Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Champion

Back in 1989 there was a NZ children's TV series called, The Champion. Look it up on, and you'll find virtually no information about it. In fact, it seems to be one of the few NZ children's series that's never been repeated, and I've never found a DVD version of it anywhere, either. In spite of that it was one of our family's favourites. We videoed as much of it as we could, but missed getting the last episode.

It was based on a book by Maurice Gee, which my wife and I found on our travels last week in an op shop (compulsory stops for the Crowls in all the little towns we go to). We've both read it now, and it certainly brings back some memories of the series.

However, what I found peculiar about it were a couple of things. Gee tells it in the first person, and for some reason begins by saying that he's going to write it in his "standard six voice not my grown-up voice." This is a bit of a con, because Gee actually writes it in good prose with plenty of metaphor and description; just the sort of thing a standard six child wouldn't write. Apart from that, it's an odd authorial intrusion.

And there are a few other places where there are explanations of names, as though the readers couldn't be counted on to check out who these people were if they wanted. Better just to have used the names and let the reader slide over them, as they would normally if they didn't recognise them. As we do as adults when we come across something unfamiliar. (Though I remember beginning an English children's author's book and putting it down in disgust after a few pages, because the child narrator described his parents as 'dead to the world' - I interpreted this at the time as them being dead, and couldn't understand why the child carried on out into the snow without concern.

The book also plays around with point of view. Rex, the narrator, is involved in all the major episodes, of course, but every so often manages to tell us about stuff that he 'heard about later.' While this isn't an illegitimate use of first person narrative, it just jars in the way it's used. Gee has set himself a bit of a problem, really, by using the first person, and doesn't resolve it well.

All that aside, it's a good book; it conveys a sense of time and place very well, of community, and it's full of lively characters - and some unpleasant ones. Racism is one of the themes: Rex has to grow through his problems with a black American arriving for a bit of R & R, and the local schoolteacher is presented as quite vile in her racist viewpoint, not only to the American but to the part Maori girl in her class and to the Dalmatian people.

Heroism is another theme: Jackson Coop, the soldier (the story is set during the Second World War), isn't the hero Rex wants him to be; he's got a Purple Star, but treats it with indifference. He hates war, and hates being shot at, and hates the thought of having to go back to it. At the end he acts heroically, but it's not in a situation that's in any way part of a conflict.

I was going to quote one of the bits that charmed me, but it's too long. Rex's grandmother, a bit of a naturist, who rides around on a motorcycle (with its sidecar full of vegetables she's grown) is a wonderful gardener, and at one point, in chapter 6, she introduces Jackson to the joys of compost and worms. Here's the gist of it:

Jack said, "They're workin' hard." ['They' being the worms.]
"They will be when they get in the ground," Grandma smiled. "Sunlight, Jack. Compost. Worms. Pure water. It's not a very long list, the things we need."

Friday, October 30, 2009

My wife and I go on holiday

Since this blog isn't normally about what we do on holiday, (even though there are a couple of earlier posts relating to the one we've been on most recently - here and here) I'll revert to using my Travel blog for further posts on the subject. So this one is just by way of introduction, and to alert you that there's more to the Crowl world of blog than this Random one.

The main focus of the holiday was a wedding we were attending in Napier, and when we were invited some months ago, we decided to take a week all up, fly to Wellington, stay there for a couple of nights, drive to Napier, stay there for the wedding and then drive on to some other destinations and then back to Wellington.

We hired a car on the Net through a company called Apex Rentals, whom I'd be happy to recommend. I don't think they provide up to date vehicles necessarily (or rather, we chose one that wasn't new) but their service seems fine, and they run efficiently, and the cost overall was within our budget. Best of all, we had no problems with the car, or the hiring. We could have hired ourselves an RV (or the NZ equivalent thereof), and saved ourselves some accommodation, but RVs (or the NZ equivalent thereof) are expensive to hire here, and thereby we avoided any RV breakdown (!) [Just had to sneak all that in, and it's roughly relevant.]

My wife has gone off to Auckland (she flew out from Wellington for another week's holiday, this time with my daughter and her family) with the camera and the smart drive with all the photos on it, so I won't be able to add photos to this post, or to those on the other blog. Maybe I'll come back and include them later...something I've been meaning to do since 2007 in relation to the overseas trip we took. you go to the Travel blog and check out some of the highs and lows...!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Free Health Centre

In today's 'Star' - the local freebie newspaper (actually one of the two freebies) - there's a front page article about Dr John Arnold and his plans to open a Health Centre in the main street before Christmas.

