Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Goodness!

Some time ago, I think, I started reading Tim Parks' novel Goodness.  Apparently I didn't finish it; in fact I may not have got very far with it at all, as the only bit I remembered when I started reading it again a day or so ago, was the beginning.

Like other books by Parks it's subtle in its approach, with any number of twists and turns between the main characters - not in terms of plot but in terms of reactions to each other, and in the ways they hurt or are loving to each other.   There's also Parks' wit and humour - not laugh-out-loud stuff, but wry and witty.

The story is told by George, an upwardly-mobile young man whose life and marriage comes to a major crunch point about half way through the novel - I won't tell you what that is, but I didn't expect it.   We've already seen George's selfishness raging through the book - 'raging' might be a bit strong - outwardly he's a well-behaved Englishman; it's inside where all the raging is going on, and we're privy to it.

The climax of the book is superbly written, and suspenseful in a surprising way.   And then there's the Epilogue, which takes the story off into another realm altogether.   Parks takes your breath away with this one.

The book is essentially moral in tone; it's George's struggle with his own morality and with the faith of others and their sometimes insane optimism that makes it so readable.   The Daily Mail described it as a 'one-sitting book' and that's just about it.  The only reason I didn't read it in one sitting was because I was reading it late at night and was too tired to continue.

PS This cover isn't on my copy of the book and seems to indicate a book that isn't quite the one Parks has written, one that's much more severe in tone.   The cover on my copy, published by Vintage, leaves much more to the imagination, but is still effective. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Abani on artists

"Artists were essentially shamans or priests or seers in the old days and I think art is still the primary focus of looking for ways to deal with the questions of being human. I think you can do that while meditating in your room. OK, so I went to prison, I suffered, but I'm here drinking a three-dollar coffee checking my email on a fancy gadget. The problem is we're looking for something that doesn't exist. We're looking for authenticity. There is no such thing as authenticity. There is either good art or bad art. Art is never about its content. It's about its scaffolding."

Chris Abani

Sunday, December 25, 2011

After-the-sleep-post-Christmas-Dinner Reflections

It's late on Sunday afternoon.   The hordes have gone home or to other Christmas functions with in-laws and the like.   The house is both partly cleaned up and partly not.   The wife is sleeping.  The younger son is recording old Super 8 videos onto his external hard drive via our laptop.   I have driven a guest home, almost on auto-pilot, and have had a snooze.

I enjoy leftover chicken (in an ordinary sandwich, with a bit of salt), of which there was plenty....until I dropped the very large plate (and much-loved plate) on the floor while trying to re-open the fridge.   Broke one of the plate handles, and dropped the chicken (and some pork) all over.   Not a good start to the after-the-sleep-post-Christmas-Dinner period.

In spite of there being a reasonable number of bodies here (16, including ourselves) we still have plenty of food left over.  It's always the same.  Worse, there's always a pile of sweet stuff leftover, quite apart from all the sweet stuff that arrives as presents for one reason or another.  Any hopes we had of losing a bit of weight before going to our son's wedding in the States a week from today have been thoroughly undermined.

For many years, I used to get the latest Dick Francis thriller at Christmas.   Those days have gone, and I miss having that sort of light but entertaining book to read in the after-the-sleep-post-Christmas-Dinner period.  I've got plenty of books around the house, but that almost traditional aspect is something I miss.   I dread to think what's on television - if the last few days are anything to go by - but I do have a DVD that a friend gave me, which I may watch.   I'll see how much energy I've got.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

SoundCloud stats

As I've remarked before I'm one of those people who's always interested in the how the stats show up.  In this particular instance, I'm thinking of the stats relating to SoundCloud, which I've just read is one of the top startups in Europe at the moment.

I just had a look at them to see what was being played and who was playing it.   This month 51% of people listening to music I've put up have been from New Zealand, 12% from the United States, 7% from the UK, and, such being the nature of the Internet, 5% were each from Thailand and Belgium.

If I look only at this week, however, the stats reverse: Belgium and Thailand go up to 33% each, the UK and US vanish, Spain comes in for 16% along with NZ.  Which presumably means there have been a lot fewer listenings this week than over the whole month.

And what have they been listening to?   Over the whole month it's been the Grimhilda! instrumental selections scenes 1 and 2.  This has had 8 plays.   Scenes 5 & 6 have had 5 plays.  The first piano selection has had 3 plays along with the scene 7 instrumental selections.   And The Cowboy leans the Tarantella, a piano piece, has had just 2 plays.

During all the time I've had music on SoundCloud, however, the scene 1 and 2 Grimhilda! instrumental have had 32 plays all up, but The Cowboy comes in second at 21 plays.   This is interesting: there are several piano pieces on SoundCloud, but none of these come within a cooee of that many plays.   One of my favourite pieces, Ladies Preparing Silk, (it's also the one my kids like), has had only two plays since it was uploaded.  (And they were probably both me checking that the upload worked....)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rev Helene Mann

Rev Helene Mann, who died unexpectedly two days ago in Dunedin Hospital, always announced herself, when she came into the shop I managed (OC Books), as 'your favourite customer'.   And in many ways she was.  From a purely retail point of view, she could be guaranteed to buy at least one book on each visit, but would more likely buy several.   But it wasn't just her book-buying that made her visits interesting: it was her conversation.  Invariably we would discuss something of interest: books, theology, Celtic Christianity (one of her favourite subjects and one she studied, and one she introduced me to), her enthusiasm for Pelagius, Anglicanism and a host of other subjects.

Like many of my customers, she became a friend.  We'd meet on the street and talk, or meet at a conference and talk.  It was never just a case of retailer and customer, but much more.  She was one of the many people I missed when I left the shop, although we occasionally had a chance meeting afterwards, including just the other day when my wife and I met her in South Dunedin.   She didn't look well (and hadn't done for some time), but was still bustling her way forward, trying to keep up with the many tasks she took on.

She was short, but made up for it in seemingly boundless energy, even when her health knocked her back.  She was intellectually sharp, and though we crossed swords very occasionally, in general our relationship was one of humour and the enjoyment of catching up again.   I will miss seeing her - as I'm sure hundreds of others will.   May she rest in the peace of her Creator, and enjoy His company eternally.

