Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bubbly vs Spry

I have observed from long experience of reading daily newspapers, that a disproportionate number of bubbly people meet untimely and tragic deaths.

Being bubbly may well endanger your health. You are especially liable to be abducted and/or murdered, and your likelihood of being in a fatal accident is also significantly increased.

Bubbly is a characteristic most usually ascribed posthumously. Literally, it denotes 'effervescent', and semantically it means something like 'cheerful and cheeky'. But pragmatically (how we use language in everyday life) the word is most often used by families and neighbours talking to journalists about the victim.

"She was so bubbly; she had all her life ahead of her."

One up for the sour pusses, I'd say. It's a great motivation to stay grumpy and sullen. We'll have better odds of survival.

We all understand the hidden meanings attached to words like bubbly, even though we don't always consciously acknowledge them.

For instance the dictionary definition of spry is recorded as 'brisk, active'. But we wouldn't call a teenager spry. Only old people - or old cats - who surprise us by their nimbleness despite their advanced age, qualify as spry.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

New Zealand's Got Talent


The Paradoxical Cat's Flying Circus!

Many years ago Schroedinger and the Tabby had high hopes of touring the provinces with the astonishing high-jump act pictured above.

Please note that the human assistant is standing on a chair; so the Tabby has leapt at least five feet to reach the falling piece of meat!

The ambition of eventually starring on a Japanese game show came to nothing, as pipe dreams often do; however the legendary Tabby did perform the party trick frequently to the amazement of any visitor who witnessed it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Erebus Voices


I am here beside my brother, Terror.
I am the place of human error.

In 2004, on the 25th anniversary of the Erebus air crash, New Zealand's greatest living poet, and indispensable literary statesman Bill Manhire, delivered a public poem that really works.

Read "Erebus Voices" HERE.

On the whole I have mixed feelings about laureateships and ceremonial commissions - being a bit of a mystic about poetic inspiration, I find it hard to believe that even a major poet should be expected to deliver a masterpiece on demand. Laureate programmes are obviously tremendously valuable for the poet, and raise the profile of poetry as a vocation, and established poets do deserve the accolades and the wine. But not all laureates produce their best poetry while under the influence of their year(s) of honour and reward.
But Bill Manhire did give us a genuinely significant poem about the Erebus crash, and it belongs to all of us now.

We fell.
Yet we were loved and we are lifted.

The first performance was by Sir Ed Hillary, at Scott Base in the Antarctic.

And here is the bouquet of flowers I was sent by a dear friend today to mark my own poignant anniversary. I love carnations. As far as I know, they have no therapeutic value other than their aesthetic properties. Their sole purpose is to comfort and please us.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

America's Thanksgiving

This year, the people of the USA have a lot to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!


In NZ we start talking about the Erebus disaster each year, a few days before the actual anniversary of the terrible plane crash that happened on the 28th of November 1979.

Everyone knows someone who was on the plane, or who lost someone, or who might have been on the plane.

As any one of us, or our loved ones, MIGHT have been on the plane, if our luck had been against us that day, then we're all affected.

The 29th anniversary is tomorrow, but it's already on my mind. And I'm not the only only already thinking about it. A panel on National Radio the other day was discussing that phenomenon in which everybody remembers where they were and and what they were doing when they heard about the DC 10 lost on a sightseeing flight to the South Pole.

I remember where I was and what I was doing. I was lying in a hospital bed coming to terms with the news that my baby, due to be born in a few weeks' time, had died in utero. My very personal catastrophe had happened at the same time as the plane had slammed into the side of the icy Antarctic mountain and for me my son's memory is forever bound to that event.

There were no survivors. All that remained was for the grim recovery of the bodies.

As the years go by, one never forgets, but the pain eases of course, and sometimes I've jokingly said that my stillborn baby was the easiest of my children to raise - yes it was a terrible grief that he died on Mt Erebus, but one's living children are so well placed in one's heart to keep being the source of new sorrows and shocks...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The other January


Bruno Lawrence starred in a NZ film called Quiet Earth (1985). The premise was that "a man wakens to find himself alone in the world".

Anyone who has ever tried to find a New Zealand themed calendar to send overseas contacts for Christmas, will understand where the idea came from.

There are no people in the pictures! Just scenery!

