Friday, May 31, 2013

Missing Simon

I like this anecdote I came across somewhere on the Web: Simon and Garfunkel recorded their first folk album, Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, in 1964, but it only sold a few thousand copies. They figured their career was probably over, but, unbeknownst to Simon and Garfunkel, their record label had added electric guitars to the song "The Sounds of Silence" and released it as a single. They had just moved back in with their parents and were sitting in Simon's car, wondering what to do next, when they heard the song come on the radio, and the DJ said it had gone to No. 1. Simon turned to Garfunkel and said, "That Simon and Garfunkel, they must be having a great time."

How exciting, as exciting as exciting discount guitars would be to someone who's been saving up their pennies to buy a top quality guitar and then finds that it's been reduced in he can afford to buy some music as well!

Paul Simon visited Dunedin recently, and performed at the new (nearly new) Stadium, which is the pride and joy of some of the citizenry.  I didn't go. Couldn't afford to go.  Haven't been able to afford to go to any of the concerts the Stadium has hosted, except the free one which the Otago Daily Times put on to celebrate it's 150th Anniversary.  Ah well.  At least Paul Simon and I were in the same town briefly.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Move along to the next blog, please

At the top of most Blogger blog pages you'll find a line where you can search your own blog, share you blog post with Google + or other social media sites, and then the curious box which says, Next Blog.  Click on this and your into a magic world of discovery.  It's a bit like Google's 'I'm feeling lucky' link - you never know where it will take you.  And it never goes to the same place twice.  Before I started writing this I picked up two Library sites, but they're now gone, and the first up is Alchemizade (take that, spellchecker!).  Alchemizade focuses on poetry by Rumi.  It makes intriguing reading.

Next in line,appropriately, is Line Art: Poetry in Review; this is run by someone called Jason Gray.  It seems to skip between quick posts about poetry readings in different places, to links to other poetry sites, to comments about particular poems.  I think poetry has finally found its true home online.  I have quite a reasonable number of poetry books - they take up about three shelves in one of my bookcases (and remember that many poetry books are very skinny).  I've had more, but cleaned a few of them out recently.  But I probably read more poetry online than I do in books these days....and I discover more poets that way.  The world is full of poets, even though it's not a subject taught in schools, or encouraged by parents, or funded by great aunts, or...

The next site up is Words in Place.  This one focuses on short story writing, and it's interesting to note their mention of flash fiction, something I've been doing quite of lately.   The next one is an art-focused blog, with the curious name of Post-NeoAbsurdist Anti-Collective.  It seems to take a similar approach to Line Art in its use of a blog.

A slight change of pace with the arrival of a blog called 'What? - music, movies, mayhem and more.'  The most recent post here apologises for not having put anything on the blog since 2010.  I'm going to quote most of the short post - it'll give you an idea of the writing style: I'm a couple years older. Couple years wiser. Quit my day job. Not because I hated it. But because I wanted to pursue my graduate degree full time. Moved away from my hometown. Went back to college (for grad school). Work two jobs. Volunteer when I can. Trying to get involved in my church. Meeting some of the most WONDERFUL people. Figuring out some of my life. Some of my career. Some things about men. Some things about God. Learning. (Trying to be) Caring. (Attempting towards) Sharing. (All the time) Growing.

Learning things about men and God.  Yup, two pretty difficult subjects!  LOL

And now it's nearly time for the evening meal, so cheerio from this little round-up.

Capo and pronunciation

The word, capo, if you're an Italian, is pronounced (roughly) - car-po (though without any sound of the letter 'r').  It means the head, and of course we get our word, cap, from it.  Which is pronounced like tap.  But when a musician takes hold of an excellent capo, (or even one that's not so hot), a capo that he's brought from a reputable shop (or even one that's not), he pronounces the word, Kay-po, as in the person's name. Well, he does in New Zealand anyway.  Or she does, if she's a female from the same country.

I doubt that most Italians would recognise the word, and it's curious that it gets such different pronunciations.  In case you're reading this and you don't know what a capo is, it's a device like a highly intricate clothes peg that gets hooked over the strings of a guitar or other similar instrument in order to save the player having to figure out how to play something in a different key.  Instead, the capo does the job for him, and the player just plays as if he was playing in the original key.  You're still with me, aren't you?  It's explained better here.

Talking of pronunciation, my wife and I have been continuing to learn Arabic.  We've just struck the section on verbs - not the easy verbs we were using when we started the course, which we've got familiar with - but present, past and future tense verbs.  These are like thickets of sounds that have various things stuck on the front or the back, and then more things stuck on in front of the ones stuck on the front already, and then other ones replacing the ones we stuck on the front last time.  And each time we stick one on, it changes the general sound of the original word.  Oh, how I love English.  In some areas, it is so easy.

