Sunday, May 29, 2011

Big Sing

After seeing a tweet late yesterday afternoon saying: Concert tonight glenroy auditorium Dunedin. Best harmony singing around. Raising money for chch. 7.30 pm $10 entry - it was from mackersline, the username of one of the ODT writers - and then getting further confirmation (when I struggled to find it online) saying; Barbershop choruses from dunedin and chch women from Dunedin and two other Dunedin chorus, we decided to go and check it out, $10 a head being a reasonable price for us pensioners! (Just have to stick that in.)

When I did find it online, I noticed that Sunny Side Up were also performing, and that made the effort of getting out well worthwhile. We're good friends with some of the people in this group, but that's not the only reason we like to hear them sing. They bring a vibrancy to their singing that's different to anything else around (in Dunedin), and last night was no exception.

Their items came in the middle of the programme. They're not a slick group in the sense of choreographing their items, though they don't exactly stand still either, but they have some excellent singers (at least three of whom are people we know) and they perform songs that are out of the ordinary rather than old favourites from yesteryear; they pick up material that has its roots in Negro spirituals, or comes out of the folk streams of different countries (often including American folk). Last night they also sang Hey Jude with a strong solo from Bill, and Up above my head with an absolutely superb solo from Karen. Bill and Karen are also part of a singing quartet we've heard on several occasions: in fact they've more than once sung at gatherings such as birthdays we've attended, or put on ourselves (where they've happened to be part of the guest list).

Sunny Side Up was also the most 'diverse' group of the evening: one of the singers was in a wheel chair; they had an Indian woman playing drums a couple of times, and the people come from a wide range of backgrounds. This diversity was emphasized perhaps by their scarves, the only item they had in common (this group doesn't wear any sort of uniform) - these ranged over the whole colour spectrum.

Anyway, you can see I (we) like this group!

But we also liked the other groups too, and the range of singing talent in Dunedin was shown again and again. Some groups are stronger than others, which is only to be expected; nevertheless there was no group about which it could be said that they lacked the necessary skills to perform.

The evening opened with the Highland Harmony men's group. These guys tend to sing barbershop style songs arranged for choir, and I enjoyed them a lot - they also had the advantage of being on first. There's something soul-stirring about the sound of men singing in harmony. One of my favourite movie moments comes in Crimson Tide (or it might be The Hunt for Red October), where, as the sailors stand out in the pouring rain waiting to go on board their submarine, the sound track is filled with a choir of men singing the old hymn, For those in peril on the deep. If the film consisted of nothing else, it would be worth watching (listening to, perhaps).

A women's group, Distinctive Sounz, followed. Again they did their items well, but they seemed to have more altos and sopranos, and this somewhat limited the range of what they could sing.

Sunnyside Up came next and was followed by the Canterbury Plainsmen, a very experienced men's group from Christchurch. (Something else that's noticeable about these groups: the age range is often huge - this ChCh group had at least one teenager, and several guys who would have been well into their sixties, if not older.) The Plainsmen were excellent, but their style is very much national competition, which I suspect is based on an American approach to these kinds of barbershop choirs: the leader up the front doesn't just conduct the choir, he (or she in the case of the Dunedin Harmony Chorus, who followed next) is a bit of an actor too - very much so in the case of the Plainsmen. This is something that either suits your taste or doesn't; I'm not sure that either of us were enthused about the leader of the Plainsmen's approach, but it was a kind of integrated choreography which certainly gives some visual interest to the proceedings.

This choir has its own 'Unnamed Quartet' - the leader (singing as second tenor?) was part of this along with a guy from the choir who did a kind of falsetto solo version of Bring him home (from Les Mis) at one other point, and a young bass and baritone. Very stylish, though each of them was better as part of the group than when singing briefly as soloists.

There was also a female quartet called Nota Bene. Nice title. They're part of the Dunedin Harmony Chorus (formerly the Sweet Adelines, if my understanding is correct). This is an award-winning choir too, and you can see why. They're lively, the choir's full of good singers, and they work superbly together. (We also know one of the choir members well, but don't let that make you think I'm biased here!)

Nota Bene did a couple of items, substituting one about chocolate for one of the advertised pieces, because the latter was being sung elsewhere in the evening. We really enjoyed their items: the words were clear and snappy, the harmonies secure, and the niftiness of their vocal movement with each other was top notch. (That's another factor about this concert: clarity of words was a plus; so often I hear choirs from the classical stream who sing beautifully but don't seem to have any concern for the words.)

The same applied when the full choir came on. This is a choir that deserves the awards it's received. Plus their sparkly uniform was just great...!

Finally the Plainsmen got together with the Highland Harmony guys for a big sing of some old favourites. As always they did very well, but I think by that time of the evening I'd had my fill, and I needed to get up and stretch - we could have done with an interval: two hours plus was just a bit long to be sitting on seats that aren't the softest.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Artists' dilemma

The artists' dilemma is that they may find themselves forging ahead into an often indifferent world to offer what they have to share. To continue to move ahead with conviction demands courage and a degree of persistence and confidence in the worth of their gift. Sometimes we have to reassure ourselves that we and those gifts really have value. Perhaps we may more authentically see ourselves as couriers of what has been given us to give away.