Yeah sure we have beautiful and varied scenery in "God's Own Country". Aotearoa offers a microcosm of the best of the pretty landscapes to be found in the rest of the world; here is to be found the bonsai of tourism cliches.

But we do have people too, a few of them anyway, and our people are just as interesting as our scenery.

Some suggestions for a shockingly unique New Zealand calendar with people in it:

The crowd at Warbirds Over Wanaka with snowy mountains in the background.

A surfing carnival at Gisborne or Raglan with the picturesque crowd of grommets, gnarled old surfers and all the in between.

Field days at Hamilton, the agricultural and pastoral crowd and the livestock.

Cuba Mall in Wellington with buskers and other people of indeterminate gender.

Upper Queen Street's Korea town with the Sky Tower in the distance.

Christmas in the Park, Christchurch or Auckland, with opera singer and entranced crowd wearing Santa hats in the scorching afternoon sun.

Race day somewhere on Melbourne Cup Day. Maybe Wingatui, with lots of semi-naked gooseflesh.

Open mike night for poets at the local pub.

Otara Markets - taro and lavalavas.

A Farmer's Market in blue-green land with the middle classes driving out in their SUV's to buy organic artichokes.

An erupting Mt Ruapehu with skiers in the foreground.

Waitangi Day protests and celebrations with heavy-laden waka in the background.

These are all stereotypes too, but at least they have people in them.


Riot season in Dunedin's student quarter

The restless earth

I felt a little gentle swaying, just after midnight last night. I was still on the computer so was able to confirm by comparing the fascinating seismographs from the Geonet earthquake drums that there had indeed been a bit of a quake somewhere in the lower South Island.

It was near Te Anau and measured 4.2 on the Richter scale. It's the biggest one on the graph above. The red parts mean the "pen" swung so far back and forth that for ease of reading the rest of the drum, the graphic record of the movement has been truncated and signalled with a change of colour. If there is any red, that means it was a reasonable shake.

That particular shake was hardly earth-shattering, but I am keen on seismic activity and I always get a thrill I I feel a tremor, and again when I see the record of it.

But look at those other wee quakelets just in the last couple of hours. Are they aftershocks? They're also only registering in the lower South Island, so I guess so.

I've been noticing quite a few little local tremors and sways lately, and have noticed too from a lay person's perspective only, that there seems to have been a lot more action than usual on the earthquake drums lately - all over NZ.

We're always being told NZ is overdue for another "big one".

So the other day I reviewed the earthquake advice on the Civil Defence website, and posted it on the Tabby's blog here not long ago.

I see that sheltering under a table is back in fashion. Only now you are urged to "hold" onto something as well. Even though I do love earthquakes, I'm not silly enough to want the bookshelf to fall on me.

Public service message over.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Field Punishment No. 1

I was really sorry to miss the launch of this book, held last night in Wellington.

Normally all it takes is for someone to open a paper bag and I'll be there like a shot looking for a glass of sauv blanc and a rice cracker, but I'm trying to have more care for my carbon footprint and Dunedin is a jet flight away from the Capital.

Still, I wish I'd made the effort. David Grant has taken on the important role of documenting the history of those brave men who swam against the tide of militarism in New Zealand: the conscientious objectors of World War 1 and 2.

I know something about these admirable men because my Dad was one of them. He was imprisoned in the 1940s because he was a "defaulter" who refused to fight in the war because of his pacifist beliefs.

Conchies at Hautu Prison in the 1940s; Dad is second from the right

David Grant has already told the story of the "conchies" of the Second War in Out in the Cold: pacifists and conscientious objectors in New Zealand during World War II. (1988)

Now in Field Punishment No. 1 he turns his attention in more detail to the pacifist heroes of the First War, like Archie Baxter (James K Baxter's dad) and Mark Briggs.

You can read more about Pacifism in World War 1 on the Ministry for Culture & Heritage's web resource New Zealand History Online.

Or look for the new book, published by Steele Roberts. It's on my Xmas wish list...

Field Punishment No.1 is illustrated by Bob Kerr's chilling paintings on the topic of the treatment meted out to the conchies in the First War. Anyone who has read the inspiring NZ classic We Will Not Cease by Archibald Baxter will know of the territory. Those men were taken to France to the front lines... have a closer look at the cover of the book above to see what happened then.