I'm sure Arabic is easy - in some areas.  We've found some of them.  At the moment we're not finding them....

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A movie and a book

Having heard good reports about A Song for Marion (also known as Unfinished Song) I was surprised at how disappointed I was.  It's mostly about Terence Stamp, a grumpy old man who seems to have no good reason to be so grumpy.  The script never actually gives him a reason, so Stamp is forced to  be grumpy just because he is. Vanessa Redgrave plays his wife who loves him dearly (he seems to love her greatly too); she dies fairly early on from a cancer that's returned after remission. Gemma Arterton plays the young schoolteacher who takes a community choir that Redgrave enjoys going to, and Christopher Ecclestone plays Stamp's son; at one point he asks the obvious questions as to why his father is so grumpy, but since Stamp isn't given any reason in the script he doesn't get a response (!)

The movie swings between delineating the realities of old age, and patronising old people: why is it filmmakers think old people want to do heavy metal songs or songs where sex appears in every line?  The two best songs in the movie (one sung by Redgrave and one by Stamp) are both much more worthy of inclusion than the rubbish ones the choir is supposedly learning.  Stamp and Ecclestone bring reality to their characters (it's a pity the mending of their relationship takes place off-screen) and Redgrave is good in the short amount of screen time she gets. The rest of the cast (including Arterton) seem to have forgotten that when your face is blown up on a cinema screen there's no need to gawk and gawp and overdo every reaction.  I lost count of the number of times people reacted in an actorish way (rather like people in bit parts in the worst kind of amateur theatre); presumably the director thought this was good.  Or else the movie was made for television primarily, where such reactions aren't so overblown.

I'd been told it was a film needing a box of tissues.  Nope, it isn't.  In contrast, I finished Chaim Potok's massive novel, In the Beginning, last night.  The end of this book definitely requires a couple of tissues (well, a handkerchief in my case, since I still use those now-seemingly-despised objects).  Potok seems to take a long time to get to the end; some judicious cutting would have helped, I think, but he weaves and connects themes and images constantly throughout the story, and perhaps without the space to do so the book wouldn't have been so effective. 

It's a pretty gloomy piece: the Jewish narrator, Daniel, is injured in a fall as a baby and damages something in his nasal area, meaning that he is prone to illnesses throughout his childhood.  The operation to cure this only happens in the last fifty pages of the 450 page novel.  His father was once a soldier fighting against the Polish Cossacks, back in his home country of Poland, and he has formed a group to bring his Jewish friends and their families to America, which is supposedly a land where Jews are treated better.  He has been greatly successful in this, and works as a real estate agent in the US.  There's a great sense of Jewish community and fellowship throughout the book, as well as the huge strength of family.  However, Daniel's grandparents on his mother's side are still in Poland, along with a number of other relations.  They dither and shilly-shally about coming to the US until it is too late.  Hitler comes to power, and the Nazi concentration camps come into existence.

We discover that Daniel's mother had been married before, to her current husband's brother. Confusingly he was also called Daniel, and Potok plays with this confusion a number of times in the book.  Daniel was killed by the Cossacks, and in proper Jewish tradition, Max takes his brother's wife as his own.  It wasn't that he had to; he could have put the tradition aside.  But there is obviously great love between Daniel's parents; it's never considered to be a marriage of convenience. The older Daniel was set to be a great scholar, and the younger Daniel inherits his uncle's brains. This turns out not to be such a good thing; he is bullied often in school, and despised for knowing more than those who have to work hard to study. And as he comes into manhood, he makes a decision to study outside the world of Judaism, in order to understand the Torah in a much deeper sense. We don't know whether he truly believes that the Torah is God's word (his younger brother tells him, eventually, that he doesn't, but he keeps up the traditions all the same); rather he is concerned for the argument, the jot and tittle of debate, the disagreements between ancient Jewish scholars, the reading between the lines, the working out why the Torah appears to contradict itself and much more. We read about a good deal of this during the book. Daniel soaks up all this kind of information as he grows, reading deep into the night, and causing those around him bewilderment.

The book almost seems like a biography, though one told in fictional terms. There is no plot as such, and yet in the last pages of the book, what we have learned over many pages about Daniel and his extended family causes us to be deeply affected as we read the last few events. The book is full of vivid characters, of wisdom and a deep understanding of people, particularly Jewish people. The book is soaked in the traditions and teaching of the Jewish people, and in their longstanding complaint against God and the world as to why they are treated so badly. There are no answers to this question - different characters offer different views on it, on why it should be so, and what can be done about it.  None of these things actually alter the suffering of this people.

