Fi likes hair. This has led to an obsession with a particular niche of the internet - the human hair market. You can hear her talk about this in this podcast, recorded as part of What We Talk About in New Zealand Fringe Festival.
Have we ever mentioned that Claire grew up on a boat traveling the world? She was invited to talk about an obsession in What We Talk About, part of New Zealand Fringe Festival in February. You can hear her talk about one of the places she visited and has been obsessed with ever since - The Chagos Islands.
‘This fucking place never changes’ says one of the two men walking in front of me, down the hill from the Octagon. He doesn’t mean it kindly, but he’s right – Dunedin is always the same, more or less. I’ve been down there a couple of times before with fringe projects, other times with family, and I was there again the other week. Arrival in Dunedin, for me, is always paired with a decent jolt of nostalgia - the kind that comes with a change of season. The light is shallower and the air is crisper than where I’ve come from. The buildings are the same; solid and old, not really what I think of as New Zealand buildings. The odd thing is that the people don't age. I get older, the students stay 18. I’m not down that often, but often enough, so every time I’m there I feel a kind of adjacency to myself the last time I was there, and also to the times before. I think about how I’ve changed and how I haven’t. On the first fringe I felt at home at pint night on campus. Now, of course, I’m ancient, but I feel closer to that person than I do when I’m at home. A limited number of things have happened to me here, in a limited number of places, so my memory of them is clearer, and linked to geography – places have defined meanings. There’s where I saw James Bond in 2006, there’s the hospital where my aunt took me when I broke my toe in 2009, there’s the bar where I had a sip of Joel's whiskey in in 2013. Wellington’s a mess of overwritten memories by comparison, impossible to read. Going to Dunedin is a kind of reminder that time’s passing, because for me time has a way of not passing there.
When stuck in any godawful show the first step to enjoying life again is to admit that yes, this truly is godawful. It is a great relief to give up all hope and free your mind to wander recklessly and brain-vomit ruthlessly. My favourite thing to do in this situation is come up with lists. Here is one I made recently:
Ten 60-minutes(ish) things that are better than a terrible 60-minute(ish) theatre show:
I'm amazed to say that I've seen 6 out of the 8 best picture nominees this year, probably because I live two mins walk downhill from the Embassy, and can get those cheap spark tickets (so I'm complicit with those awful ads where they ask you to tweet your last twit, etc. Sorry).
Yesterday we saw The Revenant, which is really best described as very long, very beautiful wildlife documentary about Leonardo DiCaprio. He crawls around, hurts himself, falls off things, grunts, finds it hard to get up, hurts himself again... I'd like to see the version with David Attenborough narration. It'd help. DiCaprio has about as many lines as the bear.
It's so relentlessly grim and grimy, I've decided that The Revenant is actually a comedy. We saw the Peanuts movie a few nights before, which is another story about a guy to whom bad things happen and continue to happen. Charlie Brown is meant to be a comic character. When Charlie Brown wishes on a star (as the only dependable thing in the universe) and the star responds by falling out of the sky, that's funny. When Hugh Glass (after an hour of escalating misfortunes) rides his horse over a cliff, then cuts it open and makes a sleeping bag out of it, that's got to be comedy too, right? In any case, I had to laugh.
This sign is by the entrance to Massey on Wallace Street. I like Massey. But god damn it, what does this sentence even mean?
Why doesn't it start with 'we?' Who's talking? What do we have and why aren't we confident enough to say it? Why is the word 'unique' trying to get away from the rest of the sentence? The more I look at this, the more queasy I feel.
I can only hear it spoken in John Key's voice. The phrase covers its own ass with a politician's reflex. If in a few years we realise that, actually, we don't have something unique (oops), no-one can use this as ammo against us. Phew.
I think it would work better as a neon sign.
Here's an interesting article I stumbled upon while doing some other First World War-related research. Published 100 years ago today!