Luci Shaw
"Creativity, Gift, Ambition, and Humility" in Radix Magazine

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Halik, Harrington and Patience

Patience is what I consider to be the main difference between faith and atheism. What atheism, religious fundamentalism, and the enthusiasm of a too-facile faith have in common is how quickly they can ride roughshod over the mystery we call God – and that is why I find all three approaches equally unacceptable. One must never consider mystery “over and done with.” Mystery, unlike a mere dilemma, cannot be overcome; one must wait patiently at its threshold and persevere in it – must carry it in one’s heart – just as Jesus’s mother did according to the Gospel, and allow it to mature there and lead one in turn to maturity.

From Patience with God: the story of Zaccheus continuing in us, by Tomáš Halik

I began to read Halik's book this morning, after coming across a positive reference to it in a blog post. I'd heard it recommended previously from a different source, and been intriguied by it, but this was the first time I pursued the interest further. Amazingly, there's a Kindle version of it, (there isn't often a Kindle version of books I want to read) so I downloaded it.

What is interesting about the extract above is that it relates quite strongly to the character I've been playing in
Shadowlands: Rev Harry Harrington. I've described his faith elsewhere as shallow, by which I mean that he hasn't really thought through the bigger issues that arise in faith, and has tended to ride roughshod (as Halik suggests) over the mystery of God. For Harrington, God is set and sealed in a certain framework and 'experience' of God outside this box is too much for his mind. Which is why it's interesting that in the middle of their short argument towards the end of the play, Lewis apologetically says that he's 'come up against a bit of experience lately,' meaning that his love for Joy and her early death have hit him deeply and caused him to think deeper into his faith.

Lilburn blows it

Well, if I was beginning to reconsider my stance on Douglas Lilburn's music, he's just blown it by the selection that's being broadcast this morning on the Concert programme.

I've just listened to his setting for baritone and viola of a poem called Warning of Winter, by Ursula Bethell. Now I have a bit of a feeling for this poem because I also wrote a setting of it - you can hear it here being sung by tenor Brent Read, for whom it was written. I was listening to Lilburn's moaning/groaning version - the viola moaning along in the background - as sung by Paul Whelan, and it was only after he'd been singing for a bit that I realised it was the same poem. It took some time, because not only was the setting utterly different, but Whelan's words weren't particularly clear, I'm afraid.

The other two songs in this group by Lilburn are a little better, but the combination of viola and voice doesn't grab me, perhaps because there's not a sense of musical assonance between the two. It's a very dry kind of combination. (Gillian Whitehead uses similar sorts of non-assonance groupings with some of her songs - she seems to have a particular penchant for writing for voice and bassoon, with piano sometimes also included.)

Besides this batch, there were also some of Lilburn's electronic pieces. Piece being the operative word. Like a few of his piano pieces they're minimalist, having almost no length. The pieces in question were: God Save, and Cicadas, Oscillators & Treefrogs. They were 'realised' in the electronic music studios at Victoria University, Wellington. God Save consists of a smatterings and mutterings of God Save the Queen; the other piece requires intent listening to hear anything much at all.

Thank goodness the Concert programme has been playing some of his other work. I don't think Lilburn broke much new ground with his electronic stuff, or did himself any favours as a composer, just as Stravinsky seemed to go off into a cul-de-sac when he got into serial music. (Does anyone listen to Stravinsky's serial music?)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Barbara Hurd writes an article in The Sun Magazine called, Dissonance [regrettably you'll only get a portion of it online]. Here's a short extract which appealed to me, particularly in the light of my recent post about Lilburn and Whitehead:

"'For now we see through a glass, darkly,' the Bible says. For me, it's more like 'Now we hear through a thick wall, barely.' How much do I miss? How much cluck and chirp, woof and trill, burrowing, gnashing, and last breaths go on while I walk oblivious among it all, preoccupied with this or that, intent on listening only for the sweet melodies? The answer is 'plenty,' though I am hearing more these days than I used to. Maybe the biggest challenge now is to expand my notion of harmony so that it includes even the unlocatable creaks of the dying, the screeches of healthy discontents, the cacophonies of want, all the unnerving sounds that accompany so much of our jostling attempts to make sense of life."

"What seems to be leading me these days is a wish to move, ear first, a little closer to what surrounds me, to close my eyes and hear how dissonance can agitate the spirit and widen the spectrum."

I suspect that anyone who really listens to music will have opened their ears increasingly over their lifetime. Quite apart from the fact that even popular music doesn't stand still (let's not say that it's going backwards at the moment - that would make me sound like some old reactionary), music in general is in a constant state of flux: what was wonderful last century may now be old hat; what we couldn't bear to listen to a decade ago we may suddenly find we have ears for.

Certainly there are composers in the contemporary classical scene whose music didn't appeal to me a few years ago, and which I've grown accustomed to, as Freddie grows accustomed to his Fair Lady. And, as I wrote in that recent post, even Lilburn is starting to register better with my ears. Whitehead has a little way to go.

