New Zealand held a general election and the turnout was the worst ever, the worst since the Victorian era. Why are people disenfranchising themselves? For an increasing number of New Zealanders, their 'bright future' is in Australia. Abandon ship!
It is a scientific fact that a cat will always be on the wrong side of the door.
There is a story that the brilliant scientist Sir Isaac Newton invented the cat door, because his cat was for ever pushing open the door of his attic laboratory at just the right time to spoil his light experiments.
If the door was locked the cat would howl and scratch to be let in and Newton being a cat lover, cut a strip off the bottom of the door and attached some dark fabric so that the cat could sneak in under it without contaminating the experiment.
I managed to watch about 20 minutes of a beautiful progressing total lunar eclipse early this morning until heavy cloud obliterated the view just before the shadow had almost entirely obscured the moon at about 3 am NZ time. It looked to me like a most exquisite pearl button - with delicate indescribable shifting colours - with a shiny edge glinting in the light, and the 3D effect was breathtaking. I was watching through binoculars although the spectacle was also very pretty with the naked eye.
My mother was a fan of cosmic phenomena, and she infected me with her passion throughout my long childhood of being dragged outside during the wee small hours to see the first Sputnik or a lunar eclipse or a pretty conjunction of heavenly bodies, and in her enthusiasm and by example, she managed to teach me a few things about chasing these elusive wonders:
(1) It's not easy but it's worth it
If you want to see astonishing magical things in the night-time sky you have to to sacrifice a bit - and get up when you'd rather be asleep in a warm bed, and stand out in the cold, and get tired, and get a cricked neck watching and waiting.
(2) You need to persevere
You need patience and stamina, maybe to wait for the clouds to clear or for the moon to rise up behind that hill or for that comet to become visible or before you catch sight of the blinking trail of that satellite. So often it is when almost everyone else has given up and gone off to bed that the floor show begins.
(3) You need luck but you also need to do your research
It helps to be looking in the right part of the sky and from the correct spot on the earth and at the right time of the night and without any obstacles such as bright city lights, your own porch light, the roof next door, a fog bank, or an inconvenient mountain range.
The internet is very helpful these days, and theoretically one is more likely to be able to hear about and see an aurora, for instance. (And if you don't catch it yourself at least you can see somebody else's photo!)
(4) Sometimes the 'experts' are wrong
This precept was very useful when Halley's Comet came by in 1986 and the general public were told when to watch for it. I was so excited and couldn't wait and went out looking every night much earlier and was rewarded with a much better view of it than many others who waited for the official optimum viewing, by which time it had become more fuzzy and less spectacular, and the judgement of many was that their whole effort and build-up had been a disappointment to them.
Also it pays not to believe it when you are told a meteor shower will not be particularly productive, or that the night is too cloudy to see it, because clouds have a habit of suddenly parting and allowing the sight of some dazzling spectacle you will never forget.
(5) Keep Alert and Pay Attention
You need to keep your eyes open. A cloud can drift away and reveal a blood-red fully eclipsed moon in all its glory, or a meteorite or a fireball can whizz by in a blink of an eye and the saddest thing you can hear in that situation is "Did you see THAT!?!" If you're going to stand outside in the cold you may as well make sure you're not wasting your time.
Be prepared to be thought mad and obsessed along with all the other driven people who have a goal and don't mind stepping outside conventional boundaries of behaviour to achieve it.
It will be worth it for the image you can hold in your mind for ever afterwards, and the knowledge that you made the effort, and you saw something rare and special for yourself, maybe in your own back yard.
The giant stuffed toy Moa in the Otago Museum, Dunedin
Allen Curnow, numero uno NZ poet (in my opinion), would have turned one hundred years old this year.
This is my centenary tribute, a joking allusion to his much-cited poem "The Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch", which contains the two lines that have inspired many a subsequent generation of literary wannabes:
"Not I, some child born in a marvellous year, / will learn the trick of standing upright here."
So, has it happened yet? Is anybody standing upright yet? Or are we still evolving? Or are we going backwards?