You can see more of Bob Kerr's paintings on Dunedin's Milford Gallery web site. Bob Kerr held an exhibition called Number One Field Punishment: Archibald Baxter's Opposition to Military Conscription at the gallery during a long cold winter last year, and that was an opening I did attend! There was a big crowd there to hear talks about the conchies and to enjoy looking at the art.

"PC" snapped in the company of poet Peter Olds
at Bob Kerr's exhibition opening
Milford Gallery, Dunedin, August 2007
(Photo Roger Steele)
There is a review of the book launch on SCOOP Review of Books with some great photos by Jeremy Rose.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Advice from Virginia Woolf

The Tabby and I have been rereading that great essay by Virginia Woolf in which the excellent advice was given to women writers, to "Kill the Angel in the House".

The Tabby was delighted with the fact that with her first cheque from her professional writing, Virginia Woolf bought a cat.

It was a promising start for Woolf: "What could be easier than to write articles and to buy Persian cats with the profits?"

But "the Angel in the house" was holding her back. Here's how:

She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it—in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all—I need not say it—–she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty—her blushes, her great grace. In those days—the last of Queen Victoria—every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: “My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.” And she made as if to guide my pen.

The rest is well known. "Killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer."

Consequently, taking this excellent advice on board, I killed the Angel in my House a long time ago. And over the years I've also killed the Housemaid, the Seamstress, the Gardener and the Cook.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

If the Earth Moves


From NZ Civil Defence Website GET READY GET THRU

The danger you face in an earthquake comes from falling debris and collapsing structures such as buildings and bridges. You need to be aware of these hazards to help you get through.

There are thousands of earthquakes in New Zealand every year, but most of them are not felt because they are either small, or very deep within the earth. A large, damaging earthquake could occur at any time. The best way to prepare is to get ready now.

Follow these simple steps:

During an earthquake

If you are inside a building, move no more than a few steps, drop, cover and hold

If you are outside, move no more than a few steps, then drop, cover and hold

If you are driving, pull over and stop

If you are at the beach or near the coast, drop, cover and hold then move to higher ground immediately in case a tsunami follows the quake

After an earthquake

You should expect to feel aftershocks

Help those around you if you can

If you are in a damaged building, try to get outside and find a safe, open place

Do not go sightseeing to look at the damage the earthquake has caused

If you smell gas, try and turn off the gas main outside the building if it is safe to do so

If you see sparks, broken wires or evidence of electrical system damage, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box if it is safe to do so

If your property is damaged, take notes and photographs for insurance purposes

Listen to the radio for information and advice

Before an earthquake

Getting ready before an earthquake strikes will help reduce damage to your home and business and help you survive.

Develop a Household Emergency Plan and prepare an Emergency Survival Kit so that you can cope with being on your own for up to three days or more.

Identify safe places within your home, school or workplace.
A safe place is:
  • under a strong table, remember to hold onto the legs
  • next to an interior wall
  • somewhere close to you, no more than a few steps, or two metres away,
    to avoid injury from flying debris
Check your household insurance policy for cover and amountSeek qualified advice to make sure your house is secured to its foundations.

Also check that any renovations comply with the NZ Building Code

Secure heavy items of furniture to the floor or wall.

Visit the Earthquake Commission website to find out how to quake-safe your home.

Top ten reasons books are better than sex

Sunday morning browsing on the blogweb, found a very amusing post: TOP TEN REASONS BOOKS ARE BETTER THAN SEX.

It comes directly from thriller writer JA Konrath of Chicago, on his blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing .

My favourite of his reasons:

10. With books, it's socially acceptable to read both men and women.

6. You don't have to get a book drunk first.

Some of the comments are good too, with readers adding their own suggestions, and a competing "list of why sex is better than books" including "you can't read a book in the back seat of a dark cab".

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Open Home

Last week I at last found a few days to devote to preparing my parents' house for sale.

There was the garden to tidy up, personal effects and valuables to remove from the house and quite a lot of cleaning to do inside and outside. And all the while their whole life, and my whole life, just lying there like an open wound in every drawer and on every shelf, in the cupboards, in the cardboard boxes, in the photographs and paintings on the walls, and even the stains on the carpet and the overgrown vines and shrubs, and the weeds in the courtyard.

