Friday, September 10, 2021

100 things to do...

Dave Freeman, the man who wrote the book, 100 Things to Do Before You Die, died after completing only around half of the list.  Ironically, he died not while doing one of the many adventurous things he wrote about, but at home, after falling and hitting his head.    

This book, and all the imitations of it, from 500 CDs You Must OwnBefore You Die, (what happens then?) to 1001 Movies to See Before You Die, all assume a long life, as well as plenty of money and spare time. 

For people who don’t regard death as the end of everything, such lists might not be so relevant, but for people who believe this life is all there is, then perhaps these lists gain importance. Regrettably, making collections of escapades or movies or music is never going to be completely satisfying. You’re always going to be worrying about the things that aren’t on the list. And whether, like Freeman, you’ll actually make it to the end of your inventory. 

And it also depends on whether you can afford to contemplate starting any one of these lists in the first place. For most of the world’s population, managing to get to a recent movie is an achievement, hearing good music is a privilege, and travelling to places you want to go (rather than just places you can afford) is a luxury.   

In the movie, The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson challenges Morgan Freeman to live out the dreams he’s written on his bucket list – the list you make before you kick the bucket. But Freeman could never afford to do some of the things he’s listed, and it’s only because Nicholson is a multi-millionaire that they can manage to set off at all.    

There’s some hint in the movie that a certain degree of realism needs to come into achieving things on a bucket list. A certain degree: the two characters have been through cancer treatment but appear to suffer few ill-effects from their scampering around the world. (That is, until both of them die at the end of the movie.) 

But apart from health, there’s the difficulty of up and leaving family, or jobs, or responsibilities. The people who make these lists often seem to have a casual attitude towards the more stable aspects of life 

I think most of us could come up with a list that would be far more satisfying (and far cheaper) than the 100 Things/Die type of list, if we thought about it.     

For example, a list with just one item in it: One God to get to know before you die.  

Or a slightly longer but still manageable list: 3...5...7 family members to make up with before you die.

Or a list that takes a bit of stepping out of the comfort zone: 95 homeless people in my town to help before you die. 

These may not at first seem to be exciting and adventurous.  But I’m sure you’ll get a lot more long-term satisfaction out of achieving them.


Image by aga2rk from Pixabay 

This piece first appeared on the now defunct site, Triond, in 2008

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Describing - or not describing - your characters

Today I came across this piece I'd written back in 2004, and never seem to have done anything more with. If nothing else it's fun to read how different writers describe their characters: 

A character in a recent* Tim La Haye novel is described as ‘a hunk with dark hair.’  This may not be La Haye’s fault, since he regularly uses other writers to fill out the details, but it’s symptomatic of the weak descriptions prevalent in many current popular novels.

Here’s another from a recent thriller: ‘Linda. Soft, beautiful, generous, and solid, his backbone for three and a half decades.’ Solid? 

Many writers tend to avoid describing characters these days, partly a result of fashion, and partly a result of the ‘show, don’t tell’ school of writing, whereby they reveal their characters through dialogue and action. But an author who can give us a succinct description of one of their creations, adds something to the reader’s imagination.

Consider Agatha Christie’s first description of Hercule Poirot: ‘He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side.’

Dorothy Sayers’ detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, fares worse: ‘His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola.’ Looking at the various images of Wimsey, from drawings to TV performances, no one seems to have achieved anything like this wonderful description. 

Chesterton manages to describe Father Brown in endless ways, but here are a couple: ‘there shambled into the room a shapeless little figure, which seemed to find its own hat and umbrella as unmanageable as a mass of luggage.’ [He had] a breathless geniality which characterises a corpulent charwoman who has just managed to stuff herself into an omnibus.’

P G Wodehouse not describing a minor character: ‘There is no need to describe Teddy Weeks….a sickeningly handsome young man, possessing precisely the same melting eyes, mobile mouth, and corrugated hair so esteemed by the theatre-going public today.’

One of my favourite character descriptions comes from Middlemarch. George Eliot gives us more than a page on Sir James, so it’s difficult to pull out any particular piece, but here goes: ‘a man’s mind – what there is of it – has always the advantage of being masculine – as the smallest birch tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm – and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality.’ Fortunately, Sir James turns out to be worth more than this description of him. 

Likewise, Annie Proulx in The Shipping News builds up a picture of her main character paragraph by ruthless paragraph: ‘A great damp loaf of a body. Head shaped like a crenshaw,** no neck, reddish hair ruched back. Features as bunched as kissed fingertips. Eyes the colour of plastic. The monstrous chin, a freakish shelf jutting from the lower face.’ It’s almost as if she didn’t like him very much.

And finally, Shakespeare on one of his favourite characters, Falstaff: ‘that trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swoln parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years.’

* 'Recent' in 2004, that is. 

** A variety of melon, apparently. 

It's probable this piece was originally intended as a column for the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga. Those columns were published under the heading of The Juggling Bookie. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Goodbye to the Counterfeit Queen

Thanks to Dollen 

With great reluctance, I'm abandoning my children's fantasy, The Counterfeit Queen. It would have been the third story in a loosely-connected series. I love what I've written so far, and feel very loathe to abandon it, but I don't want to spend what's left of my life on a story I can't get to function properly. 

I'm abandoning what is now the third draft and the longest - so far. In this draft the story isn't even half over yet, and already it's longer than my three previous kids' books. This draft differs substantially from the two previous drafts, which both differed considerably from each other. That's not to say they weren't all telling the same basic story, but the hero became a heroine, three main characters (or was it four?) got whittled down to two, and innumerable scenes came and went. The villain lost her substantial magic power - which might have been a mistake - but to compensate she increased in cunning. The plot, by the time the third draft was in process, was increasingly complex, as was the world-building. The complexities required more complexity as I went along, until my poor little brain couldn't keep up anymore with the politics, a possible rebellion, hints of racism and dozens of other things. 

Worst of all, I'd never been able to persuade my usual co-writer to like the original idea of the story. This is my co-writer in the sense not that she writes any words but that she acts as sounding board, discussion maker, checker of plot-holes, suggester of wackier ideas than I often have, and a person with a sharp eye for inconsistencies. Without her assistance I've had to work even harder to overcome difficulties, and I think that in itself has been wearying. 

