Topp Stuff!

Four years ago, when I was doing the “Man About Town” column for BayBuzz, I interviewed Lynda Topp of the Topp Twins for a tour they were doing.

Well, Lynda and Jools Topp are coming back to Napier this month with a new show “The Grand Ole Topp’ry” paying homage to country music greats and celebrating contemporary Kiwi music, with the Topps’ fantastic style of comedy throughout.

The tour rides into Napier’s Municipal Theatre on 22 October tickets are available from Ticketek

Here’s my interview with Linda again for a bit of a Thursday throw-back!


Music runs in the blood of many famous New Zealand families. Bic & Boh Runga, Evermore’s Jon, Peter and Dan Hume and Tim & Neil Finn.

Jools and Lynda Topp are no exception. From an early age they were entertainers, performing for family and the animals on their parents’ Huntly farm. Busking to the stage, television to international movie screens, the Topp Twins have become more than just world famous in New Zealand.

They are now world famous in, well, the world. Their documentary feature film “Untouchable Girls – The Movie” has made approximately $2 million in New Zealand theatres, making it the highest selling New Zealand-made documentary ever.

I spoke to Lynda Topp earlier this week in the lead up their performance about their career, characters, fame and the darker side of their performances. The side not all parts of the community are comfortable with. Because Lynda is smitten … with yodeling.

When did you realize you had been bitten by the yodeling bug (or should that be mountain goat)?
From an early age. When I was about nine, I heard “Tinto, Pony and I” sung by June Holmes and that was it.

How did your parents take the news, were they very supportive?
For the first year of practicing, Mum banished me to the paddocks whenever I wanted to yodel. Our neighbours had an old wind-up gramophone and some country music vinyl records. We’d ride our horses down to their place, listen to the music, memorize as much of it as possible and ride back home to grab the guitar (which we weren’t allowed to carry on the horses). We’d play it and write it down, forget a part of it, ride back to the neighbors and so it continued. Seven years later we were good singers and we were excellent horsewomen!

Were you a yodeling child prodigy, or was it something that required a lot of hard toil?
There was a fair bit of work went into it. I didn’t publicly yodel for about six years until I was confident enough to perform. There are three things musically you can perform either brilliantly or do so horribly people will be after your head – bagpipes, the banjo and yodeling. I wanted to make sure I did it well.

I guess “The Sound of Music” would feature as one of your favorite movies thanks to the “Lonely Goatherd”?
No, that was particularly bad yodeling. Too ‘folksy’. Not ‘true’. We do more of a Swiss traditional or Cowboy (which the Americans developed from the Swiss) yodel. It’s one of those movies that get played every year around Christmas, so it gets a bit tiresome. So many of the big musical numbers are, or seem to be, done in one take, though. So from a performance perspective it was very good. In terms of costuming, not so much. Nowhere near enough lederhosen.
(When TV3 played the “Sound of Music” at Christmas, there was a transmission error and over half the movie was played, ironically, without sound!)

Speaking of “The Sound of Music” how do you solve a problem like Maria?
(Laughs) Send her out goat herding for seven or eight months.

What were some of your other musical and character/performance influences?
We grew up listening to country music. “The American Country Top 40″ radio show was a highlight of the week. The music was our inspiration, so we started writing songs very early too. Our driving force is always the music. The Gingham Sisters (a pair of country singing, spoon-playing sisters) were the first characters we came up with; the rest came later for the TV shows to add a bit of depth and comedy.

Two of your characters, “Prue & Dilly” are socialites from Hawke’s Bay. Sort of “Ab’ Fab’” meets CWI. Are they based on anyone we might know?
Our father used to be involved in polo when we were kids and a large proportion of the players came from Hawke’s Bay. So those two are more of a send-up or tribute to the polo ladies we met. They are larger than life party girls.

You should really bring them along to an Art Deco Weekend some time. I’m concerned some of the event goers may not realize they’re fictitious alter egos, though.
We’ve yet to attend an Art Deco Weekend. Prue & Dilly would love to go. They have some art deco pieces in their house and would love to go for a drive in one of the fancy vintage cars.

