Sunday, January 26, 2014

Oz Justice

It's Australia Day today. Happy Birthday, modern Australia.

Like New Zealand, Australia's day of celebration is a complicated thing indeed - there's the celebration of a young nation's good fortune and existence, and then there's the question of nationhood itself, and the need to acknowledge that national identity carries a hell of a lot of baggage with it, as any ex-colony might with an intact indigenous population, not to mention generations of recent immigrants creating greater diversity, more questions.

I did two illustrations of Judge Zemiro for this post, but have left the alternative one (where she's soundly thrashing a Cronulla-style flag-draped, KFC-helmeted yobbo) off. It wouldn't be right. And I got her feet wrong again, anyway.

Judge Zemiro's my creation, although Australian ("Oz") Judges exist in the Judge Dredd world, wearing the uniform depicted here. I'm not sure we've seen a female Oz Judge yet, much less one who isn't obviously Anglo-Saxon. Wait. I do remember one - I think he was supposed to be Aborigine, and like all Oz Judges he was depicted with a beer can in his hand. Classy, guys.

I have a love/hate attitude towards Oz Judges and their depiction, really. On the one hand they're portrayed as being carefree, less hung-up than Dredd and his Mega City compatriots, and in general their justice system seems heavily weighed along the lines of 'fair go to all', which is as good as you'll get in Dredd's world (or as bad, if you're Dredd of course). On the other hand, the Oz Judges are viewed through the lens as the other world judges, that of the strip's British creators. This means that the Judges of Oz nod heavily towards exported Australian culture - particularly that of the 80s, when thanks to Neighbours, Kylie Minogue and Crocodle Dundee, Australia was, for a time, huge. And it's all so bloody twee!

It could be worse, of course. Oz could have got the "so-sollee" treatment Japan/Hondo City got in its introduction to the series, or the Pan Andes Conurbs with its lazy, corrupt judges, or Murphyville with its happy-go-lucky, loikes-a-drink Ju- oh, I see. So, yes, Australia gets off lightly, but then the touch is light as well. As I mentioned above, its Judges tend to be a little bit unimaginative (a clue: the first Oz Judge co star in a Dredd strip is "Judge Bruce")for such a fascinating country, and three outings its Judges haven't strayed far at all from the Paul Hogan boiler plate they all seem to be based on, which to my mind says a lot more about the strip's writers than the future Australia. File under: Mostly Harmless, and not that interesting.

Interesting, though, is how I'd describe the very angular Oz Judge uniform. Board shorts aside, it's a lot more practical than the shoulder-heavy northern hemisphere Judge uniforms, and one assumes it's in a fabric which is both durable and breathes really really well, because there's a lot of black there, missus. Brendan McCarthy seems to have designed it again and there are some notable touches - a badge which appears to reference the Sydney Opera House (turn it the other way around and flatten its base and you almost get the shape of Australia!), and there's not a lot of green on it, despite it being one of Australia's noted national colours. This actually works in its favour because not only should yellow and green never be seen, but it removes the costume from the usual accusation critics lay at the Dredd world international judges of them being based too much on national costumes, flags (Ireland, Scotland, Japan) or just novelty hats. McCarthy did well, really, and debuted the design some months before the Dredd epic Oz actually brought in the Judges themselves. I'm not sure if he was living in Australia at the time (as he did for a while, working design on one of George Miller's aborted Mad Max sequels), but I'd mark it a success. It also has a great profile

Like Australia itself, really. Great place. Interesting country, nice people, beautiful landscape, and not bad neighbours to have at all. Happy Australia Day!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Jose Ortiz