Not that the previous books we did together didn't have their complications. The third book we worked on, which wasn't part of the 'series,' was also written and rewritten, but at least it moved forward. This one has been like pushing one wall in a room outwards, one strenuous step at a time, which required the two adjoining walls to stretch further and further without breaking. 

That's not to say the writing didn't flow, and didn't continually bring up interesting details as it went along. The writing was enjoyable; the plotting and all the rest of it not so much. 

Incidentally, in a rough count of how many words were written in either drafts or notes for this book, it comes to around 260,000. Quite a few for a book that should have been around 30,000 to 40,000 words. 

So it's off to something new, something different altogether. In spite of reading what seems like endless books on the how to plot and how to construct and how to do this or that when it comes to writing, I think I'll stick to my mostly tried and true method of just starting to write and see where that takes me. I know this is the method used by plenty of good writers; some of them get the story functioning from early on; others, like me, usually have to write draft after draft along with copious notes before the finished product arrives. 

So it goes, to quote Kurt Vonnegut - who was also a writer of many drafts and a tendency to discover the story as he went along. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Ministry of Advice

 If I have a fatal flaw in my character it is an inability to pass by a piece of paper with words on it. I have to read it - even when the print is upside down. 

Consequently, I misread a missive the other day and thought that a new ministry had been created: the Ministry of Advice

The mind boggles (well, it would boggle if it knew how. Boggle is a variation of Bogle, I find, and an archaic version of Bogey. A bogey is a mischievous spirit, which may explain the loss of innumerable golf balls.) 

Anyway, one wonders what the Ministry of Advice would advise on, since the Department of Internal Affairs seems to be the place to get answers to legislative matters. Might the MOA, for instance, replace those agony columns in magazines? 

"Dear MOA, my boyfriend says my zits drive him crazy. He says he can't make up his mind which to squeeze first, them or me. What should I do?" Signed, Helpless and Confused. 

"Dear Helpless and Confused, we must first point out that no one in this nation should consider themselves helpless and confused. The sense of purpose and direction of this nation's leadership is such that it has taken the people from the doldrums of international debt to recovery in a matter of a decade, and now all citizens can be proud that they are part of a movement which will raise the level of opportunity, finance and welfare far above that experienced in any period since this country was colonised.

"Therefore, since his country cannot be classified as beyond help, no individual member of the nation can be classed as helpless. Confusion we find is a matter for the Ministry of Health, however, and we have referred the relevant section of your letter to them. 

"Boyfriend under the terms of the Act (section 205, paragraph 9a) is not only a relationship of degree that cannot make claims having no foundation in fact, it is a relationship that is not yet a relationship, as 'boyfriend' has no legal or legislative status. Therefore you are no obliged to take this person's statement as being in any way true for yourself. We would suggest you get a second opinion, one that will hold valid in a court of law. 

"Furthermore, we can find no mention in parliamentary proceedings to indicate that minute growths on the skin can cause any kind of delirium, dementia, derangement, lunacy, mania, or state of unsound mind. This would incline us to the conclusion that the 'zits' are not responsible for the state of your boyfriend's sanity, and we have thoughtfully passed on your letter to the Ministry of Women's Affairs, which is well able to deal with inaccuracies of thought, counterfactual opinions and specious solecisms by members of male sex. 

"It is our opinion that many persons in this country are in a state of indecision, and this in spite of the consistently straight-as-an-arrow approach to leadership our beloved leaders take. We admit some bewilderment therefore when you say that your male associate is unable to make up his mind regarding a certain process of compression. 

"From where we sit, at this point in time, with all things being equal, and considering all options, we believe that an undeviating procedure is the prerequisite in this particular case. Your acquaintance of the masculine gender should take pen and paper and, sitting at a desk, write out an order of attack. 

"Depending on the number of skin eruptions involved, he may have to work out at which point of the facial features he is going to begin. Only when he has dispensed with each outbreak, will he find it sensible to pass onto the next stage - embracing your person. However, stage one of the plan may take some time. We do not suggest you fret unnecessarily until it is completed. 

"We have enclosed a large number of Government-produced pamphlets showing how to occupy yourself during such a time. We hope these, and the advice contained above, will assist you with your request. 

"Yours sincerely…."

This was originally published on a now defunct site, Triond. 

Listless and listful

English lacks a number of what could be quite useful words, particularly in the suffix departments labelled, ‘ful’ and ‘less.’ (That’s ‘full’ to people in the USA.)

Just to take an example, think of the word, ‘wrongful.’  We use this in relation to a person being unjustly arrested. Surely the word should be ‘wrongless.’  If you’ve done nothing wrong, then how can your arrest be described as wrong-ful?

We think of certain kinds of marriage as ‘loveless.’ Why then don’t we call those marriages that last for 50 or 60 years – you know the Darby and Joan kind that get reported in the paper – as ‘loveful?’ What about the person who wins several prizes at once in Lotto? Isn’t he luckful? (If ever I have occasion to possess a Lotto ticket, I can always be described by the more familiar luckless.) 

And don’t we often wish politicians were more speechless than speechful, and would let us have a truthful earful? 

Isn’t it curious that we describe certain kinds of sunless rooms as airless, when in fact only a vacuum can be airless. All rooms are airful, though not all are sunful. 

One of the most commonly used adjectives is ‘awful,’ which is a shortened form of what used to be a word of great strength: ‘awe-full’, meaning full of awe. It would be far more accurate to describe most awful things these days by its opposite. We should be using that awkward little squashed down word, ‘awless.’  

Turning to another awless area of life, dentists must be pleased that we are toothful rather than toothless. Equally chiropodists should be pleased with footful people – even if they are wearing footless tights or fingerless gloves. (Actually haven’t you thought how much more couth it would be to give someone a fingerful rather than a fistful? Though I’m usually pretty fistless when it comes to such occasions.) 

I’m sure the peaceful would like to see a lot more hateless people around them, while most mothers would be grateful for willess children, rather than grateless and wilful ones (when you use the word ‘willess’ however, you can see why it’s never really made the grade. And should it be spelt with two ‘l’s or three?) 

Actually I was being truthless when I said I’d made a lengthy study of this matter. These endful curiosities first distracted me in the middle of listening one morning at church to an otherwise interesting sermon. 

