Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going through the motions

A scandal was reported in the local Dunedin newspaper last week, concerning a failure on the part of council inspectors to notice a badly installed plumbing fixture. The result was that raw sewage had been released into a local creek where children had been playing.

Here's the item from the Otago Daily Times, entitled "Councils clash over stream filth."

A Mr Thompson, development services manager of the Dunedin City Council, said there were no plans to re-examine the city council's building inspections process. Mr Thompson also said "city staff would use such a test only when there were doubts about a connection" and "we had no reason to doubt the connections."

Hmm. No reason to doubt that there is a building or plumbing problem. Isn't that rather the rationale behind inspections of new connections? What do the excessive fees charged for complying with building regulations, then pay for, if council inspectors can assume without checking, that everything is peachy keen?

Can we venture to suggest that council inspectors don't actually inspect? That they are just, ahem, going through the motions?

Leading the local children to go through the motions of different sort?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Poem by DH Lawrence


Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark

darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off light,
lead me then, lead the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on
the lost bride and her groom.

D. H. Lawrence

One of my all-time favourite poems, this late life verse from DH Lawrence is for me dizzily hypnotic; I feel drawn along the rhythmic onomatopoeic fateful lines like a drunken bee butting ecstatically against the sweet addiction of every kind of Blue. And doesn't Lawrence make the language sing like a violin: "soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas"...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sandra Bell & Azalia Snail NZ Tour

My multi-talented and beautiful friend Sandra Bell will be touring New Zealand with American indie 'lo-fi' pop queen Azalia Snail in the first week of October.

The tumble of adjectives doesn't end, when describing these two unique women who have forged their own kinds of "underground' "fringe" "avant-garde" music. It will be fantastic to hear them on the same bill.

Some delicious tastes of their music can be found on their myspace profiles:

Sandra Bell is a poet and muso long known in Dunedin and the American College Radio scene for her brand of "rollicking dark indie rock music".

Sandra's 4th album White Nights has just been released on Powertool Records. This album was written mostly in Berlin where she lived from 2001-2006.

Azalia will be promoting her new album Petal Metal.

The Dunedin gig is on Friday night October 3rd at Circadian Rhythm, and they're also playing at Chicks, Port Chalmers, on Thursday the 2nd.
Other ports of call around the country are Christchurch, Lyttelton, Greymouth, Nelson, Wellington, Wanganui, Hamilton, finishing up in Auckland on 11th October.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Books on the coffee table

I've noticed that blogland residents - especially the literary bloggers - have developed a custom of photographing one of their piles of books currently being read or browsed. What an endearing habit that is. I love looking at a pile of books! I'm always perusing the bookshelves pictured in magazines and if I visit your house I'm afraid you'll find me plonked down next to one of your bookshelves looking through it and leafing through your treasures.

Often people keep their current reading on the bedside table. I don't have a pile of books on my bedside table because I've never been able to read in bed. So my pile of books being "processed" usually ends up mostly on the coffee table.

So here I go for the first time taking a snapshot of some current reading (I also have other reading I do for work, that has its own bookshelf). This pile is heavily influenced by my recent trip to Australia.

In Melbourne I discovered a wonders-full bookshop utterly dedicated to poetry! It's called COLLECTED WORKS and if you click on that name you can read their blog. I was like a kid in a candy store. (Well, I was like ME in a lolly shop!)

Anyways here are some of the book planets circling the paradoxical cat's sun:

The Six Pack Three: Winning Writing from NZ Book Month (2008)

SPORT 36 Winter 2008


84484 Geoff Cochrane (Victoria University Press 2007)

Do Not Go Gentle: Poems for Funerals Edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe 2007)

Urban Myths John Tranter (University of Queensland Press 2006)

The Best Australian Poetry 2007 Edited by John Tranter (UQP)

The Best Australian Poems 2007 Edited by Peter Rose (Black Inc)

New Selected Poems Robert Gray (Duffy & Snellgrove 1998)

