Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Outsiders in New Zealand -- Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society

This is an exciting time in New Zealand's history as writers are now publicising those unique New Zealanders who have lived on the fring of society for long periods of time.

Charlie Douglas was one of the most famous isolationists, and is one of the characters in Gerard Hindmarshes recent book, 'Outsiders in New Zealand -- Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society.' 

Of all these people who Hindmarsh writes about, my favourite is Charlie Douglas.He arrived at Okarito  in 1867, and remained on the West Coast until death claimed him 48 years later. For 38 of those years, Charlie Douglas roamed its gorges and glaciers, living largely off the land, making geological and survey notes and sketching the mountains (such as Cook and Tasman, dominating the skyline here). Pipe, dog and solitude were his main companions, and, although he despised tourists, ironically, it was his own work in filling in the map of Westland that allowed the less adventurous to gain access to the region's wonders. 23 May 2016. will mark the death of Charlied Douglas in Hokika and it is hoped someone will have a ceremony to celebrate his life.

I have written about Charlie Douglas in my book about Ebenezer Teichelmann, and published an epic poem. In the meantime, let's enjoy this wonderful book. 

Outsiders in New Zealand

Among the living subjects of Gerard Hindmarsh’s new book “Outsiders”, the word “hermit” is almost universally rejected. While the book is subtitled “Stories from the Fringe of New Zealand Society”, these people who have chosen to live isolated from the rest of society have various motivations.
Hindmarsh says the common thread connecting them is a desire for independence.
“These people really feel they have the right to live beyond the square,” he says. “They’re never necessarily hermits, and they all hate that term.”
The Golden Bay author became interested in the subject during the early 1990s when he began writing a series of articles for New Zealand Geographic magazine focusing on “extreme subjects”.
outsider 2
Among the people he visited in their bush homes were: Ross Webber, who lived on his own island in the Marlborough Sounds for 46 years; long-time West Coast eeler Bruce Reay; and the now well-known Gorge River Family.
“I did very full interviews when I went out to see these people,” Hindmarsh says.
“That kind of sparked my interest in it. And I realised that there actually weren’t many actual outsiders in New Zealand who warranted the term, the real hard case ones.”
For Outsiders, which is published by Nelson company Craig Potton Publishing, the author has broadened his focus, tracing a tradition that runs through post-colonial New Zealand history.
There are chapters covering earlier examples of people who fled society and lived happily in the wildness. There’s prospector Arawata Bill, amateur South Westland surveyor Charlie “Explorer” Douglas, Fiordland legend Davey Gunn, and self-imposed Cook Islands castaway Tom Neale.
“In the end, I’ve got it roughly historical, but it’s not quite like that because I skip back with some people,” Hindmarsh observes of Outsiders. “It’s more a wave of feeling that runs through the book. Some of them were mass admired and others hardly anyone knew about them.”
That was the case for years for the Gorge River Family – Robert Long, Catherine Stewart, and their children Robin and Christan. But in the last few years both Long and Stewart have published their respective autobiographies, making their story the most well- known of contemporary New Zealand outsiders.
gorge river 3
When Hindmarsh first visited their incredibly isolated West Coast home, his letter from months before hadn’t been delivered, but writing was often the best way of communicating with the people he hoped to interview. The first occasion he met Bruce Reay, the fisherman handed over letters he’d been carrying in a plastic bag for over a month in the hope he’d meet someone who could post them.
Perhaps due to such practicalities, several of the people covered in Outsiders are no longer living in the bush. “The time comes when they want a change,” he says. “But I don’t believe that they struggle. The day-to-day thing takes up a lot of mental energy I reckon. It becomes kind of comfortable, and territorial in a way. You just know your place so well. They’re some amazing people.”
“Under the heading “The Isolationists”, Gerard Hindmarsh writes that even though few people actually got to meet him, ”Charles Douglas was a Scottish immigrant who became one of the most admired and loved characters in all of Westland”.
charles douglas
Douglas ”was an ardent isolationist who came to loathe the rat race with all its repetitive routines and incessant striving for security and possessions, not to mention its malaise of false sophistication”. Born in Edinburgh in 1840 to a noted family of bankers and painters, Douglas bought a one-way passage to New Zealand, arriving at Port Chalmers in 1862.
Arriving in south Westland in 1867, Douglas devoted the following four decades to exploring and surveying all its unexplored gorges and forest tracts. ”He lived a basic life, living almost entirely off the land and avoiding human company, preferring instead the company of his dog,” Hindmarsh writes.
Douglas is typical of the many New Zealand ”man alone” – and a few women – stoic characters living at the fringes of society, whose lives the author has painstakingly researched. ”Being geographically isolated by choice and living a solitary existence, often without the trappings of so-called civilisation and urban living, these characters have become etched in the national psyche of the country,” he notes.
I was particularly interested in Hindmarsh’s accounts of long-gone swaggers, for many of whom the reality was that they died along the roads, ”maybe curled up to expire in the shelter of some scrub or tall tussock”.
The author has cast his net widely and researched well to provide fascinating portraits of the lives of some of New Zealand’s most famous outsiders, many of whom died a long time ago, and some of whom are still alive today.
outsiders 3
“Outsiders: Stories from the fringe of New Zealand society” by Gerard Hindmarsh profiles 21 individuals and 4 families who in different ways came to live independently of mainstream society, often living miles into the wilderness, far from civilisation and all its comforts.
The book begins with the legendary nineteenth century prospector William O’Leary for whom two South Island mountain passes are named and whose life inspired Denis Glover’s sequence of 20 poems “Arawata Bill”. The final story in the book is of the similarly wandering lifestyle of Bruce Reay who decided he wanted to live in the bush after graduating with a degree in forestry from the University of Canterbury in the late 1970s. Bruce lives along the full length of the West Coast from Kahurangi to Fiordland, trapping and trading live eels and possum pelts for income and revisiting fishing grounds only once in every 10 years.
Others profiled include Tom Neale who lived alone on a tiny Pacific atoll for many years like a real life Robinson Crusoe, and Tim and Ngaire Te Aika who raised a family on Stewart Island at a time when it could take 9 hours to travel from their farm to reach the Mainland.
“Much of the time I found that the people I was interviewing simply wanted to stay out of the rat race,” says Gerard. “They wanted the satisfaction of fending for themselves, proving to themselves – if no one else – that they could do it.” “They’re inspiring stories, and a little bit cautionary too. It has lead me to reflect on my own life. I think a lot of people today are looking for ways to provide for ourselves, looking for ways to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. ”
“A Life On Gorge River: New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
by Robert Long (Random House New Zealand, 2010)
gorge river 1
Robert Long and his family – wife Catherine, and children Christan (17) and Robyn (14) – live in complete isolation, in a hut two days’ walk south of Haast in South Westland. Robert has lived there for nearly 30 years; Catherine for 20 and the kids all their lives. Their only contact with the outside world is a helicopter or plane once a month, and two trips a year to the ‘outside world. This is the story of how and why Robert – known locally as ‘Beansprout’ – came to live at Gorge River, and the family’s experiences there over the years, living self-sufficiently and forging close bonds with the natural environment. It is an inspiring tale of one man’s decision to ‘drop out’ of capitalist society and successfully establish a lifestyle most New Zealanders can’t even imagine, harking back to the days of the earliest pioneers.
“A Wife on Gorge River. Raising New Zealand’s Remotest Family”
By Catherine Stewart (Random House New Zealand, 2012)
gorge river 2
Life with New Zealand’s remotest family in a follow-on from the bestselling A Life on Gorge River by Robert Long. In 2010, New Zealand met its remotest family, through the writing of Robert Long aka Bean sprout and we were intrigued. Now Beansprout’s wife, Catherine Stewart, tells her story, and answers many of our questions. Why did she decide to join him on the wild West Coast, two days’ walk from the nearest road? Why and how did they raise their family there? Was it terrifying to be so far from medical help? How did she home-school the children? How have they all fared now the kids are young adults, forging their own way in the world? And what lessons are there for the rest of us from her experiences raising her family in such splendid isolation? In this entertaining bestseller, and with dry humour and fascinating insights, Catherine paints a vivid picture of her life at Gorge River and beyond.
For Charles Douglas, seehttp://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2d16/douglas-charles-edwardand http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Douglas andhttp://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com.au/2009/02/research-on-charlie-douglas_10.html
For William O’Leary, seehttp://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3o5/oleary-william andhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_James_O%27Leary

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Born to Climb

I also took with me plenty of prenatal kits and vitamins to those places for the expecting women and those who had infants. We also tried to aware local women and young girls about possible human trafficking during that time Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita 

Having ascended Everest, K2, Nangpai Gosum II, Ama Dablam, and many other peaks in and outside Nepal, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita has certainly earned her reputation as a successful Nepali summiteer. Now, as a result of her laudable mountaineering exploits and her self-effacing humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts following the April earthquake, particularly at Laprak in Gorkha, Sherpa Akita has been nominated for the prestigious National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year 2016 award.