It was there that I saw that we’ve managed to retain some twin words. Even in our less than Godful society we still have sinful and sinless, faithful and faithless, graceful and graceless, joyful and joyless, fearful and fearless. 

How come all these kept their opposites, when lustful has no lustless, or topless no topful, or bottomless no bottomful? (The mind boggles.) 

I guess they were successful instead of successless. 

PS.   Thanks for my daughter’s listful help. 

This was originally published on a now defunct site, Triond. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Anglian Worms

 This item first appeared on my old back in 2011. Unfortunately, like everything else on that blog, it was deleted summarily by the company who ran it. I've included it here because it's linked to from another blog. 

Anglian Worms is a small business run mostly by Amanda Jennings on an industrial estate some eight miles past Fakenham in Norfolk.The business works out of a couple of former Nissan huts.

Amanda’s been running the business for around 18 months, and is only now beginning to make some profit out of it. She has a farming background, and says farmers in general are helpful to one another when it comes to problems and difficulties. Worm farmers, though, are keen on keeping their secrets.

The first ‘hut’ has an office, small worm plastic boxes, larger wooden-encased sections, and a lot of horse manure. Plastic sheeting heats up the manure and cooks it, making the process of breaking it down a good deal quicker.

In the second hut there are some twenty large boxes set on the concrete floor. They were built by her husband (who’s a farmer) and are around three metres by two. A few thousand worms live in each of these - and multiply.

Like any business, the biggest issues come with the marketing. (Though the physical work involved in worm farming is considerable too). Worms can be sold to fishermen - via fishing shops - to home gardeners, and in some other areas. However, getting a foothold in these areas is a major task, one that’s still taking up a good deal of Amanda’s time. With the increase of interest in things ecological, however, she seems to be in the right business.

Worms don’t need much looking after: watering when it’s warm, and feeding. In Anglian Worms case the food comes from a combination of the horse manure and peat. The heavy work is in turning the horse manure, filling up the boxes, and packing.  Hardest of all is sorting out worms from the peat/manure mix.   This is done by hand, one or two worms at a time.

Having the large box containers on the ground brings problems in terms of needing to bend over and reach down to get the worms. If she was starting again, Amanda says she’d make her worms more accessible.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Procrastination post one hundred and something

I'm typing up an old handwritten journal from 2005 at the moment and just came across a section that struck a real chord. It says:

“I could probably get on and do some more of the novel, but it’s near ten, and I don’t know if I want to get onto it tonight. Apart from that, it’s not warm in here, and I’m in the middle of a bit I’m not enjoying much…although at least I’m writing it. I went back and began the sequence I’d missed out earlier because I couldn’t work out how to do it. It wasn’t nearly so hard as I thought. In fact, it’s never the writing that’s hard, it’s the getting started, and yes, I know I should write at least five minutes if nothing else, but five minutes is never enough to get into it.”

Note all the excuses: too late in the evening, not warm in the room, writing a section I’m not enjoying writing, five minutes isn't long enough to get started. 

On the other hand, note that I was still writing the bit I wasn't enjoying - when I wasn't procrastinating. Furthermore I'd gone back to a section I’d missed out before, discovering I’d worked out how to do it in the meantime. (I think I'm talking about two different sections here in the journal, but I might not be.)

Perhaps seemingly least, but not necessarily: It’s better to write for five minutes than for no minutes.

Procrastination is my biggest problem. One excuse I didn't use here is: 'I don't know if it's worth carrying on with this book because I've had so many problems with it.' But problems are part and parcel of putting a story together, especially if there's anything complex in the plotting. I've had immense problems with the latest children's story I've been writing for what now seems like years. And have solved most of them eventually. No doubt, since I'm probably only halfway through it, there will be more problems to come. 

Anywho, I'm impressed with my younger journal self; I was 60 at the time. I was prepared to keep on writing through a section I wasn't enjoying. Not that this meant it wasn't a good piece to work on, but that it was hard to write. 

And it's also encouraging to see that I'd sensibly had left a section aside when I couldn't sort out how to do it - this required guts on my part because I don't like leaving (writing) things undone. even now. But better still, the problem with the section, whatever it was, actually got solved by the fact of leaving it aside. 

Lastly: it's better to write for five minutes than not write at all. Why, do you ask? I'm sure you already know the answer, but I'll jot it down anyway, as a reminder to myself as much as anything else. It's better to write for five minutes, because once we've got into that five minutes, we usually carry on writing, and not only does more get done than we anticipated, we remember how much we enjoy the sheer fact of writing...

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Juggling Bookie: Remembrance of Faces Past

I first became enthused about remembering people’s names when I read an article in the Reader’s Digest - an entire book on memorization had been condensed into a mere three pages.  

The article claimed you could recall people’s names by associating the uniqueness of their faces with some related object. Perhaps, I thought, this would help me keep track of who my customers were. But when I looked for the complete book at the library what did I discover? The last borrower had forgotten to bring it back.

Fortunately this is a subject on which there are plenty of books, so I borrowed something else. 

I discovered that this association method is a common memory trick, but I also discovered that it’s very difficult to make conversation with a complete stranger while simultaneously focusing on their facial features.

Suppose you meet a Mrs Burton. You may note that her furrowed brow resembles her namesake Richard in his latter days. Your brain cells may connect this to craggy Welsh mountains or coalminers’ safety helmets or How Green Was My Valley.

But while you’re doing all this mental leaping and bounding, Mrs Burton may be wondering whether you’re an unenthusiastic conversationalist, or merely someone who’s on too much medication.

And six weeks later she’ll be startled to be addressed as Mrs Green, or even Mrs Taylor. 

Then there’s Mr Brown, a man who hasn’t a single outstanding feature about him. Peering at his face is like looking for an oasis in the Sahara. The likelihood is that in future meetings you’ll call him Mr Bland.

Anyone who’s had to attend any sort of gathering will have noted how hosts insist on introducing you to people in an offhand way, tossing in a word or two about them, and then dragging you off to meet someone else. Or they throw a roomful of faces at you and say, “Let me tell you all these peoples’ names.” And, encouragingly, they add, “Of course you’ll forget them anyway.”

Worse, even in Anglican circles, where tradition ought to reign, people no longer introduce others by both Christian and surnames. It becomes a major undertaking to hang hooks on a succession of Georges, Bills, Bobs and Brians, let alone Claires, Susans, Gillians and Joans. 