So what, you say? Well, the difference with this health centre is that services will be free to any and all patients. John is concerned that there are a lot of people slipping under the radar in terms of health care, and he's hoping that by providing free care, more people will be able to have access to health advice and services.

And what's that got to do with me? Well, John and I have been getting together nearly every week for several years, since I first met him and took him through a discipleship course after he became a Christian. When the course was complete we decided that it would be good to keep getting together, and so we have.

We began with hour-long morning teas out in South Dunedin (where John's 'other' practice is), in an old-fashioned cafe where the windows used to steam up in the winter. For a longish patch - when I still worked at the bookshop - we had a morning get-together at Cafe Rue, in Moray Place. And since I've been working for the Presbyterians we've met for lunch at the Orange Cafe - also in Moray Place, but in another part of it.

And the result has been that I've been witness to John's long journey to get this free health clinic idea off the ground. And it's been quite some journey, particularly this year when John took a deep breath, began to work only part time at his usual practice, and spent many hours a week looking for premises and getting people involved and finding additional funding and everything else that was needed. The premises have been in hand for a couple of months, but of course there have been the usual delays from those in the world of bureaucracy.

One of the nice side benefits of opening up the Servants Health Centre in the main street is that it's just along the road from where I work, so getting together for lunch will probably be even easier than it has been in the past.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Reading on holiday

I read the only novel I bought with me on holiday within one night - it was a sci-fi page turner, and it was sort-of-not-put-downable.   The title was A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas Sniegoski, an author I'd never heard of before.  It was all fairly improbable, with an angel living as a human being on earth as the main (detective) character, and several battles between various factions of the heavenly realm (God seemed to be a bit of a distant observer as far as I could tell) and some graphic paragraphs of violence that I could have done without.    

The angel character's wife, being human, has aged a good deal since he first married her (he's stayed the same, of course), so she spends most of the book in a hospice waiting to die of cancer.   Their love story is fairly well done, given the circumstances, and the novel moves along at a cracking pace (hence the quick read).    However, you'd have to be a real fan of this sort of thing to go for it often.   The dog was likable...especially since the Angel could converse with him (!)

So I picked up another book in Whitcoulls, in order to have something else to get into.    It's a Barbara Vine novel called The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, and to be honest, it's fairly peculiar.   (Vine is Ruth Rendell in her other persona.)    The copy I've got is published by Penguin and, at $12.99 is a good deal cheaper than most of the other novels available, which range around the $40 mark.   Hence, in part, the choice of it. 

This book concerns a successful male writer who dies of a heart attack fairly early on in the book.   He's shown himself to be an unsympathetic character from the beginning, and little in the later part of the book changes our view of him - although several other characters try hard to give us a different viewpoint.    

He has two grown daughters, who idolise him, and have done since childhood, helped by the fact that he basically acted as though he was their sole parent, cutting their mother increasingly out of the picture - even though she lived in the same house.   He's done everything for them.   

The mother began her marriage as a naive young woman who thought she was being courted for herself; eventually she came to realise the writer only married her in order to have the two children.   He and she live under the same roof, but share little more than occasional passing conversations.   

After the writer's death, however, we begin to learn some odd things about him: he wasn't who he said he was, for one thing.   It seems as though he took on someone else's name as a young man and created a new background for himself.    Finding out why he did this, and what his real background was, is the substance of the book. 

One of the daughters, Sarah, does a good deal of the detective work - mostly unwillingly - and alongside this we read about the information the mother has garnered over the years.  This information comes to us from a different quarter of the book, as it were;  the two areas remain mostly separate just as the two characters do. 

This isn't a murder mystery, as a Rendell book would have been - although there is a murder in the story's background.   It's a story of a man trying to work out his salvation on his own, and not succeeding.    In the process he almost destroys his wife, turns his daughters into arrogant snobs, and snubs his "friends."   Friends is a loose word in this context, as most of them are either syncophants or people who can't understand the abuse they're receiving.  

Sarah also has a very odd relationship with a young man which consists of them insulting each other in public to the dismay of their friends and then making made passionate love as soon as they're alone.    