I'm pretty grumpy with Aotearoa New Zealand right now so I'm more inclined to the 'going backwards' point of view...
Anyways Happy Centenary to a great poet, thanks for the words well spoken.
The latest Landfallhas some fascinating and informative poems, reminiscences, discussions and other gestures in honour of Allen Curnow, including an amazing tribute poem by Janet Frame (published there for the first time ever), that she wrote after attending an Auckland literary party while she was the first Frank Sargeson Fellow in 1987. She was busy writing her last novel The Carpathians, but took time off to hang out with old chums, and managed to weave a poem out of a seemingly trivial piece of small-talk.
I met a traveller from an antique land Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: `My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!' Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away".
Schroedinger's Tabby is one of those cats who cannot resist investigating a small space. Any box or even bag offers an invitation he can't turn down. He's an explorer. A scientist, even. Occasionally his explorations seem a little risky - and these two photos show you what I mean.
No cats were harmed in the taking of these photos, and it was all his idea. Frankly we're shocked.
Attended a marvellous book launch the other night at Dunedin Public Library. It was the kind of literary gathering Dunedin does so well - very crowded, friendly, noisy and full of news and gossip and catching up with friends, colleagues and acquaintances over snacks and drinks. Also a great way to meet people as everyone's individual networks intersect in interesting new ways. Kind of like Facebook - but in person!
The book was Sue Wootton's new poetry volume BY BIRDLIGHT and it was good to see publisher Roger Steele of Steele Roberts on one of his welcome visits to Dunedin, doing the honours.
Celebrated NZ poet Brian Turner gave an excellent launch speech and Sue Wootton also spoke well - I'm hoping that both Brian's and Sue's speech notes will find their way to the publisher's web site because even their prose seemed to be full of insight and poetry and I really felt that I hadn't heard such interesting poetry launch speeches ever before...
There's so much to know, about the cover image, about why the title is "By Birdlight", and Sue and Brian relished their subject matter and read beautifully, of course.
I'm a fan of Sue's poetry and it's a delight to have another book of hers to savour. One of the standouts of my early browsing through the poems is 'Orchard' - a tender and glistening memorial to the tragically killed young poet Rhys Brookbanks who was part of our Dunedin poetry community before he went to Christchurch to work at Canterbury TV.
There's a scintillating poem about Kandinsky's synesthesia, that I was much impressed by when I first heard Sue read it (at one of the Circadian Rhythm poetry evenings), including lines like:
the impossibility of settling on one colour for the wind -
Roger also spoke to the crowd and pointed out just how many well-known NZ writers were in the audience to celebrate Sue's launch. Just to name a few, apart from Brian Turner of course, we had Emma Neale glowing from her recent win of the Kathleen Grattan Poetry Prize for her manuscript 'The Truth Garden'; novelist Laurence Fearnley, winner of the 2011 NZ Post Fiction Award for the best NZ novel of 2010, The Hut Builder; legendary poet Peter Olds who has just published Skew-Whiff a terrific fine illustrated edition of his poetry with Otakou Pess; Paul Sorrell whose most recent book is getting much deserved attention and admiration - a guide to the Central Otago 'rail trail'; author Penelope Todd who has launched out into a much needed and audacious online publishing venture; poet Rhian Gallagher who has just published a new volume Shift with AUP; author Paddy Richardson; distinguished literary elder Vincent O'Sullivan was also there, along with too many more poets and writers and academic authors to name - there was such a crowd I didn't even get to see everyone who was there.
(Some of my writer friends, I was reminded, are fans of the gorgeous Tabbyssinian Agency Cat, and politely asked after him, which is why I have recently posted some new portraits of him ;)
Brian Turner (left) listens while Sue Wootton addresses the guests at her book launch
The New Zealand general election happens later this week. This year there's a clear choice between a selfish right wing National-led Government with a prime minister whose secret comments are so objectionable he uses "his" police force to try to keep the public from hearing them; and a return to a Labour-led government in cooperation with the Greens and the Mana party and anyone else to whom asset sales are anathema (looks like that means Winnie the Comeback King).