PS - 14.1.12
Just been informed by Jim Mann, Helene's husband, that he read this post after his relatives in Wales informed him of it (!)  Such is the nature of the Internet. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two books

Yesterday I finished Joy Cowley's book, Navigation: a memoir. Today it was Ruth Rendell's Kissing the Gunner's Daughter.  I'd been reading the Cowley on and off for a couple of weeks; the Rendell I started yesterday and finished this afternoon, amongst other things that I've been doing.   So just a few comments about that book first.

I haven't read a lot of Rendell's books, though I've listened to abridged versions of a couple of them on tape when we've been travelling.   I read one called Going Wrong in 2008 and seem to remember it was rather odd, and another, which she wrote under the pseudonym, Barbara Vine, The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, which was absorbing but terribly gloomy (here are some comments I made about it at the time).

What struck me about Gunner's Daughter is the stylish writing, writing that expects the reader to keep up and to enjoy the prose; writing that's perceptive and occasionally witty, with characters who have plenty of life and variety.  These elements on their own made it an enjoyable read, quite apart from the intricate plot.  I kind of guessed what the trick was, but had to wait to the end to be sure and find out how it had been worked out.

It concerns a young girl who's the only survivor of a mass attack on a family in their own (somewhat palatial) home: three other members are shot and killed outright.  Wexford is the inspector in charge of the case, (along with his faithful ally, Mike Burdon), so there is an ongoing background story relating to Wexford's own daughter as well.   There is no immediate connection between the two parts of his life, but the two branches reflect each other considerably, it turns out.   There are some wonderful red herrings, and a gradual uncovering of all manner of intriguing elements.   I found it very readable.

Navigation isn't an autobiography, though there's plenty of autobiographical material in it.  It's subtitled a memoir, and I guess this is how it works.   It gives Cowley the chance to look at her life in a more topical way -  she discusses her three husbands within the same part of the book, her children in another, her faith right towards the end, her adult fiction in a different section to her children's writing.  

It begins a little too 'mystically' (for me) and occasionally wanders off into this vein at other points, but once I got past the first few pages I began to enjoy it thoroughly.   I've extracted three sections on another blog: one on her method of bringing up children (not at all formally, and not at all PC); one on the bleakness of New Zealand adult fiction; and the third on the surprising literacy of New Zealanders.  I could have easily quoted other sections as well.

Cowley appears to have packed an enormous amount into her life - innumerable trips abroad, vast numbers of books written, appearances at a host of conferences, ongoing engagement with the retreats she and her third husband hold, and of course, her family, with whom she's continually involved.   I guess when anyone sits down to write about their life it seems more action-packed to a reader than to the person themselves; we don't tend to note down all the breathing spaces that we've also experienced.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Dunedin's Octagon has finally been vacated by the remaining members of the local Occupy movement.

According to the Otago Daily Times, one of the members, Kieran Trass, said it was unclear whether they would return, or what the next phase would entail.  And he added, This is not a battle to be won in the media. 

I'm not actually sure what he means by that...if it wasn't for the media, the movement wouldn't have had a fraction of the publicity they've had.   In fact, the media have been their protector on a number of occasions, particularly overseas, where it has highlighted injustices done to the members of the movement.

But it was Mr Trass' last statement that puzzles me.  He is reported to have said, I don't know why people seem to think we want to camp here, and why we want to be here for a long time. 

That calls for a 'Huh?' - a very loud one, in fact.

We know why they wanted to camp in the Octagon, surely.  They were 'occupying,' and were most aggrieved when the City Council threatened them with a trespass order.   If it hadn't been that the police somehow aligned freedom of assembly with some alleged right to take over a public place, to the detriment not only of the place but also to the inconvenience of the local users of it, they would have been long gone.

As to why they wanted to be there for a long time, it has surely come from their own statements to this effect.   It's been part of the Occupy movement's approach around the world: to occupy and stay. 

Come on, Mr Trass - many of us agree with what you're protesting about.  Don't treat us like idiots because you've finally decided, apparently of your own accord, to suddenly go home for Christmas.

Blog and Sudoku

I just discovered this morning that comments on my Daily Writer blog haven't been getting through to me by email, so possibly a number of commenters have given up on me, thinking I'm too rude to respond.  For some reason this particular blog, even though it's part of the Blogger family, doesn't act the same, and there are certain differences I can't quite get to grips with.  It shouldn't be the fact that it's an older blog (dating from 2005), because the one I'm writing on now is even older (by a few months).   Yet this blog has kept up with the various Blogger changes while the other one seems to be stuck in an earlier age.

On a less messy note, I wrote to the Otago Daily Times the other day because it has puzzled me for some time that the medium Sudoku puzzles published in their paper were often harder than the hard ones.   They passed the email onto Doug Hendry from The Puzzle Company.  He replied: 

The series you [the Otago Daily Times newspaper] run is one where we actually tried to create more difference between the medium and hard puzzles.

We can make puzzles on quite a few different settings. The actual level of difficulty in each varies widely, and the biggest range seems to lie within the medium setting. As Mr Crowl pointed out, they can be as challenging – or actually harder – than a puzzle made on the hard setting.

One solution we came up with was to make more difference between the levels. We took the Easy and Medium settings down half a notch, and left the hard unchanged.

I’d be interested in getting Mr Crowl’s opinion on the attached puzzles.

I’ve put three medium and three hard from your current series on a layout, but not identified which is which. If he has the time and the inclination, I’d really appreciate it if he printed the sheet out and tried them, then emailed to say which ones he thinks are medium and which are hard.

This isn’t a test of his Sudoku ability, it’s a test of our puzzle making.