Having practiced hard at home, I know that the memory system works - and my brain knows it too. But given the opportunity to multi-task, my brain prefers to sulk.  

 Perhaps I’ll have to adopt the irritating approach someone recently used at church, on me. During our conversation, while I struggled to scan his face for spots or scars, cleft chins or twitches, this new acquaintance hammered my name onto the end of every sentence. 

I have no idea who he was. But at least I remember who I am.

This piece was originally intended for the column in the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga

The Juggling Bookie: Bookaholic

Hi, my name’s Mike Crowl, and I need to confess that I’m a bookaholic. I don’t have any control over this - it isn’t helped by the fact that I have to work in a bookshop. My life has become unmanageable.   Well, it’s not my life so much as my bookshelves – they’re unmanageable.  

Can I blame them for my condition? Oh, I can’t. 

I’m told that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, but the problem is, I’m sort of working for that particular Power, because it’s a Christian bookshop…

So it’s His fault. Oh, I can’t blame Him either.

Apparently I’m supposed to turn my will and life over to the care of God - as I understand Him.    Hmm, according to what I do understand, He’s infinitely superior to me in every respect, so I only understand a little bit of Him. No excuse, huh?

I need to make a searching and fearless inventory - of my bookshelves. This should be fun! Oh, you mean I need to do it now, not when I’ve finally read all the books. Actually I may not read them all – I’ve only just caught up with one I’ve had for thirty years.          

I have to admit to God, and myself, and to another human being, the exact nature of my wrongs. The trouble is, that the bloke I share my shop with is a secondhand bookshop dealer, and he’s even more of a bookaholic than I am. My wife reads books; my Aged Parent reads books (some of them several times over); my children read books. Oh, what shall be done with me, wretched man that I am! 

Am I entirely ready to have God remove my defects and shortcomings? Does this mean I have to send all these books to the local secondhand dealer? But I work with one!

So I need to make a list of all persons I’ve offended by lending books to them? Does anyone remember who they lend books to? Shouldn’t I be asking all my friends why they haven’t given the books back to me? 

I’ve got to make direct amends to such people where possible? Have I got to pay them for borrowing my own books off me? 

Right, so I need to make a personal inventory. Right, so I spend several weeks putting all the books on my computer and then I’ll know who’s borrowed them. Oh, I don’t think I’m quite getting the picture here – and I’m not sure how some of this stuff is helping me with my problem. 

Okay, so I’ve had a spiritual awakening as a result of following these steps, and tried to carry this message to others…but, just a minute, if I tell them I’m a bookaholic, will they still buy any books from me? 

Maybe I need to join a different group – like a monthly book reading club.

This piece was originally intended for the column in the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga

The Juggling Bookie: Reading long books

Classic long books are full of great things, rubble and trivia – and most deserve to be read more than once. 

This year I became a member of the I’ve-read-The-Lord-of-the-Rings-twice Club, though I must admit it was a struggle. I was determined to re-read it, having what I thought were fond memories from thirty years ago of my first reading, and inspired by the three movies, but it turned out to be a sometime exciting, sometime turgid, sometime overblown, sometime extraordinary book. With songs. 

I’ve also discovered that I’m an honorary member of the I-don’t-seem-to-be-able-to-finish-a-book-by-Thackeray Club. Neither Becky Sharp or Barry Lyndon have managed to entice me beyond the half way mark. Something more interesting has always turned up, and these two languish unacknowledged in their peculiar long-winded story-telling.

Victor Hugo
Did I mention that I’m also a member of the I’m-practically-the-only-person-you’ll-meet-who’s-actually-read-Les Miserables Club? I began this book in the summer holidays one year and couldn’t put it down. I have to admit that I skimmed one of the ‘essays’ that Victor Hugo scatters throughout the book, but apart from this I read it thoroughly. The story is full of coincidences, the pursuit of the hero by the detective is interminable, the characters manage to be involved in revolutions and the Battle of Waterloo, and yet you take all this in your stride because the author grabs you by the hand and whisks you along. Grace and forgiveness permeate the story, and the last couple of hundred pages are so gripping that at the time I read them everything else in life went on hold: wife, children, sunshine, picnics. 

Last year I read The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s as if, as I get older, I need to take an annual journey into some huge novel, in order to say I’ve done it, or just to prove I can stick with it. This book, like many of Alexandre Dumas, was hastily written, with some sections thrown together months apart.   There’s no doubt it’s badly plotted (a colleague wrote the outline, apparently) and it has a long digression in the centre. The hero is a strangely uneven character, some of the characters behave very oddly, and yet it’s extraordinarily enjoyable.   

When these 19th century serial writers are at the top of their form, they plunge your imagination into what is best about storytelling. At their worst you have to keep reminding yourself that they wrote to horrific deadlines and had to get something out to their readers, even if that something was mostly padding. (Dickens seems to be one of the few serial writers who was able to overcome this problem by his sheer genius – and humour.)

I’d love to sit down and read some of them again: the Anthony Trollope Barchester series, many of Dickens’ best novels (I’ve read Bleak House twice – which has one of Dickens’ more sympathetically portrayed Christian characters in it), and Middlemarch, that wondrous achievement of George Eliot’s, which wasn’t produced in serial format, and which she abandoned after writing some hundreds of pages, and began again. 

But will I live long enough?  

This piece was originally intended for the column in the NZ Anglican magazine, Taonga

The Juggling Bookie: Eidam on Bach

Earlier this year I came across Klaus Eidam’s biography, The True Life of Johann Sebastian BachEidam uses the word ‘true’ to show he’s dispelling the myths that other, older biographers have cluttered up the facts with.

Why read about Bach? Well, in recent years I find I’m playing his music more and more – and enjoying it. I was introduced to him some forty-five years ago by a teacher wise enough to believe that students should get to know great music even if it didn’t necessarily enthral them. The teacher recommended laying out good money on the two volumes of the 48 Preludes and Fugues, and I did. I learned a few scattered pieces, sight-read those I could get away with (without the teacher knowing) and ignored the rest. But it was like puddling in Bach’s paddling pool, rather than swimming with him in the ocean.

The two volumes travelled with me to England and back, lost their covers, and occasionally got a dusting off - mostly to see if I could still get my fingers round their intricacies.

