Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Black Swan Event

According to Nassim Nicholas Taleb's theory, a Black Swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: it is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and after the event we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random.

Tomorrow I move house again - from the beach house in the bush perched on the estuary, to the crib on the beautiful Otago Peninsula, yards away from the sea. Quite close to the albatross and penguin and gannet colonies.

We call it "Cape Cod". We don't just see the birds there, we will live amongst them. Godwits, gulls, herons, stilts, ducks, oystercatchers, spoonbills, and of course: the black swans.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The agency

I've been missing the tabby. And as if on cue, The Agency has been sending potential replacements. They come wistfully to the back door and look in, searchingly.

Their look tells me that they understand that this household has a vacancy.

Off the rails

On the subject of small presses...

"The Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop" is a small press that has been there when it counted.

ESAW celebrates 25 years this December, a remarkable feat, and is to release the above collector's edition to commemorate.

To pre-order your copy, contact details for the indomitable Michael O'Leary are on the ESAW website.

I have to admit sheepishly that I'm among the tribute-payers included in this volume. I've contributed a couple of tongue-in-cheek poems (including "Blood on the McCahon" - based on a true story) and some seemingly improbable anecdotes.

O'Leary likes trains almost as much as I do, and we have over the years shared many a happy rail journey together. Probably the best of my memories are from when we both lived in the small village Seacliff, North of Dunedin, and we used to flag the long distance passenger train the Southerner down so we could catch it into town.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Drinking Liberally Dunedin

Yesterday I received my invite to the next Dunedin meeting of DRINKING LIBERALLY:

Tuesday September 29th,
7 PM,
Circadian Rhythm.

This week we are Drinking Eco-Socially!

Green MP Sue Bradford

will be here to speak about her past involvement in grassroots activism,
its effectiveness, and the need for more of it NOW!

Come armed with the energy, passion, and courage to do something!

And of course bring questions for one of New Zealand's
most socially active and courageous politicians.

Indeed. It was great to hear that Sue was coming to Dunedin. She is one of my heroes.

But today the news comes, that Sue Bradford has resigned from Parliament, effective at the end of next month. She's been disillusioned because of being passed over for the Green co-leadership.

I applaud her choice. Who can blame her for wanting out? From a left wing perspective there's been far too much cosying up to the right wing from the Blue-Greens.

There'll be a lot of disillusioned citizens too, who will be looking for a new home for their vote...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The H Bomb


In arguments about language usage, often the loudest voices cry out about "linguistic correctness" and "language purity" and "preserving standards".

But language is about identity, not about some inherent value of one form versus another, and the triumph of a linguistic form tells us more about which speaker has the most powerful friends.
It's never about what's "right" or "wrong". It's about who has the authority to impose their version of the truth. On the day, it's about who wins the territory.


There is currently a hot debate about whether the name of WANGANUI city, which has long been afflicted by a typo (a missing "h"), should be corrected to the spelling WHANGANUI which more accurately reflects the Maori name for the locality.

In trying to seek a solution, it would be more useful, rather than appealing to what the "real" name of the city might be, to speak in terms of justice and of community, of mutual tolerance, and of the attempt to eradicate the toxic effects of racism and an imperialist arrogance.

It might also help to realise that this is just one more of a string of explosive social situations triggered by differing habits concerning the letter "h".


An "h" is just a puff of air - an "aspiration". But what we do with our "H" seems to be particularly well suited to distinguishing "you lot" from "us lot". And some of these disagreements can get very hot-headed.

It's not the actual use of the "H" that matters, it's which side of the H we have chosen to stand on. Some of us drop it, and some of us pick it up, and it's not intrinsically "in" or "out" to do either.

It's who is doing the dropping that matters. If they're with us, then whatever they do is OK. We're human and we want to be part of our group and there are powerful pressures on us to sound like the other members of our group. That's why language can change so swiftly.


Here's an example of the mainstream culture dropping the "h" and the marginalised group speaking it out: the very name of the letter "h" is pronounced "aitch" in 'proper' British English.

