At the beginning of this month there was a really interesting incident in NZ-US relations in Hawaii.

NZ Navy frigate Te Kaha and tanker Endeavour

In light of the June 19 Washington Declaration signed by the two countries and the first significant joint training exercises between the United States and New Zealand military in decades, New Zealand was invited to join RIMPAC, (Rim of the Pacific exercise, the largest maritime warfare exercise in the world) for the first time in 28 years. However on arrival in Honolulu the NZ ships, Te Kaha and Endeavour, were the only ships not allowed to enter the military port of Pearl Harbour and instead had to dock at the nearby commercial port. The reason for this is NZ’s anti-nuclear stance, in that the U.S. doesn’t like it.

The Riverman has a really good post explaining the history of this disagreement.

In 1985*, citing its nuclear-free policy, New Zealand denied port access to the American destroyer Buchanan because the Navy would neither confirm nor deny that the ship was nuclear armed.

In response, the US banned all NZ military vessels from its ports and “ended most bilateral activites”. So the US doesn’t respect NZ’s anti-nuclear policies and basically threw its toys. Now, almost three decades later the Japanese who directly attacked Pearl Harbour in the Second World War and the Russians, also enemies of the US during the Cold War, are welcomed into Pearl Harbour. The Kiwis, allies of the US in two World Wars, having served in the US’s war in Afghanistan, currently taking a “how high?” attitude in regard to the (NZ resident) Kim Dotcom case and continually striving for ever-closer trade agreements with the US, are banned.


Like a slightly incredulous article on Celsias points out, apparently worse than bombing and attacking them, the US cannot forgive a country who holds a different opinion to theirs on nuclear weapons.

apparently it takes a lot more than that to ever make up for expressing your own views in the foreign policy area on nuclear weapons.

Although according to Riverman, altogether 22 nations, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are taking part in RIMPAC 2012, New Zealand is the only country not allowed to dock in Pearl Harbour. As Riverman puts it, it is

A case of the Kiwis having their meals in the kitchen, not out in the dining room with the Ruskies and others.

NZ warships near Aloha Towers, in the tourist part of the port of Honolulu

True, apparently US military ships aren’t allowed to enter NZ ports either, but this is because they refuse to say whether or not they carry nuclear weapons, which is against our “policy” (read beliefs, ethics) as a nation. A One News article reports Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman as saying

New Zealand was not prepared to change its policy and so had not expected the US to change its policy.

I think that’s really big of NZ, because I feel that we really have  a right to refuse access to ships carrying nuclear material into our own country, whereas the US is just kind of sulking.

Now I don’t feel too strongly in favour of the military in principle, but I do like seeing reports of the NZ military taking peacekeeping or reconstruction roles in conflicts. It seems weird caring so much about what is essentially military politics but I think the anti-nuclear issue goes close to the heart of who NZ is, or at least who I want us to be. Tracy Watkins reminds us that

It was US bullying that hardened New Zealand attitudes over the nuclear-free legislation in the first place, after all. Kiwis instinctively rebelled against the notion the US could tell them what to do.

In a strange way I feel a kind of perverse pride at our ships being excluded from Pearl Harbour. Yeah, that’s right – New Zealand! Nuclear Free! It’s what the people of NZ fought for the ’70s and 80’s and what we continue to believe in.

1976 anti-nuclear protest in Auckland; from the Dominion Post site on Stuff.co.nz

That’s not to say that we can rest on our laurels. We cannot depend on prime minister John “I’d-do-anything-for-money” Key and his cabinet to uphold this important part of our national identity. As a recent article in the Dominion Post points out it takes continual dedication to remain a world leader in disarmament and arms control and to maintain our anti-nuclear credentials. The article describes how last year  the separate portfolio of Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control was discarded by the government after the retirement of the last minister Georgina te Heuheu.

The move to disestablish the disarmament minister is inconsistent with the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act of 1987, which promotes and encourages our “active and effective contribution to the essential process of disarmament and international arms control”.

Who knew? No one, really. These days as a country our “green” policies are being threatened and overruled at such a rate by a government obsessed with economic growth at the cost of almost all else, particularly social and environmental policy, that it’s hard to keep up with it all. We should probably be more up-in-(no)arms like we used to be.


Please don’t judge us by our pathetic, grovelling prime minister. You want to be on the side that condones nuclear warfare? That’s your issue. But I’m proud to be on the side that’s snubbed by a global superpower for wanting peace.

All I can say is:

Photograph by anti-nuclear protest photographer Gil Hanly; from the NZ Maritime Museum website

[*Note that 1985 was the same year that the French government blew up the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour for its continuous protests against their nuclear testing in the Pacific.]

This documentary is hosted by UK actress Joanna Lumley in which she shares a very personal journey to learn about the culture of the Northern Lights and finally see them for herself.

Joanna’s voice is deep and breathy, with a very proper English accent. Her narration gives the film a dreamy, romantic quality and her eloquence, style of speech together with her warm personality make her an altogether charming guide. She openly shares her own fascinating experiences – living with her family in Malaysia (which she pronounces “Malay-zee-ya”) as a child she dreamed of cold and of the mystical North and especially of seeing the Northern Lights. In this film she travels through Norway, into the Arctic Circle and moves ever northward, meeting and staying with local people along the way.

The thing which struck me most about Joanna as a presenter, as herself (rather than an actor), was her humbleness, her amazing rapport with those she meets. She has a wonderful openness, an obvious great affection and generosity of feeling towards everyone else. She is very genuine in her appreciation of people, not at all condescending. When speaking to someone who doesn’t speak much English she listens patiently, earnestly, to what they’re saying. She in really involved, tries to understand everything she sees, and is happy to be corrected. She always tries the local language. She is open in her enthusiasm.

Joanna shows her glee at being able to finally experience the journey she’s dreamed of, and is ready to laugh at herself in ridiculous situations, like being taught how to right a snow mobile by a 4-year-old. One of my favourite scenes is when she is in the quaint fishing village of Å (“Or”) in a rorbu, a fishing cottage. Sitting at a table with her pastels and drawing book, Joanna creates a lovely picture of the scene from the window. I think it’s so brave of her to expose herself like that, to show the world such a private part of her life.

I think there always comes a time in anything you do, like drawing or painting, or indeed acting, when you think “will I ever be good enough to please – well, myself, let alone anybody else? Will it ever be good enough? Will I ever come up to scratch?” Or worse still, people lean over your shoulder and go “…don’t you think his eye is a little more like that?” and you just go “yes, I know, I know, I’m dealing with the eye later. Just, leave me-“. So you know I can’t bear being judged on the things like this because they’re really only for fun and if it pleases you – which it might not, but I mean try to make it please you – try to do things which please you, that’s all. And therefore if it’s not good enough – get better.

And after all this isn’t going to be exhibited anywhere.
…Except on television(!)

I think it’s great how her documentary is at once entertaining and informative, and you get to see a Norwegian journey you couldn’t see with anyone else. Joanna explains how since a young age she’s longed to see the Northern Lights after reading a children’s book called ‘Ponny the Penguin’ by Veronica Basser, in particular an illustration by Edwina Bell of Ponny standing under the Southern Lights and looking up. I think it’s great that when Joanna finally gets to see the Aurora Borealis there’s a shot of her in the film where she looks just like Ponny the Penguin!

I also love her dry sense of humour and I can’t wait to see more of her documentaries in the future. May there be many!

I highly recommend this DVD and if you’d like a taster, it’s also on YouTube.

Director: Archie Baron
Producer: Helena Braun
Starring: Joanna Lumley

Today I saw a documentary about a creepy seventeenth century English witch trial in which a 9-year-old beggar girl testified against her mother, sister and brother, condemning them to execution. The girl’s name was Jennet Device*.


Image by artist Phoebe Boswell (from PhoebeBoswell.com)

The documentary by BBC Four is hosted by Simon Armitage, who tells the story with interjections from various historical experts and with the aid of very spooky, pale, spectral, sketchy animations of important scenes by Phoebe Boswell. For me, it is these which make the telling of the story so chilling, and definitely worth watching.

This is the story of Jennet Device, as I remember it.

Four hundred years ago a poor rural family lived together in their stone home called Malkin Towers; a grandmother, mother, a son and two daughters. The mother’s husband had died some years before and the youngest daughter, Jennet, was illegitimate. The grandmother, Elizabeth Southerns (known as “Old Demdike”), was a “cunning woman”, a woman with gifts in naturopathy and healing (different from a witch, who turns such gifts to curses and evil). One day Jennet’s sister, Alizon, begged a travelling peddler for some pins, but he ignored her. She cursed him and was terrified when soon after he fell prone, displaying symptoms of what we now would call a stroke. Alizon was overcome with guilt and remorse and went to his bedside to beg for forgiveness. However the peddler’s son accused her of witchcraft.


In 1612 James the First was the king of England. Intensely Protestant, he not only denounced Catholics and witches but was paranoid that both were out to get him. (As documentary host Armitage noted, being paranoid doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong. Case in point: Guy Fawkes’ Catholic plot to blow up the king and parliament). King James published his own book called Daemonologie instructing that witches and users of witchcraft must be prosecuted and punished. In 1612 he ordered every JP (Justice of the Peace; magistrate) in Lancashire to record the name of every person who didn’t attend communion. Roger Nowell was the JP for Pendle, and an over-zealous butt-kisser who sought the approval of the king.  It was to Nowell that the peddlar’s son made his accusation of Alizon’s witchcraft and she and her mother and brother were summoned to court. Ultimately it was Old Demdike, the grandmother, and three neighbours who were sent to gaol to be tried for witchcraft.

ImageThat year on Good Friday, the mother (also Elizabeth) held a meeting at Malkin Towers, a gathering for which son James stole a sheep to be roasted. Roger Nowell heard about the meeting and as a result of his investigation eight more people were sent to be tried for witchcraft, including Elizabeth and James Device.

It is interesting to realise that many of those accused of witchcraft believed themselves that they were witches. Many, like Old Demdike, had been openly practicing home remedies and charms for many years, sometimes for payment, while some like Alizon were wretched and distraught with guilt. Others accused, though, like the more well-to-do Alice Nutter (from a prominent Catholic family, two of whom had been executed for being Catholic priests), had nothing to do with witchcraft and were probably “in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

Note that in our story there has been no mention, yet, of Jennet Device.
But now we come to it.

Four months later the trial at the Lancaster Assizes took place in Lancaster Castle, a prison then and right up until 2010. The prosecution’s star witness was young Jennet Device, about nine years old. Although children that young weren’t usually allowed to appear as witnesses in court, King James wrote in his Daemonologie that children were acceptable witnesses in cases of treason or witchcraft. When she was brought into the court her mother went mad yelling and screaming at her (probably trying to make her understand what she was doing), and Jennet asked that she be removed.


In one of the spookiest scenes in the documentary, the small girl then got up on a table and gave evidence against her mother and sister. She told the court her mother was a witch and had brown dog named Ball as a familiar, who her spirit entered and who helped her commit murders. Her brother James also testified against his mother saying he’d seen her making clay figures, but Jennet said she had also seen his spirit moving about and had seen him conjure a black dog, his familiar called Dandy, and tell him to kill a man. Jennet Device also identified those who attended the gathering at Malkin Tower. In a very creepy scene in the documentary the spectre of the small girl walks along lineups of people produced by the court and picks out each one who was at Malkin Tower.

The hangings of the witches of Pendle

Of the ten found guilty, nine were held in a tiny cell with other inmates at Lancaster Gaol, where Old Demdike had already passed away. They were hanged on nearby Gallows Hill, probably with Jennet Device in attendance. Today the hill is a park and children’s playground.

Jennet Device’s testimony had wide and far-reaching consequences as her case became a precedent for using children as witnesses in cases of witchcraft, particularly through a book called Dalton’s Country Justice. This book was used by British magistrates as a handbook for applying the law in the UK and in the New World, and was used in the Salem witch trials eighty years after the Pendel witch trials; it cited the case of Jennet Device as precedent for seeking children as witnesses in cases of witchcraft.

Simon Armitage with Jennet

Simon Armitage with Jennet

So what happened to Jennet Device? Why did she do what she did? Was she resentful, as the bastard child, of the rest of her family and wanted revenge? Was she intimidated and afraid of the court and the judges and magistrates? Had she been schooled, in the months before the trial by Nowell? How did she live with herself afterwards and as she grew up?

Well. In a spectacular case of “tasting your own medicine”, twenty years later Jennet Device was caught up in another witch trial, this time with the star witness/accuser as a young boy, made possible by the precedent she herself set years earlier.

The young Edmund Robinson returned home late one evening. His excuse? (Phoebe Boswell’s illustrations of this are really great:) He had been picking berries when he saw two dogs sleeping. He tried to get them to chase a hare by hitting them with a stick, but they turned into a witch and a boy, and then the witch turned the boy into a horse and took Edmund away to a house full of witches, where ropes hung from the ceiling and when the witches pulled on them, wonderful food fell down. Edmund was afraid, so he escaped but on the way home he ran into a boy with cloven hoofs and they fought, which is why he was so scruffy when he got home.

Not only did people believe this story, but the boy’s father took him from village to village for three months identifying the witches he had seen. He would go into a church and stand on a stool or table and gaze into the congregation, picking out those who were witches.

One of those he selected was named Jennet Device.

Edmund had chosen twenty women, nineteen of whom were found guilty. However the times had changed and King James’ son, Charles the First, was more credulous of accusations of witchcraft. The matter was referred to the privy counsel in London, where the public could view four of the women in the gaol for a penny, and see a theatrical performance of The Witches of Lancashire, a play of Edmund’s story. The “devil’s mark” (where the devil had suckled) in the women’s “secrets” was examined by the king’s physician and they were found not guilty. Edmund admitting lying, basing his story on stories he’d heard of the Device family. His father had been blackmailing women, if they didn’t pay him he would tell Edmund to accuse them of witchcraft.

Despite their acquittal, the women remained in the Lancaster Gaol and probably died there.


* (her surname is pronounced “Dev-iss”).

Away We Go (2009)

This is one of those films that you’ve been walking past at the DVD store for about a year, and every time you almost get it out, but you always end up finding something else instead.

Well I finally got it out, and I’m going to tell you about it. However, I should point out that this woman wrote a really good, fancy review of it that is really smart, so you should probably just read hers instead.

So straight away this film had two things going for it: rad cover art and John Krasinski. John Krasinski (aka “that cute guy from the Office) has a great smile – I mean a great smile – and has the advantage of playing lovely guys. Advantageous in that he does it well, and it makes him lovable. He’s so lovable. Also his last name isn’t as tricky to spell as you think – just sound it out: kra-sin-ski. Neat. 

Maya Rudolph is also pretty stunning, but previously I’ve only seen her as the bride in Bridesmaids (2011)

The film has a pretty rad opening scene. I say “rad” – it could so easily have not been. It opens with a sexual scene which shocked my conservative self (I know, I know – that’s not hard), however the fact that I’d completely fallen in love with the couple anyway after the first minute just shows what great writing and acting this film has.

So our two heroes Verona and Burt are a young couple very much in love, who find out that they’re having a baby. Six months later their world is altered when Burt’s parents, their only family nearby, move away. They realise that they’re alone at a critical juncture in their lives and are free to do whatever and go wherever they want. Only they don’t know what they want. They’re at that stage of self-doubt that we’ve all felt before (and will again) and question who they are and what they’re doing with their lives.

Verona: Burt, are we fuck-ups?
Burt: No! What do you mean?
V: I mean, we’re 34-
B: 33
V: -and we don’t even have this basic stuff figured out.
B: Basic, like how?
V: Basic, like how to live.
B: We’re not fuck-ups.
V: We have a cardboard window.
B: We’re not fuck-ups.
V: …I think we might be fuck-ups.
B: We’re not fuck-ups.

So they decide to take a trip and visit various family and friends in different cities – Phoenix, Tucson, Montreal, Miami – and then decide where they’d like to settle. So they set out and in each place visit different families with varying degrees of eccentricity. In each place bar one they visit friend/s with children and they experience different ideas of what constitutes “family” – and what constitutes “parenting”!

Maggie Gyllenhaal does hilariously well as an old friend with two kids who is a “new age-y” mum who believes in parenting without “the three S’s”: Separation, Sugar and Strollers (“why would I want to push my baby away from me?!”)

Each place they visit – heralded in the film by bold titles, e.g. “AWAY TO PHOENIX” – is like a separate vignette and while the scenes with Gyllenhaal are almost farcical, many do deal with real challenges relating to life, relationships and parenting.

Personally I really enjoyed the way the film dealt with the journey (not just geographical) of Verona and Burt in a way that showed real emotions that were sometimes softened by and sometimes sharpened by humour. Humour which was at times sombre, silly, wry, sweet, dark, and just snort-out-loud funny (yes, I ‘lol’ed. Or ‘sol’ed?)

Something which bugged me about the film was also partly my favourite thing: Burt is just so damn great. He’s like the perfect guy. I mean, he’s got annoying habits, but that just highlights how perfect he is the rest of the time. Perfect for Verona. He loves her and genuinely wants to please here. He doesn’t say the right thing all the time, but he gets a lot closer than any other guy I’ve met! As Katrina Onstad notes, “Much of the film consists of Burt and Verona side by side, reacting to the absurdity around them.” Burt seems perfect because he’s perfect for Verona. Just like she is for him. They’re a real unit in this film.

Her name isn’t the only awesome thing about Verona, either. She’s really well-rounded (no pun intended) and you see her insecure side as well as her fun one. I like that she’s so comfortable and familiar with Burt that she doesn’t fall for his charms, she still gets mad at him and grumpy about stuff. She’s not self-conscious because she knows he loves her. That sounds cheesy ay? I can’t explain it very well. As a character she does being pregnant really well, in that we see her living her life like real pregnant people do, not just sitting around “being pregnant”. She’s still herself and she’s still living her life and making decisions. Like John Krasinski said in an interview,

…the coolest part about the movie is that it’s not a pregnancy movie. Us getting pregnant is just the catalyst to us, basically, taking another look at our lives and being like: Oh, wait, are we ready? Are we good people? Have we done all of the things we want to do?

Isn’t that sexy? “Us getting pregnant”. I think that’s awesome. Because that’s what it’s like in the film, as a couple they’re having a baby, so it’s a very “us” feeling. In that way it’s a very self-involved film. But isn’t that how life is? Onstad wrote

Rudolph’s stern demeanour suggests a woman adept at keeping her emotional life in check. Krasinski is her warmer foil, and the two are believably familiar together. They also look sort of normal; not artfully normal, but normal, which feels radical somehow in an American love story.

I think that’s it – they really do feel totally familiar and normal. The acting is superb and I think the styling is the icing on the cake in terms of creating great, real characters. They’re that cool couple that you wanna be friends with. They’re funny and stable and normal. But you’re also kind of envious of them, because their closeness and stability is kind of rare, too.

I think this film portrays my ideal relationship, one which is self-reliant and self-sustaining. I’m not really a social person, I just need that one person and I’m set. That’s the plan, anyway.

So I guess the moral of the story is: if you’re worried you’re screwing your life up, don’t be – everyone else is way worse! Or something like that…

I think this is the kind of movie you’ll either love or hate. If you’re cynical it’s probably soppy hipster drivel, or just plain boring. I thought it was inspired. If there’s a DVD-shaped parcel under my tree this year, I won’t mind if it’s this one.

(And if you’re walking past this DVD at the shop, too – stop, and take it home!)

Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Maya Rudolph, John Krasinski

Craving Ghost Chips

Drink driving ads have always freaked me out. Some of them have been terrible, and some have been based around pretty cool ideas (like the “mate-mate-mate-Dave” one). But Waka Kotohi, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) recently released a new drink driving ad that lots of people are talking about.

The ad features a Maori teenager (who shall be known as “Legend”) at a party where he can see that his sober driver mate (George) is really “wasted” and not fit to drive them home.

The ad follows the guy’s internal moral debate as he tries to decide what to do. He doesn’t want to look “dumb”, but he thinks about what would happen if his friend was killed. He imagines that he’d have to move in with George’s lame family, and that Ghost George would haunt him for the rest of his life, tempting him with delicious ghost takeaways.

Ghost George: Wanna chip?
Legend: You know I can’t grab your ghost chips.

The ad is pretty slick and looks more like a (really) short film than an ad by the NZTA. Which I’m sure is what they were going for. The lighting, cuts, use of slow motion, music and humour – it’s just really cool. It’s probably the first drink driving ad in the world by a government agency that’s really hip.

I love lots of things about this ad: the spotlight on Legend to show his separation and internal conflict at the party, everyone’s sweet accents, dead George’s brother’s hair, the awesome editing of the clip, but my favourite thing is in the party scenes near the end when one of the chicks does a wicked slo-mo party pukana.

According to the NZTA website, over 40% of all drink-driving crashes involve drunk drivers under the age of 24 years and in 2008-2010 38% of the drunk drivers under the age of 24 were Maori. So I guess an ad featuring Maori young people makes sense. Pity it came too late for the ad awards. Legend.

Watch the ad on the NZTA website.

 Finally, I got to do the next step in my Block Letters For Baby quilt! (Based on the Billboard Quilt-Along at Oh Fransson!)

First of all, I cut the freezer paper templates of each letter into pieces and grouped them by colour so that I had five wee piles. (I only did one letter at a time, so that the pieces didn’t get mixed up!)

Iron freezer paper pieces to front of fabric

I allocated the colour of each pile to a certain fabric. The fabrics I chose were random ones garnered from my meagre “stash” (and my Mum’s!) Then I got a pile of coloured paper pieces, e.g. purple, and ironed them to the front of one of the fabrics.

I had to keep reminding myself to iron the paper to the FRONT of the fabric, it just felt so weird. More than once I had to peel them off and turn the fabric over and iron them again. Lucky freezer paper lets you do that several times before it stops sticking.

I also had to redo some of them because I didn’t leave a big enough seam allowance. I hate waste, so I’m always really stingy when measuring and cutting fabric.

I didn’t have a rotary cutter and a board, so I used a ruler and a pencil to mark the seam allowance around each piece then cut them out with fabric scissors. It seems to have worked fine 🙂

Pieces grouped by number, e.g. 1a-1e, 2a-2e, etc.

I then put the fabric/freezer paper pieces into piles again, this time by number rather than colour. The little codes I put on at the start really helped here. That Elizabeth really is a smartie.

Lay out the pieces to form the letter

I used the codes to help me put the letters together like a puzzle. It was really cool seeing them take shape.

After checking that they all matched together I put them back into their column stacks next to the sewing machine. That made it nice and easy to get them in the right order.

The really tricky part was lining up the “wonky” seams – you can’t line up the edge of the two fabrics, inside you’ve got to try and pull the edge of the top one up so you can peek inside and line up the edges of the freezer paper.

I sawed together all the number ones, then the twos, threes, fours, etc, until all the columns were assembled. Then I pressed the seams open with ma trusty iron!

Lastly I just had to sew the columns together and voilà!

Now I just got some thread trimmin’ to do and then we’re read to appliqué!

Did I scare ya?

1 in 7 people in the world don’t have enough food. (That’s about 925 million people).

22,000 children die every single day due to poverty.

Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.

The poorest 40% of the world’s population accounts for 5% of global income. The richest 20% accounts for 75% of world income.

Happy Halloween – enjoy your candy!
(Ok, that was mean)


Poverty Facts and Stats @ GlobalIssues.org
2011 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics @ WorldHunger.org