Reading this book is like going on a long journey: there are varied discoveries, there are people you meet and get to know for a time who then vanish completely, there is a sense of humanity and warmth, and of travelling immense distances from one event to another.  Though there were times, as I've noted above, when it seemed a drawn-out journey, at the end it proved to have been worth the effort. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Going nuts

I guess I should have known what check nuts were, but I thought I'd better check up online just to make sure I wasn't on the wrong track.  According to one dictionary they're a secondary nut, screwing down upon the primary nut to secure it or a nut which is screwed up tightly against another nut on the same bolt or screw, in order to prevent accidental unscrewing of the first nut.

I think that's probably a good description of some marriages: the secondary nut secures the primary nut (I don't say which person is which), or else one nut is screwed up tightly against the other nut to prevent accidental unscrewing.  Accidental unscrewing of a person is to be avoided at all costs.  I've come close to accidental unscrewing at times, and have been saved from it by the other nut.  When I use the word nut I mean it in the most complementary sense, of course.  

But in regard to nuts in general, apart from its normal use to signify those hard things we eat and which can sometimes crack our teeth, nuts is used as a way of saying - that's stupid, dopey, how-the-heck-did-you-ever-come-up-with-that-idea?  It can also mean what is virtually the opposite: being nuts about something, extremely enthusiastic, in other words.  

And nuts turns up in one of those innumerable (and untranslateable) English expressions that can mean pretty much whatever you like: elephant’s adenoids, cat’s miaow, ant’s pants, tiger’s spots, bullfrog’s beard, elephant’s instep, caterpillar’s kimono, turtle’s neck, duck’s quack, duck’s nuts, monkey’s eyebrows, gnat’s elbows, oyster’s earrings, snake’s hips, kipper’s knickers, elephant’s manicure, clam’s garter, eel’s ankle, leopard’s stripes, tadpole’s teddies, sardine’s whiskers, canary’s tusks, pig’s wings, cuckoo’s chin, and butterfly’s book. I'm indebted to Michael Quinion's wonderful website, World Wide Worlds (how's that for alliteration) for that list. (It's a site well worth visiting, if you're a word enthusiast, that is, if you're nuts about words.)

Still on the usage of nuts, here's a delightful line from Kim Fabricius, that theological doodler: How did Jesus overcome Satan in the wilderness? By proof-texting a proof-texter. That always drives them nuts.
And one other paragraph, from the poet Charles Simic:  When my mother was very old and in a nursing home, she surprised me one day toward the end of her life by asking me if I still wrote poetry. When I blurted out that I still do, she stared at me with incomprehension. I had to repeat what I said, till she sighed and shook her head, probably thinking to herself this son of mine has always been a little nuts. Now that I’m in my seventies, I’m asked that question now and then by people who don’t know me well. Many of them, I suspect, hope to hear me say that I’ve come my senses and given up that foolish passion of my youth and are visibly surprised to hear me confess that I haven’t yet. They seem to think there is something downright unwholesome and even shocking about it, as if I were dating a high school girl, at my age, and going with her roller-skating that night.


Snow Report

I knew, when I woke up, that it had snowed: that eerie white light that forms when it's snowed heavily was visible through the curtains.  The snow is heavy enough that even the paper boy hasn't made it this morning, which is quite something.

The dog has snuggled himself up on the bed, not keen to go outside again. However, the two Jack Russels next door (I call them Jack and Russel, even though they're both females) are skipping around in the snow. 

Facebook is full of photographs and comments - lots of people more enthusiastic about the snow than I am, though it's certainly left a wonderful beauty everywhere.  My grandson was downstairs first thing checking out whether I was going to go outside and throw snowballs.  I was noncommital.

The schools are all closed, of course, along with lots of roads. And most of our curtains are closed too, trying to keep the heat in.

Update: the dog has decided to go out, and is prancing around in the snow, giving it little woofs of approval.  Though I doubt that he'll be out there long.  Yup, can hear him hammering at the door already.  His report: My toes are cold. 

Update: We all went outside, including the dog (who went bonkers racing back and forth around the street), threw snowballs at each other - and some passers-by - and built a snowman.   Finally discovered the paper, wrapped in plastic, hidden underneath the snow.

