Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Printer to Script to Plays to Television

Following the example of my daughter, who has to print out pages and pages of University material this year, we bought a Brother printer which prints at speed - but only uses black ink, no colour.  (But there is a cash back promise comes with it.)

No problem, we thought: we hardly ever use colour.  Of course the first two things I print out both have colour in them...  We haven't got rid of the printer that does do colour; if really necessary we can just hook up that printer and go for it.

One of the items I was printing was the script for Grimhilda! - the prompt needs a copy.  It was printed in record time.  Stageworks, the company that's producing the musical, has a wonderful lady called Jan who'll be doing the prompting.  She prompted for The Mousetrap, and very occasionally got herself accidentally seen by some members of the audience (if they were paying attention to what went on backstage) when the downstage door was opened just a little too far by one of the cast.  Or when, as one night, it opened by itself...

Jan also prompted for The Christmas Carol, which we did a couple of years ago.  Prompting is not a job I'd like to do.  It seems simple reading along in the script as the play progresses and hoping nobody will dry.  That's the easy part; it's when an actor skips a section and another actor has to follow, and the poor prompt isn't sure whether they'll catch up with what they've missed, or forget about it entirely.  That's what happened to me once, in The Magician's Nephew.  The young fellow playing Digby skipped a page or so of dialogue, and, because I was in the wrong place for the line he spoke, I went completely blank in a way I've never done before.   The prompt was on the opposite side of the stage, and was prompting like billyo, but for some reason I couldn't pick up what he was saying - there was what seemed to me to be an eternal pause before we managed to find our own way back to native soil.

I always admire actors who do weekly television series, especially those who get long speeches that they've got to have memorised within a couple of days and be able to say with the utmost conviction.  I'm a slow learner, comparatively, and like to feel my way into lines so that by the time I'm on stage with them I feel utterly confident.

Which reminds me, for some reason, of last week's Doc Martin episode, and the uncongenial Doc's remarks to the funeral director's son who was taking supplements of various kinds in order to make himself stronger and bigger (and more attractive to the ladies).  He was also having cod liver oil (which made him unattractive to the ladies - one of them telling him to stay 'over there, your breath stinks.')   He was also tanning himself, and the cellar in which he was doing this was not only full of muscle-building supplements, but tanning supplies.  Doc Martin stormed in there, barely managing to avoid hitting his head on the very low beams, and verbally set the place alight, giving the funeral director himself an earful for letting his son go through all this nonsense - and bringing on him some obscure medical problem in the process.

People on these medical dramas/comedies never have plain ordinary illnesses.  You wonder where the writers dig up all the peculiar problems that beset the characters.   I understand that variety is the spice of life on television, but some of the illnesses are just plain ridiculous - though not to the characters, obviously!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Emergency and depression

I'd never heard of an Emergency Medical Technician until today, when I saw Emergency Medical Technician Jobs advertised.   One of the jobs is advertised this way: Responsible for the pre-hospital care of patients who are in need of this care as a result of accident or illness, which sounds to me pretty much like a person working an ED or ER situation.  Which is what my new daughter-in-law does, even though she's not called an Emergency Medical Technician, but a Physician's Assistant.  No doubt someone can inform me as to the difference between these two; I'm sure there's enough of a difference for them to be classed differently. 

Admittedly my daughter-in-law can work in non-ER situations too, so perhaps that's an element of what is different about the two roles.  

Skipping through my clippings (that bit of rhyme is kind of appropriate to what I'm about to say) I came across a description of Australian poet, Les Murray, and his fight with depression.    It comes from a review of Murray's book, Killing the Black Dog: a memoir of depression.  At the age of 50, Murray fell into a deep depression, "occasioned, he believes, by the chance comment of an old high school tormenter who came to a local reading given by Murray and who “cheerfully recalled to me one of the nicknames she had bestowed on me 30-odd years previously.” (Murray had experienced a less severe depressive episode at the end of the 1950s.) Within days, his fingers started tingling painfully, and he later developed a sudden aversion to nicotine. He landed in an emergency room with what turned out to be a panic attack. A doctor sent him to the psychiatric ward, where his depression was diagnosed."

Ah, the panic attack.  I know these horrors well.  Murray would have up to four or five a day, as well as suffering from the “the 4 a.m. Show” in which you find “your troubles and terrors ripping into you with a gusto allowed them by fatigue and the disappearance of proportion.  I wonder why 4 am is such a significant hour for depression sufferers?   I know 4 am well, but the same process can start earlier at 3 am too.  Though I haven't suffered depression for some time, ordinary anxiety can bring on these early morning calls, when you wake with a snap and suddenly your brain is in full locomotion mode.  It takes quite a bit to get it to settle down again, although I've found that reciting old Psalms and poems I've memorised helps to distract the brain that wants to go and do something now!  The brain likes you to get up rather than lie in bed, and sometimes that's the only solution: getting up and taking a pen and writing down what is bugging you.  Writing it out of your head certainly helps. 