But now, in my grandfather years, I’ve begun some dedicated work on these astonishing compositions, and the effort’s been rewarded so mightily all I can do is enthuse about their creator.

There are passages in Bach when you feel as though you’re doing a kind of knitting – except Bach never bothers with plain and purl.There are places where you think the piece should finish, but the grand old genius frolics on for another dozen delectable bars. Sometimes he stops right in the middle of something and hives off in another direction, at a different tempo, and with different material. How unbaroque! 

There are bars when the clashing chords are so twentieth-century you ask: did he know he was preempting Stravinsky or Messiaen? Sometimes he’s so intent of keeping the various ‘voices’ running that he’ll swap them back and forth between the hands until the brain goes into meltdown. (Eidam says Bach could effortlessly hold half a dozen different ‘voices’ in his head, being thoroughly aware of them at all times.)

Or he writes passages of astonishing mathematical structure, taking a subject and playing itself against itself, upside-down, back to front, slower, faster – and not just one voice against another, but several together. (He often improvised in such a way without blinking an eye.)

And then there are the sublime moments. In the middle of something that’s already taken wings he opens a window to heaven – just for a couple of bars. You wonder if God hadn’t elbowed him aside - ‘Excuse me, Jo!’ - and written those bars himself.

I recall one particular Bach orchestral concert in London. There was a moment in the evening when the musicians, the audience and the angels took off, skimming along Bach’s great river of joy in such a way that forty years later I still get emotional at the thought of it.

What a man!

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2005 



The Juggling Bookie: Mr Beaver and Books

 If you’re going to complicate your life, make sure you do it thoroughly. July and August this year were jam-packed with complications.  

I’d been asked to take the part of Mr Beaver in a full-length adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. July was rehearsal month, with five performances in the last week. I haven’t acted in a play for at least thirty years, so not only did I have to learn a heap of lines, I had to work out how to build a character from scratch, how to relate to other people on the stage, and how to ignore the fact that during the performances various close relatives sat scrutinizing my every move.

To my surprise, I was able to forget who I was and become exuberant and eloquent. Furthermore I shared with around fifty people that wonderful sense of being part of something larger than myself, and actually did the thing well enough to impress the aforesaid relatives.

However, as soon as the play was over, I went straight from that euphoric state into intensive preparations for shifting our shop, and then into the hard work of the shift itself. All within a fortnight.

Because of a considerable rent increase, we’ve had to move our shop from Dunedin’s main street to a site which, while it’s only a block from our old location, isn’t quite as accessible. We not only lost our street frontage – we went upstairs. Shifting thousands of books, as well as heavy shelving and other shop furniture up twenty-six stairs is an energy-challenging exercise, even with the help of a large number of volunteers.

We last shifted four and half years ago, and weren’t planning on moving again in a hurry. Loathe to vacate, I didn’t organise this shift as well as the previous one, and when, on the Saturday, I finally stood in the midst of a sea of boxes and shelves all thrown together higgledy-piggledy into a room I’d thought previously was more than spacious, my brain said, ‘I’m out of here,’ and refused to function.

Nevertheless, with a little forceful encouragement from my wife, my brain returned to its normal working habits, and we began the task of putting things where they were most likely to spend the next stage of their lives.

Now I had to play the part of The Manager, a role that doesn’t allow for time off in the dressing room.  And while all of us, volunteers and staff, had a sense of being part of something much bigger than ourselves, I don’t think ‘wonderful’ came into it.  

Equally, I’m not sure that on this occasion I managed to impress the rellies as well as I did in the play.    Playing yourself isn’t half as entertaining as playing a Beaver.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2005 


The Juggling Bookie: Christian Booksellers

It pays for Christian booksellers to have a couple of side talents: being able to pick winners at the races, for one, and being able to juggle.

They have to have a nose for up-and-coming winners, or, as they’re called in the trade: the ‘latest trends.’ In my decade or so of being a Christian bookseller, I’ve seen several trends push to the top of the pile, including a Feminist trend, a Spirituality trend, a Spiritual Warfare trend, and, perhaps most famously, a Celtic Christianity trend.  

I remember when you could put the word Celtic in front of anything, and people would lap it up. Celtic Christmas music? Yep, there are still a couple of those albums on our shelves. But what about, How to Celebrate a Celtic Ascension, or the Celtic Book of Herbs and Garnishes, or Bible Stories for Little Celtic Ears?  

I’m kidding. Though people have thought OC Books was short for Outstanding Celtic Books.)*  

Now the latest trend is Postmodernism: Postmodern Evangelism, Postmodern Preaching, and how to find the real gospel in The Simpsons, Harry Potter and The Matrix. Alternative Worship is only a neck behind. Hmm, I see that the slow starter, Islam, is coming up fiercely on the outside.

Booksellers juggling in their shops might keep the punters amused for a time, but I really mean it to represent juggling our customers’ broad-ranging requirements.

Evangelicals like to see Philip Yancey’s mop of curls displayed foremost in the window, with John
Piper and John MacArthur - in solid dark suits - holding up his arms on either side. Liberals demand that John Shelby Spong get pride of place, even if he did borrow Luther’s famous catch phrase for his latest novel (sorry, biography).

The feminists will want to know why Rosemary Radford Ruether and Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza haven’t got the window to themselves, while the End Times patriots will be sure the Last Days have come if you haven’t got all of the Left Behind series on a massive display-stand just inside the door, and additional copies in precarious stacks on the counter.  (Having feminists in the window may also give them cause for concern.)

HillSongs will be blaring from speakers at one end of the shop while Taize sings demurely (and occasionally out of tune) at the other. 

Woe betide if you’re a new Christian, or worse, a Seeker. The overwhelming range of material catering for every species of Christian - except those who don’t yet know anything - is likely to send them back to Whitcoulls for a no-frills no-pictures NIV.   

No doubt Christian Booksellers throughout history have always had to deal with a broad range of tastes: “Got the latest Manichean in yet, mate? I’ve done me dash with those Gnostic novels.”

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2003, and was the first column under the Juggling Bookie masthead.

