Friday, March 30, 2012

Tempest in a flat hat

It must be a year for the classics: I read Ivanhoe for the first time earlier this year, went onto Dickens' Barnaby Rudge, and am now reading Moby Dick.  I'd begun this years ago, and got about half way through it, I think, before I either abandoned it or got sidetracked by something else.  I vividly remembered the scene in which Ishmael goes overboard and seems to be abandoned in the unending sea.  Apart from that little else remained with me.   But someone on Twitter the other day (who says Twitter can't be intellectual?) said they'd thoroughly enjoyed it, and so I thought I'd give it another go.  I've got a copy somewhere, but I'm actually reading it on Kindle, as I have done with about half the books I've read this year.

However, between all the classics I've also managed to fit in some lighter reading, including Buster Keaton: tempest in a flat hat, by Edward mcPherson.  I came across a copy of this at the University Bookshop in their sale department.  Buster Keaton being an actor/director I admire hugely I couldn't resist getting the book.

It's both a biography and a synopsis of each of his movies.   Well, all the silent ones at least, and the early talkies.   I've only ever seen a few of Keaton's movies - I have The General and Steamboat Bill on DVD.  And I think I've seen The Navigator at some point, along with maybe one or two of the two-reelers he produced.  So my rating of his movies relies a great deal of what I've read about Keaton over the years.   McPherson has seen all the movies - crikey! - and is able not only to give the 'plots' (such as they are) but delineate some of the more amazing sequences, and show how these fitted into Keaton's approach to filmmaking overall.

I'd love to be in the position to see some of these old works; McPherson's enthusiasm rubs off all the time.   But beyond that his biographical information about Keaton is fascinating, from his growing-up with his family in vaudeville (he barely went to school at any point, which speaks volumes for learning in a different way), to his gradual slide into films along with his friend, Roscoe ('Fatty') Arbuckle, through the years in which he and his friends made movies at the drop of a hat, to the years when he was cast aside by the big studios, to his eventual comeback via repeat showings of his old films and his appearances on television, where he profitably spent his later years. (Chaplin and the like felt television was beneath them; Keaton just treated it as a kind of return to the old days of vaudeville.)

A tough little man (both physically and emotionally), he had the misfortune to marry the wrong woman - she treated him like dirt within a couple of years of marriage, though was never averse to his money.  He also made the mistake of believing that the big studios were where he should go to further his career.   The studios thought that movies should be churned out at the rate of one a week, and couldn't deal with his much more creative approach to filmmaking.  (When he and his team felt drained of new ideas, they'd go and play baseball for a couple of days, and come back refreshed and ready to move forward.)

Keaton had some tough times, but he was a survivor.   And I think his movies will survive as long, if not longer than Chaplin's.  The latter's sentimentality (which is almost Dickensian in tone) tends to reduce our sympathy towards them these days.  Keaton was never a sentimentalist; he might be chasing the girl but if he didn't get her it didn't always matter, and sometimes she turned out to be tougher than he was, and he no longer wanted her.  His films were about comedy, not romance.  Romance was merely a hook to hang the humour on.  And what humour: Keaton was a master of stunt  comedy, and was willing to risk his neck (and did, frequently) to get a joke on screen.  Chaplin, by contrast, worked on a much smaller scale.

Books from other places

The next topic on Aotearoa Affair’s April Blog Carnival  is books from other places.   For most of my  life, I've been reading books from other places as a matter of course.  It's difficult to do anything else when you live on an island at the bottom of the world which has a much smaller literature than the big guns overseas.

Admittedly many of the books I've read have been from England or America, and in some ways these places aren't that different, culturally, from the world I know.   But the reality is that any book that's written outside your coastline is going to be give you a different perception of the world: the language used will be full of slang and expressions you have to learn in order to read the book; things will be talked about that are common to the writer but not to you.  Places are not your places, and have a different feel about them.

In these days of widespread television and movies, it's easier to have an appreciation of what British and American places look like (and I've actually travelled to the British Isles more than once, and once to a small part of the States).  But all this is still within my cultural (Anglo-European) reach - it doesn't step outside it and give me any huge cultural shock.

So what books from other places have really changed my perceptions?   I think one of the strongest was Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.  I'd come across a list of books* that someone wrote about in a magazine; they were books that had influenced him greatly.  Things Fall Apart was one of the two from the list that I actually got on and read.  Set in Nigeria, here was a world in which humans appeared, and behaved like humans, but everything beyond that was alien.  Furthermore, the story of the father and his three wives and the way they interacted was like something out of the Old Testament.  I kept thinking: this must be how Jacob had to deal with his two wives - and two concubines.  It's all very well to say that the Old Testament is patriarchal, but in fact the women in Jacob's family would have had similar concerns and feelings and hurts and pains to the three wives in Things Fall Apart, and patriarchal society or not, they were as vividly human as the rest of us, and just as strong-natured as the women in this story are.

The other book from the list was V S Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas.  This brought me into a strange world (a world that no longer exists, I think) in Trinidad, in which large families of husbands, wives, innumerable children and grandparents all lived together.  The ongoing consequences of being the one person - Mr Biswas - who rebelled against the enclosing and oppressed feeling was the subject of the book.  When I first read this book, I found it a delight.  I read it again recently, and what had delighted me the first time seemed sour and gloomy.  Mr Biswas, for all his ambition, never manages to get far up the ladder; something always knocks him down, and it's very unsettling.  It's the antipathy of those books that state we can achieve whatever we want to achieve, if we put our minds to it. (I read this quote by Emmanuel Katongole the other day: "The idea that we can be anything we wish to be is one of the most insidious lies we can ever entertain." Mr Biswas is hampered by his family, particularly his wife, and by his circumstances.  The second reading turned out to be quite depressing, in spite of the humour and wit that pervades the book.

I said above that New Zealand has a small literature.  That's true to a point: in the last few decades there have been hundreds of books published in New Zealand that show the culture from the eyes of those who live in it.  And we've been a publishing nation for quite some time; it's just that we didn't always mange to see ourselves as different.  In recent years the fiction that's been published that features New Zealand has tended to take a fairly gloomy tone - this is particularly true of those books that aim for the 'literary' market.   Sometimes this is satisfactory, but there are times when it's nothing but depressing.  (Stuart Hoar's The Hard Light is a prime example of this that comes to mind.)

