Sunday, 4 August 2019

Star Score

Hearing John William's music score for Star Wars live "surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the galaxy together"

I may have waited half a year for this birthday gift from my wonderful wife, but it was more than worth it. Saturday, August 3, saw the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s live performance of the Star Wars soundtrack in Christchurch, accompanying the film projected on a gigantic screen above them. (Yes, I know Lucasfilm marketing long ago demanded we call the film 'A New Hope', but it was just Star Wars when I first saw it, and forever will be to me.)

A very long and snow-plagued drive saw us arrive too late for a photo opportunity with Lord Vader or Chewbacca at the venue, choosing instead to order much-needed food and a glass of wine. Oh how age and maturity changes one’s priorities in life…

Wookiee and Sith Lord console each other over their missed
chance of a photo opportunity with Rose

Back in 1977 (the year of Star Wars) my greatest Christmas gift ever was the The Story of Star Wars album on audio cassette. Essentially the abridged audio track from the film, with rich, deep linking narration by Roscoe Lee Brown , I literally played this so many times the recording completely wore off the tape. So not only is all the film’s dialogue indelibly imprinted on my nerdy brain - but every musical cue as well. Every nuance, phrase, reprise and theme - and if this live performance varied even the tiniest bit I would notice. 

See - it's not called "The Story of A New Hope" is it?
(thank goodness)
Not that I feel in any way entitled to pass judgement on the NZSO, or believe that anyone else should give a Wookiee’s hoot about my opinion - but I just literally wouldn’t be able to help it.

I needn’t have worried. From the opening 20th Century fox fanfare to the last fading note of the end credits theme, the NZSO were outstanding. I might have been able to detect a tiny difference in the sound of some horn sections but otherwise it was utterly perfect. Rose, (who’s had this film inflicted upon her many times), said she could completely forget the music was being played live, and was hearing the original recorded soundtrack. Not being even remotely musical, the sheer genius of coordinating a large orchestra to perform in perfect synchronisation with the live screening of a film just staggers me. 

People forget how genuinely funny, and brave, Threepio was in this film.
He got the biggest laughs of the night, and later offers to 'gladly donate'
his own circuits to save Artoo Detoo. (image:

In terms of the music itself - sure, The Empire Strikes Back has the foot-stomping Imperial March. But Star Wars introduces possibly the world’s most recognisable title music, Luke, Leia and Ben’s themes and the stirring medal ceremony fanfare at the film’s conclusion. It also features my own favourite musical section, the almost staccato ’Tie Fighter Attack’ theme. Swelling from the gently ‘see sawing’ strings as Luke and Han climb into the Falcon’s gun turrets, to the full-blown horns heralding the imperial fighters all-guns-blazing appearance, it is pure musical adrenaline.  And perfectly compliments the frantic cutting and pacing of this sequence, which helped set Star Wars apart from anything ever seen before. (The clip was heavily used in the film’s original promotion). It must be hell to play - and is brilliantly analysed here:

The final Death Star battle famously sees composer John Williams repeatedly flick his character motifs back and forth, from Luke, to Ben, to Vader - once again, surely not easy for even a national orchestra. And to actually see the ominously booming kettle drums played live as Tarkin gives his final “You may fire when ready” was yet another special moment for me.

Yes, I may at times have shed silent tears in the dark , like a sad old geek who’s spent too much of his life watching this film. But isn’t that kind of response the measure of any truely great live performance of much-loved music?

Monday, 15 April 2019

Seaside Rock

Darker days are drawing near, so I decided to finish ‘Bay walk’ before even I have to accept summer is gone.

Pohara to Whariwharangi (and back to main road): 27km

A couple of week’s ago I walked the roughly two-thirds of the length of Golden Bay, my aim being to keep strictly to the shoreline, despite inlets, rivers and other obstacles. With the whole of the Bay’s coast being so shallow, this is very do-able if you get your tide times right, so once again the right conjunction of weather and sea level presented itself.

I set off from my previous stopping point, Pohara Beach, at around 9am, needing to be at the last and possibly largest coastal indent, Wainui Bay, at low tide.
It would be a very long detour around the edge if I couldn’t walk straight across this vast stretch of sand flats, so I put on a quick pace.

The road more or less follows the coastline for most of the way, but my brief to stay on the water’s edge saw me clambering over rocky points and wading through tidal pools instead. I was forced to make the briefest of concessions at Port Tarakohe where security fences kept me away from the water's edge, but soon I was getting my feet wet again.