I doubt that this is a book that would appeal to everyone; the writing is good (though occasionally I had to re-read paragraphs to actually understand who was saying what) and the switching between various characters and the constant adding of layers to the writer's personality is intriguing.   

Monday, October 26, 2009

Float Plane

Well, it's nearly tea time a couple of days later, and we're in Taupo - our second day here.   Turned out the YHA was so nice, and we had an en suite, that we decided we'd just stay on instead of moving further down the island.   It means a long trip tomorrow, but we'll take it in stages - leave early, and stop frequently (as we did on the way up from Wellington).  

I'm not going to go into detail about what we've done so far, though as always, when you're travelling, there's plenty to talk about: new experiences, new ways of seeing things and so on.   Might as well talk about the particular new experience I had today, and make this post worthwhile!

Yesterday we'd discovered that there are two float planes (flying boats is an old name for them) taking people up for trips of various lengths.   Depending on how much you want to pay, you can fly a shortish trip (it turned out to be a very long ten minutes) over the town and beyond (Huka Falls and the thermal area, for example) or you can make the trip increasingly long by paying more.   Some of them take you up over the triple mountains across the lake: Ruapehu and its friends.  

Anyway, they couldn't take me yesterday because they needed at least two people to make the trip worthwhile, but they said they'd ring me if someone else wanted to go. Celia wasn't keen on it at all (she had enough after one of the Te Papa rides - more on that in another post) so she wouldn't go, but today about 10.30 I got a call to say that they had a booking for 12 midday, and could fit me in.   In the end there were three of us as well as the pilot - a couple of blokes from Sydney.  

I was just keen to go because it was a flying boat/float plane, and that's not an experience you can have everywhere.    In NZ, apparently, there are only about half a dozen being used commercially, and maybe three or four more besides that (the Catalina that visits the Wanaka Air Show is one).    

There's not a lot of room in one of these planes: I sat in the front because one of the guys had arthritic knees and couldn't squeeze in between the space between the pilot's seat and the back one.   Just as well I've lost some weight recently (kidding!)

Anyway, it was a great trip: taking off on the water was a lot less of a bumpy process than happens with jets, though coming back down on the water (which was relatively calm today) caused the usual thump on landing.   (It shouldn't be called 'landing' I'm sure, but I don't know the proper word.)     The flight itself was a bit bumpy, but you're not far off the ground, relatively speaking, and so you pick up quie a few air pockets and other thermal features.  

Taupo turns out to be a lot bigger than I'd expected, but then I've been surprised by the size of a few of the towns we've passed through on this trip. 

Photo by angelb, on

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Short post

Away on holiday at present, and attending a wedding in Napier (today) while we're away.   Full details to come later, since I'm on restricted time here.   Didn't bring the laptop, so can't write up as I go, but I'm making notes anyway.   This keyboard is a little odd, and it's breakfast this is one of the shortest blog posts I've written in a while!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

All the gold in the world...

A friend of mine who works at the Macraes gold mine was talking at a rehearsal of The Christmas Carol the other day. I came in on the conversation a little late but what I heard was that the entire stock of gold in the world would fit comfortably in the room we were standing in. And this wasn't a very large room: maybe 5 or 6 metres by 4. Height? Maybe 2.5 to 3 metres.

This seems incredible, but he seemed serious about it. Which presumably means that anyone who's a rare coin dealer (such as the firm, Monaco Rare Coin) doesn't have a lot of stock to play with, at least when it comes to gold. Monaco is one of the Monex group of firms, (I've written about them before in this blog on occasions), and they've been in business for forty years or so. I wonder how often the same bits of gold have passed through their hands in that time?

Of course, they don't just deal in gold, but in all sorts of rare coinage, and I guess there's plenty of that around the world. After all, most of us have seen large bags of coins in our lifetime (though perhaps less now than we used to) and it wouldn't take too many of those to fill a sizeable room. Though I guess if you're a rare coin collector, you wouldn't be needing too large a space to put your collection. And no doubt Monaco can point in you in the right direction when it comes to getting quality coins.

I'm really intrigued by this idea of the world's gold filling one not-so-spacious room. Why is Fort Knox so big, then? Is it because it's nearly all security and very little storage?

I'll have to get back to my friend and check it out properly obviously!

PC Councils

Muriel Newman talking about the PC-Brigade, especially within City/Town Councils.