The vast teddy bear collection my Mum gathered together as she slowly retreated into the dementia that by the end had switched our roles: me becoming the solicitous guardian and her into the wilful innocent child.

Dad's toolshed still well stocked, but his garage empty now, festooned with cobwebs, and cluttered with the stuff to be taken to op shops or the recycling centre at the dump.

Dad's line up of remote controls velcroed to the special gadget he kept them on, all handy to his arm chair.

Mum's writings, dad's diaries, their framed certificates, their love letters from their courtship.

All their life. What has it come to, them both gone but so much of their material baggage left behind, the valuable archives, the sentimental treasures, a few baubles, the merely useful, and the junk.

The first open home is tomorrow. The place looks fantastic, as though the loving couple has just stepped out for a walk around the block. They had ten wonderful years here, pottering and saving the world in their own way, as always, and holding the whole family together like glue. But now, they are not just out for a walk, they've gone.

Friday, November 21, 2008

That feels better

Bliss - have just had a lengthy lazy soak in a hot pool. The first time for a long long time. I swam a bit and floated a bit, and just generally relaxed.

The Tabby is incredulous at the sight of a wet human returning from a swim, hair dripping and reeking of chlorine. Why ever do you do that crazy thing, she wonders.

Cats never seem to have any trouble unwinding. For humans it's not so easy, especially when there's been extra stress to deal with.

Yep, it has been an annus horribilis. As well as supporting Mum through losing Dad, and her own sad last decline, my health has been indifferent to say the least, with my two types of arthritis both flaring up and the struggle to get dangerously high blood pressure under control. I've been too busy and too tired and too sore to do the walking and swimming exercise and pilates that used to keep me in shape, so I've become even more unfit...

I'm thoroughly fed up with all that and have decided to bring New Year forward, and make my New Year's resolution today, to start looking after myself better.

The Tabby as ever, is my guru and life coach. Every day is the first day of the rest of her life for her, and looking after number one is always her priority.

100th Post

This is my 100th post on the Tabby's web log. Happy 100th post to us!

To celebrate I've put up a snapshot of today's pile of some recent book purchases.

Freedom to Read: A Centennial history of Dunedin Public Library
Hot off the press. I have the soul of a librarian so am looking forward to perusing this substantial illustrated history of my "local". The 100th anniversary is only a couple of weeks away, in early December, and the Library has been running an active and interesting series of talks and events, including an entertaining talk by Dunedin crime novelist (and fellow blogger) Vanda Symon.

The Boat Nam Le I'm keen to read this after reading Angela Meyer's brilliantly creative interview with Nam Le on her Literary Minded blog.

Forbidden Cities Paula Morris (Penguin 2008) is a book of short stories by a Kiwi author I have not read yet - except for her blog Trendy But Casual that is! She's based in New Orleans but manages to be very much part of NZ literary life - she is highly regarded and well connected, but I just haven't had time to catch up with the novels she has released so far. Steve Braunias recommended this latest book in his Sunday column recently and from what I've read so far the fulsome praise is well deserved.

From Darkness to Light: Poems about the Kerikeri Mission House Vivienne Plumb
I now have number 171 of 500 hand numbered copies of this fascinating collaboration between a poet and the oldest wooden building in New Zealand.

It's not how good you are, It's how good you want to be
Paul Ardern (Phaidon)
Hmm. This is a self-improvement book, all full of ra-ra-ra for advertising executives and PR people. But I bought it at an Art Gallery bookstore, and it is aimed at those promoting arts and culture, as well as fashion, and actually I've found it very helpful already. It has some great advice, such as "DO NOT TRY TO WIN AWARDS": "Be true to your subject and you will be far more likely to create something that is timeless. That's where the true art lies"; and "THE PEROSN WHO DOESN'T MAKE MISTAKES IS UNLIKELY TO MAKE ANYTHING."

Beyond Black Hilary Mantel (Harper 2005) Marvellous dark and funny novel about a travelling psychic Medium. And deeply sensitive social and psychological commentary thrown in. I need to read everything else by Hilary Mantel now. Here's a link to a review of Beyond Black by Fay Weldon in the Guardian. And yet more reviews.

Christina's Story: Realities of family life on an isolated Pacific Island, 1938-1956 Dorothy McKenzie of Oamaru co-authored this memoir of her aunt Chris Crump's experiences as a Presbyterian missionary's wife in Vanuatu.