However, thinking about books I've read from New Zealand that have changed my view, I guess one would be The Matriarch, by Witi Ihimaera.   I read it a number of years ago.  While the characters inhabited a landscape that was familiar, the characters themselves were not.  Partly this was because they were Maori, and because they were seen through Maori eyes.  It was also because in the part of the country where I live (the South Island) we see a relatively small number of Maori people; most of them live in the North Island.  Consequently we South Islanders have a different view of Maori people; we don't tend to be involved in things that are specifically Maori, down here, anywhere nearly as much as people up north.  The Matriarch opened my eyes to the difference culture that exists in my own country - a different culture, yet it's one that's well and truly mixed up with the culture that predominates, a culture that is Anglo-European in tone.

So books don't have to be from other places to give you a different perspective.  In fact, my feeling is that the closer a book is to home, in a country like ours where we still find it strange to read about street names that we actually know, the more strange it seems.  This is a process that takes place as a country grows to understand itself.  We're still in the middle of it.

*25.10.12 I've just found the original list. 

Variations on a Welsh Theme

Years ago, when I first began to accompany brass band soloists at their competitions, I was given a piece called Variations on a Welsh Theme to play.  The theme for the variations is the beautiful melody, Watching the Wheat.  The soloist at that time was a youngish Eb cornet player - this is the instrument with the highest range in the brass band - and the soloist was superb.  (Unfortunately, family and work commitments have gradually forced him to put aside his work with the band.)

I really loved playing this piece.  At the time, most of the band accompanying I was doing was with hackneyed pieces that everyone had heard for a hundred years, or old-style variations with accompaniments that were tedious to play, to say the least.

However, these Variations seem to have been written for a soloist and piano, rather than the latter being a transcription of the full brass band accompaniment.  Which meant it lay under the fingers well, and could be played to full effect.  Apparently the composer, Peter Kneale, was an accomplished pianist, as well as having been a brass band conductor for a number of years.  He developed tinnitus and gave up conducting but carried on as a teacher until his retirement.

He grew up in the banding world, coming from an Isle of Man family with a great enthusiasm for brass bands.  He also had an interest in jazz, and some of his compositions reflect this.   He has published songs, but seems to best known for his pieces for brass.  Jazzamatazz, which started out life with a different and less striking name, is one such, and Blue John is a piece for trombone.

Anyway, all this is an introduction to the fact that tomorrow I'm accompanying several soloists at the Otago Provincial Brass Band competitions, which are in Dunedin this year.  (They were in Roxburgh last year.)  One of the soloists was going to play the Variations, and we practised it, and then she texted me a few days later to say that it clashed with a test (presumably a University test) and she'd had to pull out.  Very disappointing.  There aren't many pieces in the competitions that are written with a piano in mind, though some of them are still quite satisfying to play.  The piece I played in Sydney last month, Rustiques, by Eugène Bozza (photo at left), was also written for a brass instrument and piano, which made a big difference to the level of skill I could bring to playing it.  When the accompaniment is a transcription, you're often forced to leave out various notes because the human hands just can't manage them all, and often the sound the piano produces isn't ideal for playing the particular piece.  

So sadly, I won't be getting another go at the Variations at the moment.  Pity, it would have made my day!  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Having a (newish) daughter-in-law who's in the medical line of business (she's a Physician's Assistant) I'm a little more aware of the wider world of medicine than I was when I was purely a patient.  Not that I've been a patient very often - at least as far as being in hospital is concerned.  I've only ever stayed in hospital twice in my life, once when I was 21 and once in 2009, by which time I was 64.  

And my daughter-in-law now has some very funny stories to tell about medical experiences - although when she tells them they seem much funnier than when I try to repeat them.  We were on Skype to her and my son yesterday (they're in the States) and she was telling us about how she was treating a Spanish patient in the ED where she works.  He spoke no English, so there was a translator involved as well.   My daughter-in-law had hiccups while she was examining and questioning the man, and suddenly he said something in Spanish and then went BOH! at her.   She was a little puzzled, especially when he did the same thing again.  Finally it was explained: he was doing to her what he would do to a child who had hiccups: giving her a fright.

This isn't the sort of thing you're likely to learn in medical school, and it's probably not something you'd use very often.   And I'm not sure if my daughter-in-law wants to go learning anything more at the moment: she's been studying for what seems like forever, and has some student debt to catch up on.  

However, for those who feel the need to catch up on some extra credits, or to upskill, there are a variety of courses available, courses that once upon a time wouldn't have been dreamed of: it was assumed that when a doctor was trained, that was it.  But these days there's a sense that a doctor's training needs to keep going, and not just in catching up with the latest developments in medicine.  Consequently there are all sorts of courses available, such as a medical teaching course or a medical management course.  These are especially useful for those who already do some training of other staff themselves, and who need to make sure they have the requisite skills.  It's a bit like the assessments students do of their lecturers; if the latter don't come up to scratch, then some updating of their teaching skills may be necessary.  Not every University- trained person automatically makes a good teacher.   In the medical field you can even attend a teach the teacher course (I sometimes think some school teachers and lecturers could do with something similar!)  And if you're in the administrative department of a hospital you might even attend a consultant interview course.

Of course, you might not want to keep attending courses!  Fitting these into an already busy medical life may be something you'd want to put off.  However, from my experience as a patient, I can assure you that the more informed the medical staff are the better.  For some doctors a 'treating the patient as a human being' course would be a good option.  I note that this kind of thing is now being included in the six-year course that doctors go through.  Thank goodness!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Nowhere near Finnished

The other day politician, Gerry Brownlee, spoke rather disparagingly about Finland, in Parliament.  The Finns, supposedly, have raised his comments to the state of being a national issue.   Or not.

However, today  is trending high on Twitter.  Here are some of the (better) entries:

In Finland, Angry Birds is considered a documentary @lyndonhood

In Finland, potato is considered a delicacy @DocRacoon

You think the marmite shortage is bad here? It's MUCH worse in Finland @karenhurley

Linus Torvalds is Finnish; Kim Dotcom is half-Finnish. Are you Finnish? I haven't even begun yet.  @dritchie

Gerrry Brownlee failed my toast rack in woodwork. He said no-one cares about the finnish. @DavidSlack

Maori have 200+ words for kumara, Finns have 200+ words for snow; but both have only 2 words to describe Gerry Brownlee...  @TUMEKE_blog

Gerry Brownlee is skilled in the art of    @toad001

They invented Lapp dancing.  @secondzeit

A traditional Finnish breakfast is a litre of warm vodka poured over half a dozen Weet-Bix.   @AndreAlessi

Coincidentally, just as NZ has musical siblings Tim & Neil Finn, Finland has famous musical brothers Tim & Neil Zealand  @OMGLOGWTF

Gerry Brownlee stabbed by patron in Helsinki restaurant. Not because he offensive bore, but because he Finnish buffet.  @globalparochial

And still they come.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stats of a different kind

In his book, New Ways to Kill Your MotherColm Tóibín has a chapter on the writer, James Baldwin. On page 314, in relation to Baldwin's concerns about the experiences of black people in America, and the ongoing racial blindness between white and black, he notes the following statistics (which are a little date, but have doubtless worsened rather than improved):

At the end of 2005, there were close 2.2 million prisoners in federal, state or local jails in the United States.  Three thousand one hundred and forty-five black men out of every 100,000 lived as sentenced prisoners, compared to 471 white male sentenced prisoners per 100,000 white males; this compares to an estimated 3,000 out of every 100,000 members of the population of Russia who were in jail during Stalin's reign. 