The sad reality is that such actions are not exceptional. [Requiring a woman making jam for a fund-raiser to have her kitchen upgraded to a commerical standard.] They are typical of a new culture that has permeated councils - and many central government agencies. But it’s time for local councils to get real, or get out of the way. They should become ‘enabling’ in the way that they deal with their citizens, or they should be stripped of their powers. Thanks to Labour’s legacy of social engineering and economic neglect, this is now a crucial issue as the economy has stalled and the government’s financial accounts are recording their biggest ever deficit. Unfortunately those figures are more than ugly numbers – the ballooning deficit will inevitably mean that someone has to pay for the incompetence of the bureaucracy and the fact that it is holding the country back. And of course, that someone will be taxpayers, who will be expected to pay through higher direct and indirect taxes.

That’s why, it is critical that Labour’s debilitating legacy be erased - and quickly! Now more than ever we need a ‘can do’ approach at all levels of bureaucracy. Local government can start by changing its attitude and central government can force their hand by dealing to the badly flawed Local Government Act which presumed far too much when it gave councils the powers of general competence and enabled them to focus on the social, cultural, environmental and economic “wellbeings” within their communities.

Muriel has a good deal more to say about what she feels is holding the economy back; she doesn't mention Dunedin City Council, but ought to: their pushing through of the grandiose stadium has made people give up on them as having any integrity, and the recent debacle where they changed all the parking times and costs around the city caused such a backlash that they were forced to revert, in many cases, to what had been before.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Update on CD

I'm ready to go with the Concert CD: CDs with the labels printed on and the booklet with all the words. And it's only taken just on a month (compare that to my previous record of three years and counting for the first concert's CD - however, even that is now progressing after all this time).

My wife and I are off to a wedding in Napier this week - on Wednesday - so there won't be much blogging done, I suspect, during that time. In fact, I'm seriously thinking of not taking the laptop. Apart from the inconvenience of carting it around, it won't do me any harm to have a break from it. (Although the heap of emails that'll be waiting when I get home isn't something I'm looking forward to. Still, I can probably hook up at an Internet cafe.)

We're going to be staying in Youth Hostels in Wellington and Napier, from Wed through to Sat nights, and then we'll probably stay in a two or three others after the wedding (which takes place next Saturday). Our plans are open-ended at the moment; we have to be back in Wellington on Wednesday week, but beyond that we could travel all over if we were of a mind. Currently Taupo's one possibility. Both the Wellington and Napier hostels are highly recommended on the YHA site; here's hope they live up to their reputations!

We stayed at a youth hostel in the UK (near Rochester) when we were there three years ago (in the picture upper left - it was a converted something, but don't ask me now what). It was pretty noisy at night, with paper-thin walls, and the bunks weren't terribly comfortable. However, the kitchen was good, and even though it was in London, officially, it was next to some woodland. Of course, very little compared to the two apartments we had in Valencia, which were not only spacious, but stylish. The living area of the first one is in the picture below (along with the ubiquitous laptop).

We hired the two apartments off an English bloke who was living in Valencia, and did all the hiring and payment collecting and admin himself. I don't know how many apartments he had, but he seemed to be doing very well, and he kept the places spotless. They were not only very well appointed but had quite an array of seemingly valuable artwork, bric-a-brac and such scattered around them. Not the sort of places to take the grandchildren!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dr Johnson on ability and evil

Many complain of neglect who never tired to attract regard. It cannot be expected that the patrons of science and virtue should be solicitous to discover excellencies, which they who possess them shade and disguise. Few have abilities so much needed by the rest of the world as to be caressed on their own terms; and he that will not condescend to recommend himself by external embellishments, must submit to the fate of just sentiment meanly expressed, and be ridiculed and forgotten before he is understood.

Dr Johnson – Notes on Macbeth.

Whatever philosophy may determine of material nature, it is certainly true of intellectual nature, that it abhors a vacuum; our minds cannot be empty; and evil will break in upon them if they are not pre-occupied with good.

Dr Johnson – Boswell: Life, ii, 140

I presume the second quotation is the source of the more commonly-known expression: Nature abhors a vacuum.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009

This year the focus of Blog Action Day is on Climate Change, a theme which I am still in two minds about. I am clear enough that the weather isn't being its normal self, but I'm not entirely convinced of the many 'reasons' behind it. In almost every case there's a counter reason which says either the opposite or undermines the original argument.