Walking along the road would be easier, but not as much fun?
By now it was becoming clear that this would be no leisurely stroll along endless stretches of golden sand as the previous part of the journey from Puponga had been, but constant climbing and wading. Not only harder and riskier work, but it was also taking longer than expected, and made me start to worry about making it to Wainui before the tide started to turn.

A walk along sandy Ligar Bay gave me a chance to get my breath back, before a harder climb around the point to Tata beach. It was going well until half way along, a familiar stench suddenly assailed my nostrils, instantly making the blood drain from my face. Many years ago Rose and I had become trapped on a rocky coastline with no choice but to push ahead, and were attacked by angry seals each time we rounded a corner. These ‘cute’ animals are no joke when territorial and surprised, and sure enough, I got a face full of sharp teeth and roaring fish breath when I cautiously raised my head above the next boulder.

Can you see the seal? 
Don't worry, it won't let itself to go unnoticed for long...

This was all I needed, it was already slow work hanging onto steep and sharp rocks without worrying about enraged sea mammals, which look exactly like boulders until you almost step on them. And no fun for the seals either - this was their ‘hood’, after all.

I’ve never been happier to see the always beautiful Tata beach, as I finally stumbled out of the rocks. I quickly paced its uniquely apricot-tinged sand before starting an even longer climb around to the surely fast-filling Wainui Bay.

I had clambered this particular stretch of rocks before, however, and it gives a unique view of a dramatic stretch of coastline. Only one distant seal and a familiar climb helped me make quick progress, and I arrived at Wainui Bay only half an hour after low tide. This gave me plenty of time to get across to the carpark on the far side, which marks the beginning of the Abel Tasman track and the very last stretch of my walk.

In an hour, you'll need a kayak to get across here.
(Looking towards Tata Point and the ridge I'm about to climb)

I had lunch here and tried to dry out my shoes, before starting a very steep ascent to the ridge above Tata point. Obviously I could hardly say I was staying on the coastline, but this did allow me to reach Whariwharangi beach, which had been decreed the end point of my Golden Bay traverse.

I probably shouldn’t rave too much about this hidden paradise - a sparkling jewel among the many beautiful beaches I’ve been blessed to tread on this very long walk.

Beautiful, deserted Whariwharangi.

After swimming in the surf, warm even at this time of the year, I reluctantly had to head back over the hill. Mid-autumn also means shorter days and cooler evenings.

I’ll definitely come back here and stay the night, maybe even in the purportedly haunted DoC hut. And I’d like to walk to Separation Point, which perhaps truly marks the end of Golden Bay. After that? Who knows - I’ll keep you posted…

The view from the ridge on the Abel Tasman track, looking back towards Tata.
Note that Wainui Bay is filling up fast

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Linking Sands

My name is Al, I’m an Aquarius and I like long walks along the beach

We’ve lived in Golden Bay for just over a year and are becoming more aware all the time of how much there is to explore over here. I was gradually realising that most people’s experience of travelling the length of the Bay by car or cycle, and most likely from Takaka to Puponga, actually gives an extremely limited impression of the coastline. In fact, it’s only in the very last stretch, from Pakawau to the top, that the road runs parallel with the beach. Vast stretches of beautiful shore remain largely unseen by visitors, or even new residents.

I had always had my long strolls along one of the Bay’s many ’undiscovered’ coastlines, Rototai beach, cut short by the Waitapu inlet, a wide incursion of the sea leading to Takaka’s historic, but no longer functional, wharf. And beyond that, the mouth of the Takaka river itself. But I knew that if I timed it correctly I could theoretically get across at low tide and carry on following the shoreline, maybe as far as Collingwood.

Having announced this intention, my wonderful wife started procuring dry bags (to keep precious items safe from seawater during scary inlet crossings) and a long-needed ground mat for camping, and I began to feel a heavy obligation to stop just talking about it and actually walk this walk…

So I balanced weather forecasts, tide tables and work deadlines, until finally the very end of March emerged as the optimum time for me to go, but by now the scope of the plan had increased a little. I was going to walk the entire sweep of Golden Bay, from just below Farewell Spit in the West to as close as I could get to Separation point in the East. By treading every stretch of shore in Golden Bay that I possibly could, crossing rivers, inlets and rocky points, would allow me to experience this beautiful and remote arc of coastline in its entirety.

Having made this bold assertion, I’ll quickly add that this would only be ‘Phase 1’. Logistically, time and tide would only allow me to get from Puponga to home over the following three days. The eastern arm of Golden Bay would have to wait for the next conjunction of weather, water and work commitments.

There's surely dinosaurs in them thar hills -
the primevially-jagged Mount Burnett from  Ruataniwha Inlet

Day One: Puponga to Collingwood (approx 29.6km)

Rose dropped me off at Puponga at first light on Thursday 28th, making a round trip of over an hour and a half before her long day’s work, just to indulge my latest folly. I know I am a very lucky man.