As of 2006, seven million people in the United States were behind bars, on probation or on parole.  The United States has 5 per cent of the world's population and 25 per cent of its prisoners.  737 per 100,000 compared to 100 n Australia and 50 in Norway and 37 in Japan and 29 in Iceland and India. England and Wales, with roughly the same crime rate as the United States, have 149 per 100,000 in prison.  

A report from the Justice Department estimated that 12 per cent of American black men in their twenties and early thirties are in jail now, compared to 1.6 per cent of white males of the same age group.  The general prison numbers in the United States have double since 1990. 

Incidentally, Tóibín's book is primarily about writers and their families, not about crime and black people.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Stats - so, only if you're interested in such things

For a long time now, I've been getting the stats from the two Orble blogs that I write on (less and less, as it happens, but then there's a lot going on that stops me from writing blog posts each and every day at the moment).

Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that I'm not writing very much on these posts, the two blogs still seem to be getting read regularly.  Not sure who's all catching up on them, but someone amongst the millions of blog readers in the world must be.

But the interesting thing is that it's almost always the same two or three blog posts that appear at the top of the lists.   On the blog called there are two posts that vie with each other to appear first time and again.   One of these is a piece I wrote when I was in the middle of my pre-prostate operation time, a time I don't look fondly back on except that it provided me with a good deal of material to write about.    The other is an oddball post that I only wrote because I was getting paid to include a link in it.  It relates to the Titanic Museum in Branson.  This has been one of the most popular posts I've ever written, which no doubt speaks of the ongoing enthusiasm people have for the Titanic disaster.   Curious.

On the other blog,, one particular post has been in the top spot a great deal since it was written.  This is one on what I called the 'Geocities revival.'

Geocities, for those who don't remember, was an enormous site that allowed people to create their own websites on the geocities portal, way back in the dark ages of the Internet.  The site I had was the first website I'd ever put together.  It wasn't exactly WYSIWYG but it was close enough.

At some point in the geocities history, Yahoo took over the whole caboodle, presumably thinking either they were going to make lots of money out of it, or that it was better to put your rival in a corner and beat him to a pulp in due course.  They put him in a corner all right, and then threw him out of the ring completely by closing down geocities, to the horror of thousands of people who'd put hundreds of hours of work into their particular space.   The problem was that if you didn't act quickly enough, all your work would be gone for good - according to Yahoo.  And of course, thousands of people (including myself) didn't act quickly enough - or didn't know what to do to save their material, especially if there was a lot of it.

The result was that suddenly thousands of virtual documents and photographs and so on vanished.  However, the amazing thing about the Internet is that it's not quite so easy to get rid of stuff as all that.   Various groups formed to collect all the data and put it back on line in a different format.

At the time I wrote the blog post, one of these was ASCII by Jason Scott.  This is still functioning, I think, though the most recent update seems to be 2010.  Jason has a lot of other things on his plate.   Another group, OOCities also worked on keeping the geocities material.  I mentioned them too, but like ASCII, they seemed to have moved onto other things, and their geocities material is only partial.

This wasn't good news for those of us who seemed to have missed out.  In particular I was very saddened because two or three short stories that had actually been published elsewhere had gone AWOL in the process.

And then along came reocities.  I explain about them here, in another post, called From geocities to reocities.   Reocities seems to have managed to rescue practically everything that was on geocities.  At least that's the impression I've got.  They certainly rescued my old site (which now looks very cluttery by comparison with more recent webpages), and these days, when you click on the link, it comes up very quickly, compared to the sluggish pace you endured when it was first revived.  

Thank goodness for their perseverance (it must have been an enormous task).

Friday, March 23, 2012

A few questions off the top of my head

Poor old Mr now gets just $60,000 a month to care for himself and his family.  Oh, dear.

Why do they actually need nannies?   Aren't they capable of looking after their own children, the way other people do?

Why do they need bodyguards?  Only people who have lots of enemies need bodyguards.  Does Mr D.C have enemies?  Or does he just think he does because he has/had so much money?   And why did he think it necessary to install a panic room?  What was he going to be panicking about?

Lots of questions, including why the FBI actually wants him.  He always sounds so....innocent...

I can understand why they might need someone to mow the lawns...although pushing a handmower around wouldn't do Mr D.C any harm, by the looks of him.  It's a good, physical occupation.

Apparently he had back-to-back meetings yesterday.  That sounds not only uncomfortable, but suspiciously like he actually runs a business.  Yet all we see him doing on the TV is looking rather out of place amongst skinny women and good-looking blokes on yachts and in fast cars and at badly-lit parties.

Maybe he should have called himself Mr Enigma.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Barnaby Rudge

I've now finished Barnaby Rudge, my first celebration of Charles Dickens' bicentenary year. I see that the paperback version runs to 730 pages - I was reading it on Kindle, and must admit there were times when it seemed just a little long.

I'd never read this particular Dickens title before, so I was pleasantly surprised, considering that somewhere along the line I'd gained the impression that it was one of his lesser books. The first half is lighter in tone, the second, which takes place five years later, is considerably darker. The book is well-known for being about the Gordon riots of 1780, but the riots don't come into it (and nor does Gordon) until the second half where they take up a great deal of the space, and involve most of the characters from the first half in some way or other. (And some other new characters, including Gordon himself.)

The first half of the book is a delight, inhabited by a world of typical Dickens characters, and full of his wonderful humour and insight into human beings. There's a reasonably substantial plot and mystery which connect most of the people in some way or other, and some of the aspects of these aren't resolved or clarified until late in the book. The Gordon riots aren't perhaps integral to the book as a whole, even though they form a substantial portion of it. Nevertheless Dickens writes with considerable knowledge of the events, and there a numerous anecdotes that date from the writings of the time that he includes in his story, and he manages to plunge his main characters into the events with a reasonable ease, though there are a substantial number of coincidental meetings in this half.

