Friday, February 27, 2009

Portrait of the Tabby as a young cat

RIP the beautiful Tabby, beloved friend, 1989 - 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Utu: Un thriller chez les Maoris

In the sixth annual Prix SNCF du Polar (the French crime-writing awards) way back in 2005, the French category was won by French author Caryl FĂ©rey's thriller Utu set in New Zealand.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Green Comet

The 'green comet' Lulin made its closest approach to the earth today.

Unfortunately, it was raining in Dunedin at the time so no chance of a sighting here.

Very cool photo though, taken by amateur astronomer Jack Newton of Arizona, and available care of NASA.

Lost and Found Art

For some reason I missed out on hearing about this Dunedin School of Fine Arts project at the time.

I wonder how the cardboard train turned out. I hope they kept it. Before long it may be the only train left.

The rather morose remnants of the poster are stuck to the side of the abandoned old Dunedin Post Office. Great plans were afoot for a luxury hotel renovation on the site but the plans all turned to custard. Much private investment money has been lost. (Smallish investors had been invited to own a share of their own hotel room or suite... I would have thought that proposal in itself might have signalled there was a funding problem! It was kind of like a time share but you didn't get to go anywhere tropical.)

The vast empty building would make a great community arts centre. But the city fathers* are fond of vast empty buildings; why they're ready to start building yet another one - that ill-fated Stadium.

* [The use of the term 'city fathers' is intended as a literal reference to the fact that the wasteful Dunedin Stadium pipe dream seems mostly to be an achievement of a powerful old boys' network greasing each other's rugby balls.]

Monday, February 23, 2009

Taking Care

When you're stressed and busy, that's exactly when you have to look after yourself. That's my strategy for surviving with a smile, so I took time off for a self-indulgent massage and facial.

When I told Schroedinger that I was booked in for my favourite cooling oatmeal face pack, he was as usual scandalised. He just doesn't get paying someone to rub your back and put cold porridge on your face.

He said, "I could do that for half the price."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The past is a foreign country

For quite a few days this week I've been immersed in the past. My past, my family's past. It is a different place alright, from the real "now" I'm living in, where everything has changed.

Mum and Dad died within one year of each other, and the house has been sold. And it has fallen to me to clear out all the possessions that had remained after a lifetime.

It's not an easy job, and it's even harder if you're doing it on your own. But I chose to do it. I feel the need to pay respect to the past. I wonder if that sense of self-sacrificial duty is because I was the only daughter. The gender thing seems more than a coincidence...

So - faced with a new undertaking, and this being 2009, I Googled "clearing out the family home" and found that there were a lot of people who knew how I felt.

That it was not just a question of sorting things into:

(1) what to keep
(2) what to dump
(3) what to sell
(4) what to give away

It was also often enough the shocking struggle with the fact that family dynamics have changed and nothing will ever be the same.

And the process goes on - I must get around to their house again soon and pack one more load of stuff, for various destinations (blankets to the Red Cross, disability aids back to the Hospital, books to the Regent book sale, etc).

And choose what is rubbish.

It would be hard enough clearing out a house but of course the load of memory, nostalgia and grief makes this chore one of the hardest I think I've ever had to do so far. Am I'm not young.

But of course if you have happy memories - and thankfully I do - then there is also joy and the surprise of remembering long-forgotten but familiar things.

Probably the nicest surprise was finding the painting of my Dad done many years ago for a play he appeared in. Dad had stashed it away behind something in his garden shed and it's dusty and grubby and damp, and disintegrating around the edges. It was never a serious portrait anyway, and I don't even recall who painted it.

Inside the house, was a supposedly fine portrait if him that had been commissioned, that to those of us who knew him well, didn't look like him at all.

You know that strange feeling of looking at a portrait and seeing that it is a physical likeness in a technical sense, but it just doesn't LOOK like the person? The formal portrait of Dad is like that, and it is one of the problems I've had this week - what to do with it. None of us like it, and it doesn't look like Dad. But I can hardly dump it - or can I? (There's also a similarly 'wrong' painting of Mum that presents the same problem.)

The tongue-in-cheek painting of Dad as a Roman, roughly done and unfinished, on the other hand, is an extremely good likeness of the man he was, and it is something I'm going to treasure as long as it holds together.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Today's Pet Hate

The hypocrisy of Corporate Speak.

But not just its well-understood use to deceive and deny in public life.

What I'm ruminating on today is the mealy-mouthed way that people sometimes use badly understood principles of corporate speak and psycho babble in their personal lives.

