Monthly Archives: February 2015

Vikings

I’m a bit in love with Vikings. No, not the cuddly trainers of dragons or opera-hatted anachronisms used to promote small New Zealand Scandi-towns; I’m referring to the History channel series that has just started its third season. It’s pretty darn good.

vikings_season3_castOf course, it depends what you’re looking for. Me, I have a particular love for what I call period drama, that is, drama set some time in the past. Now, just playing dress ups and talking funny doesn’t do it for me, there is plenty of awful period drama (no need to list them). In order to win my heart it has to be great as a story/show, too (see my Peaky Blinders and Boardwalk Empire raves). And going by these first 2 seasons I would say Vikings looks likely to fit into the pantheon of great TV being produced in this so-called ‘Golden-Age’ of television.

Uppsala

The Pilgrimage to Uppsala. A stunning episode

It certainly ticks most of the boxes of GA: gorgeous to look it, outstanding sets and costumes, intriguing and strong acting (except for 2 who let the side down), storylines that crack along and don’t wallow in melodrama or soap. It even has that great hallmark of the GA, cracking opening titles which even when you are bingeing (as I do) you have to watch all the way through to enter the world (the sawing cello, pitch-shifted vocals, the undersea shots of the longboats, waves crashing, bodies and loot sinking into the abyss… as tightly edited as a music video).

redeye-vikings-on-history-channel-early-photos-007

Ragnar casually leads another raid

The story centres on Ragnar Lothbrok, a Viking celebrated in Norse sagas, and his rise from farmer (who does a bit of raiding on the side) to king leading the historical raids on Lindisfarne, Paris and so on.

lagertha-played-by-katheryn-winnick-shield-maiden-extraordinaire

Lagertha in action

Vikings_Jessalyn-Gilsig

The wonderful Sigi

To be honest, while I have binged both series twice, it took me a couple of attempts to watch the first episode as I’m not so keen on watching a whole lot of action fighting and gore. But that is not the core of Vikings. Like every other good GA show, it is about negotiating family relationships, and Ragnar’s wife, shield-maiden Lagertha, is as kick-arse a character (and actor) as Ragnar. As in the real world, there are strong women involved both fighting at the shield wall and plotting behind it.

vikings_episode3_gallery_4-P

King Ecbert of Wessex. Wonderful character (and actor)

From a historical perspective, it is fantastic to see the interactions with the various English kings like Ecbert of Wessex, Aella of Northumbria and the nasty Mercians. None of it is straightforward; everyone is plotting, making alliances and breaking them. It creates a dramatic tension of a good ‘page-turner’ where you want to flip ahead to see what happens (or just watch one more episode even though you really need to go to bed).

vs26

Sneaky Jarl Borg

It also portrays the Vikings as they probably were, united in convenience, treacherous and jealous when looking for advantage. It is refreshing to see this reality rather than a Hollywood simplicity of goodies versus baddies.

Vikings_Launch_AN_Thurs_60

Rollo leaps the shield wall

And the battles are some of the most realistic I have seen, you get to know what is happening, not just close-ups of grunting men and gore. The geography and narrative of what is happening is never lost and, most of all, there are consequences to action. Hands down, some of the best medieval fighting I have seen filmed.

SmF5Ito

Athelstan: Northumbrian monk/Viking slave/Pagan Viking/Priest

It is also very clever in the way it portrays and negotiates the various languages that are spoken. We switch effortlessly from Old Norse to Old English and back via occasional sub-titles and convenient translators in a seamless and entertaining way.

So why do I qualify my love for this series? Because it lacks the sparkling, brilliant dialogue of other GA TV. And, at times, it seems full of explanation. Yes, it is needed to a degree (and the character of the captured priest is a great vehicle for this) but I can’t help but groan when, yet again, I hear someone say “that is a…. we Vikings do that because…”

floki-cinema-93da443c5b69c32b50f28919018097ca

Floki the Boatbuilder (and lover of Loki)

It is also somewhat lacking in humour. I don’t expect lots of jokes, but these are meant to be real people, albeit seriously tough nuts. Humour makes us human and even shows as dark as Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, Mad Men or Game of Thrones, manage to throw in gems of dialogue and regularly unexpected belly laughs.

