Saturday, 6 September 2008


Several years ago I went to a ‘beer festival’ as part of the Queenstown Winter Festival. In a marquee on a rugby pitch people sat at cramped tables and drank jugs of mass produced fizzy execrable lager. The event was sponsored by one particular beer manufacturer so there was only one variety of beer on offer.

The ticket price included the opportunity to sit at a table in the cold – the beer itself was extra. As a nod to host responsibility there were plates of those vile purple sausages, white bread and tomato sauce. At irregular intervals an oompah band struck up – there were printed sheets of lyrics that you were encouraged to sing along with. It was like a drunken nightmare version of Butlins.

Because this was Southern Man territory there were women dressed as wenches with low-cut tops and push-up bras who brought the beer to your table, thus saving you the trouble of moving, or getting in anyone’s way. A friend of mine was one such wench. She had a terrible night and said someone vomited on her towards the end of the evening.

Fighting broke out, beer was thrown (far better than being drunk), the whole thing turned ugly and the ‘beer festival’ was cancelled from the next year’s programme. I can’t say I was disappointed, but I was sad that this is what Queenstowners thought a beer festival was.

Where were the variety of beers; the atmosphere of excitement; the thirst for knowledge; the chance to talk to brewers about their ales and compare different strains of malt, hops and yeast; the drinking for enjoyment and appreciation of taste rather than simple alcohol content?

All of this and more was at this weekend’s Brew NZ event, Beervana, in Wellington. Over 20 brewers from around the country and many more discerning drinkers gathered in the Overseas Terminal on the waterfront. Stalls flanked the walls and in the middle the conversation and the tasting notes hummed.

A very good and unobtrusive band played throughout the evening, and the food (which could be purchased with beer tokens) looked excellent and abundant – I saw venison sausages, mashed potatoes and mushy peas, turkey and ham rolls, and a mound of tasty cheeses. I have to admit I didn’t eat any because I was too busy tasting the beer – more of which in the next blog.

Outside it was cold and wet and windy – this is Wellington remember – but inside it truly was a beer heaven. Everyone involved in the organisation of this event is to be heartily congratulated. A great night out was had by all, and my faith in the New Zealand beer-drinking public has been restored.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Sheep surprise

One of the great things about going to new places is walking along the streets and popping into little shops and galleries. I find you discover some really fresh stuff that way, that you wouldn't otherwise notice.

Recently in Napier, I came across a small art gallery called
Statements. Their featured exhibition was by an artist called Geoffrey Fuller. I had never heard of him, but I had half an hour to kill between appointments, and I am so glad I stepped inside his world!

The exhibition was called Ovine, so naturally it focused on sheep. As the bloke is a Hawke's Bay artist, there was also a recurring theme of vineyards. The lines and the striking structures of sheds and barns blend well with the woolly forms.

I have mentioned
elsewhere on this blog my love of vineyards, but I may not have mentioned my affection for sheep - and no, that is not the main reason I have ended up in New Zealand, although it doesn't hurt.

I don't agree with the popular notion that sheep are stupid. They are certainly no less bright than cattle. They get to roam the countryside in some of the most beautiful parts of the country and they adapt their coat to keep out the rain and the worst of the inclement weather.

If you have ever got lost in the mist in the Lake District, you will thankfully follow a sheep-track, safe in the knowledge that you are not going to plummet over a crag even if you can't see your hand in front of your face. In fact some people are starting to disprove this limited intelligence theory.

My mother maintains that my first word was 'sheep' - after 'mummy' and 'daddy', surely? Apparently my brother's first word was 'car', so I am clearly far more environmentally friendly. There is no family lore about what my sisters' first words were (I would guess at shoes and compass - if you know them, you'll know which is which!)

Anyway, retournon a nos moutons, as the French say (quite appropriately in this case I feel), Geoffrey Fuller's pictures of sheep cover all seasons. He also uses a variety of mediums, including working on a surface on corrugated iron which gives texture and atmosphere.

One of my favourites was a collage called One for Sorrow which depicted a magpie plucking out the eye of a sheep carcass. I know this sounds hideously gruesome, but it was a collage of materials and had a startlingly simple affect. I can't find an image of it to post here, so you may just have to take my word for it. Or find an exhibition of Geoffrey Fuller's work and go and see for yourself!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

The lady is for turning

Carol Thatcher has written a book called A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl of Life. Normally this wouldn’t be interesting at all, except she has revealed intimate details of her mother’s encroaching dementia.

This has caused a storm in the British press with people asking whether she has gone too far, whether this is an invasion of privacy and whether we really needed to know. I suspect Carol needed to tell; otherwise who would have bothered to read her ‘memoirs’?

There is a touching episode, much quoted in the papers, about how Carol discovered her mother’s approaching Alzheimer’s (when she was 75) and how painful it was for her to repeat the tale of Dennis’ death.

"Losing Dad, however, was truly awful for Mum, not least because her dementia meant she kept forgetting he was dead. I had to keep giving her the bad news over and over again.

Every time it finally sank in that she had lost her husband of more than 50 years, she'd look at me sadly and say 'Oh,' as I struggled to compose myself. 'Were we all there?' she'd ask softly.”

I’ve seen this happen. It’s horrible. And it’s horrible for the person who has to break the news – and their loved one’s heart – all over again.

So I guess I am robbed of my hatred for a woman I never met. When I heard about the disease, my initial reaction was, “If I’d broken the spirit of the people of my country, sold all the national resources to private corporations, stomped on the rights of the workers and their families, destroyed the power of unions, and eradicated the notion of society, I’d rather forget it too.”

Him outdoors once said he would have a party on the day she died. I never held with that, as my dislike was saved for what she did politically, not who she was personally. Is the political personal? Perhaps – just ask Skunk Anansie. Thatcher more than most with her blind devotion to Milton Friedman economics, made it so.

Although I partied hard the day she left 10 Downing Street in a taxi and in tears, I can’t be pleased at this news. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease that robs people of their dignity and the only response can be sympathy. She wins again.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008


I recently watched Cloverfield on DVD. I'm gald I didn't watch it on the big screen because I suffer from cinema vertigo, caused by the use of QueasyCam. It's bad enough in the corner of my living room but when I'm assaulted by massive amounts of blurred, jerky, flashing shots I want to vomit; I get migraines and want to scream, 'Just use a sodding tripod, you moron!'

So, that aside, it was actually not bad. Best (and often) described as a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Godzilla, it is a disaster film set in New York City and filmed from one perspective of a bloke with a hand-held camera. He decides to capture the devastation on film rather than fleeing to safety because 'people are going to want to know how it all went down.' As you do.

He doesn't mention the fact that if it all works out he could flog this footage for a fortune, but seeing as he and his mates are prime examples of the shallow, materialistic, vapid, self-obssessed, Gen-Y, you can't tell me this didn't cross his mind, tiny though it may be.

The case of the missing plot or explanation has been heavily criticised, but I think the lack of omniscient director makes it interesting, albeit frustrating. In fact, despte the beautiful people, tumbling cities and giant scary monsters, the banal dialogue and unresolved ending add a touch of realism.

When this film was released, there was concern that viewers might suffer shellshock due to memories of 11th September when towers collapsed and the streets were full of dust and panic. The powers that be dismissed these worries. Do the movie moguls simply not care if it makes them a buck - or two million?

Does this mean we're immune to it now? Have we learned to live in the shadow of terrorism and destruction? Is that a part of our lives now? Or is it that we are resilient enough to bounce back? Seven years - is that what it takes?