I find it really scary when I hear someone trying (unsuccessfully) to be rational and gloss over messy human things, based on a formula they've obviously picked up at a seminar or an airport bookstore.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

We have moonset

Was in at Dunedin's University Book Shop today - it's one of New Zealand's finest book stores - and as usual I was not able to escape their excellent premises without acquiring yet another yummy book. One more won't make a difference will it? (I wonder about the strength of the foundations of my cottage...)

This time: New Zealand Astronomical Yearbook 2009. What a bargain at $19.95. It has star maps for each month, explanation of phenomena to look out for, informative articles (for example there's one on Matariki and another on Galileo's Legacy: 400 years of the telescope), tables for sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset, links, addresses, and a useful Glossary.

A book like this is a great antidote to the lazy habit of consulting wikipedia, in which anything of value is overruled by the bullies and the psychopaths and the trolls who live under the bridges there and find fertile manure to flourish in.

Yes, I really, really despise wikipedia. It is sick, and it is stupid. The nastiest people 'win' there, because for them, knowledge is not even just a popularity contest, it's a battle which only the most devious and two-faced warriors can win.
I'd rather consult a book. Or a website run by the experts on a subject. Wikipedia has actually banned all experts now. But that doesn't 'democratize' knowledge; it makes a nonsense of it.
I wish I was wrong. Like Christianity and communism, a collaborative encyclopedia was a good idea, but it hasn't been tried yet.

But back to my new almanac: Omg it's February already! What happened to January 2009?! Even though that month has sped past me in the wink of an eye, I will be able to study what the sky looked like...

Galileo is one of my heroes of all time, so it's going to be good to celebrate 2009 as "The International Year of Astronomy" in this, the 400th year since Galileo first started experimenting with making his own telescope and pointing it at the night sky.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Tabby has been wondering

whether she has an SIS file.

The NZ Security Intelligence Service has apparently been compiling dossiers on protesters and political activists. For decades.

Chris Trotter thinks any self-respecting lefty agitator should consider the existence of such a file on them to be a badge of honour.

Like MP Keith Locke, The Tabby started attending protests at a very young age. She admits to only ever being small fry on the barricades, and has taken part only in peaceful civil disobedience. Luckily she has only ever been jostled and yelled at rather than batoned or arrested.

Schroedinger has given the situation some thought and delivered his opinion:

"You were probably mentioned in despatches. I doubt whether you have your own file."

Monday, February 16, 2009

The gift that keeps on giving

I was given some little sunflower plants for Christmas and this one unfurled like this to greet me on Valentine's Day.

Pretty clever gift-giving skills huh?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Big Five-Oh

Congratulations to a good friend on your first half-century.

I know you'll be relieved I didn't send a singing telegram to your workplace :-)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bagpipe busker ban busted

"Who pays the piper calls the tune" - so they say, but apparently not in Dunedin.

In line with some other stunningly shortsighted decisions lately, the out of-touch boffins at the Dunedin City Council banned a bagpiper from busking in Dunedin's central business district.

We heard about this around about the same time we realised that even though the vast majority of Dunedin citizens are against wasting our money on a big empty ugly stadium building whose location will divorce the town from its harbour basin and whose cost will bankrupt the city and cause every other amenity to be starved of funds till all we have left is a slum or a ghost town, that the council is set upon the madness anyway.

Their name is Ozymandias. Look on their works ye ratepayers, and despair.

The self-aggrandising destruction of what Dunedin really stands for, and replacing it with a crappy plastic alternative, continues with the apparent attitude of many at this council, that the historic Scottishness of Dunedin is somehow distasteful.

They want to market Dunedin as a cool hip city with a big sports ground. Get real.

This piper is a champion player and popular with locals and tourists.

Fortunately somebody back-tracked after the public outcry at his being banned, and yesterday he was back on the streets, being warmly welcomed and congratulated for his victory over bureaucratic stupidity.

The Council said they had received complaints about the bagpipe noise - but it turned out that one of only three complaints had been called in by council workers themselves! So some of the hostility towards the ethnic Scottish music was sourced from within the council.

This anti-bagpipe behaviour didn't surprise me. Last year on Robert Burns Birthday as on every year for as long as I can remember, many of the people of Dunedin celebrated the day by meeting in the Octagon and listening to Burns poetry and bagpipe music and eating haggis and drinking a nip of Scotch. A whole pipe band had turned up as was usual, to entertain the public and mark the significant event, all the richer for taking place in our Scottish-founded city.

Locals and tourists alike crowded around keen to hear the bagpipe concert after the poetry and the speeches. The guys looked great in their tartan and sporrans.

But alas the events team at the city council was offended by the noise of the bagpipes and told the pipers not to play. What? Why? The pipers were dismayed and some were outraged. They had to go home without playing.