So rather than go on about the endless debate - which I suspect will continue until we suddenly discover that we're on the other side of 'climate change' and are wondering what the fuss was all about. I'm sure the same sorts of things happened when the Thames in London froze over, or Greenland was literally green. People no doubt raised all sorts of arguments for and against climate change (in whatever terms they used at that point), and then lo and behold, some decades later, things appear to have reverted to 'normality.'

Anyway, a colleague handed me a recent New Scientist magazine today and told me (she's my boss) to check out the article called Top tech for a cooler planet. There are two good things about it. Firstly it doesn't mention New Scientist's favourite word, evolution, once, and secondly it shows that in spite of the hysteria that surrounds the climate change concept, there are plenty of people out there working on new ideas to save energy, and plenty of others investing in the ideas.

Rather than mention the various ideas here, I recommend going to the site and reading the information. One thing I found slightly amusing was that the first entry is Pee-n-grow, which discusses the use of human urine as a superior fertilizer - this is already happening in China where urine is collected in basement storage tanks in apartment buildings. Why it was amusing was that I have a newspaper clipping in front of me on the desk which talks about peeing on your tomatoes to make them grow bigger and better. Apparently it works. In fact it works on cabbages and cauliflowers as well. You just have to avoid telling people in your family who might find this a little disgusting that it's all for the good of the planet.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Deja Vu - again

I watched Deja Vu again the other night. First time I saw it three years ago I was gripped by the tension and the excitement of the movie. Any flaws in the plot passed me by. This time, however, I was aware of things that didn't gel, not in the least by the fact that my younger son insisted at one point in stopping the video and explaining why such and such a thing couldn't have happened, even given the logistics of the storyline.

Well, that's the way it goes. You have to be very careful when you're plotting a movie that plays around with time (Back to the Future manages to get it right pretty much all the time). Put a couple of things out of their possible sequence (even given the state of time travel) and the audience will start quibbling. My son was most concerned about a phone call that couldn't have come about because the girl was dead at the time she was supposed to have made it. And if you look on, you'll find dozens of other goof-spotters who are equally concerned about things that aren't quite according to Hoyle.

Nevertheless, Denzel Washington pretty much saves the day. His gradual falling-in-love with a girl he knows to be dead (via images of her from four days before) is wonderfully done. Val Kilmer gets almost nothing to do, but carries off a dull role with as much oomph as possible. James Caviezel doesn't make a real appearance until well into the movie (we've only glimpsed him very early in the piece) but when he does actually get to play his scenes, the intensity level increases enormously. He doesn't get enough decent screen roles, really. Paula Patton is just gorgeous.

Printing the booklet & Myrtle Beach

The booklet for the CD of the concert is all in order, and I even have some copies ready to go. Now I'm just waiting on the next step which is to print the labels onto the disks, and I think we'll just about be there. Phew.

Doing the booklet turned out to be not nearly as difficult a piece of logistics as I'd expected. I took a mock-up upstairs to my daughter, who handles sewing patterns constantly so, I assumed, she would have some confidence with sorting out how to put the pages together to make them come out in order. She did, and between us we had it sussed in a few minutes. I went back downstairs, shuffled the halves of the pages around on the screen, and it was done. Printed them out at work, because the printer there does double-sided printing. It saved me having to manually put pages back in and print on the reverse side.

So, real progress! (And then, once that's done, will I have the energy to get on with the first concert and do all the same thing over? Yeah, of course!)

Something odd has happened with Blogger: if you've reached 2000 labels (the things that go at the bottom of posts) it tells you you can no longer add new ones. No doubt there are a lot of extraneous one-off labels on my list, but this problem seems only to have arisen in the last week, and so far Google/Blogger hasn't come up with a solution. So at the moment my posts are going out labelless, and a lot of bloggers are getting no answer to their questions about the issue.

The photo at the top of this post is of the 14th St Pier at Myrtle Beach, in South Carolina. It was taken by Alan Sterling, and has a lovely sense of place about it. I'd never heard of Myrtle Beach, or the Myrtle Beach resorts, but apparently it's a very popular holiday area in the US. Look up the name on the Net and you'll find endless recommendations for hotels, motels, and things to do while you're there, but not much else. In desperation I went to Wikipedia (which is the place of choice for information both here and at work) and found out that it began as a get-away place for lumber workers. It's so popular now that it's one of the fastest growing areas in the States.

