Search This Blog

Monday, May 31, 2021

Giving up in fine style


I love Bluff oysters, too, so have every sympathy for this fellow's last repast before giving himself up to the police.

        By Natasha Frost for the Guardian

For many, it would be a welcome getaway: a week’s retreat in a log cabin deep in the New Zealand wilderness, followed by a scenic helicopter ride, a platter of oysters and a bottle of Champagne.

For James Matthew Bryant, 32, a fugitive from the New Zealand authorities, the eight days he spent at a privately owned, open-access hunter’s hut in the remote Waianakarua Scenic Reserve constituted a literal getaway.

Since April, Mr. Bryant had been on the run on charges of wounding with reckless disregard, possession of a knife, three counts of harmful digital communications and failing to appear in court. But he ended his fugitive status in dramatic fashion on Thursday, when he chartered a helicopter to turn himself in to the police, making him something of a media sensation in New Zealand.

Mr. Bryant had been a fugitive for about three weeks wandering in the South Island before he appeared as a wanted criminal on an evening news crime show, “Police Ten 7.” Somehow he heard that an informant had told the police of his whereabouts, and that the show had described him as dangerous. He doubled down on his flight, walking for two days until he reached the hut in the forest. (The hut is free. Anyone can occupy it.) There, he passed his time doing yoga, he later told reporters, and considered his next move.

Finally, fearing a potential showdown with the police, and thinking of the possible repercussions for his young daughter, Mr. Bryant called Arthur Taylor, a former career criminal and an advocate for prisoners’ rights who is well-known to the New Zealand authorities. Mr. Bryant once helped him create a website.

The local news media reported that Mr. Bryant’s alleged crimes involved a violent argument between roommates that ended in cuts to a person’s head. Mr. Bryant faces up to five years if convicted of the charges. Mr. Taylor said by phone on Friday that he had been motivated to do right by the victims of Mr. Bryant’s crimes, who he said had been “quite terrified,” and who had spent a week away from home following the incident.

Mr. Taylor said he told the fugitive: “‘Look, mate, my best advice to you is give yourself up. You might go to jail for a few years, but it’s not the end of your life.’”

Then, Mr. Taylor recounted, “He called me back and said, ‘Arthur, I’ve chartered a bloody helicopter.’”

In a scene worthy of an action movie, that helicopter retrieved a rather hirsute Mr. Bryant from the forest on Thursday. “They circle overhead, and he comes running out of the bush,” Mr. Taylor said. “The chopper lands, picks James up, brings him back.”

The owners of the hut had not known they were harboring a fugitive. “Just because of the time of year, we don’t normally have many trampers coming through,” Steve Joyce, one of its owners, said by phone.

After the helicopter dropped Mr. Bryant off, he was driven to Mr. Taylor’s house in the city of Dunedin. There, Mr. Taylor said, the fugitive, who clearly appreciates the finer things in life, made quick work of about 30 Bluff oysters, a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne and a little of Mr. Taylor’s Cognac before turning himself in to the authorities.

Mr. Taylor said he didn’t mind: “Having spent a bit of time in that prison, I know the kind of crap they feed them, so I was very sympathetic, shall we say, to his desire to have one last decent repast.”

Had Mr. Bryant not opted to get his own helicopter, and the police been forced to undergo the two days’ walk to extract him from the hut, events could have ended more nastily, Mr. Taylor added.

“They’d have been very angry police,” he said. “From having hiked all that time, they’d be armed to the teeth, anything could have happened. A very volatile situation.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Dunedin Central Police Station on Thursday, Mr. Bryant, wearing a blue surgical face mask, a Gucci T-shirt and Versace sunglasses, spoke highly of his time in “the middle of nowhere.”

“It was real good; I did a lot of yoga,” he said.

Then he stepped through the sliding doors and gave himself up to the authorities.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Rockets can't afford to land in Wellington


NewsHub reports that there were some hilarious reactions to the news that the bits from the Chinese space rocket happened to miss New Zealand.