Which is a bit like dieting: there's always more than a little way to go, and products that claim you can burn fat, build lean muscle, and re-define your body merely by popping the pills are likely to be a waste of time. Which is the value of pages like
oxyelite pro reviews. There's some sense there that these products may not be all they're claimed to be.

What's that got to do with music and composers? I think, even though our ears may become accustomed to music we didn't at first like, there will also always be composers who have somehow got themselves into prominence and whose music is really no more than faddish and pretentious. The proverbial Emperor's New Clothes approach, in other words. It applies to all the arts (see this article on Dane Mitchell, for example), but only time will put these people in perspective.


Courtesy of Family First NZ.

Google, Facebook and Research questions

UMR Research has just released their findings relating Google, Facebook and privacy and the following are some of the stats.

- 54% of New Zealanders believe that Google should be regulated to protect personal privacy. 51% think that Facebook should be regulated to protect personal privacy.

The question is, what do we actually mean by 'regulation?' This is one of those research type questions that doesn't tell us much.

- 67% of New Zealanders and 69% of Australians oppose Google sharing New Zealand data with American intelligence agencies such as the FBI, NSA and CIA. 71% oppose Facebook doing the same.

This is a bit more definite. I presume that Google does share some data with American intelligence, but what's being shared and what's not is vague here. It's a bit like saying two thirds of my family don't think family information should be shared with the neighbours across the road. What is actually meant by 'family information' in such a case?

- 54% of New Zealanders think that Google does a good job protecting people’s privacy, compared with 45% of Australians.

So if that's the case why are we looking at more regulation?

43% of New Zealanders think that Facebook has too much power.

Power to do what?

- 94% of New Zealanders have positive opinions of Google, compared with 84% of Australians. Fewer New Zealanders have positive opinions of Facebook (73%).

Again, a vague statement that tells us very little.

- Only 19% of New Zealanders think that Google has too much power, while 46% believe that Facebook has too much power.

Huh? Further up we were told that 43% thought Facebook had too much power.

- 23% of New Zealanders believe that Google manipulates search results for its own benefit, compared with 32% of Australians.

Yup, there's always plenty of conspiracy around when you ask a question like that!

Lilburn and Whitehead

Heaven forbid! I may have to change my mind about Douglas Lilburn's music, which I've tended to dismiss for the most part for quite a long time.

He's the Concert Programme's Composer of the Week, and some of the music is actually....quite...listenable to. His Diversions for Strings has just been on, and has some real life about it, something I don't always associate with Lilburn. Even the Prelude & Fugue in G minor, Antipodes, which was on before that, wasn't dull. Have they suddenly discovered a pile of music by Lilburn which no one's ever heard before? Or is it just that I'm hearing a lot of this for the first time? Perhaps his 'other' music doesn't get played much - we tend to hear the same few things, particularly the Landfall in Unknown Seas, which always strikes me as a combination of poetry reading and string playing that just doesn't work. Maybe some of these other works will start to surface more regularly.

I might have to start liking the man's music after all...

On the other hand, I'm struggling a bit with the new biography of Gillian Whitehead at the moment. As far as I know her work is seldom played on the Concert programme - and if it is, it's passed me by. The book itself is fine, well-presented, thoroughly researched (though missing sources for many of its quotes) and includes a CD.

Well, I've listened to this CD several times, and it just isn't getting through to me. I thought maybe it was just this particular selection of music, and got a couple more CDs out of the library (the only two I could find in fact). They were even less listenable to. Spare and angular and full of sounds that don't sit well on my ear. There I go again: it's all about me.

Maybe now that I'm becoming more of an appreciator of Lilburn (though I've some ways to go yet) Ms Whitehead will have to suffer my cold shouldering as a substitute. I will keep on giving her house-room, as it were, but so far we don't appear to have got onto the same musical wavelength at all.


'...secular humanism is a comprehensive belief system in its own right just like Christianity or any other religion. Secularists have absolutely no right to have the final say in religious discussions.'

(Quote from Glyn Carpenter's 5-minute summary on interfaith dialogues for leaders at the 2011 Congress).

You can see the video this comes from here.


A quote I'm personally very much in tune with...!

A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people -- people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

E.B. White
in "A library is many things" in Letters of Note

Of course, it doesn't need to be a public library - your own books on your own shelves are like having a host of friends sitting around waiting for a chat...

Playing an unsympathetic role

In an article by Luaine Lee on actor Peter Mensah in the freebie paper that comes with the ODT on a Tuesday, I was interested to read the following quote:

Mensah admits it takes daring to be an actor. "Becuse the job requires that I put myself out there and just lay it open. It is a courageous thing to do for a living because you are emotionally bare at times..."

I'm not in the least taking the mickey out of Mensah here - he plays an in-your-face gladiator in the TV series, Spartacus. I agree that there's an element for actors in which they have to take risks, even in the most 'ordinary' roles. I'm still getting used to those first days of rehearsal when you're exploring the character you're playing and having to say and do things that don't necessarily come naturally to you. You have to get over 'yourself' and become something/someone else.