Doesn't that always happen to somewhere that starts off quiet and relaxing?

The place had a quiet history: the Waccamaw Indians were the first known inhabitants, and later white settlers took over some of the land. However, they don't seem to have done much with it, and for a long time it was pretty much uninhabited. The Withers family appears to have had a name synonymous with the area, though they might not have been that enamoured of it: a rogue hurricane washed a Withers coastal house into the sea and drowned all 18 people inside. Later the lumber company took over the mostly abandoned area, and a railroad was built. This not only helped to move the lumber out of the area, but also to move the lumbermen to the beach. Eventually some entrepreneur decided it would become the place to go, and now it hosts around 14.6 million visitors annually.

So there you are: 14.6 million people each year know where Myrtle Beach is, and yet it's never crossed my path before.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What a bookseller is

A bookseller or publisher is a feeder of the hungry and a binder-up of wounds. Sourrounded by thousands of minds, all done up neatly in cardboard or plastic cases: beautiful minds, couragious minds, strong minds, and wise minds, the publisher, and bookseller become the link between mind and mind, sending the hungry away satisfied.

Robert Simpson, in his self-publshed booklet, Inside Outside - a story of depression, stroke and freedom. (page 2)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer

I haven't read a lot of Philip K Dick's work, although I know of it via the various movies that have been made, and from reading about him at different times. I think I read the book that Blade Runner was based on (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) and remember it being rather different to the movie, and leaving the reader somewhat up in the air.

However, via a somewhat circuitous route (Cino list quote, Amazon review, library) I picked up The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Ostensibly the third in a trilogy, I believe it's actually a stand-alone story that has little to do with the other two titles, except in terms of some themes.

It's loosely based on the later life of Bishop James Pike whom I read about a number of years ago in someone else's book - don't ask me what. Bishop Pike was castigated in the book, as I recall, as being someone who basically lost his faith, and died in a peculiar way.

The similarities between the Bishop in the book and the real life one are many: Pike's son committed suicide, so does Bishop Archer's. Pike experienced poltergeist happenings - Archer does too, but they're treated as fake by the narrator of the book (his daughter-in-law). Pike took to trying to contact his son by using mediums - so does Archer, on one occasion. Pike embarrassed the church less for his outspoken views than for his irreligious behaviour before his death. Ditto. Pike published a book on his search via mediums for his son; do does Archer.

Pike drove into the Israeli desert with his wife, apparently fell down a cliff and died after they became separated (the car had broken down). Archer's wife is dead before the book begins; his mistress has committed suicide by the time Archer goes into the Israeli desert, and he dies alone.

It must have been quite outrageous for Dick to base his story so strongly on a real-life person, but he apparently got away with it.

The narrator, Angel Archer, tells us from the beginning of the book that her husband, father-in-law and the latter's mistress will all be dead before the end of it, so I'm not giving anything away here to a potential reader. And we are warned close to the event in each case that it's about to happen.

The story is primarily Angel's, and in a sense is her faith journey - though this is a faith journey with many unusual byways, and a not strong conclusion. The other major character is the son of the mistress, a youngish man who is in and out of psychiatric hospitals because of his frequently deteriorating mental state. However, he also happens to be a character who acts as a kind of wise fool. And there is also Edgar Barefoot who seems to be a bit of a conman in the spiritual area, but who also manages to come up with some wisdom before the end. As I noted in my previous post, God isn't obliged to use only his 'chosen' ones to speak wisdom.

What there is of plot I've pretty much covered above. John Allegro and his magic mushroom comes into it as well, but besides that most of the book consists of intriguing discussions about religion, death, life, philosophy and everything in between. Dick comes across as a man with a mind as eclectic as Archer's (his mind focuses, but on something different almost every minute), and you have to keep your wits about you to keep up with the arguments. Still, even if you don't, you'll find this an interesting read; it has a surprising page-turning feel to it, considering its content.

A Plass new to me

One of the disadvantages of not working in OC Books anymore is that I'm not quite so up with the play regarding new titles. I came across what I thought was a new Adrian Plass title at the library the other day - it turned out to be from 2004, in fact. In the past I would have known about that before anyone else, pretty much.

It's the third of his books to have the title, The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, but this one adds a sort of subtitle, On Tour. The interesting thing is that I don't think the original 'Adrian Plass' in the diary books was much up to public speaking, so the meld between the real Plass and the fictional fellow has come a good deal closer.

