Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mayne, Auden, Yeats, Submissions and Spamminess

I finished re-reading Michael Mayne's Learning to Dance a couple of days ago. I said in a post before Christmas that it wasn't gelling with me as much as This Sunrise of Wonder, one of Mayne's earlier books which I've consistently enjoyed on each reading. Perhaps the Dance book just took a little longer to get into, but I've actually enjoyed re-reading it; it's full of great things.

At one point he quotes W H Auden, perhaps not totally accurately: 'the poet's task is to persuade us to rejoice. ' The line is partly a quote out of Auden's In Memory of W B Yeats. Adapting the line slightly we could equally say: the composer's task is to persuade us to rejoice. What else does music do except persuade our emotions? (Music that is purely intellectual doesn't tend to grab me much, and note that Bach, even at his most rigorously intellectual is always emotional with it.)

By the way, the stanza in the poem actually goes like this:
Follow, poet, follow
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
On another tack altogether, I've just seen a site that offers free directory submissions. There are plenty around that charge you so many cents per submission, but this one does it for zilch. The only 'catch', if you can call it that, is that you have to have a link to a companion site on your site. What I find interesting about this process is the number of search engines still functioning alongside the giants (well, the giant, and the wannabee giants). Who uses all these? What's the point when Google pretty much has it all sewn up?

The one that immediately comes to mind amongst the wannabees, is Wolfram Alpha, a search engine that's not a search engine. It has piles of information, but you can only find what they provide, not what you want to look for. Seems a bit of a back-to-front approach to me, as I wrote in another blog a month or two ago.

And talking of that blog, I was informed this morning, after not being able to access it and the other that I have on Orble for several days, that "Your account was flagged for spam. You are back up and running but try not to post "spammy" comments which may get noticed by the filter."

How do you post 'spammy' comments? And what is a 'spammy comment' when it's at home, anyway? I've asked them to give me some more info, but I don't expect to hear anything for a few days...they're not exactly speedy with their replies.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Put on a happy face...?

There's a website called on which they discuss, obviously, the best face creams. These are the ones that they have researched and tested for superiority, as well as those coming up tops in surveys.

There's one thing I can see about their top three choices that kind of disturbs me: the price. The cheapest (the one that came second) is $US99.99 (which on today's rate works out at $NZ139.85 - pretty good exchange rate at the moment!). The third in the list is the most expensive, at $US230 (or $207 in some places online). That one works out to at least $320 in New Zealand dollars. Crikey.

Admittedly the site also quibbles about the price - as they might! My further quibble is about the 'scientific' language used in reviewing these creams. Yup, there might antioxidants available in them, but are face creams really into nanotechnology? Apparently they are, though there are some considerable concerns about the use of this in something that's going to be applied to your skin.

When I look up neuropeptides on the Net, I find plenty of links to them being used in face creams - although they also appear to be something the body naturally produces. But the links generally hive off to sites that are promoting face creams and the like. Not necessarily the most reliable of sources...

On a less serious side, I had a look on to see if I could find a photo of someone using face cream. What I found instead was a host of pictures of people with cream on their faces, mostly children, sometimes adults - as in this photo by Bjorn Hardarson. It reminds me of the time a friend of ours was goading my wife at a church party - he wound up with a cream cake all over his beard...

Spiderman 3

Watched Spiderman 3 last night again for the first time since I saw it at the movies. It’s the weakest of the three, I think; too long, and not quite sure who its real villain is. There’s a choice of three: Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman, who’s connected into the story by seemingly being the man who murdered Peter’s uncle (although the actor isn't actually in the first film); there’s Harry, played by James Franco, Peter’s old friend, whose father was chasing after Peter in the first movie, and there’s the reporter/photographer (Topher GraceTopher?) turned baddie (towards the end) who’s been humiliated by Peter when the latter shows him as having photo-shopped a scoop photo. He just happens to be on the spot when Peter is divesting himself of the black goo that’s invading his life.
But the film suffers from two bigger storyline flaws: the reason the convict becomes the Sandman is purely incidental: a piece of sci-fi stuff that means nothing within the context of the movie. And the stuff that falls out of the sky and turns Peter ‘bad’ when it takes over as his second costume. Where does it come from? We’re never given any explanation, just as we’re given no explanation as to why the convict should turn to sand. Criminal motivation here is a bit less than reasonable!
Apart from all that, Peter Parker is a twat. He's not just a geek, he's a dillbrain in the girlfriend department. He has Mary Jane twisted around his little finger, and manages to trip and stumble and stutter so much in the relationship that she goes off with his best friend. Hello??

Multi-talented - and mumblers

Back in November I wrote about Isaac Mizrahi and his talent for a variety of artistic work, acting, directing, designing etc. It's not uncommon for talented people to be talented in more than one area.