The story was originally named after Gabriel Varden, the locksmith (his daughter is Dolly Varden, after whom a place in Wellington used to be named; I think it now has had its original Maori name restored to it).  However, at some point the book was named after another character, Barnaby Rudge. Barnaby is one of Dickens' sentimental characters; he's regarded as an 'idiot', 'stupid', 'lacking in sense' by different characters, and is something of a free spirit, not bound by the norms of ordinary society. However, Dickens sometimes allows him to reflect on things in a way that isn't consistent with his behaviour or his dialogue in other places, and this makes him less than believable. Barnaby is an interesting creation, but the book could possibly have existed without him; he vanishes from the pages for a huge chunk of it, and though he's involved in the riots, it's as an disinterested party. And he's let off being hanged without any real explanation at all. He has a pet raven called Grip. Grip sometimes seems more interesting than Barnaby.

Dickens' sentimentality is evident in several other places, for instance in the later scenes between the young lovers, Joe and Dolly - the authorial interruptions in this section make the reader a little queasy. And he dwells on some characters at length when describing their inner feelings - particularly Barnaby's mother (a woman with a dark secret, the sort of dark secret that can never be revealed until the very end), and the murderer (who happens to be Barnaby's father, it turns out).  Dickens seems to have been reading Crime and Punishment when it comes to describing the murderer - he's one of those characters who dwells and dwells on his crime but can never bring himself to repentance, though there's no good reason given why he shouldn't. (In fact, Barnaby Rudge was written more than a decade before Dostoevesky's book.)

But these flaws aside, there are some wonderful things in this book, and it's certainly no lightweight in the Dickens canon.  The plot isn't up to much, but with Dickens, do we really care too much about the plot?  Apart from the wide range of characters, there are the superb descriptions of the riots themselves. These are described in considerable detail, and make for grim reading at times.  How much of it stems from Dickens himself and how much of it is material he culled together from other sources is hard to tell. Whatever the case, he writes with a journalistic verve in these sections.

However, any Dickens book ultimately stands or falls because of the characters (in fact, few of them actually fall at all), and Dickens provides us with plenty of wonderful characters here, even if they're not as well-known as characters from his other books. John Willet, the innkeeper at the Maypole, is an extraordinary creation: a man so full of his own wisdom that he can barely hear anyone else's, and a man who takes an inordinate amount of time to say or think anything.  His charming son, Joe, is one of Dickens' stock heroes, but actually makes a much more interesting son to his father than he does a hero. In fact he vanishes from a great chunk of the book, along with his counterpart hero, Edward Chester.

Gabriel Varden is a Dickens saint, and consequently never a terribly interesting character because he isn't true in the way the 'unsaintly' characters are. (Most authors have difficulty creating a saintly character).  However, he is more interesting in the first half of the book than the second, where the characters get rather swamped by the riots. His wife, on the other hand, and her appalling servant, Miggs, are two full-in-your-face characters. We never quite believe it when Mrs Varden becomes good after the riots and after Varden has proved a hero, but Dickens doesn't make the same mistake with Miggs. Miggs gets worse, if anything, and any possible sympathy we might ever have had with her is soundly trounced by the time the book ends.

The nastier characters are a mixed bunch: Hugh is the bastard son of Lord John Chester, we eventually discover. Hugh is a wild, violent gypsy of a man (he has gypsy blood) and he goes from being a shadowy, disturbing background character to being a man eminently suited for battle - except that he chooses the wrong side to fight for, and the wrong cause. His offsider in the second half of the book is Dennis (that's his surname), who's one of the London hangmen, and who delights in the idea of 'working off' people. He comes to meet the noose himself, and turns into the most frantic coward at the idea.  Since he's actually a character who contributes nothing to the structure of the book, but merely appears out of nowhere and takes up the room that 'belongs' to him somehow, he's quite some creation for all that.

Simon Tappertit, who begins as Gabriel Varden's apprentice and goes onto become the leader of an ill-fated gang of insurrectionist apprentices, is an odd creation. Full of his own self in the first half, and convinced he will marry his boss's daughter (while Miggs is convinced he's in love with her), he seems to be coming into his own in the second half, except that Dickens has decided that his villainy should be 'rewarded', and Simon meets a disastrous end, not dying, but losing the legs he so admires (his own legs, that is!)

Perhaps the most villainous character is John Chester. When we first meet him, he seems to be the good character to Geoffrey Haredale's 'bad' character. However, Dickens has crafted Chester in such away that we soon discover his true nature, and reverse our original opinions of him and Haredale. (Haredale is the brother of the man who was murdered years before the story begins.) Chester is self-admiring, and aims always to look his best, but far more than this is his way of twisting the minds of lesser men to his own ends, and doing it all with a smile on his face and fulsome words on his tongue.  He meets his end via Haredale's sword, but somehow this is an anticlimax: a much more remarkable end seems to be looming for him throughout the book.

Finally, there is Lord George Gordon. How much of the character here is Dickens' creation, and how much is true to history, is hard to tell. Dickens presents him as a man capable of rabble-rousing, but unwilling to lead the rabble once they're roused. He will hive off into a corner until the trouble is over. He appears as a weak man, boosted by the supposed admiration of yet another baddie, Gashford (a man connected in the book's history with both Haredale and Chester). He is shown to be someone who seems to believe in his cause, and yet isn't willing to be responsible for what his cause brings about. And in a couple of scenes he seems happy to set men at odds without any sense of the consequences for those concerned. He's a minor character in the book, but an influential one.

Well, that was an interesting onto something a little shorter!

Friday, March 16, 2012

In Which We Serve

In Which We Serve is one of those famous British movies with a reputation that transcends the actual movie.  It was made in the middle of the 2nd World War, and includes many of the top British actors of the day.  All the officers have posh accents; the lower classes talk in a variety of dialects.  Noel Coward did practically everything on the movie: wrote the script, produced it, co-directed it with David Lean, and wrote the music.  I've only just caught up with it for the first time.

Ronald Neame was the cinematographer, and the only shots that don't stand out are those drawn from stock footage of battles.  Otherwise, each shot is wonderfully clear and clean, beautifully lit and framed.  The opening, with its documentary style of the building of the ship that is the feature of the story, has taken lessons from Eisenstein, perhaps.