And another update -the dog apparently in full flight (note the ears), and our snowman.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Old and crochety

For some time now my PC has been working sluggishly in some areas: I thought it was the browser, so I swapped from Google Chrome back to Firefox, but that made little difference.  I cleaned out the programmes that load up at start up, and that helped sometimes.  There's a curious inconsistency about how things run these days.  I'll click on a link in one browser page, and it'll begin to load up that page, and then everything gradually stops.  Sometimes I use control, alt, delete to bring the machine back to the restart page; I don't actually have to restart; just giving things a little fright by threatening to seems to be enough to get things working again - and the page that's causing the trouble will load.  Now if it was always the same kind of pages, I'd have an idea perhaps why things are sluggish, but it can be all sorts of random pages.

Perhaps the machine is just getting old and crochety, like its owner.  Or perhaps there's just too much stuff loaded onboard, and it's tired.  I've tried various clean-ups, like getting rid of excess stuff, but that only helps for a bit and then things go back to this other normality.

I see there are various sites offering to help me speed up PCs, but I'm not keen to try these (and anyway, one of them just tells me to get rid of some of the programmes that load at start up, which I've already done) because I don't know what they're adding to my machine as well as the program they offer.  It's possible that I need more RAM - there seems to be plenty of hard disk space available still - and I suppose that would be an option.

Or else it's just that they're digging up all the roads around my suburb at the moment and wiring us up for super fast broadband - and this is temporarily slowing things up.  The only problem is that by the time super fast bb arrives, my machine may have conked out entirely...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Round up of the week

I keep thinking it's Saturday.  In fact, it's Friday.  (Well, it's actually Thursday for a great many people in the world, but we won't go into that.)  I don't know why I keep thinking it's Saturday: perhaps it's because it's the first day this week when I haven't been committed to do something specific, something that takes up enough of the day to make it feel as though I'm actually busy.  (I am, but we won't go into that either.)

Monday I accompanied Arnold Bachop at Les Cleveland's funeral, at First Church.  I hadn't seen much of Les in recent years, but when I was younger we had a good deal to do with each other when he was singing in various shows I was involved in.  His extraordinary buoyancy and delight in life was spoken of again and again, and when someone said that they heard him climbing up the steps into a plane and saying, And how are you, my fine friend, that old Cleveland vibrant bass came back to me instantly.  I've been addressed as his fine friend on a number of occasions, as no doubt has half of Dunedin.  What an extraordinary larger-than-life personality he was.  How it makes you feel that your own funeral is going to be a bit of a non-affair!

Normally on Monday afternoon I'd have been working with the Choristers, a group of elderly ladies who sing and give the occasional concerts at old people's homes. But we had to cancel this week's practice because of the funeral.

Tuesday we went to see Social Welfare to sort out the money we've made in the last financial year over and above what we're allowed to earn on top of the pension.  That was a bit stressful, even though we were pretty sure of the outcome.  It didn't take up a great deal of the day; nevertheless, it used up a good deal of our emotional energy, I suspect. 

Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday: in the evenings I've been rehearsing The Sunshine Boys, along with various members of the cast.  Some scenes are going very well; one that was going well fell over on Thursday, for no accountable reason.

Wednesday I met up with one of the members of the church's youth group, for lunch, and then went on to do some data input for the church office, only to find that some of the input I'd put in last time had gone AWOL and had to be put back in, and that after I'd input the recent data, I was left with $2.00 out.  Very annoying, and I couldn't solve it at the time.  Will have to have another look.

Thursday, I played for Arnold again, and for Peter Chin, also an old friend, and up until fairly recently, the Mayor of Dunedin.  (Oh, I walk in exalted circles, I can tell you.)  This time we were at the Senior Citizens afternoon that's held (I think) once a week in South Dunedin.  A pretty cold day, so most of the Senior Citizens wisely stayed home, and our audience was less than twenty.  Never mind, it was a cheery concert and we all enjoyed ourselves. 

And so to today, where the only thing I had to do was give one of my granddaughters a piano lesson.  That wasn't until late this afternoon, so the rest of the day was free. I spent some time brushing up on my lines for the play, particularly the scene that had gone awry last night, and sending off three flash fiction stories to an NZ contest that closes at the end of the month (I'd written all three of them earlier in the month, but tidied them up today).  Did some more Arabic with my wife, took the dog for a walk, and generally potted around. Or so it seemed. I kept feeling all day that there was something I should have been doing, but whatever it was it didn't eventuate.