Curiously enough this can be even harder with a role that isn't particularly over-the-top, when you're playing someone 'ordinary.' The ordinary character can be harder to play because he requires less extrovertness. The person I've been playing in Shadowlands, over the last week or so, isn't particularly unusual, doesn't seem to stand out in a crowd (in fact, in the first act of the play he says less than ten lines all up) and seems difficult to play in any way but 'straight.' There are no quirks or peculiarities to him.

So it seems. However, it came to me during rehearsals that he's shallow in his Christianity, and is a surprising person for C S Lewis to have as a friend, because his narrow view of Christianity is quite at odds with Lewis'. I'm not sure how you play 'shallow.' Just speaking the lines doesn't cut it, and you have to find postures, gestures, and facial expressions that portray what he's thinking inside.

On Saturday night, after the performance, a friend who'd been in the audience said she didn't like him: "he's so unsympathetic." And while I hadn't thought consciously about this, I'd obviously brought this to the acting of the part. He is unsympathetic, and thinking about this since confirms that I'm getting hold of what's in the character.

Why I quoted Mensah at the beginning is because Rev Harrington (the role I play) isn't liked by the audience - and I was very aware of it once we actually had audiences. While other characters get audible response from the audience (and that's been the case with most parts I've played in recent years), Harrington doesn't. People will be thinking about how they react to him, no doubt, but you can't hear this, and it's rather isolating for the actor playing him. You have to trust your acting instincts and hope that what you're doing with the part is actually communicating to the audience - and that you're not making an absolute ninny of yourself in doing so. I think that's what Mensah is getting at.

By way of an afterthought: when I first started working on Harrington as a role, I was playing him sympathetically, as it happens. It's my natural default approach to a part, to find the good in a character, and 'enjoy being him.' And this isn't an impossible reading of the role, by any means. I was thinking through the lines again on the way home from the performance last night, and the part could be played this way, as someone who's a step behind the other characters he interacts with, and who's Christianity is still in a stage where he needs to learn some more depth.

But this would leave C S Lewis as something of a bully, because in a couple of scenes in the second act, instead of us having something of an argy-bargy about the issues, as we do now, Lewis would be trampling over the sensitivities of a lesser soul. And I don't think that would put him in a very good light.

Of course, Lewis himself could be played differently. In an early scene, Joy Gresham accuses him of using his intellect to undermine an argument she's making, and in the second act she talks of him being an 'intellectual bully.' This line isn't pursued in this particular production, but in an entirely different one it could easily be.

The fascinations of what you can do with words on a page....

Mensah on the left putting everything out there, and on the right in everyday mode.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I have to say I love this quote I found today...

Creatine is a dietary supplement that is promoted for its ability to enhance muscle strength and physical endurance. A study with ALS mice found that the mice had significant improvements in their survival with creatine.

The site it's on belongs to the Spastic Paraplegia Foundation. Please note that by quoting it I'm in no way denigrating the people at SPF; they mention creatine primarily to point out that it's useful for people with spastic paraplegia. What I liked about the quote was its reference to the mice.

However, my introduction to creatine, which came only moments before I found that quote, was via a site that promotes creatine for people who want to boost muscle power. Like many other supplements, creatine didn't of course start life as a dietary supplement: it's
a compound formed in protein metabolism and present in much living tissue. It is involved in the supply of energy for muscular contraction. In other words we already have creatine in our system - and wouldn't do well without it.

Synthetic creatine, like many body-enhancing drugs, (if 'drugs' is the right word here) has a bad press in some countries and not others. In France it's illegal to use it for muscle-building; in Italy it's not. As a dietary supplement it's available under a number of trade names. I must admit that if I thought the reference to mice was amusing in the first quote, some of these trade names leave themselves open to speculative comment: Myoswell. Creakic Hardcore. Con-Cret Concentrated Creatine.

Myoswell? What were they thinking?

Creakic Hardcore? Quite apart from the first word, which to my ear immediately evokes a creaky old person trying to pretend to be a muscleman, the addition of 'hardcore' just provokes mirth - to me. But I'm not a serious supplement user, of course.

Con-Cret Concentrated Creatine - nice and alliterative, but the hint of 'concrete' in the hyphenated word is a bit scary...will your muscles turn to concrete (hardly much use when you're trying to be active)...?

Sometimes brand names need just a touch more thought before they're foisted on the public, I think..

Picture courtesy El Bingle.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sport overwhelms the Arts

Okay, can anyone tell me why the Otago Daily Times - and no doubt they're not the only paper like this in the country - allows room for three or four pages of sport news every day, and now puts out a new supplement on Fridays, which consists entirely of sport, and takes up another 16 pages!

Can anyone tell me why a quarter of the television 'news' each night consists of sport - and why there are often other sport-focused items in the rest of the news as well? Does sport get no other time/space on television? Nope, it takes over Saturdays to a great extent, and, if there's a really important game on, or the Olympics, or the Commonwealth Games, or the Rugby World Cup, it will get full time on these occasions as well. And all this without mentioning Sky Sport, which goes on day and night into eternity.

This would be fine if sport was the only recreation human beings indulged in, but it ain't!

