Saturday, March 31, 2007

Billing and Cooking

While watching the program about the top chef, Gordon Ramsay, where he goes to other people’s restaurants and tells them how to get off their butts and start making real money, I’m struck by the fact that he doesn’t just talk about food and customers and service, but also about where the money’s going once it’s in the door. There was one restaurateur who was allowing her staff to drink at the restaurant’s own bar, after hours, and was losing a fortune because they got the drinks at "mate’s rates."
In the Boston Accounting firm of Murphy & Co (nicely designed site, guys, and I think the hanging banners are great fun) they have a section on restaurateurs and their accounting requirements, which often have to be done at the end of a 16-hour day…or else before the 16-hour day starts. As they say, family-run restaurants are often bleeding cash without even knowing it.
I can’t imagine how some of these people actually manage to keep their head around all the requirements of running a restaurant. Just dealing with the food alone would be a nightmare for me, let alone tackling accounts at the end of a long, long day. (Very long, if you’ve had Gordon Ramsay effing and blinding at you for most of it!)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Visitors from outer blogland

And in line with keywords are stats on people who actually visited the page. I'm not going to get too excited yet about the visitors from Dingley in Australia, and Brancepeth in Canada - they're new to the game, and haven't made themselves really at home here yet.
But I think the people in Linden and Boulder have been here before - welcome back! - and there are definitely fans in Homai, Mangere, Mapua and Dunedin. Drop me a comment and let me know who you are. Don't just stay quietly in the wings, folks. I need all the friends I can get!
As so often happens when you intend to remember quotes from books by putting scraps of paper in the page concerned, you come back to the page and can’t remember which bit you thought was worth quoting. So for the time being, an end has come to Hornby quotes.
In the meantime, HitTails has once again thrown up a whole bunch of disparate keywords, including the following:

Athletes hand – and ‘itch between finger’
Swim brass crowl
Bill Roache
Coronation Street
Brent Stavig
Maggie Teyte Prize 2007
De mortuis nil nisi bene
Anna Leese
Toyota Townace

Boy, they’re a mixed bunch. It’s good to see Anna Leese makes the list again, and the Maggie Teyte prize. But how did Bill Roache get in there? Turns out I have mentioned the bloke – and even included a picture of him when he were but a lad. Though the post had more to do with US soaps than British ones.
The swim brass crowl no doubt goes back to the fact that people can’t spell ‘crawl’ and Brent Stavig may have to do with a comment I made about books beside my bed, one of which was by Arthur Stavig.
The Toyota Townace has certainly been mentioned, but de mortuis nil nisi bene? Yes, to my surprise, it turns up in a post on Sigmund Freud.
I’m satisfied now. I hate to think of people coming to my blog without good reason. The only disturbing thing is how quickly I forget what I've written about!

Hornby Himself this time

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is clearly a modern classic, and it hasn’t even been in print for five minutes. It’s a beautiful, rich, unforgettable work of high seriousness, and you don’t need to know that the book has already won the Pulitzer Prize to see that Robinson isn’t messing around. I didn’t even mind that it’s essentially a book about Christianity, narrated by a Christian; in fact, for the first time I understood the point of Christianity – or at least, I understood how it might be used to assist thought.
I had to reread passages from Gilead several times – beautiful, luminous passages about grace, and debt, and baptism – before I half-understood them, however: there are complicated and striking ideas on every single page.

This is from the August 2005 column. I can only agree with everything he says about Gilead. It’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. And I must buy a copy of that too, sometime!

The Complete Polysyllabic Spree

I finished reading Nick Hornby’s ridiculously-titled The Complete Polysyllabic Spree last weekend, and have several pieces of paper stuck throughout where I wanted to remember things that were quotable. Actually an awful lot more of it was quotable, but I either didn’t have enough paper, or thought that my readers (all five of them) would probably think more than two or three quotes was enough from this book.

The book is about Hornby’s reading habits over two or three years – he wrote a column on the topic which was published in a magazine called The Believer. Hornby is by turns hilarious, sober, nonsensical and surreal. It’s a great book, and I’m tempted to buy a copy of my own. Or else keep the library’s one for another patch.

‘[Gabriel] Zaid’s finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that ‘the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.’

Hornby is quoting from Zaid’s So Many Books, which is about the ‘problem’ of far too many books existing in the world. Hornby writes about this in the Oct 2004 column.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Second Chorus

I have no idea why this 1940 movie is called Second Chorus, since no second chorus is mentioned that I noticed, and, if it has some other meaning, I've missed it.

I found the movie amongst the bargain DVDs in The Warehouse (which is rapidly becoming my chief source for lots of old movies on DVD) and thought, because it had Fred Astaire in it, there would be some dancing. Well, yes, there is, but it's slotted in a couple of rather odd spots in the movie and that's it. The film also stars Paulette Goddard and Burgess Meredith (who became Goddard's third husband - the marriage lasted only six years) neither of whom were ever known as hoofers, although Goddard does pretty well as a substitute for Ginger Rogers in a brief dance near the beginning of the movie.
And it has Artie Shaw, who was probably a lot more pleasant than he appears in the movie, where his looks make him seem as though he's perpetually rather fed up with things. Shaw's band plays a few times, and Astaire and Meredith both pretend to be trumpet players on a few occasions - quite well, in fact - but the thing is a hodgepodge story-wise, and it's only the energy of the actors that holds it together.
When Astaire dances the thing has all that life he brought to any dance he ever performed; otherwise it's seldom funny or anything, really.
Charles Butterworth, who performed in endless movies, usually as someone rather pompous, has an awful part in the movie as a rather dull man with plenty of money, a man who plays the mandolin badly and is led around by the nose by Astaire and Burgess.
Someone on IMDB has written a mini-bio of him: Popular supporting actor in 1930's Hollywood, often portraying effete, waffling types, even though he was not a professional politician in real life. Very neat.
There are two interesting things about this movie: it has a very long outside tracking shot of Astaire and Meredith talking, and walking towards the camera at all times. Yet there's not a sign of any tracks that the camera might be riding on. And Astaire, who was 41 at the time the movie was made, and Meredith, who was 33, are supposed to be college students. Admittedly they've purposely flunked their courses several times, but even so, you have to wonder at the casting.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Gonna struggle no more!

Well, you learn something every day – or should, since there’s a vast amount of information out there in the world!
The Dr Kellogg who developed Kellogg’s cornflakes, and other well-known cereals, began in a little place called Battle Creek, in Michigan. Kellogg wasn’t just a cereal man, but believed deeply in the benefits of holistic medicine, that is, medicine that wasn’t primarily drug-focused, but based in the normal healing of the body and other natural resources. He thought saunas were great for healing, and having spent even a few minutes in a sauna each time I go to the swimming pool, I can only agree. Although it’s bloomin’ hot to get into for starters!
Battle Creek is around five miles from the Stone Hawk drug rehab centre – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it the other way round: Stone Hawk is around five miles from downtown Battle Creek. And Stone Hawk is also a place that believes strongly in a drug-free treatment of addicts. (Apparently many drug centres continue to use drugs as part of their treatment.) I read through a good deal of the information on their site: apart from being one of the best rehab centres in the US, with a 76% success rate, they’re situated beside a private lake called St Mary’s Lake. Have a look at the photo: just looking at it makes you feel better!
I’ve never had an addiction problem, thank the Lord (the first cigarette I was offered by an uncle years ago did nothing but make me cough and splutter – to the amusement of my assembled relatives – and that put me off smoking entirely), though like most human beings, no doubt, I’ve struggled with various things that want to take over my life at times. But the people at Stone Hawk are all ex-addicts, so they know the difficulties, and know that it’s possible to break free. Sounds a bit like Christianity, really!
Disclosure statement