Well, firstly it was nice to get such an immediate response to a query, and one that was offering a solution as to why the puzzles varied.  I tired all six of the puzzles and this was my reply to Doug:

1. fairly hard
2. hard (didn't finish it in fact, which is sometimes the case with Sudoku in the paper)
3. definitely the easiest. 
4. fairly hard
5 hard
6 hard (again I didn't finish this one because I got stuck and couldn't move forward on it - might need more perseverance)

Doug replied:

I printed out the puzzles I sent you and gave them a go. Usually I can only solve Easy puzzles, and occasionally rise to the heights of Medium. Hard, never.  [He says he's the company's crossword expert, while his wife is the Sudoku master.]
I managed to solve No1 (which was a Medium), but it took me 25 minutes. I got seven numbers in No2 (Hard), then gave up. I think I could have solved No3 (Medium) but went wrong somewhere after having filled in more than half.
It took me 10 minutes to get four boxes in No4 (Hard), then I gave up.
No5 (Medium) – I got stuck after taking 15 minutes to get half of it filled in.
I didn’t bother trying No6.
So, I was able to solve – with a real effort – one of the mediums, and might have got another. The three hard puzzles were totally beyond me.
You solved all three Mediums and one Hard.
This was only a test on three of each type, but you and I both found the Hard puzzles more difficult than the Medium, and you found the Mediums simpler than I did.
There will be occasions when a Medium puzzle at the upper end of its difficulty scale will be as hard – or maybe even harder – than a Hard puzzle which is at the bottom end of its range of difficulty.

So there you have it.  An interesting exercise, and a gracious response on both occasions.   How to do business, in other words!

The Sudoku in the picture is a finished example from this Dan Rice's site. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Shifting to Chrome

Well, the shift to Google Chrome as my default browser seems to be going okay.   Of course some things went missing with the change - not my bookmarks, which were happily imported from Firefox - though truth to tell, I hardly ever use the bookmarks now, as typing into the URL line usually brings up anything I want.

I did lose the add-ons I had - Chrome calls them extensions - and had to go and re-sort them: Evernote's clipper, for one, and RoboForm (which oddly turns up at the bottom of the screen rather than the top; some curious feature of Chrome, apparently).   Zotero also went missing - it's part of Firefox's add-ons, but not Chrome's as far as I can tell.  You can get Zotero as a stand-alone programme now, but I haven't yet figured out how to get stuff into the right folder in the stand-alone version: when you click on the little blue box that records the book item you're interested in, it just pops it in wherever it feels like it, and because of Zotero's set-up, you can't find which folder it's in, although of course you can actually find the item through their search box.

And just now I realised I didn't have the add-on that copied URLs to Twitter (or other social media).   Chrome has an extension for this, so that wasn't too much of a problem.

The main reason I shifted was because Facebook was becoming very sticky on Firefox.   (My geek son reckons Firefox has overloaded itself with all its upgrades).   Anyway, on Chrome, Facebook is behaving itself very well, so that's a plus.  Another plus is that there's no separate box for doing a Google search: the URL box and the search box are one and the same (this being Google's browser, naturally) so that's actually a gain.  This was starting to happen on Firefox, but not quite so effectively.

So, at present, all good.

PS 20.12.2011 Only realised this morning that Evernote is not working in quite the same way it used to.  Instead of clipping whatever it is that you want clipped directly to the Evernote database on your computer, it clips it now to your Evernote database online.  It's only when you sync the two that the computer version updates.  Before it was the other way round.  Odd.  On the plus side, the new look Evernote clipper is an improvement over the old one.  And doesn't require as much fiddling around with each time.

And another thing: everything is being spellchecked all over again (like the word, spellchecked, for instance).  Obviously Chrome doesn't import all the words I've collected over the last few years of Firefox usage.

Marian Year Celebration?

In my last post I mentioned clearing out some stuff from one of our two attics.   The box of photos has been sitting on the floor waiting an opportunity to be sorted further, and I've just had a go at it.  Heaps of family photos - my children, in particular, but also photos of me with a number of other relatives.   And various other memorabilia.  I've had a bit of a throw-out, because there comes a time when some stuff just doesn't mean anything anymore.

There are a number of photos taken on a camera that was so small you could hide it in your hand.  It produced equally small photographs (9cm by 6.5cm - or 3.5 inches by 2.5).  Amongst these were about a dozen taken at some event in Logan Park (?) in Dunedin that was held - I'm guessing - in the 1950s.  I think I have a dim memory of being at this, but that may be only that I've seen these photos of a number of occasions before.   I've now thrown out a lot of these little photos because they weren't of a quality to make them interesting enough to keep: people's heads (or hats, rather) in the way of what was trying to be photographed, or the distance between the photographer (my mother, no doubt) and the subject being too vast to make what was photographed comprehensible.

But a couple of the photos had been blown up and I'm reproducing them here.   As you can see, there's a huge statue of Mary - so it was definitely a Catholic occasion.   I thought it had something to do with a visit from the Pope, but according to this site, only Pope John Paul II is the only Pope to have visited New Zealand, so it wasn't a papal visit.   It might have been a Papal Nuncio (Envoy) vis. it, however, but I can't be sure about this.

My other thought that it was a 'Marian Year' - that would make it 1954, I presume   Perhaps someone else can enlighten me?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


The worst thing about having an attic (or in our case, two of them) is that they're great places for putting stuff away 'for a rainy day', or 'until he/she has their own place', or 'we'd better keep that, it's got sentimental value' and so on. 

We've got two attics because naturally there was one in the original house, and then, when we added on a second floor, a second attic was included - only part of the original one was removed.   Consequently we have a lot of room to store junk

We've just been up in one of the attics looking for something that of course wasn't stored up there  - where it is stored is another question.   And once you start looking through the boxes you find things you haven't seen for a while, and then you take stuff out to have a proper look at it, find treasures, and away goes the day.

Sometimes you can be brutal and finally dump some things that really don't have a place in your life any more.  I've just got rid of half of a bag full of stuff I'd collected to do collages - I did do a couple several years ago, but that's about when the enthusiasm stopped.   Notice I said 'half a bag' - the rest will go back in the attic, no doubt, because it's not quite at the stage of needing to be thrown out.  It could be useful.   But I did get rid of the bottletops and the fragments of material and a plastic bag so old it was disgustingly discoloured.