Anthony Hopkins is the same: he's recently taken up painting successfully enough to be holding an exhibition. Apart from his acting, he's also done directing, screenwriting and composing.

In a Guardian article by Simon Hattenstone, we find out about things he's actually said, and things he's only been quoted as saying. But I liked this piece at the end:

He turns his ­attention to today's male movie stars and their ­penchant for mumbling (Hopkins has always prided himself on his diction). "Why don't people speak properly? There are a lot of young kids, good ­actors, but they are so macho they think it's sexy to whisper. I don't know what the hell they are talking about. They may as well put subtitles on them. I teach ­acting classes at UCLA, and I stand there and say: 'I can't understand one word you're ­saying, so how d'you ­expect me to sit in the audience?'"

How this resonates! So many movies these days have whole scenes in them where you can barely understand a word. And I know I'm not deaf....

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I play Grinch with a Christmas piece

After having had a copy of Ballet Shoes on the DVD hard drive for a year (since Christmas 2008), I finally watched it when I couldn't find anything else to watch. I wanted to like it, but it was so precious at every turn that it just irritated me. Unfortunately, in spite of what other reviewers have said, I don't think Emma Watson, from the Harry Potter series, is ever going to be much of a star. There's a scene in this film where she's supposed to show off her acting skills to Sir Donald Houghton (or should that be Sir Donald Wolfit, on whom the character is obviously based?). She does a bit of pushing herself forward, recites some Shakespeare, and voila! she has the job. Crikey. If only things were so easy. Her sister, played by Yasmin Paige, is supposed to be the dud in the acting department - yet Paige outshines Watson in nearly every scene in which they're together.

Oh, well, where do you go after Harry Potter? Rupert Grint (I wrote 'Grinch' at first) hasn't shown us where he's going as yet, if the awful Driving Lessons is anything to go by - although part of the problem with that film is that it's just plain nonsense. (Laura Linney as a fundamentalist Christian and over-protective mother? Nah, it just ain't right.)

Anyway, back to Ballet Shoes. What did the designer have against Victoria Wood? She's saddled with the most extraordinarily awful wig in the business - it sits around her face as though she was being eaten alive by some hairy monster. Okay, it might be in period, but it makes her look ridiculous - and quite apart from that, Wood seems uncomfortable with the role most of the time anyway.

The best thing(s) about the movie are Emilia Fox and Marc Warren. She develops this smouldering and seemingly unrequited love for him which he apparently doesn't notice - except that he's noticed all the time and is somehow tongue-tied about approaching her. Curious, since he's been married before. But these two actors give depth to their parts, particularly Fox, who is a joy to watch throughout, and whose face constantly indicates more than we're hearing her say.

There are plenty of other famous actors on tap, but most of their parts are so underwritten that they barely get a chance to show off their chops. Reducing the story down to a ninety-minute movie was probably not a good idea (it was done as a series back in the seventies). Everything happens at lightning speed; the girls seldom lose an opportunity, and everything comes out tickety-boo in the end. Think I'll go back to the book and see what's missing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Can You Forgive Her? Possibly not.

I've been reading, rather slowly, Anthony Trollope's Can You Forgive Her? It's the first of the Palliser series, apparently - that is, the books that focus on political life rather than Church.

I was interested to see this in the introduction to the Wikipedia entry that summarises the book: The satirical periodical Punch mocked the work, referring to it as Can You Stand Her? due to its writers' irritation at Alice's ineptitude in deciding between her two suitors. (Moreover, in his book On Writing, Stephen King makes light of the book's length, joking that, for modern audiences, a more appropriate title might be Can You Possibly Finish It?)

Sadly this book has little of the wit and humour that make the Barsetshire series such a delight to read. The main character, Alice, spends most of her time being decisive in not choosing one man or another. Apart from that it's hard to know why she should be interesting. She's certainly irritating, and is so reflective that you wonder that she ever gets around to anything in life. In fact, that may be her problem - she really doesn't have anything to do, either as a character, nor in terms of occupation. (At least she doesn't spend her time worrying about the best acne treatment for her spots, which is what a women of her ilk in a modern novel might do.)

And that goes for the other women in the book as well: Lady Glencora is the socialite, but apart from arranging parties is pretty much free to do 'nothing.' And Mrs Greenow spends most of her time irritating us with her own flirting between two different male characters and telling them both that she can't possibly have another relationship because her beloved husband has only been dead for a few months (the number of months varies as to the time of day, seemingly). He left her 40,000 pounds, incidentally, which makes her very attractive to men, particularly the penniless pretender, Captain Bellfield.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Violence and NonViolence

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I See the Promised Land" in A Testament of Hope

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gillian Ayres

Painter Gillian Ayres is 80 this year and looking forward to an exhibition of her new work. Some quotes from an article in the Artists and Illustrators magazine

"Old age is a bastard, really," she says. "I don't feel any different inside to how I did when I was 15. I hobble about and look old in the mirror, but inside I feel exactly the same as I always did."

