cover photo

Simon Anderson



British politics is riveting this week.
 politics  uk  eu
They've made it to Amman.

  last edited: Tue, 10 Jul 2018 01:41:04 +1200  
My father put the phone down, turned to my mother and said, one 3 a.m. sometime in 1983.

I was twelve years old. Getting up in the middle of the night typically meant Milo, Vegemite, pyjamas and the All Blacks. The phone seldom rang in the middle of the night, almost never from overseas.

This night was different. The lives of people we knew were gravely endangered.

A month earlier Ba'ath Party thugs trashed the biosciences laboratory at Baghdad University and my father's colleagues were on the run with their families.

In the absence of ineffectual international institutions, Western universities were scrambling to offer positions to get academics across the frontier and into asylum. It was barely enough, so academic families like mine spent what we had to finance alternatives.

It cost us. We weren't wealthy and I'm pretty sure the expenditure accounted for almost all my family's disposable income.

And I am fucking proud of going without.

33 years later, if I were to choose one moment to define myself as a person, I hope it would be that 3 a.m. when my Dad turned to my Mum and said "they've made it to Amman."

If I can live up to that sentence, I will have lived a worthwhile life.

Merry Christmas everyone, Goodwill to all.

-SRA. Auckland, 21/xii 2016 (reposted.)


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

--Percy Bysshe Shelley. 'Ozymandias' 1818.

(The Younger Memnon statue fragment of Ramesses II at the British Museum.)

White Lines

  last edited: Mon, 09 Jul 2018 22:22:30 +1200  
I get a kick out of mixing these, particularly on a school night.

These records are almost 30 years old. Prized possessions, both are original pressings.

In my opinion the Liquid Liquid is the superior track, the percussion in it outweighs the vocal in the GMF derivative. As far as I can determine, the "Let's Hear It for the B-Boys" remix isn't available on the 'net, so I've linked to the original below.

Left side: Liquid Liquid 'Cavern' (Let's hear it for the B-boys remix.) Mo Wax, 1982.

Right side: Grandmaster Flash 'White Lines' (Original Long Version.) Sugar Hill Records, 1983.

Dancefloor Politics

  last edited: Mon, 09 Jul 2018 22:04:59 +1200  

I decided to introduce myself to the blind chap on the dancefloor.

He was smiling to himself, swaying to the music. Not really dancing, rather listening with more than just his ears. In the manner in which aficionados might listen to an orchestra with tears streaming down their faces. As I stepped over, it occurred to me that his perception of the music was more nuanced than my own.

Ink Bar on K Road was filling up and he seemed to be by himself, at the narrow part of the dancefloor beside the bar. I was conscious the volume of the music diminished the efficacy of the primary sense he relies upon, that he would be increasingly jostled as more people arrived.

I placed my hand lightly on his wrist to indicate my presence, which seemed like the right thing to do. I know etiquette demands otherwise, that one should allow blind people to grasp one's arm or hand, but that one should refrain from touching them. In this circumstance the only alternative I could think of was to shout and I didn't want to startle him.

"Hey fella! I'm Simon, are you well?" I inquired.

"Yes, I'm Dave. I'm here with other people and a lovely girl called Megan gave me a bottle of water" he replied, waving the bottle at me. "Do you know her?"

"Yes, I know her" I smiled, redundantly. "She is the partner of the DJ we're listening to, Ben Calway"

"Is she beautiful?" Dave asked, hopefully.

"She is stunning, Dave" I assured him. "And more than that, she lights up the dance floor."

Dave positively beamed at me. Some people smile with their mouths, some also with their eyes. This guy smiled with his whole head. Happiness transcended to pure joy. I could have basked in the sunshine of it.

"Wonderful" Dave said, meaning it.

A kind girl had given Dave a bottle of water, and she was beautiful. This made his night.

And mine.

And hers.

-SRA. Auckland, 1/xii 2013 (reposted.)

(N.b. A few days after I wrote this a photographer who happened to be in the club published this picture of the protagonists.)
Freyberg Place

Shortly after midnight 102 years ago, a 25 year-old Kiwi smeared grease over his entire body and jumped naked from a British Destroyer into the waters of the Aegean Sea.

Alone, he swam through the darkness across the Gulf of Saros. 27 hours later a Cutter on patrol in the Mediterranean picked him up, seven miles off the coast of Gallipoli.

An hour after that, the Anzacs stormed the beaches.

I was pleased to accept an invitation to attend the re-opening of Freyberg Place in central Auckland this evening.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to pay my respects to New Zealand's seventh Governor General: Lieutenant-General Bernard Cyril Freyberg, 1st Baron Freyberg. VC, GCMG, KCB, KBE, DSO.