So in the early years of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand the poor Irish (who say "haitch") stood out like a sore thumb. The story goes that groups of bullies would challenge some poor hapless lad to spell a word with "h" in it, and if he said it the wrong way, he was apt to be beaten up.


And now here is another instance of it being flash NOT to say the "H": in NZ it is becoming rather old fashioned to insist on the "an" form of the indefinite article before certain words starting with "h". When I was at school we got in trouble for writing or saying "a hotel". Now, decades later, I'd say it would be considered rather affected for a younger person to attempt such an archaic usage.

Where did this so-called "grammar" rule come from? (It does make sense to use "an" before a word starting with a "silent h", such as "hour".)

I'd guess this "rule" dates back to the latter stages of the Norman French invasion of England, when French was pretty well established as the prestige dialect and the ruling classes and their collaborators communicated either in French or in a heavily French-influenced English. The French don't pronounce the initial "h" so the practice of imitating the high-class h-drop would have set the local speaker apart as being conversant in the oppressor language, as upwardly mobile or as a collaborator.

The effect of this social stratification is still felt in English vocabulary today, with Anglo-Saxon words for the live beast eg ox, pig and the French-derived word beef, pork for the cooked version of the animal, served at table. (The peasants tended the flocks and the upper crust ate the banquets.)

And even now if an English speaker wants to sound educated or sophisticated there's no better way to add a certain je ne sais quoi than by throwing in a little piece of French.


In My Fair Lady the superior attitude of many a middle class speaker of the "Queen's English" when confronted with lower class Cockney "h-dropping" is well established.

But as we've already seen, it can also be very "posh" to drop your "h". Hmmm.


My Dad, a Southern New Zealander of Scottish descent, who would have turned 93 next week, carefully distinguished between the two words witch and which. He was part of an older New Zealand generation who pronounced "wh" with an aspiration.

This "phonemic" distinction has been lost in contemporary Kiwi English. (As has the difference between "ear" and "air", but that's another story!)

I remember at primary school the teachers tried to train us in to pronouncing "which" and "witch" differently, but we weren't having any of it.

Which leads to another important truism about language change: it's almost impossible to legislate it, unless you have the population behind you, or an army to enforce the "rules".

Language change "from the top down" has been achieved, of course, with military force, eg in North Korea, or with popular support, as with the successful introduction of the form "Ms" to western culture.


Probably the most dangerous experience of the disadvantage of pronouncing your "h"-word the "wrong" way, comes to us from the biblical tale of the word "Shibboleth" used by the Gileadites as a test to detect the fleeing Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound "sh" (Judges 12:4–6).

The Ephraimites pronounced the word as "sibboleth" and thus revealing themselves to be inable to aspirate the "s", were slaughtered.

And the word shibboleth today is used for such a linguistic phenomenon, that separates the sheep from the goats.

Currently in NZ, the shibboleth is the way you choose to spell Whanganui. If enough of us just do it, it will become the dominant form.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The first tulip

We complain about winter, and we complain about summer, but I never heard anyone complain about spring.

(After a Mulla Nasrudin story)

Springtime Snow

Never leave home, if you live in Dunedin, without your winter gear, no matter what time of the year...

Kittyhawk (named for a cat and a bird!) seems to be watching with bemusement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

World Carfree Day - Get the Train!

22 September is World Carfree Day - check out the World Carfree Network.

Here in Dunedin we have marked the day in a most exciting and acceptable manner - by putting on commuter trains in a city that normally has none.

So this morning I commuted (from Waitati to Dunedin) in a lovely old wooden excursion train carriage courtesy of the magnificent TAIERI GORGE RAILWAY.

The trip took an hour and travelled over some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere on this earth. Yay!

Here are just some of the views from the train window, only minutes from the beach house where I have spent the winter:

This railway event was agitated for and promoted by Dunedin rail revival group GET THE TRAIN. (Here's a link to their blog.) They've been very successful in persuading the powers that be to run a few experiments with short rail journeys from Mosgiel, Port Chalmers and Waitati to Dunedin. There have been commuter trains at the beginning and end of the day, and trains timed more for middle-of-the-day excursions.