Blood Noir Laurell K. Hamilton (2008) A non-literary weakness of mine - vampire fiction. This is number 15 in the "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" series. I first fell for sassy female vampire hunters through my addiction to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series (I have almost every show on DVD!). I bought this novel a while ago and haven't found any time to read it yet. Maybe this is the weekend I'll be able to knock it off. When I'm reading for pleasure I usually just start and keep reading until I've finished. The Anita Blake novels are off the wall and have gotten steamier and steamier, but so far I have managed to stay the journey with Anita Blake, although the graphically described supernatural vampire/werewolf orgies are definitely not for the squeamish.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Deja vue with bonsai

I posted about bonsai last week, because I'd stumbled across a wonderful exhibition of bonsai in the Dunedin Community Gallery. I'd been hurrying along the street on some urgent mission I don't even remember now. I do vividly recall the joy of the half hour I stole from myself (or did I steal if for myself?) and spent browsing among the forest of tiny giants.

I really did not have any spare time, but going on the principle that when you're over-busy it's even more important then to find the time "to stop and smell the roses", I went in for a look and was lost in admiration.

What's not to love, with bonsai? They're so beautiful, so minute, so perfect. Toy trees!

Something that is normally so vast and powerful, and unruly, has become constrained and delicate, and disciplined.

The Buddhists understand the spiritual power of the art of bonsai. There's a stillness that draws you in, a ready-made little meditation in just looking at a well-shaped bonsai.

I have always wished I had the personal and material resources to raise bonsai. I did buy one once but it was too demanding (I don't have green thumbs) and as with the carnivorous plant, and the oxygen plant, and the papyrus palm I also tried to nurture, it had to be given away to friends more patient and capable with plant life.

Bonsai is only one of two hobbies I'd love to have the time and expertise to indulge in.

The other impossibly time-consuming pastime I can imagine getting into - in another lifetime - is railway modelling. I so would like to have a whole model trainset in my house. I would devote a whole room to it. Heck - why stop there? - I would knock holes in the wall and have the track go all around the house!

Again this week, I was rushing past the gallery and again caught sight of some bonsai. This time there was just one stall with some beautiful plants for sale. I went in to look. Even though they're expensive, I was tempted to buy one. How would you choose though? They are all so exquisite.

Then I caught sight of a small spruce tree. And suddenly I had a thought.

I could buy this little tree, and liberate it. Unloose its bounds and let it grow big!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Bonsai is an art that makes me wish I had the time, patience, skill and creativity to practise it.

Fortunately I can stop for a moment now and then and look at a gnarled old spruce tree, as small as a kitten. And shiver.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

We chose a darker future.

Alas. New Zealand had the opportunity yesterday to make a responsible choice for the future of our planet and our country.

The choice was made and the right wing have swung into power on a wave of what did out to be an unstoppable propaganda campaign of lies, smears and dirty tricks and media complicity in presenting a slanted view of reality.

As the saying goes, "be careful what you ask for, you might get it".

As one of the leaders of the NZ Green Party said, in 20 years many people will look back and wonder "what was I thinking?" when they see where they changed step and took the wrong path.

A former money trader and man of indeterminable morals, presenting as a centrist but with hard right backers and strategists, has become Prime Minister with the seeming self-delusion that he has anything at all in common with President Obama.

The only thing in common is that he has won. He belongs on the opposite end of every other scale from Obama. Just wait and see.

If Earth is ever visited by an aliens from another planet I'm sure they'll shake their heads in wonder at the self-destructiveness of the human species.

Just when finally the world is in love with America, today for the first time ever, I am ashamed to be a New Zealander.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Unseasonal weather here in Dunedin. It has sleeted, snowed and hailed on and off for a couple of days, even at sea level. There is snow on the hills. It's freezing cold!

Great timing for my last burst of delivering Labour Party leaflets. But so important to get this message out, even at the risk of getting frost bite.

The right wing has had a stranglehold on the mainstream media in New Zealand for this whole election campaign. I'm so disappointed by the bias in reporting, that if John Key does become Prime Minister this weekend, I really am giving up on this country and leaving. I'll be so ashamed.

But where do I go to? I was thinking of Australia, but there's a new beacon of hope in the world today.

America we love you! Gobama! Hurrah!!