Singers and Roses and the Lexus

Back on the 14th March I wrote about a couple of people I knew who were in the Lexus Song Quest: Emma Fraser and Claire Barton. Both have got through to the final six, which is great. It’s going to be an exciting night for Dunedin listeners.
And a bit more about Anna Leese. She’s had a newly-bred rose named after her, by Palmerston North City Council – it was the brainchild of Malcolm Hopgood, the public affairs manager at the Council. Palmerston North, as you might guess, is Leese’s home town.
She said, "It’s an incredible honour. I makes me feel immortal, in a way. My great-grandchildren will say that rose was named after me."
She’s back in Dunedin this week to sing in a concert at the Dunedin Town Hall. In the second half a concert version of Trevor Coleman’s soundtrack score for the tv documentary, Equator, will be performed, with videos from the series showing on an enormous ‘small swimming pool-sized television screen.’ (I want to know what they’re going to do with the thing after they’ve used it. Surely they’re not sending it back to Japan again?)
Talking of screens and orchestras: my last foray into playing in an orchestra was when I got roped into playing the piano part in Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica, which the Dunedin Symphonia performed. The screen side of the thing was that we showed videos from the Natural History series on Antarctica to accompany the music.
I hated playing the piano in this. The part wasn’t impossible to play – and it was buried underneath lots of other instrumental noises much of the time – but coming in at the right spot was a nightmare for me. I can’t seem to count bars the way orchestral musicians do, for some reason. I’m so used to having all the music in front of me (as for instance, when I’m accompanying singers) that having in front of me only my part of a vast wad of notes is very intimidating. I got so nervous about this that I borrowed the full miniature score from the library and had it at hand to check where I was in the proceedings.
The Anna Leese/Trevor Coleman concert is part of the Dunedin Heritage Festival, which I’ve read about (that is, skimmed my eyes across the info in the paper). Somehow I manage not to get to things like this. It takes a considerable effort on my part. Don’t ask me why.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Writing a novel

One of the problems I have with writing a novel is keeping all the detail in my head. Heaven knows how someone who writes something over 300 pages gets on. There must be a way of achieving this, but so far that detail aspect has really eluded me. If I want to change something I can't remember what else it will affect.
I’ve tried all sorts of ways of planning, and keeping lists and so forth, but it’s often like a house of cards: as soon as you touch one card, the whole lot goes into a heap. At least that’s my experience.
The writing of the thing isn’t the problem. If I could get away with hoping that the reader wouldn’t notice all the inconsistencies, I’d be fine!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gulp! Gareth Farr Naked!

Latest HitTails' key words:

Postie.con
Gareth Farr naked
Portmanteau word boat
Triond
Crowl
swim (arabic)
Howard shore kong score
HitTails continue to intrigue. It’s perhaps fortunate that I don’t get a lot of keywords popping up from them, as I’d never get anything else posted here. Not to worry, what does come up is well worth a look.
Gareth Farr Naked. Well, I’ve never written about poor old Gareth Farr and nudity in the same sentence, so this one was a bit of a surprise. I’m not sure what the original searcher was looking for, but I don’t think it was Farr’s lack of clothing. And, rather hilariously, the response that Google got from my page combines two different posts together: one about Farr and one a quote from Michael Gurr in which the word ‘naked’ appears.
There seems to be a fascination with ‘portmanteau word’ and boat. But the interesting thing is that in Google’s responses there are three of my posts listed in the first five. Maybe HitTails’s onto more than we suspect!
The ‘crowl swim’ search was really for crawl swim and came from an Arabic site. But it isn’t only non-English speaking people who make this mistake and use my name for that of a type of swimming. Plenty of US bloggers write ‘crowl’ for ‘crawl.’ Must be a pronunciation issue. I’ve written an article about this which now appears on the Triond circuit.
Triond of course is the place I’ve got a number of articles listed at, and I managed to make the second page with Google’s responses for this one, which is quite something. And got two showings to boot.
‘Howard Shore kong score’ brought up my page somewhere way down the list. That’s okay. Merely to be in the Google listings is a major achievement these days.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

George MacDonald and another

During his sermon this morning, our chief pastor quoted from George MacDonald's David Elginbrod as follows:

“Though a mother’s love is more ready to purify itself than most other loves – yet there is a class of mothers, whose love is only an extended, scarcely an expanded, selfishness. Mrs Appleditch did not in the least love her children because they were children, and children committed to her care by the Father of all children. But she loved them dearly because they were her children”.

Our Pastor also made the statement regarding those who think Jesus taught a prosperity Gospel:

God is not an accountant; He is a Father.

Brother of the More Famous Jack

I’m not sure how you pronounce Barbara Trapido’s surname – I tend to go for something that rhymes with torpedo, but it could easily be Tra-pido, with the emphasis on the first syllable.
Whatever, I’ve not long finished her book, Brother of the More Famous Jack, which a friend enthused about some while ago, and wanted an extra copy of when I worked in partnership with a secondhand bookshop. We found her a copy, and later I found another, which on the strength of her enthusiasm, I bought for myself.
I read the first page or two and put it aside, not feeling particularly enthused by it myself, as is so often the case when someone else’s enthusiasms don’t seem to match your own. And then just a few days ago I picked it up off the shelves and started to read it. Seemed like a different book from the one I remembered starting previously, so that was good. And it is a good book, in the sense that the writing is stylish, and full of detail, and the characters are vivid and wonderfully-drawn, even down to the minor ones.
It turns out there’s virtually no story; apart from it being about a young woman finding her feet in the world after some rather troubling relationships, and then discovering that the brother she hadn’t thought much of in the past is the one who cares utterly about her, and whom she finally marries. That’s it. No great dramas, no plot in the accepted sense of the word, just plain storytelling about interesting people, from the first person perspective of a young woman who we’re never quite sure we know as well as she wants us to think we know her.
It did niggle me a little that nothing ‘happened.’ Something dramatic towards the end would have been a bit more satisfying. But that’s what it’s like and you just have to accept it!

