Category Archives: Sport

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.

IMG_2611warmify

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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.

IMG_2633wamify

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.

Plane

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

Teams

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.

Stella

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.

Control rig

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.

Game Kit

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.

Aggie Cats

 

The Carnival Is

img_2095

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

2 Days in Christchurch (part 3)

No Escape

It was hard to prise myself out my funky room at BreakFree on Saturday morning. I was four floors up, isolated from any noise with a generous (for NZ) 500MG of data.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I opened the blind and saw the sun rising in the east as a steady stream of fluro-jacketed re-construction workers walked into the CBD through the empty waste of Cashel Street. Apparently their request for parking privileges as they rebuild the city has been declined.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After some quick stretches (often hard to achieve in a studio room) I went down to the gym to do 15 minutes on a bike. I have a torn meniscus at the moment (cartilage in the knee) and can’t run (or sleep or sit or stand without discomfort), so low impact is the only option. It was great to get the heart going and to stretch the tendon on the same leg that was operated on 3 years ago to correct Haglund’s deformity. The Achilles’ takes a long time to heel. A 7mm bone spur was shaved off and the tendon scraped clean. I haven’t been able to run properly since and when in bare feet have the disconcerting sensation of feeling the cup of the Achilles’ on my heel. It’s not painful. Tendons are just slow to re-align. If I press on the scar on my heel an electric shock fires to the other side. It’s because tendons are piezoelectric, like a crystal in a turntable stylus or the starter for a bbq. The cells all line up and fire as one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

After a shower in the coolly opaque en-suite I took my bags to the lockers at the bus exchange ($2 a locker for 24hrs). It was warm and sunny (in the sun) but the cool Easterly meant many people were in jackets (especially the South African rugby fans in town for the game against the All Blacks). I regretted wearing shorts. But that’s spring in Christchurch. I headed to the Pop-Up ReStart shops by the Bridge of Remembrance to look for a pressie for my mate who’s just turned 50.

hapa

I went straight to Hapa and found the perfect thing as soon as I walked in the door, a pretty-as solar-powered retro Kiwi caravan nightlight. Lumilight is a UK company that does Alpine chalet lights, and a (surprisingly random) selection of NZ ones (Wool Shed, Otago Hotel!? etc).

caravan3_1024x1024

Then it was off to C1. Being a sunny Saturday morning it was packed with a long queue at the counter. On a tight schedule I nearly went somewhere else but I love the place (and food) so much. A group of Merivale/Rangi girls behind me whined about the wait, fussed over their friends who weren’t saving their table right, gushed about things on their phones, and repeatedly pushed into me trying to make the line go faster.

fullsizerender

I didn’t really want a big breakfast but I still chose the Super Choice Bro. Because I had to travel the city. Backwards and forwards. And because of the name.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I sat outside scribbling in my journal, ready for a half hour wait, I watched groups of mums rush to grab tables and big-bellied rugby fans look at the café with confusion.

img_1417

My pretty-as macchiato appeared after 3 minutes. My killer kai took 7. I was amazed. So fast, so beautiful. Not a hulking pile of fried stodge. The matching oblongs of smoked bacon belly and hash brown were almost too stylish to eat. Almost.

img_1418

Then down to South City to the only florist that seems to be open in the CBD, stopping briefly to drool over a couple of bass guitars in the window of CJs music store (where I bought two basses in the ‘80s). I wanted flowers to take to my grandparents. I hadn’t been in a long time. It’s tricky when you don’t live in town any more. I used to go with my mother but it’s nearly five years since she went to ashes, too.

img_1424

Tempted by the garish multi-coloured chrysanthemums at the door I settled on simple daffodils (they’re up everywhere in Chch). The florist said she hates the chrysanthemums and laughed. They’re dyed in Japan and people love them but they’re impossible to make an arrangement with.

img_1426

 

I headed back up Colombo St with my three bunches on daffys to catch the bus out east. The driver said I didn’t need to buy him flowers, and laughed. And then three tourists got onto the otherwise empty bus and sat right in front of me making me even more self-conscious. It was the refs for the All Blacks vs Springboks test that night (I do comms for rugby in Wellington and had worked with them a couple of weeks ago). They were sightseeing, killing time before the game, but didn’t recognize me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Feeling amused, and slightly aggrieved that I couldn’t escape work, I listened to the Australian video ref school the French officials how to speak NZild English. It was funny and awkward but I didn’t want to surrender my anonymity (or explain the flowers). When they expressed amusement/bemusement at the 185 white chairs lined up on Manchester Street as a memorial for the victims of the 2011 earthquake I spoke up, becoming a tour guide for a block or two before saying gidday (and explaining the flowers).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve been going to the crem in Linwood since the early ‘70s after my grandmother died when I was 6. My grandfather, Sandy, finally joined his Flo’ in the mid ‘80s. Immigrants from Scotland, they escaped the post-WWI slump in the 1920s. With most of the large family they had in Christchurch now moved on themselves I expected their stone to be untended. But there were flowers. It made me happy. As I kneeled and cut the stems of enough flowers to jam into the plastic vase a small boy ran up to me. “Don’t run in here, Latham!” his grandmother called out behind him. “Do you have a granddad Russell, too?” he asked.

img_1432

It’s hard knowing how to remember the past. I try to always think well of it. After touching the stone 3 times, feeling the loss a little less each time, I took the remaining flowers to look for the memorial of close family friends I had yet to pay my respects to. They had loomed large in my life. Throughout my childhood and teens I had spent many holidays with Aunty Marie and Uncle John. Their metal vase had no flowers, and 13 holes. Exactly the number of flowers I had left.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was now noon. Time to bus back to town, retrieve my bags and head out to New Brighton to listen to music, drink and laugh, escape and remember the past.

 

img_1419-3

 

 

Game Day

 

IMG_1232

Today is grey and cold.

IMG_1235

Tonight the All Blacks are playing the Wallabies in Wellington.

IMG_1239

 

I’ve never bought a rugby shirt.

Or a rugby ticket.

 

IMG_1258

 

Or had a beer at the game.

IMG_1261

 

But I’ve been to more All Black tests than I can remember.

IMG_1269

Either working for television.

IMG_1271

Or for the match officials.

IMG_1247

I may have eaten a pie.

Or two.

IMG_1275

Spent time relaxing backstage.

IMG_1267

But tonight I wish I was in the crowd.

IMG_1259

My  8-year old is here, seeing her first All Black test.

IMG_1278

It’s a moment I would love to have shared.

IMG_1251 (2)

The only Test I wasn’t paid to attend was in 1981 with my father.

The Springboks at Lancaster Park.

IMG_1250

There were riot police with batons and barbed wire on the pitch.

People screaming for blood.

IMG_1265

I’m glad I got to see it.

And my daughter never did.

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