And then there was another box full of photographs: pure family history, with lots of photos of my kids when they were small, many more of my mother and me at various ages from babyhood to late teens (me, I mean, not my mother); photos of the Queen's visit in the early 1950s - she visited the Woollen Mills my mother worked at; photos of the Pope's visit (if it was him he doesn't actually appear in any of the photos!), photos of my aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents.   Some of these we've obviously got more than one copy of; some are unique.   There's a little Autograph book in which each page has a short quote and a signature from various friends of my mother.   I don't know any of these people, which is a pity, although given the dates it looks as though they were mostly written when she lived in Australia, where I was born.   [The book in the photo is similar, but not the same.]

And there's a game called Funword - it's Scrabble in disguise.  It was used right up until some twenty years ago, and still has some scorecards with my (now deceased) English uncle's name on it, and that of his second wife (they visited at some point), my mother's and some of my kids - who must have been old enough to play at the time.

And finally, in tune with the season, there's a little Nativity scene set inside a box about two hands width wide, with two doors that open outwards.  Inside there's the tiniest Nativity imaginable, and once upon a time there used to be a light in there too.....maybe we should put it in a place of honour beside our Nativity set that's standing in the window.   For old time's sake.   

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tui ad

A Twitter user going by the name of @laurayankers has posted this picture on Twitter.    It may be a little unclear here, but it says: Let's go camping in the Octagon this summer.   I don't know where this Tui ad is  situated but it's probable it's down in the University area somewhere.  

Laura is from the UK and is flying back home in a few days.    She calls herself a UK lass trying to stay sane in Dunedin whilst here on business.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Side effects

Methadone, the treatment that's used at a Methadone detox rehab treatment center, has an alarming number of side effects.   Why I comment on this is because when I watching a TV ad last night in which they discussed medication you could take for depression, you could read along the bottom of the screen - if you were quick enough - so many side effects that you'd actually think twice about taking the drug. 

Of course, those lists of side effects are just what might happen in the worst of all possible worlds (although a person with depression doesn't really need to know any more about the worst of all possible worlds, they're often there already), and having taken two different kinds of medication for depression over the years (both of which worked, and neither of which appeared to give me any side-effects) I guess the cure is somewhat better than what might happen.   They've got to warn you, after all.   And then, like Russian roulette, you play the game. 

Here's a list of the possible side-effects of Methadone:

  • drowsiness
  • weakness
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • weight gain
  • stomach pain
  • dry mouth
  • sweating
  • flushing
  • difficulty urinating
  • swelling of the hands, arms, feet, and legs
  • mood changes
  • vision problems
  • difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • decreased sexual desire or ability
  • missed menstrual periods 
It certainly covers all the options:  difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep?  A bit like having your cake and eating it, isn't it?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Decoding the phrase

I have no idea what the following phrase actually means: challenge coins custom so I'm not even going to try.   Sometimes these odd phrases turn up in the work I do for a company online, and because of the nature of the job, it's not always easy to figure out quite what the 'employer' is getting at.  Never mind, we know it's something to do with a challenge, with coins, and with custom. 

You could do quite a bit with that, I'm sure....write a short poem, even.

It's a bit of a challenge
to write a poem on coins
that's according to custom,
by which I mean the challenge
of using some normal form
of poem, as is the custom;
but in this instance the challenge
may be with fake coins
which may involve Customs
and their challenge of you.

There we go; no more obscure than the original phrase.   Not bad for a draft poem, though I'm sure it can be improved upon....

Reminding myself of some travel incidents

When we arrived England in 2007, we were quite laden down with luggage: according to my diary at the time we were carrying: a lap-top in a case with umpteen cords for cellphones, lap-top, Ipod and so on; Celia’s handbag; her backpack; my backpack (full of books and such); and pulling two suitcases which between them weighed 40 kg.

We got the tube from Heathrow to Kentish Town where we were expecting to stay with a friend.   The tube is a great way to travel if you're not carrying a lap-top and accessories, two backpacks (with books and gear needed on the trip, and equivalent in size to Deuter backpacks - one on the right), a handbag (which, if I remember rightly, was probably stuffed full of anything we couldn't fit in anywhere else) and hauling two suitcases weighing 40 kg in total.   (When we go to the USA next month we won't be carrying anything like this amount of gear, thank goodness....I hope!)

Carrying or carting all that stuff on the tube is a major undertaking.  The underground in London has very few lifts (or elevators - better start practicing my Americanisms now) and so everything has to be hauled up and down stairs - in some cases, lots of stairs.   Or up the escalator, which isn't built for putting large suitcases on. 

And then, when we finally got to Kentish Town (after having to stand most of the way on the Tube as well, because it was easier than trying to fit everything around a seat), we managed to go several blocks out of our way.   It was a bit like the night in Milan when I had my wallet pinched on their underground.   We were told by the station officials to go to the police at a station a couple of stops back, did that, were looked at as though we were idiot tourists (which we were) and then told to go to the main police station, which seemed to be in a street that none of the locals knew existed.  Or else none of them were locals and they were only pretending they knew.

Fortunately, on that occasion we weren't carrying a lap-top and accessories, two backpacks (with books and gear needed on the trip), a handbag, and two suitcases weighing 40 kg in total.  We were actually carrying even less than usual, because one of those nasty Milanese people had pinched my wallet - did I mention that?   I guess I'll have to forgive them somehow, but it's one of those things that rankles.

Anyway, this time while we're away, we'll both be carrying those under-the-clothing-bags with any valuables we need.   My wife won't let me do otherwise.   But I won't be carrying my 'man-bag' that I got in Italy (it's just visible in this picture of men in the Mediterranean sea) - I think it's been commandeered by someone else in the family.   I probably will be carrying the wallet I bought while I was overseas, even though it's beginning to show signs of wear.

One of the nice things about re-reading old 'diaries' is that you come across things you'd forgotten: like the fact that my wife lost her precious cellphone while we were visiting her parents' graves in Gresham in Norfolk.  (I mention this only to point out that I'm not the only person who loses things while travelling - or even while staying at home.)  We only found the phone because I tried ringing it after we discovered it was missing - thinking it was in the house somewhere - and was answered by a woman who lived in Gresham who'd picked it up and thought it must have belonged to someone local.   We collected it a few days later....

