Monday, 29 November 2010

A Plucking Good Evening

Friday was the first of our 'ticket' nights out - we bought tickets way back in August to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who have been doing a New Zealand tour. If you haven't heard of them, this is a troupe of eight ukulele players, who play instruments from 'soprano' (or 'teeny'), right up to 'bass' (or 'guitar'). They have been going for 25 years this year, and they still look like they are having as much fun on stage as the audience are watching them. We were at the Michael Fowler Centre, which is a glorious modern venue - the main auditorium is set out in native wood, looks absolutely beautiful, and whoever designed the seating layout actually thought about knee-space rather than "how many people can we cram into here".

The group were fantastic, as always. They have a great rapport with each other, and just the slightest glance can get the audience howling. Their repertoire stretches all the way from the classical (they played 'Dance Macabre' for us, as well as reprising their Proms 2009 Audience Participation Ode to Joy - unfortunately, because they didn't hand out the music beforehand (just expecting the audience to find it on their website), most of the audience who had brought ukuleles weren't actually able to join in, and it ended up almost being a trio from the audience vs eight of them on stage!), theme music (They did the theme to 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly', and a brilliant version of 'Shaft', though fortunately, they did not add in their usual gag on mining - definitely the wrong week to joke about that...), hard rock (Wheatus's 'I'm just a Teenage Dirtbag') and many more (including a New Zealand song called "Now is the Hour" which had a fantastic audience response).

There are plenty of excellent videos on YouTube featuring them (some from them directly, others bootlegged...) - one of the reasons that I love them, not only because of the humour, is summed up by a quote from Peter Brooke Turner:
"We thought, `Well, why can't we do songs by the Velvet Underground or the Sex Pistols? And what we found was that the ukulele's sort of a musical lie detector ... if you strip everything away, by playing it on a ukulele you can tell if it's a good song or not. Surely the sign of a good song is that it can just be simply strummed through and sung, and the essence is still there."

These were two of my favourites from the evening:

A great take on Life on Mars...

I adored their second medley - it was new to me :-)

Sadly they didn't play another of my favourites, similar in theme and style...

Now go and look at their other stuff on YouTube, and maybe even go get their CDs / DVDs! :-) And I'd definitely recommend that you get tickets to see them live next time they are your way!

We had an absolutely brilliant evening, a great start to a fun weekend; Phoenix group PIG meeting on Saturday, and I got to play with a video recorder on Sunday trying to get a video uploaded for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra competition. I managed it - just - after a number of major hiccups (wrong file types, corruption when I tried to convert them, and then a corrupted source disk made for a bit of a frustrating afternoon, particularly after I'd spent a number of hours recording the videos to start with!) I then went and looked at some of the other auditions that people had put up, and I can safely say that I am not going to get through to the final - they make me look like a beginner! But it was a good learning curve for the next time they do this (this is the second time they have run the competition, so I can be reasonably certain that they will do it again).

I managed to miss another earthquake - one of my friends even texted me to ask if I'd felt it... I don't know - I've been here a year and still not felt one! (though given the mess down in Christchurch - they are over 3,000 now, and the aftershocks are expected to go on for another 2 years... - I think that I can live without it for the moment!)

And it is starting to get immensely surreal - we are really heading into summer now (starting to overheat under the duvet at night; short-sleeve shirts are the order of the day in the office), and I'm seeing so many posts about snow and ice from my friends and family back in the UK. It definitely doesn't feel like we are on the very slippery slope to Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Aaaand whooops! I had intended to get this sorted on Sunday, but procrastination and online gaming got the better of me...

We had our orchestra summer concert this weekend - a fabulous evening devoted to the Last Night of the Proms. The first half was the serious music - the Hornpipe from Handel's Water Music, The Walk to Paradise Garden from A Village Romeo and Juliet by Delius, and Elgar's Enigma Variations (we played twelve out of the fourteen variations).

Then we all donned additional colourful and / or patriotic gear (I don't think my Chinese jacket or John's fez counted as British, but we could probably argue British Empire, just!), including our two lead violins, who dressed up as a King and Queen (and, of course, we all stood when they came in!), and one of the other violins who donned a dressing gown and a deer stalker hat. Plenty of sparkly wigs and tinsel were also in evidence, and a number of the audience had also got dressed up. We opened the second half with Pomp and Circumstance, and the audience got their vocal chords in gear with Land of Hope and Glory.

