3 Days in Samoa (part 2)

Dazed from the heat and humidity, and a 10 hour trip (plus afternoon rums in the Koru lounge in Auckland and Merlot with dinner), I ticked sport on the immigration card. When questioned I said, business and sport. The rugby. The Blues and Reds. The referees? The giant official smiled from behind his tiny desk, amended the card, and handed me back my passport.

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We picked up our rental and drove to the resort by the airport ‘turn right, drive a few minutes… bump!… first right’. The directions were spot on. The gates to Aggie Grey’s Sheraton Resort were indeed right after a sudden bump.

In my room I fiddled with the telly, trying to decide if I needed food. But it was 10pm. I was exhausted and needed sleep.

I woke with my throat raw. Two flights. Sleeping with air-con. I walked out my patio to the white sands, took a dazed selfie to post on Facebook then joined my workmate for breakfast in the Apolima Fale. It was in paradise eating with no walls and such beauty.

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Unlike everyone else working on the first Super Rugby game in Samoa we weren’t staying in town, so we had a one hour drive along the coast through village after village, ramshackle and pristine, proud of famous sons The village of David Tua, The village of Joseph Parker etc. I took passing photo after passing photo of open fales, little family stores and concrete swimming holes, all obliterated by bad light or my reflection.

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It was as I remembered from 1999, but much tidier. The rubbish scattered everywhere was now all absent. There are stands all along the road where rubbish is left so roaming dogs can’t get at it. Some are homemade. Some are engineered metal with labels saying ‘Australian Aid’.

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As we got closer to Apia bunting and flags lined the road. For rugby? Apia was jammed with people. Markets and stalls everywhere. We were funnelled away from our destination by closed roads and police. It was Independence Day. Samoa was celebrating throwing off its New Zealand overlord. NZ likes to think it was a benign ‘administrator’ who liberated Samoa from Germany at the start of WWI. But we didn’t let go and our officials mowed down peaceful marchers when they asked for freedom.

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There’s a wonderful Samoan song that remembers that atrocity. I learned it years ago when acting in a Samoan play. I sometimes sing it in the shower, delighting in the onomatopoeic sound of the Samoan word for machine gun. Fanata’avilli. Rat-a-tat-tat.

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It was hot and humid at the stadium. With four road cases to carry up the steep concrete steps to our booth at the top of the stand we took it slow, but it was hard going and my colleague soon began to feel faint and unwell. There was an air con unit but no remote control. It took forever to find someone who understood what we needed.

Heat and lack of water aside, it was an easy rig. I had to clamber onto a dodgy rusty, dusty, roof to rig aerials; a challenge with the grade-2 muscle tear I gave myself when I slipped on some rocks last weekend. But I was strapped from crotch to knee with purple tape so I was reasonably mobile. From the breezy, shaded cool of the roof I looked down to the two fullahs mowing the field. With t-shirts tied over their heads to shield them from the sun, they pushed two domestic lawn mowers across the entire pitch; slowly doing a job done by ride-on mowers in NZ. The average hourly rate is $1.50 over here.

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By 2pm we were done. I’ve never been so thirsty. Though it seemed wrong we couldn’t face the bustle and heat of Apia in celebration. We weren’t here to tourist, so headed to Frankie Hypermarket to pick up bottled water and drive back to the resort.

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After inhaling the plate of fruit left in my room I lay down on the bed to sleep. But as soon as I closed my eyes I felt bad. What a waste. I couldn’t hide in the air-con, no matter how tired I felt, so I put on my togs and headed to the pool. The water was stunning but I couldn’t swim with my torn thigh so I floated about in the empty pool (where was everyone?) before grabbing a sun longer on the beach to watch the ocean breaking on the distant reef.

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Four Australians turned up with drinks on the chairs beside me. The pool bar was unattended so I went up the main bar in my wet togs, trying not to feel self-conscious. It was happy hour. For the next 90 minutes! Alone in paradise I slowly made my way through the NZ$8 cocktails. Apolima Sunrise, Midori Splice and Blue Lagoon. Tequila, Midori, Vodka, Malibu, Blue Curacao and Orange Liqueur all went down easy as I skited on Facebook and listened to the Aussies mither about wedding fails.