Dead Man Walking

I was just about to go to bed last night when I found that Dead Man Walking was on tv. I hadn’t seen it again since it first came out in 1995, and though it had already started I finished up watching more than three-quarters of it again.
What an emotionally-charged movie it is. Sean Penn gives the performance of a life-time, making us alternatively like and dislike this arrogant, young man who’s gone along with the disruptive antics of an older man whom he admires, and finishes up raping a young woman and killing her boyfriend to impress him. Even though he was 35 at the time the film was released, he is more than credible as a young man in his early twenties.
Susan Sarandon’s performance is more subtle, and a great deal is conveyed by her expression rather than her speech, but it’s far superior to many of the performances she’s given subsequently.
The Christian aspect of it, for once, isn’t made a fool of. Tim Robbins, as director and writer, could have made the priest who counsels Sister Helen into one of those caricatured religious beings who pervade many movies over the last two or three decades. Instead, he shows a man who is struggling to see the right way through a difficult situation.
But the three other outstanding performances are those of Raymond Barry as the father of the boy who’s been killed, and Lee Ermey and Celia Weston as the parents of the raped and murdered girl. These three must have revelled in the space Robbins gives them to give depth to their characters. We swing from sympathy to irritation to anger to sympathy again as we watch them relate their stories to Sister Jean – who isn’t always the most sympathetic of listeners herself.
And talking of space, you never feel as though this story is hurried in any way. There isn’t that rush cutting so typical of modern movies, where one scene is barely over before another one is shoving its way in.
One other performance should be mentioned: Roberta Maxwell as Penn’s mother. She could easily have gone over the top, since she’s a woman given to bursting into tears. Instead we have to face with her the fact that somehow she’s brought up a ‘monster’ and her bewilderment as to how this could have happened, and we are glad to see Sister Jean holding her in the worst moments, as that’s what we’d all want to have done.
Couple of bits of trivia: Jack Black has a relatively small role in it, as Penn’s brother, and there’s a popular indie-band in The Netherlands called "Seanpenn".

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Missing Out on the Prize

Now here’s something Google could take up. It would blow this already popular search engine away. Whenever you search, you get a chance to win a prize. Man, I search Google all day long; think of the opportunities it would present!
Well, Google doesn’t do this, but Winzy does.
Winzy is a search engine where every search puts you line to win a free prize, prizes like iPods and Nintendos and Amazon Gift Certificates and even cash. I tried putting my name in it, and very obligingly, out of the first ten results, it brought up eight relating to me. Mike Crowl of Conroe High School only got two – and the first of those was sixth on the list. Very impressive. Google never does that! I’m seldom in the top one hundred.
But Google doesn’t offer prizes either. Oh, dear, what to do? Will I ally myself to Winzy? And then I see those fateful words: offer only available in the US of A or Canada – excluding Quebec. The poor people of Quebec must feel as downhearted as I do.
Winzy also offers online games. I can join in the free ones, like Deal or No Deal, but I guess the prize version of this again excludes me and the people from Quebec. I never knew I had any kinship with them before, and that alone has almost made up for missing out on searching the Net with prizes glowing before my eyes.

Never pile books beside your bed

They become the books you won’t read. Recently a friend at church told me he’d bought two more books by Rodney Stark, which immediately made me say: I haven’t really got into that other one you gave me yet – it’s been sitting beside my bed. He knew instantly what I meant, and agreed that that isn’t the place to put books you want to read.
Apart from Mr Stark’s book, For the Glory of God, I also have a half-read copy of The Rosemary Tree by Elizabeth Goudge, which another friend at church recommended and which I haven’t really, in all honesty, been able to get enthused about. I find Goudge rather sticky somehow: overly concerned with analysing her characters, characters who are not very true – to me, anyway – in the first place.
Then there’s the pamphlet-sized, Rhymes of Second Childhooda gift item for those who at last have come to their senses, by Arthur (Grandpa) Stavig. I wrote about Mr Stavig in the Taonga magazine (when I was still writing columns for them) and the particular column is online here. That will explain a good deal more than I've got room to say at present about his weird sense of humour.
The next book turns out to be a kid’s book called Furze the Fixer. This is by a friend of mine, Lorraine Orman. She and I corresponded by email for years talking about her writing and mine, and since then she’s become quite well published, with two or three young adult books available, and several of the Kiwi Bites series published (including the one I’ve just mentioned). I have read this – it just happens to be mixed in with the pile.
Next is A Vivid Steady State, by Lawrence Bourke. It’s a kind of literary assessment of one of my favourite poets, Australian Les Murray. But I haven’t really got my teeth into this book at all.
Now comes As Big As a Father, by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman. Jeffrey is a NZ poet who has published at least two books of poetry that I can think of. He and I had some brief correspondence by email a couple of years ago; he was on the emailing list of the shop I ran. I think I might have actually read all the poems in this book and his other one too!
Under the Net by Iris Murdoch and The Confidential Agent by Graham Greene follow next. Good old Penguin paperbacks. I’ve read them both, I think, in the past – certainly the Murdoch, which I remembered reading with great enjoyment. A second attempt as a much more mature person showed that it wasn’t the book I remembered at all!
Penultimately, Janet Frame’s The Goose Bath – poems. In hardback. With a nice dust jacket. All clean and nearly new. And mostly unread. Not because I don’t like the poems, but because you can’t read a book of poems straight off, and so, foolishly, I put the book beside my bed, and…
Finally, The Essential Calvin and Hobbes. Now I know I’ve read this through – if that’s what you say about what you do with a book of comic strips. It’s wonderful, great, marvellous, superb. Full of intelligence and wit, and at least five great comic strip characters. Bill Watterson can fly from intellectual musings to great hilarity –sometimes within four little cartoons. Hobbes is the all-time childhood companion, which reminds me of some companions of ours I’ll write about in another post later.
So there we are: some read, some not – which rather puts my theory to the test. And back beside the bed they go, until they all get a reprieve.

Brunel St

I wrote a piece on the online magazine, Quazen, the other day, called Dunedin’s Other Steep Streets. You can see a link to it in the Triond Articles’ box over to the left – the widget box, as it’s officially known.
In it I mentioned the fact that Dunedin has quite a lot of steep streets, including part of the one we live on. My daughter has phoned me to say, but what about ‘Libby’s Street?’ (Libby being another daughter of mine.) This street, which is really called Brunel St, runs parallel at one point to our street, and falls down the same piece of hill at a nasty steep rate.
I seem to remember it got called ‘Libby’s Street’ because she used to delight in us going down there at great speed, when she was younger. She might not be so keen these days, particularly if she had her kids in the car, as she got uptight at me heading at 30kph corners at a rather faster rate when we were in Christchurch once.
Being reminded about ‘her’ street brought to mind another incident with her. Back in the old days, when there such computers as the Amiga 500 (marvellous machines they were, too), Libby and I went to the Amiga Club one night, and wound up playing some game which involved people dropping suddenly off something (the details are little hidden in the mists of time, as you see). Each time a person dropped, my daughter would, without fail, burst into an hilarious laughter. The other patrons of the Club were not impressed. She hasn’t a nasty streak in her, but something about the sudden drop appealed to her – which is maybe why Brunel St was one she liked too.

I can't show you a photo of Brunel St, but there are some photos of Baldwin St, Dunedin's famed 'World's Steepest Street' on DelsJourney.com. Just scroll down the page a bit, and you'll see it. Brunel St almost gives it a run for its money.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Being a composer for the movies