Despite Puponga’s undeniable natural beauty, the shore itself is rocky and marshy, and only levels out into the more typical stretches of golden sand as you approach the community of Pakawau. The sun was hot by this point and I took my first break, already noting that the back-pack-sized dry bag I was carrying my tent, sleeping bag and everything else in was definitely made to be water proof rather than comfortable. It was essential for the submerging crossings I had lying ahead though.

By now I was able to kick off my shoes and tread the cool, foaming edge of surf as it disappeared into the distance towards Collingwood. I was aware that the beach was going to diverge from the road and lead me on what might be a very long and pointless detour, along a narrow spit of land to the northern head of the Ruataniwha inlet. I’d been assured that wading straight across from this point to Collingwood is theoretically possible, but lowest tide had passed and the impression of open sea between me and my destination convinced me to play it safe. Instead I turned back inland, walking 2.6 km across the empty inlet towards the road, warm mud squirming between my bare toes for most of the way.

The shoreline around this area known as ‘Ferntown’ is essentially a delta of the Aorere river, extremely marshy and probably impassable. I had no desire to vanish into quicksand, so admitted defeat and followed the road for the final 6km to Collingwood.

I had walked almost 30km, mostly on sand with a poorly-fitted load on my back, and my legs and shoulders were letting me know it. But I’m always happy to return to the place that started my love of Golden Bay during a family holiday almost five decades ago. As is the way with this frontier town, the Collingwood holiday park is almost completely unchanged in all that time, the cabin we inhabited in the mid-70s looking almost exactly the same!

Leaving another derelict wharf, at Collingwood

Day Two: Collingwood to Paton’s Rock (approx 14km)

Walking half yesterday’s distance was balanced by the fact that I would begin by crossing what I assumed would be my biggest obstacle - the Parapara inlet at Milnthorpe. My many walks along the 2km of Collingwood beach had always been cut short by this wide expanse of water, so despite arriving at early morning low tide I had sealed up my dry back-pack and contents tight in preparation for a swim. I decided to keep the smaller dry bag containing my phone and other essentials separate, and held it high above my head as I began to wade across.Upon reaching the other side with the sea having barely reached my waist, I couldn’t decide whether I should feel silly, or not. I’m sure I had looked silly, but am well used to that and was just elated at overcoming what had become a Quixotic ‘impassable stream’ in my imagination.

And here's another - at Washbourn

The map told me I still had another crossing ahead, the Washbourn inlet, so hurried on to exploit the remaining low tide. Unfortunately this meant that I didn’t take in beautiful Parapara beach, one of the shorelines completely new to me, as much as I’d have liked to. Unlike yesterday, the day was an autumnal grey, but the varied, muted shades of sky, sea and sand was strikingly beautiful in a completely different way. I needn’t have hurried; although having been intimidated by the impressive expanse of Washbourn at high tide, today I was able to wade across at knee-height. The skeletal remains of yet another disused wharf dominates this area, testifying to Golden Bay’s briefly bustling distant past.

My destination was complete contrast to yesterday’s hardships. Instead of a freeze-dried meal and a chilly night under canvas, tonight was a beautiful meal and flowing wine with friends at their hilltop home in Paton’s rock, Rose joining me to stay the night in a very comfortable spare bed.

Is that a seal, or a wave? Actually, it's both

Day Three: Paton’s Rock to Pohara (approx 13km)

With low tide at occurring around midday, it was a very relaxed start this morning, sans the backpack containing tent and sleeping bag which were no longer required. With an infinitely lighter step, I leisurely followed the more rocky stretch of shore between Paton’s rock and the Rangihaeata headland. Still not quite lowest tide, I had to scramble across rocks at the outermost point, pausing to watch a seal happily drifting around the rocks with its flipper raised languidly in the air. Beyond here the Takaka River forms its own delta as it reaches the sea with three main tributaries to cross - the first being not at all pleasant. For whatever reason, perhaps run-off from the steep Rangihaeata cliffs, the seabed is extremely muddy here. Deep grey ooze almost trapped me halfway across the first time I attempted it, and as I sank past my knees I couldn’t help nervously speculating what might be in there with me. But once again my luck held, and I was able to wade across at armpit level (arms again aloft to keep cellphone out of the brine) without encountering excessively deep mud. The next crossing was very different. Just as deep, but being the most directly flowing from the Takaka river, it was also very cold and carried a noticeable current. The final waterway at the Waitapu inlet was more typically still and warm, (making me inwardly shudder at the thought of stepping on languishing stingrays when I could no longer see the bottom).

