Sunday, March 21, 2021

I finally buy another piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Not quite satisfying...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Weak week on Netflix

It's been a couple of weeks of poor selections on Netflix NZ. We watched the first episode of Daughters of Destiny, about a school for lower caste children in India. Each one is selected and their education is paid for. It was interesting but quite slow, and so far we haven't watched any more of it. 

We gave up on Operation Buffalo, a dreadfully overacted and overdone Australian series which didn't seem to know whether it was a comedy or a drama. Set in the Australian desert where scientists were testing atom bombs, it quickly got sidetracked into a subplot about a rapist. The actors were working hard, but something just wasn't quite coming together. 

A Suitable Boy was all very pretty and colourful, but unengaging. Based on a now classic 20th century novel, it should have had everything going for it. Survived one episode. 

Another story mostly set in India, White Tiger, was about a young man who was doing his best to become successful when his family and village were dragging him down. Again it couldn't work out whether it wanted to play for laughs or for drama, and kept falling between the two stools. Not only that the crude language used not only by the main character but also by a gang of drivers kept getting in the way of any enjoyment. Along with crude behaviour. We didn't manage to finish the first episode. 

I've mentioned The Girl on the Train in another post. It was perhaps the worst piece to come from this week though we watched it right through. Oceans Eight wasn't quite up to the mark of the others in the Ocean series but with some stellar actresses in the cast, it couldn't fail completely. 

And finally, as of this moment, an adaptation of Agatha Christie's murder mystery, Crooked House. According to some sources this was one of her two favourite novels amongst those she'd written. Sadly, the film comes nowhere near being a favourite. The story remains somewhat the same, but has made some odd choices in terms of changing the source material. 

Charles Haywood acts as the kind of glue that holds the story together, but for some reason he's played by Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons) as a dull, stolid character with almost no charm. Perhaps this was the director's decision, since the film as a whole is dull and stolid. Various top actors do their best to enliven the proceedings, including Glenn Close and Gillian Anderson (in one of her typical disguises) but even they can't keep the film from sinking and sinking. 

The biggest mystery in this story, compared to Christie's original, is why this family would allow an outsider to wander round the house, barging into rooms, accosting people with questions and ignoring their requests for him to go. Character aspects of the original novel are dropped completely: the second wife's lover who's supposed to be tutor to the children though there's never any sign of it, was originally a conscientious objector as well; this has been removed from the film, as has the science background of younger brother's wife. Neither of these is a great omission, but considering the length of the film, and the slowness of the pace of much of it, it would have benefitted the actors to have had more backstories and not just each be presented as yet another jealous member of disgruntled family. 

The child in the book is ugly-looking, not just ugly-natured as in the film. This gives the ending of the movie a real awkwardness, quite apart from the fact that the writer chose to reverse the placing of some of the final revelations, so that we know too much too early. The film ends with a literal bang (and one of the worst pieces of CGI you'll see in a while) but that's followed by a whimper. There's barely any climax, and the words The End suddenly truncate the movie as a whole. 

It's hard to believe that anyone could fail to produce an interesting and exciting film of an Agatha Christie story, but Gilles Paquet-Brenner manages with ease. He seems to think this is a film noir - many of the interiors are darkly lit, and there's little sunshine in the exteriors. He lacks the light touch that's required to make Christie's story believable when dramatised, and so we never really get into sympathy with any of the characters, including the two young leads. 

Monday, March 08, 2021

How not to make a movie, even in Hindi

I used to post a lot of movie reviews on this blog, but for some reason that no longer happens, even though we possibly watch more films and series than ever due to Netflix and the like. 

Having got a little irritated with the way Netflix presents what it thinks you should watch on its main screen, we hopped off to the search section last night looking for something a bit different. We got something different all right. The Girl on the Train, an adaptation of the novel by Paula Hawkins. 

Oh, yes, you say, that was the movie with Emily Blunt, and it wasn't too bad. Except this wasn't the movie with Emily Blunt. This was another movie adaptation, in this case a Hindi production with a mostly Hindi cast. And it was bad. 

The story made little sense, especially since the director decided to flick back and forth between the present, the immediate past, the possible past, the definite past past, and possibly some other variations. Much of the time you had no idea where you were. 