I remember seeing you perform at an A&P Show here a few years ago. Any fond or standout memories form Hawke’s Bay performances?
The Hawke’s Bay A&P Show always has a great traditional feel about it. A few years ago I got to ride a giant, championship Hereford bull as “Camp Mother” with Jools as “Camp Leader” leading it. I spent the whole time thinking “if this thing so much as flinches, I’m gone!” Our folks live in Hawke’s Bay now too, so we always have a good time when we’re up there.

A lot of people have grown up with you on the TV and in shows. The word “beloved” is often used with your names and you’ve grown quite a legion of fans here and overseas. Do you ever consider yourself ‘famous’?
No, not really. We have a lifestyle block, so we don’t see too many people other than when we’re doing shows or out shopping. If anything, we feel honored. If it weren’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do, so we always try to stop and have a chat, or sign an autograph etc. It’s quite funny; I’ve even had someone call out to me “Hey Ken!” (One of their characters) when I’m in the supermarket and not even in costume!

Is there a question you’ve always wanted to be asked, but never have? If so, what is it?
Yes, the question you just asked me. No one, until now, has asked, “How do you feel about your career?” (Woohoo! An exclusive!”)

What next for the Topp Twins? Politics, global Internet domination perhaps?
We’re going to play at the “Grand Ol’ Opry” in Nashville, Tennessee – that’s been a dream for many years. We’d like to do a ‘movie’ movie, now that the documentary has done so well. Otherwise just enjoying a good lifestyle and making people laugh!

Finally, Barry Manilow sang “I write the songs that make the whole world sing”. If you could write a song to make the whole world sing, what would it be about?
We already have one. It’s called “Untouchable Girls” and it’s become our trademark. We play it as the final song in our performances and for the last five shows we’ve done everyone has stood up at the end and sung it with us. That’s the sort of thing that makes it an honor for us.

“The Grand Ole Topp’ry” rides into Napier’s Municipal Theatre on 22 October tickets are available from Ticketek

It’s Diwali Time Again!!

Mark it in your calendar & I'll see you there!

Mark it in your calendar & I’ll see you there!

Hawke’s Bay’s annual Diwali Festival is once again being held at Napier’s Soundshell on Saturday October 4th from 6pm.

I’ve been to virtually every one and they’re BRILLIANT! A wondrous fusion of food, fun, music and dance – the highlight of my cultural calendar.

If you are a business that would like to be part of the festival, contact Bhavna Nagar.

Otherwise, I’ll see you there on the 4th!


Here, Fishy, Fishy, Fishy!

Fish stocks in Hawke Bay are getting so low local recreational fishers have had to resort to using some drastic measures:

As part of the tri-annual “Election Promise-fest”, New Zealand’s governing National Party said they would establish “Recreational Fishing Parks” in the inner Hauraki Gulf and the entire Marlborough Sounds – banning commercial fishing from operating in those areas.

I was in the car with talkback radio on an hour or so after the policy was announced and callers’ reactions, like a school of kingfish sensing a big pot of burly in the water, were fast and severe.

The most common bite the promised bait received was “It won’t make any difference as there isn’t really any commercial fishing in those places as it is!”

Sounds like their plan hit a bit of a snag.

The day before he announced this plan Prime Minister John Key was in Napier to attend the All Blacks vs. Argentina game at McLean Park. As part of his visit he spent some time schmoozing with party faithful at a bar in Napier’s party central-come commercial fishing port, Ahuriri.

In such an ideal location I think Mr Key missed out on a great opportunity for local votes by not announcing his “Recreational Fishing Park” plan here and including in the plan a body of water very close and dear to our hearts – Hawke Bay!

Fish stocks in Hawke Bay have been in decline for some time. Catching fish by surfcasting or kon-tiki from the shores around Napier is proving more and more fruitless. Many recreational boat fishermen I know don’t even bother going out on the bay much any more either, as the number of fish they catch has gone down almost as fast as the price of fuel for their boats has gone up, making it no longer worth the effort or cost.

Hawke’s Bay Sport Fishing Club, along with Advocacy group LegaSea, conducted a study into recreational catches in Hawke Bay over an eight year (fishing is best over the summer here, so the results covered December-February) period.