Recreational 'suburban' rail outings were held most recently in the July school holidays, and more are scheduled for next week - Wednesday 30th September. (This is quite apart from the excellent tourist rail ventures which leave Dunedin daily.)

Along with about 300 other people, I took the July return trip from Waitati to Dunedin. Here's a link to the Channel 9 TV report on it.

Some of the children on that trip had never been on a train before.

Today's trip was supported by the Dunedin City Council, so in the spirit of "giving credit where it's due" some suck-ups gave the Mayor (not a well-loved civic leader because he has bulldozed into being an extremely unpopular stadium that most ratepayers don't want) a bouquet of flowers to thank him for the subsidy. The good-natured train lovers were grateful for a chance to have one day's worth of train travel and most of them dutifully applauded.

But the local and central governments refuse to even consider suburban rail for Dunedin. "There just isn't the population to support it" they say. Funny how they have felt justified in committing this poor small population to outrageous levels of debt in order to fund their STUPID STADIUM.

We absolutely don't have the population to support that white elephant stadium. We'd much rather support train travel, and the cost of the stadium would be much better spent on facilities that would build communities rather than overburden them with debt for the sake of a very few.

Monday, September 21, 2009

International Small Presses Day

Sandwiched in between all the other "Days" that raise the profile for worthy causes, comes the International Day for Celebrating Small Presses.

Well, no not really. As far as I know there is no such thing as "Celebrating Small Presses Day".

But there should be.

Who knows, maybe there is such a thing. (I haven't Googled to check yet.)

Because there should be.

Why are so many of our good authors published by small presses? Is it because the gatekeepers at the small presses have a lower standard and so it's easier to get your work printed (as long as you belong to their clique?)

Well hell no. In many cases, au contraire.

The large presses do fortunately still publish some great poetry, but not enough. And well - so it seems to the scorned outsiders - they are the cliquey ones. They also tend to err on the side of the safe and the bland too, don't they?

At the other end of the spectrum, the quality of self-publishing and of vanity publishing is fairly variable (a little like open mike night when the convenor is a little too lax).

But the small presses are often in the hands of eagle eyes and good judges.

From what I've seen, Kilmog Press is such a one. It publishes the likes of Jack Ross, Sandra Bell, and Peter Olds.

Another reason to choose to do your chapbook with a small publisher, is you possibly get to have a level of creative control that larger publishers don't allow, because their marketing teams insist on sitting in and replacing a creative imperative with a "concept".

The money minions are right of course. Hardly anyone makes a profit publishing poetry, and nobody got rich running a small Press. It's all done for the sake of Art.

And often the books are very fine, little treasures. Purty.

Praise for Kilmog Press and its books is dotted around the godzone blogiverse - see Art and My Life, The Imaginary Museum, Tim Jones and I swear that Reading the Maps also has been heard to exclaim how good Kilmog Press is... (Can't find an example on a quick hunt.)

Now Kilmog has decided to come into this strange virtual space where there is no smell of ink and no fine porous endpaper or a woodcut in sight.

Kilmog Press has a brand new blog.

Don't forget to put your earthly contact details somewhere guys, so the punters can buy some books!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Women's Suffrage Day

Today in history, women got the vote. Here in New Zealand.

We're still working on getting pay equity.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hidden in Plain Sight

Nasrudin used to take his donkey across a frontier every day, with the panniers loaded with straw.

Since he admitted to being a smuggler when he trudged home every night, the frontier guards searched him again and again.

They searched his person, sifted the straw, steeped it in water, even burned it from time to time.

Meanwhile he was becoming visibly more and more prosperous.

Then he retired and went to live in another country. Here one of the customs officers met him, years later.

“You can tell me now, Nasrudin,” he said. “Whatever was it that you were smuggling, when we could never catch you out?”

“Donkeys,” said Nasrudin.

Story retold in The Sufis by Idries Shah

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Exposing a child molester

The truth will out. Sooner or later.

It must be very satisfying for the victims of historical child sex abuse and their families, when another pedophile is arrested and charged.

The most recent case of the girl who was abducted 18 years ago has brought to light the fact that many of these monsters turn to religion to try to justify their crimes.