Watched another episode of Trial and Retribution, a series Lynda La Plante initiated back in the late nineties. At that time there was only one episode a year, and they were great massive three-hour jobs, usually spread over two nights. The later episodes (the series finished in 2009, I think) got shorter, and had less detail in them, which was a pity. Only two of the original actors made it through the whole series: David Hayman and Dorian Lough. They played two of the detectives in the series. 

The show originally featured a long police procedural section followed by a trial, in which sometimes all the police work was unravelled and the criminal got away.  However, in the later episodes, the trial section vanished almost completely (there was no trial whatsoever in the one we watched today - Ghost Train - for instance).  There have been two distinct features of the series: a split screen technique which will often throw different elements of the story together (apparenlty La Plante wasn't fussed about this idea), and a kind of dwelling on of the grotesque details of the person murdered.  Not only do we often get a glimpse of the deceased in all their gory glory, but the director will hark back to this several times during the show, so that all the hard work the make-up people have put in will get its due worth.  Some of what they do is too graphic to watch, we've found, and we just have to shut our eyes until they get onto the next part of the story.  Apart from that element, and La Plante's typical modus operandi of preferring female victims to male ones, females who are often badly abused by the males, the series makes gripping watching.  It's had a real run of wonderful British actors, and Hayman in particular has been a wonderful anchor for the show.

Just as a side issue for those who enjoy these things, the man who plays Miranda's boyfriend in the popular comedy series of the same name, Tom Ellis, was a murder victim in Season 11, which aired in February 2008.  Seemed a bit odd killing of someone we like so much in a different setting...

Plass, Darryl, and Midrash

Some time ago I read a book that was basically a compilation from Adrian Plass's New Daylight daily readings material, plus some other writing that fitted into the book's theme.  It's called Blind Spots in the Bible, though truth be told it's not really to do with blind spots we have towards certain texts but with passages that are quite difficult to get to grips with.  Plass doesn't always get to grips with them either, and he admits this. Some passages just don't compute, as it were.

Still, there are some good moments in the book, one in particular being the skit on the death and revival of Eutychus, the young man who fell out of the third-storey window while Paul was preaching at length.  Plass's always seems to me to be at his best when he's telling stories.  His non-fiction work, like this one, doesn't bring out his gifts as well as his story-writing does, in particular the early Sacred Diary series, which can be laugh-out-loud funny and quite moving.  When he's telling stories here, the stories stick in your mind.

There's not too much of the self-deprecating Plass here,which is a good thing, but there's an excess of the use of the word silly, which is a weak word even in Plass's hands.  It smacks of something old-fashioned, and could do with be excised from his vocabulary, or at least having something of a moratorium on it.

As for silly, we watched Northfork around the same time I finished the book. I mentioned this back in Oct last year, but didn't say much more about it. Here's a movie that has the production qualities  that go with a masterpiece, and yet they're wasted on a story with a pseudo-seriousness and silly puns.   A bunch of fine actors (including Nick Nolte and Daryl Hannah) do their utmost to make the thing work, but the two elements of the film never cohere - the six men trying to move the last people out of the valley before it's flooded and the curious dreaming of the boy who's dying.   The dream stuff makes no sense on any level: it's neither surreal enough to be really dreamlike nor clear enough to make sense within the film as a whole.   Nor is it amusing, though it seems to think it is.

The photography is superb, however, and the music suits the mood of the film wonderfully.   But at the end you just ask what the heck was that all about and you're left with no answer.

Incidentally, talking of Daryl Hannah, it strikes me that Daryl is a name that gets spelt in a variety of ways and you're never sure if the person being referred to is male or female (unless you already know them, of course).  I have a friend who's a bloke called Daryl, and another female friend called Darrel, and I think there are infinite other variations in the spelling.   Someone on the Net has given this list of spellings - Darryl
It's not surprising there's confusion. Supposedly the name is derived from the French name: D'Arielle, which equally supposedly means beloved.  But in other circles you find Arielle meaning either Lion of God, or Lioness, depending on the gender of the person.   Supposedly it derives from the Hebrew.  If I'm using the word supposedly here a good deal it's because I'm feeling somewhat cynical about the various explanations I've been finding in relation to this name.  Quite honestly, the various weak spellings of the name, in English, give little indication of there being any kind of lion involved, let alone one belonging to God. 