On 23rd of December 2013 the world of graphic novels lost Jose Ortiz Moya.
 Ortiz was one of the old school of European artists working in Fleetway’s stable in the 70s and through to the 80s, although he did far more than those familiar comics, and even worked with some bigger names, in particular Vampirella and the celebrated post-Apocalyptic series Hombre. A talent for portraying the macabre and desolated landscapes would serve him well, however, with what Fleetway had in mind for him.
Tower King
My introduction to Ortiz’ work was through Eagle and the- yes, post-Apocalyptic Tower King. Set in a modern London after the entire planet has had its electrical power ripped away by a rogue satellite, The Tower King nodded its way to Mad Max and his predecessors, but unlike, say, Damnation Alley or A Boy and his Dog stayed entirely within the city, sensibly taking up the opportunities its slow decay could offer visually – Ortiz’ sketchy style seems perfect for reducing such landmarks as Big Ben’s tower and, of course the Tower of London itself to dusty, matchstick ruin. I love the look of it, and Ortiz renders his hero Mick Tempest like his other leading men - weathered and drawn, sketchy and leathery, toughened by the challenging landscape around them.  Similarly, his turn on companion strip The House of Daemon drew on Ortiz’ skill with horror to produce a truly phantasmagorical strip that, in black and white simple ink, held its own impressively among the comic’s louder photo strips. I relished both Tower King and Daemon, and stuck with them until their equally satisfying conclusions (reliably, scripted by John Wagner and Alan Grant), but as I’ve described earlier on this blog, I didn’t linger with Eagle; my loss, in a way, because it meant that I missed out on the comic’s devouring of ill-fated horror mag Scream and the much-celebrated Thirteenth Floor series, a horror based around a sentient elevator which reunited Ortiz with Grant and Wagner.
House of Daemon
I’d moved to 2000AD, as the story goes, but Ortiz moved with me, providing the initial episode of a Dredd world strip I still harbour a soft spot for, Helltrekkers (Wagner and Grant again, testing the waters early for the Judge Dredd Megazine) and more ambitiously, a stint on Rogue Trooper, which moved the blue-skinned genetic infantryman from Nu Earth to the even more alien world of Horst. Ortiz’s turn (and the larger Horst storyline) isn’t recalled fondly, following as it does such a strong run by the likes of Cam Kennedy and an at-his-peak Brett Ewins, yet Horst’s weird, bestial soldiers based around the forms of bats, lizards and (to a suspiciously Gigeresque end) horseshoe crabs came out the better for being rendered by Jose, I think.
Rogue Trooper
So Ortiz, for an old-school artist, proved an effective bridging artist between my Eagle days and my 2000AD future. His work didn’t have the immediate crazy thrill of a Mick McMahon, Kev O’Neill or Ian Gibson piece (alongside whom he’d feature), nor the clean lines of Brian Bolland and his detractors, but instead alongside other Euro artists like Ezquerra, Massimo Belardinelli and Jesus Redondo, he’d bring in a fluid style that for a while complemented 2000AD’s woozy, weird and ravaged worlds.

It's a style which I miss already.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On a Stroppy Little Island of Mixed-up People

Today marks the 7th anniversary of the release of The Good, the Bad & The Queen, the album product of the formally-unnamed, collaboration between Damon Albarn, Paul Simonon, Simon Tong and Tony Allen. It remains a pretty much loved album in my small, Daddish collection.
Appropriately for a winter release, GBQ (as I shall abbreviate it henceforth) doesn’t get a lot of playtime in sunnier months, but yesterday was a very soggy day for summer, and it seemed to fit. In fact, my earliest memory after buying this was listening to it on the car stereo during a drive home, stuck in traffic with what looked like half of Wellington’s annual rainfall hammering down around me. GBQ is a rain-lashed album, with imagery of dark, thunderous clouds and an impending deluge – a post-millennial throwback to the rising oceans of Simonon’s famous former act’s London Calling. There’s London on the album, too, of course – throughout the album, in fact. This is Damon Albarn in his late solo phase cast as a fretful sleeper anchored in England’s sinking and drinking capital, singing songs about global warming, the Iraq invasion and the spiritual gloom of his homeland. It’s not all storm clouds, but the Apocalypse can’t be far away: bunting hangs awaiting the return of soldiers posted abroad, ambulance sirens chorus in the distance, a whale is stranded up the Thames, and the ravens of the Tower take flight. GBQ shares its producer Danger Mouse with Gorillaz’ equally doomsday Demon Days, but the result here is less global, more local. This is an album which flirts as much with other works as it does with English ritual and lore – there are echoes of Dirty Old Town in the lyrics, late in the play Simonsn’s bass threatens to deliver an updated version of Guns of Brixton (something the bassist reportedly did accidentally during a live performance), and comparisons and contrasts are inevitable with the Village Green Preservation Society sound of peak era Blur. Yet the arch, playful Parklife this is not, but it’s as perfect a counterpart to Blur’s London album as its follow-up, the fraught and boorish The Great Escape wasn’t.