-SRA. Auckland, 16/x 2017 (reposted.)

The Gingas are up to something


I've been fairly forthright in my opposition to the social justice initiative to normalise Gingerism. I'm a liberal, tolerant person but tolerance has limits and I draw the line at Gingerkind.

To illustrate my personal tolerance thresholds, I believe the burqa should be optional for Muslim women in public spaces but mandatory for Gingas of both genders.

It would be fair to say my opposition to Gingerism isn't entirely intellectual, I admit to a mild prejudice against them. Like a manikin in a department store that moves suddenly or one of those creepy Japanese sex androids, I find the way Gingas mimic Human behaviour unnerving.

Endeavouring to appear human accentuates how unhuman they are.

It would be fair to assume my attitude is well-known within the Gingerkind community, I'm definitely "on their list" somewhere. So you can imagine my surprise when one appeared to do me a favour.

The airport bus doesn't run the length of town any more, thanks to all the roadworks. Instead there's a free shuttle which ferries passengers up to the bus near the intersection with Mayoral Drive. There's a disconnect though: the airport bus runs every 10-15 minutes but the shuttle can be over half an hour.

I was waiting for the shuttle chatting with my friend Brett when a male Ginga accosted us, interrupting our conversation.

"The shuttle is going to be half an hour," it said, blithely exceeding its place in our societal hierarchy.

Instantly suspicious I looked around for other Gingas that might be lurking. There didn't appear to be any.

"Would you like to share my Uber?" it continued.

"Why is this Ginga attempting to lure me into a vehicle?" I thought to myself, fearing a kidnapping attempt. The last thing I want is to be arse up in some medieval Gingerkind lair, trying to persuade a group of Gingas in burqas that sustained sexual violence is not the way forward.

My instinct was to run or to fight but then I thought of my friend Brett: entirely innocent in all this. For his preservation I resigned to sacrifice myself and take one for the team.

"Sure," I replied queasily.

I said goodbye to Brett and got into the Uber with the Ginga. Imagine my relief that the driver was Arabic; dark-haired and swarthy. I was pretty sure he wasn't one of the Ginga's familiars.

When we arrived at Mayoral Drive I offered to reimburse the Ginga for my share of the fare. It refused, smiled and wished me a good day. And the rest of my journey was thoroughly uneventful.

I'm not sure what to make of all this.

It could be that Gingerkind have adopted a charm offensive as a new public relations policy but I don't think so.

I know them, I know their ways.

Something far more devious is afoot.


-SRA. Auckland, 1/x 2017.

Attribution: The line "..sustained sexual violence is not the way forward." is paraphrased from Peter Capaldi's dialogue as Malcolm Tucker in Armando Iannucci's film 'In the Loop.'
God I detest South Auckland.

God I detest South Auckland.

I went shopping down there this morning, in Newmarket, because I had to. Stephen Marr is the only stockist of the O&M shampoo I like and Smith & Caughey's carries the Clinique face soap I prefer.

So with a sigh I boarded a train at Britomart and made my way all the way down there. Rewarding myself for my efforts with a visit to nerdvana, the Jaycar Electronics shop.

Where I picked up this delightful wireless mini-keyboard. It's quite an indulgence, its sole purpose is to allow me to operate my computer from the comfort of my bed, obviating the need to get up and step over to my desk.

Not that I'm lazy or anything.

Strolling happily with my purchase back to Newmarket trainstation and onwards towards civilisation, I was accosted in the street by a middle-aged woman.

"Would you like to join our weight loss challenge group?" she asked, looking me up and down.

"No thank you, madam" I flatly replied.

This is why I detest South Auckland: you can't even buy a device which allows you to operate a computer from the comfort of your bed without getting fat shamed by a snaggle-toothed crone.

-SRA. x/2017 (reposted.)
The Return of the King

  last edited: Mon, 09 Jul 2018 20:35:45 +1200  
I was 21 years old when Bobby Fischer emerged from hiding. Old enough to be transfixed by it.

Against the chaotic backdrop of Yugoslavia's evaporation, the barbaric warfare and ethnic cleansing it entailed, Fischer held a press conference in Sveti Stefan.

In 1992 the Balkans was a warzone on the European Union frontier, with the locals going medieval and the Super Powers picking sides. The first international crisis of the post-Soviet era, it's not an exaggeration to describe it as an outright calamity.

And in the middle of it all, an American world chess champion no-one had seen for twenty years held an astonishing press conference announcing his intention to replay the 1972 World Championship against the Russian Boris Spassky.

A chess match ought to have been a sideshow to the broader geopolitical context, yet in the post-Cold War era a match between American and Russian world champions in the powder-keg of the Balkans took on a greater significance.