The main actress, Parineeti Chopra, may be able to act - I really don't know. If this was the only movie of hers you ever saw, you would think she'd come out of the 19th century melodrama period, when overacting was the order of the day. She spends an inordinate amount of time emoting, bursting into tears, getting drunk and drunker (but in fact she's not actually drunk as much as it appears, as we learn), getting hit by a car, getting hit on the head (which requires a dodgy piece of makeup that never quite looks real and which Chopra seems to forget about frequently), screaming at mirrors, threatening to kill the person she supposedly had sympathy for, and for some reason videoing this on her phone and keeping it there, in spite of it being a thing likely to put her in prison. 

The list goes on and on. Not everything is Chopra's fault; the script is absurd. In better hands, perhaps (I haven't seen the Emily Blunt version) the story might work. Here it's nothing but a series of coincidences, and it seems as though the writer is pushing everything to work even when it can't possibly. So much makes no sense at all. 

And then characters spend half there time speaking Hindi and half English, even though they live in London. In fact they're likely to switch between the two languages mid-sentence. Fortunately there are subtitles almost throughout because otherwise you'd have no idea which language the characters were speaking. Characters are introduced without any giving the viewer any idea who they are, and they vanish just as easily. 

The production crew plainly did little research as to the way police detectives in London dress, or how they behave (slapping a suspect on the face?); the number of inane things the main detective does make you wonder if she'd ever been trained as a detective.

Amnesia is used as a convenient way of keeping vital information from the viewer. And from Chopra's character. Too convenient for words. 

And then, the three main male characters all look alike enough as to completely confuse the viewer. I thought there were only two main male characters and later wondered who the third guy was since he had a different name from the previous time we'd met him. In fact I thought it was Chopra's husband in the story who was having an affair with the woman Chopra keeps seeing from a train (a train that goes alongside the Thames in the middle of London?) Nope, it was the woman's own husband, who mostly vanishes from the story without anyone making any comment, after having confused me by looking like Chopra's husband. 

Is there anything to commend this movie? If you like a bit of Bollywood there's a dance scene at a wedding at the beginning. The fact that it's completely different in tone to anything else in the movie makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Other than that it's all dark and gloomy. 

I'm writing a book at present that has some intricate aspects to the plot. In fact, I've been writing it for some time because of these intricacies. So I know how difficult it can be to create a mystery and find yourself getting stuck or tangled. The writers of this movie had no qualms about getting stuck: they just sailed through come what may, and assumed the audience would sail along with them. I can't imagine anyone doing so. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Psalms: prayers for all the time

 I ran a Christian bookshop in the 90s and the first decade of the 2000s. One of my customers introduced me to Dale Ralph Davis’ books. He’d written helpful - and often witty - commentaries on the books of Joshua through to 2 Kings. I’ve read them all repeatedly since then. 

Davis has more recently written books on the Psalms. There are now three of these books, each one looking at around a dozen Psalms. The books began life as a series of sermons he’d preached in his home church. He reminds us that though some of the Psalms are statements about God and life, primarily they’re prayers.* 

Davis has the knack of digging deep into the words on the page to give us a greater understanding of what the original writer was saying.  He clarifies things that may puzzle contemporary readers, and encourages us to listen to what God is saying through these ancient words. 

It’s my habit to read something from the Bible every day. The Book of Psalms is amongst my favourite sections of the Bible, and I’ve worked my way through it a number of times. Nevertheless, some days my mind skims through the words because, after a number of readings, they’ve become very familiar. (At one point some monasteries used to work their way through the entire book of 150 Psalms every week. That would make them very familiar!) 

Why are the Psalms so valuable? Why should we use them as examples of the way to pray? Didn’t Jesus give us a short and easy prayer that covers everything? 

I’ve thought about this last question. The disciples, even though they were classed as ‘unlearned’ men, would have heard the Psalms over and over in the synagogues. Why did they ask Jesus to teach them how to pray? Did Jesus offer them anything new? 

He gave them something concise, but I suspect he didn’t intend this to be the only prayer they should ever pray. The Christian Church agrees: while the Lord’s Prayer has high priority, the Church has always used the Psalms as part of its prayer life, as well as writing countless other prayers for use in liturgies throughout its history. 

Not only that, but the Lord’s Prayer has nothing in it that can’t be found in the Psalms, or at the very least, elsewhere in the Old Testament. Maybe Jesus was getting them to focus on essentials in this short prayer. 