I love History Song, Three Changes, Kingdom of Doom (attendant fade out bass riff of London Calling included) and the appropriately-named Herculean with Allen’s drumbeat hissing and skipping up the front of the stage; Three Changes mixes the rhythm section even more – both Allen and Simonon being the real engine of the group (it’s been said Allen’s work is underused here,  but his strikes and counter beats along with Simonon's reggae-influenced bass dramatically turn the compositions on several occasions.) Green Fields casts a wistful eye back on a lost landscape (“before the war and the tidal wave… how the world has changed”) before the flourish of piano keys leads you into the rising, cathartic title track, culminating in a sort of shambolic tumbledown free-for-all. At just over 40 minutes it’s not a long album, and there are B-Sides to be had, but as it is GBQ is compact enough to while away a rainy day with four cool and talented gentlemen.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lead Time Lords: The Fifth Doctor

Here he is, the Fifth Doctor, my beige nightmare as played by Peter Davison

This is the last of the Doctors produced in miniature by Citadel, and here’s the soft-toy cuddly version, below:

Painted by Menace Miniatures
Harlequin’s update is posed suspiciously similarly – an update in a way that three of their other twentieth-century Doctors were.

That said, Harlequin’s Davison is a little better in proportion – although look out for the bendy legs once more, and perhaps on the whole the figure lacks some further realisation. The face for one is disappointing – there’s no discreet likeness to speak of with regard to the actor, and the eyes are something of a challenge, looking more like buttons than anything else. By far the most annoying aspect of this figure is an affliction that strikes a lot of the Harlequin Doctors – a serious case of paddle-foot. Shoes should not be hard to sculpt, and here it just looks as though someone stopped trying once they finished off the trousers. I’ve attempted to sculpt some laces in green stuff, just to give the feet a bit more definition.

In all, perhaps Harley’s Davison (ho ho) is a victim of the company’s similar approach to the Eighth Doctor – a little rushed, culminating in something that lacks dynamism or real character. He doesn’t even have a hat, although an alternative sculpt (pictured here) at least gives him a cricket bat, which might do if you ever needed a Doctor to co-opt into a Shaun of the Dead-themed miniatures game.

Finally, hat tips are due to three miniature painters whose work I studied at length to get this puppy finished – once again, An Evil Giraffe’s eyes and palette are wonderful, and faced with any number of options for rendering the Fifth Doctor’s problematic striped flannels, I took much inspiration from Mark Evans’ job (sadly no longer online, it seems). Finally, the curiously-named No Such Agency of the Lead Adventure Forum produced a rather lovely model from this mini, complete with a cricket ball for added colour, so there’s definitely hope . I must, however, confess to getting a little tetchy with Harlequin’s range, and I think my impatience shows here. To be honest, I’m very much looking forward to working on some more recent sculpts from other manufacturers.

Monday, January 20, 2014

"Vanity Waltz"...?

Five things I can remember about the ZX Spectrum game Planet of Death:

1 Adventure A: Planet of Death is a text-only adventure based around the scenario of the player character (YOU!) marooned on an unfamiliar world.

2 It came free with the machine we bought, and as this was a common practice at the time, I believe this adventure has a certain association with a generation of computer fans.

3 It has this awesome cover which I thought was one of the most awesome things ever and, I regret to add, has absolutely no bearing on the events of the game. A world of disappointment at owning a ZX Spectrum may well have begun with this stark, simple fact.

4 Artic Computing strikes me as a most unusual name for a business, and perhaps as far from the world of high adventure computer games as you could get. But their logo totally does what it says on the box - it's in the shape of an articulated lorry, wheels and all!