Friday, December 09, 2011

Pool or not

At the beginning of next month we fly to Boise in Idaho.   It will roughly the middle of winter.   We're taking lots of thermal underwear on the assumption that it's going to be really cold, though it's hard to know just how cold that is.  What the people over there think is cold, of course, may be closer to what we're used to here because we don't have temperature extremes.   But I suspect it will be rather more than we're used to.  We'll just have to wait and see.   

It occurred to me that there aren't likely to be many swimming pools around in Boise (or Nampa, which is where we're actually going to be staying).   With temperatures plummeting in the winter to minus figures, the idea of having a swimming pool is probably a bit nonsensical, and yet, in the summer, the temperatures climb to more than we ever have here.  It's a bit like Alexandra, Central Otago, which in winter is like walking around in a fridge, in summer like being basted on an oven.   So I suppose pools may not be as uncommon as I first thought.  Whether they'd need heated pools (and consequently the services of a company like pool heat pumps it's hard to say.  Certainly in the summer it might be ridiculous to be heating your pool, but in winter?  Well, it would depend whether you planned on going out, (in a Finnish fashion) to swim in your pool in the middle of the snowy season.   But if you were being Finnish, you'd expect your pool to be freezing cold anyway, so heating it wouldn't be an option.  It's all too complicated for a small brain like mine.

Pumped! (as in stoked!!)

Just came across this:

Mars Mission Return-Fuel Production
Casey Chartier*, Mike Crowl, Greg Honda

Wow! what am I doing talking about a Mars Mission at an Industry Educational Showcase in the University of Connecticut/  Well, of course I'm not.   It's some other young bloke who actually knows something about the subject.  He's a chemical engineer, by the look of it, a senior, so this presentation is to show what he and his offsider have learnt over the last few years in the course of their studies.  

All I was doing when I came across this was looking for some connection between Goulds pumps and my name.   Nothing special; just one of those odd things. 

Forgetting and remembering

Back in 2007 I wrote a post about maternity clothes.  I'd forgotten about it completely until I happened to pick up on it just now. 

It was written while we were in England, but I have no idea what hotel it was that we were staying at, at the time.  In fact, I can't remember the incident at all.   We'd met a man from Edinburgh who had eight children - the oldest was 23 and was working with his father; the youngest was 17 months old.   Furthermore one of his older daughters was expecting a child who would then have an aunt only a couple of years older than her.  They'd make good companions - and have some difficulties explaining their relationship, I expect!

It's odd that this story means nothing to me; if I hadn't written it down, it would have gone completely from my head, in spite of the fact that according to some sources we're supposed to remember everything that's happened to us.  I think these sources may be exaggerating.  It's much more likely we forget as much as we remember, otherwise we'd go crazy.   There are some people who are supposed to remember everything - there was a group of them on TV recently - but I think (as my wife noted) it's more likely they remember a great deal about certain subjects and very little about what most of us forget (like how many times we went to the loo yesterday, or the day before, for instance).   Some things become so commonplace that the mind has no reason to remember them, and wisely gets rid of that excess stuff. 

PS I've just checked with my wife: she can't remember this incident either.....!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A sneeze in a redhaired nostril

Continuing on with my interest in odd words, or the odd combinations of ordinary words, I'm looking briefly today at trailer hitches before I go on to look at some of the ways Les Murray uses words in a poem called Flowering Eucalypt in Autumn. 
Here are some of the single words and combinations of trailer hitching words: multi-fit receiver hitches,  goosenecks, pintles, receiver mount combination ball, switch balls, folding ball gooseneck hitch, (or even better) underbed folding ball gooseneck hitch, universal fifth wheel base rails, adjustable eyes and enforcement collars.   The mind boggles - even more at a weld-on pocket anchor.   Just think of welding an anchor into your pocket, and you see what I mean.  There's ample material here for a poem, I think!

So onto a real poem.   In Murray's poem he's doing what he often does, piling metaphor upon metaphor to try and show the enormity of a small or ordinary-seeming thing (as he does with some humour in Shower, one of my favourite poems.)

In this poem, the crimson blossoms are dropping to the ground:
....a napped rug
of eyelash drift, of blooms flared
like a sneeze in a redhaired nostril. 

minute urns, pinch-sized rockets
knocked down by....
....the daily
parrot gang with green pocketknife wings. 

....each flower comes 
as a spray in its own turned vase,
a taut starburst, honeyed model 
of the tree's fragrance crisping in your head. 

a tower of fabulous swish tatters,
a map hoisted upright, a crusted
riverbed with up-country show towns.

Quoting bits like this doesn't do justice to the poem, so it's worth reading it as a whole.   Nevertheless, a sneeze in a redhaired nostril certainly lingers in the mind....!

I mentioned the other day about the copyright issues relating to copying poems into blogs and onto the Net.  It doesn't seem to be that big an issue, since any Les Murray poem I've gone looking for in order to provide a link to the full poem has been readily available online.   Perhaps the Net is the best thing to happen to poetry in all that art's history....?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Rhyme schemes - or not

Though I'm now using another blog to write specifically about poetry (and to include poems I've written myself), I've always included posts about poems and poetry on this blog too, so I'll continue to do so.

I've been reading Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled recently, and this time going through it in detail.  (I started to read it a few years back, after I saw it in a bookshop in England, but didn't go very far.)   In the section where he discusses rhyme, he uses that old system of detailing how the poem's lines rhyme by marking each line as a or b or c etc.   A common rhyme scheme, then, will be something like:

There are, of course, many more complicated schemes than this.   I've been reading through Les Murray's collection The Vernacular Republic: Poems 1961-1983.   I've delved into it in the past, and am already familiar with some of the poems because they come from other collections that I have, but this time I'm working systematically through it (from the end to the beginning, just to be different) and am intrigued by Murray's oddball rhyming schemes.  If 'schemes' is the correct word. 

Murray's poems are a mix of the witty and humorous (Morse, which tells the story of a Morse Code operator who does surgery on a man by receiving instruction by Morse from a doctor miles away), or the ones in which he plays with sounds and rhymes almost overwhelmingly (The Mouthless Image of God in the Hunter Colo Mountains - a crazy title that seems to have little to do with the poem which begins with the idea of a youth getting dogs to bark in the night), or the ones that philosophise about Art (Satis Passo), or ones that use foreign words and arcane English words or made up words (phallocrypt, single-bulged, cols, Orogold) that seldom or never appear in ordinary speech.   His breadth of language is always extraordinary, in fact. 