She talks about mountaineering, her nomination and the post-quake relief work with the Kathmandu Post’s Gaurav Pote. 

Before we begin would you tell us a little about yourself. I was in born in Khumjung village in Solukhumbu, but I grew up and completed by schooling in Lukla. Having been brought up in such close proximity to the mountains, my hobbies have always been related with trekking and mountaineering. Eventually I developed interest in travelling and exploring new places as well.

Will you also tell us how and when you started mountaineering? At the age of 18, I started my trekking courses and also began travelling. It wasn’t long before I took up mountaineering training and actually started climbing.

What is it about mountaineering that appeals to you the most? Growing up in the Lukla region,I saw countless tourists and mountaineers over the years. They would all travel for days to get to our small town, far away from their homes, and bravely go on to climb Everest. That somehow sparked the interest in me to be like one of them.

Mountaineering involves high risks; how do mountaineers deal with all the risks involved? High altitude mountaineering is by nature full of risks and dangers. We are constantly under the threat of avalanches and landslides. Rough weather and extreme temperatures put a physical and mental toll on the climbers. It’s easy to get fatigued and develop altitude sickness or catch frostbites. Then there’s the harsh terrain with crevasses and blizzards that torment us throughout our expeditions. At the end, all these risks reflect the terrible uncertainty that comes with the mountaineering profession, and we all try to minimise these risks by using our training, experience, and intuitions. Staying fit physically and taking precautions every step of the way is paramount as well.

Give us a brief rundown of some of the peaks that you have climbed so far. The first peak I scaled was the Everest back in 2007. Last year, I climbed K2 as a member of the first Nepali all-women expedition there, Nangpai Gosum II as a part of the first women expedition, and Ama Dablam with the first French-Nepali women expedition. Besides these, I have also scaled other Nepali, American and French peaks.

 Now, tell us about your nomination for the National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year 2016. What were the criteria for selection? Every year, National Geographic short lists 10 extraordinary adventurers from the world over who push the limits of their respective discipline. One of them gets voted publicly by folks around the globe as the People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. The reason for the nomination in the 2016 edition of this prestigious award is my engagement in the immediate and post-earthquake relief work in rural Nepali communities. I think it is a great opportunity to represent Nepal. I am really looking forward to that.

 And, how do you reckon people should go about voting for you? National Geographic announced the names of the nominees, including their video profiles and photographs,on their website last week. Even a simple Google search should take you there. Click the link to vote. The voting is open every day through January 31, 2016 and the announcement of the winner is scheduled in February 2016.Since it is a people’s choice category,it is really up to the voters to decide who wins. So, naturally, I would like to urge everyone to make a small effort to vote for me. That said, this nomination alone is quite prestigious but winning will surely help my cause even more.

 Can you talk about your humanitarian efforts after the earthquakes? I was caught in an avalanche near the Everest basecamp at the time of the first earthquake. I somehow managed to find my way to the basecamp and assist the people stranded there. The next day, I returned to Kathmandu and after making sure everything was secure at home, I started gathering relief materials including food, drinking water, mattresses, and tarpaulins and began mobilising them in and outside the Kathmandu Valley. We also travelled to Nuwakot, Dhadingbesi, Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Dolakha, Manaslu, and many more rural places. I also took with me plenty of pre-natal kits and vitamins to those places for the expecting women and those who had infants. We also tried to raise awareness among local women and young girls about possible human trafficking during a time of crisis. And at a devastated Laprak, which is quite close to the epicentre, we constructed temporary shelters for the elderly.

 So, what keeps you busy these days? Apart from the on-going relief work and rural health camps, I am also currently involved in mountain guiding. And, what’s next for Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita? I’m going to continue mountain guiding and, on the side, focus on facilitating girls’ education, particularly orphans and those who come from underprivileged families affected by the earthquakes. 

Thanks to the Kathmandu Post for permission to run their article published: 17-11-2015 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ama Dablam - A fascination with a mountain for over 40 years

     Ama Dablam

I find the naming of mountains fascinating and in the Himalaya many mountains are seen as a Goddess, God or protector. Forty years ago when I first started trekking and climbing in the Nepal Himalaya, the peak Ama Dablam started a life-long fascination for me. While Sagarmatha, Chomolungma or Mount Everest is the Goddess Mother of the Universe, Ama Dablam appears protected by Sagarmatha, but has her own beauty and meaning. I think it is so fitting that the name fits in so comfortably with the current Yama Panchak festival in Nepal
The main peak of Ama Dablam is 6,812 metres (22,349 ft), the lower western peak is 6,170 metres (20,243 ft). Ama Dablam means "Mother's necklace"; the long ridges on each side like the arms of a mother (ama) protecting her child, and the hanging glacier thought of as the dablam, the traditional double-pendant containing pictures of the gods, worn by Sherpa women. Other writers extrapolate the meaning to "charm box, and is a special pendant worn by elder Sherpa women that holds precious items.”

More meaning is added to the ‘mana’ of the peak as it was first climbed by two New Zealanders I know, Mike Gill and Wally Romanes, along with Mike Ward and Barry Bishop on 13 March 1961 They were well-acclimatised to altitude, having wintered over at 5800 metres near the base of the peak as part of the Silver Hut Scientific Expedition of 1960-61, led by Sir Edmund Hillary. I know Mike and Wally personally and you couldn’t find two such humble people.
In all religions mountains are revered and one of my favourite quotes is: “I lift mine eyes unto the hills whence cometh my strength…

My Sherpa friend Neema from Kunde, on the3 Lumding La with Ama Dablam in the distant background. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Ama Dablam stands proud and can be seen from so many villages in the upper Khumbu. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Up in the clouds, Ama Dablam makes a brief appearance. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Extreme skiing at Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park.

WildSnowNZ — Plateau Hut, Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park