Another poet, Billy Collins, has an apt line regarding this in his poem Journal, where he writes:

And when my heart is beating
too rapidly in the dark,
I will go downstairs in a robe,
open it [the journal] up to a blank page
and try to settle on the blue lines
whatever it is that seems to be the matter.

Making stuff

My wife is currently experimenting with making a tri-broomstick for Grimhilda!  You'll all know what a tri-broomstick is, of course.  If you don't, you'll have to come along and see the show.

She's also been working on a prototype for a cage large enough to hold a growing male teenager - this is also for Grimhilda! (I don't want to give the impression she gets on and makes these things just for the fun of it.)  The cage is being made out of heavy wire, with twine pulling together the wire in various places and as wire cover for certain joins.   At this point the thing is standing without someone holding it up, but we're waiting to hear whether it's quite what's going to be needed before we make further improvements.

In the meantime it's taking up half of the front hall and eliciting enquiries as to what it is from each and every visitor we have...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lent began over a week ago.  For those who don't know what Lent is, it's the period of 40 days before Easter which has long been used by the Christian church as a time to take stock of your life, especially the spiritual elements, and reflect on your future.  It's probably better known to most people as a time in which something is given up.  When I was a child Lent was quite a severe time in which you were expected to really do something effective in terms of giving up things.  Nowadays, many people take the giving up aspect fairly lightly, and give up things that really weren't greatly necessary in the first place.

Still that's better than taking no notice of the period at all.

There are a number of traditions associated with the Lent/Easter period.   On the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the church celebrated Shrove Tuesday (related to the word 'shriving' or ridding yourself of things).  Shrove Tuesday was also known as Pancake Tuesday because pancakes were a feature of the day.

The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is so named because on that day a cross-shaped daub of ash is put on your forehead with the words, remember that thou are dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.   (Although they probably use more modern language in most places now.)

The next really big occasion in Lent is Palm Sunday, which celebrates the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey, being given great acclamation by the crowd who broke palm branches off the trees and waved them - a sign that he was a king.   Palm Sunday comes a week before Easter Sunday.

And the Friday before Easter Sunday is known as Good Friday, in spite of the fact that the day commemorates the day Jesus was crucified.   Now the tradition related to Good Friday is that it's the day on which we have hot cross buns - the cross being of considerable significance.   So it was something of an irritation to me to see hot cross buns in the supermarket yesterday - when Lent has barely started.

Which brings me to the point of all this discussion.  Retailers, it seems to me, are guilty in this current society of being great underminers, the diabolos of traditions.  The selling of hot cross buns on all sorts of days of the year is one example.  The determination of many retailers to push for being able to be open on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day is another example.   For some reason these business people think they're missing out if they're closed for three days of the year.  How do they think shops used to manage in the past when hardly anything was open all weekend, every weekend?  Yet plenty of businesses thrived in those times.

I don't hold much with Santa Claus as a tradition, but it really gets up my nose when the whole idea is used as a tool for retailers: there are Santa Clauses everywhere, which is not only confusing to children, but crazy in general.   Do we need a Santa in every shop?  Some bewildered children must wonder if he goes hopping from one shop to another as they hold their mother's hand and enter one store after another.

Okay, rant over - pretty much.  I don't think there's going to be a change to the way retailers behave until people stop thinking there's actually such a thing as retail therapy.  And that ain't going to be tomorrow.


I know 2012 is a major Dickens anniversary - the bicentenary of his birth - and I fully intend to read or re-read at least one or two of his books this year, but somehow I managed to get waylaid by another great 19th century author, Sir Walter Scott.   I picked up Ivanhoe late last year at the library.  It was an edition with a considerable introduction to it, and that encouraged me to get on and read it.  However, when I hadn't got very far through it (the first chapter) before I went to the US for my son's wedding I found I could get the book for free on Kindle, so I did.  Even then I didn't get round to starting the book (again)  until I went to Australia the weekend before last.

Though the writing style isn't on a par with Dickens', and is hampered in this particular novel by being full of words that were in current usage in days long before Scott was writing, words used to give colour to the period in which Ivanhoe is set (the 12th century), I found the book very readable.   However, it seemed to lose its grip about two-thirds of the way through, and I found myself skimming a good deal, mainly because Scott seemed to think some of his characters should speak at length just because they were important, or because they were expressing something of importance.   And at about the same point in the book, many of the characters seemed to start talking as though they were all cut from the same cloth.   It's as if Scott had lost the drive that got the book off the ground in the first place.

Furthermore, Ivanhoe, the supposed hero of the story, spends increasing times off the page after being wounded in the great tournament that occurs early in the piece.  This section is wonderfully done, incidentally, as is the great battle that takes place between the besieged Normans (the baddies) and the Saxons, who consist mostly of Robin Hood's men.  Yup, Robin Hood, or Robin of Locksley as he's more often known in this book.

