Monthly Archives: June 2012

Howard Hughes, Kimbra and the Search for The Holy Grail – Blood Pressure No. 3

There’s more than a hint of Pythonesque surreal humour to the circumstances surrounding the arrest of German/Finnish/Irish/Ugandan/Patagonian businessman and underwear designer, Wilshelm von Parking – also known as Kim Dotbra.


In early 2010, Dotbra was granted New Zealand residency, having provided Immigration officials with evidence of his financial bona fides and assurances of free fittings for the Megauplift Bra (pat pending), the revolutionary undergarment, designed by Dotbra ‘with manbreasts in mind’.

The ‘Kimbra’, as it was beginning to be known, soon became a best-seller and, needing more space, Dotbra and his associates reluctantly left their cottage in Helensville for a 300 room château in Coatesville.

Later that year, United States law and corsetry officials applied to New Zealand Minister of Corsetry and Earthquakes, Gerry Brownlee, to have Dotbra extradited to the US for numerous breaches and infringements of the Bustle, Brassiere, Bustier, Corset and Undergarment statutes, as well as non-payment of several parking fines.

As a result of co-operation between US and New Zealand law enforcement agencies, at 3am on 20th January this year, US Navy Seals, the SAS, the Armed Offenders Squad, several Mossad agents, Peter Jackson and a film crew and , for some reason, a Mr Whippy ice cream van, stormed Dotbra’s palace, overcame resistance ‘with minimal loss of life’, arrested Dotbra and his associates and imprisoned them on Soames Island.

Yesterday, however, all of the charges against Dotbra were rejected in the High Court by Justice Fingers, the judge with no thumbs, resulting from new evidence presented by Dotbra’s legal representatives, Sue, Grabbit and Runne. Several authenticated documents were produced to show that Dotbra is the lovechild of Howard Hughes and Brunhilde Playtex, the lingerie heiress, and that Dotbra is the legal owner of the patents to the Jane Russell ‘Outlaw Bra’, the cantilever sports stand design and the ‘Spruce Goose’ flying plane designed by Hughes.

Asked what his plans were, a jubilant Dotbra, smiling broadly, told reporters, ‘I’m off for a cup of tea with my good friend, John Banks.’

A Deserving Case – Blood Pressure No. 2

There’s a scene toward the conclusion of Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ where Will Munny (Eastwood) is about to consign Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman) to oblivion.

Looking up at Munny from where he lies on the floor, Little Bill says bitterly, ‘I don’t deserve die like this. I was building a house.’  To which Munny replies, ‘Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.’  And Munny is right, of course. Little Bill is caught up in some history that he helped to make. He may have had it coming – but we all have it coming –  and Little Bill was getting his then. Deserve had nothing to do with it

The National-led government, with help from The Maori Party, Peter Dunne (United Future) and John Banks (ACT), has certainly polarised political opinion in this country with its policies and legislation. The partial sale of some state-owned assets, in particular, has been the focus for much opposition, including a drive for sufficient signatures on a petition to seek a referendum. Other hot issues – such as teacher/student ratios, the treatment of ACC and WINZ beneficiaries, unemployment levels, reducing Police numbers and protection of our natural environment –  have served to awaken our interest in both the processes and personalities of a democracy under duress.

There’s a lot of negative criticism of John Key, his cabinet and their allies in the House. Peter Dunne has been roundly vilified for casting his deciding vote in favour of the asset sales. He’s been branded a traitor by some. The Labour Party, too, has come under fire for a perceived lack of opposition and its inability to rein in National by providing a clear alternative.

So. Do we deserve the politicians we get?

There’s a layer of cynicism that surrounds the kernel of voter apathy that likes to give currency to that idea – and when times are tough and Ministers under pressure make mistakes, those on the sidelines see a discernible mediocrity and speculate about culpability, party intrigue and changes of leadership. What also happens – is that some on the Left –  still bearing the scars from the last election, point to those who either didn’t vote Labour or, sin of sins, changed their vote to National. QED; We got the politicians we deserve.

