Monthly Archives: July 2012

Bad News is Good News – Blood Pressure No. 4

Good Evening. It’s the 6 o’clock news brought to you tonight by Jeremiah Dallow and Cassandra Petrie.

We’re coming to you tonight from the TVNZ emergency bunker as much of Auckland is in flames, a State of Civil Emergency has been declared and the Army is enforcing martial law throughout the region. Minister for Disasters, Gerry Brownlee, is asking residents to stay in their homes, if they still have one, and not to go onto the streets where the Army has orders to shoot on sight anyone suspected of looting. We’ve already received reports that more than 50 elderly residents of a retirement village in Takapuna have been mown down by machine gun fire as they attempted to escape from their blazing recreation hall. An Army spokesman said that they failed to identify themselves and give the correct password. Cassandra.

That’s right, Jeremiah. What we’ve been able to discover about the circumstances leading up to the State of Emergency is that the first of a connected series of events occurred around 3.30 this afternoon on the Southern Motorway. A 3-year-old boy driving a Hyundai Santa Fe with a similarly aged female passenger were heading north against south-bound traffic. Eye witnesses said the speeding car was loaded with surfing gear, the driver’s window was down and ‘The Wayward Wind’ was blaring out of the stereo. Several vehicles swerved to avoid the Hyundai and this resulted in a multi-vehicle pile-up which included a petrol tanker, a truck containing chemical waste, several other long distance hauliers carrying timber, livestock and alcohol as well as about 50 to 60 private vehicles.

Thanks Cassandra. A survivor has told us that the petrol tanker and 2 other haulage vehicles jack-knifed and catapulted off the motorway, ploughing into a national grid sub-station, bringing down pylons and power cables. There was an immediate massive explosion which levelled everything within a 400 metre radius with fireballs and burning debris raining down on the adjacent industrial estate – in turn causing a widespread conflagration. The combined effect of the dense, acrid smoke covering the Mangere area and the loss of air traffic control systems caused by the power outage, has resulted in a least two mid-air collisions and several collisions between taxiing aircraft on the tarmac at Auckland International Airport. Cassandra has more.

Thanks Jeremiah. One of the mid-air collisions resulted in the front half of an Airbus A-350 plummeting out of the sky into the Britomart complex with massive destruction to the downtown area, By a cruel twist of fate, The Northerner train was just arriving and ploughed through the shattered terminus and into the harbour where it landed on the Beechlands Ferry.

In breaking news, we understand that most of the inmates from Mount Eden Prison have escaped, overwhelmed a battalion of the New Zealand Defence Force, armed themselves and barricaded themselves in several multi-million dollar homes in Paritai Drive.

After the break, Jenny-May will be here with the details of the Anthrax attack on the Olympic village, Jim will have live pictures of the polar caps melting and then Mark will interview the Dalai Lama on his plans to prevent AIDS amongst the Yeti population of the Himalayas.

A Crisis of Faith

I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a God. But if there were, I’m equally sure that he’d look like Sir Matt Busby.

Now, I’m perfectly willing to concede that God could equally resemble, say, Hekia Parata, Boy George, Sitting Bull, Florence Nightingale or anyone at all really. But this is my lapse into whimsy – not yours. So deal with it.

Where was I? Yes – Matt, Sir Matt, Busby – manager of Manchester United from 1945 to 1969 and part of 1971. Founder of the ‘Busby Babes’ and creator of the modern myth that is Manchester United. God, in fact. And the faithful gather to worship God at The Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford, mostly on Saturdays or Sundays – although there are mid-week services throughout the devotional season.

Now God had a son – and his name was George Best.

George was sent to Earth to help the faithful find the Holy Grail, also known as the European Cup. And that sacred mission was achieved on 29th May 1968 when Portuguese non-believers were vanquished at Wembley Stadium – George applying the coup de grace.

Since then, the Word has spread and conversions have been made by the thousand as the disciples of Sir Matt have bought light and a wondrous spirit into the world. The Devil – in the guise of Don Revie, Bill Shankly, Arsene Wenger and, currently, Roberto Mancini – has constantly sought to divert followers from the one true path. But Matt’s faithful gatekeeper, Sir Alex Ferguson, has always stood as the rock upon which the true faith is built.

Sir Alex has served for many years, nurturing the disciples in the ways of Sir Matt so that they may minister to the diverse, global congregation that seek enlightenment and the one, true version of the beautiful game. Even betrayal by a Christian called Ronaldo – who accepted much more than 40 pieces of silver -could not shake his faith.

Imagine, then, my complete astonishment and sense of abandonment when I caught sight of Sir Alex WEARING A PUFFER JACKET !!!

It was like discovering that God listened to U2 on the seventh day. Or that Buddha voted National. Or that Mohammed used frost tips. These garments are the Devil’s work. They are anathema. They are the antithesis of everything that’s decent in the world. Once worn, one’s soul is consigned to eternal hellfire and damnation.

So distraught was I that, to find salvation for Sir Alex, I consulted ancient match-day programmes and other arcane and mysterious holy ephemera – searching for a remedy, an antidote. And Hallelujah! brothers and sisters I found it. So join with me now in this sacred hymn,  as together we exorcise the malignant, sartorial demon that has possessed Sir Alex. Bless you.

2 Books and a Bunsen Burner

I thought it might be interesting and fun to try a social experiment here on Wise Blood.

