany and Holland. After having spent last weekend in Brugge and Ypres, though, I would totally recommend it as a place to visit.
A bridge in Brugge
Belgium may have been so cold we half expected it to snow, and while there we had our first experience of the loud and obnoxious species, Drunken English Yobbos, but it was a lovely weekend nonetheless. First, it really is the land of beer and chocolate. The chocolate shops are everywhere, selling some of tastiest chocolate I have ever eaten, in various shapes, sizes, and flavours.
I didn't want to post a photo of some of the R18 chocolate we saw
The beer was also in a league of its own. I discovered that my new favourite beer is cherry flavoured, and Tane discovered that drinking the 12.5% stuff at lunch is not as good an idea as you might think. Apparently in Belgium normal 5% is called 'table beer' and given to children it is considered so weak. A tiny section of the beer shop

Brugge, in particular, was lovely. It's a small town filled with either medieval or mock medieval buildings, as well as houses that look like they ought to be made with candy. We met and hung out with some great Australians, sampling chocolate, talking about the chocolate, sampling beer, swapping beer, complaining about feeling ill from too much chocolate, then buying some more. In between times, we also did a canal cruise which not only got us away from the chocolate shops but showed us Brugge at its best.
In a vain attempt to counter the excessive chocolate consumption, we also climbed the 300+ stairs to the Brugge Belfry. Climbing the tiny stairs was an effort, but the view from the top very much worth it, as was having the bells ring while up there. Lucky I am part of the i-pod generation that is accustomed to loud noises in my ears, although I won't be downloading "sound of bells while 2 metres away" any time soon.From the top
The way down. You would not want to try that after some 12.5%, that's for sure.

Tane will do a write up on the WWI sites we also saw while there later in the week as it didn't feel appropriate to entitle this entry 'The land of beer, chocolate, and en masse death in the trenches'. In the meantime though I will leave you with a photo of us in Brugge, and then go and eat the last of my chocolate.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Letters vs emails

Ten years ago when I was living in Italy, NZ felt so far away it might as well have been on Mars. The only way of keeping in touch with friends was letters that took two weeks to arrive, so it was unusual to hear from anyone more often than once a month and the news was often out of date. I used to look forward to the moment I would get home from school and see if any post had arrived that day, and if no-one had written, I would wait another 24 hours till the next time the post came. The only NZ news I read was the odd newspaper that Dad would send, which while great to read was always old news by the time I received it.
Apart from the odd photo that someone would send me, I spent a year of my life not knowing what most people looked like. As a result I didn't even recognise one of my sisters when I returned, as she had grown taller and had a totally different haircut than a year earlier. I did not have an email address until a year later, and thought that cellphones were something only owned by very wealthy people.

Now, ten years later, I am living overseas again. Emails arrive a few seconds after they are sent, text messages take the same length of time, and I can keep up to date on the smaller details of friends' and family members' lives through Facebook, Bebo, blogs and cheap phone calls. I read the NZ news every day, and look at photos other people post. The only addresses I know by heart are my parents', and don't have any one's landlines. I don't even know what my own is without looking it up. On the other hand, at any given moment, I always know exactly where my cellphone is. .
In only 10 years, things have changed completely. I wonder - which way is better? On the upside of now, I love being up to date with what's going on at home, hearing from people easily, and being able to read the news to find out about what's going on in the world. I love that I can get texts from Dad that say "goodnight, Lauren!", as well as funny joke email forwards from Mum, not to mention all the other communications I get from everyone else. Blogs and Facebook mean that I can see what other people are up to in a way that requires minimal effort and no direct communication. I feel closer to home than I did in Italy, because while I might not always write or text, I know that when I do they are immediate.
On the flip side, though, as everyone else probably thinks like me in terms of using blogs and Facebook to see what people are up to, I receive fewer emails now than letters when I was in Italy. Emails are generally shorter than letters used to be, and I wouldn't recognise the handwriting of some of my closest friends. Emails and texts get deleted and email addresses get de-activated, so I hate to think how future historians are going to research the people of now. Another pro of the old days is that I still have the letters of people who used to write to me that have died, and I would much rather have something to keep that they wrote in their own handwriting than a printed email written in 12-point Times New Roman. There were other benefits of the old method too - once the postman came, that was it. I wouldn't worry again until the next day, unlike now when you can obsessively check emails, cellphones and the Internet.
On balance, I am happier the way things are now. Things are easier, faster, and I like feeling close to home when I'm not. But, still, I feel that this has come at a cost. What do you think?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Die St John

When Stephen first told us he was planning on going to Bury St Edmunds, my first thought was 'who is St Edmund and why do you want to bury him?' Turns out Bury, which Lauren christened Die St John and Cremate St Bruce (depending on how sacrilegious she was feeling), is in fact a very cute historic small town a couple of hours by train from London, where the Christian Saxon king Edmund was said to have been turned into a pincushion by Viking archers. Stephen, history hound that he is, had sniffed out an opulent country mansion called Ickworth that he wanted to visit. Ickworth was built by the Herveys, a scandalous and showy noble family. And by scandal I mean scandal - from a bisexual 17th Century cabinet minister to a bankrupt gay jewel thief, the Herveys were a racy bunch.