('Monster' seems like an knee jerk emotive talk-back term, but for the child victims I'm sure he is literally the evil Boogey Man.)

The predator might be a stranger, he might be the child's father, or he might be a trusted family friend, pillar of the community.

Look out Mr Boogey Man - the light is going to shine on you next!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Storm Damage

It's an old joke, but a good one.

Yes, we had a tremendous wind storm, and I swore the roof was lifting at one point, but this was the worst upset actually suffered.

Ring out the bells!

The bells of Christchurch Cathedral are ringing out today to welcome yesterday's return of the first godwits to that area, according to Radio New Zealand.

They're turning up in estuaries all around New Zealand (not "my" one, yet) as we speak.

According to a Foxton Beach resident, quoted in today's Manawatu Standard, "They're looking knackered."

Not surprising, given their 11,ooo km non-stop flight from Alaska.

NZ Bird Idol

The voting for the most popular NZ bird of the year is underway and the ongoing results are available to view at the NZ FOREST & BIRD web site.

It's looking so far like a shoe-in for titipounamu: the rifleman.

I still can't decide on my choice. Can't say I have seen a rifleman in years. If ever. Where do they hang out, I wonder? Probably deep in the bush, a place I have rarely managed to get to because of a congenital heart condition.

Being reminded of the concept of the rifleman has resurrected a long lost memory of those lined writing pads we used at primary schools "in my day" (the 1960s). I do remember I liked the one with the picture of the rifleman. But we never saw most of Buller's birds outside the classroom!

Ah, but that nostalgia now, with the smell in my nostril of the brand-new writing pad, and the memory of the anticipation of lifting the shiny beautiful cover with its lovely picture of the fantail, or whio (blue duck), or huia, and of smoothing the cover down carefully, and then lifting the snowy blotting-paper page, and folding that back too, and then of reaching that wonderful world of the pristine lined page - smooth and unblemished by blots or indents - just waiting to be written on.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Name Was Judith

[Guest Post]

The newly published literary biography of C.K. Stead, Plume of Bees by Judith Dell Panny, is a curious work that is not hagiography but neither is it an incisive, no-holds-barred, critical study. So what is Bees, entomologically speaking?

A look at the back cover blurb perhaps provides a clue. Almost half of Panny’s spiel is about her book on Janet Frame’s writing. Panny quotes Frame as having “a feeling of amazed gratitude” for the approach of that book, which Panny reckons is “reminiscent” of the “insight now provided in this work” on Stead.

But that book on Frame, which industriously treats Frame’s works as allegories containing systematic hidden meanings that all become clear once Panny’s ‘insights’ are applied, is not well regarded in Frame Studies. It is a ludicrous misreading of Frame to claim that a systematic allegorical reading is enlightening. Doubtless Frame, who disdained academic studies of her work, was not endorsing Panny’s template so much as expressing relief that it did not apply an obsessive biographical approach.

So with these credentials, and receipt of a Copyright Licensing Writer’s Award, with the Winner Icon proudly highlighted in the bottom left-hand corner of the back cover, Panny claims that her new book “opens windows to new appreciation” of Stead’s work. She does not employ an allegorical analysis of what she terms “the Stead phenomenon”; it seems there must not be hidden meanings. Of course the man is famously ‘lucid’. So what approach does she take?

Cringingly deferential actually. Though this literary biography is supposedly unauthorized, Stead allowed himself to be interviewed by Panny who references some of the details deriving from their conversation, but not all of them. Quite often Stead’s voice eerily seems to come up from behind Panny’s to sum up a particular passage so that the ‘phenomenon’ remains positive. Is Stead’s input in these cases not being acknowledged, or is Panny censoring herself?

There is no index and therefore it is not so easy to navigate and evaluate the text. There are only endnotes after each chapter and most of them identify citations from Stead or sources related to him. The overall effect of the book is of a plodding secretarial marshalling of reviews and interviews in a mostly chronological manner.