Unfortunately, the book feels a bit flat, to me. The humour is all there still (though there's a distinct lack of anagrams), and with Plass' fictional son, Gerald, as one of the major characters, there are plenty of appalling puns, but it's as if Plass has had so much trouble with people misunderstanding his humour in the earlier books that he feels the need to make sure they get the joke. Too many stories have a little 'last word' to check the reader into realising that Plass is taking the piss.

Equally, unlike the earlier diaries, which zipped along at a great rate because they were written in short sharp bursts, this one is written in chapters, orderly chapters. The consequence is that it's not quite believable anymore. Believable? Yes, the early diaries were believable because they were so fictional. Here the line between truth and fiction seems to have got a lot narrower, and there are a number of stories that seem to have more than a little grounding in reality.

The Plass character remains as dunderheaded as always, except that he somehow also manages to speak intelligibly for 45 minutes at a stretch in front of an audience. His wife, Anne, is as always right about everything, always calm, always wise. Sorry, but Anne gets a little tedious as a result. Gerald has grown up, but retains plenty of youthful vigour, life and humour. Generally speaking he's the most realistic character. Leonard Thynn is back again, as totally irritating as ever, and with a girlfriend who loves him dearly. Both these characters suffer from having too much explanation, too much time on-screen, as it were. In short hilarious appearances, they do well. As soon as they're made to seem real, they fall over and reveal themselves to be the fictions that they are.

And there are plenty of bit players of the sort that have riddled the earlier Plass books (the Diary was only one example of his best early work) and that are maddeningly 'Christian' in the worst sense. Some of them get just a little a bit too much time as well, but....

Plass is one of the few 'celebrities' I've actually met and talked to; I found him genuine, modest, and normal. He's a typical introvert who happens to shine in a particular public forum. His wife, Bridget, is equally lovely and real, and would, I suspect, not see herself in any way as the ever-wise and patient Anne. Both are the sorts of actors who shine onstage, but prefer a lack of limelight off.

Anyway, there were a couple of things in the book I'd like to quote. One is from Gerald (pg 152 Zondervan paperback edition), and it appealed because by substituting the word 'flippancy' for 'facetiousness,' it describes me too.

'It's like some kind of illness, Dad,' he said. 'I'm diseased with flippancy. It's terrible. Someone says something and I suddenly feel a funny thought tickling my stomach and then rising up my body until it comes out of my mouth. I just can't resist it sometimes.'

Gerald is the speaker in the other quote, too. I presume he's talking about Dylan Thomas:
'Just think about it - a plump little Welsh poet, a womaniser and an alcoholic, produces some of the most heartwrenchingly beautiful arrangements of words that the world will ever hear or see, and we get worried because his morality didn't match his creativity. Well, let me tell you it's hard luck. The beauty and the inventiveness came from God, whatever anyone thinks of the channel. And who are you and I to judge, anyway? I call myself a Christian, but I doubt if I shall ever produce anything a twentieth as beautiful as the things that came from that man's pen.' (page 230)

Thursday, October 08, 2009

In between

Put the programme together for the Concert CD, and then realised, in the middle of the night - as you do - that in order for it to come out printing in the right order, the pages on screen have to be in some peculiar and different order. My brain hasn't had the energy to work it out yet, but no doubt it'll give it a try - probably around 2 or 3 in the morning.

So instead of doing what I should be doing...sorting out the booklet...I'm answering questions in a quiz on books on the message board on TradeMe. The only problem with answering the questions is that you've got to keep clicking on the reload current page button. The new responses don't come up automatically, which means it can look as though you've got the answer all to yourself and then find when you reload that four other people have snuck in before you. And it doesn't seem to be that Mozilla's got a shortcut key for reloading the page.

At the moment there's a mid-quiz break, so I made myself some toast, and am making a few silly comments on the Board to keep the interest up.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A bit of one-upmanship from Mr Haydn

The concert back on Sept 12th went well, though audience numbers were down on last time (in 2006). Had to compete with a Haydn concert at the Town Hall - apparently he's some old dude whose music is still getting played after 300 years. At my concert, one of the singers said after it was over that he couldn't understand why people would go to hear a Haydn concert when my concert was on. I can only agree.