Reverting to Plass's attempts to explain some of the texts in the Bible: I've been reading Chaim Potok's large novel In the Beginning.  It's very gloomy, but the writing is excellent, and makes it surprisingly readable.  The characters are wonderful - although the main one, David, is a bit of a pain sometimes.  Still, that's partly the result of who he is.  But the point I wanted to make is that he spends a good deal of time studying the Torah, and the Midrash - that is, the Bible and the commentaries made by different Jewish writers over centuries.  In a section I was reading today he was puzzling over a disagreement between two of the ancient commentators, who were fussing about something that wasn't even written in the Biblical text, but was only implied.  It relates to Noah and his sons, and the odd story about Noah being found naked after getting drunk, and his curse on Ham. It's an odd story anyway, but searching between the cracks, as these commentators did, makes it even odder. At least as Potok presents it in the book...

Monday, May 20, 2013

Some typically biased thoughts on drummers

Did you know that the seat a drummer sits on is called a 'throne?'  Nope?  Join the club.  I only discovered this today when I got the somewhat enigmatic message: buy drum throne. I'd always assumed the thing the drummer puts his bum on was a seat, as you'd expect.  But no, it's called a throne, and perhaps this is why many drummers have such a high opinion of themselves.

I've met - and worked with - some great drummers in my time; I've also met some whose ambition seemed to be to obliterate the rest of humanity.  When I went to church at the Assembly of God, from the mid-70s to the late 80s, there was one brilliant drummer there who was so attuned to what other people were playing that they could vary the tempo to a hair's breadth and he would be with them.  He never dominated the proceedings, forcing the other musicians to follow his beat. 

But there are drummers who, having spent their entire musical training period in a basement with soundproof walls, have never learned that music doesn't revolve around what the drummer does.  They can be enjoyable to play with, when the music requires absolute momentum and strictness of tempo, but when it requires quiet, warmth, rubato, they're just dynamite.  It seems some drummers don't know the meaning of subtlety, or of variation in tempo.  This just becomes frustrating for other musicians, who begin to feel hemmed in.  Even though music seems to be a thing that's regulated to a cut and dried strict rhythm, every musician (expect maybe some of the aforesaid drummers) knows there are shifts and gains in music. This is particularly evident when you accompany a singer: to hold a singer to a strict rhythm throughout would be to destroy the essence of what they're singing.

Some drummers can't be told these things, unfortunately.  Giving a solid beat is what they have come to believe drumming is all about. Ask them to do anything else, and they sit on their throne and sulk, acting as if their integrity had been somehow demeaned.  Or else they just ignore you, and continue to do what they did for so many hours in the basement: hammer it out and forget that the rest of the world exists.

Here's a video of four drummers playing rhythmically but subtly - these guys know how to intermingle with each other.  They're playing a piece called 4by4, by NZ composer, John Psathas. Watch out for the moment, quite a long way through, when one of the drummers casually scratches his ear, tosses his drumstick in the air, and then carries on as if this complex piece was all in a day's work.

Sunshine Good Rain Bad

People who present on the weather programmes on TV have a curious bias towards sunshine, and a tendency to denigrate rain.  Yet earlier in the year we were supposedly in drought mode in New Zealand, not just in the 'Far North' (as the weather people call it) but right throughout the country.  The Far North certainly was in a state of drought, though not of Biblical proportions, which is what you'd have thought was the case from TV.

Drought is a result of too much sunshine and too little rain, yet night after night we hear on the weather section of the news that tomorrow will be sunny for these areas or those, but unfortunately there will be rain in this or that place.  Unfortunately?  We need rain.  The earth needs rain.  We need rain to grow plants, to water animals, to keep our reservoirs full.  Perpetual sunshine doesn't do this - ask any African who's lived through several years of drought. 

The irony is, perhaps, that the TV channels that pronounce on the unfortunateness of rain are the ones that are based in Auckland...a city that gets more rain than many of its southern counterparts.  NIWA tells us that the mean rainfall for Auckland over a 19-year period was 1240 mm. The equivalent for Christchurch was only just over half, at 648, and for Dunedin, supposedly in the 'Deep South', the mean rainfall was 812, around three-quarters of Auckland's precipitation.  Dunedin, when it gets rain, lets it drizzle on for a few days, spreading it around in a nice even fashion.  Auckland buckets it all down in a heap and drowns everything. Yet the number of wet days Dunedin got (still using the mean figures) was 124; the number Auckland got was 137.  Christchurch got only 85!  That's not to say that the South Island is altogether sparse in its rainfall: Milford Sound takes the prize by having 6749 mm and Westport 2274.