But let’s remember that they are politicians, working inside, not outside, of an evolved system that has historical expectations of its constituents and moderates the behaviours, aspirations and actions of those constituents to meet its own needs, mores and boundaries. If you went to buy a second-hand car, you wouldn’t expect to be greeted at the sale yard by Bertrand Russell or Nelson Mandela, would you? You’d be met by a car salesman who, pretty much, would behave like a car salesman – or at least, like your idea of a car salesman. Politicians, mostly, meet the same criterion of expectation.


Peter Dunne, for instance, has behaved exactly like my idea of a politician. He has been a Labour MP and Minister, an Independent, a member of the Future Party, then the United New Zealand Party and now the leader of the United Future Party. He has held ministerial positions, as a coalitionist, with both center-left and centre-right governments. But like Richard Prebble and Roger Douglas before him, Peter Dunne provides the best possible example of how the system changes those within it more profoundly than any change that may be wrought by them – and not vice versa. I don’t like him much and I don’t care for his politics. But he’s not a traitor. Just like Little Bill, he’s got caught up in some history that he’s helped to make and he may well have it coming.

If man makes history and history makes man – and if history itself is made by our subjective intervention into an objective reality –  then surely we must all own the political, philosophical and economic belief systems that we have all evolved with? If we deserve anything, we deserve our system, our democracy, our constitutional monarchy, our allegiance to a Crown on the other side of the globe. The politicians are a product of that system and they contribute to its continuance. But the politicians are us and we are the politicians. We must all  accept some responsibility for the failures and crises of our system. So let’s not join the reactionaries who provide simple answers to complex questions and who would have us believe that our only responsibility is to punish the irresponsible. Instead, whether we want to make a qualitative change to the system or just exchange it, let’s accept a broader responsibility for what happens. Make that intervention yourself. Join in. Be rigorous in your participation. Be accountable. That’s what you deserve.

Blood Pressure No.1

Your Prime Minister has a soft spot for Katy Perry’s tits and would like you all to use more condiments – reports ‘Parky‘ – Wilson Parkingson, from John Key’s office where, this afternoon, he spent an hour on line answering Get Stuffed readers’ questions. Or he may have said he had a soft spot for Katy Perry’s hits and would like you all to be more confident. Parky couldn’t really tell because Mr Key has a somewhat ‘unpredictable’ attitude toward the English language.

Asked about class sizes and whether he’d like his own son’s class to get any bigger, Key replied, ‘It’s hardly relevant as Max goes to King’s College and won’t be affected by anything Hekia does. Next question.’

The next question enquired as to whether or not Mr Key was sincere in his concern for the safety of Hector’s Dolphins and other marine mammals placed at risk by his government granting licences for mining and petrol exploration in marine sanctuaries. ‘All of the information we have from our marine biologists is that dolphins are incredibly smart. We’re sure that they’ll get the message, once there’s a few decent explosions, and re-locate’, he said.

Key also revealed that while Phil Heatley was away, he would be ‘covering for him on housing matters.’ He explained, ‘I feel I am very well qualified to speak on housing as I have several very fine houses of my own.’

Then asked about the strategy to drive down crime figures, Mr Key stated that it was ‘Year 10 arithmetic’. ‘Look’, he continued, ‘Its simple. If we reduce the number of police, not only do we make a saving on salaries, there will also be fewer arrests made with a consequent drop in crime figures. Jeez. I mean it’s not difficult.’

The next issue proved to be a bit of a ‘toughie’ for the PM. Asked why he felt he had a ‘clear mandate’ for the asset sales when more than half the electorate voted against them and there were demonstrations up and down the country, he replied, ‘Blue’. Pressed by Parky for an explanation, Key angrily pointed to the paper in his hand and rasped, ‘It says here the next question is; What’s my favourite colour? And the answer’s Blue. Alright?’

Mr Key was then asked if he felt comfortable with both ACC and WINZ  moving to significantly reduce their numbers of long-term clients. ‘Clients. Ha! That’s a good one’, he scoffed, ‘Look, like the Police, its a numbers game. If we cut off their benefits, we save money, the blud clients die sooner – rather than later – and the numbers decrease. We’re paying the staff whopping bonuses as an incentive to get those results. Just like the new mixed ownership SOEs. We’ll double the fees of the directors to ensure we win the numbers game.’