14,744 anglers recorded over 115 days of fishing competition how many fish (the survey included five species: snapper, gurnard, tarakihi, trevally and groper) they caught. The results were based on the number of fish per angler, per day and ranged from a high of 2.23 gurnard per angler, per day in 2011-12 to a low of 0.006 groper the same year. The average fish per angler, per day over that 8 year period works out as 0.654 – that’s just over half a fish per person, per trip. It’s hardly worth it!

The low fishing stocks hurt the local business as much as the anglers, as there is an estimated 2,000 recreational boats in the region at a total value of around $83 million. Add to that $28 million of fishing gear and over $10 million in fuel, maintenance, fuel etc. and recreational fishing has an estimated value of at least $121 MILLION to Hawke’s Bay’s economy!

Commercial fishing operations, by comparison, are actually expanding! While most big operators in the region fish outside of Hawke Bay – mainly out towards the Hikurangi Trench and beyond, it is not uncommon to see commercial boats operating within the limits of Mahia Peninsula and Cape Kidnappers. I have even seen commercial fishing boats regularly running a couple hundred meters offshore along by Hawke’s Bay Airport. You can guarantee they are catching more than 0.654 of a fish – That’s just not fair!

So, Mr Key. I understand you’re visiting Napier again today (Thursday 18 September). Your local MP’s have been rather ineffectual in the region despite claiming they are “Backing the Bay”, so let’s see if you can do any better. Add Hawke Bay to your list of “Recreational Fishing Parks”. Ensure the conservation of our region’s salt water fish stocks. Keep our recreational fishermen and fisherwomen happy with tight lines and bobbing rods. Make sure a pastime worth hundreds of millions of dollars to our region doesn’t end up floating belly-up in an empty Hawke Bay.

Hawke’s (and Hawke) Bay deserves better!

*In Breaking News*
There may be further reasoning to making Hawke Bay a “Recreational Fishing Park” as Ministry of Primary Industry agents swooped on a local fishing business after it appeared their in-shore catch records were substantially less than they had been recording as exporting.

Some Day I’ll Fly Away


The Dominion Post got my hopes up the other day.

I saw the words “Mayors Resigned” and though “Ooh – change is in the air at last!”

Sadly, the whole title was in fact “(Hawke’s Bay) Mayors Resigned to Losing Air New Zealand Base”.

Not only can they not work with each other, it seems Mayors Yule and Dalton can’t even convince New Zealand’s biggest (and regionally monopolistic) airline to be kinder to it’s busiest regional airport, reduce fares or keep crews (and jobs) stationed in Hawke’s Bay.

Mayor Dalton was even quoted as saying before their meeting with the airline “Air New Zealand is not price gouging in Hawke’s Bay and the region risks losing air services if the airline takes offence at the claims.” Oh, PLEASE!

Air New Zealand is in the box seat in Hawke’s Bay and virtually every other regional airport in New Zealand. They can do what they want and charge what they want when they want. If you have to fly our of one of a regional New Zealand centre at short notice, you do it at their price.

This has been a major issue for years. It’s only come up again in the last month thanks to electioneering. Will this “new” focus make any difference? It hasn’t before, so I don’t see why there should be any change now.

Which is a great shame because I would love to be able to afford to fly more often.

I can count the number of return flights I have made out of Hawke’s Bay Airport on one hand. Two of those trips were work trips paid for by my employers at the time and two were trips I won. The fifth was a connecting flight to Auckland as part of our Melbourne honeymoon. I can’t remember exactly how much this flight was, as it was just included in the package, but I do remember it being more than the cost of several nights’ accomodation (including breakfast) in Melbourne.

Every time I have flown it has felt special. Not just the physics of flight which takes a bit of getting your head around, but the experience – You’re taken further and faster than anything you’re used to and it’s all done in a style that makes me feel a bit “James Bondy”. So it’s an even bigger shame a majority of people can’t afford to experience it.

Most of the people I know who DO regularly fly in and out of Hawke’s Bay are, literally and figuratively, “High-flying business-people.” They have Koru Club memberships and regularly zip off to other New Zealand or international cities to do big deals and make lots of money. Everyone else I know, a far greater proportion, either drives or takes the bus because they simply can’t afford to fly.

The high cost of air travel isn’t just depriving us common folk of a wonderful experience, it’s also having a negative effect on our region’s current and future economy.

I have heard and read time and time again recently that one of the major factors inhibiting businesses’ intentions of moving to Hawke’s Bay is the high cost of air travel to and from the region. Our national airline is making huge profits out of ensuring regional centres lose opportunity and money.