Apparently the events team had organised a memorial service in the nearby Anglican Cathedral, for Sir Edmund Hillary, and I myself heard a council employee telling the pipers that it would be "disrespectful" to continue playing the bagpipes while the dignitaries filed into the cathedral for the religious service.

I saw one letter to the editor of the local paper, decrying this appalling disrespect for the traditional Burns event.

As I heard an angry by-stander say loudly, "Sir Ed would not have wanted this insult against the people of Dunedin to be carried out in his name!"

The double booking of the Hillary event to time with the years-old traditional Burns Birthday celebration was not an isolated incident.

Similar actions made by the same "events management" city council 'team', have - either deliberately or through ignorance - served to eradicate the Scottishness from the New Year's Eve Octagon celebration, which now has a jazzy Latin American theme.

A lone piper no longer plays at midnight, and so of course the one thing that made Dunedin of interest to the rest of New Zealand and indeed the world (the striking of the town clock and the playing of Auld Lang Syne by the lone piper was an oft-televised live sight flashed around NZ and the world on the first stroke of the New Year) has now been successfully suppressed and Dunedin, with its toy fireworks display, and its hokey 'carnivale' New Year's Eve theme, is no longer of any interest to anyone anywhere else.

The sterility of the anti-heritage approach will become more obvious as this council attempts to destroy everything that makes us unique and interesting (like the famous Carisbrook) in pursuit of some corporate faux global phantasm of 'success'.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"You will be assimilated..."

As with almost any bright idea, somebody has thought of it already and so I'll nick their photo and acknowledge their superior intelligence. Lolcat rulz.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A sunflower is born

This morning. Just taking a peep at the world.
From 2 metres above the ground!

(Living up to the promise of its name skyscraper.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hellfire Saturday

A jet stream cloud pattern stretching from Southern Australia across Southern NZ carried smoke from the Victorian bush fires . Satellite picture Feb 8th 2009

I don't watch NZ television news any more, so I've been following the disastrous bush fire story as it has unfolded since last Saturday, on Australian Sky TV, the BBC and CNN. Hell, even Fox News has reported on the tragic destruction of whole communities.

At midnight Saturday our time Sky was predicting the death toll might reach as high as 50 - which was unthinkable. Now, Tuesday midday, it's expected to exceed 200.

Here in NZ's Dunedin South on Sunday the temperature in my back yard hit 34 degrees on Sunday afternoon, due to a hot gale force wind blowing straight over from Southern Australia. There was ash and smoke in the heavy cloud cover, and the sky was an eery ominous orangy brown colour. I've never experienced anything quite like it. The light was both bright and dark at the same time, and everything had a yellow glow to it. It has certainly never been that hot here before either. At 1 am it was still 28 degrees. Anyone who knows Dunedin's climate will know how freakish and unprecedented that situation is.

Yesterday the local situation had reverted to cool with heavy rain, but the terrible images of fire and destruction continue to blaze away on the endless video loop.

Not long ago I blogged my affection for Melbourne and my desire to live there. Having a few family, friends, and professional connections with that city (and what Kiwi doesn't have some sort of link to Australia?) only increases my horror at the recent events.

One feels helpless saying "We're thinking of you" but we do think of them anyway, and hope it helps that we're sending thoughts their way.

And we're sending donations and NZ firefighters their way too.

And we're angry too, as is only human, to hear that many of the blazes were caused by arsonists.

But I hope the whole blame is not laid at the feet of some poor sick bastard.

We have a poor sick planet.

It is time we eradicated the expression "global warming" which just sounds too benign.

Even the term "climate change" is too mild. We need to find some words that will reflect the increasing likelihood that whole communities - from small villages to large cities - will be wiped out by unnatural disasters.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chinese New Year, Dunedin Style

Lanterns for the New Year hang all around the Chinese Garden, Dunedin.

A dragon led a procession from the Octagon.

The parade came through the CBD past the Exchange to the Chinese Garden.

As the parade arrived at the Chinese Garden...

loud fireworks were let off at the ornamental Gate.

There was dancing, food, and all the children were given red envelopes.

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Apparently the website is an advertisement for the Oxford Dictionary.

It's certainly an amiable distraction for a word-lover. (Thanks to the friend who sent me the link!)

It contains a myriad of words facing extinction, with definitions and an example of each word in use, and a plea not to let these little-known words become extinct.

And seriously though, how could we let a wonderful word like


be lost from the English language? I am happy to FOSTER this word.

In fact given the regime change in New Zealand recently, I think somehow it won't be hard at all for me to find opportunities to refer to the snollygosters of the Right.