So do we 21st century people need to use the Psalms as prayers then? Davis would say, Absolutely. The importance of the Psalms is that they show us how prayer can take a wide variety of forms. Some of these may not connect with us personally at all: most Westerners won’t tend to pray for our enemies’ babies to be dashed against the wall, but I imagine there have been believers throughout the centuries who have been in such anguish about their circumstances that similar thoughts have seemed appropriate. Even today such believers might be African, under attack from violent opponents; people under Communist rule, or those having their lives wrecked by ISIS and the like. 

But there are plenty of other reasons to use the Psalms. Without their assistance, it’s easy to get into a routine of prayer, feeling as though you’re saying the same things over and over. And feeling, often, that God doesn’t hear you. 

The Psalms give us the means to come to prayer in a fresh state of mind. They enable us to see that we’re not the first to feel God is silent when we pray, nor are we the first to feel immense anguish and bewilderment while praying. 

The Psalms offer us ways to rejoice in prayer, to bow in worship, to exalt God for all he does and for all his blessings to us. 

I mentioned earlier how we can slide over words that become too familiar. Years ago I began to memorise portions of Scripture, including a number of the Psalms. (I won’t boast about the fact that a couple of years ago I finally committed all the 176 verses of Psalm 119 to memory. Whoops! I just did.)

Memorising Scripture opens the words up to us in a different way – just as memorising poetry does.  Instead of the words being either too familiar, or too difficult, we discover as we commit words to memory that we get a new clarity about what’s written. Moreover, if we continue to revise the pieces to make sure we don’t forget them, we find them becoming part of our bones. 

This provides another benefit.  There’s nothing quite like a Psalm to still your mind in the wee hours of the morning, when sleep refuses to come; or to have those familiar lines come to mind when life appears to have gone askew.

* Davis' books on the Psalms have memorable titles:
The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life
Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness
In the Presence of My Enemies

Monday, December 21, 2020

When I first began this blog, I used it mostly to publish quotations from books and articles that I'd enjoyed for various reasons. Over the years the blog took other turns, but today I'd like to return somewhat to its roots, and give a quotation from a book by G K Chesterton. 

I've had this book on my shelves for decades, and only recently realised I'd never read it - it helps to have a clean-out of your books so that you can see what you've actually got. 

The book is George Bernard Shaw, and while it's not a biography in the usual sense, it does give a great overview of Shaw, why he was who he was, and why he wrote the way he did. Most of Shaw's plays (except, interestingly enough, Pygmalion, on which My Fair Lady was based) are given some sort of review. 

At one point, in the chapter entitled, The Dramatist, Chesterton discusses Candida, a play which presents one of Shaw's 'great reversals': when Candida finds herself having to decide between two men she chooses to stay 'with the strong man because he is the weak man.'

Chesterton proceeds into one of his delightful riffs on this point, relating the statement to marriage as a whole:

The truth is that in this place Bernard Shaw comes within an inch of expressing something that is not properly expressed anywhere else; the idea of marriage. Marriage is not a mere chain upon love as the anarchists[Pg 122] say; nor is it a mere crown upon love as the sentimentalists say. Marriage is a fact, an actual human relation like that of motherhood which has certain human habits and loyalties, except in a few monstrous cases where it is turned to torture by special insanity and sin. A marriage is neither an ecstasy nor a slavery; it is a commonwealth; it is a separate working and fighting thing like a nation. Kings and diplomatists talk of "forming alliances" when they make weddings; but indeed every wedding is primarily an alliance. The family is a fact even when it is not an agreeable fact, and a man is part of his wife even when he wishes he wasn't. The twain are one flesh—yes, even when they are not one spirit. Man is duplex. Man is a quadruped.

Of this ancient and essential relation there are certain emotional results, which are subtle, like all the growths of nature. And one of them is the attitude of the wife to the husband, whom she regards at once as the strongest and most helpless of human figures. She regards him in some strange fashion at once as a warrior who must make his way and as an infant who is sure to lose his way. The man has emotions which exactly correspond; sometimes looking down at his wife and sometimes[Pg 123] up at her; for marriage is like a splendid game of see-saw. Whatever else it is, it is not comradeship. This living, ancestral bond (not of love or fear, but strictly of marriage) has been twice expressed splendidly in literature. The man's incurable sense of the mother in his lawful wife was uttered by Browning in one of his two or three truly shattering lines of genius, when he makes the execrable Guido fall back finally upon the fact of marriage and the wife whom he has trodden like mire:

"Christ! Maria! God,
Pompilia, will you let them murder me?"

