Saturday, November 30, 2013

A near-zero waste lifestyle

Some weeks ago there was a report of a Dunedin woman who claimed to produce just a half a chip packet of household waste a month.  I find this hard to believe, unless she's keeping stuff that we would regard as waste (and if so, what's she doing with it?) or else she just doesn't buy anything that comes in a packet. 

I was thinking about this again today, and decided to make a list of the things that I couldn't recycle, or re-use (and believe me, we're pretty good at both recycling and re-using around here...and hoarding).  Here's today's list, which I don't think is necessarily indicative of what we throw out some days.

Sheet of baking paper used for cooking scones
Milk bottle lids
butter wrapper
part envelope with cellophane in it x 2
cellophane around The Warehouse advertising
foil package for soup
package of food flavouring
empty frozen pea package.
Okay, perhaps that's not a huge quantity of waste, but if I had a similar quantity each day I'd be hard pressed to get it all in a half a chip packet at the end of the month. 

Ann Dennison, who's become the 'Dunedin City Council's poster girl for waste minimisation,' doesn't buy bread in bags (we re-use ours to pick up our dog's poo when we're out walking).  She is 'a semi-vegetarian, [and] takes a jar with her when she gets fish from the supermarket and buys only tin or glass containers.' Okay, that's fair enough. So obviously she doesn't buy frozen vegetables (we usually keep some on hand for those days when we want a change from fresh ones); she doesn't drink soup from packets, or use flavouring that comes in packets. What does she do with the cellophane from window envelopes?  What happens to the paper that goes round the butter?  It's hardly in a state to be recycled. 

I'd be interested to know more, but the article is very short on details. There's a good deal about the philosophy behind her approach to waste, but not much about how she does it.

I think the hardest stuff to deal with is the packaging that comes round items like batteries, or electrical goods, or tools, or household appliances.  All of these are well and truly overpackaged, and very annoying to open, as well.  But none of these get a mention in the article. 

Photo courtesy of Phillip Jenkins

Friday, November 29, 2013


Ibanez RG8 review at Musicians Friend. Excuse the lack of an apostrophe in that previous sentence, but I'm just copying what someone else has given me, and the someone else obviously doesn't know about apostrophes...or doesn't care. They're obviously of the grammatical school that goes along with this line:
Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit when its not needed.
Talking of apostrophes, did you know that there's an ebook-selling company called, 'txtr The apostrophe is part of their title, weird and all as it seems. Apparently they're a German company originally, but there's even a branch that sells books with NZ prices applied to them. I'd never heard of them until just now...and I've no idea why they'd use the apostrophe in such an odd way.
I made a fuss in the first paragraph about the lack of an apostrophe, but it seems there's an ongoing push  to get rid of the thing entirely, partly on the basis that in speech we don't make any indication that we're using apostrophes at all. (Perhaps we should 'click' our tongues?) I remember writing a column about this years ago: it certainly makes reading more difficult, however, because certain words, such as cant have a different pronunciation when the apostrophe is removed - on the page - though context will usually tell you what word is intended. And the idea that the apostrophe is a waste of time isn't new.  Way back in 1902 George Bernard Shaw (who always considered himself a forward thinker in terms of spelling) wrote: "There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli." As forthright as Shaw's statement is, I'm not sure that apostrophes can really be classified as bacteria, and who would regard the use of apostrophes as a 'trick?'  There's an interesting article in Slate magazine giving some background to the ongoing debate about, and the history of, apostrophes. Seems they're not as longstanding a fixture of the English language as we thought.

Apostrophe, as a word, has often been used in a different sense entirely, one that we now consider archaic.  Here's Charles Spurgeon writing, and using its different meaning: "Thrusting, thou hast thrust at me." It is a vigorous apostrophe, in which the enemy is described as concentrating all his thrusting power into the thrusts which he gave to the man of God. According to one online dictionary, Spurgeon is using the word in this sense: The direct address of an absent or imaginary person or of a personified abstraction, especially as a digression in the course of a speech or composition. I've come across this usage regularly in Gilbert and Sullivan's operas, but here's another example of just such a usage, which was common in the 19th century: On finishing school at 16,in spite of a threat of disinheritance from her grandfather, a state senator, Antoinette joined her uncle's stock company, billed as "The youngest female star in America." When the company played New York in 1906, she [was]called "the sweetest, most piquant ingenue Broadway has seen for many long months." Her stage personality was "distinct," her acting "clever and winsome," and her beauty "such as the poets apostrophize."
Anyway, to get back to the contemporary meaning of apostrophe, here's an example of its complete misuse from the NZ Herald. This advertisement was the subject of much rubbishing on Twitter back on the 18th of August this year. 