Whatever the stats, it's still worth rethinking how the weather section is presented: a constant insistence on Sunshine Good Rain Bad eventually makes viewers think this really is the case.  It would be good to see a bit more honesty on the weather program.  But I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I live in a part of the country where private swimming pools are fairly rare, so we'd have little need for a company names Pool Supply Unlimited.  In fact, I don't often go to the public swimming pool either, though I've had patches where I was going two or three times a week with my wife, when we were doing aqua-jogging together.  When I aqua-jogged I used my arms, legs, extra equipment, the lot. Some a-joggers would merely go round the pool slowly, usually chatting with a friend, and barely making a ripple in the water.  It seemed a bit pointless to me, but each to his own, I guess. I probably should go back again, because these days, by early afternoon, I'm often feeling quite lethargic.  I thought it was perhaps because we were doing some reasonably strenuous walks together (the dog comes home pooped), but I don't think it's that.  I suspect that I'm just not getting the body moving quite so much as I was, and that leads to lethargy and that leads to an afternoon nap, and that leads to staying up later, and that leads to not sleeping so well, and then I still get up at the same old time, and then, by early afternoon, I'm as pooped as the dog.

Is it going to change?  Maybe not.  Perhaps the idea that we should be fit and energetic in our older years is a bit of a myth.  Perhaps that's an excuse.  I'll have to go and lie down and

The photo comes from a Bladder Cancer site; apparently there was some connection with what I was writing about, but the link no longer works. 

Tenors and Judith Collins

It's a curious thing that we have so many touring singing groups who consist of nothing but tenors.  Is there something special about the tenor voice that makes it prime?  The trend perhaps started with the Three Tenors (men who really could sing, and didn't just do classical-pop), but since then we've had a rash of tenors in various numberings: Eleven Tenors, Seven Irish Tenors, and so on.  Where are the Sixteen Sopranos, the Bunch of Basses and the Eight Altos?

Judith Collins is perpetually in the news these days, usually for the wrong reasons.  As Minister of Justice you hear her talking very little about actual justice, and a great deal about what Judith Collins thinks.  As per today, when she ranted on about the lack of consensus amongst the politicians regarding changes to MMP:
"I'm not actually a party leader. I am the Minister of Justice, and if they need me to organise the kumbaya sessions of party leaders to get together and work out what it is they agree on, then there's something very wrong.
"My job is to receive the information and see if we can get a bill together.
"If these parties want changes they should come and talk to each other. It's not my role for bloody sake.
"I'm not their nanny.
"I'm not in charge of these other parties, I'm not in charge of eight parties in Parliament, plus the independent Brendan Horan."

I'm not sure what a 'kumbaya session' is, nor am I familiar with the expression 'for bloody sake.'  And doesn't the second statement contradict the first?  She doesn't want to organise the parties, yet she says her job is to receive the information and get a bill together.  Well, how is she going to get that to happen unless she organises the parties?  Time for a new Minister of Justice, methinks, one who actually knows the meaning of the word.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


I've just been skimming through my Evernote clippings to see what I've got in relation to the topic of skiing (that nasty word that occasionally turns up in crosswords or CodeCrackers and fools you because of the two letters i sitting together).  The list wasn't long, to my surprise, and curiously, Evernote claimed that the word appeared in several articles in which it plainly didn't! I wanted to connect it up to the phrase: Peter Glenn ski wear.

However I did turn up this bit of nonsense by one of my favourite short-piece writers, Kim Fabricius. 
Apr├Ęs ski, two theologians were avidly discussing the phrase piste christou.
I’ve been closely following the pistis christou debates, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am that, according to some scholars, I am justified by an objective genitive. I’d been getting so worried that I might need some complex periphrastic or optative construction to get saved that I’ve been brushing up on my Metzger and Moule.

Not being a Greek scholar, I didn't know what the pistis christou debates were - that doesn't stop the joke being funny, since plainly piste has both a skiing connection and a theological one.  For those who want to know what the pistis christou part is about, here's an explanation from Andrew Wilson: For a generation, the discussion has been raging in academic circles over whether the Greek phrase pistis Christou should be understood as meaning ‘faith in Christ’ or ‘faithfulness of Christ’. For almost all interpreters until the last few decades, the question hasn’t really been a question: it means ‘faith in Christ’ (the ‘objective genitive’ reading, since Christ is the object of the faith). But writers like Richard Hays and Tom Wright, along with an increasingly large contingent within New Testament scholarship, have argued strongly that it should instead be translated ‘faithfulness of Christ’ (the ‘subjective genitive’, since Christ is the subject of the faith/faithfulness.) And unlike a lot of debates in Pauline scholarship, this one could actually make a substantial difference. 

Okay, that's a long way from skiing, but I thought it was interesting all the same.  Kind of.