And the woman's witness to the same fact has been best expressed by Bernard Shaw in this great scene where she remains with the great stalwart successful public man because he is really too little to run alone.

G B Shaw in his young days, 
before his beard grew long and white. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Slang in an early Wodehouse story

I've moved house recently, and one of the things I had to deal with was getting rid of a number of books I've had for a long time. This took place over the last two or three years, with the result that I've now got less than half the books I used to have. 

That's still quite a few books, but now they fit on two bookcases instead of four or five. And we'd already culled our books a couple of times before the most recent slashing and burning. The house must have been straining under the weight of all those books for nearly forty years.

Anyway, looking at these books in the first week or so of being in our new home, I made the possibly rash decision to read them all again, to prove to myself perhaps that I'd actually kept the cream of the crop. I also discovered that there were still a few among them that I'd never read, even though in some cases I'd had them since I was a young man. 

The very dull cover of
my copy of the book

One of these is A Gentleman of Leisure, originally published in the USA under the oddly awkward title of The Intrusion of Jimmy. The English version was serialised under this US title in the magazine Tit-Bits, and then published in book form a few months later in November 1910 under the title I have, though my edition is probably the reprint from 1921.

The book zips along at a good pace, though in the early parts of the book, the typical Wodehouse style doesn't seem fully formed yet. As the book progresses, however, there's more of the Wodehouse flavour in the prose, the wit and mangled quotes, as though he was finding his feet. 

It's common for period slang to appear in Wodehouse's books. You can usually gauge from the context what the words mean - except when he's being purposely obscure for the fun of it. But on page 94 of A Gentleman of Leisure we have this bit of dialogue between the main character, Jimmy Pitt, and the girl he fell in love with a year before, called Molly. They've just met out of the blue on an English country road. The conversation goes like this:

"You must be a very restless sort of person," she said. "You seem to do a great deal of moving about."

"I do," said Jimmy. "I can't keep still. I've got the go-fever, like the man in Kipling's book."

"But he was in love."

"Yes," said Jimmy; "he was. That's the bacillus, you know." 

'Go-fever' is presumably some sort of play on something written by Rudyard Kipling, possibly in one of the Just So Stories, and can be worked out easily enough. But "that's the bacillus" is a different kettle of fish. In general usage, a bacillus is a bacteria, so how did it get to be used in what seems like a slang phrase at this point? Maybe it's a fancy word for 'bug' as in 'travel-bug', but it doesn't seem quite to fit to the conversation. Molly obviously understands it as she makes no comment. Whether it was commonly used or not I don't know: Google only finds it in the online versions of this book, and nowhere else, and no dictionary seems aware of it. 

Perhaps some other reader can help me...?

A modern cover of an ebook version
in which the artist seems to mistake
the period in which the book is set -
making it look more like a Russian novel. 


Monday, October 19, 2020

Evolution: the catch-all explanation

I find one of the most irritating things in much modern scientific writing, or in television 'scientific' programmes is the notion that evolution explains everything. These days if a writer starts to tell me (without any evidence) that something evolved in such and such a way - and particularly if they introduce this without any necessity - I stop reading, or switch off. Evolution has become the catch-all approach to science, and is basically so nonsensical in the way much of it is used that I just can't be bothered to follow these sorts of 'arguments' through. You could say that my own 'bias' is showing here, and that I should 'inform' myself by reading things that I don't agree with. I do, if there's a good reason to do so, but when someone supposedly claims things happened by evolution and does it without anything to back up the statement, I know I'm in the presence of a writer who hasn't really thought through the implications of what they saying. And in case you think that my bias is showing and that I should read things I don't agree with in order to be more informed, check out Dr Cornelius Hunter on the same subject. I quote: ...evolutionists have a seemingly never ending list of mechanisms they use to explain everything in between. Whatever we find in biology, evolutionists say it must have evolved. Their predictions and expectations are often falsified and they have to patch their theory repeatedly. And there is no distinction between a new, fantastic design and a repeated design--both are equiprobable under evolution. If a new, fantastic design appears such as the trilobite eye, then evolutionists ascribe it to natural selection. If similar designs are found in different species, then it is ascribed to common descent. If later cousin species are found to lack the design, then common descent can be dropped as an explanation and the design can be said to have evolved independently. The evolutionary explanation is extremely flexible. More on Cornelius Hunter here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

East is East and West is West

For many years now, I've been memorizing both Scripture and poetry. As with all memorized material, I have to keep revising the pieces in order to retain them, but this is a normal part of the process. Some of the ones I learned longest ago are the most readily accessible, and one of these is Psalm 103, which I set to music way back - probably in the 70s. 