It's a little difficult now to feel so emotional about the ship, but the actors - in particular, Coward - give us every reason to do so.   Coward is a very upper middle-class Captain, humane and generous: the very model of a proper Naval Captain.  Celia Johnson plays his wife and they have some warm scenes together in the various flashbacks that fill up most of the film's centre (Daniel Massey, aged nine, appears as Coward's young son.  He would later play Coward himself in Star).  Bernard Miles is the Chief Petty Officer, and we get to see some of his home life too; Joyce Carey plays his wife and Kathleen Harrison his mother-in-law.

Production shot from the movie
Coward has given all his characters some decent scenes to play; some of the 'moments' might seem unoriginal to us now, but it's mostly because they've been copied over and again by later writers and directors.   A fairly young John Mills is the lowest ranking seaman; he falls in love quickly with a young girl on a train (Kay Walsh) and marries her (their baby is played by Mills' own daughter, Juliet).  Their brief time together is sharply drawn without excessive sentimentality.  Michael Wilding also gets a girl, but his scenes are very short and not built up in the same way as the other three.

There are many other familiar names: Richard Attenborough (as a young seaman who deserts his post), Derek Elphinstone, Philip Friend, Hubert Gregg, James Donald, Lionel Grose, Lesley Dwyer, to name just a few.

The film's shape is a little odd: it begins with a superb sea battle, moves to the loss of the ship that's so important to the film, and to the drifting of a dozen or so seamen on a raft.  From this point, we shift back and forth between the raft and the characters' back stories: these are developed to a degree, but they don't contribute to a unified whole.  Nor does the ship itself really make us feel it's the centre of the story, which means there's a kind of lack in the structure.  For all that, the film moves along at a good pace, and the direction and acting keep us from noticing too much about how it's all put together.

It's also perhaps difficult in hindsight to feel comfortable with Coward in such an authoritarian role, but when the film was first shown there would have been little difficultiy for the audiences in accepting him as shown.   We've long since moved past the point when Coward was such a star in both the theatre and the movies.

Grimhilda! gets a poster

Here's the poster for Grimhilda!  The overall design is what I had in mind, but of course the details are a little different.  Thanks to Andy Cook who did the artwork.  Those mountains of Grimhilderness look ominous and very difficult to get through.

We're moving forward on the advertising side of things, with the radio ads scripted and getting ready to go at the beginning of the new month.  We're also going to do a promo at the Dunedin Public Library on the 18th April, at 12.30.   Quite which bits of the show we'll present at that point is still up for grabs and depends on which members of the cast are available; we've already heard from some of them that they're keen to be there.

And tickets will go on sale next week, all things being equal.  The Regent Theatre website will soon have advertising on it for the show.  The Dunedin City Council "What's On" section already has the advertising up.

Lemon Soup

Just made Yucatan Lemon Soup - or at least a minor variation of it (we had no shrimps, and I don't much care for them anyway, so I used some leftover chicken).

Very lemony!  It uses both the zest of lemons (three in this case) and the juice (the same three).  That was the original reason for my making the soup: to use up some of the overload of lemons we had - some friends had brought them down from Christchurch and some of them (the lemons, not the friends) were starting to have seen better days.   But my wife said it might do her cold some good; she's had it for well over a week.

For once we had everything else in the pantry that we needed: cloves, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds, fresh coriander, onion and so on.   There wasn't a lot of soup at the end; just enough for the two of us, and it seems a bit of a pity that the recipe calls for all the solid stuff left after simmering for twenty minutes to be removed.  I looked at this pile of stuff left in the sieve and wondered if I could possibly do something else with it, but in the end decided to give it to the worms along with all the other composty stuff we accumulate.

Ah, the joys of having time in retirement to try some different foods...

Dog City

The little block of houses we live in has become Dog City.

There are only three houses in our block - until a couple of weeks ago, the only dogs were our Pomeranian cross and the old poodle in the house behind us, a dog that's not in the best of health and has problems with her eyesight as well.   Occasionally she'll have a bark at us through the fence, but it's mostly because she's not quite sure who's there, I think.  (Her only other quirk is to come out late at night, usually after we're in bed, and snort her way back and forth along the fence line, hunting for burglars, no doubt, or any other beings who have decided to encroach on her territory.)

Our dog, at a year old, doing
his somewhat bewildered look. 
The people on our right side used to have an elderly dog that never made a sound and wouldn't have said boo to a goose - if any such ever appeared around here.  It had to be put down quite some time ago.  This last week, the people there have got themselves two puppies, gorgeous ones (whose model I'm not sure of). One of them is pretty quiet, but the other feller likes to maintain that it's his territory and woe betide any dog who comes near - or even any neighbour who does.

Which will sometimes set our dog off.

On the other side of us we had had a woman living on her own for at least a decade.  She was dogless.  Recently, having retired, she sold the house and is currently spending some of her children's inheritance by going to exotic places like Russia.   The people who moved in, a lovely, friendly couple, have a dog.  A little dog, like ours, one, that like ours, thinks the entire block belongs to him, and no other dog should dare to sniff the wind (or do any other sort of sniffing) within cooee of him.  (It may be a her, I'm not sure.)

Suddenly it's:
dogs to the right of me,
a dog to the left of me,
one dog behind me,
volleying and thundering,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fair Trading?

If you're a Vodafone customer, and you've gone onto one of their broadband plans where you get 20 gbs for a month, and you manage to use slightly more than the 20 gbs (in the latest case because of iPhone upgrades) you are penalised by Vodafone if you want to keep on at broadband speed.  The alternative is dial-up speed, which these days is useless if you work on the Internet to any great degree, as I do.

In order to keep your broadband speed, you have to double your normal usage, and pay a premium for it.  We're on a plan that gives us 20 gbs a month, so that means we have to pay another $20 and get another 20 gbs.  The only problem is, our 'anniversary' date (the date the normal gbs run out each month) is only two days away.   Can we keep the extra gbs we've paid for?   Nope.  They all vanish and we start from scratch again, as though we hadn't paid for anything extra.  

Last time this happened, we had some blow-out because my son and his fiancée were staying with us, and used a lot of our broadband with uploading videos to the Net.   We bought the extra gbs and I watched some movies online.   However, while this was pleasurable, after a fashion, it was just an attempt to use up something I didn't really want in the first place.

This time, because we have only two days to go in our 'month', there's no way we'll use up the additional broadband.  So Vodafone gets $20 in its pocket and doesn't have to pay for much in the way of broadband to its supplier.   I talked to the customer service woman at Vodafone and she says they get complaints about this all the time, and they pass on the feedback about it all the time.  So far it hasn't made any difference.