Keen-eyed readers will note four incorrect uses of the apostrophe. There's also a word missing in the first sentence, a stylistic misuse of the number five, and, according to Vaughn Davis, @vaughndavis, one questionable sentence. I'm not sure which one he's referring to, however. 

Oh, for the days of proofreaders!  [Yeah, go on, I bet you can find a misuse of something in this post too!]

Slipping, sliding away

One of the things I dislike about getting old is losing elasticity. There's nothing much you can do about it; even spending all day at the gym won't stop muscles from becoming less springy and vital (I haven't actually tried this, but I suspect it's the case). Things just wear out, and you kinda have to get over it, I guess.

I remember seeing the fourth in the Indiana Jones series of movies - which was made much later than the others, at the time Harrison Ford was around 65 or 66 - and noting that when he was required to leap upwards from one crate to another, he plainly found it difficult. Why they didn't use a double I don't know, since he was seen from the back at that point, as I recall. But I sympathised with him not a little.

Recovering your balance is part of this issue. A while ago my wife and I (and the dog) went for a walk and found ourselves, somewhat by accident, walking alongside the railway track at Caversham. The path, such as it was, was fairly rough, overgrown and brambly. We decided, on hearing the train coming along the track, that it might be wise to move up the bank and away from the tracks. I headed up first, full of my usual youthful confidence, grabbed at a bush to haul myself up, missed my hold, tumbled backwards down the slope, with my head towards the tracks. It wasn't that I was in any danger of being run over, but it was embarrassing being seen sliding headfirst down an easily-climbed slope by a trainful of passengers. My wife was more concerned than I was; I hadn't actually done any damage to anything except my dignity.  It didn't help that I was trying to hold the dog's lead at the same time, and wasn't sure where he'd got to in the melee. 

What was painful to discover, however, was the fact that I just didn't have the means to avert the fall. In the past, once I'd lost my grip on the bush, I would have saved myself from falling by swivelling my body around, or doing some other adjusting manoeuvre [manoeuvre isn't a word I can ever spell easily]. That just didn't happen.

Yesterday, while I was out weeding the garden, I banged my head on one of the struts that support one of the two heat pump machines we've got outside. Why these struts have to stick out and catch unwary elderly people I don't know - it's not the first time I've been caught. Fortunately I had my hat on and that saved any really serious damage. I think.

The problem was that instead of reacting by stepping backwards without any problem - except that of saying Ouch or something equivalent - I toppled backwards, couldn't recover my balance, and fell into a gooseberry bush. Yup, a gooseberry bush, which obliged me by prickling me wherever it could. In the past I wouldn't have come into contact with the bush, and I wouldn't have yet again lost my sense of dignity (not that anyone else was around). But for some reason known only to my legs, they just gave up the fight and dropped me in a heap. Very unfriendly of them, though perhaps the fact that I've been running and walking on them for nearly 70 years has something to do with it.

One could offer the advice: don't grow old. However, like it or not, I have, and plainly I'm going to have to work out ways to avoid sliding, falling, banging my head or otherwise damaging myself. May take a bit of effort.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


The musical instrument we know as the didgeridoo has enough alternate names to keep you thumbing through your musical dictionary for days. I think my favourite is the almost unpronounceable ngarrriralkpwina - unpronounceable by me, of course, and others of my ilk who don't speak any Aboriginal tongue, least of all that of the people of Anindilyakwa.

Another interesting point about the didgeridoo is that there is a considerable gender-bias in relation to it. In some parts of Australia Aboriginal women are not allowed to play it, but this doesn't apply to all Aboriginal people, and hasn't always been the case in the places where it's now frowned on.  Some Aboriginal men are disturbed by non-Aboriginal women playing the instrument, but again this seems to be not a universal rule.