The PM then relaxed as questions about his likes and dislikes were asked. Either Katy Perry’s breasts or her music were a ‘like’ along with The Wiggles and Hayley from ‘Coronation Street’. On the ‘not like’ list were having to sit next to Bill English in the House, remembering where all his houses were and trying to avoid ‘those bloody pests from The Bank of America calling me to find out what’s hot and what’s not.’

Finally, Key was asked who he thought would make a good Leader of the Opposition.’ Most likely, me, the way things are going’, he sobbed.

A word from the author;

‘Blood Pressure’ will be an occasional sallying forth into the political and financial tragicomedy that entwines itself around our daily endeavours. I will refine my sights as we progress but I needed to get underway with a barn door.

Capitalism/Cannibalism ‘Margin Call’ – A Review

The film announces its purpose and draws you in with the opening scene. At the offices of a major investment bank, an HR-led purge of trading floor staff is under way. One of the senior managers to be ‘let go’ is Stanley Tucci –  and we follow him as he puts his things into a cardboard box and leaves the office.

As Tucci, still in shock, progresses past the intrigued stares and hushed speculations of his former colleagues, the background noises fade and all we hear is the swish and crunch of his shoes on the carpet. This is personal. It’s about you. It’s about me.

First-time director, J C Chandor, who has also written the fine script, is telling a story about the financial crisis 0f 2008 which to me, at least, strongly parallels what happened at Lehman Brothers in New York at that time. But as the events unfold over a day or so, we get to know the principal characters –  what drives them, what matters to them and, without judgement, how they behave.

Before Tucci leaves, he gives a junior in his department, Zachary Quinto, a USB memory stick which contains data for an unfinished project he had been developing. He tells Quinto to ‘be careful’. Quinto goes to work immediately on the project and quickly discovers that the potential trading debts in mortgage backed securities could exceed the company’s capital value.

What follows is a series of meetings involving Quinto, Head of Trading,       Kevin Spacey, his protegé, Paul Bettany, Risk Management Head, Demi Moore, Division Head, Simon Baker and CEO, Jeremy Irons. (It’s interesting to note that the Irons character’s name is John Tuld and Lehman’s former CEO was Richard Fuld. Draw your own conclusions)

Spacey is a long-serving company man who has seen this all before. He urges caution as Irons prepares to sell off the worthless assets. ‘Being first out the door isn’t panicking’, he tells Spacey. And as the need for resolution grows more urgent through the night, both of these superb actors strip away the layers to reveal their essential qualities. Irons is a fully evolved predator, urbane but deadly, as Moore and most of the trading floor are persuaded to sacrifice themselves in return for massive bonuses.. Spacey has compassion, mostly for himself, and when called upon to declare his intentions by Irons – who says he can stay on –  agrees to the sackings and fire sale of stock – ‘not because of your pretty speech – but because I need the money.’

What Margin Call achieves in its portrayal of yet another crisis in the financial sector, is the sense of an organically evolved sector credo – a way of thinking that drives through more quotidian, personal considerations such as greed and ambition. These are the tools that serve to ensure the survival of the fittest and the right to trade commodities at any cost. As Irons casually informs Spacey; ‘Money is just a piece of paper with pictures on it’

Chandor has made a fine film. He has laid bare the ethos of the Wall Street magnates whose actions gave rise to the financial crisis that put thousands out of work, saw many Americans walk away from their homes and ultimately spawned the Occupy Wall Street movement. That he has done so without being overtly judgemental is a testament not only to his script and direction but also to his excellent cast who lend credibility to their characters and the fiscally violent world that they inhabit.

Command Performance – Second Half

Welcome to the second half of my fantasy command performance. The artists selected are there because I would love to see them – and for no other reason. In the next two hours, Greil Marcus will introduce;

Jeff Beck will play ‘Beck’s Bolero’. Jeff will be joined by Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Keith Moon for this performance.

Andres Segovia will play ‘Sonatina’ (Torroba)

Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan will perform a medley of their best known songs, including; ‘I Cover the Waterfront’, ‘Lover Man’ and ‘Body and Soul’. The orchestra will be conducted by Duke Ellington, at the piano.