I wouldn't object to paying for two or three gbs at a dollar a gb.   That would seem reasonable at this time of the month.  But no, Vodafone has decided that if you go over, you get penalised heavily, or go back to the dark ages of dial-up.   Here's the official line from Vodafone when you pay for this additional broadband:
  • You can only buy one double your data block a month.
  • Double your data blocks are charged on a full-month basis.
  • Double your data blocks expire on your data allowance anniversary date, so make sure you use up all of your data before your allowance gets reset.
  • If you change plans or close your account before you've used all of the extra data you'll still be charged.
 Make sure we use up our data allowance before the reset?   Yeah, right.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Strollers with additions

If you've ever struggled to get a baby buggy - or its current equivalent onto a bus - you'll know what I'm talking about here.

The original baby buggy we used to have folded up quite neatly and was a bit like a large umbrella that you'd could hang over your arm.   Apparently they turned out to also fold up over the child if you weren't careful and this could be a little hazardous.  And they did have a tendency to poke other passengers in various places while you were trying to keep your toddler from falling flat on his/her face as they raced down the bus aisle.

Modern models, by comparison, seem to be incredibly complex, and folding them up is not only an art, but unfolding them is as well.

Now along comes the city select stroller - and apparently with this item you start off with the basic unit then add bits on as your child grows (or you add another child to your family).   This is obviously not designed for use on the average bus; rather it's likely for those mums who drive the family SUV around town and have plenty of room to get the stroller in and out of the vehicle.

According to the manufacturers, the stroller fits through all doorways (always a plus - though getting at the door is sometimes an issue).  It's not as long as other tandem strollers and the second seat can be quickly removed.   (Always remember that manufacturers have a different meaning for the word 'quickly.') It's also 'easy fold'.  (I say nothing more about that.)  And it has a huge storage basket as well.

Let's not go into the fact that it probably requires the mother to work out at the gym every day of the week in order to haul both kids around in this stroller, let alone put all the bits together and take them apart.  

Take no notice of my cynicism: I detest prams, strollers, buggies and the like because my experience in recent years has not been pleasant (think prams whose four wheels all seem to go in different directions).  I was happy with the baby buggy when it came out, and amazed that it got into strife.   I'm sure these double-barrel strollers are just the cat's pyjamas, and I wish every mother who buys one (and all the additions) every success!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

What do you notice about the following extract?

What do you notice about the following extract?  ...except for some trimming here and there and the shifting of the gold deeds of the Black Knight to the shoulders of Ivanhoe.

It comes from a review of the movie, Ivanhoe, by Bosley Crowther, which I copied to Evernote recently after I'd read the book by Walter Scott.   It seems to me in this sentence from the review that Bosley has mixed up his good with his gold.  Perhaps it's because Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is also mentioned in the review a couple of times.   

It's interesting how often the word gold is used more as part of a metaphorical expression than in terms of itself as a precious metal.  Gold and gold bullion has been around so long in human history that we tend to equate it with its value rather than its actual physical self.  (If 'self' is the word I want.)

Looking through my famous clippings (again, on Evernote - not that I'm trying to promote Evernote today, particularly) it's intriguing how rarely the word turns up just as plain old ordinary gold.  Much more often it's within an expression: he turned his company to gold; such and such is the gold standard of the business, or the mission, or the something else.  

In our minds, gold is much more than itself.  I'm sure there are other words like this, though I'm not sure that silver has got quite the same clout, though diamonds comes close.   Although what do you make of this sentence?  We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.  (It comes from an article on Ronald Dworkin written in The Guardian.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Hobby Horse

In the thicket of bad poetry, we need a machete.  So writer Douglas Wilson heads up a very brief post which consists simply of the following: "We have to recover the older standards for writing poetry, and if we have the slightest inclination, we should encourage it as much as we can . . . The first stuff we write will probably not be very good, but we should laugh at it and keep going. We are labouring for the kingdom."   

This quote is taken from a book Wilson wrote called Beyond Stateliest Marble, which focuses on the poet, Anne Bradstreet, who lived in the 17th century, in Massachusetts.  Her first book of poetry was published (unbeknownst to her) by her brother-in-law - he gave it the rather embarrassing title of The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, by a Gentlewoman of those parts.  Ouch.  (You can see two lovely poems she wrote to her husband here.)

I assume she's the writer of the quote above, and lest you think what she's saying is rather out-of-date, check out my post on Nicholson Baker and his book, The Anthologist - and the poem I wrote attempting to rhyme, something that proved more difficult that you'd expect.  (Or at least it did on this particular occasion.)  Baker's book is all about a supposedly fictional character who thinks that rhyming in poetry (and therefore, form) is due for a revival.  He'd agree with the opening sentence of this particular post, in fact. 

Stephen Fry, whose book, The Ode Less Travelled, has been a favourite of mine in the last few months (and was back in 2007, it appears, according to some notes I've just found), is also an enthusiast for form in poetry - and rhyme.   Not for him the standard strollers of many poetry books these days, those writers who couldn't rhyme if they wanted to, and whose metre makes a man with a limp seem normal.  I don't have any problem with free verse, but I think that if it's so free it doesn't seem to be anything more than a paragraph cut up into lines, then it should just remain a paragraph.   Take, for example, Sun Gazers by Stephen Dobyns.  Dobyns can write poetry, there's no doubt, because there are several examples on the site this is part of, but this poem just rolls on without any sense of me.

Enough!  I'm back on my hobby horse again...(which may be appropriate given that last poet's name...)

Coupons here and there

When we were in the USA earlier in the year (for my son's wedding) we came across stores that we'd heard of but never had the chance to visit: Barnes and Noble, for instance.   Being a bookaholic, this was one place I wanted to at least step inside, even if I didn't buy anything.  (I didn't, but that wasn't B&N's fault.)   The shop had all those sorts of things that I used to dream about doing when I was running a bookshop - though my shop could have been squeezed in one of the smallest corners of the B&N - a place for people to stop and have coffee, an internet bar, trolleys for wheeling large boxes of books around, and staff who knew what they were doing!

That's the advantage of being part of a huge organisation (although some of the things I'm reading about B&N in the news don't make for good reading, in terms of its battles with Amazon and various publishers.  But that's a different story for another day.)

While I was visiting B&N my wife was off with my son's new mother-in-law visiting other well-known places, like Target.   We weren't in the States long enough to collect any coupons from Target but I'm sure if we'd stayed there a few weeks longer she would have managed to have picked some up...and use them!

Coupon collecting isn't so popular in New Zealand - perhaps it's because coupons aren't so readily available here, or because we just approach the whole idea from a different angle.  But it seems, from my understanding of it, that some people spend half their lifetimes collecting coupons and doing very well out  of it.