Years ago, when I was living in England, I knew this guy who was supposed to be making a movie – a very low-level production with amateurs filling all the roles and off-screen positions. (Maybe five of us in total.) I was going to be the composer of the film score. The whole thing fell apart fairly quickly, to my relief, because even though I enjoyed composing music, I had no real idea how to fit music to images and all the technical side of things that involves, and I lay awake at night (on and off) worrying rather as to how I’d do.
I’m a very slow composer at the best of times, and you always read about film-score composers writing at white heat. I’m sure they do a lot of cut and pasting, but even so, it’s no mean feat to compose a score of up to an hour long, and make it fit someone else’s vision.
My closest real encounter to film-scoring was when I did some music copying in London for a full-time copyist. He worked in a virtual basement, could talk and copy at the same time, and could copy accurately at great speed. It was just about the time the photo-copier was beginning to make an appearance and he was making full use of it for parts that were basically all the same. I hate to think what the musicians who had to read my copying thought: it had an extraordinarily amateurish air about it!
I never actually caught up with the film; it was a version of Alfred the Great. David Hemmings was the star, and I think the film was panned pretty heavily, in spite of having some great actors in it, including Ian McKellan, Michael York and Vivien Merchant. The film score was by Raymond Leppard, who isn’t exactly well-known as a film composer. Lord of the Flies seems to have been his only other attempt at the medium.
These days, of course, anything to do with movie-making has been brought down to the level of the common man, woman and child. There are sites on the Net, including one called fliptrack.com now where you can download music to fit whatever video you’ve already produced, and make it fit – because there are also programs to download. I missed my generation really: fascinated by the movies when I was young, but in no position to make use of my interest, because movie-making was an expensive process far out of reach of the average joe like me. How times have changed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Musicians, singers, athlete's fingers, et al

The Hittails reports continue to intrigue me, and are actually interesting in terms of what they dredge up. Here’s the most recent list.
How to find trade me members
Boat for workers
Anna Leese Maggie Teyte
Sings Harry Douglas Lilburn
Giles Hatterley Dawkins
Athletes hand athletes foot
Gareth Farr blog
The finding of Trade Me members is an interesting one. Certainly not a ‘key word’ phrase I’d have thought of. Euqally, the mysterious ‘boat for workers’ while it follows on my portmanteau comments, is odd. I’m not sure of the intentions of a person looking for a boat for workers. Some suspect character wanting to find a cheap boat to ship some refugees?
Anna Leese and the Maggie Teyte prize were only written about in the last few days, so I caught that one pretty quick!
My not-so-favourite composer Douglas Lilburn gets a look in, this time via Sings Harry, a song cycle I played with a friend of mine, Brent Read, a few years back. It has a rather skimpy accompaniment, I feel, perhaps because it was written for the guitar originally (if I have my facts right), but it is actually a piece of Lilburn’s I could be said to ‘enjoy’ – just. Brent is the tenor I wrote four songs for which he performed last year at a concert I put on. One of the world’s as yet undiscovered great voices!
I’d forgotten about the Hattersley/Dawkins connection – Mr Dawkins is another one of those people whose contribution to the humanities I don’t have a lot of time for, but here is, turning up on my doorstep again.
I’m not sure why someone would go looking for ‘athletes hand athletes foot’, but they did, and apparently this blog turned up in the results, in my athlete’s fingers post.
I’ve written about Gareth Farr more than on this blog, and will probably write about him again. There you go, Hittail!

Singing ladies

Back on the Opera front. The Lexus Song Quest is now at the semi-finals stage, with twelve singers being put through their paces and broadcast on the radio. Two of those in tonight’s broadcast are people I’ve known – again from the Dunedin competitions scene – and another, Claire Barton, is a 25-year-old singer for whom I’ve been playing since she was knee-high to a grasshopper. (She isn’t much taller now, and she probably/hopefully won’t mind me saying so!). Claire is a great person: a marvellous singer with a totally professional attitude, an enormous sense of humour, and lots of warmth.

The two who were on tonight were Emma Fraser and Sarah McOnie (pronounced Ma-Coney, with the emphasis on the Cone). Emma is a great singer and will go a long way, with or without the Lexus. I haven’t heard Sarah for some time – apparently she’s been singing overseas – and her voice now sounds dark and rich.

The judge for this year’s contest is a woman who, once in my youth, I was engaged to! She broke the engagement off, wisely, I think, since I probably would have got in the way of her career, which has been considerable. We haven’t had much contact since then: a couple of emails in the last few years, and the occasional letter out of the blue. Elizabeth Connell came from South Africa and went to the (now defunct) London Opera Centre the year after I was there. She then flatted in the same flat as me for a time – there were six or seven, or maybe eight of us, in the place, a long sprawling ground-floor flat with a garden out the back, in Stoke Newington.

Getting personal

The tricky part about looking at some sites is that you have to enter details. And dating sites get just a bit too personal - for me. Guess if wasn’t a sixty-plus-year-old grandfather of seven I wouldn’t mind, but with a wife of 33 years in tow, I don’t think this is the time to go on a dating site, even one like JustSayHi.com, which is different because it’s free – unlike Yahoo Personals, as it notes in a slightly superior tone. And no need for a credit card, which might be a good thing for JustSayHi.com as well as the participants.

A friend of mine used to get involved in online dating, and had some interesting experiences. For him, he felt he only met up with slightly wacky solo mothers who couldn’t get out and about otherwise. And he wasn’t that fussed about having a toddler tack along on the dates.

I did check out a bit of JustSayHi.com. There are a number of boxes to fill in before you submit your application, so I had a bit of fun giving myself the username of anatsyha (it has an unpronounceable ring to it) and being 25; discovering that by default I live in Barrington, Illinois (though I would have preferred it to be Boise, Idaho, really); finding I was going to be thought of as five foot tall with black hair (at first I thought I was going to be black), and that I was interested in travel, music, riding horses, cooking, art. Pretty good for a short-stop. I told them I was looking for my south seas belle – the default of a ‘San Francisco prince charming’ didn’t quite cut the mustard, since nowhere had I indicated I was gay. On reaching the last page, just before I might have submitted all this, McAfee told me that on the basis of their research I was likely to receive up to 189 spammy-type emails a week. Well, I guess that’s what I’d want really, if I were going in for this wholeheartedly!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Polysyllabic Spree and more

I’ve been reading Nick Hornby’s absurdly titled (intentionally so) The Complete Polysyllabic Spree, which someone reviewed in the ODT recently. It’s a collection of his columns for some magazine called The Believer (a rather pretentious magazine, if Hornby’s comments are anything to go by), and they are by stages hilarious, intriguing (in that you want to read everything, practically, that he’s read), detailed, annoying (there’s often too little detail, and he demands a wider reading habit than even I’ve got), and very quotable. Not that I’m going to quote anything at the moment, but I probably will.
Like me, he’s realised that a reading life doesn’t require you to read books just because people ‘who know’ say you should; nor does it require you to finish every book you start. Consequently I have never finished that dreary Booker Prize lump of lead called ‘the bone people’ (the pretentious, if I may be allowed to re-use the word, use of non-capitals marks it out as important – it isn’t). Equally I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that a book I’m supposed to be reviewing called Just Who Does He Think He Is? by George Webby, is going to go the way of unfinished books. I am sick of people writing about their lives and telling me when and how they masturbated and seeming to think this is somehow important. It isn’t. 100% of men have masturbated in their youth, either because they thought they should, because they just wanted to, because it seemed a good idea at the time, because they couldn’t help it, because if they didn’t all their friends would somehow know – or they have not masturbated, either because they were convinced they shouldn’t, or because they didn’t want to, or because it never seemed that great an idea, or because they were perfectly able to help, or because they didn’t give a toss (if you’ll excuse the pun) what their friends thought.
I couldn’t care less about Webby’s sexual life. I thought the book was about what he did in the theatre, which to me would be much more interesting. (It may eventually be, if he ever gets there.) Nor do I care that he thinks he knows more about religion than God. He doesn’t, so why doesn’t he keep his trap shut on the subject? And how is it that he gives his father a mere two pages of existence – almost as an afterthought when he realises he’s hardly mentioned the bloke (who fathered ten children in the family) – and prats on about his mother endlessly? Did his father have no life or character? He must have had something to have lived in a house with Webby and the other siblings, all of whom (except the one who died young) go almost entirely unmentioned.
Well, there we are: I’ve practically written the review already, and I haven’t even got past page 65.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Some more name-dropping