Most of us will remember that the now-maligned Rolf Harris played the instrument, and popularised it to a great extent, but he's by no means the only non-Aboriginal to do so. Seemingly trombonists, especially jazz trombonists, make good didgeridoo players.

Another intriguing facet of the didgeridoo's history is that it's been used as a means to help people who have trouble breathing while sleeping, and who tend to snore loudly. The breath control required to play the didgeridoo is such that it strengthens the air passages.

So there you go. The things you find out on a Thursday morning.....

Photo courtesy of the Swagbucks blog.


My wife and I were babysitting our three Christchurch grandchildren over the last weekend (with a day or two on either side), and on Tuesday we returned to Dunedin.  Not having had lunch, we stopped in Temuka, a little town we usually bypass. Apart from having visited the Temuka Potteries in the past, I don't know that we've ever stopped there before. Anyway we made our sandwiches and munched them while standing next to the car in a side street. My wife was keen to go and have a look at the op shops, but only one of them was open. However, before we got that far, we came across an antiques shop - spread over two frontages - and in the window was a painting.


The painting was of a saxophonist, and its official title is Blowing in the Wind. The artist, Colin Higgins, was in the back of the shop; he was just on his way next door to his gallery-cum-workshop which is at the back of the second shop, through a 'library' of books (administered, apparently, by one of my old customers from OC Books days, though I didn't see him there).  Hopefully you're still with me...

Anyway, we had both been smitten by this painting, something that's unusual - I mean for both of us to be equally taken by an artwork. We asked the price. He named it, but said he was happy to negotiate. We said we'd have a think about it, and wandered around the shop checking out stuff: some pre-loved Temuka pottery, some other new pieces by a local potter and other items typical of an antique shop. But we couldn't concentrate on any of this: the painting kept working its way around in our heads.

We strolled next door, into the other shop. Wandered through into the library part, and then into Higgins' gallery. Unlike some painters, he doesn't seem to stay with one particular style or focus. Some of the paintings are surreal, along the lines of Dali; some are satirical, almost like a cartoon; some are more in the line of sketches (and there were quite a few actual drawings as well as paintings); and there were various other pieces.  I find it a bit of a mystery when an artist sticks obsessively to a subject: Ewan Mcdougall, for instance, always paints clownish stick figures in garish reds, greens and yellows. Always. Karl Maughan (whom I used to always think was surnamed Maugham) paints gardens full of rhododendrons.  They're lovely, but that's seemingly his sole focus. Higgins is rather more eclectic in subject matter, as these examples show, and as I've indicated.

The saxophonist continued to keep on drawing us back. Neither of us could put our finger on what it was that was special about him: perhaps it was the look of pure heaven on his face; perhaps it was the face itself - not particularly handsome, just ordinary, but fully at home with itself. The pinstripe suit was intriguing, as were the pink tie and handkerchief - there's an incongruity about them, being out in the open air. The blowing trees were reminiscent of those seen in other paintings, where the wind has blown so severely for so long that the trees are virtually horizontal.

Finally, my wife and I checked out with each other what we thought we could manage to pay...if we bought the painting. Whatever we paid would be pure indulgence; we very rarely buy paintings at the drop of a hat, though we have some original art on our walls. We suggested a price to the artist. The artist negotiated with himself - more than with us, I think - and agreed. Deal done. Just like that. He wrapped up the painting, we made room for it in the car and everyone was happy. Well, we certainly were.

Anyway, here's the saxophonist. Isn't he great?  (I hope my photograph has done him justice.)

I think he has a companion: the violinist seen on the page I mentioned earlier - scroll down until you find her - is also out in the wind, her hair even wilder than the saxophonist's, and she's also intent upon her playing to the extent that she's seemingly not aware of anything but the music.  Hopefully she's also found a home where she'll be happy....

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Faith in fiction revived

I was given Alexander McCall Smith's latest book, Trains and Lovers, to review a few days ago.  I'm a great AMS fan, but not of everything he's written. And unfortunately this book just doesn't cut the mustard. The review will be out in the Otago Daily Times soonish, so you can read what I thought then.