Of course we collect things like Fly Buys and Airpoints (on the rare occasions when we fly) and make use of the discounts that the New World or Pak N Save supermarkets give on petrol.   I guess these are similar to the coupon system, but are basically taking a slightly different approach.

Some internet sites in New Zealand have tried to get the coupon idea up and running more successfully - I'm not aware of them really taking off.  Perhaps you just have to be really keen to go to the effort of printing out coupons and cutting them out and so on.  And of course, the coupons have to be worth your while - if they're for stuff you'd never buy in a hundred years, they're just a waste of time, and will cause you not to visit the site.   It's rather like what's happened with the Automobile Association here: they're now offering discount on petrol if you buy stuff at various motor-related outlets - plus some other places.  The problem is that most of these places are ones I'd never visit; I'm just not that into automobile outlets.   My grandson might be able to name the model of any car that we see on the road (and he's only eight) but I can hardly tell one car model from another.  It's just not my interest.

For me then (and by the sound of it, a lot of other motorists) the new approach the Automobile Association has taken to discounts is a bit of a fizzer.  In the past, whenever you bought petrol you could have you AA card swiped and that would go towards a discount on your annual fees.   Now you're never sure whether swiping the card is going to be of any value: it's very much up to the AA's random system of discounting.  Some days you'll get something, other days you won't, and I think this is a huge marketing miscalculation.   The AA has lost a good deal of its kudos in the process.

So it looks as though our approach to coupons is pretty minimal compared to the US approach - it's like the size of my former bookstore compared with Barnes and Noble in total.  Minuscule!

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The rain it raineth...not quite every day.

Just as well we got to work in the garden this morning - in the glaring sun and intense heat (slight hyperbole there): here comes the rain.   It's been a lovely morning in Dunedin, so lovely in fact that the Otago Daily Times decided to print something funny!   When I say print, of course, I mean online.  

They headed up this piece, Strange excitement as sun appears above Dunedin.  It even quotes tweets that were tweeted less than a half an hour ago.  Careful, ODT, you'll be starting to get really up with the online play.  (Yes, we do remember the days when we couldn't read the ODT online unless we paid for it.)

Not my ski rack
Well, even if it rains, I don't think I'll have to put the skis in the Thule ski racks - it feels as though it's going to stay warm for some time yet. (Anyway, I don't actually have any skis.) And I'm still wearing a short-sleeved shirt, which I had to change into after I'd been out for a walk with the dog and nearly sweltered in my zip-up cardigan.   Even the dog slowed down considerably.

People who aren't Dunedin born and bred tend to get a bit sniffy about Dunedin weather, as though for some reason the weather here should behave like it does in other parts of the country.  But Dunedinites take the weather as it comes: if it rains, it rains; it the sun shines, it shines; if there's now, well, fair enough, there's snow.   No use complaining about the sun not shining when the weather has dictated that the rain will pour.  That's just a way to get yourself in a little knot.  Don't sweat the small stuff when it comes to the weather, I say.


One of the ways I get my brain up and running in the morning, now that I'm retired, is to do the Code-Cracker.   My mother, when she was alive, and was living upstairs in our house, used to have the Code-Cracker done before I got out of my heated blanket in the morning (and I've always been an early riser).   Suffice to say, her brain was pretty sharp too.

I got started on the Code-Cracker in my last job - one of the female staff always used to do it in the morning tea break, and so we'd make a copy of it and both of us would get on and do it.  I never managed to finish it before she did!  I doubt that I would have beaten my mother either, if she and I had had a race.  (She could do cryptic crosswords without having the puzzle in front of her, just by having someone tell her how many spaces there were and what ones were filled in.)

The Code-Cracker that appears in the Otago Daily Times is produced by Simon Shuker, who lives in Wellington, NZ.  It's reproduced throughout the country in various papers, and is one of the most popular daily puzzles available.   And it's popular not just in this country, but in a wide variety of places around the world - it appears under the name Codeword in the Daily Mail in London, for instance, where it's been appearing for two decades.

Unlike some versions of Code-Cracker, Shuker's one always uses all the letters of the alphabet.  Furthermore, it's laid out in such a way that you can quickly see whether you've already used a particular letter or not, and what number it relates to.  And the numbering starts from the first box on the page and works consistently through the puzzle: before number 26 appears all 25 other numbers will have turned up in sequence.

Some versions of the puzzle don't use all the letters of the alphabet, which is frustrating, and some of them jumble the numbers all over the place, so it's not easy to know where you're starting from.  Personally, I think Shuker's 'hand-crafted' puzzle is the best version available - and if doing one a day isn't enough for you, you can always buy a book of his pre-published puzzles and do them again...

You can find a couple of interactive samples on the Code-Cracker site.  However, I notice that if you click on one of the letters at the bottom all the places that letter appears will show up.  That reduces the puzzle element considerably.  Think I'll stick to the paper version!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Books, Bags and Barnaby Rudge

I was going past the Library yesterday, heading towards the Moray Place post office (crowded as usual, now that two post offices I used to use have been closed) when I found myself walking alongside the librarian who does the Interloans.   She commented that I hadn't used the Interloan service in a while, and I had to admit I hadn't.  (I used to be always ordering books through Interloan when I was in my last job.)  I said I was tending to read the Kindle mostly, at which she tutted a little (rightly so for one whose trade is in real live books), and that I was carrying my library of books in my pocket at the moment.

For many years I carried a backpack with me pretty much wherever I went, and there would always be at least one book inside, if not two.   I was reminded of this because the people who sell Jansport mesh backpacks have one style of backpack called the Book Pack.  I think basically it's just a backpack for school kids to carry their books and such in, but I've never owned a Book Pack, and am rather tickled by the idea of it.

When I went to Sydney a couple of weekends ago I didn't take a single book with me.  In the past I would always have had at least two or three - even for a weekend.  In fact, I don't know that I took any books to the States with me when we went over for my son's wedding - although I did bring one back.   Instead of paper books, I've been carrying the Kindle.  One of its many advantages is that if you find you're not enjoying one of the books you've got on it, you can easily switch to something else you haven't yet read that's sitting in your 'library' of books.  Or you can even dip again into something you've already read.

And another advantage I'm finding (and found on the dimly lit airplanes) is that you can crank up the font size until it's comfortable for your eyes.  At night I often read with a bigger font size than in the daytime - it overcomes the issue of older eyes struggling to focus on smaller print.

