Saturday, December 25, 2010

Buckets of Joy

For us lot here in New Zealand Christmas has already become a dull ache in the pit of our collective stomachs. The remnants of the ham has been relegated to downstairs fridge where over time it will be slowly whittled down to a hundred white-bread sandwiches. The recycling bin is over-flowing with bottles of vino and wrapping paper. 
This Christmas eve I hit the town with a couple of old friends: the wild and wonderful Teressa, the Egerton sisters - the divine Eileen and her youngest sister Louise. Eileen and Teressa are the the girls I hung out with as teenagers. The years it seems have not mellowed or restrained us. We hit the worryingly empty streets of Wellington with a vengeance. Drinking, dancing and singing with the reckless abandon of people who don’t give a dam about what other people think. I must however apologize to the selection of songs we brutally slaughtered on the sacrificial altar of Karaoke. 
However the evening began with us all arranging to meet. This left a small problem that Teressa has been away from New Zealand for about twenty years. Were should we met her? Hmmm. Wellington is a ever-changing movable feast at the best of times. A creature that regularly sheds its skin to become an entirely difference genus and sex as it pleases. However there is one constant. And that’s where we arranged to meet. 

The bucket fountain.
In 1965 Cuba Street (named for one of the boats that brought the first settlers to Wellington) was closed to traffic so the council could remove unused tram lines. While it was closed the pedestrians of Wellington grew fond of the idea of Cuba street being a mall. During this time a campaign started to keep Cuba Street closed to traffic and, in 1969, the Cuba Street pedestrian mall was officially opened by then mayor, Sir Francis Kitts.
The mall was designed by architects and town planning consultants Burren and Keen, now as work progressed these two gents decided what Cuba Mall really needed was a water feature. However funds were tight and all that was left in the budget was a mere $1000. Burren and Keen decided that they would take this money and whip up something themselves. Just a temporary feature that would hold the fort until more funds could be raised to replace it with something more grandiose I suspect.

In a garage somewhere the bucket fountain was cobbled together using a combination of good old kiwi ingenuity and madness. 
The bucket fountain as it came to be known was originally a very plain colour scheme - reports vary between black and white buckets to all yellow buckets at its first unveiling. Back in the day, however, the council in their wisdom decided it could stand to be more festive so added the current multi-colour scheme. A stroke of bureaucratic genius in my humble opinion.

Naturally this garish unwieldy creation was met with indifference and derision. Reports seem to suggest that the creators themselves were non-to-fond of it either and were among those to rallied to have it replaced. However the water-tight purse strings of the WWC conspired to keep it in pride of place. Now over forty years later the bucket fountain is still standing.
The Bucket Fountain is recognised as one of Wellington’s quirkiest and most well known landmarks. The Wellington City District Plan includes recommendations on how best to develop Cuba Mall. Within these recommendations the plan states, “The much maligned/much enjoyed sugar-scoop bucket fountain should resume pride of place in the Mall.”

Yes it’s a very silly creation but if you walk down the mall on any given day you will see someone stopped watching the buckets waiting for the succession of smaller buckets to fill the lower one so it can unleash its final payload into the pond. They will be bemused tourists with their backpacks or loud American accents. They will be small delighted children clutching onto their parents hand. Or men in business suits reflecting on their by-gone youth. Due to Wellington’s high winds the fountain regularly spews water over passers by and creates a river down the mall but that, again, is part of its hokey charm.

 My first produced screenplay - Stickmen - featured a scene set by the bucket fountain. I figured movies of towns always had scenes based around landmarks of that town - the Empire State building, the Eiffel Tower, the Spanish steps so my script should feature the bucket fountain. When we neared filming our money was tight so the producer was looking (quite rightly) at reducing locations. She asked me if there were any exterior scenes that I wanted to keep. I said the bucket fountain. She smiled and agreed - that one had to stay.   
As a child no trip into town was complete without a ride on the rickety wooden escalator at James Smiths and a visit to the fountain of playful buckets. It’s whimsical, impractical and utterly mesmerizing. A landmark that I hope will still be standing in another forty years. No doubt I’ll be meeting Eileen and Teressa there then. Merry Christmas you lot thanks for stopping in over the last few months I’ve got some fun stuff coming up so stay tuned to the Wood of Kings. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Still Cuckoo

Warning spoilers ahead. Here's the progress on my clocks. Now I hate to ruin the final effect by showing off too much before they're finished but I'm just so excited with the progress and I wanted to share it with you my friends.

It seems that every day lately this mad pursuit of mine is bearing fruit. So here's an update.  First up loyal followers will be familiar with  the internal workings of the cuckoo flip clock I posted recently. Well here's the box that it will live in.

Pretty basic but it's early days yet. Now here's how it will look with the mechanism in. Again just a sneak peek I stuck this in with bluetak just so I could get an idea about how it will look. 

Sweet isn't it? Now let's have a look at the progress on my "Russian" cuckoo clock.