5 I never completed the game despite many tries, and found its infamous clue "VANITY WALTZ!" utterly impenetrable for a thirteen year old. The answer lay in a means to pass a force field separating you from your captured ship, the only thing that will take you off the titular benighted, but lamentably storm-lashed, skull-rocked world.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Lead Time Lords: The Fourth Doctor (1)

"You might be a doctor, but I am THE Doctor. 'The Definite Article', you might say!"I

Still working my way through Harlequin's Doctors Who, and so I'm up to Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor, or at least one of Harlequin's three versions:

This is, as far as I've seen, not that common a choice of figures among painted collections I've seen. But thanks to a UK-based friend from the over ten or so years ago this was purchased, this was the one I got sent (cheers Dave!) when Harlequin went out of business and places like Forbidden Planet had them going for a song. Je ne regrette rien as they say in Rome, and so this version is the one I have. I'll paint one of the other versions recently sourced (cheers Jamas!) in due course.

Actually, I rather like this version, as it strikes most of the notes you want to with the Fourth Doctor - jelly babies, long scarf, long coat, teeth and curls, wild eyes (though that might be my painting again.) My quibbles are small - for instance, the scarf should be looped around the Doctor's neck; it doesn't look quite long enough this way, but some things I just don't want to attempt with green stuff, because that would mean sculpting around the back of his neck as well, and I can't see how I could better things, really. It's a trade-off anyway - you get the scarf, but not the buccaneer boots (thus firmly positing the Doctor somewhere in his Seasons Fourteen to Fifteen phase), you get the hair, but not the hat - that sort of thing.

Still, face aside, the ensemble was pretty straightforward to paint once I'd found a story to base everything on (either Hand of Fear or Robots of Death - I forget which.) The coat is a chocolatey velvet, so a semi-gloss seemed the order of the day, and the scarf is in reasonably muted colours - that Begonia Pope, she knew what she was doing.

And that's one of the Fourth Doctors!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Box of Progs

My trip down south coincides with the clearing of my Dad's place, and with it (somewhat inevitably), some rediscoveries of old, long-thought disappeared treasures. I've found quite a few now, but chief among them has to be my collection of early 2000ADs. Hooray!!! Every home visit for maybe the last ten years has been frustrated by me not being able to find two large cardboard boxes of issues (or 'progs' to use the magazine's own futuristic vernacular), but this month with what seemed the last ever attempt to find them by hand, they let their hidden presence be known.

As expected, and then some more, these boxes have turned out to be as much a time capsule as my own juvenilia. A friend once went into a virtual state of mourning after our flat was burgled and he lost his entire music cassette collection; his reasoning being that among those often redundant and patchy collections of albums and dubs he could name the times he first heard certain songs, the places he'd visited or the mood he was in. The act of consuming media is a weird two-way street sometimes; it seems to me that the more vivid or visceral the experience of reading or listening, watching... is, the more that experience takes in and 'records' other experience around it as an unconscious contextual backdrop. And so in that regard I've memories of when I first read in the pages of my progs the series Helltrekkers, discovered the histories of the various 80s ABC Warriors,  got into Slaine (on a train, as it turned out), followed Dredd and Anderson through the City of the Damned, had my mind blown by the likes of Pat Mills and Kev O'Neill in Nemesis the Warlock and Metalzoic. It's all there, and flowers like fireworks in my brain when I open those pages again after twenty-five to thirty years of simply getting on with life. It's remarkable.

My boxed progs are only part of my collection - it's not complete, but may now number over a thousand, and the process of integrating these old issues (I've only brought up around thirty so far) with my collection here will be a slow but interesting one. I've been selective with the ones I've brought up - two boxes, one of my earliest progs (I think Prog 180 might be the oldest of them?), and another of a selected run comprising the aforementioned Helltrekkers, some of Bryan Talbot's stint on Nemesis, and all of Metalzoic (on which I'll post soon). Of course, the issues I left behind will eventually make their way here (fingers crossed). In them is the end of my 80s infatuation with 2000AD, petering out somewhere past Prog 500 and, as it seemed to me, the end of the magazine's early golden age and its short transformation from adventure comic for boys into ephemeral accessory of the Acid House set. I did reacquaint myself with 2000AD during my Uni years, and those progs are also at home, but the prospect of having all of these issues together at last (still incomplete, I must stress) is an exciting one. Happy times and places in every issue, and, of course, the stuff of Jetsam.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lead Time Lords: The Second Doctor (1)

Over the break I didn’t just holiday – I also painted. First off the rank is a completion of my Second Doctor figure. As with the other four ‘classic’ Doctors of their range, the Patrick Troughton iteration was first rendered lead-wise by Citadel Miniatures as a gargoyle 28mm piece in the mid-80s. Check out Modeller Chris Clayton's excellent paint job.