As we all know, the out-of-control rocket zoomed back to earth, and there was some speculation about where the bits would land.  And, instead of expressing great relief that New Zealand was given a miss -- despite our world-shaking reputation right now -- commenters gave rein to the odd Kiwi sense of humor.

"Is it weird that I'm disappointed that #LongMarch5B didn't land closer to New Zealand?" one person asked on Twitter.

As others pointed out, it meant that no nosy reporters were given the chance to ask the stray bits what they thought of New Zealand, and how did they "feel" about the unscheduled crash.

"Rockets can't afford to land in Wellington," another remarked.

Though another did meditate that it would have been very disappointing if his house was demolished before he had had finished the cheesecake in the fridge.

"It would be really inconvenient for my house to be hit by a satellite on a Sunday when the metal recyclers are closed," another wrote.

Remnants of China's biggest rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, with the bulk of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, according to Chinese state media, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit.

Parts of the Long March 5B re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 am Beijing time (2:24pm NZT) and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north, Chinese state media cited the China Manned Space Engineering Office as saying.

The coordinates put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Seafaring superstitions


Sometime in the 19th century, the Royal Navy attempted to finally dispel the old superstition among sailors that beginning a voyage on a Friday was certain to bring bad luck. To demonstrate the falseness of this belief, they decided to commission a ship named HMS Friday. Her keel was laid on a Friday, she was launched on a Friday, and she set sail on her maiden voyage in Friday the 13th, under the command of a Captain James Friday. She was never seen or heard from again.

Don't bother to look this up.  It's false, but a good story all the same, and a good illustration of the superstitious natures of seafarers.

It reminds me of a Wiki Coffin short story that was published by the prestigious Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, in which he was able to break the alibi of a captain who claimed that he could not have committed a murder, because he set sail that day. That day was a Friday, and Wiki knew that the skipper was constitutionally unable to sail on that day of the week.

Italians have it even worse.  Di venere né di marte ci si sposa né si partethey say, meaning do not sail on a Tuesday, either.  

This may be because of their Roman background.  An ancient Roman skipper got very upset if you sneezed, swore or danced on board of his ship.  How he punished a poor sailor for that incontinent sneeze is unknown, but the ancient Greeks launched their ships over a row of bound slaves, which might be an indication.

Mind you, the Vikings were no better.

As for contrary winds, the French sailors believed that it was because someone on board had not paid his whore. Had paid with the topsail, as they used to say. Well, as in all things in this world, it eventually comes down to sex.

A superstition that Wiki Coffin, that seafaring Maori detective, knew well was that hatch covers should never be left upside down.  The logic escapes me, but it was a widespread belief.

I was once informed by a seaman that it was bad luck to carry bananas. So how do bananas get exported? By parachute?  And the French did not like umbrellas brought on board, and again the reason is unknown. 

Animals had a bigger part to play in seafaring myth and legend. Many cultures painted (and still paint) eyes at the bows, so the vessel can "see" its way.  There are lots of landbound superstitions about cats, particularly black ones.  Sailors, as contrary as ever, thought black cats were lucky, and made great efforts to get one on board. 

Dogs, particularly Jack Russells, were also popular. According to a seafaring woman's journal I read once, in New England Jack Russells were deliberately bred to have a patch over one eye, to give the right piratical appearance.  But dogs were carried for their rat-catching skills, not because they were lucky.

And women. This one comes up all the time.  Were women unlucky on board ship?  Well, Horatio Nelson carried various "dollies" on board, including, most famously, Lady Hamilton. Did "the sainted Emma" bring him bad luck? He seemed to do pretty well until he was shot. And it should be borne in mind that busty women were featured in thousands of ship figureheads, many of them naked.

Seriously, this thing about women is a fishing superstition, harking back to the old fleets in the Shetlands, and it was applied to redhaired women.  If a redhead even crossed the fishermen's path as they were carrying their nets to the boats, the expedition was given up, as doomed.  Or so I was told.

So were there redheaded figureheads on any ships? Who knows?

Finally, if you ever get on a cruise ship again, don't cut your nails or your hair in fine weather.  It is guaranteed to turn the weather bad.