Crossing the chilly Takaka River
Setting foot on Rototai beach, a mere hour from home was a good feeling, but the sun had come out and the tide was perfect so I decided to keep going. I wanted to walk the length of Rototai, cross the Motupipi River (which flows past our house) at its mouth, and finish on Pohara Beach. I reasoned not starting with this crossing on the future second part of this walk would give me greater time flexibility - and I somehow didn’t want to stop.

Despite the tide beginning to turn (sections of beach were already disappearing), the mighty Motupipi was traversed with relative ease and the rare sight (to me) of other people greeted me as I set off down the ever-popular Pohara Beach.

Picked up by Rose and whisked off to a late cafe lunch, I was definitely safely back in the arms of civilisation.

Looking back from Pohara beach across the Motupipi River
and towards distant Puponga, where I began my stroll 3 days ago

Walking almost 57 kilometres, alone and mostly barefoot, has the perfect way to appreciate Golden Bay’s diverse and beautiful shoreline. It might have been very self-indulgent, but sometimes we all need to walk away for a while. Health-wise, I’m acutely flat-footed, so the aches inflicted on my leg muscles by walking on shifting sand is balanced by the good it’s done my arch-less soles - and soul. I’m looking forward to the final Pohara to Whariwharangi Bay stretch of this circumnavigation, and hope time and tide will align again for me soon.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Hammer Thrown

Hang the garlic - horror from beyond the ‘tome’ is heading your way…

Dracula's hand look a bit weird? Well, yes, my own was the model, dislocated pinky and all...

On the 30th September, 2016, I sent out a poorly-written and probably very naive book proposal to a number of publishers around the world.

Despite my lack of experience, Telos Publishing in Britain expressed some interest a few days later. And looking back, I see that they actually responded on my mother’s birthday, which is surprisingly appropriate.
Mum passed away in 2009, but more than anyone encouraged my young interest in science fiction, fantasy and horror - and the films of Hammer.

A month short of two years in the making, Infogothic: An Unauthorised Graphic Guide to Hammer Horror is now finished. A celebrity introduction from a busy and much-loved actress was a long time in coming, but once it arrived (and the wait was well worth it) things began moving very quickly indeed.

I’ve written about the book’s long gestation here:

and felt it appropriate to round off with this conclusion. A 'Karnstein trilogy', if you like.

Infogothic is due for release this Halloween (set back a full year after the lengthy fact-checking and proofing found us with no time left in 2017), but is available for pre-order now.

Some wonderful friends have even signed up already - and I am busy gratefully building shrines to them now.
Forgive me if you’ve already seen me 'pimping' my book everywhere, after so much work I can’t sit back just yet.

Like a shonky Hammer bat, my unholy progeny has just flapped shakily out of the castle window, and is now unleashed upon the world. I hope it finds happy roosts in other Hammer fans bookshelves.

"More than sixty years ago, Hammer Horror first exploded onto screens in a splash of vivid colour. Over the following two decades, the studio redefined horror cinema and crafted an often-interconnected world of gothic fantasy. The many graphics, diagrams, illustrations and maps within these pages will take you on a journey through the ‘Hammer-verse’ (most likely by horse-drawn coach). Pursue Count Dracula through the centuries, reconcile the many versions of the careers of Frankenstein and Quatermass, translate the curses of ancient Egypt and explore ‘Hammer time’ from doe-skinned prehistory to plastic-clad future.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Hammer’s horror films is contained in this incredible graphic guide. Charts, templates, diagrams and illustration take you through all the facts and figures. From the relative heights of Frankenstein’s Monster, to the actors to have played Dracula … no stone is left unturned in this compelling and fascinating look at the films which redefined ‘Horror’ for a generation.

“Truly original and wonderfully illustrated” – from the Introduction by Caroline Munro

96pp. 11 x 8 paperback book in full colour.
ISBN: 978-1-84583-124-0
Published 31 October 2018"

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Winter Chills - Part Four: Scream and Scream Again (1970)

I’ve been left on my own for five-and-a-half weeks...
What to do, what to do?  Well, for a start: I’m going to watch all those horror/fantasy/sci-fi films I’ve always been meaning to get to
… and write about them here!

From the sublime: last time's Cat People, to the ridiculous. I knew what to expect this time as I had seen it before when I was very young, with my favourite horror film fan: my Mum.
I think the violence disturbed me a little then, and to be honest, it still does. Many of the perpetrators are essentially synthetic which both nullifies the brutality a little - but also makes the acts even colder.