After that disappointment it was great, by happenstance, to pick up Anne Tyler's most recent novel, The Beginner's Goodbye at the Library yesterday. I finished it tonight. (It's just under 200 pages, but this was the hardcover version, making it easier to read.)

What a contrast! Where AMS writes a story that skims the surface, Tyler gives us characters with depth, and the humour is a delight too. The only book of Tyler's that I've read, I think, is The Accidental Tourist, which I really enjoyed. I have a funny feeling there was another one, but I can't remember anything about it, and am not even sure if I finished it. I also think it might have put me off reading any more of her books, which is a pity.

Tyler's story is about grief - the narrator's wife has died recently, and the book is essentially about him learning to move on again. It's a slow process, and the book could have been very gloomy. Instead, Tyler manages to write in such a way that we're fully involved with the narrator, and even though at times he's a bit of a prig, we still empathize with him, and not just because his wife has been killed in a rather odd accident.

There's a great deal of humour and warmth in the book, a delight in life even in the midst of a tragedy, and the very strange 'fact' that the narrator's wife suddenly starts appearing again after she's been dead for a year. Tyler can draw a character in a few words (AMS's characters, in his latest book, are scarcely drawn at all), and she can also keep on adding layers to characters we thought we'd got to grips with.

The story seems to meander, yet every step in the story is in its right place, and everything works together to form a pleasing whole. It's quite revived my faith in fiction!  :)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My experience of reading P T Forsyth

I attended a quadruple book launch tonight at Knox College, having been asked to say a few words on the experience of reading P T Forsyth, who is the subject of two of the books, both by Jason Goroncy. (Kevin Ward is the author of the other two books.) 

I felt a bit ill at ease amongst a bunch of academics, and having decided to speak without reading from notes, since I assumed that the other speakers would also do so, was surprised to find that all five of them used notes extensively, even though all of them are University level teachers. Well, there had to be an odd man out somewhere.

Anyway, it was never intended to be a long speech, and it wasn't. In fact, I probably missed out some things I intended to say, and muddied the ones I did say. Never mind. I don't claim to be good at speaking in public - I thought of trying to act the role of myself as a public speaker, but I'm not sure that I got there. This post then, is an attempt to tidy up what I really would have liked to say.

So...P T Forsyth - the emphasis, I think, is on the second syllable: For-syth. (Much more Scottish that way.) I'd never heard of Forsyth until a couple of years ago, perhaps, and even then only came across him on Jason Goroncy's blog, where he now has his own subject heading. At first I got the impression that he was some old fogey of a theologian that Jason had cottoned onto; I didn't realise at that point that Jason had two books in the pipeline focusing on Forsyth, and more than that, had done his thesis on him, and more than that still, was virtually one of the world's experts on him. Read his first book on Forsyth, called Hallowed be Thy Name, and you'll see what I mean. Jason has a breadth of understanding of both the man and his theology that's occasionally mind-blowing. Well, actually mind-blowing most of the time.

Anyway, I kept noticing references to Forsyth on Jason's blog, and occasionally read a quote from Forsyth that was included in a post. And then there was more and more about the man - mainly because Jason's book was coming closer and closer to being published, and he was doing a good deal of promotion for it - naturally. But I still didn't take much notice of Forsyth himself, or of what he'd written. The first time I actually copied anything from Jason's blog (onto Evernote, my clippings 'file') was in July this year, when he wrote about the second of his two Forsyth books: Descending on Humanity and Intervening in History: notes from the pulpit ministry of P T Forsyth.  Something in that post clicked with me, and I began to sit up and take notice of the old theologian. (Not Goroncy, Forsyth.)

Then, two or three months ago, I was trying to work out a better theology of the atonement - not by myself, but in relation to arguments that had surfaced twice on the Net in regard to it over a couple of weeks. I spoke to Jason about it and he suggested having coffee and talking, and when we did he handed me a copy of Forsyth's The Work of Christ, and suggested I read it. I took it away, and did read it - some of it twice (and because of the nature of Forsyth's style, some of it more than twice; I'll explain why in a minute).