Anyway, to give Mr Haydn his due, I've been playing through some of his sonatas over the last week or so, partly to give myself a break from the music I played in the concert, and partly to keep my fingers moving, and partly to do a bit of sight-reading. I've played these sonatas before, but I think I've probably only ever learnt one with any serious intent. There were times when it seemed as though I was the world's worst sight-reader. Think it was just that I'd been playing the same stuff for so many weeks that my brain hadn't had to use its sight-reading skills to any extent. Went through some of the sonatas again over the last few days and was glad to see that things had improved. Phew!

Meantime, I've been working on getting the CD of the concert off the ground. We recorded it on the night, so it's a warts and all recording - the mistakes I made will live forever, (as it were.) I still have the music tracks from the recording we made of the last concert, and I'm going to have to get that organised as well. I promised copies to people back in 2006 and they're still patiently waiting. Just as well they're not the sort of people who live in mobile homes, otherwise I might never track them down.

However, after my son-the-geek had been here for a while last Friday night I had the tracks for both the new and old CD ready to go and I've now burned a CD copy of both. Things sound pretty good (helped by having a professional recording person on the spot, an old friend who's been willing to do this both times I've put on a concert). Even the warts aren't as bad as they might be.

I've got the programme notes, and the poems on a Word doc, but it's now a matter of sorting all that material out so that it fits into some kind of booklet form. Not a task I'm enthusiastically looking forward to (I'm writing this post to put it off) but I will get it done this time.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Christmas Carol

One thing I don't seem to have mentioned in here is that we've started rehearsals for A Christmas Carol, a dramatised version of the Dickens' story. I have no idea who did this dramatisation, as there's no author listed on the script I have, and our director has had difficulties in finding out who owns the royalties (I think that issue has been resolved satisfactorily).

We started about three weeks ago, and I'm having a bit of an easier time than I did during When We Are Married, as I appear in the first act and then go home - pretty much. I'm playing Marley's Ghost, and Mr Fezziwig. Marley is wonderfully full of bile, and of course, Mr Fezziwig is full of delight and love of life. So they make a nice contrast. But I only have about eight minutes after Marley leaves the stage before I appear again as Fezziwig. Think they're going to be an action-packed eight minutes.

The Fezziwigs are pictured at right. (I'm not putting weight on for the part, incidentally.) By the way, there have been some fifty movie or television versions of Christmas Carol. It must rank as one of the most frequently made of Dickens' stories. In a blog post, Jon Michael Varese asks Why we continue to read Dickens, when many of his contemporaries have fallen on the wayside of literary history.

Thursday, October 01, 2009


The serious artist is one who is up to the elbows in the stuff of God's world. (pg 68: Performer as Priest and Prophet).

I've mentioned this book on more than one occasion in this blog, and may well do again before I've finished reading it. In the chapter I've just read the authors talk about Schoenberg's unfinished opera, Moses and Aaron, in which the composer sees Moses as the creative artist, and Aaron as the interpreter - for good or bad. (In Aaron's case, quite often bad.)

It's an interesting approach to the story, and possibly not one with which everyone will agree. Composers need performers - unless, of course, like Stockhausen and some others, they cut out the performing 'middlemen' and do everything themselves. Some composers are performers - yours truly, for one - and can be counted on to interpret their own music according to the composer's wishes. Except that I find I play my own pieces differently every time I touch them. Does that make me a 'good' interpreter or not? I'm always hearing that such and such an artist was a consummate interpreter of Mozart, Bach or Brahms (as the case might be); but what does that actually mean? That they played the pieces so wonderfully that everybody thinks that's how they should be played?

For a time Wanda Landowska was considered to be the epitome in terms of interpreting Bach. Then along came Glenn Gould, and everybody thought he was the epitome in terms of interpreting Bach. And, of course, he's now been supplanted by someone else.

So were those earlier interpreters interpreting wrongly? Don't think so. To me a piece of music is like the script of a play. Yes, there are certain things you must do: play all the notes, aim to be consistent with the composer's intentions in terms of dynamics, make sure that you have a good idea of what style such a piece might be played in. But that's pretty much where it all ends. After that, you're the performer (rather than the 'interpreter') and you present to the listeners the piece of music. You're a conduit between the composer and the audience, but you're not a conduit that brings nothing of yourself to the piece. If you can keep yourself out of the way you'll be doing extraordinarily well, I think.