The Dunedin singing stars continue to rise and rise. Now Simon O’Neill, who’s 35, has been contracted to the Met to sing in Die Walkure early next year. I never played for Simon, but knew him from local singing competitions. He was also in the St Kilda Brass Band in the early nineties, a band I’ve had a reasonable amount to do with ever since I was their official accompanist for solos, for a few years.
What have the stamps got to do with this? I'm told that Simon is the opera singer in the series - top right corner.
Meanwhile, Anna Leese goes from strength to strength, this time winning the Maggie Teyte prize. Part of the prize (not sure if this is something to be regarded as a ‘prize’ or an ‘endurance test’) is to sing a recital at the Royal Opera House. Hmm, that’s some place to sing in.
Years ago I had a friend called Donald Rutherford, with whom I toured round New Zealand doing La Boheme for the NZ Opera Company, when they were presenting what they called piano tours. I was the ‘piano’ part. Donald left NZ after that to go and join a Canadian opera company, and we lost touch. And then in the late sixties, when I was in England, he turned up out of the blue. He’d been engaged to understudy the part of Hamlet in an opera written by Humphrey Searle. This was an opera composed in the 12 note serial format, a method, which in my view, is counterproductive to good composition, but that’s another story. What it meant was that the thing was bloody hard to sing. Donald got the job as understudy because he’d been in the original production in Canada, as I recall, and knew the part well. Unfortunately, he had to go on, as the person who was supposed to do the part, was ‘indisposed’ as they say. I saw his performance, and it would have been good in a much smaller house, but the Royal Opera House is massive, and only voices that are naturally huge will fill it. It seemed as if the place was swallowing Don’s voice up every time he opened his mouth. Hamlet, I think, has gone the way of all unsuccessful pieces. And probably a good thing too!
Alongside Anna Leese and Simon O’Neill, Ana James, Jonathan Lemalu and Teddy Tahu Rhodes all continue the upward rise in the opera world. Rhodes is not someone I’ve ever met – if I recall he was involved with the Christchurch Opera Company at one time. Think he may have been in the full-scale production of La Boheme that they brought to Dunedin about eight years ago. My younger son appeared in it, as part of the local chorus brought in for the occasion. He had a brief moment of visibility as the waiter who cleans up after Musetta has tossed her glass to the floor and shattered it. Such is fame.

You call this FUN?

Florida’s back in the news as far as my posts are concerned: this time in relation to Disneyland and other Orlando theme parks. I can’t say I’m a great fan of theme parks and their like, though Disneyland has to have a certain proprietory appeal merely because of its being so well-known. When my wife and I went to Melbourne a few years ago, we visited Luna Fun Park in St Kilda. Fun? I don’t see anything fun about having yourself whisked around at great speed, up and down and inside out. There was a rather nice roundabout there, with elderly decorations on it, but beyond this, we really didn’t much get involved. Both of us had an awful memory of going on some ride in the UK years ago, where we were sitting in saucer-shaped seats, spun around at speed at the same time as the whole ride was going around. We came off the thing feeling ill and unable to stand up straight.
Still, my personal preferences aside, many people do enjoy fun parks, and Orlando Fun Tickets site, where you can get Walt Disney World Tickets, is obviously the place to book if you’re going to go to Disneyland and its environs.
Disneyland also offers the rather awkwardly-named Magic Your Way tickets. These are basically tickets in which you can choose what you want to go on rather than leaving up to someone who’s decided that ride number fourteen isn’t as popular as it should be so let’s bung everyone on there. And they’ve structured the pricing so that you save more if you stay longer. They have a catchy little phrase: ‘the longer you play, the more you save,’ which to my ear is clunky rather than catchy. You expect it to run: ‘the longer you play, the more you stay,’ or something of that ilk, but no, some artisan with a tin ear thinks play and save have a natural ring to them.

Portmanteau Post

The HitTails program, while not giving me a large number of results, does throw up some intriguing ‘key words’ that people are supposed to have been looking up. I mentioned ‘portmanteau word’ the other day, but somehow ‘portmanteau boat’ is now a favoured search option. I’ve never heard of a portmanteau boat, and neither has Google – I’m afraid I never bother with any other search engine these days – but it sounds like an interesting concept. What would it be? Something along the lines of a yacht cum sampan?
A portmanteau, as all my readers will know (all five of you), is a large travelling bag of the sort used in 19th century novels. It was large enough to contain compartments, and thus, because it carried a variety of things, the word has come to mean the putting together of disparate objects, or even more particularly, the slotting together of two other words to make a third.
Here’s a definition of its origins from the Online Etymology Dictionary
"Travelling case or bag for clothes and other necessaries," from M.Fr. portemanteau "travelling bag," originally "court official who carried a prince's mantle" (1547), from porte, imperative of porter "to carry" + manteau "cloak." Portmanteau word, a "word blending the sound of two different words," comes from around 1882, and was coined by Lewis Carroll for the sort of words he invented for "Jabberwocky," on notion of "two meanings packed up into one word."
I’m can't quite figure what two words Jabberwocky comes from. Jabber, yes, but Wocky?
Anyway, the other major ‘key word’ was Sanchona. Now to many of you (perhaps four of the five), this is not a word with which you will be familiar. But I know it very well. Sanchona is the pseudonym of a friend of mine in Australia who has written a saga on the early days of Australian commercial history. We first ‘met’ when we were both members of an online writing group. I used to read her book chapter by chapter and comment on it. She would invariably reject my comments, but ce la vie! The book that I read hasn’t been published yet, as it was the second part of her series. But her first book is available, and is called A Family of Strangers, and I have a paperback copy. I hope it’s selling well after all the hard work she put into it, chasing agents around the world and revising and revising - and revising!

By the way, having recovered so wonderfully from my bug of Saturday, I got up to go to work this morning. By 7.15 am I was not feeling good again. And in the end I rang work and told them I wouldn't be there. Went back to bed and slept most of the morning, dreaming about finding myself at work in my pyjama trousers, amongst other things. My daughter tells me that the bug, which she has had personal experience of, does this: makes you feel great one day and lousy the next. For up to a week. Great.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Barbara Trapido

Why do women always talk intimacies about themselves? To listen to women talking is like sitting in on an encounter group. I cannot wander among the library shelves without being a party to whispered confidences. They will spread their personal lives like jam all over the stacks.

From chapter 5 of Brother of the More Famous Jack, by Barbara Trapido.

Hi Ho Silver!