'New thinking on the front line'
An interview with Cpt. Alfred Walpole
July 27, 1915
I arrived at Captain Alfred Walpole's section of the Allied trenches by train on a misty Belgian weekday. The young private who escorted me to the forward positions politely withheld his comment as I flinched involuntarily under the intermittent shellfire. I sat down with Walpole in his sparsely decorated dugout, and we chatted over tea and hard tack biscuits.
Telegraph: You've made a name for yourself as one of the most innovative young leaders on the front. How have your ideas been received? Have you ruffled feathers?
Walpole: I think there's a lot of resistance to experimentation, to taking risks. Particularly among the established leadership. When I arrived in this sector a few months ago, it was clear to me that something had to change. There was this real sense among the rank and file that the whole enterprise was lacking direction.
Telegraph: And what was the learning you took away from that?
Walpole: It's a question of culture. The first thing I did was signal that I was open to conversation.
Telegraph: Oh yes?
Walpole: Yes. When there's more honesty in the queues for the latrine than there is in the heat of an offensive, you know that you've got a problem. That has to be fixed. I command 220-odd men, so it took some time to sit down with everyone. When people are afraid to speak up, it means that our greatest resource - our people - is being wasted. And I don't just mean in terms of their guts being blown apart by shrapnel. I mean their brains.
But in these conversations - just between the men and myself, like we're talking now- I was able to let myself be taught. There's so much wisdom here, if leaders will listen. I'll give you one example. I asked some new recruits about what they thought was standing in the way of them performing their roles to the best of their ability.
Telegraph: Their response?
Walpole: Overwhelmingly, a paralysing fear of death. And barbed wire. Shells and gas were big ones too - I've got the mind-maps here somewhere. And I told them, 'I'll be totally honest, these are not issues which will be resolved tomorrow. Unless of course you get shot tomorrow!' [He laughs]. But we keep up the conversation now. We check in. There's literally no door to my dugout. As a manager, that part of the job [communication] is never over, especially with such a high turnover of personnel.
Telegraph: I've heard about some other initiatives that have made a difference. Can you tell me about those?
Walpole: Yes, there's a few common-sense things. We had these things called 'communication trenches', but that was really a misnomer. Most of them were long and straight, with the occasional dogleg. Which is actually terrible for communication and idea-sharing. Tommy up on the left flank might never see Johnny over on the right. People are in their little silos. So we re-dug a lot of these trenches to encourage people to encounter each other more often. We're in a circle now, and we've put all the ammunition and shells in one big store right in the middle [he motions outside his door]. So we've got all these chance meetings happening. People who would normally never mingle. Lots of people are always congregating in large groups around the ammunition dump. It's great to see.
What it all means is that if one end of the sector comes up with an innovation, say how to build a more efficient scaling ladder, they're now more likely to pass that on to their comrades. In a traditional place of war, that'd never happen. We're challenging this ingrained vertical structure and mindset. Same with the flexible parapet allocations, open-plan dugouts, and the work-from-home provision we're trialing.
The fortnightly presentations have been a hit too. One of the regulars had an idea about using a sort of sea-saw apparatus to get over the wire, which we prototyped. Young Bolingbroke gave a great talk about how to kill a rat humanely. Poor blighter caught a bullet in the throat yesterday. Luckily I have his notes.
Telegraph: And the offensive changes?
Walpole: Ah yes. See, the conventional wisdom is that you send everyone over the top at once, maybe in three waves. Blow the whistle, off you go, etc [he makes whistle sounds and gestures]. All very top-down, very rigid. People felt stifled. It's really inconvenient since everyone has to align their schedules and there's a bottleneck in terms of resources. I've found that letting people go over the top in their own time achieves the same outcomes and places less pressure on infrastructure. You go over at the optimum time for you, and then you write your reflection afterwards.
Telegraph: And if people refuse to go over the top?
Walpole: I don't micromanage. That's not how people thrive. We've got to let the men feel empowered and trusted to claim responsibility for the war at a personal level. That's what it's all about. But if they really won't do it, we have a follow-up chat and yes, that's when they get shot.
A surreal and beautiful disaster where nobody gets hurt. Love how much fun the guy filming it is having.
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