Secret Heart Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press 2006)

Incognito Jessica Le Bas (Auckland University Press 2007)

Collected Poems Sylvia Plath (Faber 1981)

Moonlight: NZ Poems on Death and Dying Edited by Andrew Johnston (Godwit 2008)

Open Sky: A Homage to Ruth Dallas Alan Loney (Otakou Press 2008)

Asynchrony Josephine Rowe (Cherry Fox Press 2007)


The Spare Room Helen Garner (Text 2008)

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions A Square (1884) [POD 2008]

Flatland Edwin A. Abbott (Oxford University Press 2006)

Come the Harvest Patricia Lawson (Whare-iti Press 2007)

The Ringmaster Vanda Symon (Penguin 2008)

Beyond the Breakwater: Stories 1948-1998 O.E. Middleton (Otago University Press 2008)

Some Other Country: New Zealand’s Best Short Stories (4th edition) Edited by Marion McLeod & Bill Manhire (Victoria University Press 2008)


Nordy: Arnold Nordmeyer, A Political Biography Mary Logan (Steele Roberts 2008)

The Shorter Pepys Samuel Pepys (Penguin)

A Very Easy Death Simone de Beauvoir (Penguin)

The Ship of Dreams: Masculinity in Contemporary New Zealand Fiction Alistair Fox Otago University Press 2008)

Sydney: Portrait of a City Geoffrey Moorhouse (Phoenix 1999)

Jane Campion Interviews Edited by Virginia Wright Wexman (University Press of Mississippi 1999)

The Printing of a Masterpiece Alan Loney (Black Pepper 2008)

Waimarino Country & Other Excursions Martin Edmond (AUP 2007)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Toenails Tabby

"She was good this time," said the Vet.

Yes - she was good this time.

Mind you we did have to corner her on the floor, throw a towel over her, struggle to get the muzzle on, and the demon Tabby needed two people holding her down while her toenails were being clipped.

Yes she was quite good. At least we didn't have to abort the process half way through like last time, and every toenail was trimmed, and there was no blood shed.

Expresso Book Machine


And I was there folks - Last Saturday I was one of the first customers in Australia to buy a book from a catalogue and watch it printed in front of me, on the compact press, at the Angus & Robertson Melbourne CBD store in Bourke Street.

Very cool.

It took about ten minutes to have the volume in my hot little hands, the pages still warm off the press.

The title was Flatland which is a marvellous piece of Victorian science fiction, a classic, and like most other titles they were offering, long out of copyright.

But there is great potential with this new invention, to extend the life of low-demand current titles that booksellers might balk at giving shelf space, but would be happy to print if required.

Here's a news clip and photo from the Melbourne Age.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In Memoriam

Dad as a young boy cooling off in a waterhole

Today has been the first anniversary of my father's death. He lived a long good life.

My Dad was a wonderful father - I couldn't have asked for better. He was my hero, and he was a shining light to many others as well, because of his goodness and kindness, his warmth, his moral principles and sense of justice.

The first anniversary of such a deep loss often brings a more intense grief than at the time of death, as one is so numb then, and so busy dealing with all the practical matters. And so I have found it. I have mourned again today, as freshly as if the parting only happened yesterday.

I visited the cemetery today and expressed my grief and love and thanks for all he gave me, his guidance, his example. I read out poems and put fresh flowers on his grave.

Then I visited another special spot that for me is imbued with his memory and spirit - a water trough fed by a mountain spring where he once watered a draught horse when he was just 12 years old and had to leave school to start work on a farm to help support his mother. The water is cold and pure (many people go there to fill up containers with it) and I washed my face after all the weeping.

That was my ritual.

Goodbye, Dad. I miss you.

Sydney's Chinese Garden of Friendship

Holiday snaps!

Can hardly believe it was only last Sunday we were at Darling Harbour in Sydney enjoying the delights of this beautiful garden.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mog Blog

And what of the Tabby? What befell her while the rest of the family was gallivanting in the Land of Oz?