"I hereby promise to use this word, in conversation and correspondence, as frequently as possible, to the very best of my ability."

snollygoster = 'a shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician'

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A NZ Pacifist Tradition

Great programme on the New Zealand pacifist tradition, on Chris Laidlaw's Sunday Morning show on Radio NZ National last Sunday morning. It was Part One of a series on "Conscientious Objectors" and Part Two airs tomorrow, 8 February 2009 at 11.05 am.

Last week's instalment (1 February 2009) was called "A Pack of Hoons: Conscientious Objectors in New Zealand History" and there is an audio archive on the Radio New Zealand web page.

David Grant, NZ's foremost authority on conscientious objection in New Zealand, and author of three books on that topic, talked about his most recent work Field Punishment No. 1 published recently by Steele Roberts, and revealed some of the barbaric treatment of Kiwi conscientious objectors in the First World War.

Grant also wrote Out in the Cold - a study of the NZ "conchies" of World War II (Reed Methuen 1986). This book is a treasured item on my family's shelves, as our dad was one of those brave men who because of his moral convictions, refused to fight in the war. He was imprisoned for the duration and his civil rights were not returned to him for many years after the war, as he was considered a subversive. Here's link to a web site honouring the memory of the peacemakers and their families.

Many but by no means all of the conscientious objectors did so because of religious belief, and David Grant has also written a history of the NZ Christian Pacifist society.

I was lucky enough to grow up in the company of many of Dad's friends and associates from "[prison] camp" days, and what a wonderful variety of 'beliefs' they represented - communists, free thinkers, humanists and Christians too, with that pacifism in common, and that belief that conflict should be able to be solved without violence.

Also speaking last week was John Baxter, grandson of Archibald Baxter who wrote the New Zealand classic memoir We Will Not Cease about his experiences as an objector in the First War. The pacifist tradition is strong in the Baxter family - several of the next generation of Baxters were conchies in the second war. It was great to hear John pay tribute to the strength and example of his grandmother Millicent Baxter and acknowledge her role in the family's antiwar activity. Cape Catley reissued Millicent and Archibald's books, and they were reviewed in the NZ Listener here.

Mention of the pacificist tradition in New Zealand is never made without acknowledging the great Maori prophets who espoused peaceful protest. One of my heroes in particular is Te Whiti o Rongomai of Parihaka.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Poetry and Prose of Milton

Milton, South Otago, New Zealand, that is. Where they tell it like it is.

We passed through Milton on the way back from Gore. Which was terrific, by the way.

The Butchers Museum at Milton was not open. I was disappointed because I'm pretty sure my Uncle who lived in Milton used to be a butcher.

Another feature of Milton these days is the new prison, referred to as the "Milton Hilton". Here's the turnoff.

Milton is in the Clutha District which is a long way away from the ratrace.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Off to Gore

Gore, Southland. Once home of Creamota Porridge. No thanks to Goodman Fielder for closing the factory.

Gore. Host of the Country Music Gold Guitars awards.

Gore - surrounded by the Hokonui Hills, and yes there is a Hokonui Moonshine Museum.

The public toilets in Gore used to be divided into three: Men, Women, and Boys.

Nearby is the "Gore-Clinton highway", and the Old Mandeville Airfield Aviation Museum.

Gore, and the Mataura River that flows through it, featured in Dunedin writer Vanda Symon's first novel Overkill.

But the reason I'm going to Gore today is to visit the wonderful Eastern Southland Gallery with its John Money Collection and its Ralph Hotere Gallery.

Tonight there is a Peter Peryer event at the Gallery.

I love Peter Peryer's work. He is a NZ photographer deserving of superlatives - as you can see by the shots he generously uploads up on his blog.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good news bad news

Good news: I'm going to Paris, to see this Egyptian cat goddess Bastet in the Louvre.

And I'm going to London, to see JMW Turner's Rain, Steam and Speed: the Great Western Railway in the National Gallery.

But I'm only going because Mum and Dad left me a share of their house.
And we sold the house today.

Listening to Leonard Cohen singing "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."

Stop throwing good money after bad!

Mr Pudding was also at the Dunedin anti-stadium protest. He counted a crowd of 1,500 people, young and old, and took these snapshots.
Mr Pudding, like the vast majority of Dunedin citizens, thinks the proposed stadium is a folly and will not be built. In the meantime tens of millions of dollars have been wasted.

Monday, February 2, 2009

High summer

Can't imagine how bad it must be for the cats in Australia during the heat wave there, when even this Dunedin Tabby has been moping around looking for a cool bush to lie under. And our temperatures have 'only' been hitting the 30s, not the 40s.