Scott's novel is a major reason why we now think of Robin Hood (and Friar Tuck and Alan-a-Dale) the way we do.  Robin Hood had been the stuff of legend for around four centuries, but Scott managed to bring the various ideas about him into a cohesive form.   Robin and his band of 'merry' men rob the rich - who utterly deserve it in this novel - to give to the poor.  The act of robbery is barely seen as illegal; indeed Richard overlooks the criminality of it.  But what Scott does that really pulls together the idea of Robin as a worthwhile character is to align him to the Richard the Lion Heart story, making him another 'hero' (alongside Richard and Ivanhoe himself).  It's generally regarded that the legend that arose about of Robin Hood was related to a person who lived two centuries after Richard. Now anyone who thinks of Robin Hood thinks of a man who's Richard's contemporary.  This view of Robin Hood has been endorsed by subsequent movies and television series about him, turning someone who actually lived into a kind of legend.  The splitting of the arrow at the archery contest is Scott's invention; yet it too has now become thoroughly connected to the Robin Hood story.

Apart from Prince John (who disappears at a vital point in the book) I found the baddies all a bit too early-Hollywood to be convincing; Scott never seems to get into their psyches somehow.  And the heroine of the piece, Rowena, remains distant as well.  It's left to Rebecca, the 'other' heroine, to come alive, which she does for the most part, although even she gets some pretty long-winded speeches that are worth skimming through.  Regrettably there's no way she and Ivanhoe can get together: Rebecca is a Jew, and as we're informed on umpteen occasions through the book, the Jews are utterly despised and a blot on the face of the earth.  Whether it's Scott being a 19th century writer, or Scott detailing the way people thought in the 12th century, this has to be the most anti-Semitic book I've ever read.  It knocks Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice well and truly into the corner.   Not only is Rebecca's father a conniving, greedy usurer, he equivocates constantly: forever telling people who want money off him that he has none, that he's the poorest man on earth and that having to spend a cent will bankrupt him - and then being willing to lend the money he does have (and he has plenty) at great interest.  The anti-Semitism is alleviated by the character of Rebecca, who is aware of the hatred the Jews of her time experience, but behaves in a much more compassionate way than most of the Christians around her.

And then there are the clergy:  almost to a man they're unpleasant, greedy and unscrupulous.  The first one we meet is described as a man whose Order is supposed to be all about poverty, chastity, charity and so on.  He's the direct opposite in every respect.  The famous Friar Tuck makes an appearance about half way through the book, and seems at first a sympathetic character.  However, Scott seems unable to make his mind up about him, and by the end of the book, we dislike him greatly.   But the top of all these corrupt clerics is the Grand Master of the Knights Templar who comes into the story late in the proceedings; he's the world's most legalistic and uncompassionate creature who has no scruples about sending poor Rebecca off to execution as soon as possible.   If he didn't ramble on so much, he'd actually bring the book back to life at a time it badly needs it.

Ivanhoe struggles to be the 'hero' of his own story: he appears in disguise early in the piece, having been ousted from his family by his Saxon father before the story began, and then remains disguised at the tournament at which he beats everybody in sight - until he's wounded and has to be rescued by the Black Knight (Richard the Lionheart, also in disguise).   He spends a good deal of the rest of the book in the recovery room, being rescued from death by Rebecca, and then - again - by the Black Knight.  Rebecca falls in love with him, but can't do anything about it, because, of course, she's a Jew.  Not that Ivanhoe seems very aware of her love for him!  And then, at the end of the book, when Ivanhoe, in spite of his wounds, decides to go and fight on Rebecca's behalf at the tourney in which he must defeat the only remaining baddie of the original three, he's knocked off his horse by his opponent's lance, and, like everyone else, is surprised to see his opponent also drop off his horse - not because he's been damaged by Ivanhoe, but because he's been struck down by the hand of God, as one character decides must be the case.  This deus ex machina is perhaps the worst moment in the book.  There's been a terrific build-up to the rescue of Rebecca, and it all falls flat within a couple of pages.  Though, if God hadn't stepped in, the Black Knight was literally just around the corner ready to rescue Ivanhoe yet again!

There's one other awful moment, that even the footnote attached to it says everyone finds incredible.  Ivanhoe's rival for Rowena's hand, Athelstane, is a food-loving dolt, though he can fight decently in a battle.  He's been killed in the big siege, and taken off by the local priests to await burial.  We next hear about him at his family home where he's being mourned by everyone under the sun.  In the middle of it all, he turns up, not dead after all.   Please, Sir Walter!   I know you loved this character (he actually brings much of the real humour to the book, and Scott plainly enjoys writing about him) but this is just too fantastical for words, and his revival adds nothing to the book.   All he does is renounce Rowena as a possible bride, leaving the way open for Ivanhoe (yet again, the latter does nothing to deserve this success!)

This long criticism might indicate that I didn't enjoy the book.  I did, up until about three-quarters of the way through, when if seemed to run out of steam.  I finished it because there were still sections that were worth reading, and anyway, I wanted to see how it all panned out.

Ivanhoe's popularity over two centuries shows that it's got a good deal to offer (it's been filmed and televised a good number of times) and of course it's hard to gauge now just how popular Scott was as a writer in his day - for me, at least.  I obviously need to read some of his other novels to see how Ivanhoe compares, and there's no doubt that Scott is a great storyteller when he's on a roll.  Like other 19th century writers he was capable of stuff that was written for the sake of it.