But lets not get too serious - this has Uncle Vinny, Sir Chris and The Cush all in the same Amicus film! That's got to be fun, right?
Well it might be if they shared more scenes. Lee really only pops in at the beginning, middle and end for some exposition, and Cushing is a mere cameo which appears to be a very early audition for Grand Moff Tarkin.
Needless to say, any bit of screen-time these gentlemen have is brilliant, but kudos must go to comedian Alfred Marks who crashes through the film as the most intentionally hilarious Bull-in-a-China-shop London Copper I've ever seen.

The main leads are the films' definite strengths - but the script seems to be three completely separate stories until they finally collide messily at the very end  - where various characters disappear into the same vat of acid.

Elsewhere, an endless chase involving what seems to be a superhuman Mick Jagger in a purple pirate shirt will test most people's patience, but now that I've written about this film I realise that I probably had a better time watching than it felt at the time.

I still can't decide what is the most disturbing thing about the random jogger, though: what happens to him in Price's hospital, or the length of his shorts and bewilderingly effeminate running style...

Winter Chills- Part Three: Cat People (1942)

I’ve been left on my own for five-and-a-half weeks...
What to do, what to do?  Well, for a start: I’m going to watch all those horror/fantasy/sci-fi films I’ve always been meaning to get to
… and write about them here!

Long before David Bowie was 'putting out the fire - with gasoliiiine', a man called Val Lewton was tasked with producing horror films for RKO pictures on literally a fraction of what studios like Universal were spending.

A sensitive intellectual, as Martin Scorsese says in his documentary on Lewton, he was "lacking the temperament for the film industry but had the perfect temperament for film". Lewton took a drop in income to take on this challenge and his first film for RKO became Cat People. Sady, I can still barely claim to have seen it because the quality of the You Tube upload I endured is awful. But despite the cropped picture and constantly dropping-out audio, I can see this is a masterpiece.

Like The Damned this is the second time in a week I've wished more films were still made in black and white - the photography is exquisite and the direction flawless.
It's for good reason that the two stand-out scenes: the infamous 'Lewton bus' (a far more sophisticated fore-runner to the modern 'jump scare'), and the night-time swimming pool stalking are mainstay clips in almost every documentary about horror cinema.

But it's the sequences I hadn't seen before which really got to me, including the wedding dinner in the Serbian restaurant where a mysterious cat-like woman stops conversation by fixing a terrified Irena with her gaze and addressing her as "my sister?".  
Well aware of his budget constraints, Lewton turns it to his advantage - everything is subtle shapes in the shadows, hints and implication. Even the beginnings of Irena's transformation are terrifying in their subtlety - her darkening face and hardening stare seen over Dr Judd's shoulder as she suddenly drops out of view and he screams.

From my far-from reliable research, this was the film which kicked off New Zealand's very long running Sunday Horrors, back in 1981, although I missed it then (it was probably passed my bedtime on a Sunday night).

I've also never seen the 1982 remake but don't doubt I'll be repulsed by its apparent reversal of everything which is merely suggested in this beautiful film. 
I don't just want to see this original version again - I want to own it, in 'pin-sharp crikey-vision'. This one's a keeper!

Monday, 4 June 2018

Winter Chills - Part Two: The Creeping Flesh (1973)

I’ve been left on my own for five-and-a-half weeks...
What to do, what to do?  Well, for a start: I’m going to watch all those horror/fantasy/sci-fi films I’ve always been meaning to get to
… and write about them here!

A Cushing and Lee team up which I hadn’t seen yet!  Neither Hammer nor Amicus, this is Tigon Production’s The Creeping Flesh.
And it almost does what it says on the tin. The giant inhuman skeleton Cushing brings back from New Guinea is not something any sane person would ever want in their house - and it’s much more terrifying than a Gremlin when it comes into contact with water.

Meanwhile Lee plays one of his most genuinely hate-able characters ever - and given his back catalogue that’s really saying something.
There’s a lot of genuinely good stuff here - particularly Freddie Jones’ direction - particularly in a very spooky sequence when the cloaked thing from New Guinea throws a huge Shadow across the house it is implacably approaching. 

The story elements of diagnosing evil as a pathogen, and the creepy ‘Elder gods’ vibe of the fossil’s origins are both fascinating, and either would flesh out (pun intended) a lesser film on their own. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t really capitalise on these strengths and spends far too much of it’s running time pursuing extras pursuing mentally-disturbed supporting characters through the town set.

Unfulfilled potential is always disappointing, but Cushing and Lee are as solidly dependable as ever here, in slightly different roles than we’re used to seeing them in. And we even get a brilliantly set up twist ending…

OK - if even he's scared it must be bad...