My rant (which isn't by any means a new one) was boosted again by the fact that the play I'm currently in [Shadowlands] received no review in the ODT. The photo of the cast that the ODT's own photographer came out to take was bundled off into a little corner in the once-weekly Arts section (all two pages of it compared to the more than thirty or so pages sports gets each week) - and was so small no one could be distinguished in it. And the 'report' in the Star midweek paper was nothing but text. Again the photo that had been taken specially failed to appear.

It's enough to make me go out and punch someone, but then I'd probably wind up requiring a Medical Injury Lawyer and I can't afford that at the moment, not now that I'm a retired person (have I mentioned that previously? I have?)

And if you think I'm being aggressive, check out this video of the writer Harlen Ellison going full bore complaining about the way writers are regarded as not needing to be paid for their fact, what he's saying applies to all artists.

All we ask for is a little acknowledgement...

Shadowlands Review

A full house thoroughly enjoyed - and in some cases wept along with - the Repertory Society's production of Shadowlands, which opened on Wednesday the 18th May at the Playhouse Theatre. The play presents the period in the life of the writer, C S Lewis, when, after many years of bachelorhood (and somewhat to his surprise), he fell in love with an American poet, Joy Gresham, and then had to suffer the pain of losing her to cancer within a few short years.

Natalie Ellis' direction of this often complex play, which not only shifts moods quickly, but also requires a number of shifts of scene, was excellent, and shows the value of long years of experience in the theatre.

Phil Cole and Denise Casey play C S (Jack) Lewis and Joy Gresham respectively, and both bring great subtlety to their demanding roles. The other major part, that of Major Lewis, Jack's brother, was played by Bert Nisbet with humour and warmth.

In the minor roles - and also acting as stagehands - were Bernie Crayston as the pompous Riley and Mike Crowl as the shallow Rev Harrington. Greg Brook played various small roles with aplomb while Andrew Cook and Rosemary Richards (also working backstage) appeared briefly as a doctor and a nurse.

Two boys, Andrew Hughes and Alexander Byars, share the role of Douglas, Joy Gresham's young son, and bring innocence and struggle in the face of death to their roles. Eli Gray-Smith presents piano music that evokes the 1950s and ably covers the changes of scene.

The production runs until Wednesday the 25th, with a matinee on Sunday the 22nd.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The poster says the 'life story of C S Lewis' - it might be more accurate to say the 'love story of C S Lewis.'

Suffice to say, this play is being presented by the Dunedin Repertory Society at the Playhouse Theatre, 31 Albany St, Dunedin from the 18th to the 25th May at 7.30.

No performance on the Monday night, and the Sunday 22nd performance is a matinee at 2.00

Directed by Natalie Ellis.

Adults $25, Students $15, Groups $20 per person.

Book at 03 477 6544

Cast includes: Phil Cole and Denise Casey in the main roles, Bert Nisbet, Bernie Crayston, Mike Crowl and Greg Brook.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Clearing the backlog

It's nearly 10.30 pm, and I'm just going through my Google Reader and clearing the backlog of some 214 posts that have accumulated....many of which I'd like to read, but life is just too short. When I worked full-time, it was actually part of my job to read these blog posts day by day and keep up...but since I retired, curiously, I don't have the time!

Or maybe, rather it's that I don't give it the time I was able to give it at work. Plus I have actually been quite busy over the last several weeks since I finished work on several other things. Including stuff like working with my wife yesterday at chopping back the holly hedge. A mammoth task that always takes far longer than we expect. And getting rid of the holly branches is another big job, whether we chop them up into small manageable pieces, or lump them all into the back of a trailer and take them to the tip.

We thought about pulling out the hedge a while back, and our neighbour was quite happy with this idea, hasn't happened. That's another mammoth task, and we don't have a mammoth to call on.

Anyway, much and all as part of me rebels at clearing a backlog of blog posts, another part of me says I'll never miss what I don't know about. Except that as I'm clearing them I see all sorts of interesting things racing by...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Firefox pushes the (Red) Envelope

Okay, so I should have known, of course, that Firefox wouldn't have pushed the envelope and dumped stuff that was useful. They've just shifted it around, so you have to visit their site to find what they've done with it, and visiting their site means you see more of what they've added and you say 'this is way cool' (well, I don't say that, because it's not something I say).

Anyway, (in relation to my grizzles in the last post) to get 'history' you just press control H, and a nice long list (a very long list, as it happens, in my case) comes up on the left, and you can put it in alphabetical order (its default, I think) or date order or site order or most visited...

As for the 'refresh' button - of course, it's still there. Did I think Firefox would dare to remove it? It's now at the right hand end of the address bar; same little old half-circle with an arrow. (In fact that's the same logo Zotero uses on its program for its sync button, except theirs is thicker and green.) Press it, and it refreshes the page, which is useful in the ongoing conversation I'm having with my son's American girlfriend in regard to the wind (here and there in the States); when the page is loading it turns into a cross.

There now, don't say Firefox doesn't love you.

I also picked up a page of keyboard shortcuts - some of which I'll learn, because I always prefer to use the keyboard rather than the mouse where possible.