So I put on a smile and put on the shitty dress. It’s what bridesmaids do. She wanted to arrive in a helicopter. A helicopter. I said, if you do that my hair will be all to shit. To shit. I literally bit my tongue for two weeks. So she dicked the best man to get back at him. Well you would, wouldn’t you? They’re still together. Toronto. Toronto for fuck’s sake.

The man drank beer in silence as his three bikinied companions competitively relived each horror. I guess he had never been to a bad wedding.

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3 Days in Samoa (part 1)

I’m flying to Samoa. The last time I went there it was last century, the end of the millennium. To a thirty-something New Zealander Samoa was the island of the day before. Since then the world has changed. More than once. It was 1999. We partied like it was and tried not to fret about Y2K and planes falling from the sky. Now I am 50 and Samoa has jumped the international dateline from yesterday to today. The past is here.

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I’m off for work rather than pleasure. Like the winter of 1999, it’s rugby. There are worse ways to earn a buck.

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Back then I was with a TV crew doing the first live broadcast of a big event from the islands. There was bit of pressure. We came over on the Saturday, did the game between Manu Samoa and USA on the Sunday, and then flew back to Auckland on the Monday. We stayed at Aggie Grey’s in Apia and drank cocktails in the pool. I got the Marlon Brando fale. As a one-time actor I imagined he had once been in the same room and busted out a Stanley Kowalski ‘Stella!” in tribute.

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18 years ago the plane was small. I watched ‘Shakespeare In Love’ and ‘My Favourite Martian”; the best of the few films on offer. This time the entertainment selection is huge, but not enough to drag me off my own devices… tablet, phone, journal.

Last time I took about 6 photos on the whole trip. This time I’d taken twice that before we left the runway.

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To be fair, in 1999 I also shot a 3 minute reel on my vintage 1970s Super 8mm camera. The travelogue was wholly edited in-camera, with titles and funny gags. I dug it out and watched it yesterday. The USA was led out by a man in combat gear jumping up and down, waving the stars and stripes. At the time I couldn’t work out if it was naïve or on point, and wondered what the Americans thought about being represented by this. Were they proud or dismayed? Or just indifferent? Manu Samoa had an oiled-up man carrying two flaming torches. It looked great in the tropical sun.

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That night, after a reception at the embassy, I had a beer on the town with some of the American players. They were just happy to be there; proud of their amateur status against a team full of professionals. ‘We’re builders, and teachers, that’s amazing, ain’t it?’

It is less than an hour until we land. Outside it is dark. No longer the island of the day before, Samoa is now an hour ahead of New Zealand. A balmy 28 degree evening awaits our arrival. It was 12 degrees when I left Wellington this morning. Cold. Windy. Autumn. It’s going to be an interesting few days.

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Into the Night

Last night I went to a pub to see a band. It’s something I haven’t done in a long time. I used to be a regular in my teens and twenties in Christchurch. Thursday, Friday or Saturday. There was always something to see. Local or out of town.

Last night in Wellington was like a Christchurch gig of old. A dancefloor packed with people standing, staring at music, shuffling their feet on the sticky floor. But with no cigarette smoke in the air and a crowd like me; grey, middle-aged. Relaxed. Drinking craft beer. No aggro or thought of conquest.

It was my first time at Meow. It’s a nice venue. Quirky.

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As I walked in John, the old friend I had come to see, shook my hand and apologised as he had to ready his cello to guest with The Bats. I had forgotten the nervousness of pre-gig organising. When I played music I used to leave the venue and march the streets until the last moment. Or share a spliff.

I went to the gig with my old school friend, Damian. We played in a noisy band called Swim Everything in the ‘90s. It was good to catch up. Talk about kids and getting old. His knees recently stopped working after a ski trip with his daughter. He reckons the change in the body from 50 to 60 is the same as from 10 to 20, but in reverse.

The Bats were the same as ever. But older. They’re the nicest people and were very supportive of my first school band, All Fall Down. Flying Nun folk are generally pretty amiable. It’s nearly 30 years since I saw them live (except on the telly at that gig after the first Earthquake).

It wasn’t too loud, either, but I still stuffed in ear plugs half way through the first song. I have such bad tinnitus that I constantly feel like the side of my head has just received an unexpected whack. Rock n roll.