So when our mayors don’t even appear to TRY to put up a fight when they “go in to battle” for a fair fare deal for their citizens and local businesses, while our rates pay for their frequent “council business” air travel and Koru Club memberships, it’s just rubbing salt into the wound.

Napier, Hastings and ALL OF HAWKE’S BAY deserve better!

The Bill & Yuley Show


Aw geez… Here we go again!

Last week Hastings District Council released a promotional campaign they had been working on, along with Business Hawke’s Bay, Food Hawke’s Bay and HB Winegrowers called “Hawke’s Bay – Great Things Grow Here”

The scheme is designed, we were told, as a resource to attract businesses to move to and trade with our great little region – Hawke’s Bay. There was only one slightly major flaw – Hastings apparently didn’t ask anyone else to be part of this “Hawke’s Bay Region” promotion. In fact, if you like what the scheme offers, the only “Key Contacts” on the website are Hastings District Council, Business Hawke’s Bay, Food Hawke’s Bay and HB Winegrowers. No one else. Not Napier City Council. Not Hawke’s Bay Regional Council – no one!

This concerns me. Not from the perspective of HDC going at a project like this alone, as HB councils have been doubling up on ideas and services for years, but that BHB, FHB and HBWG (all based at the EIT Campus in Napier) happily went along with it. Business Hawke’s Bay is tasked with the economic development of the WHOLE Hawke’s Bay Region. So why didn’t anyone sitting in their Napier offices say “Um, hey, shouldn’t we involve EVERYONE in this?”

Hastings Mayor, Local Government New Zealand Chairman and staunch Hawke’s Bay amalgamationalist, Lawrence Yule further stoked flames of antagonism by saying:

“Until there has been a change in approach in Napier City Council we will never do any of this type of stuff with them” (But later claimed this was meant in a “historical sense”(???))

“Our council made the decision to just get on and do it.”

He might as well have said “It’s MY amalgamated Hawke’s Bay Empire and if you don’t play by MY rules, I’m taking bat and ball and going home!”

Naturally, Napier Mayor and equally as staunch ANTI-amalgamationalist fired his own shots back on his blog and in the local paper, claiming “Great Things Grow Here” was produced in secret and all part of Yule’s amalgamation plans.

Yule refutes this – saying: “Preparing this video has absolutely nothing to do with any push for amalgamation. It was simply to help businesses in the region, to get more jobs and to help us market ourselves in getting those businesses.”

But his approach and reasoning seem quite flimsy.

If he was indeed intent on promoting ALL of Hawke’s Bay as a great location for business to relocate surely he would have involved ALL of Hawke’s Bay local bodies, promotional agencies and a few businesses, rather than focusing on how it could benefit just his own council.

By going it alone in this project Yule has merely exacerbated the problem and perceived lack of coordination and cooperation between HB councils, playing up to the concept of an amalgamated Hawke’s Bay council being the panacea for all such issues. He needs to put old ideologies, rivalries and grudges aside and work in the here, the now and for the future of the whole Hawke’s Bay region.

If Hawke’s Bay is to pull itself out of its current doldrums, successfully evolve into a regional economic success story and move into the future, it can’t be with all this one-upmanship, sniping and negativity between its leaders.

It’s tit for tat. It’s schoolyard squabbling. It’s pathetic and it’s harming Hawke’s Bay.

IF there is to be any form of Hawke’s Bay amalgamation in the future (and it’s becoming a bigger and bigger “if” and more and more distant future), surely neither Napier nor Hastings’ current mayors can be part of it, or certainly at the head of it if current attitudes and agendas continue.

Meanwhile we ratepayers just keep paying their wages…

Napier, Hastings and ALL OF HAWKE’S BAY deserve better!

Holy Crafted Willow, Bat-Man!

The "A-Frame Special"! My own custom-made, hand-crafted bat from MG2

The “A-Frame Special”! My own custom-made, hand-crafted bat from MG2

I love cricket. I’ve been playing and watching it for years. For me each new season generally starts when the latest cricket gear catalogues start appearing in the mail and online around September. For anywhere between a few hours to a few days I revert to my ten-year old self, pawing over the glossy pages, “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing over the latest bats pads and gloves.