A good example of Panny’s slippery style of presentation that does not methodically explore themes in Stead, or clarify her theoretical position on the relationship between a work and a life, is the way she handles the subject of sex. In two paragraphs in Chapter 12, she describes the way sex is treated in several short stories and hazards no more enlightening a conclusion than: “Sexual activity – the need for it, its quantity and quality – is significant in several stories”. This comment is left in mid-air – no connections are made to the rest of Stead’s oeuvre or to the man himself. She remains close-lipped about his personal life, except for some intriguing facts about his childhood and youth. There are hints, possible inferences the reader might reasonably make, but then Panny coyly changes tack.

In devoting much attention to identifying Stead’s fictional portraits of prominent literary figures (Frame, Plath, Mansfield, Sargeson, Davin, Shadbolt, for example) Panny falls into the very trap Frame praised her for avoiding in her earlier work, that of confusing fiction with biographical fact. Panny is quite sure that Stead successfully "imagines his way into the psyche of Plath"; and that “Stead’s insight into Plath’s life anticipates the sensitive understanding of a fellow writer that he brings to Mansfield”. Yet Stead himself remains strangely immune to such exposure. For example, Panny claims that in All Visitors Ashore “there are similarities between the central character Curl Skidmore and Karl Stead, but the novel provides very little information about Stead’s personal life”.

An especially diagnostic example of Panny’s lobbying rather than analysis comes in the penultimate paragraph of the book. She quotes British journalist Roger Lewis’s comment in the Sunday Express that Stead “on the basis of My Name Was Judas, must surely be a prime candidate for the Nobel Prize”. This reads like a dog-whistle by Panny to Stead’s own (probable) estimation of his achievement.

Stead has found a useful alter ego in Panny whose own marginalized position on the field of New Zealand literary studies leads her to empathise with Stead’s frustrated sense of being under-appreciated in his own country.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Vote for NZ native bird of the year

Yesterday a royal spoonbill turned up again, in the shallow waters of the bay outside my window. What a magnificent visitation!

Where has it been all winter?

Is it my favourite NZ bird of the year? or should I vote for the faithful fantail, who never went away, and has provided such joy with its aerobatics and daring dive-bombing, not to mention its welcome loving messages from "the other side"?

Or the exquisite little silvereye - the flying fish with its startled white banded face-makeup and its remarkable ability to pack away large quantities of porridge?

Those marvellous lumbering whooshing jumbo jet kereru (wood pigeons), are also among my favourite birds.

And the delicate shy pied stilt who prefers to take little runs rather than just walking anywhere. When the stilts come to feed at dusk on an ebbing tide, close to the edge of the bay, it's a riveting sight. They look as though their silhouettes have been cut out, accidentally, too thinly. How has such a fragile creature survived? I've stayed watching them until they are just shadows, until they have disappeared into the greyness of the night water.

Can't decide. Love 'em all. And no sign of the godwits yet.

Votes for "bird of the year"are being cast at http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/

Here are some celebrity endorsements:

Kim Hill prefers the fantail - piwakawaka;

Jeremy Wells goes for the spoonbill;

Steve Braunias likes the white faced heron this year;

Sam Hunt opts for the pied stilt - poaka;

Dame Kiri has spoken up for te kereru (wood pigeon).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The first returning albatross!

Dunedin Church bells will ring out at 3 pm today to hail the return of the first young Royal albatross to the colony at Taiaroa head on the Otago peninsula.

The chiming hark could also be said to herald the arrival of the riot season in the form of youths bent on drunken escapade in the student party zone. Last night's battle with police isn't a good sign for tonight, and older residents are battening down the hatches.

I wonder if the elderly albatrosses don't look with similar askance at the arrival back of potential troublemakers...

Friday, September 11, 2009


I met Erica less than a year before she died. I can't say she was a 'friend' of mine, because I only spent a couple of weeks in her part of the world - New York - and I saw her only two or three times.

But she was the friend of a friend, and I felt like I got to know her well for the few days I spent in the company of a rather select community of arty and publishing types with bolt-holes in the (for me) fantasy location of "the Hamptons" on Long Island.

We had several meals together, and one night particularly, at a dinner party she cooked for (she was a chef and had run her own restaurant), she and I sat together for most of the evening, getting increasingly drunk, and having one of those exciting interactions you can have in that sort of circumstance, with someone you may never meet again.