Post by WildSnow.com blogger  | November 3, 2015      
Noah Howell
Billy Haas halfway down the enormous east face of Mt. Cook.
Billy Haas halfway down the enormous east face of Mt. Cook.
It’s been a good bit of time since Beau made his initial post. I was going to apologize for our delayed check in, but I won’t because we came to New Zealand to ski and that’s what we’ve been doing! For the past ten days we have been basing ski operations out of the Plateau and Kelman Huts in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.
Upon arrival the weather cleared and we hit the ground skinning.
After countless emails between our crew we had all agreed beforehand that as a team we wanted to go big and ski steep. The plan was to shoot for the moon and then dial back objectives if needed and as conditions dictated.
The moon, or primary area of interest, was Mount Cook and the Tasman Glacier area. Mount Cook is the tallest peak on the island (3724m) and offers up some of the longest and spiciest technical routes in the Southern Alps.
In less than 24 hours after landing we met up with Beau and came up with a plan. We could walk in, but that would take time and energy and the weather window looked small, so we chartered a chopper into the Plateau Hut at the base of Mount Cook. Pretty reasonable at about $75 per person.
We came in hot and heavy with 5-7 days of food and lots of ideas. Well stocked and highly stoked! The weather was perfect and as we flew in we were immediately face to face with the east face. And the longer we stared at Mount Cook, it just stared right back unflinchingly.
The east face of Mt. Cook.
The east face of Mt. Cook.
We unpacked at the spacious and empty hut then quickly set out for a recon tour. Poking around on many aspects we found stable settled snow. The east face was the obvious route of choice (looker’s right side). It connected to the summit, was free of ice, and the snow looked really good.
Chamonix based skiers Tom Grant and Ross Hewitt flew in with us and were keen on skiing Cook as well. They were looking at the same objective, so we decided to team up and give the face a go the next morning.
Map session in the Plateau Hut.
Map session in the Plateau Hut.
The alpine start put us on the lower face at dawn.
Early ups.
Early ups.
Enthusiasm quickly carried us up high. A little too high in fact. We missed our left turn and were forced to make a long and sketchy traverse over white ice. At least it was exposed. Ross was giving it all he had, but a cold forced him to turn back at this point.
Sharp tools and edges required.
Sharp tools and edges required.
The slope pinched and forced us out onto a steep rib then we hiked the summit ridge to the tippy top. After only a day and a half in the country we went from flip flops to front points. Now we were on top of Mount Cook about to drop in on one of the largest and consistently steep faces any of us has ever touched, having made zero ski maneuvers in many months.
The summit ridge was icy and could have been skied but it would have been really slow, dangerous, and ugly. Sense easily won out over ego and we opted to down climb. Beau had never skied with Billy or Adam before this trip and none of us had skied with Tom. This could be reason for concern, but we all worked together seamlessly which was great to see and a bit of a relief on my part since I had assembled the team.
Adam and Billy on Mt. Cook summit.
Adam and Billy on Mt. Cook summit.
Six folks are a lot to manage on a slope, so we took our time and spaced out our turns. The snow was consistent and good.
Beau working the steeps up high on the face.
Beau working the steeps up high on the face.
And as we got further down we opened it up. This steep skiing thing is a dream when everything lines up. It’s just really rare that everything goes this well.
Back down safe and sound we cooked up a fine meal and shook our heads at how fortunate our start to the trip was. The next day was windy in the morning so we loafed around and got a late start. The next best looking line was the east ridge of Mount Dixon. Not as tall a peak, but the route looked sporty. The line is the right hand ridge that then drops back left via a couloir in the rocks.
Mount Dixon.
Mount Dixon.
We brought all our sharp things on this trip and so far they were coming in more than useful.
Beau getting onto the entry couloir of Dixon.
Beau getting onto the entry couloir of Dixon.
The couloir held good snow as did the lower part of the ridge.
Steep couloir entry onto Dixon.
Steep couloir entry onto Dixon.
This changed as we got higher and we encountered some patches of the same ice we had found up high on Mount Cook. Luckily it was only in one section.
Glazed climbing up Dixon.
Glazed climbing up Dixon.
Sun’s out, guns out!
Guns ablazing.
Guns ablazing.
Turns off the top were chalky and fun on the mellow ridge. We worked our way through the ice with aggressive edging and side-stepping. Ice axes in hand just in case.
Off the top of Mount Dixon.
Off the top of Mount Dixon.
Things softened back up and we played down the featured ridge as the sun set. Each night at 7pm we received a call in with weather so we rallied to make the call, even though the thick kiwi accents are often tough to understand.
Beau lower down on Mount Dixon.
Beau lower down on Mount Dixon.
The ridge traverse into the exit couloir.
Adam Fabrikant entering the final pitch off of Mount Dixon.
Adam Fabrikant entering the final pitch off of Mount Dixon.
I admit I came into this trip having done very little research. I figured Beau had it dialed since he has spent so much time here. And he does! I didn’t understand the vast network of nicely maintained and well equipped huts that dot these glaciated peaks, not to mention the ease of accessing them via fixed-wing or heli. The walk in or out isn’t out of the question either though it’s through some very rough moraine.
Three nights at the Plateau Hut and it started to feel like home. The remaining lines that interested us would need above optimal conditions. From what we had seen there was too much ice up high to lay it out there and so we decided to move on before we got ourselves into trouble.
Voile Team representing.
Voile Team representing.
We loaded up our full kits and headed out for a new hut and fresh terrain. We skied around 2,000ft out the Freshfield Glacier in creamy corn. Our luck just continued to roll on!
Our massive corn run down the Freshfield Glacier.
Our massive corn run down the Freshfield Glacier.
From here we crossed jumbled moraine and hit the dry glacier. This made for easy travel and we continued up the Tasman Glacier Valley for ten miles or so.
Many miles in the flats.
Many miles in the flats.
This is where I’m going to sign off and let Beau tell the next chapter of the story based out of the Kelman Hut. New Zealand has been an absolute dream so far!
WildSnow guest blogger Noah Howell was born and inbred at the foot of the Wasatch mountains. His skiing addiction is full blown and he’ll take snow and adventure in whatever form it takes. The past 16 years have been spent dedicated to exploring new ranges, steep skiing, and filming for Powderwhore Productions.

The Silk Roads - The New History of the World.

Are you fed up with reading history of the world from a Eurocentric perspective? I am thoroughly enjoying The Silk Roads - A new history of the world.by Peter Frankopan. I was in Delhi a few weeks ago and discovered this book at Bahrisons in Khan Market.
The sun is setting on the Western world. Slowly but surely, the direction in which the world spins has reversed: where for the last five centuries the globe turned westwards on its axis, it now turns to the east…
For centuries, fame and fortune was to be found in the west – in the New World of the Americas. Today, it is the east which calls out to those in search of adventure and riches. The region stretching from eastern Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China and India, is taking centre stage in international politics, commerce and culture – and is shaping the modern world.

This region, the true centre of the earth, is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet this is where civilization itself began, where the world's great religions were born and took root. The Silk Roads were no exotic series of connections, but networks that linked continents and oceans together. Along them flowed ideas, goods, disease and death. This was where empires were won – and where they were lost. As a new era emerges, the patterns of exchange are mirroring those that have criss-crossed Asia for millennia. The Silk Roads are rising again.
A major reassessment of world history, The Silk Roads is an important account of the forces that have shaped the global economy and the political renaissance in the re-emerging east. 

Here is a wonderful review by in the Telegraph by  
Bettany Hughes 
Why do we travel? It is a question asked by historians, neuroscientists and anthropologists alike. Why are we driven, physically, intellectually and emotionally, to reach out beyond the horizon toward the unknown; to explore, connect and communicate? That query motivates Peter Frankopan’s splendid study, from prehistory to the present, of the Silk Roads: “the axis on which the world spun”.
The plural is important. Historically, the Silk Roads were a network, not a single highway. The geographical centre of this narrative is Asia Minor, Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and the Middle East; territories that met, traded with and domineered one another along arterial routes of communication. Frankopan freely admits to a boyhood enthusiasm for the region, a zone that for all its centrality remains suspiciously exotic on our world maps. 
Now director of the Centre for Byzantine Research at Oxford, Frankopan has a pressing reason to promote the Silk Roads’ history from cultural relegation. How shamefully we in the West have been caught in the 20th and early 21st centuries with our strategic trousers around our ankles, dunderheadedly failing to remember why the map of the Middle East is drawn with such straight lines. Our ancestors would have been horrified by today’s wilful ignorance. Ancient reports of the region (studded, admittedly, with some fantastical nonsense) would put many modern memos to shame. Tellingly, Frankopan includes some recently released diplomatic cables and US political briefings describing Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran that are cringingly callow, and exemplify the danger of living in what the late historian Eric Hobsbawm called the “permanent present”, ignorant of our past.
Frankopan’s study, subtitled “A New History of the World”, reminds us that one-way systems are a recent invention. Traffic – physically and culturally – typically runs two ways, and certainly did along the Silk Roads. The third century BC Indian emperor Ashoka, whose life was transformed by the Buddha, issued an edict in Aramaic with a parallel Greek translation. In the sixth century AD, a Chinese noble was buried with a silver ewer depicting the Trojan war. It was Chinese cloth “of inestimable value” that was draped in the early 12th century over the Ka’aba, Islam’s most sacred site, in Mecca. The descendants of slaves, trafficked along the Silk Roads, became the powerful Mameluke rulers of Egypt. The ferocious Ghaznavid and Seljuk empires, too, were established by Turkic slave-soldiers. It is heart-rending now to read a Chinese traveller’s description of a tranquil Syria in the seventh century AD: “Brigands and robbers are unknown, the people enjoy happiness and peace. None but illustrious laws prevail…”

We do history and the human experience a disservice if we follow a linear, teleological narrative through time, imagining it to be unidirectional or neatly boxed. Across time and space we are all connected; we all rise and fall. Globalisation might be voguish, but it is not new.
Frankopan tames this bear of an intercontinental narrative by ordering his chapters as a series of ideas: The Road of Gold, The Road to Hell, and so forth. Throughout, he relies on tight economic analysis: silk was, after all, not simply a luxury good but an international currency, too. The environmental impact of the silk trade is also intelligently explored – he raises new evidence, drawn from the polar ice caps, that the fall of Rome caused pollution levels to drop as smelting works across its empire fell into disuse. 
Recognising that the fringes of a cloth are as interesting as its fabric, Frankopan also spins off on to the threads of social history. The Black Death, for instance, had an impact on attitudes to fertility. Young women, newly empowered by social upheaval, could choose not to marry. Anna Bijns, an Antwerp schoolteacher, wrote in verse: “Unyoked is best! Happy the woman without a man!” The Silk Roads is peppered with other memorable details: in Venetian dialect, for instance, the word “ciao” originally meant “I am your slave”, while the conical hennin hat worn by European women from the 1430s directly imitated high fashion at the Mongol court.
Underlying the tightly researched history is a grander human truth. As a species, we are motivated by stories. The Silk Roads themselves are as much an idea as a reality: the term Seidenstrasse was only coined just over a century ago, by Ferdinand von Richthofen, the German geologist (and uncle of the First World War fighter ace). But continuous generations have told stories about these places, before the term Silk Road was coined. 
In antiquity, the Caucasus seemed a place of both promise and punishment – it was there that Jason sought the Golden Fleece, there that Prometheus was chained to the rocks. Medieval populations believed that Gog and Magog, the scourges of Israel prophesied in the Old Testament, had been locked up behind iron gates in the Caucasus by Alexander the Great. 
Many of these Silk Road yarns are an enjoyable cultural mash-up. Despite the fact that our own focus has often been damagingly parochial or focused on Greco-Roman antiquity, the East has long been woven through our national narrative. King Offa printed cod Arabic on one of his gold coins. During the 13th century, far-off Tartar ferocity in the Baltic interrupted the brisk herring trade, leaving the fish heaped up and unsold in British ports. Through Frankopan’s lens, even the Renaissance becomes less of a rebirth, more of a borrowing from the East. The glories of Greece and Rome, with which the johnny-come-lately civilisations of Western Europe associated themselves, had particularly flourished in the eastern Mediterranean, Anatolia and North Africa. The Silk Roads reminds us we are bit players in a grander drama; presenting the rise of the West as uninterrupted and inevitable is dangerously delusional.
This invigorating and profound book has enough storytelling to excite the reader and enough fresh scholarship to satisfy the intellect. My single cavil is that it could perhaps have described the physical reality of the Silk Roads themselves, many of which still exist, either as buzzing modern trade routes or archaeological remains. Maybe Frankopan will coax readers to step out on their own voyages of discovery, autodidacts walking the Silk Roads with their minds in both past and present.
To return to that question – why do we travel? Neuroscientists think they have the answer: our minds crave disturbance. It seems the brain works at its best when confronted with new experiences that fire up our synapses – travel may, truly, be mind-expanding. Our challenge as a species would seem to be to work out how we can experience the new without trampling on what has gone before. This epic book traces the cycle of human creation and destruction along the Silk Roads, now rich in billions of dollars’ worth of oil, minerals and labour. We must learn to pass along them without glancing greedily from side to side to gauge what we can gain. One alternative is to travel in the privacy of our own minds – an opportunity this charismatic and essential book amply provides.
Dr Bettany Hughes is writing a history of Istanbul. Her philosophy series Genius of the Ancient World is currently showing on BBC Four