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It finished dead on 11pm (no sirens or flashing lights to shoo us out like the old days) and I caught up with Ruth who managed the student radio station I DJ-ed at in the ‘80s. She was featured in an exhibition at Canterbury Museum last year celebrating 40 years of RDU. Literally a museum piece (I didn’t point that out). I asked Hayden, a muso acquaintance, if he still played music. He laughed and said he just watches TV. I also said gidday to another old muso (name withheld) who runs New Zealand’s spy agency. Funny the connections that weave through a life. Five Eyes everywhere. Watching, accumulating. Leaking. I resisted giving a secret handshake.

As I dropped Damian home he said he’d send me a link to the loops he’s put up on Soundcloud. He is very pleased with them. I said sure, and awkwardly mentioned that his mother had a good raunchy poem in a collection of erotic writing I had failed to get a piece into. He laughed and said she had a play produced last week. She was stunned by the effort, tears and despair required. Surprised how it nevertheless came together on the night. I said there’s nothing harder, and more intimidating, than putting on a play. That a script isn’t like a song or a recipe. The same script never bakes the same cake.

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As I write this a script has turned up for a play I’m going to audition for. The thought fills me with excitement. And dread.

“The night is dark and full of terrors, old man, but the fire burns them away.”

A polar front, full of snow, is approaching New Zealand from the Antarctic. I need to get in the ceiling and sort out the insulation I shifted to fix a leak last spring.

Writing, music, theatre. I do not know what draws me to them, when a fire offers such comfort. Too old to be young and stupid I stumble onwards into the night.

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A Number of Things

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At work yesterday a colleague asked me what 47 and 5 was. I thought it was a trick question. Or, more likely, she was pointing out that I had incorrectly added those numbers. I may have; it was a hot day and I was tired. Hearing the exchange another colleague said to her, you should know that, you’re Chinese! She replied, that’s a stereotype, I can’t do maths!

 

Maths is a small but crucial part of my job. We’re always having to write down start times and add elapsed durations. It’s pretty easy, most of the time. The only bits that trip me up are when long durations have to be added to the 24 hour clock. Adding 113 minutes to something like 15:46 always causes me to stop and think it through (especially in the fuzz of the mid-afternoon). Some of my older colleagues use a calculator in such instances.

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I was asked to check some addition the other day. We then discussed how we did the addition. In that example I rounded up then back. My colleague just added up the bits.

It got us talking. She asked me what my favourite times table was. I looked blankly at the question. Favourite? Most people like something like 11, she said, but I love 9. She then ripped off a piece of paper and showed me a nifty trick that revealed a beautiful symmetry to the 9 x table, writing 1 to 9 down the page, then 8 to zero beside those numbers. Each pair added up to 9 and was an ascending total of the 9 x table. She couldn’t believe I had never seen it.

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I can’t wait to show my 9 year old this. She’ll love it. She loves maths and has just started learning algebra. When she told me last week I mentioned that algebra is named after the Arabic mathematician who invented it. Wow, she said, I’ll tell my teacher. Immediately I became unsure. Was it algebra or algorithms?  It’s one of them, I smiled uncertainly. Heard it in a podcast.

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After work yesterday I listened to a podcast about Maths in the Early Islamic World. It seemed a good dry subject to get me around the harbour and lagoon on a 30 minute run on a stinking hot day, rehabilitating my knee after a recent arthroscopy.

 

It was fascinating, full of the stuff I had been trying to tell my daughter. Babylonian and Greek maths were taken up by the House of Wisdom in Baghdad in the 800s where the great mathematician and astronomer, al-Khwarizmi (Latinized as Algoritmi i.e. algorithm) solved quadratic equations with something he called al-jabr (algebra) using Indian decimal numbers (which later made it to the West in translations of his work).

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Algebra was poetry in this world, and fabulously wealthy patrons paid for the House of Wisdom to explore its beauty.

It wasn’t till the 1600s that Descartes replaced the words with symbols giving us the algebra we know today.

And now algorithms rule our lives. Deciding what news we should see, what we should eat, who we should consider loving.

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My running app sent me an email this morning saying I ran my fastest 4-6 km run ever yesterday. It’s a handy thing to know.

But it’s the podcast about the House of Wisdom, and the infinite beauty of numbers, that have made me write these words.