With that background out of the way, allow me to introduce the position. Robert James Fischer v Boris Vasilievich Spassky. (Game I: 2/10/1992 at Sveti Stefan.)

"The Return of the King."

This photograph of my board is the position after 28 moves by each player. Unusually, no captures have occurred: all of the pieces remain on the board.

Fischer and Spassky have both completed their openings and are itching to get it on. It's Fischer's turn, and I've indicated what his move will be in black marker. He wins 21 moves later.

I defy anyone to look at this position and make that move.

You see, Fischer deliberately weakened his position. With all the pieces in play he appraised his position so superior he could perform the weakest move possible, inviting Spassky to do his worst, and win.

Molon Labe, Bobby Fischer.

-SRA. x/2017 (reposted.)

On the Balcony

Spending the evening on my balcony, in the company of Tigran Petrosian and Mikhail Tal. There's a pleasant breeze through the Pohutukawa in bloom.

And a delightful glass of Mendozan Malbec to hand.

I intend to kick back, relax, and watch my esteemed guests tear strips off one another. They look like they're about to get it on.

Petrosian v Tal. 2nd of May 1962 at Willemstad, Curacao. The position at 18.

(Anglo/Slav Variation of the Reti & the London Defensive System.)

-SRA. Auckland, 20.xii 2017 (reposted.)

Pyrrhic Victory

  last edited: Mon, 09 Jul 2018 22:08:58 +1200  
Four years ago a Weka stole my sunglasses and ran off with them into the bush.

I spent many hours trying to find them, and him. A week later I caused some cultural confusion purchasing a replacement duty free.

A month ago I recovered the sunglasses, someone found them in the bush.

I now have two pairs of these sunglasses.

Despite it costing me $300 or so, I've found forgiveness in my heart for the Weka.

-SRA. Auckland, 16/i 2018 (reposted.)

  last edited: Mon, 09 Jul 2018 19:54:05 +1200  
There are some matters only other Kiwis can relate to.

The shop assistant at Auckland Airport Adidas duty free is American.

Her: "Any particular style?"

Me: "I'm looking for a straight replacement for a pair I had stolen last weekend."

Her: "It's terrible that someone stole them!"

Me: "Not someone, something. It was a Weka."

Her: ".."

Me: <pause> "Now that I'm actually verbalising this I realise how unbelievable and ridiculous it sounds. Last weekend a flightless native bird, which is similar to a Kiwi but with a more mischievous temperament, stole my sunglasses off a deck and ran away into the bush with them."

Her: "Sounds scary."

-SRA. Auckland, 1/ix 2014 (reposted.)

The new deck

I spent the long weekend helping my father build this deck. It's larger than it appears: 19 posts, 17 joists and the lot done by hand as the generator developed a fault and wouldn't run above 110 volts to run power tools.

It was hard yakka.

And extremely good fun. Great spending time with family and friends building something useful. And gratifying that the old man is still as strong as an ox.

On the downside, Picton Supermarket forgot to load the beers in our grocery order onto the mailboat, which comes only twice a week. Three whole days clearing trees and plants, digging holes, concreting posts, cutting and aligning struts and joists, laying decking, nailing and punching.

And not one single, solitary beer.

Oh and the thieving Weka who stole my sunglasses, I address you directly:

You utter little bastard. Protected species or not, I'm going to get even on your arse.

-SRA. Arapawa Island, 27/x 2014 (reposted.)
Chateau des Milandes

  last edited: Mon, 02 Jul 2018 05:53:19 +1200  
Josephine Baker's Chateau des Milandes is well worth a visit, the falconry demonstration this morning was tremendous.

The handlers brought out a ferret and I assumed it was bait, that we were about to witness a rodent execution. A murmur of disquiet passed through the crowd as mothers began covering children's eyes.

The handlers explained that the ferret and the eagle are trained to work in tandem, much to the relief of the mothers in the audience. The ferret chases the rabbits out of the burrow and the eagle snags them when the rabbits hit daylight.

This process was demonstrated to us with this remote-controlled rabbit the eagle is sitting on in the photograph.

I almost wet my pants it was so funny. The ferret chases! The eagle swoops! Robo-rabbit is caught!

-SRA. Monpazier, 23/vi 2015 (Repost.)

Today's diving was interrupted by a Search and Rescue operation.

Donald, Phil, Neil and I were the only professional divers in the Omaha area when the Mayday came over the emergency channel. We dropped off the eight students who had just completed their first ever sea dive at the shore and were immediately tasked by Search and Rescue.

They briefed us on the location, the currents and the description (male, 24, leather jacket, no lifejacket, aluminium oar) and we agreed to our search area. Three helicopters, half a dozen surf lifesaving boats, police shoreline teams and several private craft added to the congestion and therefore, the risk to ourselves.