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Denied visa, Pak author launches book on Skype

I have just read Ashes, Wine and Dust by KANZA JAVED from Lahore, Pakistan - a distinct and sure voice- that promises to bring change in the world of new Literary writing. 
Kanza  lives and writes in Lahore. Her manuscript, shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize for literature, brings her world to rise from the ashes and settling into dust. Her debut work ‘Ashes, Wine and Dust’ was shortlisted for the prestigious Prize in 2013, making Kanza, at the age of twenty-one, the youngest and the only Pakistani writer nominated for the prize that year. 

She was a keynote speaker in the ‘Aspiring Writers’ panel at the Lahore Literary Festival 2013. Her narrative, ‘Passing Morning’ won third prize in British Council’s ‘Charles Dickens Writing Competition.’ Her short story, ‘The Intruders’ was published in Earthen Lamp Journal (March, 2014). Kanza is currently teaching Literature at Kinnaird Women’s College, Pakistan.  Her debut novel, ‘Ashes, Wine and Dust’, is being published by Tara Press, and will release this fall 2015). 
Ashes, Wine and Dust …… embroiled in the set imperative of middle-class life in contemporary Pakistan, Mariam Ameen decides to challenge the tradition of being female !!  Beginning in Lahore, the novel enters its first phase with Mariam struggling to retain the memories of her dead grandfather so engrained within her. With willful and determined self-assurance, she leaves for America in search of better days, carrying these memories with her. But encounters with strangers in an unfamiliar land leave Mariam confused and vulnerable. In the midst of forging new paths, she learns of the disappearance of her younger brother, Abdullah, in America. 
A reverse journeying then begins as she travels backwards to her roots to confront what she once left behind, in order to find the answers she is looking for. Against the backdrop of unyielding social institutions threatened by change and independent individuals, Mariam vows that she will not stop looking for her brother. 
Ashes, Wine and Dust describes a young woman’s exploration of self-identity through the invisible ropes of social customs, stereotypes and love. As love in all forms is tested in the most strenuous of ways, disappearance in turn, becomes the less chosen road towards a self-discovery.

A rejected visa didn't deter Pakistani author Kanza Javed from launching her book ‘Ashes, Wine and Dust,' in India. The Pakistani author who was supposed to participate in the Kumaon Lit Fest, said her visa was denied at the last-minute. Rather than mope, she took her publisher, Aanchal Malhotras help, and co-ordinated a launch over Skype according to a Times of India report. This what the Times of India wrote.akistani novelist Kanza Javed, denied a visa to take part in the Kumaon Lit Fest, launched her novel `Ashes, Wine and Dust' over Skype from her home in Lahore.

Aanchal Malhotra of Tara-India Research, the publisher of the book, was also the per son to release it. Javed had been shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize for her novel. In the Skype conversation, the 24-year-old author briefly outlined the plot of her book - the story of a young girl, with the three sections in the novel corresponding to the three words that comprise the title.

The protagonist, Mariam, in her negotiation with adults including her grandparents, is a silent observer stumbling on secrets in the family that leave behind deep scars. As she grows, she also travels from Lahore to Washington. The displacement that goes into her education is the subject of the two latter parts of the novel. Of her experience of being shortlisted for a major award although she was so young, Javed spoke about being overwhelmed. "No one in my family had been a writer.I had no friends who were writers either," she said. On a philosophical note, she added that not winning the award was enriching for her since "I was forced to take on board the rather dense criticism of the judges." The book is available at:

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Shackleton's Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition 1914 ~ With Sound! Cent...

It makes such a difference having sound. A fascinating movie.

Monday, 14 September 2015

With the Rugby World Cup starting this Friday it is time to understand more about the top teams. This is the best article I have ever read about how the All Blacks remain at the pinnacle of rugby. Written by Andy Bull, an English writer for the Guardian. Read on.......

The making of an All Black: how New Zealand sustains its rugby dynasty
A country of just four million is home to arguably the most dominant team in sport. But how do the All Blacks remain at the pinnacle more than 100 years after the ‘Originals’ established their supremacy?

The All Blacks perform the haka before their match with Ireland at Eden Park in June 2012. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty 

A death in the family’ His full title is Sir Graham Henry, but everyone calls him Ted. Even people who hardly know him. It’s a nickname he was given as a kid when he used to work the scoreboard at his local cricket club. And at Eden Park, decades later, it opens all doors. At 10am on a Wednesday morning, the Auckland stadium, the largest in New Zealand, is almost deserted. Except for me, my photographer and a security guard. “Can I help you?” “Can you let us in?” “We’re shut.” “We’re here to meet Sir Graham Henry.” “Ted? You should have said. Come on in.” It was here, in October 2011, that Henry’s All Blacks beat France 8-7 in the World Cup final. He was knighted soon afterwards for services to the game and, you suspect, services to his nation. New Zealand had not won a World Cup since 1987, that barren streak all the more extraordinary given they have always been so good. In 112 years of playing rugby, New Zealand’s winning percentage is 78. In 20 years since the sport turned professional, that figure has risen to 84. As world champions, the All Blacks have become even better. In 2013 an English journalist wandered into New Zealand’s team room and saw the phrase “we are the most dominant team in the history of the world” written on a whiteboard. It’s not far wrong. In the four years since the last World Cup, the All Blacks’ winning percentage has risen to 93. Count the defeats on one hand and you will have two digits spare. In the same period there have twice been two new moons in the space of a single month. The All Blacks really do lose once in a blue moon. Advertisement Henry arrives at Eden Park. His sense of humour is so dry that if you rubbed two of his jokes together they would catch light. Foxed by jetlag, I find it impossible to tell when he is joking. First question is an ice-breaker. “So how do you think the All Blacks will go in the World Cup?” “Aww,” Henry replies, “I think they’ll be competitive.” The only giveaway is how he cocks his left eyebrow. I explain that I’m in New Zealand working on an article about “why the All Blacks always win”. “We don’t,” Henry says. This time the eyebrow stays down. Henry was head coach of the All Blacks between 2003 and 2011. In that time they played 103 games and won 88 of them. He remembers the defeats more clearly than most of the victories. He is surprised an Englishman could feel in thrall to New Zealand given that England won the previous two editions of the World Under-20 Championship, in 2013 and 2014 (New Zealand won this year’s, beating England in the final)

All Black scorecard

In the four years
since the
2011 World Cup
Since Graham Henry
took charge
post 2003 World Cup
Since Professionalism
World Cup matches
Wins in 1987 and 2011
All time win rate