*Otago Christian Books

Image courtesy Penguin Random House

The Juggling Bookie: Christianity in Movies

 At the time the NZ Catholic’s film critic, Graeme Evans, reviewed Dogville, I hadn’t seen the movie. Nevertheless I was puzzled about his claim that “conventional religion is now regarded as box office poison,” and that the only way in which film-makers can present religious content is by disguising it, and ‘conning the audience.’ 

Well, I’ve now seen the movie, been surprised, shocked and amazed by it, and perplexed that anyone could miss the point that the main character, Grace, suffers increasingly as she offers (Divine) grace to the most ornery collection of villagers you’ve ever seen. (People have missed the point, however: some reviewers saw it as an attack on America.) 

Dogville, which hasn’t been widely distributed in NZ, requires its audience to spend most of the film thinking about what they see. No easy three-point sermon here. 

In the last couple of decades, theology has increasingly been debated in movies, many of them made in Hollywood. 

Leaving the oddball Christian connotations of The Matrix trilogy aside, there are plenty of other movies dealing with religion, God and spirituality, often with a Christian perspective.    

Some of them are fantasies, such as Jim Carrey’s two movies, The Truman Show and Bruce Almighty.    (Carrey’s Liar, Liar is another moral movie.)  

I delighted in the way God was presented in Bruce Almighty. His He has sense of humour is infinitely more subtle than Bruce’s, He has wisdom, wit and compassion, and you have no doubt He knows what He’s doing. 

Then there’s Brother, Where Art Thou?, which in spite of being based on Homer’s Odyssey, not only has a river baptism scene early in the piece and a redemption scene much later (in the midst of a Ku Klux Klan meeting, no less), but sports a one-eyed prophet (Cyclops – he turns up in Dogville too) who sets the main character thinking very seriously about God’s providence.    

The peculiar Keeping the Faith dramatizes the moral dilemmas of a Rabbi and a Catholic priest.   The Rabbi comes off as the lesser moral character, seeming to have no compunction about making mad passionate love to a woman he’s not married to, while the priest actually struggles to overcome the same temptation.  

There’s the very strange Dogma, which for all its crazy casting, foul language and off-the-wall moments, still asks solid questions about why humans are offered grace, and why Christ should have died for them. (God appears in two guises in this one, alongside angels, demons and a very strange toilet monster. Don’t ask.) 

And there’s The Man Who Sued God. If you can get past Billy Connelly’s foul-mouthed leading character, you’ll find the film is interested in matters much deeper than whether the insurance notion of ‘an Act of God’ has any real meaning.  

Finally, there’s Signs, in which Mel Gibson makes a better case for belief in God, perhaps, than he does in The Passion. 

Disguised or not, con-job or not, spirituality no longer seems to be box-office poison.

A scene from Dogville

This piece was written for The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,Taonga, in 2004, but possibly not published at the time. 

The Juggling Bookie: Dancing

Courtesy Daily Mail

For almost as long as we’ve been married, my wife and I have said, We must learn to dance.  For years we’d watched dancers sail round the floor with the easy grace of Rogers and Astaire while we trailed behind holding each other tightly in case we fell over.

Last year we began dancing classes. Coming in a bit late, at week three, we found the other learners still trying to get their feet to do as they were told. Without looking at them. While smiling.   

We thought it would be really difficult, but soon discovered it doesn’t take a lot of talent to dance. Most people can move in time and get the steps right. It just takes practice.

We assumed at first we’d learn enough to get us into the Rogers/Astaire mode, but no: we were learning Round dancing. (That’s right, as opposed to Square.) Round dancing uses common steps like the Cha Cha, the Rumba, and the Two-Step - but only as a basis for an infinite number of variations.  And in order not to have to remember the sequence of all these variations, a caller tells you what’s coming up next, and you get on and do it. 

Thus, allied to the art of keeping your feet from tripping over themselves - or your partner’s - is the art of remembering what these variations require you to do. Many of the names bear little relation to the movement you perform. Though in the Fence Line you stretch your arms out before and behind, in the New Yorker you fling your outside arm back and your inside foot forward. It’s easy once you know it, but the reason for the title is lost in the mists of choreographic history. 

The movements for The Sliding Door, The Scissors and The Hitch (not hitching your trousers up, gents) relate to their titles, but the Fan moving into the Hockey Stick is a bit of a conundrum. 

In the early weeks, connecting the intended movement to their arcane names wasn’t too difficult. But when we got to the Two-Step, we found variations piled on variations. There’s the basic box-step, and the reverse box, then ‘progressive’ boxes (which is a misnomer), left boxes (which go full circle) and a broken box - which isn’t. It’s both frustrating and enlivening, and shows that old brains are as good as new ones at learning. If you practice!

However, the problem with practicing at home is finding enough room. The earlier dances we learnt didn’t move too far from their starting place, but the Two-Step grazes all over the field. By the time we’ve done an eight-step Crab Walk, we’ve squeezed through the door of our lounge and out into the hall. The following steps take us to the front door; in the wintertime that’s where we stop, and go into reverse. 

Maybe in the summer we’ll open the door, trip lightly down the path and out onto the street where there’s not only plenty of room, but possibly a ready-made audience.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2004


The Juggling Bookie: Invisible

Ghost writers used to be invisible. Consider the Holy Ghost Writers who ‘took dictation’ from God for the biblical canon. Most were swept into the ranks of Anon, or worse, had their books named after someone else. 

Back when this column was written I surfed the Net to see if being a Christian ghost writer was a common trade, and found one called Charlene Davis. Charlene (who, to keep the record straight, is a Christian writer rather than a Christian ghost) used to run a site called At that time it had an interactive CD containing 42,000 family recipes; a downloadable e-book: Make Your Own Gift Baskets!; and generous five-days-a-week Tips For Busy Moms!  

All accompanied by exclamation marks!!

Now when you try and link to busymomsrecipes it seems to take you to some dark place on the Internet. 

One of Charlene’s ghost-writing ventures was: The Ultimate Baby Naming eBook – its ‘proper’ author was Jesse Horowitz. The book, we’re told, contains the 21 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid in Naming Your Baby!  (“How to make absolutely certain that you’ve considered all possible religious interpretations of any name before deciding on it…”)   And a foolproof, new way to choose the perfect name for your baby!!   

Charlene is also an editor. I’m sure she’s pleased that editors, like most ghost writers, are invisible. One of her recent jobs was: Confessions of a Womanizer! by Stephen E. Chatman.  (Note her influence in the exclamation mark!!)