"Creativity increases all one's life and you can never have enough...I know that I won't be here in another 78 years and that does increase the pressure, but I just carry on."

"It is really for other people to decide what they think about the new work. I just want to paint."

That comment about feeling the same inside whatever age you are is so true. It's something you become more aware of as you get older, I think. We may need joint pain relief - my piano fingers are starting to feel some effects of arthritis, I think - and our knees may suddenly give out when we're climbing stairs, but inside we 'see' ourselves as the person who can still do anything our 20-year-old self could do, and as being as good-looking as we were at that time, too.

I'm not sure her comment about being here in another 78 years has been accurately quoted (I got this from an ezine); perhaps it should read another 7-8 years?

Compost and not throwing stones

My wife and I have been doing a lot of gardening over the holidays. We've had the time, and the weather's been reasonable enough to get on and do the work. And it's good to be out in the open air for a change and get a bit of vitamin D (when the sun deigns to shine!)

A lot of our discussion has been on compost - my wife has been reading up on it (from a book that I bought years ago, read years ago, got some ideas from and have only partially implemented). Last year we shifted our compost area from the right side of the house to the left, making three bins in the process. The longstanding compost had been open and not very organised (although it did actually produce some wonderful compost over the time). The bins are meant to speed up the composting process by making sure you're working the stuff over more effectively. And work it is: we've twice in the holidays shifted a whole bin full - once onto newly made raised garden areas, and once from one bin to the next (so that we can start a fresh lot). That's quite a bit of hauling of stuff; as well as this we shifted a trailerload of topsoil. So we're building up the muscles something wonderful - and doing it without the aid of an HGH spray!

I was walking back from getting a newspaper this morning and checked out the various gardens in one block of houses. It was interesting to see how many of them were covering them soil with stones. Bark covering is quite common (and more natural), but I hadn't been aware of so much stone covering. These vary from flat stones about the size of your fist down to little chunks, and then there are the more attractive pebbles - usually laid over plastic, as far as I could see at a quick glance. Certainly this is a fairly effective way of keeping down weeds (although weeds will get through anything given enough time) but I'm not entirely sure that it's healthy for the soil, which will get no air, and will become soggy or unmanageable - if the owners change their mind about the approach and want to start something different. Quite apart from having to remove dozens of stones from the soil - we spend enough time as it is moving stones that have somehow got lodged in our garden - it doesn't seem the ideal way to prevent weeds. And it reminds me of that biblical injunction about not throwing stones on your neighbour's plot. In which case, why throw them on your own?

Picture shows part of the bins built last year (on the left) and the two new raised gardens - one partly obscured. We've since brought the tractor tyre that can be seen right at the back down flat onto the ground and turned it into a raised garden too. Believe it or not, this is the sunny side of the house.

UPDATE 3.318
Since I wrote this post in 2010, we've grown older and the garden has become harder to deal with, especially in terms of weeds. This year, with all the extra hot days and the rain, the weeds would have taken over if we hadn't done something last year that I wouldn't have recommended back in 2010!
The ground you can see in the picture above is now covered with stones...! LOL.  They're actually a from of schist and lie flat on the ground (unlike pebbles, which have more of a roundness to them). This isn't the only area we've covered in schist: between and alongside three of the raised garden boxes, we've put stones, and all the way under the clothesline. Then further on, we've put more schist around two more raised gardens. Yes, I know, I'm doing what I said people shouldn't. But times change.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Seventh Seal

After some 45 or more years, caught up with Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal again. It proved to be curiously uninvolving, and enigmatic to the point of annoyance. In Bergman's book, The Magic Lantern, which has turned out to be more about Bergman than his movies, (to my disappointment), he barely mentions it, except to say the following: uneven film which lies close to my heart, because it was made under difficult circumstances in a surge of vitality and delight. In the witch's night forest, where she is executed, you can just catch a glimpse between the trees of the high-rise windows of Rasunda, the suburb next to the studio. The procession of flagellants marches across a derelict site on which the new studio laboratory would be erected.
He then goes on to tell us that the last shot of the main group of characters dancing behind the devil was actually shot at the end of a day and most of those visible in it aren't the actors at all but 'assistants, electricians, a make-up man and two summer visitors.'