. This reminds me of something one of his predecessors, John Hart, said in an interview with the academic Tom Johnson in the book Legends in Black. “We don’t understand how good we are, how great we are in this game of rugby … We’ve won, historically, about 75% of our games, which is huge in the international sporting arena – yet we lose a couple of Tests and all of a sudden the world has come to an end.” Advertisement I remind Henry that England have beaten New Zealand only seven times in 40 matches and once in the last 12 years. Wales have beaten them three times, the last in 1953; Ireland and Scotland have never beaten them at all. He nods. Put like that, the question makes more sense. Henry thinks about it. “You have to understand, New Zealand is a very young country and rugby has put this country on the map. This country earned respect from the rest of the world for three things: what we did in two world wars, and to a lesser extent what we’ve done on the rugby field. So over time rugby has become a major part of our national identity. And the current All Black team, the All Black teams of recent years, have always tried to add to that legacy, that history.” To understand New Zealand’s game today you have to understand how it began. In particular, the 1905 tour to Europe and the USA or the “Originals”, as they are now known. They played 35 matches and won 34, scored 976 points and conceded 59. Jock Phillips is perhaps New Zealand’s most respected historian. After speaking to Henry, I catch him on the phone. “Rugby really took off as a national game at the turn of the century,” Phillips says, “and the crucial thing there was the 1905 All Black team. The context of that was that New Zealand had always – has always – had a certain insecurity about its place in the world. We’ve always got a certain anxiety that we are falling off the edge, that we don’t really count.” The tour, he says, “gave New Zealanders a sense that they had a role to play in the empire”. We’ve always got a certain anxiety that we are falling off the edge, that we don’t really count. In 1905, the prime minister, Richard Seddon, arranged to have reports of the tour matches sent back to New Zealand through the telegraph installed in his offices and distributed around the country. Seddon was one of around 20,000 people waiting at Auckland harbour when the team finally made it home. As a report in the Auckland Observer put it, the tour “advertised the country in a way that a score of immigrant agents and half-a-dozen Tourist Departments could not have done”. Distant history, but the tour still resonates today. Almost a century later, the prize-winning author Lloyd Jones wrote a novel about it, The Book of Fame. In it, Jones tracks the burgeoning celebrity of the team by counting up the lines they were awarded in the Times and other British newspapers. “Versus Devonport Albion – 50 lines, 40 lines more than given to ‘Mr Roosevelt on Lynch Laws’. Versus Midland Counties – 72 lines! in the Times … plus 92 lines on ‘The Revolution in Rugby Football’. More than ‘bloodshed in Odessa’, ‘Russian Warship Mutiny’, ‘The Conflict in Hungary’ and ‘Lord Roseberry’s address on Scottish history’ combined.” The legacy was embellished by the 1924-25 “Invincibles” tour to Britain, when the team were unbeaten in 32 matches. Perfection became the All Black standard. Colin Meads, who played 55 Tests and was chosen as New Zealand’s player of the century in 1999, put it to Tom Johnson like this: “When we lost in our days it was a national tragedy, a national disaster, and you got, not abused, but scorned by people.” And so, according to Meads, the All Blacks were motivated by fear. But “it is not a fear of losing; it’s a fear of letting your country down”. Henry once said that every All Black defeat felt like “losing a member of the family”. He was criticised for it. “When I said that, that defeat was like a death in the family, what I really meant was that’s how strongly committed we were to trying to win.” Crowds flock to watch Auckland grammar, which lists Grant Fox, Doug Howlett and Sir Edmund Hillary among its former pupils. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Crowds flock to watch Auckland grammar, which lists Grant Fox, Doug Howlett and Sir Edmund Hillary among its former pupils. Photograph: Auckland grammar ‘Per Angusta Ad Augusta’

Crowds flock to watch Auckland grammar, which lists Grant Fox, Doug Howlett and Sir Edmund Hillary among its former pupils.

Next day, I call John Daniell. A friend had put us in touch. Daniell was born in New Zealand and educated in England. After university he spent a decade playing professionally in France. These days he is a writer. His autobiography won awards and he has just finished his first novel. “I’ll meet you in the lobby,” he tells me. “I’ll be the tall one.” And so he is. Six-foot something staggering. Daniell is an affable man, intelligent, with a thick French streak in his soul. He likes to live well. We drink far too much wine and my notes from the evening do not amount to much. A few things stick. Daniell explains that in New Zealand, “catch” and “pass” have almost come to be conflated into one word: “catchpass”. This is the fundamental skill, the first thing learned by kids, and still practised hard by the professionals. Daniell says a conspicuous difference between the teams he played with in Europe and those in New Zealand was the time spent drilling catching and passing. My mind turns back to the conversation with Henry. We were discussing New Zealand’s famous win against Ireland in 2013, 24-22, sealed with an impossible try in injury time. “That great try,” Henry says. “I don’t know how many passes it took to make it. 25? Catch-pass. Catch-pass. Catch-pass.” If one pass had been misplaced, if one catch had been fumbled, the ball would have gone dead and the game would have been over. A simple skill, perfected. “So where are you going next?” Daniell asks. “Auckland grammar.” “Good idea.” He looks me over. “But you should probably shave before you go. Last time I was there I had a beard and the coach told me I was setting a bad example to his players.” I laugh. “No,” he says, “I’m serious.” Next time I see Henry he is wearing a kipper tie, looking out from the front row of an old photograph hanging in a corridor at Auckland grammar. It was his idea to come here. “The key to New Zealand rugby is the strength of the competitions our young people play,” he said. “Especially in the schools.” Altogether, there have been 1,146 All Blacks. Fifty-one of them studied at Auckland grammar, more than any place else in New Zealand. In New Zealand, school first XV rugby is a serious business. Sky broadcast the matches live, two every weekend. Here at Auckland grammar they pull in crowds of around 7,000 for marquee games. The standard is excellent, the competition intense. It is becoming increasingly common for players to make the leap from school straight into the professional game. Auckland grammar was established in 1868. The first game of rugby in New Zealand was played in 1870. It is a state school but receives a lot of money in donations. The sums top schools spend on rugby make many feel uneasy. A 2013 investigation by the New Zealand Herald found that in Auckland the top schools were spending upwards of $50,000 (£21,000) a year on their first XVs and some, those running foreign tours, up to four times that much.
Altogether there have been 1,146 All Blacks and 51 of them have studied Auckland grammar school.

 Altogether there have been 1,146 All Blacks and 51 of them have studied Auckland grammar school. Photograph: Scott McAulay for the Guardian 

The main building was designed in the style of a Spanish mission, and would look wild west if it were not for the Latin tag – Per Angusta Ad Augusta, “through difficulty to greatness” – etched in bold letters over the porch. Advertisement I’ve come, clean-shaven, to meet the school’s director of sport, Grant Hansen. Like all sport staff here he’s not only a coach but a teacher. Almost nine out of every 10 staff members volunteer to help organise some form of sport, something Hansen picks out as a big reason for the school’s success. They are not paid to coach but the school does sponsor their training. Hansen leads us on a short tour. We start in the hall of fame, where he picks renowned players out of the photos. There’s Doug Howlett, who became the All Blacks all-time leading try-scorer. There’s Grant Fox, one of the finest fly-halfs in history. There’s Martin Crowe, one of New Zealand’s greatest cricketers and also, in his day, a fine winger, albeit against his will. Henry made him play. All illustrious, but none the most famous alumnus. That would be Sir Edmund Hillary. “He climbed mountains,” Hansen says. “Never made the first XV, though.” Extracurricular sport is not compulsory at Auckland grammar but 90% of the kids play it. They have a pool of around 90 competing for spaces in the first XV. By now it is lunchtime and kids are swarming the playing field. In every spare outdoor corner, kids are playing with rugby balls. Kicking them to and fro, playing keep-away or catch. Hansen nods towards one lad we pass. He stops and pulls up his socks. “Sorry, sir.” In some ways Auckland grammar seems very traditional. Rugby is not played all year-round and they will never pull a boy out of class to come and practise. Quite the opposite. “If a boy is not performing academically,” Hansen says, “he will get pulled from the team.” At the same time, its sports program is surprisingly – astonishingly in my eyes – modern and the facilities are so good that the All Blacks often train here before Test matches at Eden Park. On the Monday after a match the boys take ice baths in the school’s recovery lounge. They call it the “flush session”. They train on Wednesday and Thursday, practise skills on Friday, and play on Saturday. On top of that, there is a structured weight-training program. There is a nutritionist and they have occasional coaching from men such as Henry, Fox and the All Blacks manager, Darren Shand. The New Zealand Rugby Players Association often comes, too, to talk about welfare and, in particular, how to handle approaches from professional agents. For all this, the school’s record in recent years is not what it once was. The first XV have been successful and they have produced plenty of professional players for teams around the world – old boys represented six different countries in the last three World Cups – but their only All Black of the last decade was Benson Stanley, who played three matches in 2010. Hansen smiles. He thinks they will have another soon enough. His name is Rieko Ioane. Three months after he left the school, he was playing for New Zealand’s sevens team. He was only 17. It so happens that Ioane is playing across town the very next day. 0:00 / 0:00 Facebook Twitter Pinterest The surprising history of the haka: it’s not just the All Blacks’ war dance. ‘A volunteer operation’ Advertisement Ponsonby was once a run-down neighbourhood, populated largely by Pacific islanders who moved here after the second world war. Then developers came and the demographics changed. A lot of those same families have sold up and moved on. Ponsonby RFC are still here, though, the oldest and most successful rugby club in Auckland. Just like Auckland grammar they are proud of their record of producing All Blacks. They boast 52, putting them equal first among the 520 clubs in the country. Added to that, another 29 men have played Test rugby for Samoa. Ponsonby play at the Western Springs speedway stadium, their main pitch in the centre of the track, surrounded by steep grass banks on two sides. They run 56 junior and 12 senior teams. This Saturday there are three games on. Two junior matches, though you would never know it from the size of the players. The props must weigh 16 stone apiece. When those matches are over, the players gather around the main pitch to watch the seniors play Pakuranga. Rieko Ioane is easy to spot. He’s in the centre, moving with speed and power that make him just a little sharper than everyone around him. He scores two tries. Ioane’s father played for Samoa, his mother for New Zealand, and his elder brother, Akira, is with the Auckland Blues. At Ponsonby, Mum is the junior administrator and Dad helps manage the seniors. Earlier in the season Ioane was playing for New Zealand sevens in London. He flew home on the Wednesday, trained on the Thursday, played in a crucial match for Ponsonby on the Saturday. And scored three tries. After the match everyone gathers in the little clubhouse. There is a bar at one end and an astonishing collection of memorabilia at the other. Among it, sacred relics from the 1905 tour. The Originals’ skipper, Dave Gallaher, was a Ponsonby man. Today, France and New Zealand play for the Gallaher Trophy. A 1905 jersey belonging to another player, George Nicholson, is in a glass case. One like it recently sold at auction for £22,000. Ioane and the other Ponsonby players grow up surrounded by this history. Ponsonby’s club ambassador is Bryan Williams. He’s here almost every weekend. Williams played 38 Tests for the All Blacks in the 1970s. That was the era of dawn raids, when the government cracked down on “over-stayers”, evicting Polynesian families who had been in the country longer than their visas allowed. Williams was one of the very first of Polynesian descent to play for New Zealand and his first tour was to South Africa, of all places. The apartheid government there granted him what it called “honorary white status”.