Anyway, in relation to skiing and writing, I found this bit of useful information - for writers: a mystery set in a ski resort will not necessarily appeal more to skiers than others.  Why, you ask?  Because people who know a topic get irritated when an author plainly isn't as familiar with it as they are.  In the author's defence, he or she is merely trying to give colour to the mystery, which is more important than the setting.  Dick Francis went through a long patch of giving his thrillers a particular focus - photography, for example, or wine, or archery.  (They're just the ones I remember.)  These were interwoven with the usual horseracing aspects of the story, and gave it additional weight.  I remember my mother, who was a great fan of these books, saying that you learned a lot about these subjects when you read one of Dick Francis' books. I suspect you only learned as much as Francis needed to tell you, and that a person who really knew about the matter might think his information thin. Nevertheless, everyone gained - except the people who really knew about the topic, and they, as the quote above indicates, may not have read the book in the first place, at least certainly not for the facts about wine or archery or whatever. 

Finally on the topic of skiing, we have this delightful paragraph from Gerhard Forde, a theological writer I'm not really familiar with, but whose writing appeals to me all the same (I've seen a number of examples of it on this site). 

“Am I making progress? If I am really honest, it seems to me that the question is odd, even a little ridiculous. As I get older and death draws nearer, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. I get a little more impatient, a little more anxious about having perhaps missed what this life has to offer, a little slower, harder to move, a little more sedentary and set in my ways. It seems more and more unjust to me that now that I have spent a good part of my life ‘getting to the top,’ and I seem just about to have made it, I am already slowing down, already on the way out. A skiing injury from when I was sixteen years old acts up if I overexert myself. I am too heavy, the doctors tell me, but it is so hard to lose weight! Am I making progress? Well, maybe it seems as though I sin less, but that may only be because I’m getting tired! It’s just too hard to keep indulging the lusts of youth. Is that sanctification? I wouldn’t think so! One should not, I expect, mistake encroaching senility for sanctification.”
The self-deprecating paragraph was quoted on the Mockingbird blogMockingbird seems to be run by a group, so I'm not sure which member of the group wrote the blog post this quote appeared in.

The photo comes from skiing knee replacement archives - which is a bit off-putting...if you have any interest in skiing...

A different approach to learning lines

I've just been running through one of the bigger scenes in The Sunshine Boys with my wife reading in for the other character(s).  I'm very pleased to find that most of the lines are intact in that scene, as they are in the first scene.  So that's great progress.  There's only one other big scene to get to grips with, and some of it's already there.

I don't know whether it's a matter of experience but I'm finding it easier to remember the lines for this play than I have for practically every other play I've done.  In fact, I've been confident enough to put down the script quite early on and just see how much I can remember in the rehearsals.  I remember that in many of the previous plays I've done I've been quite anxious about this aspect of acting; it seemed as though as soon as I got hold of a line it would go, and then when I got hold of it throroughly it could still vanish when I needed it in a rehearsal.  In the past I've tended to aim to be able to work through all my lines without necessarily referring to the cues - I've known that the other actor(s) will be saying 'something' but I won't necessarily know what they're saying.  This isn't the best way.  It may seem to be a good thing to be able to go through all your lines in your head in order, but it doesn't hold up well when it comes to the actual performing. 

This time I started out in the usual fashion, even putting the other actors' lines on a recording and leaving room for me to fit mine in.  It worked, but only in a kind of fashion.  I reverted to the way I'd started out learning these lines: holding a bit of paper over the line and reading the other character's cue.  Then I'd attempt to say my own line.  To my surprise this has worked far better than I expected.  I can't comfortably run through every one of my lines in order, the way I've done in the past, but when the cue comes I know what my line is. That's an odd thing: it's encouraging and yet it's not at all like I've worked in the past.  It creates much less anxiety because I'm not relying on myself to remember everything, but on the other actor's cues to act as a prompt.

Now the thing is, I'm not learning the other actor's lines; that would be more than I need to do. But reading them frequently while following up with my own, I find that I've got enough of a handle on their line to be confident to know what comes next.  The trick is, of course, that the other actor has to be as confident of his lines as I am of mine.  Many of the scenes in this play have just two actors on stage - so it's a business of bouncing the ball back and forward between you.  If one of you drops the ball, of course, it makes it tricky, but usually you find you have a pretty good idea what's coming next, and you can ad lib to help the other actor get back on track.

The memory is a fascinating thing.  I've spent years attempting all sorts of techniques and tricks to help me remember things, and yet here I'm relying greatly on an outside source - the other actor - to become my memory prompt.  It's most intriguing, and feels like something of a breakthrough.