Uneven is a good word for the film. It loses its way more than once with its emphasis on the 'low' characters, who almost take over the movie - admittedly, the young couple (Nils Poppe and Bibi Andersson) are charming, but they get a lot of movie time and don't progress the story much. Max von Sydow is excellent in a role that requires him to be noble and questioning, and his squire, played by Gunnar Bjornstrand, is something of an enigma. Like some Shakespearian characters of a similar ilk, he gets lines that counter those of the main character, he acts far more roughly than seems his nature (particuarly to the near-mute girl he picks up from the deserted farm), and he revels in bawdy songs. And then there are the blacksmith and his wife, and the cuckolding actor. They seem to have nothing to do with the story whatsoever, and trail along with the others, the actor coming to a nasty end (again for no good reason), and the other two joining in the final dance of death.
But Bergman gives no reason for six of the characters to suddenly die at the end - in fact, we never understand why Death is so keen to kill off the Knight in the first place. The six characters don't appear to be dying of the plague - we get a graphic version of this in another scene from the resident baddie - and there doesn't seem any particular reason for them all to be together in the first place.
The script was based on a play Bergman wrote for a drama school in which he managed to give every student a part. The film seems to follow the same pattern - too many characters with nothing particular to do.
The intellectual arguments, such as they are, are fairly basic, and it's hard to know at the end whether the Knight has learned anything much from his respite from Death. Perhaps when I was in my late teens this seemed like a very serious movie. Regrettably, I found it hard to take it all seriously last night!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

3 in 2

Three movies in two days. Okay, one of them was on video, but…
Firstly, caught up with Hitchcock’s Lifeboat again after about forty years, on Tuesday night. It remains a great ensemble piece, with a very good cast (only John Hodiak seems a bit of a weak link) of both American and English actors, and one Austrian – Walter Slezak, who had fled his home country as a result of Hitler’s invasions, and here, ironically, plays the conniving German. Of course, while it’s more ‘talky’ than a modern film would be, which particularly gives Tallulah Bankhead plenty of wonderful lines, there’s still plenty of tension, and some great scenes.
Secondly I went to Fantastic Mr Fox yesterday afternoon with my daughter and grandson, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s geared towards adults far more than kids, with its snappy and subtle dialogue, and overall inventiveness, but my grandson still seemed to enjoy it – at least until he accidentally pulled the top of a fingernail off on his trousers (don’t ask me!). The voices in this film are top notch; I particularly enjoyed Michael Gambon as Franklin Bean, the main baddie, who comes up with all the ideas for getting rid of Mr Fox (most of them involving wholesale destruction). The extension of the rather short book into a feature-length film has been interestingly done, though it might offend purists. I’d like to see it again to catch up with all the detail, in which there’s often easily missed humour.
And then, last night, there was Avatar, with more wholesale destruction. The storyline is the weakest element of this movie (I think it was in Titanic too, personally) with its patent baddies and heroic goodies, its indigenous people being attacked by a superior power (read the Yanks in practically any country they’ve had a go at), and the sense of oneness with nature.
But the storyline is survivable when you take the rest of the movie into account. Because we don’t have the 3D version available here we saw it in ordinary 2D, if ‘ordinary’ is the proper word. The visual element of Avatar is so stunning, so beautiful and so imaginative that it almost wouldn’t matter what story was going along with it. You watch in awe as characters ten feet tall interact with humans, as ferocious beasts out of someone’s nightmare chase and attempt to eat the hero alive, as enormous birds fly at terrific speed with people on their backs, as mountains float in mid-air – and people climb them (thousands of feet up in the sky) – as horse-like creatures are ridden (and then you realise they seem to have more than the usual number of legs), as jellyfish-like creatures float in the air and land in a sparkling array on the hero, as the night-time landscape lights up as people walk in it, and so on and so on. There are birds everywhere, endless varieties of fauna that bear similarities to those of Earth but aren’t quite the same, insects flying or crawling (and again they are close to what we know, but never quite) and much more.
And that’s only the ‘natural’ world; the military world is full of machines and robots and futuristic helicopters and planes all designed to within an inch of their being. All the time you’re asking: how did they do this? Everything is an achievement – nothing looks like CGI, even though much of it must be; nothing looks like ‘models,’ although it’s a sure thing with Weta Workshops involved that there must be models everywhere.
The actors are good overall, considering that the script doesn’t develop any of their characters in any way that’s at all unexpected. There’s no subtlety about the baddies – they’re bad from their first scene – and the goodies are all typical of basic future world comics (which the movie kept reminding me of: those near-naked heroes and heroines managing to cope with all sorts of situations in the flimsiest of costumes). Sigourney Weaver makes her role interesting by chain-smoking (more so when she’s the scientist than when she’s her avatar) and Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana are fine in the leads, considering that they’re always going to do what we expect them to do (boy meets girl, boy loses girl etc). None of the other characters have any depth, and basically are pawns of the plot. But the characters are pretty much second level, as they were in Titanic – it’s the effects that are important. And taken on that level, Cameron succeeds in every measure.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


For some reason I'd heard mixed opinions on Atonement, so wasn't sure what to expect. In terms of performances and film craft (particularly the visual aspects) it's superb. In terms of intensity, the first half is strong, but the second, where it focuses almost entirely for some time on the character of Robbie, seems to lack something. Things pick up again once we're back in London, with the grown-up Briony trying to make amends for her most ill-judged decision back when she was 13, and then there are the final scenes with Vanessa Redgrave playing the elderly Briony, where Redgrave imbues her few minutes of screen time with an intensity that matches the early scenes.