 

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The Carnival Is

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For the last week I’ve had a very persistent earworm; The Carnival Is Over by The Seekers. It’s because I’m working on the Wellington Sevens and the only story/topic of conversation is who killed the event and how dead is it? I’ve asked strangers, colleagues and rugby enthusiasts all week if they’re going and they either laugh or scornfully say no!

The party is over and no one’s keen to go to something so uncool.

Who killed it? An editorial in the DomPost said ‘don’t blame the fun police’. (I like the idea of fun police… better than un-fun police).


I could give a well-reasoned answer to what’s behind the demise, but as I work on the event my lips are contractually sealed (across all media). But I’m a writer so I must find wiggle room to engage.

This is my 10th event. That’s a lot of being at the centre of 30,000 people in full carnival mode. Dressing up, undressing, cross-dressing (but only males), full mask, partial mask, getting hammered/tweaked, singing, dancing (only females) with work colleagues, friends, family and strangers. I’ve seen it’s at its peak. It was wonderful, and awful.

February 2008 (my first Sevens) was a different world. I was in an empty house in a new city with a pregnant partner I had known for less than a year and the Global Financial Crisis was about to smash into us.


Whatever happens this weekend, as an on-field comms tech I shall continue to get paid to turn off very fit, hot sweaty men (and the occasional woman). I’m an okay de-fluffer. It’s better than having to turn them on, I suppose, but isn’t that the point of Carnival?

The train is passing the stadium. The conductor has just said ‘bing-bong bing-bong!’ on the intercom and welcomed us into Wellington. Everyone is in good humour. Game day is on.

 

Confessions of a De-Fluffer       Ghosts of Sevens Past

Fire!

Last night, in the early hours of the morning, I thought I heard the fire siren go off in the Bay. It’s one of those old air-raid type sirens used by volunteer brigades, with a reassuring whine that winds up to its peak and down through its decay. Half asleep, it played into my dream until my partner said, smoke! …I smell smoke!

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Suddenly awake, I jumped up, expecting to smell a haze I couldn’t see. I paced the room before pulling on yesterday’s undies to check the house (who knows what I would find or where I would end up?) None of my home alarms were going. There was no visible smoke. But back in the bedroom I could smell something. Or was it just my partner’s suggestion?

 

 

Maybe we were both on edge from the day before when, while waiting for a table at the front of a long queue that snaked down the stairs at the wonderfully eccentric Seashore Cabaret café in Petone, I noticed that the coffee roaster across the other side of the room was sending out clouds of coffee-flavoured smoke.

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I looked down at our children patiently amusing themselves with a retro French Love Meter (hoping they didn’t ask for another dollar to test their Sexy Amour! rating), then back up at the roaster as it seemed to swell then belch flames from several vents. Was it for effect? It was a quirky/retro place. No. No. Flames engulfed the black iron bulk, leaping towards the ceiling.

The room was filled with the clatter of chairs thrown backwards and lunchtime diners rushing towards us while our three small children continued to stare at the flames. My partner cried out! out! out! in her commanding English tone as we turned towards the stagnant crush on the stairs.

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As the people moved slow, so slow, too slow, I flashed back 30 years to a house fire at a Christmas party in Christchurch where gate-crashing skinheads set fire to a papier mache Xmas tree, turning the room into an instant inferno. The sudden intensity of heat on my face remains, as does the panic of seeing the stairs clogged in a drunken jam. I decided to turn and head into an unknown emptiness, looking for another way out. I have not forgotten the relief of fresh air and the building terror and guilt as I searched for my girlfriend amongst the startled, unfamiliar faces outside.

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Yesterday, as we walked away from the building to the sound of approaching sirens, our youngest complained that I had poked her in the eye as I kept her moving down the stairs. I laughed, apologised, and took the ‘learning opportunity’ to say we would talk about fire safety and exit plans at home.

 

This morning, as I wandered the dark house in a daze, angry at myself for not following up the exit plan, I wondered what I could smell, and if I should wake the children.

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Unmovie

Thanks to a sudden operation on my knee I’ve been laid up for the last week, seeking distraction. I’ve needed an arthroscopy on my right knee for most of the year but the hoops I’ve had to jump through (assessment, diagnosis, then rejection by ACC, blood tests to discount arthritis and gout, my first ever MRI and ECG) all showed I had great health, for my age, and a perfect knee. Except for a ‘complex’ tear in my meniscus.