Harlequin’s 90s effort adopts a similar pose – though there is a rarer, alternative version, based on a still from the as-yet missing debut Power of the Daleks, featuring the Doctor with 500 Year Diary and birdcatcher’s hat:

But back to the one I have, the more regularly seen Oscar™-style pose with recorder. Unlike the ‘Power’ version this is a tad more generic, which is useful, but wiser heads than I – notably An Evil Giraffe, have seen the error in Harlequin’s design – inadequate pockets and a too-short jacket, making the Troughton Doctor a little less tramp-like in appearance. AEG rectified this masterfully with green stuff, and I’ve followed suit as best I could. In addition, and because I also think the recorder a little lazy in rendering, I’ve added some green stuff tassels. There’s not a lot of colour variance between the First and Second Doctors’ outfits, so I’ve strived for as much as I reasonably can; the tassels help to break up a mid-section that is equal parts unimaginative (come one, guys – it’s the Second Doctor!) and sausage-fingered. The result is that my Second Doctor with his grey trousers, red hanky, salt-and-pepper hair and George Hamilton tan is more your actual Eighties incarnation of the Second Doctor – fresh from a trip to Seville, if you will (and not to suggest, I trust, that he is an orange.)

I’ll make no apologies – it’s not a great paint job, and is a little wobbly in places, but it’s time to press on. I do have another of these figures sitting around, however, and might well revisit the Cosmic Hobo in time – again, with some green stuff to hand, and maybe with an eye to a different kind of coat altogether, and from a less-Mediterranean clime…

'A Distillation of Smug' or, The Hobbit reviewed part two

Yes, I went to the second Hobbit movie. I think it’s a better movie than the first, but overall I don’t think this will stick in my memory for long.

I’ve struggled with the Hobbit movies so far as an adaptation. I’m usually tolerant of adaptations, and I definitely subscribe to the argument that you can’t film a book – but it’s not for want of trying to read a movie like a book if you’re a fan of the original text. After twenty minutes I finally told myself to stop looking for where I’d put my theoretical cuts on a book-fan edit and just went with the movie; which is just as well by this installment’s end, which very definitely goes its own way as well, but not altogether successfully.

I do have an issue with the additions Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have set upon the original story line. Which isn’t to say I dislike them all – the character of Tauriel is welcome in my book, and even her love triangle between Legolas and Kili is ‘okay’; no, the problem is that with this amour comes that beloved trope of modern scriptwriters, the ‘character arc’. When every major character has to grow within a story, even with a three-movie arrangement as here, the seams will be tested as more characters are included. And it’s not just characters – some key installments form the novel are given short shrift here, too – Beorn’s back story is now reliant on the stitched-on dreaded Azog subplot, which itself is now tied to the greatly expanded and mostly made-up Necromancer B-plot. From where I sit now it seems likely to me that Beorn will be little more than a ‘surprise’ cameo in the third movie’s Battle, while Laketown’s inhabitants deserved more than to be mute observers in a battle of wills between Luke Pace’s not-Aragorn Bard (the likenesses aren’t as close as some feared, but I do suspect the writers were at pains to make a distinction anyway) and Stephen Fry’s set-gnawing Master – a role which is written OTT anyway, but still – who are these people and why should we worry that they are in peril at the end of the movie? Or is that what stranding Kili, Fili, Oin and Bofur (each given welcome character expansion, I do admit) there is for? For a community who have as much of a claim to the Lonely Mountain and a prophecy surrounding it, I think we could have been better served than the shenanigans inside Erebor and its giant golden dwarf statue.

Everything is so tied together in The Desolation of Smaug that the narrative has a lot of boxes to tick. Whereas Tolkein simply had to get Bilbo and the Dwarves through Mirkwood and Laketown without Gandalf and while building the Company’s trust in their Thief as Thorin’s treasure-sickness grows, in the movie we’ve the Necromancer story, tragic pasts for Bard and Beorn, a character arc for Tauriel and Legolas (and likely Thranduil, who while distant and veal in the book gets lumbered with facial scarring and class issues as well on the screen). In all, this part of the story should be building up the plot, not creating a more complicated story with more mouths to feed – I was relieved when I heard the Hobbit was to be a trilogy, thinking it would enable the story to breathe, particularly with the added B-story; unfortunately I still think it’s choking, and unlike The Lord of the Rings I’m not feeling as disposed to redressing the balance with extended editions.