Saoirse Ronan gives an extraordinary performance, the gaucheness matched by the conniving, the stiff body that seems unable to relax, the jealousy that we only understand much later. And Keira Knightley and James McAvoy are solid in their roles. Knightley's role unfortunately diminishes after the first half - she only appears briefly two or three times, and in the war scenes McAvoy is left to play almost to himself; the two accompanying soldiers make little impact. This is the way the screenplay is constructed; I don't know as yet how the book works in this respect (though I'm more tempted to read it after seeing the movie).

Joe Wright seems to be one of those directors who's come out of nowhere. Apart from his recent revamp of Pride and Prejudice, which had some odd moments, (but certainly gave fresh vision to the story) his only work seems to have been in television, and even there, it's been not well-known in general. How did he get to handle Atonement, which obviously has a good deal of money behind it? The lengthy single take on Dunkirk beach is a huge achievement on its own, even though it doesn't add a lot to the story, regrettably. (It competes strongly with the single take in Children of Men.) And it must have used up more than half the film's budget.

About this scene, Wikipedia notes: Charles II: The Power and The Passion, Pride and Prejudice and Atonement all have long tracking shots in them. Atonement has a continuous 4.5 minute shot of the Dunkirk evacuation. "Basically, I just like showing off," Wright told the audience at the Hay Festival. Showing off or not, (or seeing how much he can pack into one shot, like the number of bytes now packed into the average micro sd) the lengthy take is remarkably constructed, and the visual aspects have a painter-like feel about them, something that reflects Wright's art history background.

It would be interesting to re-view the film now that I know how it ends, and know what sort of 'trick' is played on the viewer. I think the acting and visuals would continue to enthrall, and the story might no longer be seen as the main thing. Knowing a great deal more about the characters and where they're headed would actually add to a repeated viewing, rather than take away from it, I think.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A not-so reliable wife

I read about half of A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick on Saturday night – a terribly overwrought piece redeemed only by its sudden shifts in the storyline.

I’ve also been reading Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Lantern. I thought it would be about his filmmaking, but it’s mostly the background to the films, in the sense that he is telling us where the films came from. It’s equally overwrought – the passions, and dramas, and murderous feelings and hatreds and sex at every turn and grotesque relatives all start to get a bit much. It’s as though there was barely anything normal about his childhood.

Both books put Christianity in a place of horror – in Goolrick, Ralph Truitt's mother is forever (and I mean forever) going on about everyone else in her family going to Hell. And seemingly doing her best to send them there with her total lack of love. Bergman’s family isn’t a lot different: his father was a minister, and so everything revolves around righteous behaviour within the household – at considerable cost to the relationships. Bergman, however, seems the least righteous person in the world – at least in his growing up, and he doesn’t much improve as an adult.

I finished A Reliable Wife last night, and it doesn’t improve – pages and pages of the outworkings of lust, which I skipped because they added nothing to the story (it was like reading an overheated literary Mills and Boon). And then there’s all the guilt and horror and shame and lack of forgiveness. The only advantage in Goolrick’s writing is that you can skim most of this and lose nothing. The basic story could be told much more quickly – even the ‘subplots’ are non-starters – or else it really could have been entwined with some interesting details about other things in life! The business of the main character, Truitt, is vague, but it obviously earns millions of dollars, if the excesses of spending are to be believed. Time is so elastic that winter apparently lasts for umpteen months and a short visit to St Louis takes forever. Days are constantly passing while the characters muse, or wander, or read in the library. Truitt’s housekeeper is a miracle of a woman who can keep two houses clean on her own, even though they’re separated by several miles and no one else travels through the thick snow. The people in the small Wisconsin town kill themselves and each other brutally because ‘such things happen’ – as Goolrick’s little repeated refrain states (increasingly repeatedly as the book draws to a close).

On the plus side, there is a great deal of forgiveness in the book, as there would have to be when you consider that Truitt’s second wife lies about many things during the course of the story, and slowly begins to murder him with arsenic (and then helps him to recover again when she has a change of heart!). And there is the Truitt’s ‘long-lost’ son who refuses to stop believing his own lies and causes havoc wherever he goes.

Crikey. I had to read some of Billy Collins' poetry before I went to bed to clear my head of all the excess!