Jimi Hendrix, Billy Cox and Buddy MilesThe Band of Gypsies – will perform ‘Machine Gun’, ‘Foxy Lady’,  ‘Earth Blues’ and ‘Purple Haze’.

The Miles Davis Sextet will play ‘Stella by Starlight’

The Rolling Stones will perform ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking’, ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘Moonlight Mile’.

John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band will perform ‘I Found Out’, ‘Love’ and ‘Well Well Well’.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse will perform ‘Mr Soul’, A Man Needs a Maid’,Ohio’ and ‘Cortez the Killer’.

Muddy Waters and The Blues Brothers Band, featuring Willie Dixon, will play ‘Still A Fool’, Nineteen Years Old’, Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘Long Distance Call’ and ‘Mannish Boy’. They will be joined by Eric Clapton, Steve Marriott and Peter Green during the set.

The show will be closed by Aretha Franklin and the company performing ‘Amazing Grace’.

A word from the author; I hope that you enjoyed the show – I certainly did. I was appalled at who I left out – but as I said at the beginning, it was a difficult and surprising exercise. The hardest decision was to omit Nirvana. But looking at the line-up, I think they belong in a whole other concert. Kia ora.

Command Performance

If you could summon up musicians from any era to play just for you in concert, at a venue of your choice – who would you choose and where would it happen?

Let’s say that there are two halves of 2 hours each and you can have as many – or as few – bands or artists as you like. But the gig starts at 8.30pm and finishes at 1am, with a half-hour intermission.

It’s surprisingly difficult to work out who you want there, in what order-and – as you’re running the show – also select what gets played. But here goes;

The gig is at The Albert Hall in London and my MCs are Bob Harris, of ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ fame, and Greil Marcus, the American author and music critic.

Bob Harris  introduces;

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan. They will play ‘Bolero‘ (Ravel)

Fats Waller and his Rhythm will play ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’ and ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five will Play ‘West End Blues’.

Frank Sinatra and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra will perform ‘Nature Boy’ and ‘Come Fly With Me’.

The Charles Mingus Sextet will perform ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ and ‘Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting’.

Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley backed by The Blue Moon Boys will perform a medley of hits from their Sun Records days.

Chuck Berry will perform ‘Nadine’, ‘No Particular Place to Go’, ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’ and ‘Too Much Monkey Business’. Backing will be provided by Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, Mick Taylor, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Linda Ronstadt and Tina Turner.

The first half will be closed by Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin performing a medley of their hits including ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ and ‘Respect’. The backing will be provided by members of The Blues Brothers Band, including Steve Cropper, Matt Murphy and Donald Dunn

There will now be an intermission. The second half will appear in the next blog.


We Were Violent

I’m on the pier at Brighton. There are so many of us. There’s some anger. Speed. The greasers – rockers – are on the beach surrounded by cops. A chant goes up and then we’re running. Screams, adrenalin, fear. A rush. A deckchair flaps and cracks through the air into a car. I look at Presley -‘Elvis’- and somehow his nose is bloody and swollen. It’s not been a good day for him. His Lambretta SX has been attacked and most of the mirrors smashed or missing. His parka has been ripped and the fur around the hood hangs loose like a Davey Crockett hat. I’m okay though. Hand hurts where I smacked some Gene Vincent-looking rocker. But I’m okay. Lead a charmed life, don’t I? On the way back to London, at a pub, some girls show us their bruises, tell us about their mates that got arrested. We watch it all on the TV News and laugh. The locals keep well away.

We Were Well Off

I’m sitting in the office of the Principal Clerk of the Corporation of Lloyd’s. His name is Phillips and he sees me looking at the Adam fireplace and smiles. I’m there because I’ve passed their entry examination and don’t have a criminal record. He’s impressed with my academic achievements but my curriculum vitae contains something that makes him take off his glasses and lean forward, more intimate like.