90% of cricket bats worldwide are mass machine produced – these are the ones you will see in these catalogues and big chain sports stores and come in enough sizes, shapes and weights to suit pretty much everyone.

Except me.

I’m 6’8” tall. Regular-sized bats tend to look like matchsticks in my hands and taking up a stance at the crease requires me to almost bend in half to touch the ground with the toe of a normal sized bat.

I’ve played like this for many years, but last season I decided to do something about it – I got my own personalised, “Andrew-sized” bat made!

In Hawke’s Bay we are very fortunate to have two highly regarded, highly skilled hand crafted cricket bat makers based in the region.

I have known one of those bat makers, Marty Graham – owner of MG2 Cricket, for years. He’s been a fantastic supporter of my cricket club, Napier Old Boys Marist and now plays for us too. Marty has made bats for some of the biggest stars in cricket, so when I asked him to make an XL-sized bat bat for me (one of the biggest stars in my own lunchtime), he happily obliged.

It was quite a fascinating process. Marty keeps you updated on your bat, checking to see if you prefer it this way or that way. Oval handle, or round? Big, thick edges to smash the ball around the park? Or a thinner, more precise bat for a longer, tactical innings?

Hand-crafting a cricket bat the way Marty does using traditional methods and tools (draw knives, spokeshaves and block planes etc.) is a very labour-intensive and time consuming process. Marty makes his bats in stages:

Stage One begins with a raw “Cleft” – literally a solid block of willow that Marty sources from overseas. While we have willow trees in New Zealand, they’re not the right type of willow for bat-making. Marty checks the cleft and selects which end will be best as the top “Shoulder” of the bat and which will be the bottom “Toe”. Then he starts planning the edges of the block, thicknesses the cleft down to bat width and planes the front “Face” of the bat. The bat is pressed to make it harder, the “Splice” is cut in the top where the handle will go and the bat’s “Shoulders” are formed.

My bat - Somewhere between Stages One and Two.

My bat – Somewhere between Stages One and Two.

Stage Two involves the bat’s handle being fitted and the bat being cut to length and size.

Stage Three sees the finer part of hand-crafting coming into action. The bat is shaped with draw knives, spokeshaves and block planes. The handle is rasped to the preferred shape and size. It really looks like a cricket bat now

By Stage Four we are into the final stages as the bat is sanded and shaped into its final style / design.

Oooh, Pretty! My bat in its final stages of creation.

Oooh, Pretty! My bat in its final stages of creation.

Stage Five is finishing – the bat is polished, the handle is bound with string and the handle’s rubber grip is put on. Labels are applied and the bat is oiled with linseed.

A hand-crafted bat can be made in as little as three hours – this is without glue drying time etc. factored in.

A further hour is usually added for “Knocking In” – preparing the bat for a lifetime of hitting hard, leather cricket balls by, well, repeatedly hitting it with hard leather cricket balls (or mallet) and oiling it with linseed oil. So, regardless of size or grade, it can take as little as four hours to make a bat!

The finished, custom-made, "A Frame Special" (Left) and trusty old, standard sized, "Pinky"

The finished, custom-made, “A Frame Special” (Left) and trusty old, standard sized, “Pinky”

Hand-crafted cricket bats are generally not made one at a time. Usually a bat maker would have several bats in various stages to make the best and most efficient use of time and materials. Marty says it’s generally best to be working on anything from 10 – 15 bats at any one time!

Despite their old-fashioned bat making mehods, most of MG2’s custom is sourced from a very modern method – the internet. As well as operating a website where you can order bats, gloves, pads etc. MG2 also has a popular Facebook page attracting lots of customers, fans, ‘Likes” and pics of Marty’s products in action.

We’re very fortunate to have someone as highly regarded and skilled in the cricketing world as Marty is in Hawke’s Bay. So if you are intending to play cricket this season, please check him out!

“What’s in a (Toy’s) Name?”

"Dog" and... um... "Dog"!

“Dog” and… um… “Dog”!

Like most children, Little Miss Frame has several soft toys, teddy bears etc. – each of which her mum and I have named for ease of memory and identification.