History_Vikings_Meet_Bjorn_Lothbrok_SF_HD_still_624x352

Young Bjorn. Outstanding wee actor (unlike the walking abs that replace him)

There are also some historical howlers which, in their way, are as laughable as opera-inspired Viking hats (I won’t mention them. Like cow horns on a helmet, once you know, it’s impossible to un-see them).how_to_train_your_dragon_2_banner-wide

But, overall, these are minor quibbles. As I said, I am transfixed. The characters are lovable, the story grabs you, it has spectacle, excitement and tenderness.

And maybe like all new loves, it is good to be a little unsettled, to hold something back in reserve.

I can’t wait to see what happens in the third series.

18819205

Farvel Dannevirke!

Flashes of the Past as Time Flies

Tomorrow my daughter turns 7. She is, of course, very excited. The time has flown since I shifted to Wellington 3 months before her birth with no job and no place to live, in the clutches of an unformed relationship which would survive the birth of my wonderful daughter, but not last through the months that followed.

These things can make you reflect, if you have a mind to, and it’s made me realise that last week marked 20 years since I left my hometown of Christchurch to join the ever-increasing pull of New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland.

TVNZ_Slides_1-939x532

The so-called Death Star

I was taking up a 6 month internship in sound at the country’s biggest media organisation, TVNZ. Fresh off a year studying broadcasting, I didn’t expect to spend much time at what I soon learned to call the Death Star. I was just having a look on a path to a more cutting edge employer. But I liked it, staying there, one way or another, for the next 13 years.

If you had told me that back in 1995 I would have run screaming back to Christchurch.

That February was spent on the edge of Auckland’s downtown red-light district, on a couch in the photographic studio of someone I barely knew, looking for somewhere to live. In the pre-internet world of 1995 it meant calling flatmate ads in the Saturday Herald to be told, “it’s gone, mate”, no matter how early I called. It was very frustrating (hooray for the 21st century and online life). My host was very relaxed and welcoming, but the studio was pretty basic with a sink and a fridge, a cat, toilet down the hall, plus the two couches we slept on. It’s where I saw my first cockroach.

Above-the-Hat

It’s been done-up since I stayed there

As no one was supposed to be living there there was no shower. Actually, there was a shower but it was down 5 flights of stairs at the back of a Chinese takeaways. There were mushrooms growing on the walls I presumed were not being cultivated deliberately.

But I didn’t think too much about all that as I was farmed around all the different areas of TV. My first night was a baptism of fire, sitting in the sound room of the nation’s most-watched programme, the 6pm news. My senior, a classic grumpy old bitter-seen-it-all and not-afraid-to-show-it soundie put the show to air after putting tape over the smoke alarm so he could puff sneaky fags while hitting carts and foot pedals, setting off stings, pre-fading tape sources and mics while telling me only an idiot would get into TV and how he had placed radio mics around his house to catch his crazy wife poisoning the minds of his children.

prime_control2

Wrong era, wrong control room, but you get the picture

Given what was to come it was an appropriate baptism.

By the end of the month I had found a place to live in Kingsland, heavily motivated by both my living conditions and visitors like the former male model who turned up straight out of prison to raid the fridge and eat the cat’s food from the can. “Ever had to do this, mate?” Or the persistent whining of my host’s school-girl-model girlfriend saying things like, “you don’t have do anything, just stick it in and I’ll do the rest”.

Over the next 13 years working as a soundie in studio, field and outside broadcast, I saw a lot, did a lot, always with the eye of a writer squirreling away every experience.

through-the-tunnel

One of my 1st jobs. Standing in the middle of this historic sporting moment

servers2

Not all glamour. You have to learn your colour codes

But this is not the time for a tell-all memoir of bright lights and name dropping. That is to come (so I tell myself). When I want to clear my head of the celebrities, politicians and royalty, or the look on the face of the well-loved presenter as I was forced to unzip her cat suit, or the Christmas party where another whispered in my ear, “you are the 2nd best-looking man in the room” only to drunkenly claim an hour later “you are now the best looking man in the room”…he was quite the entertainer, mixing compliment with insult. The summer I spent with a billionaire which culminated in giving him a leg-up over the wall into the best party in town. The joints (and other things) guiltily shared on the way to shoot something important or innocuous. The police detective surrounded by laughing colleagues, tied naked to a tree in the red-light district with a branch sticking out his arse. The netballers sprung using the male showers as I entered, who grabbed too-short towels to (sort of) cover their modesty. The terrifying moment I stumbled into the most powerful (and charismatic) man in the world, despite the world’s tightest security.

russiasit

New to his job in 1999, I felt sorry for Putin next to ‘Elvis’. How little we knew