PS. I've just been reading the review Bosley Crowther wrote of the MGM production of Ivanhoe back in 1952.  It's interesting to read that the main female role in the movie is that of Rebecca, not Rowena.    And the final battle between Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) and De Bois Guilbert (George Sanders) is played out in full, as "....a wild go with axes and maces that would put a couple of angry blacksmiths to shame," not dribbled away as Scott deals with it.   Note also that the Black Knight (Richard the Lion Heart) in the original, becomes here Ivanhoe himself, meaning that he does his own heroic work.  Hollywood knows a thing or two when it comes to telling a story.  You can see a trailer for the movie here. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012


One of the rooms in our house has the world's worst light bulb.   It's environmentally-friendly, lasts forever (unfortunately) and cost far more than it's worth.   It's also incapable of giving off much in the way of real light.  And it takes about five minutes to warm up to its full strength.

So much for being nice to Nature.  We've reverted to old style light bulbs in the rooms in our house where we actually live (the room mentioned above is a spare bedroom) because it's almost impossible to read by the ones that e-f (environmentally-friendly).   I like to use 150 or 200 watt bulbs in the main rooms, but do you think I can find them in the supermarkets, or lighting shops?   Occasionally they turn up, but for the most part the range of light bulbs of the e-f kind barely goes over 100 watts - or what it claims to be 100 watts.   And every so often they literally burn themselves out.  Creates a stink, and isn't particularly safe.

Which leads me to led light bulbs. (I mean LED light bulbs, but the link won't accept the capitalization, for some reason.) Supposedly, for various reasons these are a lot more efficient and cost-effective than incandescent lamps (the kind I still prefer).   On Wikipedia the comparison between an incandescent lamp and an LED is firstly cost ($2 versus $20); electricity usage (60 watt compared to 9 watt); lumens - ie the amount of light given out - is 660 compared to 900; which should make them a much better deal for our spare bedroom, you'd think: the spare-bedroom guest might even be able to read in bed.
Lumens per watt is 11 compared to 100.  Lifespan is 2,000 hours versus 25,000 hours.  I'm not sure that we ever get 2,000 hours out of our incandescent lamps, but let's assume we do.  Bulb cost over ten years - $22 compared to $20.  Energy cost over 10 years at 15c per kilowatt hour: US$197.10 vs $29.57.  Which means the total financial cost is US$219.10 compared to $49.57.

All sounds good.  The initial problem is that I have to believe, when I see a light bulb in the supermarket that costs $20 (nearly $24NZ) that it's going to be worth my while to buy.  These figures would seem to indicate that it is.  I'll let you know in ten years, when my LED one finally gives up the ghost....(the one in the spare bedroom will probably still be going as well, because we hardly ever use it!)


Is titanium more valuable than gold?  Seemingly not, but it's a lot tougher.   (If Aaron had made his golden calf of titanium he could have picked it up and run off with it - though probably God would have caught up with him just as quick, if Moses didn't get there first.)

I have a gold wedding ring that's 9-carats.  I hadn't ever thought much about what a carat was, but seemingly you can't have more than 24 of them in any piece of gold -24/24 means basically 100% in gold terms.  However, 24-carat gold is not much good for wedding rings: by the time your marriage was a few years old, a good deal of the gold would have rubbed off on your ring finger.  Gold might seem hard, but it ain't. So even though nine carat gold isn't as valuable as 24 carat, it's a bit more sturdy - not because the gold is better but because the other 15-carats are made up of some other metal.   A 9-carat gold ring is actually mostly something other than gold.

Of course you knew all this, even if I didn't until now.   So, if you want a wedding ring that's more durable than gold, you can do one of several things: wear a steel one.   Not so attractive maybe, and probably a good deal heavier.  (I'm guessing here based on some bits of info I skimmed.)   Or you can have a 24-carat gold wedding ring that's actually got a bit of titanium in it - 1% is enough to make the gold tougher, and that small percentage of titanium doesn't undermine the 24-carat value of the gold.

The other alternative is for people to wear titanium rings for their wedding bands (see the photo).  Titanium rings can be found in all manner of designs, and are non-allergenic.   They're durable, dent-resistant, non-corrosive and, most importantly, light weight.  My wedding ring, on the other hand, is not so resistant to wear and tear: for many years now it's had a crack around the inside.  I tried to see if this could be mended, but apparently it 'wasn't worth it.'  So much for my 9-carat feller.  However, our marriage has survived nearly 40 years, so I guess the value of the ring is mostly sentimental.   If those wearing titanium wedding bands can do as well, more power to them!

The fabric of...

It's intriguing how the word fabric is used so often to indicate something abstract as opposed to something material (as in upholstery fabric).  I've just been flicking through the various clippings I have on Evernote and again and again the usage relates to humans within a particular grouping.  I guess you could say that wasn't abstract, in the sense that humans are fairly material on the whole, but the usage is metaphorical rather than realistic, I'd think.