She was a marvellous woman, with many strings to her bow (as revealed in a New York Times Obituary from December 2001). She was, naturally enough for the company she kept, outspoken politically, a strong feminist, and a long-time defender of the rights of rape victims.

She was originally French/British and so had retained a quizzical outsider's view of the USA, and we enjoyed swapping our perspective of America and Americans.

That time on Long Island was one of the few times in my life that I've been regarded in social company as a comedian, so of course I remember it with particular fondness. For some reason the sophisticated New Yorkers found my every observation and comment about my first trip to the USA, absolutely hilarious. (The amusement they derived was in much the same vein as the "Flight of the Conchords" humour, except that my supposed bon mots were on the whole genuinely naive and unintentional, and were merely the natural responses of a first-time Kiwi to the mysteries of American Culture at first hand. I'm not surprised that the Conchords have enjoyed such success. I could have made a stand-up routine based around my description of my first experience in a jacuzzi, judging by the reception my account received).

Erica had for years also been an IT communications consultant, teaching business people about the internet and especially, training them to improve their skills in email correspondence. I was very interested in that as I was still an academic engaged in doctoral research and doing some teaching on linguistics and communication courses.

We had a fascinating conversation and promised to keep in touch. She gave me her business card, which I still have, and also mentioned some other names of people she knew that I might contact concerning my PhD topic.

She told me a little bit about the job she had - which she said was for just one day a week in Manhattan - she hated going to the office - it was an Insurance company - because she had a fear of heights and it was on the 101st floor! I commiserated, and I felt I knew her well enough, by then, to challenge her as to why she would even want to go into into the heart of commercial darkness like that anyway. I'd been past the World Trade Center a few days earlier, I told her, and looked up at it, and was chilled by the obscenity of it, as a temple to the evils of global capitalism.

I know, I know, she said. But a person's gotta eat, and it pays the bills...

I didn't know until a day or two after September 11, that Erica's one morning a week at Aon Corp, had coincided with the attack on the Twin Towers.

She was never seen again.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Geometry of Dunedin Poetry

Standing room only at Circadian Rhythm for the poetry night.

Sue Wootton featured on the first night of the season.

Dunedin's fortnightly poetry reading in the 2009 season of Octagon Poetry, was held last night at Circadian Rhythm. It was the second of the series and, like the first, attracted a good crowd.

The Octagon Poets and the members of their audience filter themselves not into an Octagon but into an Oblong: the long, thin venue presents all sorts of challenges for poetry performances, but nobody ever seems to mind. There's always a good atmosphere.

Anyway poets are used to being the round peg in the square hole (or is that vice versa?)

Next featured poet is CLAIRE BEYNON with MC Martha Morseth, on September 23rd, 8pm.

See the poster for the complete season here.

Am not offering a review, because I don't think an event like this needs to be justified. There's always at least one good poet featured, and open mike gives voice to many more (granted there are a very few excruciating moments sometimes, but as long as each turn is kept short there's no harm done to any one, and this crowd is a very welcoming and tolerant one.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tuesday all day

"What day is it?" said Schroedinger. "I've been thinking it has been Tuesday all day."

"It is Tuesday."

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Modern You-Topia

The plain message physical science has for the world at large is this, that were our political and social and moral devices only as well contrived to their ends as a linotype machine, an antiseptic operating plant, or an electric tram-car, there need now at the present moment be no appreciable toil in the world.

~ H G Wells

That's all very well, but basically, isn't humanity just too stupid? We have every modern invention at our disposal and we have still created something as bad as wankerpedia. (I do try keep away from that hellish place, but I stumbled there accidentally in looking for a quick way to determine what year A Modern Utopia was written in, and I couldn't believe how bad the HG Wells article is...)

Motto: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Link: A Modern Utopia, digital text, courtesy of University of Adelaide Library.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

E3 Call Home

And more about Godwits! Also out this month, this report on the satellite tracking of the godwit migration, is by talented author Janet Hunt and comes from Random House NZ.