The day I was evacuated from a blizzard on a mountain which had claimed many lives. The rocks thrown at the back of my head in a dodgy school. Being driven through the balmy night air of a South Pacific paradise by a sporting hero with an impossible amount of booze. Having a lunchtime beer forced on me by the wife of the 2nd richest man in New Zealand while my superiors looked conflicted. Parents telling stories of loss while the news media was held at bay. The sight of a large un-cleaned clot of blood on a suburban street after a man had lain there all night after being shot by police. The Queens. The Kings. The Dalai Llama. Having a cup of tea in the poorest street in the country.

behind_scenes_thumb

Soundies are always close to the action

The beautiful women. The ugly beautiful women. The powerful men. The powerless broken men. The tigers, the giraffes, the ostriches fucking on a frosty morning. The smell of dead whales being carved up. The dolphins swimming just out of reach of my hand.

The past, indeed, is another world. The land of February 1995 is so foreign I struggle to remember how they did things there. The cell phones were certainly bigger and life was much trickier without things like the internet (wasn’t it?)

1995 cell hone

The first cell phone I held in Feb 1995

7 years ago my life was about to become both trickier and more straight forward with the birth of a beautiful daughter, (unknowingly) conceived in the midst of a world I had no idea was coming to an end. The Global Crash was about to hit and my life in TV would soon become a melange of distant memories.

My girl is growing fast. Her big parties full of friends and food have been replaced by a small select sleep-over of young girls at her mother’s place. It feels strange to miss this transition in her life.

But life is about transitions. New things to experience and remember, old lives lost forever. Paths stepped off and others unwittingly pursued.

What is life if not a story to be lived and recounted with an ever-evolving mix of acceptance and disquiet?

It is time to pick up my daughter from school. I have bought her too many presents, intending to spoil my growing girl and salve my disquiet about tomorrow.

I think we can both be happy with that.

$_35

She’s ultra-excited about Season 2 Shopkins

71OGpcEsmNL._SY355_

We’ve been listening to the How To Train Your Dragon books…I think she’ll love Hiccup & Toothless

Affairs of the Heart

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. It just seemed so fake, driven more by commercial incentives to conform and spend $$, rather than love. I don’t say this as a bitter long-term-single; it has always been my opinion, even when in a committed relationship or in the throes of new love.

It just seems to fall into an ickily-commercial herding imperative that leaves so many feeling empty except for longing or discontent (and a good chunk of those in relationships can fit into this category).

Happy-Valentines-Day-Images-1

Love is apparently an act of violence

The day always spoke to me of secret yearning, offering a chance to send a card or gift to someone you were unable to confess your feelings for, be it because of shyness or social barriers. And that is how I have participated in the past, one or two times, very self-consciously.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social rituals, but when a New Zealand friend (resident in L.A.) posted a photo of all the ‘Valentine’s candy’ his young children received at school I just saw the ugly hand of the sugar industry hungrily grasping for more $$… as if their rapacious conquest of Halloween (and Easter to come, the eggs have been in the shops for weeks) isn’t enough.

But my heart isn’t made of stone, I actually see myself as a true romantic. I don’t give my heart easily, it is precious (as are all), so I refuse to hand out cards and chocolate because it is expected/demanded.

Of course, my soon-to-be 7 year-old knows about today and drew a wee love heart on the calendar. She even made hints about making me a card. So when I was at the shops yesterday, I bought her a little teddy bear with a chocolate in a cardboard love heart. She was very happy when I gave it to her this morning, saying ‘Yay, I love chocolate’. Clever wee thing knows what it’s about as much as the retailers (the supermarket where I got my daughter’s treat has raised the price of the giant 1.25 kg boxes of chocolates leftover from Christmas they are struggling to get rid of from $15 to $20 for the day…they were $40 at Christmas).

Valentines-Chocolates-9

As for me, my most memorable Valentine’s was 22 years ago when I awoke covered in flowers beside a former girlfriend. It was, on the surface, a very romantic scene. But I was panicked and perplexed as the night before I had gone to sleep after a passionate encounter with a secret lover in the very same bed. I could not work out what had happened. Yes, we had drunk some wine but I am not one to drink too much or ever lose track of what is happening. How had my former lover got into the house (and my bed)? Did she know about the secret lover? Had they conspired? Was there a hand-over?! As my unexpected bed-mate slept I was left with plenty of time to consider the various scenarios that had played out in the early hours of Valentine’s Day.

val2a-550

(As a side note, this took place right across the road from where a notorious and passionate encounter unfolded a few weeks ago unknowingly in full view of a bar full of eager observers/voyeurs who posted pictures and videos online making the secret passion ‘news’ around the world. I doubt they are having a good day today).

