Empire Records

This page written circa 3 July, 2009.

My colleague John Wood left Agilent and Santa Rosa a while before I did. He went to a great job in the Phoenix area. I like desert life, but Kay vetoed anywhere that hot. I am heatproof, she coldproof, but not vice versa. Phoenix is a desert in more ways than one, however. John has to fly to SFO to get culture, to see a ballet for instance.

Now if ballet is what you want, you can forget Hamilton and Cambridge. I would not describe this place as lacking culture at all, it's just how you define it. I like to point out that Santa Rosa, with a larger population and much more income has no model railway club. It started out with two model and hobby shops and ended up with none by the time we left. On the other hand Hamilton still has a model and hobby shop, and it has two railway clubs, both of which have decades of history and own their own rooms, one club for small electric models and the other for large, ride-on, trains.

In fact Hamilton has two train clubs, a rocketry club, a microlight club, assorted horse riding, harness racing, pony and equestrian clubs, various sports teams (hockey, soccer, cricket, tennis, netball, softball, rugby, beach bowling, no really, etc.) based out of racquets or general sports clubs, innumerable golf clubs, a surf life saving club, bowling clubs (indoor and outdoor), a squash club, martial arts groups (kendo, aikido, and karate of which I know at least), a ham radio club (also with its own premises), a gun club with a range, a polo-cross club, a go-kart club with a full competition track (the outdoor, serious kind), a Canine Obedience Club (with premises), a Veteran and Vintage Car club, a hot-rod club (whatever that entails), the Waikato Aero Club for powered flying, the Piako Gliding Club out of Matamata airfield, and a Model Aero club, a croquet club or two, a badminton club, a waterski club, a contract bridge club, a branch of the Society of Genealogists, a canoe club, a yacht club (think lake, not sea, if the Swiss can do it, etc.), a motor boat club, various general boat clubs, a "Boating & Angling" club, a "Fish, Game And Clay Target" and the more general Hunt club, a table-tennis club, the "Zephyr Zodiac Car Club" and the "Chrysler Charger Club" (you have to suspect these of being rather small), the Waikato Poultry and Pigeon Society (whose show Kay attends), a jockey club, a pockets club (snooker, billiards, pool), a branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (Hamilton is in the Canton of Cluain), an archery club (field visible as you drive into downtown from the gardens), the Waikato Swords Club, a greyhound club, a wine club, various ethnic societies (Danish, Chinese, etc.), the Hamilton Blues Society, the Hamilton Operatic Society (scary thought), the Hamilton Astronomical Society (founded 1933, observatory next to the zoo), various amateur dramatic societies, the Waikato Guild of Woodworkers, a Scottish Country Dancing group and the "Hamilton Caledonian Society Pipe Band", a Hamilton branch of The New Zealand Rose Society, the Waitako Drummers, the Hamilton amateur dancesport club, at least two motorcycle clubs, more than one cycling club, a BMX club (to distinguish itself from cycling clubs I guess), a number of kids clubs (such as the JUniorNATuralists or JUNATs, lectures Fridays during term), a rowing club, an art group (painting, etc.), not to mention health clubs, night clubs, various "Old Boys" clubs, and a veritable glut of the type of "club" that is basically a pub for members, for example The Hamilton Club, Te Mata Social Club, Commerce Club, Working Men's Club, Returned Servicemen's Club (Antipodean "Veteran's Club" equivalent), and so on. There is a balloon festival, a week-long film festival, and an arts cinema, to signal interests not normally associated with a registered club. Indeed, it is hard to find an activity not collectively pursued here, and I have not mentioned any of the disability support societies (cancer, dyslexia, MS, etc), nor professional societies with branches here (such as the society of nephrology, RNZSPCA, etc). It is a wonder that there is enough population to go around.

The dictionary defines culture as relevant to "arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc", or otherwise as encompassing "the behavio[u]rs and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group". To Hans Rosling, culture is as much a distinctive T-shirt or the act of sword-swallowing as it is an appreciation of wine or ballet: It's the goal of life. I'm with him, I see it as the cumulative skills and products of recreation, be those refined, sophistocated, self-improving activities or fun-loving, hands-on hobbies.

Last year in Burke's Law I showed a marvellous GapMinder plot depicting the relatively high expenditure by Aussies, Brits and Kiwis on recreation. The great variety of "cultural activities" listed above reflects that expenditure. That's my kind of culture, quite unlinked from the idea of refinement, and with a very personal definition of self-improvement. Even The Tabouleh Song is culture. Tomorrow never knows.

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