It was exactly what I needed. It wasn't as if Forsyth was coming up with a completely new theology of the atonement - there's no such thing, really - but he brought such clarity and such a personal viewpoint to what he had to say that it was as if I was getting hold of it for the first time, and in a way that was immensely satisfying to my miniscule theological brain. He also clarified the whole aspect of God's holiness - something that's exceedingly important to him - and the place of Christ in the whole business - another one of his great themes. In doing so it helped open up for me a different way of thinking about Christ, something that I've also needed to do for many years.

Forsyth isn't an easy writer to read (though Jason says that the more you read him the easier it gets). I can't quite put my finger on the reason for this, but I wonder if it isn't partly the fact that he's Scottish. I have the same problem with George MacDonald, another Scottish writer. Both of them use the English language in a way that's slightly odd. It's something about the sentence construction, I think, rather than the words they use, because these are straightforward enough in general. MacDonald is perhaps more difficult than Forsyth; some of his sentences verge on unintelligibility as he leaps from thought to thought. Both he and Forsyth seem almost to turn the sentences inside out, put things back to front from your normal expectation. It's impossible to describe, but no doubt someone more able than yours truly could do it.

However, I worked hard at reading The Work of Christ. Fortunately Jason gave me a copy rather than lending me one; it's now littered with markings. I wrote notes on some sections as I read them, and even though it felt at the time as though I wasn't grasping what he had to say, it seems that I did. He's obviously a better teacher than I suspected. The way he hammers home a point works; he revolves around and around it until he's sunk it in. As I think about other theology in the course of my normal reading/writing, I find Forsyth's name keeps coming to mind, and what he said about matters.

And while I was reading The Work of Christ I also began to read Jason's first book, Hallowed be Thy Name. This is quite hard work too - for me. I'm not incapable of reading theology, and taking in theological terms, but it makes my brain ache a bit at times. Still reading the two books in tandem meant that I was cross-referencing Forsyth's thinking, and this was immensely helpful.  Of course Jason's book is about much more than the Forsyth's view of the atonement, but everything in his book connects, so that you begin to feel you're getting to know how Forsyth looks at things. I've got a long way to go yet, but it's an interesting journey.

Forsyth doesn't like to give concrete examples; you might almost say he writes at a kind of abstract level. Some things, which are probably unexplainable, he doesn't trouble himself to explain. At least not in The Work of Christ. I'm the kind of reader who needs some 'pictures' to get a hold of, some stories to back up the theology. As far as I can remember there's only one story in the whole of The Work, and it's a vivid one about a railway worker who saves two trains from colliding by lying down between the tracks and manually working the switch, when the lever that should do the job has jammed. But having used that story, Forsyth then proclaims, pretty much, that it doesn't suffice for what he's trying to say.  And he's right. But for the kind of reader I am, it's a help in terms of feeling as though there was something to hold onto in the book.  (Incidentally, he also says at one point that if you haven't bothered to do some philosophy then it won't be surprising that you don't understand theology.  I thought this was just a little sniffy of him, but I jotted a note on the page about it, and carried on reading.)

Theological writers in general, I guess, don't tend to make connections with the down-to-earth. That's perhaps not their job, but it may also explain why I've found some of them very hard work. Newbigin, whose book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, I re-read this year, is an exception; he beds his theology in the real world in a way Forsyth doesn't appear to do. However, I may be being unjust to Forsyth. At least, while he sometimes appears to use some words in a different way to the rest of us (which may be a result of his philosophical training), he doesn't change their meaning entirely. I remember reading a small amount of a book by Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, and being astonished by the cavalier approach she seemed to take to the English language. Words changed meaning at the drop of a hat, as far as I could tell. 

Forsyth is consistent in his use of language, at least. You just have to work out why he's using a particular word ('moral' was one I kept tripping over) in such a way. Once you've got hold of that, you can keep moving forward. 

Well, this was intended as a kind of statement of what I would have said if I'd had plenty of time at the Book Launch, and had brought notes with me that were clearly written out. So if you were at all bamboozled by my speech earlier, hopefully this will help make more sense of it.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Changing poems

I've been reading the poems that the Writer's Almanac sends through daily since some time in 2009, and recently have increasingly found that the quality of them has become less poetic and less vital.  When I first started getting them, I used to keep them in a folder each day, for 'future reference.'  Well, yes, enough said about that.  And then I kept them in Evernote, but only if they appealed to me.  At least in Evernote there was more of a likelihood that I'd see them more than once.