Here are some examples:

we see that the MET is a beautiful place and that the fabric comes from us all.   MET here is an abbreviation for Metropolis, and is used on the site, My Modern Met.

“The cost I feel is a deep unrest and a threat to the fabric of the church,” says one pastor. [Taking Your Church Missional].  Fabric in this instance is used in a quite common sense, but the next one takes the metaphor further: 

...mile upon mile of clogged collector roads [are] the only fabric tying our disassociated lives back together [The Missional Church in Suburbia, byTodd Hiestand]

...the power of a type of "curated membership community" that, while not new, has become an [sic] increasingly central to the fabric of modern professional life.  [Beyond Groups: why curated membership communities are today's most important networks, by Nathaniel Whittemore]  

Here's a slightly different usage: The Church is intrinsic to the vision of the purposes of God and the fabric of salvation.  [Jeremy Begbie on N T Wright and the Emerging Church.]   

And I like this one: Something of God must be woven into the literary fabric, not just embroidered on as decoration.  [Joseph Bottum writing about literary detectives in God and the Detectives.]

Or this line, from Kevin Ward, in a his Inaugural Lecture at Knox College in 2009Incarnation is a one-off, unique, unrepeatable break in the fabric of creation.

These are enough examples for one post, but I must just mention that when I did a search for fabric in my clippings, I brought up several posts by Kim Fabricius, a writer whose sharp, even mordant, wit is a delight, as is his wisdom.  A few examples of his 'doodlings' - plenty more can be found on the Faith and Theology site.

I reckon that adults should be admitted to the Bible only if they are accompanied by children.

I don’t have a PhD (for me the suggestion to do one was a temptation, not an opportunity), but tell me if I’m wrong in saying that unless it bears fruit in the virtues of gratitude, humility, and friendship, it does indeed amount to poo “piled higher and deeper”.

Enough is enough. Attacking the New Atheists is like shooting a man giving himself a lethal injection.

I like the idea of Liquid Church – as in liquid lunch.  And Messy Church has got to be better than the usual anal retentive one.  But the church patterned on saints I love and admire is Circus Church (William Stringfellow) – a travelling freak show. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Phrasal verbal diarrhoea

America's Got Talent isn't a show I watch a great deal, but on the few recent occasions that I've seen it I've nearly been driven mad by the presenter's insistent phrase, Give it up for... whoever is next in line.

According to give it up for is a phrasal verb (I did not know this - in fact I didn't know phrasal verbs existed - a day of revelations, this one!).   It's obviously a common enough expression, but its commonness is increased exponentially by the presenter because he says it at least forty times per episode.  Can't he think of anything else?  He begins to sound like an automaton who has only one expression up his sleeve.

And anyway what does give it up for actually mean (apart from applauding the artist in question)?   What are the audience giving up, exactly?  I know English is full of peculiar expressions, as are most languages, but had the audience snatched a large chunk of applause before the cameras rolled and were now having to dole it out to the presenter?  Give it up (or give it over) is a common enough expression meaning to stop rabbiting on about something and say something sensible.   That's exactly what I'd like to see this presenter doing.

Don't those who employ presenters on these shows use background check services to make sure that the aforesaid presenter isn't going to say the same thing over and over?  Has he been employed elsewhere and got stuck on some other phrase, such as the artiste in question, or, moving right along now...?  Wouldn't this give the employers a clue that he might be a bit limited in his use of phrasal verbs?  Though admittedly most phrasal verbs are pretty bland: add up to, break into, catch up with, do away with, and the like.

I think what this guy has to do is get a thesaurus out (or use an online one) and check out some other possibilities, so that he doesn't keep coming to that crunch point and find himself saying yet again...give it up for...

What about these possibilities: why don't you all throw your hands together for...?  Give a great big hand to....? how about you all stand to your feet and whistle and cheer and clap your hands?   I wanna see you all go wild now...!  A little bit of aggrandizement wouldn't go astray now for....

And so on.


A friend on Facebook has just alerted me to the following delightful quote, which comes from the preface of an academic book: ‎"The editors will be grateful to our readers if they would report to the editors any errors (typograhical or otherwise) they encounter in this or the other published fascicles."
Typograhical is a great word, the sort of word someone just about to sneeze might use.  However, I didn't notice typograhical at first because I assumed the error was a substitution of fascicles for facsimiles.  I thought fascicles wasn't even a word, but I'm completely wrong on that score.  It has a long established history, and is used (as mandrel was in my previous post) in a variety of circumstances.  

Basically it refers to a bundle or a cluster of somethings.   It's common in anatomy in regard to nerves and muscles, and even vascular tissue, and it turns up in botany as a cluster of flowers or leaves, such as the bundles of thin leaves (or needles) of pines.   It can also be a particular edition of a series of papers published one at a time, or even an extension of that, as this article on Emily Dickinson's poems indicates. (That piece probably gets the prize for using the word fascicles more times than any other in as short a space as possible.)