Instead of a FAQ section on their site, the Monex Deposit Company has a ‘Why, Why, Why’ section. Original, at least!
I’ve written before about the way in which silver is still regarded, apparently, as a much more worthwhile investment than money, or stocks. Don’t ask me how the stock market works: for all my investigations into it over the years, it doesn’t seem any more reliable than betting on the horses. And the other day, again, there was great fuss in the stock market world because China had had a bit of a dip. Oh, for goodness’ sake! When will stockmarket people recognise the simple fact that stocks rise and fall on a regular basis, and if you hold your breath long enough in a down time, you’ll find they’ll come up again in due course. They’re rather like whales: sometimes they live above the water, sometimes below.
Silver, on the other hand, isn’t prone to all this roller-coaster stuff. And the only issue with it, it seems, is that it’s getting harder to purchase. Monex makes the somewhat poetical, but not entirely clear, comment: Above ground stockpiles of silver bullion are low, shrinking rapidly and approaching zero.
So…if they’re not above ground, where are they? Never mind, I’m not in the position to purchase silver at the moment, but it’s something I’ll keep in the back of my mind in case a sudden windfall comes my way.
Disclosure statement

Two minor movies

Over the last couple of days I’ve sat and watched a couple of DVDs I bought recently: old movies, of course, since they’re what I tend to look out for in the bargain bins. The first, which I watched with my younger son, was A Night in Casablanca, one of the Marx Brothers' last outings together. As Leonard Maltin says, it’s not classic Marx Brothers, but it still has some very funny sequences, and certainly my son (who enjoys these old movies too) and I had several laugh-out-loud patches, particularly in the wardrobe scene, where the baddies are desperately trying to pack their trunks and the Marx Bros are just as speedily unpacking them.
It almost has a story, too. In fact, for several scenes at the beginning there is no sign of the Marx Bros, and a ‘plot’ takes over. Once the brothers get into action, though, the plot goes pretty much out the window, as you’d expect. I enjoyed it, and would happily watch it again – though it’s the sort of movie you need to see with other like-minded people.
Naturally there is a Harpo playing the harp sequence, and a Chico playing the piano sequence - both of them superb, though neither of them in the least different to the same moments in all the other Marx Bros movies. And there's one of those marvellous word-play scenes, where Harpo is trying to get a message across to Chico, and mostly uses puns to do so. These are well worth watching.

The second movie again, Take Me Out to the BallGame had almost no plot – but then it was a musical, so what would you expect? Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra star, one the skinny rake, and the other the short-stop. The thing quite often takes off on its own stars, and the final song ignores any idea that there was reality in the story and sums it all up with some nice in-jokes about Fred Astaire and the like.
It survives because of its energy, which is considerable. Sinatra dances with almost as much √©lan as Kelly, and sings much better. Esther Williams proves she could do a lot more than swim (in fact she barely swims in it at all, thank goodness), and Betty Garrett takes up the usual role of the other woman in the quartet: for no good reason as far as the plot is concerned, but what the heck. She has energy to burn, and her song with Sinatra when she’s chasing him over the bleachers (the piece revolves around a baseball team) is full on. The songs aren’t up to much, unfortunately – there isn’t a well-known song in it, in fact –and the big dance routine is a real hotch-potch, but…it’s still watchable.

The joy of wellness - and an orange

I must have picked up a bug that’s going around: the vomity bug, I’ve been calling it, since various members of my family have had it at different times over the last few months. I’d avoided it so far, but on Friday afternoon I noticed I wasn’t my best, feeling shaky and headachy, and I left work with a desire to go home and do nothing. However, apart from feeling as though I had a cold, and being a bit crook in the joints, I was mostly all right, and on Saturday morning I got up intending to do some cleaning up round the house with my wife.
Well, within half an hour I knew this wasn’t going to happen: no energy, and real aching now around my back and neck, and unable to concentrate. Took some Panadol, but that didn’t make much difference, and survived until around lunchtime when I had some lunch. Which I lost later in the day. And lost more of later again.
I must say, at least, this wasn’t your awful retching type of vomiting; the stuff came up as easy as pie and almost comfortably. But it took me until this morning to feel right.
I’d stopped eating anything after the first lot of vomiting, and my wife went and got me some ginger beer, which my mother always used to swear by when the stomach was playing up. It certainly does stay down, and whatever it does, is okay by me. Late last night I had an orange, the most juicy, most wonderful orange ever tasted by man. And it stayed down too.
It’s only when you’ve been unwell that you realise just how well you are most of the time. I got up this morning, and apart from being rather stiff from lying down so long, I was fine. Ate breakfast with no problems (in fact, my stomach had been grumbling in the ‘I’m hungry’ mode for some minutes before I got up). Wellness is a wonderful thing, and I recommend it highly!

Endowment mortgages

I’d never heard of endowment mortgages until yesterday. Yet another approach to dealing with the endless trickiness of cash!
Seemingly, the borrower (that’s usually someone like me) does two things when he takes out a mortgage. He engages to pay the interest only to the bank or mortgagor, and pays what would normally be the money coming off the principle to an endowment insurer. It’s something in the nature of a life insurance.
The endowment insurer invests the money and the hope is, that by the time the mortgage is finally due, there will be plenty to pay off the mortgage, and a small sum on top as an ‘endowment’ – that is, you’ll have actually made some money out of having a mortgage instead of paying virtually twice what you originally borrowed.
Apparently these were very popular in the 80s, when there was a good rate of return on the endowment side of the equation. When interest on investments went down somewhat, they weren’t always as successful an item as they had been, as the insurers weren’t paying out the expected rate of return.
Endowment Express is a kind of brokering firm for those who want to sell their endowment policies to get the best rate. (As I understand it, some insurers are giving ridiculously low returns on those who want to buy out of the endowment.) They say that those who want to sell their endowment policies will have had a surrender-value quote from the life company. Usually a rather low amount quote, it seems, which must be a disappointment after years of what was supposedly a saving process. Endowment Express says they could give the borrower up to 35% more. They do this by using their expertise to ensure the endowment policy gets valued by every possible purchaser, including specialist buyers.
The question is, perhaps, why would you want to pull out of your endowment policy? There are a number of possible reasons: redundancy, paying off debts, divorce and the complications of splitting the assets, repaying the mortgage or moving house, or the payments are just too high.
When we were property owners (that is, property other than the house we’re living in), it was quite common for borrowers in that particular market to borrow on an interest only basis; not paying anything off the principle. The idea behind this was that when you did the house up and sold it, you’d get your principle back and wouldn’t have had to deal with it in the borrowing process. It made sense, as long as you were able to make money on selling the house! Being us, we didn’t

Saturday, March 10, 2007

More on Gareth Farr

Pardon my ignorance. I only discovered yesterday that one of Gareth Farr's pieces of music on the only CD of his that I own, is a revamp of music he wrote for the tv series Duggan. The music is now called Time and Tide and it's the one where there's a melancholy violin solo weaving in and out, and a good deal of work for the marimba.

Michael Gurr


Michael Gurr is an Australian playwright

‘Believing your value as a human being is measured by your independence and separation from others is the great lie of the market-driven world.’
From Michael Gurr’s memoir Days Like These, quoted in Time Magazine 6th Nov, 2006

‘On the early trains, slightly damp hair and recently applied make-up give you access to bodies so lately asleep or naked that it can induce a sensation like the swoon of a long kiss.’
Ibid.

In regard to writing his memoir, he discovered his aim was:
‘To put a bit of steel back into the language of ideas that have come to be seen as soft, nebulous, weak. All the things that have been stripped out of the national conversation.’ This follows from an earlier comment about Australian politics: ‘I’ve never been angrier. Our current national government has presided over a time of almost unbelievable moral corruption.’