Music helps retention, of course, and though it's harder to learn things that way initially, the words stay in place much more than they do in a piece that has no music accompanying it. Which is why rhythm and rhyme are helpful in memorizing poems. The brain enjoys the feel of swinging along, and of words echoing the same sound.

Psalm 103 is one of my favourite Psalms, full of great lines. Unlike some Psalms it doesn't swing back and forth between reproving the reader and encouraging him or her. It's encouraging from beginning to end. And though it's a Psalm focused on blessing the Lord, we see in line after line how He blesses us.

Here are a few consecutive lines from the Psalm that I particularly love:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth
So great is His lovingkindness to those who fear Him.
As far as the East is from the West,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.

How far is the East from the West? Some humourist might say that they must be next door to each other at some point, but I know that's not what the Psalmist is saying. I've been writing a children's book (for some time now) which partly takes place in The Ends of the Earth. In my mind, As Far as the East is from the West' is a similar sort of place. I'm even thinking of using it at one point in the book..!

Notice that the word 'fear' turns up twice in this extract. (It appears three times in the full Psalm.) For some people this gives the impression that we should go round looking over our shoulder in case we're upsetting God. But it's much more about acknowledging that He's our Creator and is infinitely superior to us in every way. In the Book of Proverbs there's a famous line: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That presents the same sort of idea: understand who's the One with the wisdom, and you'll learn wisdom. Pretend you know everything, and you'll fall flat on your face.

In another Psalm, it says: the fear of the Lord is clean. I take that to mean that it's not the fear of a monster, but of someone who has our best interests at heart.

The translation I've used above is the New American Standard. It's been superseded by a bunch of other translations since it first came out between 1963 and 1971, but because I'm so familiar with it, I greatly prefer it, and much of the Scripture I've learned comes from it.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Blogger, boohai and Puhoi

It's taking a bit of time getting used to Blogger's new format. There are some things I like about it, but as so often with these sorts of changes, things that are most useful get hidden out of the way and take some finding. Such as the way to create a new post. You'll look in vain at the top of the posts page for any indication that you can ever create another post, and then out of the corner of your eye, in the far distant bottom right corner is a plus inside a circle. That's the thing to click on if you want to start something fresh.

It's a bit like telling a friend when they're coming to visit. 'You'll find the back door somewhere round the back,' and leaving them to discover that the back door isn't actually at the back, but out of sight around the side of the house that no visitor would ever make their way to.

We stayed at my cousin's house recently while she was away somewhere else. The back door led off the drive where you parked your car (and was one of those that didn't open normally, but required you to pull it towards you in order to get the lock to work). So it was effectively the front door. 

To reach the actual front door, however, you had to go through a side gate in front of the front side of the house, turn a corner, and only then discover that the front door was well and truly hidden in a very private garden. 

But that's not what I intended to write about today. 

I found myself using the expression ‘It’s up the boohai’ this morning when answering my daughter. It's not something I say often, but it’s a handy way of inferring that something’s completely in a muddle. In this case that the local Council's Dog Registration system seems to have got itself thoroughly discombobulated as a result of Lockdown. 

The implication that something's gone haywire is the way I’ve always used it, and I think it was how my mother used it as well. We’re not alone in doing so: here's Sam Young citing someone who claims that the dictionary definition of being lost or astray isn't the one he's used to:

I recall that my Dad sometimes used the expression "Up the Boohai" to describe poor reasoning or irrational behaviour. He was a WW I vet and he told me that the term was used by the troops to describe some of the officers' decisions, as in "These are the orders but they're all up the boohai." 

Some online dictionaries only give the definition of lost for good, or gone astray. 'Up the Puhoi’ was supposedly the original phrase. Puhoi is a village on the Puhoi River, north of Auckland, where Bohemian immigrants apparently settled. Why you'd get more lost in Puhoi than other places is a bit of a mystery. 

Photo courtesy of