The Hobbit at Home

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The Hobbit

JoJo and I hopped over Cook Strait to Wellington—an easy half hour flight—for a couple of nights to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at the best place you can see it in Australasia: The Embassy Theatre, where it had its world premiere. It’s the first time we’ve been there together, and Welly did us proud by turning on two days of absolutely atrocious wet and windy weather—but then, Wellington without wind is like Gandalf without his beard!

Now that we live ‘in the country’, it’s a strange experience going back to a busy city: fun, but something I am very, very glad to experience occasionally as a treat rather than all the time. Wellington is just big enough to be interesting, and just small enough to not be stressful and difficult, though the damn wind can start doing your head in after a while.


Apart from the film, we packed in a good dose of shopping—mostly for books—and several exhibitions: the Gamemasters videogame and Angels & Aristocrats exhibitions at the excellent Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, and the small but perfectly formed Dr. Grordborts exhibition, featuring the amazing artwork of Weta conceptual designer Greg Broadmore.

So how was The Hobbit? Well, for a start I couldn’t be more impressed with The Embassy Theatre, a gorgeous 1920s cinema with beautiful wood and marble fittings, one of the largest screens in the southern hemisphere, and the only place in Australasia fitted out with a new Dolby 360º Atmos sound system (for which The Hobbit’s sound is mixed). With premiere seats (leather seats in the centre of the theatre, name-plated with stars from The Lord of the Rings—I highly recommend G26 and G27, Hugo Weaving and Liv Tyler) and a glass of wine in hand, we were set to see the film the way Peter Jackson surely intended.

We weren’t disappointed. Of course, the high definition 48fps is somewhat jarring at first; so realistic and detailed that even the 3D image seems a bit flat and almost TV-like. But I found myself realising that my brain was just being confronted with something that it had hitherto not identified as ‘the look of film’, so had tried to shoehorn it into the definition of TV instead. Of course, it’s completely different from both, and it wasn’t long before I was so immersed in the film that I forgot the somewhat strange feel. And by the end, during one of the climactic scenes, I suddenly realised that this looked absolutely frickin’ amazing, even groundbreaking.

We’re definitely in a transition period, and I suppose it won’t be long before films of our generation look like the fuzzy images of the 70s and 80s. What amazes me is how the brain’s visual cortex adapts when confronted with things like higher frame rates and three dimensional film images. It tries first to fit it into its established frames of reference—and eventually, if you can let go a bit, it comes to terms with the fact it is being presented with something new and accepts it.

Anyway, this is how I interpreted the experience and I found it fascinating. The film itself delivered all the spectacle you no doubt expect. I think the unique atmosphere of the book is somewhat lost in all the bombastic action scenes, but this is a film, not a book, and as such is just the Peter Jackson-styled adaptation to be enjoyed on its own terms. It’s great fun. The interior of Erebor and the dragon hoard, in particular, was just how I imagined it.

My life is very different since I first saw The Lord of the Rings, and I was quite affected by scenes of the beautiful scenery of The Shire, realising that I now lived in the country where it was filmed.

A perfect evening was capped off by a couple of glasses of Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling (our favourite NZ wine at the moment), calamari, olives and a cheese board at the bar downstairs: The Black Sparrow.

We plan to repeat the entire experience next year for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!

Snow on Tap

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As a new arrival from the stressy city of Sydney to the relaxed lifestyle of Nelson, New Zealand, I’m often surprised at what the locals take for granted. Little things, like being able to get a parking spot right next to where you want to be in town, or freakin’ huge things, like being able to head out for a day of skiing and be back in time for dinner.

Last week we thought we’d take advantage of what promised to be a gorgeous day, and drove one-and-a-half hours south to Rainbow ski field, a community-run ski area near St Arnaud village, on the edge of the Nelson Lakes National Park. Leaving the car at the lower car park, we climbed on board a mini bus for a slightly hairy 20 minute drive up to the skiing (the road is pretty rough). You can drive up yourself but you have to carry chains in case the weather takes a turn for the worse. But after seeing the native keas with their huge claws hop all over the parked cars (these large, intelligent native parrots apparently enjoy ripping the rubber seal from around your windshield too), I think I’ll continue to leave our car down in the lower carpark thanks.

Rainbow ski field

I love skiing, but I very, very rarely get the opportunity to do it. In fact my last day on the slopes was about ten years ago in Colorado, USA, at Breckenridge. It seems every time I get to ski I just manage to get as good as I was the time before, then it’s a long, long break until the next opportunity. Well, with skiing like this only two hours away, I’m hoping I’ll finally get a chance to improve my skills.

That said, skiing is like riding the proverbial bike, and after a tentative start I was back on a decent slope. One semi-spectacular fall reminded me that you have to relax to ski properly, but surprisingly that was my only tumble all day, even later in the afternoon when I had a lesson that was, strictly speaking, above my current skill level, and skiied down from the top of the mountain twice. Going up on the T-bar, once you crest the first ridge, the ski field opens out into a spectacular vista of snow surrounded by a sharp line of mountain ridges and crowned by the bluest of skies. Beautiful.