And now to something completely different. The Red Envelope (or RedEnvelope if you want to say it really fast). Nothing to do with 'pushing the envelope.' Red Envelope is a place for unique and personalized gifts, seemingly, though not in my part of the world. However, they suggest you check them out on Facebook, and there I discovered that there's not only a page for RedEnvelope the shop (which seems to be its preferred mode of being written) but also a Red Envelope Day: “This envelope represents one child who died in abortion. It is empty because that life was unable to offer anything to the world. Responsibility begins with conception.” [I can't link to these because not everyone has Facebook.]

The gift shop and the pro-life campaign aren't connected; nevertheless, the
Red Envelope Campaign has quite an intriguing story on its own, which I may comment on at some point.

Back to the gift shop: Father's Day in the States is just around the corner (early June) and so RedEnvelope is showing a number of items on its website that fathers might like as a gift. The beer holster is quite cool, but not much good to me, as the last decent beer I had was in a s
mall country pub in the UK about forty years ago. I quite liked the idea of the signs in the picture - not sure where I'd hang one of them, or whether it would have any real impact on other members of the family. Still, one can always try.

The car trunk organiser looks quite a bit of fun, but see my previous post in regard to organisation, maybe. I don't really see me wearing a tungsten & ceramic bracelet, but you never know - I bought some quite colourful sox the other day, so maybe things are changing. There's a cuff link display case. However it looks rather too small for the number of cuff links I've got around the place. There are also pyjamas that have your name embossed on them. Is that in case the bloke loses them, or someone else mistakes his pyjamas for hers? Perhaps not.

Well, Father's Day in NZ is a bit of a fizzer as far as I'm concerned (I usually manage to get a card or three from the kids) but tomorrow is my birthday....thought I'd just throw that in.

A list of frazzlements

It's one of those days. I'm feeling the frazzlement of just too many things going on, and probably need to go and put my head down for a snooze.

1. I upgraded to Firefox 4 the other day (for the second time - previously I had reverted to the earlier version as 4 just seemed to muck up the add-ons). 4 is okay, but the designers have decided that things needed to be rehashed, and of course that just causes problems: you go to do something and it just isn't there any more...or it's hidden. Where's 'refresh' for instance? 'History' has gone into hiding in the one and only menu and doesn't let you go back a few web pages as you used to be able to.

Two of my add-ons had to be re-downloaded, and even now one of them is playing up occasionally.

I'll probably get used to Firefox 4 but there are times when you just wish designers would leave things alone and let the users ask for changes instead of assuming that they need them.

2. Have you ever decided you need a document management system? And then wished you'd left well alone, and gone back to your old system of 'just knowing something is there on the desk?' I think I work to a kind of visual memory in terms of documents; as long as everyone leaves everything alone in my work spaces, I'll find the thing. But of course they don't, and I don't. You move something to find something else and that brings chaos to the whole arrangement.

As soon as there's a major overhaul of the document 'area' - whether that's around the computer desk, or on top of the piano, or on one of the shelves...everything is lost. It takes a ground zero approach to get it back on track again.

3. We've been using an online calorie counting thingee for the last couple of months - it shows up items of food according to the number of calories involved. Except that it's not just that simple, and the people entering the info on the database sometimes put in measurements in the most peculiar way. For instance, looking up 'boiled fruit cake' today the measurement was '8 th.' Someone on the forum suggested this might mean an eighth of the whole - except there's no measurement of the 'whole.' And it can't mean an eighth, since there's also a listing for '1 th.' A 'oneth?' There's also 'one container - 64 ths each'. What?

4. We went aquajogging for the first time in a while this morning. Which may account for my feeling a little fretful when we tried to order some seats online for JetStar, who have just announced that they're going to be flying out of Dunedin again, and were offering $5 seats. We actually managed to book the seats, but when it came to paying for them the system crashed and there's been no news since. So I guess we've missed out on those cheapies. Oh, well, we'll just have to wait for another special.

5. Did I mention that the trampoline blew over in this morning's gale, landed up on the raised gardens, bending one of its poles in the process, and in general looking very sorry for itself. No? Well, now I have. See the photo on the right for a general impression of the damage.

6. Think it's time for that snooze....

PS - Did I mention that my Google Reader has 170 posts in it...? Think I'll just go through and delete the lot and start from scratch tomorrow...

Postman on schools

What is the necessary business of schools? To create eager consumers? To transmit the dead ideas, values, metaphors, and information of three minutes ago? To create smoothly functioning bureaucrats? These aims are truly subversive, since they undermine our chances of surviving as a viable, democratic society. And they do their work in the name of convention and standard practice. We would like to see the schools go into the anti-entropy business. Now, that is subversive, too. But the purpose is to subvert attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions that foster chaos and uselessness.

Neil Postman
Teaching As a Subversive Activity

Monday, May 09, 2011

Sione's Wedding Mark 2

The movie, Sione's Wedding, released in 2006, showed that the younger Pasifika population of New Zealand (in particular the Samoans) had moved a long way from their island roots. While the older generation still held to the morals, traditions and principles of their Island background, the younger generation was swiftly taking on the secular morality and mentality of the majority of New Zealanders. For better or worse.

Now the four main actors and some of the other actors from the original movie are reviving their characters and making a sequel.