Increasingly, they haven't appealed. I think firstly that the choices of poems now seem to lean more and more to the easy. Occasionally there's one with a bit of bite, but far too many of them are surface, descriptive, and fail to have something that says, Have at you!  Occasionally there's one from a poet whose name you recognise, and often those poems have more punch, but they're few and far between.

Furthermore the poems are often slack in construction (even though many of them have been published); there's little rhythm, little sense of internal rhyme, often little shape. I don't expect poems to rhyme, but I do expect them to have something for the ear to hear and enjoy.  I don't think they have to have a particular metre, but it does help if they've got rhythm.  Many of the recent ones have lacked this.  Shape is a matter of taste, perhaps, but it seems as though many of these poets have never read anything that came in stanzas or verses or thought that the way the poem was architectured made a point as well.

So yesterday I decided to unsubscribe from the Writer's Almanac (sorry, Garrison Keillor), and try something different. In fact, I wound up getting a daily tweet from Verse Daily, a site that looks a bit more amateurish than Writer's Almanac, but, if their poems are anything to go by, may have something better in their store.  I've been chewing over today's offering Self Portrait: Swimming in Monkeys, by Michael Teig on and off all morning. It's an odd poem, one that I presume is trying to pin down what goes to make up a personality by using all sorts of seemingly random metaphors. Some of them click (with me) some don' far. But the thing is I've enjoyed coming back to it and trying to get my teeth into it.  This hasn't happened much lately with the WA offerings.

I also signed up to get daily emails from The Poetry Foundation, a very professional-looking site that's long-established, and has a huge archive of poems. Their offerings have also been more mind-catching.  Today's piece, Flounder, by Natasha Tretheway, is a more conventionally laid-out poem, four lines to a verse, and is the 'conversation' between an old Negro lady and her grandchild/great-niece (?) about fishing - but much more, of course. It's an easy poem to pick up, and yet it has hidden depths, and a wonderful last verse. I like poems where the last lines suddenly switch things around, or take you off into a corner you didn't expect.  This one certainly does.

I've also just finished a review this morning of a book I began back in August: Poems of DevotionThe review will probably go online at some point.  The editor of the book is Luke Hankins, and he's done a wonderful job of bringing together poems that have a religious element in common, but are devotional in the sense of Hallmark cards or little pretty gift books kind of devotional. These poems are tough, gritty, bite you in the neck kind of poems - although there are also ones that lift you out of the earth and into the air. It's taken me a long time to do the reviewing because the poems needed reading and re-reading. And there's a lengthy introduction to the book as well. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys good poetry.  It's a feast, though, watch out, there's quite a bit of pepper and curry and chilli in it.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ten of the best

There's a recent article in The Guardian on the Dave TV Channel's pick of the best and worst books of the 21st century. These kinds of best/worst lists are always a bit of a mix, and can mean anything or nothing.  Still it's worth a look to see what got on the best list. 

• Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
• Life of Pi by Yann Martel
• The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
• The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
• Atonement by Ian McEwan
• The Help by Kathryn Stockett
• The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
• We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
• No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
• Pompeii by Robert Harris

I've read the first five, as well as Pullman's book.  The other three have all been made into movies, the only one of which I've seen is The Help, which was great entertainment, with some social commentary mixed in. Pompeii, by Harris, I've never heard of.  Which means nothing...or anything.

I can't say that I remember Order of the Phoenix being particularly striking amongst the Potter books, though by that time things had got very dark in Potterland, and were a long way from the relatively cheery opening title in the series. However, by way of comment about Rowling's series, I still think they're immensely readable and generally better than the movies (with the exception of number 7 in the movies, which managed to make the long haul in the centre of the book a good deal more interesting). 

Life of Pi I found disappointing, ultimately. Its pseudo religious angle didn't grab me at fact made very little sense, and often seemed unconnected to the rest of the story. There are brilliant moments scattered throughout the book, a great deal of stuff that makes the stomach kind of queasy, and a curious ending which not only seems to me to let the author off the hook, but to make what has already been a pretty grim story into one that's far worse.  I haven't seen the movie, since I read the book only a month before the movie came out, and didn't fancy facing everything all over again quite so soon. A bit of distance between a book and a movie helps.