‘You were a representative cricketer?’ I give him the details, all buffed up especially for the occasion. The phone. ‘Hello, Yogi. Phillips. I have a young man here just right for you chaps. Take good care of him, will you? He bowls off-spin and speaks tolerable French….’ He shakes my hand, ‘Mr Beare is coming up to fetch you. You’ll enjoy working for him. Fifteen pounds and ten shillings a week. All right?

Fifteen pound ten! All right? You must be fucking joking you public school tosser. Where do I sign? I wonder how much my mum will want out of that each week?

We Wanted Change

It’s a wet Thursday evening in October and I’m standing in the polling booth at the school down the road. I’m voting Labour. I’m voting for Harold Wilson. I’m voting so I can feel ‘the white heat of revolution’. I’m voting to get the Tories out. They are ‘yesterday’s men’. I’m voting for my dad because my dad is an old-time socialist who has friends in the Labour Party and he thinks Wilson is ‘just left enough to make a difference’. I’m voting for the first time. I’ve done drinking and sex. Voting makes the set.

We Had Fun

‘So why ”Caroline”?’  ‘Kennedy’s daughter.’   ‘Oh. Right. Better than Luxemburg?’  ‘Way better.’ ‘Who’s this now?’  ‘Simon Dee’  ‘Wouldn’t get me on a boat for months at a time just playing records.’  ‘They don’t go short, man. You can bet on it.’

I’m in the Rediffusion studios in Kingsway on Friday afternoon for Ready Steady Go! Cathy McGowan comes up to me, John and Jeff and remembers us from the Tottenham Royal the night before. We talk about what a nutter Dave Clark is and she tells us he’s here for this show. We groan.  But it’s okay because Mary Wells and The Yardbirds are on too. She asks what stuff we’ve got and Jeff sorts her out.

John Breton is captain of Lloyd’s first XI football team. He’s really pissed off at Mike and I. I mean, he’s dropping his bundle. We’re impressed at his rage but puzzled by it. It’s a cup tie and we’re 4-0 up with only 15 minutes to go. But if we don’t get back to club rooms, shower and change by 5, we’re going to miss the beginning of Doctor Who. No contest.

The Beatles? Don’t think so. The Who, The Stones, Chuck Berry. For sure. I’m off to see Chuck Berry at the Fairfields Hall in Croydon. Graham Bond and some band called The Moody Blues on the undercard. My new girlfriend says bring an album or something for Chuck to sign cos she can get us backstage. Cool.

We Were Ungrateful

I’ve never seen my gran so angry. It’s past midnight and I’ve turned up, drunk, at her council flat in Brixton, expecting a bed for the night. She’s not angry about that though. Don’t I understand that Bess and Bill will be worried about me? Here’s some change. Go and phone. There’ll be a coffee when you get back. Sitting in the cold front room; You’ve got something they never had. Your youth. They had the war instead. Your dad was killing Germans and God knows what else. And your mum was working in a munitions factory. When you came along, your father worked all sorts of hours to feed and clothe you. Put you through grammar school. And look how you treat them. They deserve better than that. Yes, gran.

A word from the author; It’s said that if you can remember the 60s, then you weren’t there. I was there all right and this all happened. But, I can’t swear to exact details and there’s some licence involved. I attended Ready Steady Go! on several occasions and it does all merge a bit. I remember thinking that The Beach Boys were rubbish though. That, I can remember.

One or Two Things I know about Henry

When I was studying Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ back in the 60s, I liked to refer to the war-like Harry as ‘Hank the Cinq’. That was partly because I was a smart arse – yeah, nothing’s changed – and partly because I was aware of Henry’s French connection. In fact, this Plantaganet monarch was the first such to write all his formal letters and court documents in English. I think that decision evidences his shrewd and pragmatic nature.

Certainly, as the play unfolds, there’s plenty more evidence to suggest that at least some of his apparently wild youth was spent observing and learning life’s lessons.

Bear in mind that when the play first appeared in 1599, England was beset with many problems: Rebellion in Ireland not being handled well by Essex; Famine across the land with successive failed harvests; A long and costly war still being fought against Spain in the Netherlands and an ageing Queen Elizabeth approaching her final years with no heir. All of the uncertainties around the succession which gave rise to the War of the Roses once more flickered to life – this time fuelled by Catholic urgings to have Elizabeth’s former brother-in-law, Phillip of Spain, assume the English throne. What better time for the newly constructed Globe theatre to present a morale-boosting, blood and thunder account of an all-conquering English king, written by the country’s most popular playwright?