25482BAC00000578-0-image-a-43_1423276678103

A lovely, private romantic moment in the process of becoming less private

After my would-be par amour awoke I found out she had climbed the fire escape outside my bed room window while carrying the flowers in her teeth. I showed my appreciation for her stunning gesture in an appropriate manner, but my heart lay elsewhere.

While I have been happily single for the last few years (too battle-scarred? too long-in-the-tooth? too old to bother? contentedly free of yearning? still swimming in grief?… take your pick, I can’t work it out), over the last week I have begun to yearn for someone to turn to in bed, to enjoy and be near as the day ends (and begins). It has made the moments when I close my eyes and seek sleep a little panicky.

Maybe I am ready to love. I know it is around. But it won’t come out of a chocolate box or a bunch of flowers. At least, not today.

Later that day…

IMG_8671

Couldn’t resist 🙂

Ghosts of Sevens Past

I’ve just completed my second day setting up for New Zealand’s biggest dress-up party/bacchanal (which features a little rugby on the side).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Te News-style Billy T Jameses(s) 2010

I wrote it about last year it in my Confessions of a De-fluffer post (at least, I attempted to before the 35,000 revellers overloaded the cell-towers attempting to hook-up with each other, post selfies to InstaBook and hashtag ‘groupies’ to TinderSnap).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An interesting costume can provoke interaction 2009

So if you’re unfamiliar with what I do give that a look as this post is covering slightly different ground. It’s not an explanation of the Wellington Sevens or which team is ahead on the points table, it’s a look back at some of the photos I’ve snapped from the sideline over the last eight years as I marvelled at the bizarre sight of one of the least dressy-up societies in the world dressing up (as opposed to the usual down), albeit for a weekend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Where I hang 2012

Essentially, my job is to turn referees off at the end of a game. Not hard given my advancing years (and the exposed flesh of the revellers). I’m paid well for it because if I get it wrong then the world ends (at least, in terms of live TV sport which, as everyone knows, is more important than brain surgery). Of course, I am belittling my skills, but that is the droll nature of those who work in sound.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Dress for all conditions 2010

But the crowd doesn’t really interest my TV/soundie mind, it’s the writer in me who is intrigued; the student of history and religion and drama (with a particular interest in festivals and display where the normal rules of society are inverted and people are given licence to behave in ways that cause scorn or incarceration on any other day of the year).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Always a pack of Smurfs in the house 2009

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Things hot up in 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Year of the Black Swans 2011

After eight years standing on the sideline in rain and shine, it seems that there are basically only a handful of costume options. Like Carnival and Halloween there are the usual suspects of straight-out-of-the-box Superheroes and/or slutty fill-the-blanks (exposed flesh is important for both genders). There are also very straight men (in both senses of the term) taking the opportunity to cross-dress (while cross-dressing women seem rare). There are also large groups of people dressing en-masse, which can be quite effective visually (this option also gives the unconfident somewhere to hide).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How many Adam & Eves(s) does it take…? 2013

But what catches my eye are the lateral thinkers who create a visual pun or seize on a pop culture reference of the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Home-made Bucket fountain 2009

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Passionate Susan Boyles 2009

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Them Crazy Horses won them 7,000 bucks in 2011

Of course, there are also some people who go to watch rugby in a form that is so TV friendly it will debut at the Olympics in Rio next year, but they are a fast-dwindling minority. So much so that an event that up two years ago sold all 35,000 tickets in minutes, still has 14,000 tickets unsold the day before kick off.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everyone loves the Kenyan team 2011

Why is this?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They know exactly what’s going on 2012

The media is full of theories but my 2 cents would be that it has fallen foul of its success. That is, like a lot of human endeavour, what made it strong has proven its greatest weakness. Because people go to dress up (and piss-up) many find it unappealing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fun for the whole family  (& the rarely spotted cross-dressing woman)  2012

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You may meet a player 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Scored a Frenchie! 2013

Yes there are other factors, but from where I stand singing along to songs that nearly 40,000 voices know

Alice, Alice…who the fuck is Alice?

We found love in a hopeless place/ We found love in a hope-less place

All I can think is I’m glad they pay me to be there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not the sort of visual pun I meant 2012