The Time Traveller's Wife, for me, was overlong; it never quite knew when to stop. The fantasy idea was great, and well executed, for the most part, but there was just too darn much of it.

The Hunger Games. I saw the movie before I read the book, but reading the latter made me realise just how much the moviemakers assumed their audience would already be aware of. Popular and all as this book is, and full of suspense (even after seeing the movie), it nevertheless is a curiously disturbing book, as I wrote back in January.

The same can be said of The Amber Spyglass - not only does Pullman take the disturbing elements of the first two books in the trilogy into previously unknown territory, he continues to get all spiritual in a very peculiar way. He's already had a fair go at the 'Church' in the first two titles, but here he tries to imagine a kind of after-death world where achieving nothingness is seen as a relief.  Well, maybe it is for Pullman. I disliked it intensely, and disliked even more his negative caricature of God (and Pullman's claims that he's basing this on Milton's great poem, Paradise Lost). I wrote briefly about this back in 2005, and haven't changed my mind about what I thought then...

I wrote about Atonement only a few weeks ago. I'd seen the movie a couple of years back, and thought it very good; the book was also very good, with a few reservations.  It deserves to be on this list, as no doubt do dozens of others that are better in every respect than most of the other nine titles...

But you can't fit all the best books into ten slots, so!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Little Women at the Playhouse, Dunedin

At this point, there hasn't been any review of Stageworks' latest production, Little Women, so this may fill the gap for the time being.

This adaptation by Peter Clapham of Louisa May Alcott's popular book play is being presented at the Playhouse, Dunedin, and is directed by Liz Nisbet, who also directed two other very successful productions in recent years: A Christmas Carol, and The Diary of Anne Frank.

There have been three film versions of Little Women over the years, the most recent in 1994. All three films had strong casts, and were very popular, so the story is probably still very well-known. Certainly people I've spoken to are familiar with it, and women in particular remember reading it with fondness.  This dramatised version focuses mostly on the original book whereas the movies have included some of Good Wives, the sequel.

It concerns the March family: Mr March has gone to be an army chaplain during the American Civil War, and has left his wife (Ruth Wheeler) and four daughters at home, along with the longsuffering housekeeper, Hannah (Sandra Shaw-Bennett). The March family are struggling financially, something that their wealthy Aunt March (played with enthusiasm by Carol Kruger) delights to rub in their faces. She also attempts to use the withdrawal of her money as a threat at times, to keep the family in line. In spite of their somewhat straitened circumstances, the March women are concerned for those poorer than themselves, and attempt to help where they can.

The four daughters, Jo, the writer (played with great energy and humour by Clare Thomson), Meg (Imogen Davis), Amy (Ava Straw) and Beth (Imogen Corbett) love each other - and squabble with each other, as siblings will.  Each has her strengths, and each of them is forced during the course of the story to deal with situations that extend them in some way.  The Christian underpinnings of the story are clear, from the need to forgive even the most 'abominable' behaviours to acting sacrificially when the need arises. Marmee (as Mrs March is known) has definite Christian convictions and presents them quietly and confidently to her daughters. She is a gentle woman, yet strong enough to keep her daughters from making enemies of each other.  Her highest moment of passion - in the play at least - is when she makes an urgent trip to Washington to care for her husband, who has 'the fever' (that all-encompassing word that covers anything that laid low people at that time).  For once we see her almost losing her calm.

There are male characters in the play (Mr March himself appears only at the last minute), but they tend to be satellites in orbit around the vividly drawn females. Laurie, the shy young man from next door (played by Lyndon Katene), is seen as a 'brother' to Jo rather than a lover - Jo isn't into falling in love. Laurie is a gentleman at all times, and willing to help the family in any crisis.  His grandfather (Bert Nisbet) is a seemingly severe old man - we understand why this might be in a moving scene in the second half of the play. However, he's also willing to use his sizeable income to help the family out when necessary.  And Laurie's relatively young tutor, Mr Brooke (James Tregonning) falls in love with Meg, as well as accompanying Mrs March on her trip to Washington.