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Mould Hunter

Every year my wife points out the (small) area of mould high up on the wall (11ft stud in this room) of one of out lounges. It’s an outside wall, and she says, every year, that perhaps there’s a leak in the spouting in that area, or that water is accumulating in the spouting there.
We used to blame it on the gas heater, something we’ve long stopped using. I liked gas heaters but sometimes there was a smell that permeated and became intolerable after a while. Usually it was a problem with the heater rather than the gas. I liked them because they were close to open fires in ‘feel.’ Open fires – I miss ‘em. We used to have two in our house: one was absolutely pathetic, but it survived quite some time. The other we got rid of early in the piece when we made two rooms into one. But there’s nothing quite like an open fire. (Now with global warming stuff going on all around us, open fires in houses are almost unheard of.)
Back to the mould. I came across the New Jersey Mould Company (sorry, guys, I can’t spell mould the way you spell it – it just don’t look right at my end of the world). And when I checked out their site, lo and behold they have a Mould Dog.
I quote, "Traditional mould sampling won't find the mould hiding inside your walls. Hunter the mould dog will."
I’ve included a picture of Hunter, who looks like a nice friendly feller. The people at NJMC go on to say: "Dogs have been trusted for hundreds of years to detect and locate things that humans can’t find. Since 2003 we have been using specially-trained dogs, trained just like bomb dogs or drug dogs, to detect and locate the source of mould growth by detecting the gasses (MVOC’s) mould growth gives off."
I find this most intriguing. I’m not sure that Hunter would have much trouble tracking down the annual mould at our place – although he might have a bit of trouble reaching it…! However, he might also find mould we hadn’t discovered ourselves. Now that would really give my wife something to "mention" each year!
The NJMC has a link to a very interesting article on the use of dogs in tracking down mould. Well worth a look.

Andrew J Hiduke

I thought some more about Andrew J today, while I was doing something else. Interesting name, for starters. Is it derived from Highduke? This seems a reasonable supposition. As it stands, it's more reminiscent of Hi, Duke!, not such a formal-sounding name.
I looked on the Net, but the origin of Hiduke is as elusive as the reason why someone was looking for Andrew J on my site.
Perhaps there's someone out there who can help?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Swept along on HitTail

About a week ago I signed on with a site called HitTail. The theory behind hittail is related to the 20/80 principle that works in retail and many other areas. Most key words in sites are connected to the 20 part of the ratio. However HitTail’s idea is that in the 80 section there are millions of words that people will actually look for that aren’t key words in the usual sense – except to the person doing the looking.
For a start my experience with HitTail was rather disappointing. I knew that not many people look at this blog, but getting the sense from HitTail that nobody at all was looking was disheartening. However, since then things have picked up and HitTail tells me a few people have actually come across my site…by accident. Well, that’s what happens when you go searching: Google brings up all manner of things, like a fisherman fishing in a particularly polluted piece of water.
Now the curious thing is that HitTail tells me that the following were noted as being searches that brought people to my site.
Postie.com
Portmanteau word boat for workers
Godunedin
Anna Leese
Timelock 1957
Andrew J Hiduke
Mike Crowl.
Of these, five can said to be reasonable hits: I used the word ‘portmanteau’ in my last post in regard to condominiums. Godunedin is a post that’s been on the site for some time, when I commented that I always misread it as God in Dunedin. Anna Leese turns up in another post as one of the three NZ singers who sang together in the UK whom I’ve played for at some time in my life. Timelock is the name of a movie with Sean Connery in a very minor role that I mentioned recently.
And of course Mike Crowl is ubiquitous.
Postie.com hadn’t clicked with me until I did a bit of searching myself and realised it’s part of PayPerPost’s current expansion. So we can accept that as a reasonable search result too.
But Andrew J Hiduke? He definitely doesn’t turn up on my blog – at least not when I do a search of either it or the brain of the writer who wrote it. You can’t even find Andrew J Hiduke on Google. We get a James J, and an Andrew D, but around about then the trail really runs pretty cold. Did Google say to itself: heck, we can’t find this name anywhere on our billions of pages; let’s just throw the searcher off the track completely and send him off to a random blog. Here, there’s one that no one ever reads: Mike Crowl’s Random Notes. That’ll put him off!
Andrew, whoever you are, I hope whoever was looking for you has found you. I’d hate to think of the two of you alone in cyberspace, searching for each other, and getting tossed off into random blogs like mine.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Flying to Florida

Well, it looks as though the Brits are now buying up large less in the typical European holiday spots, and going further abroad; further, as in Florida. Yes, Florida in the States, that wonderful long peninsula that stretches down from the southern east coast like a fat finger.
I’d forgotten, until I was reading up a little on Florida, about the Florida Keys. Key West is one of them, and I thought it was also the name of a highly romantic, swash-buckling kind of movie that I saw as a child, and haven’t forgotten. But it isn’t. I thought it was a movie by Cecil B de Mille. But it wasn’t.
Anyway, all that aside, property in Florida is becoming the preferred option for lots of Brits, it seems. Brits with some cash to spare, that is, as these wonderful beach front properties aren’t quite going for a song. Still, unless you’re retiring there, you could always rent your condominium out to other fellow Brits who want a taste of the long stretches of beach, and the wonderful, warm weather. (Just don’t tell them that Florida also gets a lot more lightning than most places in the US. Still, lightning, as they say, never strikes twice, so they should safe enough!).
Condominium always strikes me (since we’re talking about strikes) as a most odd word – even odder that we should have it in the language when most people chop it down to condo. And now there’s another portmanteau word: dockominium, which is the water-based version of a condominium. However, rather than owning an apartment in a building, one owns a boat slip on the water.
A docko? Hmm, it doesn’t quite have the ring of a condo.
You’re going to ask me where the word, condominium, first came from, aren’t you? I’m going to tell you, anyway, since I was curious enough to look it up. According to the Online Entymology Dictionary, it dates from around 1714, and was apparently coined in Germany from com- "together" + dominum "right of ownership." It remained as a word in politics and international law until the sense of "privately owned apartment" arose in American English as a special use of the legal term, in 1962. The abbreviated form ‘condo’ was first recorded 1964.
There you go. All you wanted to know.
Disclosure statement

Fellows and Sellers

I went to the formal introduction of the Otago University’s three new ‘Fellows’ the other evening after work. It was held in the Hocken Library foyer, and the nibbles were very good.
We were invited because one of the Fellows is an old friend of mine – and my wife works with his wife. The three Fellows are the Burns Fellow, the Mozart Fellow and the Frances Hodgkins Fellow. My friend is the Mozart Fellow, which means he gets a year’s time associated with the University in which he can be relieved of working to deadlines, finding new work, creating music he may not want to create and so forth. He can spend the year thinking about what he’d like to do, compositions that don’t require to be for something.
Anyway, while we were there we met another old acquaintance, also a musician, who, during the course of our conversation mentioned that his twenty-something son sells on Trade Me, full-time, and ‘is rather tight-lipped about how much he makes.’ The indication was that the son was doing very well, selling imported CDs. I’d like to know who he is, so I could check him out, but it’s not easy to find who people are on Trade Me, since we all go under usernames.
I’ve been selling secondhand books on Trade Me for the last five or six months, as I’ve probably mentioned before. I’ve done reasonably well, but would hardly call it making any sort of living. It’s a hobby at this point. To sell on Trade Me you need to focus on some part of the market where you can buy small so you can sell big. Plainly imported CDs are one area, and in the book on successful selling on Trade Me the author talks about a young man who set out to become a millionaire on Trade Me, in spite of lacking any start-up assistance from Work and Income. He sells a lot of hand-held technology and the like. He has become a millionaire, and he basically imports at a fraction of the cost and sells at prices below the usual NZ retail. Obviously, if I was to take up Trade Me as a job, as some people have done, I’d need to get into a market rather more ‘with it’ than secondhand books. Which would mean throwing aside all I know of books, and starting afresh. Guess it’s never too late to learn…but!