Newton Pacific Island Church will once again be the location for the main church scenes, including another wedding. Various real-life ministers and members of the congregation will again play a part in the movie.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Grimhilda (with an exclamation mark)

The musical I've been writing (script with a collaborator, music mostly on my own) is getting to a point where things are mostly in place. The script's been honed and refined until we're pretty much satisfied with it (there are a couple of minor repair jobs to come, but they're not going to affect the structure), and I've nearly done a first draft of everything in the music (just a couple of small sections to deal with) and am onto the umpteenth draft of some sections.

One of the things that had been concerning me for some time was that the script didn't have a title. This didn't seem to unduly concern my collaborator, but I reasoned that if we were going to advertise it in any way, or talk about it, or apply for funding, then we needed to have a working title at the very least.

We texted each other all manner of names on our respective téléphones cellulaires and none of them seemed quite to get to the gist of things. In the end we settled on Grimhilda! (exclamation point is essential), because in part it makes someone who doesn't know the piece ask who Grimhilda is, and/or why a musical should be called that. It's also short and relatively punchy, and gives some sort of impression by the kind of name that there's something a bit different about it. (It might also give the impression that it's an undiscovered opera by Wagner - that's him on the right - but we'll have to live with that.)

I mentioned Grimhilda! on Facebook the other day, and that roused some readers to give a variety of other possible names in their comments. One person got a bit carried away with links to the recent activities of Don Brash, who somehow has managed to become the leader of a political party when he wasn't even a member of the aforesaid party nor a sitting politician. Very weird.

Another friend, however, came up with a great variety of options, and rather than leaving them to be lost in the seemingly unsearchable pages of Facebook, I've decided to give them fame and posterity here.

In his first comment, he wrote the following: Personally I like "The Crowl & the Pussycat" or "The Last Temptation of Toby" or "Grimhilda da de dum de dooby doo" Or "Th Th The Suh Suh SuhSound o o o of M M Mu Mu Music" (a la Kings Speach). I think it might be the King's Speech, but we'll let it pass.

He also came up with The Brothers Grimhilda but I pointed out that the main character doesn't have any brothers, so using that was going to catch us under the Fair Trading Act.

His last comment had his most inspired creations: How about "Wet Slide Story"... "My Fair Lazy" ..."Hello Polly"... "Crease"..."Man of La Muncha".."Funny Grill" ?

The fact that none of these (with the possible exception of Hello Polly - there is a character called Polly in the musical, but he didn't know that) had any relevance to our musical didn't particularly concern him. We'd discussed possible titles; he'd given us choices.

PS, I couldn't put Grimhilda! in the title of this post, because Blogger doesn't allow exclamation marks anywhere but in the main part of the post. Piffle.

A long job

Founded in 2005, the J. S. Bach-Stiftung is in the process of performing Bach's complete vocal works -- an endeavour that will take until 2030 to complete. Every month, one of the over 200 cantatas is performed in Trogen, Switzerland. Recorded on DVD, the concerts are rounded out by introductory workshops and reflections on the music and text. The ensemble "Schola Seconda Pratica" and vocal soloists are conducted by Rudolf Lutz.

[Or, in the rather more appealing Google translation: The JS Bach Foundation has, to within about 25 years, the entire vocal work by Johann Sebastian Bach. Each month, played in Appenzell Trogen one of the more than 200 cantatas by Bach. All concerts, workshops and reflections appear on DVD, and the texts in book form.]

Here's a sample: it's Cantata BWV 185 - Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe [Merciful Heart of Eternal Love]

Thursday, May 05, 2011

More on printers

I think people who use computers probably have fewer problems, on average, with their computers than with their printers. I've written about printers on a number of occasions: they certainly provide more to write about than computers do. So far.

I've had Epson printers and Canon printers (currently have one of these) and a Dell printer, and dot matrix printers (exceptionally reliable machines, but not much use for the age of the Internet) and some other printer beginning with H (not a Hewlitt Packard).

My brand new Canon printer MG5150 has been announcing over the last day or so that the black ink was getting low - would I like to go online and order a new cartridge? Well, I could have done, but one of the reasons I bought this machine was so that I could buy cartridges from Cartridge World - they're usually better in price, and they do refills.

Anyway, I went to CW today and bought a new black cartridge. I said I thought it was rather odd that the printer seemed to be using the small black cartridge instead of the big one (Canon provides two black cartridges in this model: one that is used with the colour cartridges and one that's your day to day text printing). The bloke behind the counter asked me what I was printing out? I said mostly 'music files' (by which I meant Sibelius files). He scoffed: you can't print music files. Well, that's right - even I know you can't print MP3 files and such. I said it was printed music from Sibelius. He said I should be turning them into pdfs first otherwise they print out as graphics. I said I thought this a little odd, as I'd never had to do this before. He said I hadn't had a printer with two black cartridges before.


Anyway, I got home only to discover that I'd misread the information the printer had sent me and that it was the large cartridge which had run out. Which meant that the printer was using the large ordinary everyday cartridge for printing my Sibelius files. LOL.