And a third advantage is that you don't have to hold a tightly bound book open against itself.   I'm slowly reading my way through one of Les Murray's poetry collections (The Vernacular Republic) at the moment, and apart from the print being too small (though not unreadable) the binding is very tight.  It can't be forced open too far otherwise it'll split - another disadvantage of tight binding.  However, the not inconsiderable advantage of real books is that you can take them in the bath without trepidation  -though I've never dropped a book in the bath yet.  I'm a lot more wary about taking the Kindle in the bath, though I have tried it.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I finished reading Ivanhoe recently.  It was the first Walter Scott book I'd read, and while some of it was quite gripping, some of it was rather turgid in style.   Since it's Dickens' bicentenary this year, I thought I should catch up on that writer again, and am now reading Barnaby Rudge, one of the few Dickens titles I've never read.   What a glorious difference!  Occasionally the more upper class characters ponce on a bit in their language, and Barnaby himself (a person with some intellectual disability, as we'd say now) has a tendency to the rhapsodic, but for the rest it's like a wholesome meal, or a dip in a cool stream on a hot day, or going to the circus after listening to a whole CD of serial music by Webern.  Dickens' prose is so alive, and his characters so delightfully drawn - and furthermore they speak in their own inimitable Dickensian way, a style that no other writer has ever quite achieved.  Many of them have that joyously bubbling humour in their speech even when they're at their most serious.  As you can see, I'm thoroughly enjoying this book.  (Sorry, Sir Walter!)

Who'd have thought barcodes were interesting?

Have you ever asked yourself when you're watching a retail person using their barcode scanner to put your purchases through where barcodes come from?   Nope, I haven't either, but when you stop to consider it, they have to come from somewhere, and some person somewhere has to make sure that the barcode just scanned will show up as a bag of frozen peas and not a copy of the Bible.

I've known for a long time that ISBNs were all unique, each to its own title - in fact they've proved even more valuable now that we have the internet, where they can be used as a search item.   But I hadn't really thought much about barcodes since the days some evangelicals were going around (either because of Hal Lindsay or his New Zealand counterpart Barry Smith) pronouncing the end of the world because everything was getting a number.

Anyway, while thinking about them just now, I discovered that there's a company in New Zealand that issues barcodes.  Of course there is: New Zealanders are incredibly entrepreneurial, especially when it comes to a niche market.  And believe it or not, there's an element of niche market to barcodes.   Some companies (the big overseas ones) will insist, apparently, that you have to buy dozens of barcodes at huge prices in order to get in on the barcode market.  But if you only want one or two barcodes, what do you do?

Well, you go to Barcodes Ltd, a company that's actually run by a charitable trust, enabling any profits to go to a charity within the country.   This company charges a reasonable figure for one barcode, and reduces the price if you buy ten.  The barcode becomes yours for life - you're not 'renting' it or leasing it in any way.   The barcodes are usable anywhere in the world, not just New Zealand, and this company can even supply you with image version of your barcodes - including adding in special pictorial features - see the picture.  They can even create special images from barcodes you've bought elsewhere.

When I worked in the bookshop, you go to learn the first half dozen numbers of publishers' barcodes, because you were typing them into the computer on a regular basis (lacking as scanner as we did!).  I guess there's some rhyme and reason to barcodes for other products as well.   Maybe I'll have to look into it and report back to you...

Friday, March 02, 2012

Musicians for Grimhilda!

Now that we've mostly got our cast together - we're just waiting for two Bears to arrive (one is in the pipeline, hopefully) - we're beginning the search for musicians for our pit orchestra.

Please note, this isn't a paid gig.  Sorry, but our budget doesn't stretch to paying's the way amateur theatre always used to be!   Performances dates: 27-29th April, and 3rd to 6th May.

We'll be looking for:

1 and 2 violins (minimum of two each)

cor anglais (we may have this role filled, but it's not definite yet)

bass trombone (again, this position should already be filled)

two percussion players

piano (playing on a digital piano, as getting a piano into the Mayfair pit is a bit of a nightmare)
celesta (played on a digital keyboard) this is quite an important part in the score, so the percussion players won't be able to include it in their roles.

If you can fill any of these roles, or know someone who can, let me know.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


The musical, Grimhilda!, has been a prime subject of this blog for some months now.   Here's a brief synopsis of the story.

The hero is a little boy called Toby, whose parents are always too busy to spend time with him, and leave him to be looked after by babysitters.  

A new babysitter arrives just as the story begins, and there seems to be something different about her.  Toby enjoyed his previous babysitters because they were prepared to do things like telling him stories before he went to sleep, but this newest babysitter makes him nervous.  As usual, his parents are too busy getting ready to go out to notice anything strange about her.

And Toby's qualms prove to be on the button: the babysitter rushes him off to bed, and even seems to have control over what she looks like.

Toby goes to sleep but is woken in the night by some of his toys who tell him the babysitter is far worse than he thought: a Grimhilda Red Alert has been posted. Because of her something nasty has happened to his parents.  Toby must get up in the night and go and rescue them, or else he'll never see them again.   With some reluctance he sets off to the Grimhilderness Mountains, with a rag doll for support, and a large, live Map to guide him.

After some serious setbacks he finds himself confronting not only Grimhilda, but a life and death situation affecting not only his parents but Toby himself.

Grimhilda! has a cast of over twenty singers and actors.  The script has been written by two Dunedinites, Mike Crowl and Cherianne Parks, with the music composed by Mike Crowl.   The production company is Stageworks, which presented a very successful season of The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie, last year.

The director is Bert Nisbet, and the musical director is Jonathan Drummond.

Helen Wilson will play Grimhilda.  The part of Toby is being shared on alternate nights by Max Beal and Kelland O'Neil.   Polly, the rag doll, will be shared by Emily Kerr-Bell and Emily Hill.

Toby's parents will be played by Kathryn Gardner and Tim McGuire.

The production opens on the 27th April at the Mayfair Theatre.  There will be three performances from the 27th -29th April, and then another four from the 3rd - 6th May.  All evening performances will start at 7 pm, and the two Sunday matinees will be at 2 pm.

Looking for ideas

Want a chance to win a couple of free seats to the musical, Grimhilda!

We're looking for ideas as to how to 'fly' two adults and two children off the stage into the wings without using wires or pulleys or other normal stage machinery - the Mayfair Theatre doesn't have this kind of equipment. 

The actors in question take off in a "wind' using a large map as a kind of sail.  It all happens fairly quickly so we're basically trying to give the illusion that they're lifting off from the stage.   And it's at nighttime, so there isn't full lighting.  

If your idea gets used in the production, we'll give you two free seats.