Amazing what you get when you put money and looniness together. And I don't mean Stephen.

To get to Ickworth, we had to do a bit of a cross country walk. Given how unfit Alice, Stephen, Lauren and I are, and how many bits of Suffolk we had to cut across, this was a bit of a mission. There were turnip fields. There were wrong turnings. There were black-faced sheep. There were sore legs. There were pheasants bursting from the bushes. There were cow pats. There was the old lady with the vacant smile. And there was the mental institution, where four lost Kiwis carrying an assortment of packs and sticks fitted in quite well.

Alice, Lauren and Stephen a-wandering

Tane, God of the Turnips

It was a great weekend - fireworks, a really cool little museum where you could see a lock of Mary Tudor's hair, a restaurant with very tasty French wine, a huge ruined abbey and bed and breakfast in a house dating back to Anne Boleyn's time. History, food, drink, fireworks, exercise and turnips. What more could you want from a weekend in the country?

The former St Edmund's Abbey

Saturday, 27 October 2007

10 Movies that are better than the books

In the last couple of weeks, I have both read the book Atonement and seen the movie. As to be expected, the book was far, far better. I mean, that's the way it usually is, books are generally like drinking a smoothie as opposed to cordial made from a packet. Tane and I were talking the other night, though, about books which are worse than the movies, movies that are the smoothie to the powdered cordial of the book. This is my list:

1. Brokeback Mountain. The movie was fabulous, and captured the relationship between the two men far better than the book. The book didn't have me thinking "I can't quit you!" (A random aside - is it just me that looks twice at the guys in the Speights ads now?)

2. Once Were Warriors. Alan Duff cannot write. The movie was good, but I would rather poke nails through my eyelids than read anything else written by that man.

3. Zodiac. I loved the movie, but found that in the book the author was too busy telling the story of himself being fantastic to hold my interest.

4. The English Patient. The movie was beautiful. The book was good, but also quite pretentious, at times so over-written I wanted to vomit in my own mouth, and much clumsier in its execution than the movie. Apparently, the book is 'post-colonialism', which explains why it is the way it is. I don't care. Putting an 'ism' on the end of a phrase doesn't necessarily make the book in question a great book. Sometimes I wonder if people are scared to criticise pretentious writing as they fear looking stupid, like they didn't "get" it, when all we need is the little child to yell "but the Emperor is wearing no clothes!"

5. Children of Men. They were both flawed, but the way P.D. James painted the world inhabited by the characters was not as strong as that shown in the movie. I also preferred the adapted plot in the movie.

6. The Constant Gardener. The book was good, but the movie had a heart and soul to it that the book lacked. I empathised with the characters in the movie far more than in the book, and got much more emotionally involved.

7. The Three Musketeers. At least I could finish the movie. The book still sits on our bedside table with a book mark permanently living about half way through.

8. Forest Gump. The book really disappointed me on account of being wayyyy too random.

9. The Joy Luck Club. While the book is lovely, the movie is more coherent and, as a result, better.

10. Clueless / Emma. This was a left field adaption, but I just got more pleasure from Clueless than I did from Emma. Maybe it was because Emma didn't carry a phone that looked like a brick. Heh.

Some other people have come up with a few more that I can't comment on as haven't read the books, but thought I'd post anyway. Namely Sense and Sensibility, Whale Rider, The Pianist, and Bladerunner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Disagree? Got more to add?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Look down!

And not just to the cool pic of Lauren in the leaves. We've done an awards entry for our trip, but due to the vagaries of the blog (and me starting it weeks ago), it's appeared way down the page. You'll find it here.

Autumn leaves

Ahhhh, Autumn leaves. So pretty. So much fun. If Autumn leaves could talk, they would say "kick me". Although, given how cold it is now when the leaves are still falling, I am getting slightly nervous about the winter to come .....

Sunday, 21 October 2007

In London Town

Life in London is going well. We have a lovely flat, we both have jobs, and feeling like an underground lemming during the commute to work is better than expected.
Our flat. OK, no, but that would be cool.

This, below, is the Ealing Common, near where we live. Apparently, Ealing is the greenest part of London. Score. Of note, Ealing also has a burger shop run by New Zealanders that sells an All Blacks burger. I am too scared to ask how the sales have done since the game of DOOM against France a few weeks ago.

The thing that is great about London is that so many cool things are either in the city or nearby. Last weekend, we travelled to the small town of Rochester, home to a huge church and Norman castle. The castle was especially impressive, and from a distance looked like the type of castle that gets drawn with crayons by a child. It was even better on the inside, with its winding staircases and high turrets. Living in that castle must really have been a testosterone boost.

On the subject of castles and testosterone, we also saw Henry the Eight's suit of armour the other day. The codpiece was so obscene that I have decided not to publish the photo should children be viewing it. I felt sorry for the harassed looking father looking at it the same time as me who was asked by his young daughter "Daddy, what's that?" I don't know what he replied as he whispered the answer to her after turning a funny shade of pink, but the young girl sure found it funny.
After two and a half weeks, both Tane and I are enjoying London. It's getting cold, and my Turkey tan is becoming a distant memory, and soon we will be spending far too many waking hours in darkness. I still think though that London is choice.