On her site Stephen E. Chatman made the following claim: “Ordinary men can't compete [with me] because I am not a regular adorer of women. I am specialized, a champion of sexual desire.”

Hmm. Such comments make me, as a man, want to be invisible.

I said earlier that invisibility was the main trait of ghost-writing. No more.

The famous Left Behind series had a very visible ghost writer in the person of Jerry Jenkins. It appears that Tim Lahaye’s contributions to this series consisted of the original idea and thirty-page outlines for each book, or approximately one thirteenth of the total series. Lahaye’s name sold the books, but the person who did the hard graft was Jerry Jenkins.

Lahaye expanded his outlining skills. Babylon Rising was the first of a new series that would be “a little
lighter theologically,” with an archaeologist hero similar to Indiana Jones.

Then the visible ghost writer was Greg Dinallo, who is mostly known for several fast-paced Cold War thrillers written around the early 90s. Whether he suited Lahaye’s fastidious readers is another matter: the comment of one reviewer regarding Dinallo’s own novel, Red Ink, is a little ominous: ‘I would have preferred if this book had been written in invisible ink.’

Maybe there’s something to be said for being unacknowledged, after all.

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,TaongaIt was written in 2004. The version above has been updated.         

The Juggling Bookie considers Second Childhood

While trying to find out whether there are any books relating to the topic of Second Childhood (not that I’m considering dropping into it at any moment, or am in real need of figuring out how I’ll cope) I Googled across a particular title that had some relevance to the matter in hand.  

Rhymes of second childhood: a gift item for those who at last have come to their senses, by Arthur
Stavig. It sounds just the thing I need, except that it’s out of print.

The curious thing is that it was advertised, along with several of Mr Stavig’s other titles, on a site entitled Economics Student Books (sic). I couldn’t quite see the connection, except in a peculiarly postmodern sense, but it was a little like going out in the rain looking for a dry dog and stumbling over a frozen cat. I’m sure you understand what I mean.

Anyway, Mr Stavig is also the author of Red Riding Hood story disputed as the wolf speaks up, and the equally awkwardly titled, Trolls: thewhipping boy of Norwegian folklore.  (Yup, only one boy.)   Mr Stavig, as well as residing on the Economics Student Books site, seems, for someone writing thirty years ago, to have been a little ahead in the postmodern stakes.  (BTW, did you know on Google’s Advanced Search you can ‘find results without the words?   How postmodern is that?)

Perhaps the piece de resistance (if I may be so bold as to show off my electrical learning) of Mr Stavig’s featured works, was Dear Elmer: the unuxpurgated (sic) memoirs of a bloviated Norwegian.

Now before you suspect that someone has had a little mishap with the spelling of Mr Stavig’s title in regard to unuxpurgated, a word which I think henceforth will enter my vocabulary as a way of bemusing my grandchildren (and perhaps making them think I really have entered my second childhood) let me point out that it also appears in with this spelling on

Bloviated, on the other hand, is a perfectly respectable word, meaning to discourse at length in a pompous or boastful manner.  One George Rebeck, (a person who doesn’t reside on an Economics site) wrote: “the rural Babbitt who bloviates about ‘progress’ and ‘growth.’” Hmm. Perhaps my grandkids might think I’m bloviated.

This almighty phrase, (which turns up three times in a row on Google), first appeared in the Utne Reader for November/December 1991.

Oh, you want to know what on earth an Utne Reader is? It’s a magazine founded in 1984 by one Eric Utne, and it reprints the best articles from over 2,000 alternative media sources. Alternative to what?   The Utne Reader?

But we haven’t finished with the inimitable Arthur, who plainly has a sense of humour even without his titles being mangled.   He also wrote: Things you’ve always wanted to know about lutefisk but were too politeto ask. As we all know, a lutefisk is a dried cod soaked in a lye solution before it’s boiled to a gelatinous consistency.   

Oh, if only all of us could reach the stage of gelatinous consistency! How untroubled the world would be.  

Or perhaps gelatinous consistency is really just Second Childhood…

This piece first appeared in The Juggling Bookie column in the New Zealand Anglican magazine,Taonga. It was written in 2005 


Monday, May 10, 2021


Facebook's idea of reviving items you posted a year or two or more ago sometimes brings up some happy memories. 

Today I just found a delightful Australian video in which adult kids say all the things their mothers wish they'd say instead of the usual slanging-off things. It's called Things Mums Never Hear From Their Kids. 

And following that video was a post containing a review from 2017 of my book, The Disenchanted Wizard. This review doesn't appear on either Amazon or Goodreads, sadly, so I've decided to publish it here. Sadly, the writer of this review, a good friend of mine, passed away in November 2019. 

Here's what she had to say: 

Just read 'The Disenchanted Wizard' by my friend, Mike Crowl. Simply amazing what an author with a vivid imagination can do with the love of soccer, the discovery of a map, a long ago act of revenge and 2 youngsters - oh, and lots of extras in between.
A fabulous read for children (I would say 8 - 14 yrs) and also for adult children like myself.
Seriously, it really had me captivated.
This is an exciting, fast-paced, and at times 'on the edge of the chair' read, with beautiful use of language particularly in the descriptive passages.
Affordably available on kindle 🙂

Sunday, March 21, 2021

I finally buy another piano

When we knew we were moving house back in September last year, I also knew I'd have to sell the Broadwood baby grand I'd had for about twelve years. This was tough, because I'd used it continually, and I was very fond of it, in spite of its upper register having a couple of notes that were very bright - brighter than their fellows - and the middle section of the keyboard requiring considerable strength to make it play well and evenly. 

In the end I bit the bullet and advertised it on Trade Me, after asking the two remaining piano companies in Dunedin if either of them were interested in buying it. The first said they had too much stock already, the second, Alexander Pianos, also said he had a lot in hand at the moment, but at least told me how much it would cost to shift it. 

And then he put a question on the Trade Me page and after a bit of back and forth, I sold it directly to him for NZ$2,500.  

Adrian Mann is a bit of a unassuming genius. Not only did he build, from scratch, the longest piano in the world - but he tunes pianos, repairs them, does them up, trades in them, shifts them round the region mostly on his own. Yesterday, I even discovered that he'd built the trailer he carries them in: a big metal box affair with all sorts of innovations he's installed himself. He made it so that it's slightly narrower than his car, which means that if he can get his car in a driveway he can get the trailer in too. 