Now that we've discovered the word, it's probable you could use it in a variety of circumstances, and fool your less literary friends (which included me until a few minutes ago).  A fascicle of briefcases for men who are waiting on the railway platform for their train.   A large (very large) fascicle of teenagers attending a rock concert.  The fascicles of poo the dog leaves lying around outside in a variety of places over a period of days (that's a very serial approach).  A fascicle of odd papers scattered over the top of my printer which is where odd papers now reside since I lost the use of a more practical space a couple of years ago.

So, there you go: two new words in a single day.  I'll be catching up with two-year-olds soon!

Mandrels of all sorts

I'm always intrigued by words - have been for as long as I can remember - and the English language being what it is, there's always plenty of discoveries to be made.

For example, the word, Mandrel.  (Not to be confused with Mandrill - the primate, please note.  He's the colourful bloke in the picture.)

Wikipedia, our old friend, lists at least six types of mandrels:

The first of these was the one I came across initially.  It's used in beadwork, apparently, although my wife, when she did beadwork, never had one of them.  The second usage makes me feel a little queasy, since I had a good deal to do with catheters a couple of years ago and don't really like to think about them much.  However, Wikipedia notes that this device is more often called a mandrin (not to be confused with the 1962 movie of the same name - or even the 1924 film or the 1947 one, or the TV series - Mandrin is the name of the main character.)

Three of the other meanings have military connections; why would the military pick up on a word like this as a codename, you wonder?   What's the connection between a beadwork device and a jamming device?  

As for the sixth usage, mandrel wrapping, this is described in its introduction on Wikipedia in the following way: mandrel wrapping is a technique used to preferentially attenuate high-order mode power of a propagating optical signal. Consequently, if the fibre is propagating substantial energy in affected modes, the modal distribution will be changed.

I love words, as I said, but I love them to make sense.  I haven't any idea what 'preferentially attenuate high-order mode power of a propagating optical signal' means.   But then I guess the person who wrote that may not know what rallentando, lento, accidentals, naturals, arpeggios mean, though they're commonplace in my world!

Mics? Yikes!

Amongst many things the production crew for our musical Grimhilda! have been discussing are radio mics (but not USB mics) for the singers.

I find it quite difficult to remember to use this spelling; my tendency is to go for mikes, in line with the spelling of my own name.   But like it or not the normal spelling by the techie people is 'mics.'

It's an oddity in spelling terms: I can't think of another word that ends quite like that and still sounds like mikes.  When you look at it, especially the singular form, you tend to try and figure out how to enunciate the 'c'.  Standing alone like that, with no 'k' or 't' to follow, it seems isolated.  If there was another syllable or two before it, as in the word pandemic, we'd know that it was pronounced 'mick'.  In fact, even looking at it bare, without other syllables, there's a tendency to think of it as a mick word, like endemic, systemic, polemic, academic, polemic.

But mic (say mike).  Nah, it just don't ring true...

Name tags

Ouch!  Yesterday Eva Radich, on the midday programme, Upbeat, got told by the person she was interviewing that her interruption had made him 'lose his train of thought.'  Today she's actually arguing with the person she's interviewing: Avi Shoshani, the Israel Philharmonic Secretary General.  I find Eva tends to not let her interviewees just speak; she's always telling them what she already knows and what they should be saying to the listeners.  Which is a pity, because she has a great run of interviewees on this programme.

However, in regard to this programme one thing has improved, and that's that the Radio NZ website now lists the people Eva is talking to each day.  Often in the past if you missed the introduction you might have no idea who she was talking to.   In those days we could have done with audible name tags.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sydney, birds and loans

I've just been in Sydney, as I noted in my last post, and the area I was in - St Mary's - consisted of a shopping centre, some housing...and a lot of parkland.  The first thing that struck me was the amount of open space near where we were staying: wide streets and lots of parkland with hundreds of trees. And birds making a kind of Naaaah noise. It sounded at first like a baby crying, or a young child protesting.  But it was the distinctive sound of these birds. One morning, before I got up, a tribe of them got together and did a chorus: one would start - Naaaah - another couple would respond - Naaaah - and then gradually a bunch of them added their voices to the song (if that's what you'd call it), until all the Naaaahs - became one big protesting Naaaah.  

Anyway, on the Saturday morning I got up before the other two people I was staying with and went for a bit of a wander along the main street. Most things were closed at that hour, but I bought a Sydney Morning Herald weekend edition (which turned out to have a huge chunk of real estate stuff, and business advertising, and not a great deal else...including no crosswords!)  I was struck by one particular thing in the shopping area: the number of places that offered instant cash loans. I was just reminded about this through seeing Blue Global Media on the Net. They offer similar quick loans, especially those kinds of loans that you get to tide you over until your next payday: payday loan affiliate programs and the like. In fact, with BGM, as you might guess from the last link, you can become an affiliate to their programs, and make money yourself by becoming part of their payday affiliate network 