The rest, I’m happy to say, is an improvement. The casting is still great; with Pace, Evans and Lilly all offering nuanced performances to new or almost-new characters – even Mikael Persbrand’s Beorn is an interesting interpretation, although he is somewhat one-note with the scene he’s given. The CGI is largely good where it counts – Smaug is indeed magnificent, although there are some ropey composite shots here and there; overall the design work is superb, although as before I could have happily sacrificed time in Laketown for actual detail on its significance. I decided to see DOS in 2D this time, and don’t regret it – I think nothing’s been lost, and while the high frame rate still makes sets look more like sets and action look more like video than film, watching the film without the added gimmickry was a more pleasing experience. It’s not an uncommon criticism or snark online that the Hobbit trilogy has done for Tolkien movies what George Lucas’ prequel trilogies did for Star Wars, offering an overly-fussy, somewhat gaudy and not-entirely satisfactory return to a much-loved original. Two movies through the trilogy now I’m actually feeling the same way as I did after Attack of the Clones, a little underwhelmed, hopeful for the last installment, but half-expecting it to fail to deliver. It’s a shame, but I’m not sorry I’ve seen this after all.

Plus, it's given me a few ideas about what I want to do next model-wise...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Blanket Coverage

To the best of my recollection this is my old Scout blanket. I and my brother and sister each had one, each being decorated a different way depending on what we'd aggregated through Cubs, Scouts, Girl Guides (I should clarify that only one of us was in that) and possibly some parts beyond - although I suspect that by the time we were Venturers or Rovers the badge thing wasn't so prominent. There are plenty of examples of this kind of thing on the internet, and it was a NZ phenomenon, too, as a particularly fine example belonging to friends (but on an army blanket rather than the grey here) indicated a few years back.
My scouting badges are for the most part on the left - a mix of what the US scouts call merit badges and some other area badges I traded for at my one and only Jamboree. That said, I don't see any badge of my actual jamboree there... hmmm. The rest of the blanket interests me more these days, and actually has more personal relevance, because it tells a story somewhat of the family holidays we went on up to about the time I was ten. The wedge-shaped felt tourism pennants, the subject of ongoing back car seat debates about whose turn it was to get the next one; does anyone make pennants for towns and cities anywhere? I'm going to find out!
As campfire blankets go, this is a pretty modest piece, and as I don't have it with me right now (if indeed it is my blanket, etc - I can see a Kea Scout leader badge and an Oamaru Athletics RFC badge that distinctly point towards it being my brother's) then I might just have to start a new one for Jet Jr. On our recent trip home I collected a few stray badges lurking around nooks and crannies, so I have the beginnings, at least.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rewind the Blog

Happy New Year, everyone

Back after a ten-day holiday at home/s on the Mainland, and back to the routine of work tomorrow.

Around the tail end of '13 I had more time to read (but only read, alas) some social media and in that time was surprised to read how rough last year had been on some of my friends - the number of times I saw iterations of the phrase "good riddance to a crap year" was... arresting.

For myself 2013 was just another year - altogether survivable, and mostly harmless. If anything it was an unproductive year, and that's not a good thing for most of us. I think as a species we have an innate urge to create in some form; even those who profess to not have an artistic bone in their body still follow some existential will to do something, maybe out of fear of doing nothing.

"The act of creation saves us from despair" goes a line in the song below, from an album I'm more than a little embarrassed to admit I didn't know had even been released until the end of year music overviews (it's not alone - the Chills released a single, 'Molten Gold' to coincide with Martin Phillipps' 50th birthday this year - whoosh over my head it went, but check it out - it's lovely). I'll return to Manic Street Preachers' Rewind the Film very soon, but for now here's the opening track This Sullen Welsh Heart, equal parts hope and despair, and a gorgeous and moving version it is. Taken from an intimate live performance on Later With Jools Holland it retains the studio version's guest talent of Lucy Rose and in its stripped-back sound is very indicative of the album in all. I picked the album (and Postcards From a Young Man, along with Wilco's Hotel Yankee Foxtrot) up on sale at the Warehouse in Timaru (a store whose sales have never let me down!) and am really looking forward to getting to know it better.