Rang my daughter to see if she could pick me up a large cartridge. She went into the shop and they told her that the factory that produced these cartridges, in Japan, had been demolished in the earthquake/tsunami. No cartridges available. However, they could refill the cartridge but it wouldn't show up on my printer as being full (!)

Well, this was better than nothing, so in the end I made another trip to town (so much for saving petrol) and gave them the cartridge to refill. Told them that I'd made a mistake about which cartridge was being used for the music files, and the feller behind the counter still manage to make it sound as though he'd been right all along. Cheeky beggar!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Here's a question I don't often ask: what is testosterone? I'm not going to try to even begin to answer that question in any technical sense, since Wikipedia does it infinitely better than I could. I suggest if you really have no idea what testosterone is, start with their article on the subject.

I really only asked the question to get your attention. What I want to talk about concerns a man (so one could say testosterone is involved) but this is a fictional man who appears in a novel called A Spot of Bother, which I've been reading during the rehearsals for the play Shadowlands, which I have a small part in. (Shadowlands also concerns a man, except that he wasn't fictional.) This play goes on in a couple of weeks, starting on Wednesday the 18th May and running through till the following Wednesday. It's about the period in C S Lewis' life when he met and fell in love with Joy Gresham (nee Davidman), an American poet who came to visit him.

Anyway back to the book. It's by Mark Haddon, who wrote the bestselling, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night. A Spot of Bother is about a man who's convinced he's dying of cancer - even though his doctor says the 'growth' on his body is only eczema. This man, George, has retired early, and is going through a nervous breakdown, which causes him to do some exceptionally irrational things during the course of the book. It's also about his wife, who's having an affair with one of George's former work colleagues, his perpetually angry daughter who's about to get married again to a man she doesn't deserve, and his gay son. Surprisingly, perhaps, it's a book full of humour and wit.

There are many themes in the book, but one of the prime ones, which George thinks about a good deal, is dying. [You can read an extract about this on one of my other blogs.] Like so many people, George has managed to go through a great deal of his life without thinking much about death - even the death of a friend on the first page of the book doesn't affect him much -and it's only when he faces his own mortality that he starts to give it serious consideration. Unfortunately, his mind being in the state that it is, serious might not be the best word to use.

Related to this, I came across a poem on the Writer's Almanac site called The Death Deal, by Ron Padgett. Its opening is similar in thought to George's viewpoint early in the novel:

Ever since that moment
when it first occurred
to me that I would die
(like everyone on earth!)
I struggled against
this eventuality...

PS - After having given up on Naipaul's A Bend in the River, I'm now re-reading A House for Mr Biswas, his first major book, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed several years ago. The contrast between the humour in this book and the dour tone in A Bend in the River is striking.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Books started and unfinished this year so far

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobsongood writing, and lots of subtlety in the story, but I got fed up with the crudity of it. Equally, there didn't seem to be any real forward movement.

For All that has been Thanks – Rowan Williams and Joan Chittister - read several chapters; some of the early ones okay, but overall it’s far too lightweight.

Close Calls with Nonsense (Reading New Poetry) – Stephen Burt interesting stuff, but a lot of the poets are unfamiliar and their work isn’t very accessible. Even though it’s an American book, both James K Baxter and Les Murray appear. I might have finished this, given enough time.

A Bend in the River – V S Naipaul 2/3 finished. Too gloomy and dour to pursue any further.

The Art Thief – Noah Charney was about a third into it and it was just going nowhere fast; characters overdrawn and far too much ‘I know everything about my subject’ from the author.

Dancing on the Head of a Pin – Thomas Sniegoski - a sequel to a book I read a couple of years ago while in Wellington; whereas the first one was unputdownable, this one didn’t grab me at all.


The word franchise has interesting origins. It comes from Anglo-French, when it meant, freedom, liberty, and from Middle French, franchir, to free, and earlier from Old French franc, free.

Free? I'm sure there are plenty of franchisees who feel 'free' in the sense that they run their own business and don't have a middle manager further up the line telling them what to do. But owning a franchise isn't a free process. I remember being told by a colleague who had a cafe under the Robert Harris franchise system that the amount of money he had to fork out to the company each month was excessive, and, in the end he decided it was more economical to let the franchise go and simply run his own business unrestricted by commission charges.

I've had a similar report from a Mr Green franchisee. And indeed, back in the distant past I was a Bon Brush saleman. We were effectively franchisees to the company, and supposedly ran our own business. But the costs of paying the Bon Brush company cut the profits considerably, and I suspect a lot of franchisees find this to be the case with their own franchises.

It's something of a two-edged sword: on one hand you have all the advantages of a brand name behind you; on the other you have to pay the company a considerable percentage for the privilege of having those advantages.

In the end it's the company at the top that still makes the big money. Not that that's likely to stop people taking up franchises. According to one website, in the US franchising accounted for more than half of all retail sales. As far back as 2001 franchising employed nearly 10 million people; no doubt the number is well up on that now.

Some people do very well out of franchises, but I suspect that their profit margin is very high and that the commission they pay out is consequently a smaller proportion of that margin. If it's not, kiss the franchise goodbye; it's only eating up your money.