Otherwise he would not have been allowed to play. Bryan Williams, a club ambassador for Ponsonby RFC, played 38 Tests for New Zealand Facebook Twitter Pinterest Bryan Williams, a club ambassador for Ponsonby RFC, played 38 Tests for New Zealand and was one of the very first of Polynesian descent to do so. He is pictured in the clubhouse, which contains photos of old Ponsonby players who played for the All Blacks and George Nicholson’s 1905 jersey from ‘the Originals’, the first team to be called All Blacks, displayed at Ponsonby RFC. Photograph: Scott McAulay for the Guardian “I was 19 years old, so you can imagine how much anxiety and trepidation I felt,” Williams says. “I actually suffered a panic attack when the plane touched down. Suddenly it all hit me and I just thought: ‘I can’t go through with this, I don’t want to get off the plane.’ I just sat there, stunned.” His team-mates dragged him from his seat. “I took it one step after another, and suddenly an hour has gone by, then a day, and suddenly you are pulling on a jersey getting ready to play.” He was a sensation. Scored 14 tries in 13 games on the tour. “It was hugely satisfying.” Williams’s success helped changed attitudes towards Polynesian islanders in New Zealand. “Because I was the first of the modern breed to not only make the All Blacks but stay in there for some time. And what started as a trickle became a flood. I was followed by lots of young Polynesians, second, third generation, people brought up here in New Zealand.” Plenty of them are alongside him on Ponsonby’s honours board: Joe Stanley, Olo Brown, Va’aiga Tuigamala, Junior Tonu’u. “That rich mix is one factor in New Zealand’s success,” Williams says. Chasing the chariot: in search of the soul of English rugby Read more “When I was growing up in the 1960s we had a great team but we were very conservative in the way we played. They were unbeatable but they weren’t renowned for exciting rugby. They were renowned for winning. With the Polynesian influence our rugby has become more adventurous. The Polynesian boys like to throw it around, and step, and laugh and joke.” Ponsonby retains that strong Polynesian character today. Club rugby is not what it was in Williams’s playing days. It has been superseded by Super Rugby above and school rugby below. “It is hard to make ends meet,” Williams says. “Financially, it is a hard road to hoe.” A lot of clubs are dependent on money generated by the gambling industry, which is funnelled back into the community. Ponsonby are not rich but they are tight-knit. “We’re a volunteer operation. We’re about coming together, having fun, bringing up kids, setting standards.” Because of the area’s property boom, they have more new players now than ever. On registration days at Ponsonby, when parents bring their children to sign up, the queues stretch out the door and down the road. “There are just heaps and heaps of kids,” Williams says. Among them, his own grandson, Gianni. “He’s four and a half, and he doesn’t know which end of the field he is meant to run to. So recently I’ve been saying to him: ‘Gianni, granddad’s going to go and stand over there, and when you get the ball you run to granddad.’”
Having previously been taught the basics of catch, pass and run, children between eight through to 10 are introduced to tackling, and then uncontested scrums and lineouts.

Having previously been taught the basics of catch, pass and run, children between eight through to 10 are introduced to tackling, and then uncontested scrums and line-outs. Photograph: Scott McAulay for the Guardian

A lot of New Zealanders see Auckland as many English people do London, a city apart. After a week, it was time to head south, to Wellington and, specifically, the headquarters of the NZRU. I’m here to meet Brent “Buck” Anderson, general manager of community and provincial rugby. Six feet five and 260lb. He was a good player and won a single Test cap for the All Blacks in 1986. He has been part of the NZRU’s management team since 2001. Meeting Anderson, I’m reminded of something John Daniell wrote. “François Truffaut once said that the French all thought they had two jobs: their own and film critic. In New Zealand people have their own job and an All Black managerial role.” Anderson has a thick skin and a phlegmatic temper. It’s useful, because it seems everyone in New Zealand has a view on what his department does and exactly how well it does it. “There’s four million New Zealanders,” he says, “who have all got a view about what’s right and what’s wrong.” In New Zealand, organised rugby starts at the age of five. Or it is supposed to. As Anderson says: “I’m not as green as I am cabbage-looking. I know a lot of those kids will only be four or even three.” Just like Bryan Williams’s grandchild. At that age they play a game called rippa rugby, seven-a-side and tackles are made by tearing tags off your opponent’s shorts. “It really is just about catch, pass and run.” Anderson thinks rippa rugby is one of the best things the NZRU has done. It is a simple, safe version of the game, easy to organise even if you know nothing about the sport. From the ages of eight through to 10 children are introduced to tackling, and then uncontested scrums and lineouts. The teams expand to 10-a-side. Around the age of 11, they bring in 15-a-side and start contesting scrums and lineouts. At this point, the secondary schools take over so clubs lose their young players. The good thing about this is that kids are not playing too much. In the UK, a boy might play for his school one day and his club the next. As Graham Henry says: “A young guy who is at the top of his game might play 20 games in a year, 25 at a stretch. Whereas when I was in Wales there were boys there playing 80, 90 games a year.” When I was in Wales there were boys there playing 80, 90 games a year. Running parallel to the secondary schools is the representative setup. The best players get called up to play age-group rugby for their provinces. “Some provinces will have under-13 teams,” Anderson says. “But we would question the need for that. Your chances of identifying talent at under-13 are pretty remote.” Then there are the academies. These used to start their talent spotting after kids had finished school. But “that identification is happening in first XV rugby now”, Anderson says. “And it’s not just the provincial unions, the Super Rugby franchises are starting to get involved, too, because they don’t want to have another franchise move in and grab the player.” A talented 18-year old will be pulled in several different directions, by his school, his provincial union, his old club, and his local Super Rugby franchise. There is a tension here. But, interestingly, the NZRU seems less concerned about the kids who do make it than the ones who don’t. A lot of what the NZRU does at this level is about “keeping as many kids as possible in the system, playing the game, moving on with it through the age groups”. They have a small player base in New Zealand and are determined to maximise it. The idea is that the longer you keep a child playing the game, the better the odds they develop into a top player. And for the many more who don’t make it, they at least develop a love of the game, which means “they watch it on TV, they buy Sky subscriptions, they join their provincial union, and more importantly than all, in a generation’s time they take their kids to play rugby”. Three measures stand out. The first is weight gradings. In urban areas where there is a large playing base, children often have the choice of playing in teams that are organised by size rather than age. A teenager could play for the under-15 team, or he could play for the under 55kg team. Weight-graded rugby is the fastest-growing form of the game in New Zealand today. Especially among adults. Some clubs now offer an under 80kg grade. I’m 6ft 2in and about 80kg.