And then there are ones like The Smell of Coal Smoke which is a loosely biographical piece about his mother and grandfather.   In it he uses a common enough rhythm (though the lines are by no means always the same beat length) and mostly common language, and seems to be using a very common rhyme scheme:


This scheme comes a cropper in the second stanza where it goes to:


The c rhyme happens to rhyme with the a rhyme in the first doubt intentionally.

The third stanza has this scheme:


Which appears to have nothing to do with the previous stanza, rhyme-wise.  The fourth stanza works this way:


Finally, stanza five works like this:

aa (a partial rhyme of frisson and Cornishman)
c (another partial rhyme, this time of Brown and soon - Brown has appeared more than once before)

Hardly conventional, and certainly disruptive if you think that he's going to go in a smooth direction, rhyme-wise.  It could be said that Murray doesn't know much about rhyme schemes.  It's more likely he does know and likes to break the mould.   Or that he's conveying something psychological by disrupting the expected flow of the piece, giving us a sense of how the boy who's 'narrating' the poem feels.   It's the same with the length of the lines, which sometimes are quite short, and sometimes seem to run out of breath.  You can read the whole poem here, and see what you think.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Riding boots and Haiku

I used to use Google Desktop on my computer at work, where it was great for finding the countless files that my boss and his offsider produced.  There were often several copies all exactly the same filed in different folders.  When I got this Dell computer, however, it didn't seem to like Google Desktop, and my geek son told me that there was an in-built search engine anyway, kindly provided by Microsoft.

Well, there was.

Microsoft promises much - 
Much disappointment
for the person word-searching.

I've just been reading a few of the haiku in the sample version on Amazon Kindle of Bicycle Haiku - hence the sudden bursting into miniature poetry (haiku are a bit like miniature horses, aren't they?)  This book is a series of sketches and haiku done while the author was riding from San Francisco to New York in 1979.  The author, Kevin Kelly, self-deprecatingly writes in the blurb: This book will not be a best-seller. It's a book of poetry, and you know what that means. It might appeal to anyone intrigued by pedaling across a continent, or loners fascinated by blue highways and other little-travelled roads, or sensitive souls really into haiku, or sketches. I can imagine a few odd ducks who collect self-published books that will be thrilled by this book. Personal friends of mine may be interested in this vanity publishing. For the rest -- that is for most normal people -- there is nothing of fashionable interest here.

However, Microsoft's in-built searcher now searches only when it feels like it, which, increasingly of late, has become less and less of the time.  Microsoft Word promises to identify all my spelling mistakes, too, but this resource has also become very spasmodic: on some Word files it works, on others it refuses to do so.

Microsoft promises much. 
But unconfident 
spellers daily left at sea.

And the only reason I was trying to use my in-built search engine was to see if I had anything on riding - I'd already found the Bicycle Haiku reference on Evernote, but it didn't seem to go with English riding boots which is what I was more particular about finding.   The riding boots in the picture, which are an example of the English variety, seem a little lost in the midst of their field.  One is looking off to its right, trying to find its owner; the other is snuggled close to its twin, just in case it gets left behind.  At least that's how it seems to me.

One boot surveys the landscape; 
searching.  The other
leans, hides inside itself.

2020: It's a while since I wrote this post, and my experience of Word's on computer search system is that it's much improved.

HitTail catch-up II

Last week HitTail's new email system announced that the following three items would be top of the pops if mentioned in my blog:

the mousetrap study guide 
sequoia cunningham dunedin
people wear ties

This week the list is a little different, with ties dropping out and three other items coming in.  

chrissy popadics
ralph davis musician
salesman in beijing
the mousetrap study guide

sequoia cunningham dunedin

Chrissy Popadics made a comeback on this blog just a month ago, when I mentioned she was now known by her married name of Johnson.   Nevertheless, people still keep looking for her under her maiden name.

I've never written about Ralph Davis the musician, as far as I'm aware, but I've certainly written about Ralph Davis the pastor and commentary writer.   He's one of my favourite commentary writers, and I have (or have lent out) all his books.  Maybe I should have a lapel pin produced saying something like: I'm a fan of Ralph Davis.  That would cover all bases, including any that related to Ralph Davis the musician, who may or may not be this guy.

 The third of the new items on the list today is Salesman in Beijing, which I wrote about at the end of 2009.  The book is by Arthur Miller, and details his trip to Beijing to produce a version of his play, Death of a Salesman.   I suspect people looking for a combination of the words salesman and Beijing are looking for something more in the retail line, however. 

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Poems on the Net

I've been collecting poems for some time, initially writing them out by hand in the old days before computers, then typing them up and printing them out and putting them in a folder, and, most recently, copying them holus-bolus off the Net into a file on Evernote.  

There are two issues I haven't entirely sorted out in my head with regard to copying poems. If it's for your own personal use, then you're not affecting the poet's livelihood anymore than you would if you read the poem on the Net, or in a library book. At least as far as I can see (with a poem it's difficult to copy only the ten percent allowed from books, for instance). 

Gunter Eich
One of the issues is that if you copy a poem onto a blog like this one, there's officially a difficulty with copyright, because the poet doesn't gain anything financially from his or her work (though show me a poet who makes a living out of the craft and I'll be pleased to meet them). The other issue, however, is like the boot on the other foot. A huge number of poets barely have an audience of any sort, even in these days of the wide dissemination of all sorts of written material. To have your poem acknowledged by another writer (even if it is only a blog writer like me) is at least a way of getting a little more traction on your poem. There are so many billions of poems in the world (everyone in the world could have at least a dozen or more to call their own if we distributed them evenly), and for a poem to be seen beyond its tiny print run in a book, or its appearance on a poetry site such as The Writer's Almanac (which is a great place to come across interesting poems  - and some that seem to me to be barely poems...but that's another issue) is an advantage to the poet rather than a disadvantage.  

So with that second argument in mind, rather than the first, I'm including the following poem by Günter Eich in the blog. It was published this translation in Angina Days: Selected Poems (the translator was Michael Hofmann - you can find out more about his translating here). 