Since the play relies heavily on its female characters, it's great to see an excellent group of women in the roles. They skip the play along at a great pace, and there's never a dull moment.  In fact, while the first half was entertaining in itself, the second half, where there are more dramatic scenes, proved even more engrossing. Last night's audience was thoroughly involved in the story, with some laugh-out-loud moments, some tears, and a satisfying feeling of having seen a good play well done.

A set of photos by Ian Thomson from the dress rehearsal can be found here.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Toes poems

Hopefully it's getting a bit late in the year to be worrying about having cozy toes - more likely the sandals and jandals will be coming out of hiding, if they haven't already. The last week or so has had some lovely days, and hopefully there'll be more, though as always, the weather people are forecasting something drastic for us.

Thinking about toes, I thought I'd check out my Evernote clippings to see what came up on that subject.  Surprisingly enough, while there were a few references to that common expression - kept me on my toes - most of the notes referred me back to poems I'd collected, including a link to one of my own. I can quote this one, since I own the copyright. Here's the bit about toes - it comes from a poem called Lying on my side:

Toes keep pace with the quietly shifting space:
those toes (unlike the ankles) soft and less defined,
grubs of differing heights set as extremities,
shift around each other, nuzzling in amongst each other,
comfort spaces betwixt between, sensuous with each other,
revelling in their sockless, shoeless freedom.

There's a nice bit about toes in a poem called Night Rains, San Diego, 2012.  The poem is by Tim Pfau: 

We sailed together, so clever and deft,
occasionally dipping our toes in
hurt, seasoning brightness and space with salt.

You can read the full poem on the Canopic Jar website.

Don Walls has his own website, and there are samples of his poems scattered over several pages. Aspects of my toes is a delightful short poem which you can read in full on the page that has some poems from his book Down the Lane. Just scroll down the page a little, until you find this poem.

Toes only get the briefest of mentions in John Updike's Seven Stanzas at Easter, but the poem is so good, I advise you to read it in full. He looks at the realness of the body Jesus rose in (the same hinged thumbs and toes...)

Finally, Dorianne Laux, in a poem called Antilamentation, also notes briefly a point about toes - and the way the person addressed in the poem has shoes that crimped her toes. It's a poem that suggests we should regret nothing, though I leave it up to you to discover whether that's good or bad advice from the poet.

This photo comes from a post on the KCBakes website, and discusses teal toes. Apparently teal is the official colour of ovarian cancer. There are a couple of other toe pictures there too.

Choristers' Concert

In just under two weeks' time, the ladies choir that I conduct - the Choristers - will have their annual concert.  I've been working with this group for most of this year, and it's been really enjoyable. I'm not the world's greatest conductor, and probably don't have a sufficiently good ear to be a really good choral conductor, but we manage, and the ladies are very forgiving...!

I took over at rather short notice from someone who'd originally come in just to fill in for the proper conductor, and who obviously then stayed quite a long time...  That's the sort of thing that can happen; the real holder of the job goes on temporary sick leave, and then doesn't get well, and the relief person winds up basically taking over.  So I've now taken over from the relief conductor - to her relief.

We've performed at several rest homes and groups this year, and will do even more of this next year. Because it took a little while for me as a new conductor to get up to speed, we didn't go out to places much early in the year, but since June we've been out and about a good deal.

The Choristers were originally the YMCA Choir - not being very much up with the history of the group I can't tell you when they changed their name, but I think it's some time ago.  I'll have to check.  Many of those who were in the YMCA Choir have now retired, due to old age, but old age hasn't stopped others.  Our group ranges in age from the late sixties to the late eighties. Nevertheless, we welcome women of all ages.  Because we practise in the daytime, all those in the choir are retired, with perhaps one or two exceptions.

The ladies are delightful, and it's been a pleasure working with them. They're looking forward to the concert on the 17th November, when they'll be including some recently-learnt songs in the programme, as well as old favourites.  The concert will be held at the Mornington Presbyterian Community Hall, in Maryhill Terrace. It starts at 2.00 pm. Cost is $10 a ticket, and of course there'll be door sales if you haven't booked in advance.