Being children of the 80’s, Mrs F and I were brought up amidst a flood of “branded” toys. “Barbie” was, and will forever be “Barbie”, no matter how many versions of her you have. My GI Joes all have their allotted code-names as per the packaging and Carebears will always be either “Carebear” (as we call the little one we got Miss F), or whatever its model name is – “Fun-shine” “Hugs-a-lot” etc.

The biggest percentage of soft toys my wife and I had, though, avoided mass commercialisation. My wife had (and still has) “Mr Ted” – a teddy bear almost as big as she is now that her father made and “Eric” the troll doll. I had the “Playschool”-influenced, hand-made “Big Ted” and “Little Ted”, as well as “Monks” the monkey and a mini Footrot Flats dog I got for my 7th birthday called, you guessed it, “Dog”!

Like us, 99% of our daughter’s toys are unbranded, hand-made etc., so we had free reign with what we called them. But WHY we named them what we did is half the fun of the exercise.

There’s “George” the pink furry hippo – named after, funnily enough, “George” the pink furry hippo from the 80’s TV series “Rainbow”.

We got a second, smaller hippo for pram travel and naturally we couldn’t have a “George”, without having a “Mildred”!

There’s “Vincent” – the bear with one ear (the other started coming loose and had to be removed for safety reasons).

And “Henrietta” is a small, googly-eyed Giraffe. I have no idea why I called her Henrietta, other than it seemed a fitting name for a giraffe at the time.

These are the names that will stick with our little Miss and her toys for years to come. Hopefully she’ll have fond memories of playing with them and when she has her own children (no pressure – you’re only 9 months old!) she’ll have fun naming their teddies and toys.

What (and why) were YOUR toys names?

A Fathers’ Day of Firsts

The two elements of Fathers' Day that mean the most to me.

The two elements of Fathers’ Day that mean the most to me.

This Sunday will, for me, be (to quote Charles Dickens) the best of times and the worst of times.

It will be my first Fathers’ Day as an actual father – our daughter turns 9 months old this week. But it will also be the first Fathers’ Day since my Dad died, which makes the occasion bitter-sweet.

Naturally I still miss Dad immeasurably. I miss his wisdom, his presence, his adoration for his granddaughter and his unexpected visits just to see her. Most of all I miss that I’ll never be able to see him or give him a hug ever again.

Grief is a strange thing. Some days you’re fine. You live your life, think about those that aren’t with you anymore and smile at their memory. Other days some completely inconsequential thing will trigger a flood of melancholy that threatens to wash you away completely.

I’ve been fortunate enough to survive its onslaught so far mainly because I have something to live for and be positive about. She’s small, absolutely gorgeous and likes nothing more than being propped up in my lap, looking deep into my eyes, giving me a big smile and saying “MumMumMum!” then blowing raspberries at me.

Nine months is an incredibly long time in parenthood. Historians use the initials “BC” (Before Christ) & “AD” (Ano Dominae) to specify recent historical periods. Parents are more likely to use the initials “BB” (Before Baby) – a period that may as well have been over 2000 years ago for the changes that have taken place since this tiny sentient being came into their lives.

Sleeping, drinking, pooping, crying, smiling, looking, thinking, exploring, eating, sitting, rolling, chewing and crawling are all things we, as adults, take for granted and as ancient history. But to witness someone going through these things first-hand for the first time is world-altering.

I must say, our little lady is doing a stellar job of coming to grips with this big, crazy world. Like the little girl in the YouTube clip – part of me wishes she’ll never grow up and remain this small and cute forever. As a modern-day, cellphone camera-equipped father, I have taken, literally, (954 at last count) just under a thousand photos of her in these last 9 months, so part of her always will be this small and cute. But I also look forward to watching her grow and develop her own personality. We’re in no big hurry, though.

She fell asleep in my arms the other night. There is something so intimate in holding a sleeping baby. They are so cute, but also so vulnerable. You feel a mixture of utter love and devotion to your child, mixed with a stone-cold protective readiness to go Jack Reacher on the arse of anyone who so much as tries to hurt or take your baby from you.

Someday I hope to see my Dad again on some ethereal plane, whether it be in Heaven, Purgatory, Nirvana, Elysium or even the Matrix and give him that long-awaited hug. But until then I’ll focus on being the best father I can be for our daughter and giving her all the hugs and kisses I can.

Happy Fathers’ Day!