The trailer has a flap at the back that folds down to form a platform which can be electrically lowered and raised as required. 

When he picked up my grand, he brought his muscle man with him. I was expecting someone who at least appeared to have muscles, but in fact the guy was skinny and taller than Adrian, and is another pianist, who teaches piano. Adrian himself is only about my height (five foot six, or roughly 167 centimetres), and appears to be slightly built. But he can shift a piano into your house - or out of it - on his own, on a trolley, as though he was just bringing in the groceries. 

After we moved I kept putting off getting another piano for no good reason, using my digital piano in the meantime. A good instrument in its way, but not as flexible as a piano in terms of how easily you can move round the keys. Still it's sustained me in the interim. Finally I decided I needed to get on and find another one, and so when I was down in Dunedin last weekend I went in to see Adrian and he showed me a couple of possibilities. 

The first was a Danemann piano. I liked it but it felt a bit blurry when I used the pedal. This may have been because when you used the pedal on the digital piano it had almost no resonance. The Danemann was very bright in the upper register which didn't feel quite comfortable. 

The second piano was a Welmar and it was much more my style. Don't know how to explain why that was the case. It played easily, had grunt, was still brightish up top but not overwhelmingly, and generally said to me, 'Look, mate, don't hang about thinking about this; just get on and buy me.' So I did. It cost me the same price as I'd got for the grand by the time $200 was added on for the shift to Oamaru. This is an hour and a half's drive, but Adrian said he'd bring my piano up next time he was coming in our direction with other jobs. I seem to remember that when the grand was shifted into our house twelve years or so ago, it cost $180, so with inflation, $200 is not a bad price, especially when you take into account the distance. 

It arrived yesterday afternoon, eight days after I'd bought it - which in itself was a nice surprise and a bonus. Adrian came on his own - he'd already dropped another piano off about twenty minutes out of Dunedin (a loan one, so presumably he'll have to pick it up again); and was going on from our place to do two tunings, and possibly pick up another piano, and then going over to Queenstown, which is about four hours away to tune another piano - urgently. A lot of work for one day!

He had the Welmar into our house in a matter of minutes, once he'd got it unhooked from its straps and such, and we mostly stood and watched him, only lending a hand when he was getting off the trolley. Even that was mostly done by him. (It took four guys to get the grand into our old house, and only one of them really seemed to know what he was doing!)

I had a good long play on the piano yesterday afternoon - mostly Mozart sonatas - and we got acquainted with each other. It always seems that pianos and their owners take a bit of time getting used to each other's quirks. 

I looked up how old the Welmar is this morning. It was built in London, and its individual number is 50122, which means it was made in 1950. It was therefore built just a couple of years before I started learning the piano, which makes it almost as old as I am, and possibly in better condition! 

*The longest piano sat in the Otago Museum for a couple of years, and was played by various pianists while it was there. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Not quite satisfying...

I Care a Lot
is a new movie that's just arrived on Netflix. Brilliantly directed and shot, but it has no heart. Rosamund Pike plays an amoral woman running a business that claims to care for the elderly by making herself their guardian. It's a scam, helped along by a number of other scammers, and the end result is that the old people wind up in a rest home against their will and all their income, that is, what's left over they've forked out for all their weekly costs, goes to Pike's character, Marla Grayson. 

She mistakenly takes one independent old lady away, seemingly all in a moment. Apparently in real life this couldn't - or shouldn't - happen. The old lady turns out to have unknown connections rather than being someone without any living relatives, and the main connection has a heart even less moral than Marla's. If that's possible. 

Initially it's a cat and mouse game, but in the last half hour or so it becomes ridiculous after Marla survives a certain death and takes her revenge. The ending, though satisfying and just in dramatic terms, leaves the viewer wondering what they've just seen. Two evil people trying to outdo each other, mostly. 

Pike, on a recent chat show, touted the film as a comedy. Certainly it has its moments of humour, but the thing is hardly a comedy. When the old lady is first removed from her home, there's nothing but horror for the viewer. Could this happen in real life? The movie makes it seems possible. 

Netflix also likes to dredge up movies that have mostly been forgotten, such as Daniel Radcliffe's first major movie outside the Harry Potter series. The December Boys was shot in Australia, with a mostly Australian cast. It came out in 2007. 

Radcliffe somehow sticks out like a sore thumb. His character is already older than the other three boys who feature (and he was around 18 when the movie came out). He tries to play gawky and awkward and looks overly gawky and awkward doing so. He has a near sex scene, which plainly didn't feature in the Harry Potter advertising when he had his first kiss in one those movies. And he is, in fact, not the main character, but because of his billing and celebrity by that time, tends to take over more of the movie than he should. 

It's difficult at the beginning of the movie to figure the character out; is he supposed to be a similar age
to the other three boys, who all look around twelve, possibly thirteen. He trots along with them as though he was near their age, playing like a younger child. He doesn't appear to have a leadership role with this group even though he's plainly the oldest. 

In due course we see his role in the scheme of things, but by that time it's hard to get past the Harry Potter persona Radcliffe brings with him: the same habit of talking with his mouth nearly closed, the eyes that squint when he doesn't have glasses on (and he doesn't wear glasses in this movie so it looks as though he's perpetually squinting); the sense that he doesn't really inhabit a role but does all the right moves. 

A poster that misinterprets 
the story in favour of 
promoting the big name actor.
It's a pity, because there's a good story at the heart of this movie; it just isn't Radcliffe's. Far better to have cast a relatively unknown actor, as the other three boys are, in the role, and hope that the thing would take off without a celebrity name on the billing. As so often is the case when a 'star' is brought into a role that doesn't require one, a sense of unevenness pervades the film. 

When I say the other three boys are unknown, I mean that they were mostly unfamiliar to audiences at the time. All three have had successful careers in the movies, the one playing Misty, already fairly experienced by the time this movie came along. 

The actors apart, the photography is outstanding, and the movie is worth seeing for this alone. It's a story that takes a while to warm up, and for once, even though it features an orphanage run by Catholic nuns, there's none of that anti-Catholic feeling about it that so often pervades any movie with that sort of setting.