We're trained for this, we known how to coordinate our search patterns between the divers in the water to maximise the area and minimise the time. Each of us can perform CPR on an unconscious victim in the water whilst divesting them of their gear and swimming them a minimum of 200 metres.

Not that we needed to. By the time we hit the water the 'rescue' operation had become a 'recovery.'

The current in the Omaha channel was unbelievably strong, stronger than any current I've dived in before, making it difficult for the three of us to conduct our search patterns. Across two dives we variously fought and followed the prevailing currents, searching the snag points until we ran out of air.

So I'm sorry that I couldn't find you young fella, and return you to your family. I tried as hard as I could.

-SRA. Auckland, xi/2014. (Reposted.)

Media link:
"I always expected you would be the one, to write our family's history" my grandmother told me, during my last visit to her retirement home before my departure for the UK. "I won't see you again. Lead a good life."

Several years later and after her passing, the author John MacGibbon published 'Piano in the Parlour,' a book about the piano and its history at the heart of society, romance and culture in pioneering New Zealand. The book includes an interview with my grandmother, in which she recounts the arrival of her parents' piano to the King Country and its impact upon their community in 1914.

Having been dragged -literally dragged, by bullock train- to their home in the bush on the last leg of its long journey from Britain.

It meant the world to them.

The United Kingdom was a technology backwater in 1998 I explained to her, desperate for people like me experienced in communications technologies, particularly Internet technologies. A voracious reader, she understood what the Internet was and the irony of her grandson returning to the motherland to bring technological advancement wasn't lost upon her.

Ten days after our last conversation a CIO on Tottenham Court Road extolled the virtues of his company's technology by proudly proclaiming that they had "a TCP/IP network" like it was the very soul of innovation. To cover my initial confusion I genuinely smiled, as I actually thought about my grandmother, knowing I could have explained it and she'd get the joke.

I wasn't surprised by her grasp of technology but I was by her apathy to it. In her life she'd witnessed the introduction of electricity, steam engines, radio (which she called "wireless,") industrial warfare, atomic energy, space travel and computing.

People of her generation accepted change. And measured its value strictly in terms of the benefit to their lives.

None of it, in her estimation, was of greater benefit than that piano.

I think about that all the time. When I contemplate the stock price of companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, or the queues of people lining up to purchase the latest minor iteration of their products.

Or when evaluating my own contributions and consumption.

-SRA. Auckland iv/2015. (Reposted.)

I used to be an Early Adopter.

Back in 2001 I managed to convince Sharp Corporation in Japan to send me this PDA.

It's a Zaurus SL-5000D, the developer version of the first portable device from a major manufacturer to ship with the Linux operating system. It has an ARM processor, 32MB of RAM, a Java virtual machine and crucially, connects via WiFi.

We didn't call it "WiFi" back then as the term hadn't gained broad acceptance. We still called the technology "Packet Radio" -its original, archaic name.

The serial number on the back of my Zaurus is 17000110. I'm confident I was the 110th person on the planet to possess one and there's a very good chance I was the first outside of Japan.

Above all, the attraction for me was that it ran Linux, a variant of the venerable Unix operating system in which people like myself feel most comfortable.

The technology made sense to me. Linux and the broader spectrum of Open Source and Free Software were moving into the brave new world of the portable form factor. The device was an open platform. It had a modern processor architecture optimised for power consumption. Rapid application development could occur in a broadly-adopted language. The potential for 'always on' Internet connectivity offered a whole range of wondrous possibilities.

I marvelled at the magic of our science, for I had Unix in my pocket. My partner at the time could order our grocery deliveries from the comfort of our kitchen by visiting the newfangled 'mobile' websites offered by Tesco and Sainsbury's, while I could operate on the Internet from anywhere I happened to be that was in range of a hackable wireless signal.

Science Fiction become fact. Kirk was never this cool.

A portable ARM device, a Unix variant and a Java virtual machine: just like the Android SmartPhone in your pocket today, eleven years later.

And in the pockets of 700 million people on Earth.

-SRA. Auckland, x/2012 (reposted.)

Pelikan Souverän M1000

The Souverän M100 is the flagship Pelikan pen.

Not only is it large, it's heavy. What sets this pen apart is the massive 18ct gold nib. It's not a flex nib, instead it is an inordinately flexible stiff nib. People bitch about the quality control of Pelikan nibs. I've never had a problem and this pen is one of the smoothest writers I own. In broad (B), it lays down the perfect amount of ink.

The zionAmerican threat to civilisation.

Seldom do I agree with Mehdi Hassan but this is genius: