Random Play by Graham Reid

Chairman Mao and student unrest

Further to my previous posting about buying old records . . . I have just come back from Dunedin, a city I don’t know at all but have discovered rather belatedly.

Actually before I tell you about my brief encounter with Dunedin I should observe that the South Island isn’t a place I’m overly familiar with: I’d always felt that until my legs and spirit gave out I’d more profitably spend my short time on Earth having a good look around elsewhere.

When I was old I’d take on the easier things, like my own country where they speak the same language, use the same currency and can give me the familiar food my ailing body would require.

That philosophy has served me well, but this year I’ve had a some luck: I was just back from two weeks on the West Coast (which we thoroughly enjoyed) when I was asked to go to Dunedin for a couple of days.

And so I did: and loved it. (Of course the weather was fine which helps I am sure)

I had dinner with Graeme (Verlaines) Downes and Jo at a great place called High Tide. But after slightly dismissing whitebait fritters (it’s still just a fishy omelette to me) and earning the wrath of those for whom it is something akin to a dish prepared by God, I’m going to go out on a limb on another South Island speciality: muttonbird.

Looks like duck, tastes like anchovies which have been saturated in salt, right? Inedible, if we are being honest.

Graeme said it was much like you’d imagine a seagull to taste like -- and that’s why we don’t eat seagulls. I look forward to hearing from anyone defending the indefensible.

Anyway, I had a lovely poke around the old and new architecture of Dunedin, bought some old books at the eccentric Octagon Books and, of course, made my way to Records Records which was once owned by local legend and mentor-to-the-stars Roy Colbert.

I bought some real gems, among them some wonderful 10 and 12 inch albums of Maori artists from the 50s and 60s (with cringe-inducing liner notes and garish covers), an album called Rock Made in Switzerland (well, someone had to) which features those household names Flame Dream, Carmen and Thompson, Trampolin and the Steve Withney Band.

Pick of the crop though -- after the Cryan’ Shames sub-psychedelic masterwork A Scratch in the Sky -- was Our Great Leader Mao Tse-Tung, a 10 inch which features songs with such inspiring titles as Chairman Mao Scales the Peak of Lushan, The Helmsman Sets the Ocean Course, and Mao Tse-Tung’s Thought is Incomparably Bright.

My favourites though are Chairman Mao is Dearer To Us Than Our Parents and Chairman Mao, You Are The Red Sun in the Hearts of the World’s People.

This is wonderful stuff and we probably need more of it in the world: Trevor, Your Jibes in the House Are Witty and Revealing.

Something like that perhaps?

Anyway Records Records was just one highlight of an enjoyable trip -- which happened to coincide with students being pissed off about the uni announcing a Code of Conduct which would discipline them for anti-social activities off-campus. You know, petty stuff like couch burning, bottle throwing, police baiting and the like.

My natural instinct is to side with those students who say that their behaviour in their own time is their business. And that’s a pretty good benchmark to start at.

But while I was there I popped in to the Otago Museum where there is an exhibition called Scarfies, and to some small extent it legitimises filthy flats and outrageous behaviour. (There is a mock-up of a typical flat with scattered beer bottles, pizza boxes etc)

This is kinda fun, but I did part company with one student who said that couch burning was part of “scarfie culture”.

Well, apparently the cops have been called out to 234 fires in north Dunedin this year until the end of August (although I have to assume not all of them to couch fires otherwise there’d be a shortage and students would suffer appalling cases of piles from sitting on cold damp floors).

But frankly, setting fire to couches in the street, smashing bottles and baiting cops doesn’t strike me as a part of any “culture”.

The word “culture” is thrown around a lot to justify certain kinds of behaviour but -- as with bear baiting, bull fighting and beating your wife if she displeases you -- not everything in a culture is worth preserving.

I don’t think couch burning should be of such intrinsic value to a culture that anyone would want to get fired up (ho ho) to defend it. I would have hoped students might have had more important things to get angry about.

But maybe I was just a bit down on students.

I was staying at the very comfortable and modestly priced Albatross Inn on George St (which I recommend) just a block or so from the campus.

Around 6pm one evening the side of the house was battered by something which made hellishly loud thumps. It stopped for a while, then started again. I looked out my window and there on the ground were dozens of smashed apples.

I assumed it was kids but when a couple sailed terrifying close to my window -- lobbed from a house two doors down -- I went and mentioned this to the woman who owned the place with the comment that, “if they are over eight you’d think they know better”.

It was the students she said, the same ones that a few weeks before had thrown a burning something into the backyard of the female students’ place next door and set the fence on fire.

Now I dunno about you, but this doesn’t strike me as intelligent or even interesting behaviour.

Throwing apples? Jesus pal, getta life.

So -- after the guy across the back bursting into song at 2am the following night and keeping it up for a couple of hours -- I have to say I was less sympathetic to what the students were saying.

No, the uni shouldn’t have a discipline code which would penalise people who drag their couch onto the street and set fire to it.

But man, you gotta be bored and woefully unimaginative if that’s the best you can come up with. If your “culture” is defined for you by that kind of activity you’re a pretty sad bastard.

I doubt you’d find the students who sing The Goodness of Chairman Mao is Deeper Than The Sea were much into couch burning.

Rightly or wrongly -- wrongly, and somewhat tunelessly, as it turned out -- they had more important things to do, like try to change their world.

PS: More interesting and different Music From Elsewhere has been posted and I’m pleased to note an album I put up way back in June has just got five stars in the Herald, and my high opinion of the Dylan album posted there (first in the country I’m guessing, it went up on the day of the album’s release) has been vindicated also.

Check out the swag of new music here

And you’ll also see a whole other section at Elsewhere has opened up: Windows on Elsewhere which is just a bit of fun.

I try to take a photo out of every window of every room I stay in when I travel -- Dunedin coming soon -- so I’ve started putting them up there: just click on the pix and they enlarge with a caption.

Of course these are not all glamorous views (in fact very few are) but that’s what most of see when we look out our window in some far flung part of the planet.

It's just a time-waster, but I hope you enjoy what I have sometimes endured.