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The Magic Christian by Terry Southern and The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien have long held a special place in my affections and right here and now, I heartily recommend them to you. If you haven’t read them already – go out and borrow or buy them.  Well, read this first – then go and get them. Okay? And the social experiment? I’m going to discuss the two books, mostly from memory, in a stream of consciousness manner with just a minimum of research to support this house of cards. Who needs structure?

Southern’s book is relatively short and follows the activities of billionaire Guy Grand as he sets out to show that everyone has their price. It was published toward the end of the 50s and some ten years later made into a film starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.

O’Brien’s book was finally published in the mid 60s, although it had been written during the second World War. It follows the narrator through a series of surreal episodes in his quest to become an authority on the scientist and philosopher de Selby. Indeed, as the book progresses, the narrator’s footnotes regarding the apocryphal theories and pronouncements of de Selby grow increasingly fulsome until there is very little actual text remaining on the final pages.

Both books rather insinuate themselves into the reader’s mind – and they both use surreal imagery and, sometimes, violent action – to achieve this. The humour of unease is a difficult and unruly literary device but I believe that these authors have deployed it superbly in order to question our cultural and physical identities.

I think that it’s feasible to suggest that in each case, the zeitgeist – events of the time – helped shape the mood of the writing.  Southern’s book was written at a time of advancing prosperity in the US and the consumer society was already well established. O’Brien’s book was commenced as ‘the phony war’ ended and the Blitz was beginning. A world in turmoil.

Southern’s book is essentially a satire aimed at our institutions and the mores of materialism. The press, cinema, television, advertising, the best-in-show crowd, retailing, the upper classes, social status and finally – money itself are all brought forward and not only found wanting, but found to be objects of disgust and derision. Southern poses his questions about our cultural identity with a visceral humour that is as relevant now as it was 40 years ago.

O’Brien’s book is more complex, the humour is arch, arcane, elusive. The identity of the narrator is unknown and his existence, at all, is questionable. He encounters a voice which may be his soul. He spends time in a timeless eternity which he finds in a police barracks. A cornucopia, several bicycles, amputated limbs and the ever-present de Selby all serve to illustrate O’Brien’s vision of an uncertain existence in an inexplicable world. I believe it to be a work of genius. A masterpiece.

Footnote (Not in the manner of de Selby)  For those of you who, like me, are admirers of the great Dave Allen, you may be intrigued by his link to Flann O’Brien. Dave’s father, Cully Tynan O’Mahoney, was managing editor of the Irish Times in Dublin where O’Brien (real name Brian O’Nolan) was a contributor. The young Allen would often accompany his father to his office and frequently spent time talking with O’Brien. I think that acquaintance explains quite a lot about what followed for Dave.

Dirty Harry – ‘Harry Brown’ A Review

I saw this movie more than a year ago, when it was first released. I had some particular thoughts about it then and I find that it’s still on my mind. I think that’s because I felt that it was, in some ways, a significant film. Not a film I enjoyed or admired, far from it, but significant nevertheless.

‘Harry Brown’ is director, Daniel Barber’s first feature –  and stars Michael Caine in the title role. The story follows Brown, a Royal Marines veteran, who lives on a South London housing estate where life is constantly made dangerous by youth gangs whose violent behaviour is fuelled by drugs. The film’s opening scene contains a graphic portrayal of a random, apparently motiveless shooting.

Brown leads a largely solitary life, punctuated by visits to his comatose wife in hospital and occasional chess games in the local pub with a friend, Len Attwell (David Bradley). When his wife dies suddenly and Attwell is murdered by the estate gang, Brown decides to take matters into his own hands.

What follows is Brown’s descent into a Dantesque world of urban decay, drugs, violence, betrayal and degradation as he seeks vengeance for his friend’s murder. And as Brown pursues his vigilante justice, he meets a gallery of characters, each more despicable than the last. The police, too, are portrayed as being unsympathetic – as much bound up with their own internal politics as they are dealing with the increasingly volatile situation on the estate.

I’ve read that this film has been compared with Clint Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino’, which was released a year or so previously. That film is far from Eastwood’s best work but, like most of his own films, it does have a head and a heart and examines the societal base of prejudice, the inner lives of neighbours confronted by violence and in its conclusion, offers redemption through sacrifice. ‘Harry Brown’ does not attempt any of this. It is shallow and manipulative in its attempts to disguise its own reactionary ideological base. Our only responsibility is to punish the irresponsible, it insinuates.. There’s a scene where Brown is discussing with a police officer his army service in Northern Ireland. Brown says,’ Those people were fighting for something. A cause. To them out there , this is just entertainment.‘ What we’re supposed to glean from that, presumably, is that Brown had some sympathy for the people he was killing in Ulster but not for the youths that he’s killing in his neighbourhood. I think that idea is obscene.

And on the subject of obscenity, Barber and scriptwriter Gary Young have clearly seen ‘Sexy Beast’, ‘In Bruges’ and other Brit crime films and noted that it is de rigueur to include a conversation where ‘cunt’ is used repetitively in a conversation. Such an obviously exploitative and derivative choice only goes to further demonstrate the film maker’s intention to appeal to prurient interest.

By the time this film lurched its way to its entirely predictable conclusion, I was heartily sick of it. I had lived on an estate like Brown’s at a time when the problems were similar, where crime was commonplace, shopowners barricaded their windows at night and prospects were bleak. But citizens responded through community initiatives and by accepting responsibility for themselves and their neighbours. It was tough but it was not hopeless. People did not submit to baseness because they felt there was no alternative. They rose above it. And that’s why ‘Harry Brown’ is significant. In advocating despair, unwittingly,  it reminds us of hope.