Rugby players in New Zealand

31 All Blacks
1,884 Referees
11,713 Coaches
17,825 Female players
Players aged 21+
age 13 to 20 years
Small Blacks
age 5 to 12 years
Play rugby in New Zealand
150,564 people (3.4% of the population)
Anderson looks me up and down. “If you have to play an adult comp, you are going to end up playing with someone my size. And I’m 6ft 5in and 120kg. Or you could play on a team where everyone is about your shape and size.” I watch him size me up. And think the latter sounds pretty appealing. The second measure is more controversial. It’s called the half-time rule. In all youth matches, whenever one team is winning by 30 points or more at half-time, the two coaches are obliged to meet to discuss what they can do to even the game up. The winning side might decide to take off their best player or move him to another position. The third measure is the least popular. At every level below school first XV, coaches are obliged to give every player in their match-day squad at least a half of rugby. “We get emails saying: ‘This is a bloody nonsense,’ ‘Political correctness gone mad,’ and all of that,” Anderson admits. “But we also get emails from parents saying: ‘Thank you, my kid was about to leave because he wasn’t getting any game time.’” These innovations are unpopular with coaches but are being driven by the children. “Our customers are mainly teenagers and kids. We have got 28,000 adults playing the game, we’ve got 44,000 teenagers, and 80,000 under-13s,” Anderson says. “The risk is that we make too many decisions based on a coach’s view of their world.” They spend a lot of time and effort surveying young players. In one of its recent surveys, the NZRU asked the participants to define what rugby meant to them. “For the coaches and the parents and the school administrators, it was about results, it was about winning, and it was about being better than everyone else,” Anderson says. “For the kids it was slightly different, for them it was about the battle and about a sense of ownership. About it being ‘my space, my game, my friends, my school’. And most of all it was about it being enjoyment.” Christchurch boys’ high school has produced 12 new All Blacks within the last 15 years. Christchurch boys’ high school has produced 12 new All Blacks within the last 15 years. Photograph: CBHS ‘It’s in the psyche’ That night, a flight to Christchurch, a city still rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake. The local Super Rugby franchise, the Crusaders, is the most successful in the competition’s history. And while Auckland grammar may have produced the most All Blacks, Christchurch boys’ high is only a little way behind. It has had 45 altogether and 12 won their first caps in the last 15 years. Whatever the school is doing, it is working. CBHS is a state school too but doesn’t feel like it. The buildings here are more austere than those at Auckland grammar but the school itself seems a little more relaxed. When I arrive around 200 kids are out on the playing fields in front of the school, some hitting tackles bags, some sprinting and passing, some working lineout drills. I stroll over to the main playing field, with its own little grandstand. The first XV squad are just wrapping up a training session.  One of their coaches is an Englishman, Danny Port. He moved out two years ago. He had been working at Ivybridge community college in Devon, which is an academy for the Exeter Chiefs, and so one of the best rugby schools in the UK. “The differences between the two are quite stark,” he says. “The biggest is the number of kids who want to play, and how passionate they are about it.” When Port was there, Ivybridge and CBHS had roughly the same number of boys. Ivybridge ran seven rugby teams; at CBHS they run 22. “If I said: ‘Right, we’re going to have a game at lunchtime, we need 30 boys,’ we’d get it done in 30 seconds,” Port says. “There would be volunteers coming from everywhere.” When Port first arrived, he coached what was in effect the school’s sixth team. “And I would still get 20, 25 players turn up, train twice a week, and play hard at the weekend.” And they can all catch, pass and kick a rugby ball. “That’s the difference. In the UK we often find a big kid and turn them into a rugby player. Whereas here everyone plays. It’s in the psyche.” 
Christchurch boys’ high school has produced 12 new All Blacks within the last 15 years.

That night, a flight to Christchurch, a city still rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake. The local Super Rugby franchise, the Crusaders, is the most successful in the competition’s history. And while Auckland grammar may have produced the most All Blacks, Christchurch boys’ high is only a little way behind. It has had 45 altogether and 12 won their first caps in the last 15 years. Whatever the school is doing, it is working. CBHS is a state school too but doesn’t feel like it. The buildings here are more austere than those at Auckland grammar but the school itself seems a little more relaxed. When I arrive around 200 kids are out on the playing fields in front of the school, some hitting tackles bags, some sprinting and passing, some working lineout drills. I stroll over to the main playing field, with its own little grandstand. The first XV squad are just wrapping up a training session. One of their coaches is an Englishman, Danny Port. He moved out two years ago. He had been working at Ivybridge community college in Devon, which is an academy for the Exeter Chiefs, and so one of the best rugby schools in the UK. “The differences between the two are quite stark,” he says. “The biggest is the number of kids who want to play, and how passionate they are about it.” When Port was there, Ivybridge and CBHS had roughly the same number of boys. Ivybridge ran seven rugby teams; at CBHS they run 22. “If I said: ‘Right, we’re going to have a game at lunchtime, we need 30 boys,’ we’d get it done in 30 seconds,” Port says. “There would be volunteers coming from everywhere.” When Port first arrived, he coached what was in effect the school’s sixth team. “And I would still get 20, 25 players turn up, train twice a week, and play hard at the weekend.” And they can all catch, pass and kick a rugby ball. “That’s the difference. In the UK we often find a big kid and turn them into a rugby player. Whereas here everyone plays. It’s in the psyche.” There is a stat about CBHS that the NZRU likes to cite. Almost half of CBHS’s first XV players did not make the A team when they started at the school. Port says that those boys “have had to fight for everything they’ve got, but they’ve matured later, and they’re not burned out and they’re not over-coached”. Owen Franks is a good example. When he was a student here, Franks was tiny and told he was too small for the first XV. He started bringing his own cool box into school and the first thing everyone remembers about him is how much time he spent eating. Franks has since won 69 caps for the All Blacks. As a prop. I ask Port whether his boys take ice baths after matches. He laughs. There’s a basic sort of gym, open two mornings each week. That’s pretty much it. “Our resources are our kids,” he says, “hundreds and hundreds of tough kids.”  The boys in the first XV at CBHS do not tend to be as big as some of those playing up in Auckland. But, as Port says, they are tough. CBHS’s headmaster, Nic Hill, says that’s just the way they raise them. “Take the earthquake, if it had happened in another province would they be doing as well as we are now? If it had to hit anywhere it was good that it was here, because here there is that toughness, that resilience, and we see that in our sport.” Later that day I drive down to Southbridge, the hometown of CBHS’s most famous old boy, Dan Carter. I want to take a look at the land, get a sense of what it is about the place that gives boys “that toughness, that resilience”. Southbridge is only an hour or so away across the Canterbury Plains. But I make the mistake of following a satnav. It leads me down deserted dirt tracks, through fields that stretch as far as the eye can see in all directions. Advertisement The rain returns and I pass a couple of lorries loaded with rocks and rubble. Their wheels spray gravel and mud as they pass. By the time I arrive, the hire car is a wreck. There’s a rooster in the road out in front of the Carter family’s house. After the storm, nothing else is moving much. Perhaps a curtain or two. You can spot the house by the goalposts in the garden. They were built by Carter’s father, so his boy could practise his kicking all hours. I knock but there’s no one in. The rugby club is a couple of fields over. It’s deserted. I stop at the garage to ask for better directions. The owner says there is a steady trickle of tourists who come to see the Carters’ house. Dan’s parents once came home and found a Japanese family having a picnic on their lawn, underneath the goalposts. There’s nothing much else in Southbridge. A bottle shop, a butcher, a bowls club, a couple of cafes. For the last few days I’ve been reading a play, Foreskin’s Lament. It was written by Greg McGee, who was a Junior All Black. John Daniell gave me his copy and it’s brilliant, all about a small-town rugby club in the 1980s. And I’m reminded of a line in it now. “The town is the team,” says the old coach. “It’s the town’s honour at stake when the team plays. God knows there’s not much else around here.” ‘Remember where you came from’ That night, I watch a new documentary, The Ground We Won. It’s about a season in the life of a country rugby club in Reporoa. A great film, beautifully shot. I drop the director an email. His name is Christopher Pryor. “We set out to explore the lives and exploits of a rural rugby team,” Pryor says, “to see why the game was so deeply important not only to the men involved, but by extension our culture at large.” Pryor and his team spent a year in Reporoa. “We found that there is a sense of community in rural places that is hard to replicate in the city,” Pryor says. “The local rugby club sitting at the heart of it all.” The Ground We Won reminds me of something Bryan Williams said: “You can’t begin to understand New Zealand rugby without getting out into the country.” After the Carters, I decide to try phoning before making my next house call. Kevin Barrett answers, which is a start. “You want to talk to me?” A pause. “OK.”The Ground We Won: a clip from the documentary. Barrett was a good rugby player, no better. He spent 13 years playing for his province, Taranaki, then played two seasons for the Hurricanes after the game turned professional. He is also father to five boys. His eldest, Kane, is a flanker, and plays for the Auckland Blues. Or did do. He has been out for a long time now, suffering with concussion. Next is Beauden, 24, and already with 30 caps for the All Blacks. Then Scott, a lock who recently signed with the Crusaders. And finally Blake and Jordie, both too young to turn pro but dreaming of doing so. Barrett lives outside Rahotu, an hour’s drive south of the town of New Plymouth. Another early flight. Another hire car. Another line from Foreskin’s Lament: “This is the heart and bowels of the country, too strong and foul and vital for reduction to bouquets, or oils, or words.” Rahotu makes Southbridge feel busy. Nearby is the rocky outcrop of Cape Egmont and its lighthouse, the most westerly point in New Zealand. Barrett is working at the end of his drive, waiting for me. His handshake makes me wince but his smile makes me welcome. He runs a dairy farm, which he inherited from his father. “We were born and bred here, you see.” He started working here as soon as he left school, when he was 16. He was already playing the club game. “The coast is all rugby,” he says. “It’s what we do. “When I first played for Taranaki in ’86, we played for the love of it. And most of us, if not all of us, were farmers. So we would get up at 4.30 in the morning to milk the cows, do a day’s work, and then go training. Same on game day.” In their pomp, Barrett’s Taranaki team were drawing crowds of 20,000 in a community of a little more than 100,000. “I was never going to be an All Black but I didn’t care. I was playing for fun in front of 20,000 people. It was awesome.” Taranaki’s Kevin Barrett playing against Counties Manukau in the NPC first division. Taranaki’s Kevin Barrett playing against Counties Manukau in the NPC first division.