To hear her talk, it was an eventful time, because she will go on and on about it. She always comes home from the cattery with a howling habit that takes a few days to subside. She howls and miaows and never stops purring either.

She has to check the entire house to make sure no interlopers took up residence while she was away.

Her nose is out of joint. We must suffer her complaints: we must be chastised for abandoning her.

OK, so it was traumatic to have to leave home with its velvet cushions and goose feather pillows, and gourmet meals on demand. But the Tabby did stay in a five star boarding facility, one that she is very familiar with, because her human servants are frequent travellers. This particular cattery is a second home for the Tabby. The Proprietor is paid well for his excellent care of the best cats in town. Among the high class features the cattery boasts, you can find:

  • underfloor heating

  • hammocks

  • sunny sofas

  • ramps and ladders

  • tree trunks and branches to climb and scratch on

  • pillows and perches at various heights

  • a television to watch

  • roomy split-level personal quarters

  • individual toilet facilities

  • ample opportunity to mingle with the other guests

  • grooming and pampering from the staff

Actually the cat had more luxurious conditions than I did. The Victorian-era plumbing in the Melbourne hotel I stayed in, was positively medieval. Hair-trigger. It was a choice of being scalded or chilled, and the tiniest nano-adjustment only moved the temperature of the trickle of water from one dire fate to the other.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hot Ziggity Zag!

One of many highlights on my recent journey to Australia was a return trip on the small but perfectly formed Zig Zag Railway in the Blue Mountains.

True to its name it zigs and it zags and it zigs again, all the way down and up a cliff face.

It's one of those rail attractions where it's almost the track rather than the train itself, that is the draw card. A feat of engineering, full of switchbacks and sharp corners requiring the engine to be shunted up and down and back and forward, to the delight of onlookers.

Oooh, and did I mention it's a STEAM train? Sigh... I just love steam trains. Especially when they whistle.

The good people at the Zig Zag Railway have added extra daggy features to the Zig Zag experience especially for children - there is a friends of Thomas the Tank Engine event and also a Harry Potter special, the Wizard's Express, leaving from Platform 9 and 3/4.

I first heard of the Zig Zag this time last year when I was riding on the adorable Puffing Billy out back of Melbourne. I was chatting to a fellow rail enthusiast and he was wearing a hat with Zig Zag Railway on it. I have the same model hat now, AND a T-shirt. And a smiling face :-)

It's not a smile - it's a smirk

While I was away lots of storms hit the financial sector too.

On the day of the worst events, I was on a long distance train across Australia. The EFT-POS machine in the buffet car would not connect to the network, and for a while I was convinced that perhaps the world financial system really had collapsed (it runs on credit, after all, and wasn't this a credit crisis?)

But Mr Bush in America discovered the socialist in himself, and he and his cronies dug up a trillion dollars from somewhere (damn, there goes the Xmas party budget!) and applied all the money to the gaping hole - a hole created by dazzling excesses of greed, bankrupt ethics and lack of wisdom.

The whole notion of taxpayer money helping out the less fortunate became rather important after all for Bush, when it came to stopping stock brokers jumping out of their mirror glass penthouse windows at the top of their luxurious high rise buildings. It was vitally important for all the capitalist fat cats to continue to draw their millions and billions in *performance* bonuses and very important for the average worker to donate their tax money to bail out the greedy mismanagers of the credit business. Sigh.

Suddenly the rest of the world became aware of what left wing commentators have been telling them, that it's really not a good idea to trade on shares you don't actually own, or lend money to people who can't afford to pay you back.

And speaking of stockbrokers, I returned home to the delight of the unmasking of that well known poker-faced share trader, the notorious 'smiling assassin" John Key, pretender to the throne. And in this clip, what a great example of a mask-like expression and just a flickering of the eyes to signal he's been caught out. Didn't miss a beat. Very scary. And of course mostly the mainstream media are desperately trying to spin this fresh revelation into some sort of triumph for their right wing poster boy. They're whinging on about the revelation being a "Labour attack" on Key. Yeah right.