PS. Just came across something that Norman Mailer's son wrote about his father: "One of the best pieces of advice Pop gave me about writing is to learn how to say something once. Most young writers say the same things different ways. You have to choose the best." It's a pity Goolrick hadn't taken this piece of advice into account before starting his book.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Where are the gift cards?

As some readers will know, and others will have guessed, some of the posts in this blog have links to specific shops or companies. I prefer not to make these posts like pieces of 'hard sale' - instead the link will be part of a wider (usually) related topic.

Sometimes however I prefer to be just plain up front about what I'm linking to - it saves having to use my imagination...

For instance, there's an online 'shop' in the UK Though it appears on the surface to be a department store, it's actually a conglomeration of shops that advertise through the basic portal at this URL. In other words you can buy a heap of things through this site, but you may actually be buying from several different places scattered around the British Isles. Quite a good concept.

I've twice been asked to talk about, specifically in relation to their wide range of gift cards. However, the only problem is that I can't for the life of me see where you buy gift cards on this site. I've put it in their search engine, and all sorts of things come up. Certainly some of these results are gift cards, but you'd think there'd be an easier way of finding them.

There is a link in the top menu to 'gifts' but gift cards don't appear there either.

So....I'm writing about this, but I can't be more helpful than this. Maybe will drop me a note and tell me what I should be doing to find 'gift cards.' I'd appreciate it. [PS - a few days later: Ah, now they have let me know where the gift cards can be found. It's here!]

I've also been asked to include the logo above. Not sure why, as this blog isn't sponsored by Ah, well, an interesting experience all round!

Ross Creek Art Gallery

My wife and I went for a walk this afternoon on the Ross Creek bush tracks, and I was reminded that more than a decade ago, in my lunch hours, I used to wander around the local art galleries (Dunedin is blessed with an abundance, all within spitting distance), and build my imaginary art collection.

I allowed myself a large sum of money per month (it was at least ten thousand dollars, and may have been more) and with this figure I would 'buy' whatever took my fancy. These days, of course, it's possible I could actually (quietly) photograph the works and keep track of them on my computer, but at that time there was no such thing as a cellphone with a camera, so I used to take notes about the paintings (sometimes sculptures) and draw little sketches of them... An alternative method these days would be to forgo visiting the galleries live and collect/view the pictures on the Web!

What has Ross Creek got to do with this? Is this another one of those posts full of ellipticals? (And I don't mean cross-trainers - elliptical doesn't only apply to that recent acquisition of the word.)

Well, Ross Creek is the site of Dunedin's oldest, and still functioning, reservoir. It's a beautiful spot, with a walkway out to a delightful little 19th century valve tower which presumably had something to do with water control in the past - indeed, it may still do.

Opposite the tower is a second, smaller piece of water. My plan was to 'build' my art gallery there. In fact, as we walked around today I got excited about the whole idea again, and the way in which this building could be designed. Somehow it should meld into the landscape and yet be distinct. I envisage a huge glass wall on the reservoir side so that visitors, when they've had enough of looking at my fine collection, would be able to sit and contemplate the wind making light waves across the surface of the water, and a few ducks puttering around feeding their faces or followed by their young.

The building would sit over the second lake, straddling it in such a way that the lake was still visible, and of course, inside there would be temperature-controlled rooms to protect the art works. It wouldn't be a large place; the paintings and sculptures would be shown on a kind of rostered basis.

And here's something else - if possible, I would rescue the men's toilet room from the old Art Gallery at Logan Park and install it in my building. It was a work of art in itself, particularly the urinals!

(David Hood's picture is from

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Schizophrenia and Sibelius

Occasionally someone sends me a request to include something in my blog, and usually I'll reply in the affirmative, since people help me and I like to help them.

Of course, I check first that it isn't spam. However, most spam goes down the spam tube at, so if it is there's a distinct possibility I'll never see it in the first place.

Today I received an email from Suzane (yup, that's the spelling) Smith. She told me that she was wanting to promote an article called 10 Myths about Schizophrenia, which appears on her blog. The site is on is actually called X-Ray Technician Schools which a blog itself, but has a section called Articles, which is where you'll find Suzane's piece, but a number of other similarly well-written posts on a variety of health-related topics. This part of the sight is called X-Ray Vision-aries, and they explain it thus:

WHAT IS X-RAY VISION-ARIES? X-Ray Vision-aries is a blog designed with non-health nuts in mind and written by a group of guys and gals who are excited about self-improvement through diet, exercise, and overall health improvement. In our blog we deliver what we hope are enthralling and at times even educational articles about health, welfare and better living. We try to bring you a forward looking vision of health and health care in a light-hearted manner that makes learning about and improving one’s health and life accessible to everyone. Enjoy!