Oh yes. Doesn't that look cracking? As you can see I've replaced the face with something a little different. This is a nixie tube. It's old world pre-LED or LCD displays. I've always thought that they looked really eastern bloc circa cold war so it made sense - to me anyway - to include them in a Russian clock. 

The tube is like a light bulb with 10 different filaments all stacked up. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0. so depending which one has a current running through it that will be the number that lights up. It's a great piece of retro technology that I found on trademe. 

Last and, by no means least, here's an advance preview of my pirate cuckoo clock. This one will probably end up being very elaborate but this will give you an idea of where it's heading. 

Hope you enjoy how it's all looking I'd love to hear you feedback so please do leave a message below if you can. I'm really chuffed with how they're all coming together what do you think? 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tempus Cuckoo

My Uncle Bill was a funny old fish. He was a man who could be fascinating one minute, crazy the next and then downright obnoxious the next. He was tinker. One day he began assembling a few bits of wood on his living room floor the next he had build a rowboat out of those bits - not before moving the whole show to the garage of course!

Now as kids in our family we used to visit our great-grandmother on the Kapiti Coast. She was a 101 when she died and right up until the end still was still the full quid. Uncle Bill lived with her and she looked after him, cooking and cleaning up after him. We called her "Nanny-at-the-Water" because her house was perched right at the edge of a wild and wonderful west coast of New Zealand. She used to go for a dip in that wild ocean every day winter or summer. That was maybe one of her  secrets to long life (that and possibly the cigarettes she smoked since she was 18!). In one of the spring tides Nanny-at-the-Water's house was swept into that wild ocean but thankfully the sea scouts managed to save so many pieces of wonderfulness from her house. 

As great-grandchildren we remember many of the strange treasures that filled her home. The nut-cracking bowl with the matching metal hammer. The painting of the leopard that always gave me the creeps. And the scuttling bowl boiling on the stove - crabs fresh from the ocean. But one thing I'll never forget was Uncle Bill's cuckoo clock. 

Legend has it he won it in some kind of spelling competition as a child. It would hand on the wall and be the source of constant intrigue for the grandchildren. When is the cuckoo going to pop out? Is it time? That was what passed for entertainment back then - you kids can keep your PSP and your iPods - a little mechanical bird was all we needed!

Anyhow last year Uncle Bill tinkered his last tinker. Our Aunty Virginia is notorious in our family for swooping into dead relatives homes and scoring all the best stuff. My grandfathers old super eight movies, his magic tricks great Aunty Eileen's glass fruit lamp. So imagine my surprise when she gave me Bill's clock. I guess she knows I have the tinkering gene and also it was in a very sorry state. Actually it was trash. 

So I set to fixing it up. I cleaned it and took it to pieces years of grime (and Nan's nicotine) and Bill's tinkering had left it pretty grubby and inoperative. It was a mammoth task one that would end up taking me the best part of a year. In the process of stripping down the wood I realized that the wood was pretty done in. I'll be honest with you I don't know jack shit about staining wood but I do know how to paint things (years of model-kit making) so I thought I'd paint it. With some paint I had lying around. Paint that was intended to be used to touch up my Holden Kingswood. Gloss automotive black.  

Sadly I didn't realize how important this crazy little project would become to me so I forgot to take any pictures of the clock before I began but here for your amusement is the re-imagining of Uncle Bill's cuckoo clock…

Then there was the cuckoo. This little guy hadn't seen the light of day for a few years I suspect. The job they did in the factory wasn't exactly high-end as you'll see. So I thought I'd give the little guy a new paint job as well. In keeping with the "Gloss-Black Forest" theme I thought he'd look good in white. Clean glossy white. I must apologise toany purists out there who feel in the process of all this that I'm destroying a valuable antique but I can only hope that I'm bringing new life to a family keepsake. I am taking Mad Uncle Bill's torch and running with it - Mad Uncle Nick. 

I think he looks pretty smart in his new threads. Clean and minimal. It was darn fiddly work though. But not as fiddly as the clock face...
Now those of you that know me will have seen my porcelain birds. The ducks...
And the Guinness toucans
 I've mounted these puppies in white frames and inside the frames I've put white "flocked" wallpaper. I dig these because they're like a little portal into another world. As if they're framing a window to a wall in someone else's house. This has worked well with the birds so I thought I'd give the cuckoo clock the same treatment. 
First I wanted an elaborate white frame. So I painted a ugly one gloss white. Then gave it the boxed flocked treatment. 

Don't think the irony of mounting birds on "flocked" wallpaper has escaped me. It's just a sweet little touch that if you get it you get it. Finally the frame gets a screw in it and  goes up on the wall. 
Naturally we've left enough clearance for the chains, weights and pendulums. So it's time to frame the clock. 
I think it looks pretty sweet in there don't you reckon? So here's some arty shots of it just to show it off. 

I'm really pleased to see it finally all come together. It keeps lousy time but that's not the point is it? This will be in our family for another eighty years is all I can hope.