They had storms

Apparently they had storms in Dunedin while I was away in Australia. I have returned home to tales of damaging winds (and threats of more), and a photo in the local paper of high seas crashing against the Esplanade sea wall at St Clair and inundating the hot salt water pool. I hate to miss a good storm but fortunately I did manage to be at the heart of a dramatic lightning storm in my hotel in mid-city Melbourne.

Beautiful beautiful Melbourne. I fall in love with that place more and more and I can easily imagine living there.

Another thing. After about a week in Sydney and about a week in Melbourne, I find I have been long enough away from New Zealand to suffer the returning Kiwi syndrome of "Where has everybody gone?"

The streets are deserted, there are no people here. Has there been an edict ordering everyone to shelter in their houses? Where is everyone?

I experienced this phenomenon after my first trip away overseas and have heard many other people mention it too. And each time I get back to these sparsely populated islands it sneaks up on me. Where are all the people?

The city of Melbourne has about 4 million people, which equals the entire population of New Zealand.

And yet it's a small world. Especially for bloglanders. When I was at a "do" in Melbourne, I met someone who invited me to read her blog - but it turned out I already knew it well! I was astonished by the coincidence, since there are a trillion blogs out there after all, and I couldn't remember how I first stumbled on Literary Minded, but its author Angela suggested I had probably discovered it because the influential and indefatigable Bookman Beattie links to her blog. Indeed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

And the Albatross

The godwits arrived, the day I posted about them, a full two weeks early! Cathedral bells rang out at Noon on Tuesday , and conservationists worried about why the birds had been so off timetable. Was it something to do with global climate change, or the disastrous loss of habitat in Asia?

And now the next bird to be welcomed back to Southern New Zealand with an ecclestiastical peal, is the Royal Albatross. Due to arrive back at the Otago Peninsula colony any day now for the spring mating season, and the Church bells will then ring out over Dunedin, "the closest major city to Antarctica".

The Albatross Colony site has a webcam, so when the birds arrive I must remember to check up on them.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Godwits are Coming

From the Christchurch City Council web site:

The Bar-tailed Godwits (Limosa lapponica) each year fly 11,000km from Alaska to spend the southern summer on the New Zealand coastline.

Every year the Christchurch City Council organises a spring celebration to mark the arrival of the first Godwit migrants. The Christchurch Cathedral bells ring for 30 minutes when the first birds are seen on the Avon-Heathcote Estuary.

Ranger Andrew Crossland keeps an eye open after mid-September for the arrival of the Bar-tailed Godwits from their non-stop journey over the Pacific Ocean.

The harbingers of spring mass for migration on the Alaskan coastline after finishing breeding further north in the Arctic tundra. Our knowledge of their movements is better than ever before as about 20 birds are fitted with satellite trackers prior to departure from New Zealand. These Godwits are tracked as they returned to the breeding grounds via a route which takes them past New Guinea and the Phillippines to a half-way stop in the Yellow Sea of China and Korea. Then comes a second epic flight parallel to the Aleutian islands across the North Pacific and back to the north slope of Alaska.

Scientists report that the godwits make the longest non-stop flight of all birds – an amazing 11,000 kilometres from Alaska to New Zealand, in only five or six days.

"The Godwit breeding ground is tundra, moss and swampy tarn, where they feed on insects," Mr Crossland says. "After breeding, they move to the shorelines and estuaries along the Alaskan coast to build up for migration by feeding on shellfish and sea worms."
After spending the southern summer in New Zealand, resting and gaining weight, the Bar-tailed Godwits leave in March for the long flight back to the breeding grounds.

As well as the welcome ritual, there is a farewell ritual too.

From the NZ Herald, Monday March 10, 2008:

Godwits leave New Zealand for Alaska

Hundreds of people gathered in Christchurch last night to farewell the bar-tailed godwits as they begin their long, hazardous journey back to Alaska.