The post/articles vary in subject matter quite extensively, which makes them worth checking out. Regrettably I'm just off to play Settlers of Catan with my wife and daughter, so I'll have to check them out tomorrow! (Today I've been busy re-scoring the Brass Band suite I wrote back in 2008, which I played through - on Sibelius - with a friend of mine from the brass band days. He's a lecturer in composition at the Varsity, so is well up with what works and what doesn't, and in his opinion the pieces work. They needed a bit of re-scoring because I'd missed including a couple of instrumental lines in my original versions. Bit fiddly, but satisfying!)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Lark Rise to Candleford

I bought my wife the DVD of the first series of Lark Rise to Candleford, which I’d seen a very small piece of at a friend's house one night. He was enthusing over it, and since it hasn’t appeared on free-to-view television (like so much these days) I thought my wife might enjoy it.

We’ve been watching it on and off over the time since Christmas. It’s full of ‘characters,’ some better formed than others, and most of the core cast are good, especially Julia Sawalhagood to see her playing a more mature woman after all those years as a perpetually young woman in Absolutely Fabulous. Some of the other core cast lack depth – whether that’s the script or the direction or what, I’m not sure. Being a kind of ‘soap’, no one is expected to develop much, nor are they given room to. However, there are some good features about it, and there have been some good guests. Dawn French, whom I thought was in the entire series, was carted off to the Workhouse after about the third or fourth episode, unfortunately – although she did perform her part in an over-the-top way that didn’t entirely fit in with the rest of the characters.

Apparently the stories are only loosely based on the books - perhaps the ideas for the plots were there, but I think they've been pulled into neatly packaged episodes.

Oddly, the writers have also chosen to play fast and loose with something that was the focus of the first episode, as one reviewer notes: “the poor people of Lark Rise having to pay a fee for postal deliveries because they are just outside the eight-mile limit from the post office. Yet, the characters of Lark Rise turn up in neighbouring Candleford throughout the series as if they were just around the corner.” This is a bit disconcerting, and sometimes annoying. You begin to wonder if everyone (including children) in these two locales has an exceptional ability to walk an eight-mile stretch (and often back again) without any difficulty. A few people travel by cart, a couple ride horses, but the rest supposedly walk.

Furthermore the 'poor' people of Lark Rise look pretty tidy most of the time, and the men manage to spend their evenings comfortably in the pub, whose owner doesn't seem to be too pressed for income. It might be interesting to read the original book(s) and compare them and the series. I suspect

Friday, January 01, 2010

This year's reading

In a recent post I mentioned that Salesman in Beijing was the last book to make it onto the list of books I've read in 2009 - which made me consider posting the rest of the books. So here they are, in the order they were read. Those in italics are fiction; the rest are non.

It's a fairly eclectic list; some of the novels were read for reviewing (for the Otago Daily Times), and the non-fiction titles tend to lean towards the areas in which I'm interested (not necessarily those in which I actually know a lot about the subject). Some of the books didn't get finished, but they'll only be on this list if I got through a fair chunk of them. There were heaps of other books, non-starters that I thought would be interesting and weren't, or that I just didn't get far through because some other more interesting book came along. Plus, this year, I had to read and re-read some text books for my course, and a number of other books that I dipped into for reference. Most of those don't appear here.

This year is perhaps notable for the number of books that I've read for the second (or third) time; I read somewhere about a person spending a year reading just the books she had on her shelves; I haven't made a conscious effort to do this, but I have re-read several that I had 'in stock.'

Since I started checking through this list again, I find there are at least two books that I've had to add because they got missed out. Weird. (The links are to reviews and blog posts I've written on the books.)

Knots and Crosses – Ian Rankin – 3.1.09
The Drunkard’s Walk – Leonard Mlodinow – 15.1.09
The Horse and His Boy (reread)– C S Lewis – 16.1.09
Set in Darkness – Ian Rankin – 25.1.09
Gilead (reread) – Marilynne Robinson – 29.1.09

Evil and the Justice of God (two-thirds) – N T Wright – 9.2.09
Reason for God – Tim Keller – 10.2.09
The Novice’s Tale – Margaret Frazer – 12.2.09
Extreme Weather Events – Tim Jones – 25.2.09
The Last Battle (re-read) – C S Lewis – 28.2.09

When we are Married (play) – J B Priestley – 2.3.09
Soul Survivor (re-read)– Philip Yancey – March 09

The Third Peacock (re-read) – Robert Farrar Capon – 8.4.09
Flashback Forward (well-skimmed) – John Cairney – 10.4.09
Twilight – Stephenie Meyer – 10.4.09
The Hunting of the Divine Fox – Robert Farrar Capon – 19.4.09
Digital filmmaking – Mike Figgis – 26.4.09
Creative Interviewing (mostly read) – Jack Douglas – 26.4.09

