A blow-up world with all its twists and turns

The Balloon Animal Humane Society of America must be seething. I was standing at the payment booth down the Recycling Centre, poised to rescue another objet d'irt from the landfill, when I spotted a DVD called Twisted: A Balloonamentary.

The US hosts huge world conventions in balloon artistry, and according to the promo quotes, this movie captures the magic of it all: Romance: "I met the love of my life because of a balloon convention. I really can't think of any part of my life that hasn't been touched by balloons."

Philosophy: "Once you make a balloon dog, you can do anything."

Redemption: "I started doing balloon animals when I was 15. It was my way out of the trailer park and off of being a welfare kid."

Inspiration: "I wanted to find something to show the kids that everybody don't have to be a drug dealer to be successful."

And religion, from John, the Gospel Balloon Minister (pictured in front of a balloon cross): "It's my gift in life. I honestly believe it's what I was created to do. I guess I am a balloon evangelist." Someone threw this gem away. Then again, the Recycling wanted $1 for it. A dollar - who do they think they are, Harrods?

The centre must be getting big-headed after its star appearance in Kiwi Flyer. I caught it this week (cheap Tuesday). Aw, it's cute. The story's hammy, but it's home-cured ham, so it tastes much better.

We smirk at the locational sleight-of-hand. We thrill at the familiar faces. We cheer at the car chase around the cathedral (full marks for cheek). We groan at the cultural cliches - they tar our beloved cousins across the Tasman as loud, arrogant boffheads, which takes a lot of swallowing.

The plot may be old-school goofy, but as I walked out of the State past a poster for another Tim Burton sick-fest, I thought, old-school goofy fits me fine.

And what a buzz to see our patch on screen. Nelson looks smashing.

You can't help being proud. That's part of what storytelling is all about - fixing us in our landscape.

Live yarn-spinning is back too, and hot property all over. PechaKucha sells out in a flash, and you won't find a ticket for tomorrow night's Couch Stories in the Arts Festival - unless you make an obscene offer for mine.

Nelson is still Pixie Town at heart, so most of us know a few of the storytellers. The ones I've buttonholed are all being coy about their subject matter. I finally cornered one: "Will any balloon animals be harmed in the making of this presentation?"

He wriggled free wearing the cold grin of someone who would torture a tube of latex until it squeaked.

No props allowed, apparently, but I'm not consoled. The price of that ticket is coming down fast.

(Couch Stories take their inspiration from The Moth yarn sessions in New York, which is my clumsy segue into a tale I heard in Motueka recently. There used to be a Moth's Milk Bar in the town. The owner earned his nickname because he would tour the streets on Friday and Saturday nights, looking for the bright house lights that advertised "party", and invite himself in.)

Storytelling never completely died out. Late-night ghost tales are a staple of school camps, and trampers still swap yarns around a campfire. Every night I gather around the campfire-like glow of my laptop for a tale from TED.com, which are little video clips of people talking about their pet subjects. TED's another winner. Friends recommend highlights. This week's standouts:

German Malte Spitz sued his cellphone company to gain their saved data on him - nearly 36,000 lines of computer code that laid bare six months of his life, in detail no squad of private eyes could match. Where he was, down to every few minutes. Who he called. A quick cross-reference would also tell you who he was with, and who they called. Malte argues that if the old Stasi secret police had access to that sort of information, dissent could be snuffed out and the Berlin Wall would still be standing.

Television comedy maestro John Lloyd is fascinated by the invisible. Humans have about 20,000 genes, he says. Rice has 38,000. No mention of how many Aussies have? We carry 46 chromosomes. Potatoes have 48.

Becci Manson is a London photo touch-up artist. After the tsunami in northern Japan last year, she flew in to help with the cleanup. They were recovering photographs damaged by water and sewage. Becci had an idea, and used Facebook to round up colleagues.

The resulting All Hands project involved 1100 volunteers cleaning and restoring 135,000 photos - by hand. These "memory-keepers", as she calls them, were often priceless images for relatives of the 15,870 people killed by the black wave. How precious can a few old photos be? If you had a few seconds to flee your home, what would you grab?

Great stories.