To JoJo, it was all a completely new experience, but she bravely put up with my lame attempts at basic instruction and then had a one-on-one beginner’s class, and was snow ploughing down the beginner’s slope by the time the day was through. I was highly impressed; the first time on skiis can be a daunting challenge for anyone, something that’s hard to forget when you see three-year-olds swish past with utter confidence. Understandably, a lot of Kiwis from around here grow up on skis.

We left at closing time at 4pm, and were back at home by six. I’m hard-pressed to think of a better way to spend a day.

Three Weeks in NZ


It’s been a busy few weeks in our new life.

Catching up with work, endless miscellaneous life administration tasks, continually discovering that you don’t have that useful thing that you’ve always had but you put it in storage so you have to buy a new one … it all takes up time. Hence the delay with recording my exploits on this blog. That and the understandable preference for sitting down at the wharf sipping an excellent local Gewürztraminer rather than sitting at a computer typing.

Cats at homeThe cats arrived without incident, as expected, though one person in our relationship (hint: not me) almost spontaneously combusted with stress and worry about them. They were a little sad and sorry for themselves when we picked them up at the airport after their ten hour day travelling, but as soon as they were in their new home they were both pretty happy and running about. Drusilla loves the extra space and has taken to the house from day one; Ripley gets a little lost and confused occasionally but she’s beginning to see the advantages of big rooms with lots of sunny places to lie full length in.

We’re still dealing with the incredible contrast from tiny, claustrophobic, noisy inner city Sydney terrace to spacious, sunny, country house. We’re surrounded by huge double glazed windows with astounding views down the hill to the coastal village of Mapua and Rabbit Island beyond, Tasman Bay, Nelson, and the mountains beyond that; and at night there’s a 180º vista of glittering lights in the distance. In the mornings there are stunning sunrises and mist rising from the forests, and snow is beginning to crown the mountain peaks. The view continually surprises and delights.

As for Nelson, it really has become one of those places you don’t want to tell too many people about, because then they’ll all realise how good it is and come over and spoil it (whoops). There are groovy pubs (delicious local craft beers) and cafes (comfy mismatched couches and free trade coffee); people are really friendly, the food is excellent and there’s a thriving music scene in the area I’m looking forward to exploring. It’s just big enough to be buzzing and small enough to still have that small town feel, and you can always get a parking spot. Everywhere we’ve gone for food and drink has been really good. Frankly, there’s nothing I miss about living in Sydney (except for friends of course), and it confirms to us how complacent and mediocre Sydney has let itself become since the big high of the 2000 Olympics.

Five minutes down the hill from us is Mapua, where some excellent cafes and restaurants cluster around the wharf and a ferry takes you over to Rabbit Island (walking and bike trails). Jellyfish is already a favourite—great breakfasts, and you can stop in for a glass of wine and some delicious nibbles and watch the sun go down over the ocean (many cafes here are licenced, which is very civilised). Nearby is the Golden Bear Brewery—craft beer, LA Mexican food and live music—looking forward to that opening again next month.

Mapua wharf

To get our veges, we drive to a nearby farm known as Todd’s, where fresh food, grown about ten metres away, is displayed for your delectation; count up your total bill and leave the money in an honesty box. Inexpensive real food, straight from the farmer, that tastes ten times better than the garbage that Woolworths, self-proclaimed ‘fresh food people’ sell in the supermarket. Then we buy apples and pears from a stall on the side of the road on the way home.


Sure we don’t get to see the occasional big gallery show or exhibition, but it’s a very small price to pay. That said, on Sunday night we saw Sir Ian McKellan at the Nelson Theatre Royal, in his one man show to raise funds for the Isaac Theatre Royal theatre in Christchurch, damaged by the terrible earthquakes.

We had dinner beforehand at The Vic, an old pub in town which has been beautifully redone into a welcoming place with really high quality, cheap food, a big range of local beers and friendly service (everyone’s really friendly and cheerful here—we’re not used to it!)

A minute around the corner and we were at the theatre. McKellan started with the Balrog scene from The Lord of the Rings (from the book)—he had his sword Glamdring with him—and then most of the first half was a really casual Q&A session with the audience (no, I didn’t think of anything to ask on the spot!), broken up by singing an old song, and reciting poems by Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins, among other stories and anecdotes.

The second half he encouraged the audience to call out all the plays of Shakespeare while he ticked them off in a ledger, stopping to do the most astounding, magical scenes from Richard II, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, Coriolanus, Hamlet etc. You could have heard a pin drop when he went into character. It was an amazing night, like being invited over to his house for a chat.

We both feel a peace and happiness that we haven’t experienced in years. If it’s been a busy day we can drive for five minutes from the house and be on the shore at Ruby Bay, hearing the waves pull back over the pebbles, looking out to the horizon and breathing lungfuls of fresh air. I’m also working more efficiently and creatively, no longer continually interrupted by slamming car doors and people spitting on the pavement as they walk by and jumbo jets flying ten feet overhead. Instead I’m getting into ‘the zone’ again when I work, spending solid time working on a job without distractions—something I haven’t done for quite a while.