 Taranaki’s Kevin Barrett playing against Counties Manukau in the NPC first division. Photograph: Ross Setford/Getty Images

 It was around that time the dairy factories started to shut down. Once that happened, the community shrank and the rugby clubs suffered. Barrett was instrumental in persuading three rival clubs, Opunake, Okato, and Rahotu, to amalgamate into one new one, Coastal. “It was pretty tough at the start because everyone was so entrenched in their own traditions, but we could see the benefit for our kids. And here we are now, 20 years later.” Coastal won their first championship three years ago. Out back of Barrett’s house is the land they call the BCG: the Barrett Cricket Ground. This was where his kids would play every day with each other and the neighbours. “The kids were brought up on the back lawn. It was where our boys grew up. I’ve five boys and three daughters. The neighbour has two children. Across the road they got two boys and a daughter. They would all come here and play Test matches together out back.” Barrett coached them a little. He taught them what he considers the “basic skills”, to “kick both feet, pass both ways, to be able to read the game”. In England, typically only a gifted back would be able to do all that. But Barrett’s thinking is that every player should have that same set of skills. Position is just a matter of size and besides, a prop should be able to put a winger away with a good pass just as much as a fly-half should. When the boys grew older, their father had one more important lesson for them. “This is what I said to them: ‘Rugby is special, you put a jersey on and play for your province, or get picked for your country and pull on the All Black jersey, that’s a huge honour. But always remember who you are and where you came from, and always keep your feet on the ground. Because the day you take your jersey off you’re just one of us.’” ‘Tighten the ropes’ Homeward bound now, back to Auckland for the flight out. But first a diversion, to Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty, to meet Tiki Edwards. He is the NZRU’s Maori community manager. Around a quarter of New Zealand’s registered playing population are Maori. They have been playing the game just as long as the European settlers and their descendants, the Pakeha. The very first New Zealand team to tour Britain, in 1888-89, was described as a “native” side. This team were the first to perform the haka and the first, too, to wear the black jersey. I drive all night, through a storm. It seems New Zealand has more types of rain than are known even to the English. Tiki is also a force of nature, a great, garrulous man, only ever a breath away from a gust of laughter. We agree to meet in Rotorua airport. “You’ll know me when you see me, bro.” And so I do. He blows in like the wind and sweeps me off in his car. We drive out to the town of Kawerau, to visit Tarawera high school. He talks even faster than he drives. Kawerau district is beautiful country but hard land to grow up in. The town was built around a paper mill. In 2012 half the jobs were lost and the population has been in steep decline since. Around the same time, the town endured 13 suicides in the space of 18 months, most of them Maori men aged between 16 and 21. Tiki talks about “the Ps”: “Prison. Piss. Pot. Punch-ups. Parents. Peers. Pies. And P.” “P” is the nickname for methamphetamine. “All the things that can muck a kid up.”
Sonny Bill Williams on a visit to Tarawera high school.

\ Sonny Bill Williams on a visit to Tarawera high school. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Sonny Bill Williams on a visit to Tarawera high school. Photograph: Courtesy of NZRU Tarawera high is a good story. The school that used to be on the site was closed in 2012, and a new one opened. Ian Parata is the Bay of Plenty’s secondary school manager. “This used to be a school you wouldn’t have given two cents to play against,” he says. “It was ugly, man, they were just like thugs.” Parata once came here with an under-14 team. They had to be escorted out of the changing rooms after the game. In 2014 Parata and his team returned for another match. “I briefed my boys. I said: ‘These guys are thugs, they play horrible rugby.’ And we got out there and it was one of the best and cleanest games I have ever seen played.” Parata says: “Rugby here is about making a positive change in kids’ lives. Discipline, structure, fairness.” He and Tiki are organising a surprise school visit by the star All Black Sonny Bill Williams. They talk logistics with Tarawera’s rugby first XV coach, Antony Pritchard. Like Danny Port, he is an Englishman who moved to New Zealand. He remembers one of his first away games when the team had to catch an 8am bus. “Some of the kids turned up with boxes of deep fried chicken and chips for breakfast.” Another of his pupils was sleeping rough behind an electricity pylon because it was the warmest place he could find. Pritchard says there are 10 or 11 boys in the school who are “great athletes, who would easily make my team”. But they don’t feel able to play because of other issues in their lives. Domestic abuse. Drug abuse. Gang culture. The Mongrel Mob and the Black Power gang both have a strong presence in the area. This means that Tiki needs a variety of different training bibs because the kids will refuse to wear them if they are in the colours of a rival gang. At Tarawera high they don’t yet have a playing field, but rather a paddock without any markings. For the moment, all their games are away from home. The school has six tackle bags to go around. But there are a couple of good players here. Time was when they might have been spotted and recruited by a bigger school with better facilities. And that still may happen. But the administrators at Bay of Plenty want to make good players feel able to stay put, so they contribute to their rugby community. “There are gold nuggets in every school,” Parata says. “We’ve got to try and get them out of the earth, and grab them and polish them and make them into gold coins.” On the drive back to Rotorua, Tiki talks more about the ties between the people, their community, and their land. He mentions Maori concepts: whakapapa, ancestral connections; whenua, land connections; whanau, family connections. Tiki talks, too, about the haka. “People think it is a war challenge but to be honest mate, we never came to the battlefield to tell you that we were here to challenge you. We came to kill you. The haka isn’t about the enemy. It is about us. It’s about opening ourselves up to our ancestors, to their spirits, about filling ourselves with their strengths and gifts.” He pauses. “It is hard to explain. And to be honest, most Europeans don’t get it.”

Wayne Shelford of New Zealand leads the haka before the All Blacks Tour match between Swansea and New Zealand held in 1989. New Zealand won the match 37-22.

 Wayne Shelford of New Zealand leads the haka before the All Blacks Tour match between Swansea and New Zealand held in 1989. New Zealand won the match 37-22.  Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Getty Images

The All Black haka has not always been the spectacle that it is today; though it was always done, it was often done badly. It was only in the 1980s when two Maori players, Hika Reid and Buck Shelford, came to the fore that it began to be taken more seriously. They were men of mana, Tiki says, men other men follow. Tiki tries explaining it in another way. “People talk about pressure. They say the All Blacks feel the weight of four million people, a weight that they have to carry. For Maori, it is the other way around. Those four million people have us on their shoulders. We don’t carry them, they carry us.” He sees the haka as an expression of that connection between the players and their people, their land, their ancestors. “It is real force for us. Someone like Dan Carter, he understands the thinking behind the Maori. But they can’t be full of it. It comes out of me, bro. It is who I am, bro.” The All Blacks have folded a lot of this Maori thinking into their own philosophy. Tiki had just been working with the New Zealand Under-20 team. He taught them a new phrase: “Haumi e! Hui e! Tāiki e!” It means “tighten the ropes”, literally and metaphorically. They use it now as a team call. “Tighten the ropes” on this scrum, “tighten the ropes” on this defence. “Originally that’s about tying each other to the canoe,” Tiki says. The Maori call their traditional boats waka. “When you are in the waka, in the middle of the ocean and the storm hits, tie yourself to the canoe. Then you are fully committed, bro, you can’t get out of the canoe in the storm.” I say that it all feels a long way from Auckland grammar. “We’re all tied to the same waka, bro,” Tiki replies, “and we’re all paddling in the same direction.”