I originally picked up this poem because I was looking for something that had the word trophies in it.  This served the purpose admirably.   The poem is called First of January. 

Only a calendar would start the day by talking about a new year,
the walls know damn well this isn’t the start of anything new.
Outside, as ever, the clouds blow past, light as hair,
and the wind rattles the windows with the same hands.
March and April will come, and eventually
a day will fill you with its endless hours;
along with the sky and the blown clouds
it will fall into your hands and your house.
Sometimes you catch your face at night in a mirror
obscurely filled with aging—
a faded envelope with unbroken seal,
stuffed always with the same script.
Every day is new and a jubilee,
but pain is a long way off ,
and of the celestial
the only one in your possession is the evening star.

Off to Idaho

Calling wedding rings (as they're known in New Zealand) wedding bands is something my wife and I might have to bear in mind when we go to the States in January to attend my younger son's wedding. 

We'd resigned ourselves to not being able to go, since, when we looked at our finances, we could see that the trip would wipe us out completely, and we'd come back home (if we could afford to come back home) with no resources whatsoever.   Pensioners don't build up their resources quite as quickly (if at all) as people who are earning wages/salaries.

And then, some of the people from our church got together with a plan: instead of giving my son and his fiancee wedding presents (he lives here at present but will be residing in the States after his wedding), they would see if they could raise enough to send us to the wedding - as a kind of 'large' present.  And somehow they have.   (I'm not asking any questions about how it was all sorted; I'm just happy they've managed to do it!)

So we're off to Boise on the first of January, where apparently it's likely to be minus something degrees (!) outside.  I dare say it's warmer inside, but we're going to take plenty of warm clothes anyway.   Can't afford to wind up as a snowman and woman stuck somewhere in Idaho!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Web hosting

 I haven't checked out the world of web hosting much in recent months; for a while, when I was working in my last job, and had some measure of involvement in whether we should set up a website (as opposed to the one our head office maintained which was, to be it politely, boring, even after it had had a makeover).

So it's quite useful to come across a site that offers you the chance to compare web hosts and their pricing, their time on the Net and their star rating, and also takes you a step further back and gives you an extensive FAQ as to what web hosting is all about, and explains in reasonable detail what it is you should be looking for when you decide you're finally going to set up your business - or your personal history/joys/woes and such - on the Net. 

As always with these kinds of FAQs there is something that I've just never heard of before: a Cron job, for instance.  Being a collector of interesting words, this one has gone on my current list!

There's also a news page where you can catch up with info that you may have missed - most likely have missed, in fact.   I discovered here in an item dated the 1st December, that authorities have taken down 150 counterfeit sites.  Perhaps I don't come across counterfeit sites very often because of the kind of things I do on the Net - but it's good to know someone is looking out for us poor little consumers...

This isn't the only news page on this site - there are two or three others, including one that focuses on items relating to search engines.   It's good to find place like this, even if you come across them, as it were, by happenstance (another interesting word!)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Poetry competition I missed out on

 I noticed a competition in the North and South magazine I brought home from my old workplace yesterday.  It required you to write a poem in which every lined rhymed with all the others - the poem still had to make reasonable sense.  However, it was the June 2011 edition of the magazine, so I guess someone has already won this particular competition.   Not that it stopped me being 'inspired' by the idea.

I'm not a man who frequents bars;
Or thinks it cool to down large jars
Of beer; I've never ever tried cigars;
I don't get sweaty seeing big, fast cars,
And consequently have no scars
From crashing and then seeing stars. 
What, you ask, do I live on Mars?
Not at all, I've watched the movie, Lars
And the Real Girl, grammar I can parse,
I know the name of the Curé of Ars,
(John Vianney), know that Fars
Is a province in Iran, formerly called Pars,
Can differentiate Picassos and Renoirs,
However, I've never finger-picked guitars
In bazaars frequented by Russian Czars. 

Not knowing anything about thyroid imbalance

My old friend, HitTail, has been taken over by a new group, and they're now planning on sending out either a daily or weekly email giving the weekly keyword suggestions which I'll then use in my blog.   I'm not sure what these are based on, but this week's email has as its suggestions:

the mousetrap study guide
sequoia cunningham dunedin
people wear ties

These are a slightly curious bunch: out of the three only the first brings up this blog on the first page of Google's search results.  The other two don't show the Random Notes up at all.   If I put in skinny ties, however, I come up number three on the results (as does the image on the right).   If I put in Sequoia Cunningham (without Dunedin), however, the first result brings up a video called A Severely Exhausting eXercise which was co-directed by a young man I worked with in the play, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, back in 2008.  Sequoia is also featured in it.   Thus the coincidences of the Internet.

I have written about all three items, (the Mousetrap one got its own post, almost entirely), but not to the extent that they'd seem to be items that would necessarily attract readers to my blog.  It's almost as if I wrote about thyroid imbalance and suddenly people started flocking here.  Don't think it's going to happen, but you never know. 

Talking of which (thyroid imbalance, I mean) I've only ever come across one person who had some issue in this area, although I think it's not uncommon.   I worked with this lady in the three years before I retired, and she'd had issues with it (alleviated by medication) for many years.   But that's about the sum total of my knowledge of TI. 

Still, if thyroid imbalance shows up next week in the HitTail stats, I'll be pleased...and surprised!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Yet another report in the newspaper this morning about a missing military decoration.   It was on display for some time in a museum that no longer exists. 

We've had thefts from the National Museum, cunningly done over a period of time, and only coming to light in the last year or so.   That was theft on a grand scale.  This newest incident seems to be just carelessness on the part of those who should have been looking after the medal, a Victoria Cross which was awarded to Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown in World War I. 

The whereabouts of medals and other military paraphenalia, such as military rings, no doubt, is supposed to be recorded on the National Museum's Cenotaph data base.   But there's no record of it. 

Which means it could be anywhere: in private hands, accruing value as the years pass - recent auction sales of such medals have reached anything between $227,500 and $1.4 million.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stepping up

I popped into Scribes secondhand bookshop the other day since I happened to having lunch with someone at a cafe just down the road, and was looking at the poetry books, just out of curiosity.   I was tempted to get a Marge Piercy book of poems, but wasn't sure whether I'd be paying for lunch: it was a choice of one or the other.  (As it happened the other person paid for lunch, but I didn't get back to the shop.)