This cat is very fond of birds. And books. I will probably end up buying both the godwit volumes...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Godwits Fly

A popular topic this year: a session at GOING WEST literary festival will preview a new book on the satellite tracking of the migrating godwits.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Waiting for Godwits

We love our Godwits, and in autumn we bid them farewell with laments and best wishes for their thousands of kilometres flight ("towards another summer") to their breeding grounds in Alaska. The sign above is to be found on a bus shelter by the estuary at Blueskin Bay, north of Dunedin.

And we look forward to their return, thin and hungry, in spring.

They're expected in late September and in the cities of Christchurch and Dunedin that event is marked by the pealing of church bells.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fleurs Place of Moeraki

Now isn't that a pretty picture? It's Fleur Sullivan's famous seafood chowder, complete with delectable Blueskin Bay littleneck clams, scallops and mussels, all on the shell in a tomato and fish stock base. Accompanied by fresh bread and a crisp grassy Marlborough sauvignon blanc on a sunny spring day, and it's just so easy to forget all the bad things about the world...

Which is probably why Fleurs is so popular with the rich and famous. But you don't have to be featured in the social pages to enjoy a meal there, and everyone is treated with the same friendly good humour.

Fleurs Place at Moeraki is (like Fleur's inn Olivers at Clyde before it) quite simply a legend. Fleur is known for her personality, her hospitality, and of course, the great food. And as well as eating the food, you can now read the book! (The chowder recipe is in there.)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Art in Christchurch

Echo by Neil Dawson, Christchurch Arts Centre

Ronnie van Hout Colouring-in Book

@ Alchemy Bar, Christchurch Art Gallery


Can't decide which I liked better of the RONNIE VAN HOUT at the new Christchurch Art Gallery, or the Snare/Mahanga at the old Art Gallery (round the back of the Canterbury Museum).

But it's not a competition, fortunately - and both exhibitions are indispensible. The Ronnie van Hout one is very funny, and oh of course (cough) thought-provoking (tee hee).

The art inspired by the extinct bird specimens held at the Canterbury Museum is heartbreaking - especially the rows of dead-and-gone but oh-so-lovely huia.

Highlights: Neil Pardington's brilliant exposition of a cabinet of stuffed birds.

Fiona Pardington's haunting hooked beak huia.

Peter Madden's tragic huia skins cabinets.

Bill Hammond's Shag Pile for a double pun.

Hannah and Aaron Beehre's Dark Aviary: a sinister and a sacred tribute to extinct species.

And the gorgeous golden kakapo...

Oh, and there's a Ronnie van Hout there with the birds too!

The Yellow Spectrum

Spring. 'Officially', the first of September (yesterday). 'Traditionally', in my family anyway, spring comes in mid-August, pretty much on my birth date, at the same time the first lambs are born. The early daffodils and the host of other spring yellow flowers are starting to emerge then, and they don't wait until September.

'Astronomically', Spring is not till later in September on the occasion of the Spring equinox. But as with so many pronouncements in academia, and officialdom, and just in the "rulz" - boy do the know-it-alls ever miss the boat.

Spring is here, and it's well underway guys.

This year we had a very cold winter in the south; the records say it was the coldest since recording began. The old-timers say it's been the coldest winter in living memory, and as I'm an old-timer now too, I agree. Bloody cold winter. I've not known it worse here in New Zealand.

So the change is dramatic. Spring has arrived like an express train, loud and violent.

The birds are raucous.

The yellow flowers are first. Forsythia, kowhai, daffs, soleil d'or, wattle. Shining like little suns.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Day of Spring

The first lambs popped out some weeks ago but I've been too damn busy to tell you.

The first ones I saw were all-blacks, and there were also pied lambs - black and whites.

The Mums are black sheep, and they had a set of twins each. Cute bouncy black-and-white lambs, gamboling in the green casino.

Couldn't help realising that although we have the expression "black sheep" meaning an outcast, a rejected family member, that oddly, in our modern day the black sheep has come to be the one that's worth more for the novelty of the lovely colours of its wool.

Wonder how the white sheep feel about that? Probably even more hostile and nasty than before, now that their envy is added to the distaste for anything different...