I’ve got two filmed versions of Henry V on DVD and watched them both during the past week. The first was made in 1944 and was directed by its star, Laurence Olivier. The second was made in 1989 and also starred its director, Kenneth Branagh. Both films weigh in at around 140 minutes, both are in colour and both boast an impressive score – by William Walton and Patrick Doyle respectively.

Olivier’s film is heavily stylised and the French are characterised as foppish – almost humorously so, whereas Branagh’s account is grimier, more realistic and the French evoke attitudes of both foreboding and over-confidence. I must say here, that I have never been one of those who worship at Olivier’s altar. I find his film characters are linked by a certain vacuity, an absence which today would be described as ‘not engaged’. Whilst he delivers his lines well enough, both he and his lines do not seem to be bound in any organic way to the events on screen. (Oddly, that other hollow vessel, Peter Sellers, had a great success with a rendition of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’  intoned in the style of Olivier’s Richard III)

Branagh’s Henry is altogether more self-possessed. Confident, calculating and portraying a deep awareness of the political arts, taught to him by his wily father, Henry IV, and embellished around the taverns of Eastcheap whilst in the company of Sir John Falstaff and his street-wise cronies. Indeed, there are aspects of Branagh’s film that fall just shy of portraying the invading force as a bunch of upper-class lager louts with a sense of entitlement, on a day trip to France to see what spoils may be had.

The story is probably familiar to you. Having had his claim to the French throne justified by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry and his army sail to France, capture Harfleur, rout the vastly superior French force at Agincourt, forcing the French king, Charles VI, to concede to Henry’s territorial claims as well as marrying off his daughter, Katherine, to Henry.

What’s interesting about the earlier film is what’s left out. In the text, whilst preparing to sail for France, at Southampton, three nobles –  Scroop, Cambridge and Grey – are discovered to be plotting to assassinate Henry. They are arrested and executed. Later, at Harfleur, Henry delivers a blood curdling threat of no quarter to the town’s governor, if he does not surrender. And then, just before Agincourt, Bardolph, one of Henry’s earlier drinking companions, is found looting and summarily hanged. None of these scenes appear in Olivier’s film.

As the film was made in 1944 and generally released the following year when the allies had landed at Normandy and were advancing toward Germany, I imagine that showing English traitors, murderers and looters in a film designed to stir up patriotic feelings was not considered to be a good idea. The film was also partly funded by the Government – so you may draw your own conclusions.

Branagh’s film, on the other hand, includes these scenes and the battle at Agincourt is portrayed graphically. I was struck by the contrast of Branagh’s heroic delivery of the St Crispin’s Day speech and the tragic battle that ensues. No doubt, this was an implied commentary on the futility of war, although a far more direct example is portrayed when the French attack the English baggage train and slaughter the pages left to guard it. This scene appears in both films and much is made of it. Why?

Once the battle appeared to have been won by the English, news came to Henry that the French had sent for reinforcements. Fearing that any prisoners would hinder their ability to repel another French attack, Henry ordered his men to kill all the prisoners. The attack on the baggage train is often used as a mitigating factor to justify Henry’s order.

The battle of Agincourt was fought on 25th October 1415. Less than 7 years later Henry V was dead, from dysentery, whilst once more campaigning in France. Had he lived another 3 weeks, he would have been crowned King of France under the terms of the post-Agincourt treaty. He was 35.

An ironic footnote to the events of October 1415 is to be found in the decision of the Supreme Court of the Amalgamated Kingdom of England and France in 2010 to find Henry’s slaughter of the French prisoners legally unjustified –  and to award unspecified damages to the estates of those prisoners. This was a mock trial featuring eminent jurists and held in Washington DC.


I was in Auckland recently and took the opportunity to visit the Auckland Art Gallery, mostly to see the Degas to Dali exhibition there which is on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland The more than 70 works, both … Continue reading