This time last Sunday I was waiting for a letter to either 1. Offer me an operation date sometime next year, or 2. Inform me I could not go on the waiting list as others had a greater need than me. I experienced the latter when I needed a bigger operation three years ago to correct Haglund’s deformity (heel spurs… the chronic condition that deferred Trump from defending democracy in Vietnam). See Post-Op Blog Couched In Cast Away etc

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So it was a total shock to get a call at work last Monday offering me surgery the following day. Somehow I manged to clear the decks and make it happen. Early the next morning I was climbing onto the operating table in a backless gown, talking to the local surgery team about how house prices in Titahi Bay had gone nuts, awaiting my third general anaesthetic. I distinctly remember the process. When I was six I woke in the night to wander the dark wards looking for my mother. Last time I woke to the rhythmic squeeze and hiss of a cuff on my leg guarding against blood clots. This time I took a groggy selfie to post on Facebook while Harry Nilsson’s ‘Spaceman’ ran through my head.

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It was only a 15 minute key-hole procedure and I was out for about an hour. Much quicker than the other times when I had to stay overnight. The lemonade ice-block to sooth my raw throat (breathing tubes) was delicious… I hadn’t eaten since the night before. Then it was on to crutches (easier with a bandage than with a cast) and I was free to go. Just before I left the friendly nurse asked if I wanted something ‘for the road’. I said yes. She smiled, poked her tongue out the side of her mouth, and returned with a little blue pill that, according to my partner, made me a lot of fun for the rest of the day.

Since then it’s been a lot of sitting with my leg up, trying to do nothing. I’m not very good at it. Especially as I’m surrounded by three small children and have no Christmas shopping done.

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Between reading and writing I’ve attempted to make the time between meds and leg exercises disappear by watching movies. It’s something I haven’t done in years. Not since I fell for the general trend towards the elongated 10 hour tales of ‘golden age’ television where, like a novel, you can get to love characters and spend time with them night after night.

Until this week the only movie I’ve watched this year (apart from kids’ movies) was ‘Swiss Army Man’ where Daniel Radcliffe played a dead body washed up on a desert island. What’s not to like? It was a lot of fun. Less one-dimensional than you would imagine.

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On Thursday I watched ‘Hell or High Water’. It’s as good as the reviews say. A pretty-as contemporary bank-robber/western. Languid and laugh-out-loud with wry comments on the post-GFC/Iraq War world. Jeff Bridges is a treat.

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On Friday I watched ‘Green Room’. The most suspenseful thriller I can imagine. A crap punk band gets trapped in a room after playing a dodgy White Power gig. There is violence, but it is sudden and real. A very compelling, fresh blast of the thriller genre. It also has the added fun of watching Capt. Picard and Mr. Chekov trying to outsmart each other (along with John Shelby, from ‘Peaky Blinders’, one of my fav binge-worthy TV shows). That Capt. Kirk is also in ‘Hell or High Water’ suggests a possible theme to my movie choices, but I am resistant to ‘re-boots’ and ‘franchises’, no matter how good they are meant to be. I love movies too much to be tempted by the lurch towards Tim Tam flavoured Capt. Disney-fried Star Wars sausage candy that has attempted to kill-off the strong, original story-telling movies used to glory in.

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Last night I watched the most original of the three films I chose from a list of the best of 2016. ‘The Lobster’ has Colin Farrrell as a bland pudgy single man who must find a partner within 45 days or be turned into a lobster. It feels like early 70s European sci-fi dystopia but is a lot funnier. The cast is great and the humour comes from the mundane way the situation is treated. It makes you laugh and think about the endless pressure to change or justify your ‘status.’

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So, what to watch tonight? I could finish off ‘Westworld’ or continue through ‘The Crown’ or ‘Vikings’ (loving these TV shows) but I’m going to keep with the movie kick. ‘The Invitation’ looks good. A man goes to a dinner party at his ex-wife’s and begins to believe something sinister is planned.

Seems like a good distraction from the endless cycle of ibuprofen, paracetamol, aspirin and leg raises while waiting to be able to move again.

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