Lenten

We’ll be coming up to Lent soon, that forty-day period still observed by the Catholics and Anglicans when a sense that we need to change the pace of life and reflect more on who we are, spiritually, and where we’re going. I was brought up as a Catholic, in the days when things were rather tougher, especially in Lent. While there was no definite rule about what you should give up during the time, you were made to feel that if it wasn’t something very particular you might as well be damned from that point on. Things have gone to the other extreme now, and I suspect many Catholics and Anglicans barely notice that Lent is passing.
I was reminded about this in regard to the following quote, which I picked out the Star Weekender – it was published on the 24th Feb, 1985, and was attributed to the Rev Dean Robert Mills, then Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, in Dunedin. Lent must have been early that year.
"Have you been dieting since Wednesday, or walking to work instead of taking the car? Maybe you’ve stopped buying Golden Kiwi tickets. These little forms of self-denial are often practised by people over Lent."

Bargain Bin at The Warehouse

The Warehouse has a marvellously eclectic range of DVDs for sale. Most of them, as you’d expect, are the top-runners in the scene, and go at the top price. But alongside these they sell, particularly in their bargain bins, dozens of DVDs that you’d never find in a hundred years anywhere else. (Well, I expect you wouldn’t have found them over the last hundred years, anyway, given the age of the DVD as a piece of technology.)
When I get a half hour to spare, I like to fish amongst the randomly-binned DVDs to see if I can turn anything interesting up. The other day I came across the following:
The Lady Vanishes, one of Hitchcock’s most delightful suspense pieces, with a marvellous cast, and Hitchcock’s black humour that predates the classic Cary Grant/Hitchcock combinations. I've seen this at least three times previously, so haven't watched this particular copy yet; just added it to my growing Hitchcock on DVD collection.
The Dresser, with Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney – I’m yet to watch this, but I suspect that the performances will be top-notch.
The Vicious Circle (also known as The Circle) with John Mills. This is a murder mystery/suspense thriller piece, written by Francis Durbridge, who relies on adding something out of left field in almost every scene in order to keep the thing humming along. It’s absurd, but fairly watchable, though John Mills never quite looks at home as a Harley St specialist. Wilfred Hyde White, as always, plays Wilfred Hyde White.
And lastly, Timelock (also known as Time Lock), which was made in 1957. The packaging for this is a bit of a failure under the Fair Trades Act: it lists Sean Connery in large letters, as though he was the star. In fact, he has something like three or four lines somewhere in the middle of the piece, is a relatively unimportant character, and makes little real impression. That’s no mean feat, given the nature of this movie. It’s directed by Gerald Thomas, who went on to direct some thirty or more Carry On movies. His direction is bland in the extreme, and in a piece where tension is required, he manages to elicit almost none. His cast, taking their cue from the director, play the whole thing in such an off-hand way that you have to wonder whether they’d all decided the thing wasn’t worth the candle, and they’d get it over and done with as quickly as possible. As an amateur reviewer on IMDB says, even the child who gets stuck in a time vault at the bank and is the cause of all the fuss is awful: he has no acting ability whatsoever. Fortunately he has very little to do, and he does most of it early in the piece, and is then seen no more until the end, when he has to play virtually dead.

The piece is set in Canada, by the way. The only shot in the movie that actually shows Canada is the opening one; the remainder was shot in England, with some US actors involved.

Friday, March 02, 2007

PayPerPost goes for Gold!

Back on the PayPerPost tack again. I haven’t had time to go on their site for a few days, because my evenings have been a bit booked up, but I see now that almost every ‘opportunity’ is in colour, which means that you just can’t take it. The few that remain uncoloured are in such a minority that it’s a wonder you can find them. I said a few posts back that they’d gone upwardly postile, (as opposed to mobile) and things have got worse. There are even complaints on their site’s blog about the issue, but the problem doesn’t appear to be getting heard by PPP. At the same time as they’ve been chopping out the little fellows, they’ve been promoting something called Postie.con on their site, which, since I don’t often read their blog, I haven’t really caught up with. But a few of their bloggers have said that instead of playing around with Postie.con, they ought to be fixing the things that do need to be fixed, like the speed of their site, which would hardly give a snail a run for its money.
One blogger wrote that she can no longer make any money at PPP and that all the changes are terrible. I have to agree. She adds that even with a Google ranking of 4 or 5 she can only write about ‘high interest payday loans that loans destroy poor people, or silly online dating sites, and I will not blog bout those on my site.’ She also questions the idea that a 300-word post should require a Google ranking of 7 (does Amazon get a 7?) when it only pays US$6. She asks, ‘Why would anyone waste their time writing 300 words for $6 on a high ranking blog?’
I can only agree, yet PPP seems oblivious to all this. They’re plainly going for gold with their blog marketing, telling us that the new segmentation system awards bloggers with high traffic blogs. Well, big deal, that’s no news.
They say that we could make $1000 for a single sponsored post! Hmm, I haven’t seen any $1000 opportunities, but again, what sort of traffic would a blog need to gain that much money for a single post? Come on, PPP, let’s get real.
Disclosure statement

Reading at the tea-table

I finished John Wain’s book on Shakespeare yesterday, reading it often in the midst of the noise of arguments at the lunch table, or in the middle discussions about roads and drains and electricity. There’s nothing wrong with these discussions, mind, and a lot of them are very interesting to someone who’s world hasn’t really collided with roads and drains and electricity except in the way the world of most of us collides with them. There’s also a lot of discussion of people and places in Dunedin, from a different perspective. Dunedin is big enough to be interesting and still small enough for everyone to know pretty much everyone else of any consequence. So names get bandied about the morning and afternoon tea tables in a way that’s been unfamiliar to me for a long time. And these discussions are even more interesting when I actually do know something of the people involved.
And then there are the opinions on everything and anything that’s going. Some of these are surprisingly at odds with the media’s opinion, and sometimes they add extra facts that open up cans of worms. And then there are the stories, which the better storytellers seem to have an endless fund of. It’s certainly a different atmosphere to the one I’ve been used to for my last somewhat sheltered seventeen years.
Having finished Mr Wain’s book, I’m now reading my way through The Bravest Man, by Jenefer Haig. (Yes, she does spell her name that way.)
It’s a book which not only collates the four Gospels together in a way that gives them a real chronology, fitting the various stories and incidents into their appropriate places – as far as anyone can – but it also offers a kind of running commentary to give us some history and background to the stories. It’s well done, and apart from some typos and proof-reading errors, is a reasonable publication.
Apparently – and I only vaguely remember this – Mrs Haig, who lives in Oamaru, brought an earlier version of her book to my attention some time back, when I was in the shop, and I told it was too expensive for the kind of market she was aiming at. And, I think, it was too big.
Anyway, she’s now dealt with both those issues (such influence I have never ceases to surprise me!) and brought it down to about 80 pages. It’s very readable, and I think would be very good for anyone who was just starting into the Gospels. Certainly it makes the hard work of putting it together seem easy.