I'm sure BGM is a perfectly legitimate business, and offer very good deals. I just have some qualms about tiding myself over till the next payday by borrowing. It means that in effect your next pay is already being eaten into, which will mean more borrowing and so on. We already have some sense of this in terms of our pension income not being quite enough to come and go on some weeks - especially if big bills arrive - and so we in effect have to 'borrow' from ourselves to keep ourselves afloat (borrowing from our savings account, that is). This isn't ideal, but it's necessary. And there plenty of people who aren't as well off as us, even, who get into similar difficulties, and find that these sorts of loan places are necessary to their survival.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A win...and a loss

I've been in Sydney over the weekend, playing for a brass band soloist at a competition called the Ern Keller International Soloist of the Year - the details in the link relate to last year.  Obviously they'll be updated soon, and show that the person I played for (and who took me to Sydney specially to do so!) - John Lewis - won.  Great excitement.   John was the Champion of Champions in the brass competitions for 2011, a title which made him eligible for an invitation to the Ern Keller.

The competition was held in St Mary's suburb in Sydney, where the St Mary's Brass Band has a club that functions all the year round with concerts and a casino and pokies and restaurants and much more.  It's the sort of thing most brass bands probably dream of, because it brings in income that assists the band to function.  Our motel was just across the road - literally.

The weather was much hotter than I'm used to, so it was good that the competition was held indoors in an air conditioned hall, one that's obviously used for other functions where drinks and nibbles are readily available.  The piano was a bit of a disappointment: it seemed muted somehow.  I could only just get it to come to life and no more.  Never mind, in spite of that, the trip was most worthwhile.  And we managed to get away on the plane yesterday in spite of the fact that the terrific storm the night before (with lightning and thunder every few seconds) flooded parts of the Sydney airport, and a good deal of other places.

This is a photo taken around the time
I knew Elizabeth
That's the win.  While I was there, I heard about the loss.  I've mentioned before on this blog that back in the late sixties I was briefly engaged to the opera singer Elizabeth Connell, who was at that time studying at the London Opera Centre; I'd been studying there the year before on the repetiteur's course.  It would have been an interesting marriage, if it had gone ahead: after a difficult start in the operatic world, Elizabeth made a name for herself as singer of roles that required considerable stamina and vocal technique.  She excelled in some of the Wagnerian roles, for instance, and in Turandot, one of the most difficult soprano roles in the repertoire.   When I knew her she was a mezzo-soprano, but she later took time off to lift her voice into the soprano range.   She was briefly married to another singer, but this marriage was later dissolved.

I hadn't heard from her in years, until she wrote to me out of the blue in the early 2000s.  We corresponded a little and I tried to get her email address via her agent so that we could write more directly, but I never heard back from them.   She came out here to judge one of the Lexus aria contest, and we thought about going to the Dunedin concert that came after the event, and then decided against it at the last minute.  Which meant we missed catching up with Elizabeth.

When I was in Sydney this weekend, my wife phoned to say that Elizabeth had died; somewhat suddenly, although she'd been ill with cancer on and off for some time.  She would have been 66 this year.  Even though it's been a long time since we had any real contact, it's still a quite unsettling loss.  I guess people you didn't get married to linger on in the background of your life.  Certainly, on hearing of her death, Elizabeth proved that she had lingered more than a little...

PS: There's a news report about John's win in the Otago Daily Times.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Yesterday, a person I follow on Twitter drew my attention to an article by Paul Holmes that appeared in the NZ Herald on Saturday.   Holmes is ranting on about Waitangi Day and calling it repugnant and a waste of time - amongst other things.

The tweeter was appalled at Holmes' gall, and had to read the article 'three times' because he was so full of disbelief that anyone could write anything so 'racist.'    Certainly Holmes uses plenty of strong and emotive language, but I suspect he's saying what a lot of people actually think.   And are maybe too scared to say because of an invariable backlash.

I had a bit of a debate about the subject with this tweeter, and didn't really get anywhere - although at least, after an initial possibility that there might be angry words between us, we managed to maintain a reasonably respectful tone.  However, there wasn't going to be any change of mind.  What Holmes was saying was rubbish, according to this person, and basically the Maori are still being treated badly by Pakeha in New Zealand.

It seems to me we've progressed, in our history, from a state of Maori bad/Pakeha good, to Maori good/Pakeha bad.   The initial state wasn't right, but it came in a time of colonialism, and was by no means uncommon.  It took us some time to get past it.   Nevertheless, within that, there were many good things, not least the understanding by some Pakeha that the Maori people had a great deal to offer, and the understanding by some Maori that the Pakeha also had a great deal to offer.

In our present state, the Maori have turned themselves into 'victims.'   Everything that's wrong is the fault of someone else.  (When I say 'the Maori' of course I'm talking about those who want to think this way; there are plenty who don't, many of them now living in Australia!)  The problem is, when you make yourself a victim, or behave as if you are one, someone else has to become the 'oppressor', whether they like it or not.  The victim approach automatically turns the other into the person to blame for all that's wrong in their world.

I'm not saying that everything that Pakeha do is right; by no means.  Much of what those in leadership do affects everybody in the country, not just the Maori.  Much of what leadership do or has done has been opposed by the whole population, to no avail.