Thousands of godwits regularly spend the summer in New Zealand before making the 11,000km flight back to Alaska, via China, for the northern hemisphere summer.

Ranger Andrew Crossland said that around 500 people gathered at Christchurch's Southshore Spit last night to see the first of the birds leave on the eight-day journey.

The birds leave in groups of between five and 30 over a four-week period and when they have all left, the bells of the Christchurch Cathedral will toll.

The Christchurch Press reported today that the birds are about to leave Alaska.

They're on their way! Get ready to ring those cathedral bells!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ms Blog Blah-dy Blah

Blah-dy blah-dy blah. Blah-dy blah blah.
Or so it seems.

I'm off to write a poem. Or to find a found one.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Broken English in Paris

Caught up with one of the film festival movies I had missed, C├ędric Klapisch's PARIS.

It hadn't been on my must-see list. It sounded a little lightweight for me, because the biggest drawcard seemed to be that watching it was a good way to do some vicarious sightseeing - "If travel is not an option, Klapisch's film is a rich and satisfying indulgence."

It sounded attractive and expendable. Like an extra helping of cake.

But the film came back, to our Rialto cinema. As travel isn't an option right now, and I have never been to Paris, I took the opportunity to take the big-screen tour. Glad I did. It was not a very original story, but it is a really smart movie, and a pleasure to sit through. Sort of a Babel-lite and sweet.

The characterisations of the people and the city, were rich and thought-provoking.

One intriguing aspect was that the English subtitles were appallingly bad. Not only was the English non-idiomatic, but at times the translations were just plain incompetent. That's unusual these days. Seems odd they didn't find a native English speaker for the task. But you can make a nit-picker happy by throwing them some nits to pick, and I did enjoy spotting the howlers.

Leave my train set alone!

The National Party have come out with the first of their election billboards and already there are some hilarious take-offs revealing their not-very "secret agenda".

Here's one of the spoof billboards, from "Rodney Grub" above. It's brilliant, and unlike the authorised one, tells the truth.

And it mocks the political spinsters working for JohnKey (rhymes with DonKey), who initially misread the NZ public's mind on the Rail buy-back, and tried to pitch the purchase as an extravagant acquisition of a useless "train set".

Which was rather lame considering we now know that National's own not-very popular or bright alternative, is to build more roads and charge users to travel on them, at a time when we should be discouraging the use of fossil fuels! D'oh.

Monday, September 1, 2008


How is it a cat can be fast asleep and stretching at the same time?

Today is the "official" first day of spring here in the South, but all my favourite poems about spring aren't suitable for the kind of day it is today, and the kind of spring we have in Dunedin.

For instance,

"April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire"

The winter here isn't cold enough for the kind of shocking spring that leaps importunately out of barrenness. Although this year we've had one of the coldest winters I've ever known for this area, there have still been flowering plants in the garden.

Wallace Stevens said "Spring in Connecticut is just as wild as spring in Persia," but today's spring in Dunedin is mild and warm. Still, it is spring, and there's a spring in the step, and spring is on everyone's lips. Seems people are happy about the fact we can say goodbye to a dreary winter.

I didn't even know about this joyful optimistic side of spring until I came to live here in the South. Where I grew up it was subtropical spring all year round. Which is nice, but I prefer the seasons. I especially love autumn.

The leaves fall, as if from far away.
We all fall. This hand must fall.

(Rainer Maria Rilke, "Autumn")

Thinking about my favourite poems about seasons, I discovered that one of my favourite poems about winter is called "Summer" and one of my favourite lines about summer is in a poem called "Autumn Day". In order to have seasons, you need contrast. Poets know this.

Lord it is time. The summer was too long.

(Rainer Maria Rilke, "Autumn Day")

..these lines

must be tracks in the whiteness
left by animals late at night.

Or fences, or trees
just risking the surface.

(Bill Manhire, "Summer")

Of course this last poem isn't just about snow covering a landscape. It's about the poem itself.