Apart from the obvious, there are many little things that make life here better than in Sydney. You can always get a park in Nelson—the town cleverly has large carparks behind the shopfronts, and parking only costs a dollar an hour (free Saturday afternoons). You don’t feel like you’re continually battling hordes of people to carve out a bit of breathing room all the time. People smile and chat in the shops, and still say hello when you pass them on a walking path. This afternoon a kid rode up behind us on his scooter when were out walking, and when we got out of his way he said “thankyou!” as he passed. Hell, even booking a seat at the cinema is easier—no online registration rigmarole and we could select our seats. But it’s the space that gets me, after the cheek-by-jowl living of Sydney. There’s just more room per person.

Well, enough of my rave. Suffice it to say we don’t regret our move for a moment, and doubt we’ll ever be returning to city life. Next weekend I’m flying across the strait to Wellington and Wellycon, NZ’s biggest boardgame convention, for a weekend of gaming and meeting new people. I’m even part of a Q&A panel on Saturday night, in my role as occasional graphic designer of boardgames. Should be great fun; I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.

So, How’s It Going?


Best decision we ever made. More news soon after we settle in a bit.

The Deeply Moving Episode

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I’m sitting on the floor of the living room and experiencing the rare delight of not packing boxes—which is something I’ve been doing pretty much continuously for several weeks now. Instead I get to sit here and watch the removalists do all the work. Oh frabjous day! Of course we’ve made it pretty easy for them as we’re obsessively organised. One hundred and twenty-eight boxes—that’s one hundred and twenty-eight boxes people—all carefully packed, spreadsheeted and stickered. Sixty of them are filled with books, about thirty with games, and the rest with useless stuff that we probably won’t need when we eventually repack them again one day. All going into long-term storage. To our new life we take only two suitcases each and five air shipment boxes.

Tomorrow the cleaners clean the empty house, and then all going to plan we have one free day to relax before we fly out on Friday.

I’ve been surprised by how hard it’s been to organise this BLC. Several friends said we were ‘brave’ to move to another country—the truth is it’s just bloody hard work and hassle. The packing just seemed to go on and on, and after one broken little toe, one bash of my head so hard I had to lie own for a while, and countless bumps, scraps, cuts and bruises, I’m waking up in the mornings feeling like a ninety-year old after a big night on the tiles. There were last minute house fixes and a room to replaster and paint, stuff to sell on Ebay, things to give away to the neighbours (we’ve made a huge contribution to the guys in the shared house across the lane), selling two cars and buying one in NZ, and an endless list of sundry administrative duties. It’s amazing how complicated life becomes and how much stuff you accumulate over the years, though we’ve taken the opportunity to purge a backyard-sized amount of junk.

And I had to decide which games to take with me in our small air shipment. In the end, oh fellow boardgamers, I decided on Dreadfleet (after all that painting it had to come with us), Wiz-War, Cosmic Encounter, Mansions of Madness and Blood Bowl Team Manager. And the main Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay box, as our group is determined to continue playing it via Skype. On my last visit I took Battles of Westeros, Rune Age, Lord of the Rings Card Game, Arcana, Jambo and Babel. A respectable little collection then!

Anyway, we had the last gathering of friends at the pub and said a temporary goodbye to everyone, and our first house guests are already confirmed for September. Everyone has been very supportive and positive about our move (or maybe they’re just happy to see me go?) and thinks it’s a great idea. In fact I’ve been surprised at a few people thinking of doing something similar themselves, or at least agreeing wholeheartedly with our current opinion of living in Sydney.

My next post will be from the wilds of Nelson, New Zealand—well, half an hour from town anyway. After weeks of tip-toeing through a tiny terrace filled with half-filled boxes, I can’t describe how much I’m looking forward to a spacious house, a great view, and most of all, NO PACKING!

BLC (Big Life Change)


There’s been a lot of changes brewing at the Universal Head headquarters. JoJo and I have decided we’re fed up with inner-city Sydney life and need a Big Life Change, so after much mucking about we’re renting our terrace and moving to Nelson, New Zealand at the start of May. Nelson is a lovely little city of about 60,000 at the top of the South Island, with three national parks on its doorstep, some of the best caving, climbing and hiking in the world and the best weather in NZ.

The photo above shows the view from the terrace of our new rental home. Sure beats the postage-stamp-sized backyard and the shared walls we have at the moment! The house is about four times larger than our terrace here, and on a big block of land; it’s an easy half hour out of Nelson and close to a lovely little bayside village with cafes and restaurants. There’s plenty of room for friends to stay, an office each and even a seven metre-tall climbing gym room where I can practice my climbing moves!

We’ve decided to make this change in our life because we’re sick and tired of gridlocked traffic, planes flying ten feet over our heads, hordes of psychotic barking dogs, millions of frantic people, polluted, humid air, and all the stress and madness of living in the biggest city in Australia. It just seems a crazy way to live and the time is long overdue to focus on the most important things—health and happiness.

So, I’ll occasionally be updating this blog with a little taste of what it’s like to move from a big city to a very small one, if you’re interested—the joys and the inevitable challenges. Whether we end up staying in NZ or moving on to somewhere else is yet to be decided, but it’s going to be a fun experiment trying on a completely different life for size.