But continuing down our present path will not aid the country as a whole.  Somehow we've got to get to a point where we think: Maori good/Pakeha good.  Any other variation on this will just keep on leading us into a blind alley.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Very sweet peas

This year we planted a large number of sweet peas along the fence surrounding our potato patch, and over by the fence between us and the neighbour.   Sweet peas should produce multi-coloured flowers, and certainly the picture on the packet informed us this was so.  One of my earliest memories of flowers is that of the colourful sweet peas growing in the garden beside the old shed at my grandparents' house.

Anyway, out of the sweet peas that came up, only one has coloured flowers: the remainder are all white, which makes me think they're actually ordinary peas.  Besides that we've had a lot of ordinary peas growing of their own accord because we used pea straw on the garden in different places.

The other day we cooked up a pot of the peas from the supposed 'sweet peas.'   They were delicious: in fact we were eating some of them raw as we shelled them.   According to various online sources, the peas from the sweet pea plant are poisonous.   Hmm.  We're still alive.

So plainly we planted a lot of ordinary peas that had been mislabbeled.  I think we'd have noticed if the peas we were eating were poisonous; I'm sure they would have had a different texture and taste, one that would have put us off eating them.

Listening and hearing

A friend lent me a copy of Brian Hardin's book, Passages: how reading the Bible in a year will change everything for you.  She wanted 'my opinion' on it.

Hardin began a daily podcast reading through the Bible several years ago - there's a passage from the Old Testament, one from the New, a Psalm (or portion of one of the larger ones) and a verse or two of Proverbs, presented each day.  This is a fairly common approach to getting through the Bible in a year.

I had a listen to one of these this morning, and I like the way he reads the words: calm, measured, a little drama where needed; it's all done at a speed that allows the mind to listen as well as the ear.   We have some sections of The Message paraphrase of the Bible on audio.  I love it, because I enjoy the way Eugene Peterson puts familiar words into new phraseology, but the reader on this audio reads at a breathless pace, presumably because he's got a lot of material to get through on each CD.

Not long ago I was reading in another book - in fact it was Peterson's Working the Angles - that when we read the Bible with the eye, we skim a great deal; we don't dwell on words and 'hear' them.  He recommended reading the Bible out loud, even if it's only to ourselves, because then the eye and the ear get engaged, and when both are engaged, the mind pays more attention.   I've noticed with reading books on Kindle that one of the disadvantages is that I skim lines even more than usual; it's a habit of mine, anyway, but something about the text in this format leads me to 'read' faster.  I'm forever having to click back to the previous page to check something that I've obviously missed.

Hardin's slower-paced reading of the words gets you to listen - although even while listening I tended to be picking up something and checking whether we needed to keep it, or making a cup of tea, or running the bath.  Settling down to listen is difficult for us moderns, and this is part of what Hardin has to say in the book.  It's also why an audio version of the Bible gets us to stop and take in the words in a way that we don't when we're just sitting reading.  It takes 'effort', one might say, to read and actually listen to what we're reading.  The audio approach is valuable.

Just for the record this morning's readings consisted of the section of the Old Testament in which God gives Moses detailed instructions about how to dress the priests - it's both down to earth and full of beauty.   The New Testament section was the one in which Jesus talks to those who've never given other people the time of day: haven't clothed those who were naked, or given water to those who were thirsty, or visited people in prison.  It's one of those sections of the Gospels that are just a little bit scary!

The Psalm was an old favourite of mine (although Hardin only read the middle section of it) - Psalm 31.  It's one I memorised years ago and have recited to myself umpteen times, especially in those days when the black clouds were hovering or I felt bereft for some reason.   I'm not sure what the Proverbs bit was, as, modern that I am, I'd switched my brain off at that point.  Maybe I need to check through the audio again!

The length of today's audio shows up as 48 minutes.  In fact the Bible readings take a good deal less than that - I assume Hardin gives a kind of homily at the end of some sort.  For me the readings on their own are enough to think about.  Incidentally, the dates on the audios are a day behind for us New Zealanders; not that that matters in the least - I just thought I'd mention it!   And incidentally again, you can get the readings on an app - of course.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Happy Birthday, George!

There's a delightful tribute to and interview with the singer George Beverley Shea on a website called Charisma News. I only discovered this because someone mentioned in a tweet that George was turning 103 on Wednesday (US time).

The piece doesn't give a great deal of information about George, but it does focus on his Christian upbringing, the way in which he wrote I'd rather have Jesus when he was only 23, and his time with Billy Graham.   What's delightful about the interview is George's sense of grace and his humility.   And his joy in life.

I used to hear his recordings when I was a child, on the request session on 4ZB, on a Sunday.  He would have been one of the most popular singers on the session, on which the same pieces often got played week after week.   The Robin's Return, and Remembrance, both played by Gil Dech, (who lived in my home town for a while) used to be immensely popular too, along with songs sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

George had a long association with Billy Graham; the two names were almost inseparable at one time, and apparently they live in the same street in Montreat, North Carolina.