After this, some rewinding of my own with holiday-inspired entries, and some much-overdue painting updates. And to all of my splendid readers and friends out there, here's to a much more creative, enjoyable and prosperous year ahead...

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Strangeness on a Train

I am thirteen, it is the dawn of a new year, and I and am about to set foot on the North Island for the first time.

1983 was the first year I'd left the Mainland, spending a week on Stewart Island for a school trip in Second Form; but this time, for the 10th New Zealand Scout Jamboree, I would be in Fielding for  ten days of outdoor activities, burgeoning testosterone, cold showers, open-air latrines, physical challenges, military catering and some of the worst sunburn of my life.

Scouting for me was a central activity from the ages of around eight through to around eighteen, and being a young simian a lot of my early life experiences involved scouting or variations of it.  There had been an Jamboree at the local racecourse 'round the corner from my house in Oamaru in 1978, so when I was old enough to make the trip myself, it was a no-brainer. I reckon that in our town that summer of 1983-84 was a halcyon period for many parents who, given the choice, could have shipped their boys entering or in that 'difficult age' off to such parts as Fielding, Palmerston North (where my brother went for a Venturers camp), or Mystery Creek in Hamilton (for Boys Brigade. I distinctly recall checking off my backpack contents with my Dad (who hadn't put his teeth in... details...) in our post-Christmas lounge the day before I was to take a chartered train up the east coast, then over to Picton, across Cook Strait to Wellington, then another three hours to Fielding.

The train journey was long. Looong: around 24 hours on the rails with l only two Making of the Return of the Jedi, the first issue of my new comic order from the local bookshop - (I'd ditched Eagle for 2000AD), some preserved ginger (I hated the stuff, but my Gran, assuming the opposite, always made sure I got some for Christmas every year) and a carriage full of adolescent males shouting, wrestling, playing cards and generally stinking the place up to pass the time. It was Lord of the Flies on rails. But, we made it through the night, saw in the new year while  in transit (one of the lads was a Bowie fan and duly played 1984 at the appointed striking of midnight.) By morning we'd reached Picton, boarded the Interisland ferry and carried on over to a quiet and grey looking Wellington - I'd never have thought it would be my future home.

The main event was a hell of a thing - a virtual tent city with seemingly hundreds of camps for individual contingents from all over the Asia Pacific region. It was all pretty chaste stuff, while there were stories that a boy had been stabbed one night on the other side of the camp, I talked and swapped badges with kids from Australia, Canada, the US and the Pacific, left my own contingent for twenty-four hours on an overnight tramp in a nearby forest; and though I dreaded what I took to be an inevitability, in the end I was sad to see the camp's abseiling tower abandoned at the end, unassailed by me. The photos I took from the jamboree are, I presume, long gone, and by memory would have been dull fare indeed - camp sites, Manfield race track (where it was held), and a few other tricked up sites of other scout contingents (Mt Roskill had a banner based on the Return of the Jedi poster which I'd thought was very cool). My memories of the trip and the event are now nudged along by some remaining artifacts - the books I took to read with me, an open air film we watched en masse (weirdly, Battlestar Galactica: Conquest of the Earth) and pop culture snippets (number one at the time: UB40's cover of Red Red Wine, local high flyer - Split Enz's Straight Old Line.) I developed a strange addition to carob bars; and with my fellow troop devised ways to avoid the Roman-styled latrines and the regular wave that would pass under the unwary sitter as it flushed the rows of seats. The showers were something else: open-air, cold water and communal.  My friend Alister managed to brave the boggy entrance to the plywood ablutions block and exited cleanly laundered only to slip arse over kite and land back in the muck again. Ee, but we were 'appy...

So much for scouting and my one and only jamboree experience, but it was an exciting, tiring time, and looking back from thirty years on, a clear disembarking point for some old my pre-high school life (I was so glad to be shot of intermediate school - and frankly, Jedi saw the end of my Star Wars interest) and the hopping-on point for a lot of new stuff and new friends.

So - New Year's Eve 1983, thirty years ago.