Then the Sea Shanties, with everyone bobbing up and down for the hornpipe, and the obligatory horns and squeakers (I might have contributed to that a little bit - the oboe doesn't play until 64 bars into it, so I had enough time to blow a party squeaker :-) ). The clarinet cadenza was thoroughly played up, with the orchestra members settling down with books, with knitting, cleaning instruments, etc. The conductor actually got out a vacuum and cleared his podium of the various bits of glitter which had fallen on it through the course of the evening... Rule Britannia at the end went brilliantly - even if most of the brass managed to miss out the late arranged repeat (and were able to cover for it by the conductor turning to the audience and tell them that we were starting again because they weren't singing loud enough!).

Then Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne, and the concert was all over, bar the vacuuming up of the glitter and silly string and generally trying to get the church back into a state in which it could hold a service the next morning!

Overall, it was a fantastic concert - everyone really enjoyed themselves, and we have already asked whether we are going to do it again next year! There may even be photos - there were a few people with cameras out, and if any of them find their way to the orchestra website, I will post a link.

I just wonder whether the organist found the squeaky balloon that went down the back of the organ pipes in the middle of the Sunday service...

Orchestra is therefore over for the summer - we have a long gap until we go back at the beginning of February - I shall have to make sure that I don't let myself get too rusty! And possibly even take the time off to have another go at learning the accordion...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Summer is on its way

The first cicada of the summer started outside our house today. It wasn't noisy for very long (either it decided that it wanted a lie-in, or one of the blackbirds spotted it as a tasty snack for one of the many fledglings in the trees around us), but it is hopefully a sign that the consistently warmer weather is on its way. At the moment, it is gloriously sunny during the week, and then is horrible and grey over the weekend!

But the signs of summer are starting to come through, particularly in the greenhouse. We have had our first meal of spinach, with a bag full in the fridge waiting for the next stir fry. My tomato plants have now got a couple of flowers on them, as does my lemon tree and my olive tree. How many of these flowers will actually become fruits remains to be seen - I think the lemon may be a bit small for bearing fruit this year, and the olive only gave us five or so fruit last year, so I'm not expecting much more than that this (though at least I know how to prepare them for eating now!). I've also spent a chunk of today outside potting up numerous chilli pepper plants - I've now got about ten pots with multiple chillis in each. I'll be very disappointed if I don't get at least one chilli con carne out of that lot!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

One Year!

Wow. One year ago today, we landed in New Zealand.

A year ago, we completely uprooted ourselves. We had nowhere to live, and our available possessions totalled what we could carry in our suitcases and hand luggage. We had quit our jobs, and therefore had a finite amount of money to survive on (and most of it still in my UK bank account waiting for the exchange rate to pick up). We had left behind all of our friends and family and had moved to a city where we knew no-one, and a country where we knew less than ten people.

Written out like that, it seems completely insane that we even thought about moving halfway round the world.

We have had a very steep learning curve along the way, and things haven't always been as smooth as they could have been. However, things could have been a lot harder and a lot bumpier at a number of different points along the way.

So, a year on, I have absolutely no regrets. We have found ourselves a lovely place to rent, and are able to consider buying a house of our own, probably in another six months. I have got a great job, which, though it may be intensely stressful at times, is also one which I am now able to consider making my career. We have made a huge circle of friends, and, whilst we, of course, miss our friends and family, it is not in the sense of wishing to be back in the UK, but more wishing that they were out here with us, and able to share in the joy of this country.

We celebrated our anniversary in fine style - New Zealand celebrates Bonfire Night as well, so on Friday, we went out for a restaurant meal (we went to one of the Wellington Wagamamas, which overlooks the sea), and then to the Wellington Fireworks Festival. The event raises money for the Wellington Free Ambulance (in most areas, you have to pay if you need an ambulance; here in Wellington, thanks to charity donations, it is free), and included fairground rides and stalls, as well as a crafts fair and a section for the emergency services to provide public service information (the fire brigade did their "why you don't pour hot water onto a chip pan fire" demonstration - they got a very impressive ball of fire coming out of their mock kitchen; the ambulance service were doing a free CPR session - currently Wellington sits at fourth in the 'cities you are most likely to survive a heart attack in' statistics - they want to make it first; the police service had the wreck of a car which had been driven by a drunk driver then came off second best in an argument with a tree - they also had information boards on the accident, which included not only a reasonably graphic description of the injuries that killed the driver, but also then include the detail that the friend who was sat behind the driver was trapped by his mate's body, and had to wait for that to be extracted before they could cut him out of the car!). The whole event was also hooked up to the local radio station, so there was music playing out of the loudspeakers, including a specially composed piece of music, timed to play out with the fireworks exploding. The fireworks themselves were absolutely stunning; probably one of the best events that I've been to in a long time. It was a lovely way to celebrate being in the country for a year :-)