Sins of the Father – Fleur Beale – 7.5.09
Awakening – S J Bolton – May 09

Easy Virtue (play) – Noel Coward – 3.6.09
Readings for the Research Methods course – various dates.
Tzigane (play) – John Vakidis - 8.6.09
Leaving Church – Barbara Brown Taylor – June 2009
Original Sin – Alan Jacobs – June 2009
Fear and Polemic In Seventeenth-Century England: Richard Baxter And Antinomianism – Tim Cooper – (3/4 read) – June 2009

Anthony Trollope – James Pope Hennessey – 11.7.09

Just Take My Heart – Mary Clark Higgins – 3.8.09
Embracing the Wide Sky – David Tammet – 4.8.09
When in Rome – Ngaio Marsh – 14.8.09
The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton – abridged audio book version – 15.8.09
The Seven Dials Mystery – Agatha Christie – 17.8.09

Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies – Blake Snyder – 1.9.09
Reason for God – Tim Keller (re-read) – 7.9.09
People’s Train – Tom Keneally – 12.9.09
The Consciousness Plague – Paul Levinson – 18.9.09
A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks – 21.9.09
Finding Sanctuary – Abbot Christopher Jamieson – 25.9.09
Save the Cat – the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need – Blake Snyder – 27.9.09

Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass on Tour – Adrian Plass – 11.10.09
Transmigration of Timothy Archer – Philip K Dick – 11.10.09
Somebody Loves Us All - Damien Wilkins - Nov 09
Performer as Priest and Prophet – Rock & Mealy – 17.10.09
A Kiss before the Apocalypse – Thomas Sniegoski – 21.10.09
The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy – Barbara Vine – 25.10.09
The Champion – Maurice Gee – 29.10.09

Supervision in the Helping Professions - ? – 1.11.09 (two-thirds finished – recalled to library)
The Complaints – Ian Rankin – 2.11.09
To Heaven, with Scribes and Pharisees – Lionel Blue – 14.11.09
The Big Picture – Tom Reilly – 29.11.09

And it was good – Madeleine L’Engle – 2.12.09
A little exercise for young Theologians – Helmut Thielicke – 2.12.09
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J K Rowling (re-read) – 8.12.09
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J K Rowling (re-read) – 17.12.09
SuperFreakonomics – Levitt and Dubner – 28.12.09
Salesman in Beijing – Arthur Miller – 31.12.09

Happy New Year, and a thought

As always it's going to take a while to get used to putting 2010 or '10 on the dates. As usual we'll come to it.

Just reading Vincent Donovan's Christianity Rediscovered, one of the great books for re-thinking how we do 'mission' in the world. (I mean mission as Christians to people who don't know about Christ, of course, though I note how strongly this word has been adopted by the business world - here, for example.)

Donovan makes a very strong point (particularly around pages 37-9) that God is the 'High' God - the one above all petty, personal, local, national gods. There's nothing new in what he's saying, but we still find it very hard to comes to terms with. Each of us has our own view of what God should be like, and we don't think at least some of those other people ought to be allowed to share him. Nations claim him as their God - the US is a prime example at the moment (and even Hitler managed to invoke him as the German 'God').

Different Christian denominations claim that He's their God - they don't say it outright, but they're often very suspicious (underneath) of the God those other denominations adhere to. This has changed enormously in my lifetime - when I was a child, Catholics - of which I was one - didn't walk on the same side of the street as Protestants, let alone go to each other's churches. While we were by no means as intolerant as our Irish forebears (only a generation or two behind us), I can remember distinctly hearing the chant, Proddie dogs, stink like frogs, being shouted from one side of the street to the other - Proddies being Protestants. Fortunately I had no idea what this about at the time!

And within denominations we're not always sure that the god that the Baptists/Presbyterians/Catholics up the road worship - those very people who ought to be our brothers and sisters in Christ - is quite the god we worship.

But God is the High God, the God overall. It took the Israelites quite some time to come to terms with this, even though their prophets shouted it into their ears again and again, and their father Abraham left his home country in order to be a blessing to all nations, not just the tiddly little one he begat. Even when Jesus spoke it out again and again, he was struggling to get the idea across. Ultimately - and temporarily - the god(s) of the Pharisees and Romans prevailed, and Jesus was executed. The High God, however, the one that Jesus told us was the Father of everyone, raised him up again - He wasn't having any of this nonsense about the petty little local Jewish god that the Pharisees and Sadducees worshiped.

Donovan points out that the Masai, to whom he was a missionary, already had a High God. But He was their god; he wasn't even the god of their neighbours three miles down the road.

How we delight to be tribal, whether we're African or American or Asian, or New Zealanders...