I don't know that I've come across much of Piercy's writing, but it looked fairly accessible while being definitely good solid poetry.   I'll have to track her down elsewhere sometime.   I can't even remember the name of the book to note here.  

What I do remember is that I was checking out some of the books on the upper shelves and in order to do so had to stand on one of those little metal stools that are somewhat akin to a Dalek.  And about as stable.  I didn't want to hang onto the shelves in case they collapsed on top of me, but I wasn't sure that the Dalek was going to give me much support either.  A set of library step stools would have given me a greater sense of security, but I don't think there were any nearby. 

This would have to be my only criticism of Scribes, which is otherwise one of my favourite shops.  However, it's out of the way of my usual routes, so I don't often get there - regrettably. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

There's enterprise for you!

Matilda Helm, a seven year old self-confessed chatterboxfrom Southbridge Primary School in Canterbury, saw World Vision's East Africa Appeal on television last month and decided to help.  In a delightfully down-to-earth comment she notes: "I saw kids just like me eating yuck food and dying and thought it was really unfair."

On the 2nd of November she undertook a rather unusual task: a sponsored vow of silence.  Her aim was to raise funds for the children suffering from the famine - the first famine of the 21st century, as it happens.

She was permitted to stay quiet in class by her school principal after explaining in a letter that she was "... sending money to World Vision for East Africa because people there are dying right now".

By taping her mouth shut and writing questions and answers on a piece of paper, Matilda managed to get through the school day without breaking her vow.  Some achievement for a seven-year-old!

She says it was hard to stay quiet. "I have lots of friends and they all tried to make me talk!" but she still managed to raise $400.   $400 will feed a family of six in the famine area for around about four months.

Source: World Vision NZ

Thursday, November 24, 2011


There's a great poem by Barbara Hamby called Ode to American English, in which she does a scatter-shot approach to the marvellous way in which English is expressed in the States.   It's very hard to quote from it because it has no stopping point, but here's a sample:

I miss the mongrel plentitude of American English, its fall-guy,
       rat-terrier, dog-pound neologisms, the bomb of it all,
the rushing River Jordan backwoods mutability of it, the low-rider,
       boom-box cruise of it, from New Joisey to Ha-wah-ya
with its sly dog, malasada-scarfing beach blanket lingo
       to the ubiquitous Valley Girl's like-like stuttering...

You can see the whole poem on Hamby's site.

This post is about blankets, specifically personalized baby blankets like those on the left, but let's also celebrate whatever we can find out of my digital cuttings that relates to the subject. One of the writers I catch up with occasionally is Kim Fabricius, a somewhat anarchistic Christian pastor with a wicked sense of humour (and I mean 'wicked' in its current sense of outstanding, but also in the sense of very cheeky). He wrote a Good Friday sermon in 2008 which was posted on the Faith and Theology site this year.   (Fabricius doesn't seem to have a site of his own; most of his material that I've come across has appeared on F&T)

Fabricius is as hard as Hamby to quote briefly, so here's a decent chunk near the beginning of the sermon (in which our theme 'blanket' briefly appears):

This sermon doesn’t have three points, it’s got three words: Lose your faith! (I warned you I would be sacrilegious.) Yes, lose your faith. Lose your faith in God. For as the French mystic Simone Weil insisted, there is a kind of atheism that is purifying, cleansing us of idols. Lose your faith in the god that the cross exposes as a no-god, a sham god. Lose your faith in the god who is but the product of your projections, fantasies, wishes, and needs, a security blanket or good-luck charm god. Lose your faith in the god who is there to hold your hand, solve your problems, rescue you from your trials and tribulations, the deus ex machina, literally the “machine god”, wheeled out onto the stage in ancient Greek drama, introduced to the plot artificially to resolve its complications and secure a happy ending. Lose your faith in the god who confers upon you a privileged status that is safe and secure. Lose your faith in the god who promises you health, wealth, fulfilment, and success, who pulls rabbits out of hats. Lose your faith in the god with whom your conscience can be at ease with itself. Lose your faith in the god who, in Dennis Potter’s words, is the bandage, not the wound. Lose your faith in the god who always answers when you pray and comes when you call. Lose your faith in the god who is never hidden, absent, dead, entombed. For the “Father who art in heaven” – this week he is to be found in hell – with his Son.

Phew!  Imagine hearing that piece of fire coming at you from a pulpit...!

Here's another radical person: Tamie Fields Harkin, an Episcopalian minister from Alaska.   She presented a list of things to do if your really wanted to attract young people to your church - and they don't include any of the usual bumpf that's regarded as youth ministry.   Her 19th point is:
19.  Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7.  Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.

Sounds like she was anticipating the Occupy movement, and the way in which some churches are suggesting they open their doors to those who'd be sleeping in tents on very cold nights.  

Okay, I know this post is very loose in terms of how it's using it thematic material, but just go with the flow and enjoy the contrasts.  

Here's an extract from an email one of the Presbyterian ministers wrote shortly after the devastating February earthquake in Christchurch, NZ: 

I walked home from what remained of Knox [his church] yesterday afternoon surrounded by scenes of devastation far worse than on 4 September.  Whilst visiting a parishioner I spoke with one of his neighbours, whose husband was at that time unaccounted for in the Pyne Gould Guinness building in town. I walked for a while with a barefoot young woman whose workplace in the city had collapsed, and who told me of seeing a woman giving birth on the footpath. Later I passed others heading on foot with blankets and little else for Hagley Park, and wondered how they fared when the rain began to fall a couple of hours after that. Dinner was sausages cooked on the outdoor barbeque;  I've drained the leaking hot water cylinder upstairs into several large water containers so can probably manage with that, whatever food there is in the fridge and a bucket toilet for several days. 

There's a sense of just getting on with things, of having to; but the quiet desperation is apparent.  How do you start to deal with the enormity of the problem.  Christchurch is still dealing with it, and has another major earthquake since this date.  

Finally, an example of those church bulletin bloopers that appear in emails every so often:

This evening at 7 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.