My own hope is that this time next week we will have an MMP government that is willing and able to put the needs of all the people before the greeds of a privileged few.
WHEN YOU ARE IN A HOLE YOU DON'T SELL YOUR LADDER: ~ Phil Goff
The most recent Horizon Poll (which is the only reliable major political poll currently being taken in that it takes into account undecided voters and uses a representative sample) shows that the two opposing camps are neck and neck and that when the minor parties are taken into account, the results may well be too close to call.
But the rabidly right wing media continue to crow over bogus poll results, comparing popularity counts for the major parties as if MMP didn't exist, and discounting potential coalitions.
They know well that neither a left-led nor a right-led government is a dead cert, and yet they continue to try to deceive the public into believing that a National win is a foregone conclusion. They try to shore up this impression by continually trying to turn the whole election into a popularity contest between the figureheads of the major parties, and by evading or ridiculing rigorous discussion on the actual idealogical issues.
Another way that the mainstream media in NZ show their usual Tory bias is in that they don't call TEAGATE by its proper name: TEAGATE. They spin it as "a storm in a teacup", and "the tea party tapes", - and these are the same journos who leaped on the most spurious hiccups in Helen Clark's career and trumpeted them as whatever-gate.
One telling comparison is the recent event where John Key joked and chattered through a solemn minute's silence. He didn't know about it, he later claimed, and the patsy media have let him get away with it.
Compare that to their response to Helen Clark when her chauffeur was caught out speeding. Helen Clark was in the back of the car working on papers yet the whole affair was deemed "speed-gate" by the media - as if Clark was responsible personally - and they still go on about it, years later, whenever they feel their precious right wing regime is slipping in popularity.
But, flunkies that they are, they mildly accepted that Mr Key could so misread the public occasion he was appearing at, that he didn't notice the silence and the grief and the bowed heads of the crowd. That's OK then.... Prince John can do no wrong in their eyes.
Let's hope the voters are as sick of their hypocrisy and his cynicism as I am.
Follow the skirl of the bagpipes for the Grand Opening of The Scottish Festival at the Dunedin City Library. The lassies vying for the Queen O’ The Heather will be introduced. This will be followed by short talks commemorating the 120th anniversary of the Dunedin Burns Club. The opening of the Robert Burns Poetry Competition also begins. Plus, at 2.30pm, join us in the Octagon where Professor Tom Devine, from the University of Edinburgh, will unveil a plaque on the Robert Burns statue – describing the Burns statue in Dunedin.
Saturday 19 November
The 2011 ROBERT BURNS POETRY COMPETITION.
Write a poem in English or Scots, inspired by the life or works of Robert Burns. Entries close on 10 January 2012. Competition organised by the Dunedin Burns Club. Free entry. Forms available from your local library or www.dunedinlibraries.govt.nz
Saturday 19 November
The "Death" and Reinvention of Scotland. Join Scotland’s leading historian, Professor Tom Devine, at the Otago Settlers Museum. Professor Devine will discuss the historical fears surrounding the ‘death’ of the ancient identity of Scotland and the ‘invention’ of Scottishness in tartanry, song, story and myth. Free entry. Advanced booking required by Ph 474 2728 or email email@example.com
Saturday 19 November
Social ballroom dancing with the Dunedin Scottish Society. Fairfield Community Hall, Fairplay St Fairfield. $5.00 entry fee to pay at door. Plus bring a plate. Ph 476 4423
Monday 21 November
12noon to 12.30pm.
Piper in the Octagon presented by the Dunedin City Council to celebrate the Scottish Festival.
Monday 21 November
In Search of Scotland.
By using wonderful 19th century images from John Parker Lawson’s Scotland Delineated (1858), those visiting the exhibition will be able to travel Scotland in their mind’s eye. Beside each image are books from Special Collections that highlight Scotland’s cultural, social and economic past. Call in and view the exhibition which runs through to 16 December. De Beer Gallery, 1st floor, Central University Library, 65 Albany St, Dunedin. Opening hours Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.00pm. Ph 479 8330. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 21 November
The Lowland Clearances and the Scottish Exodus to New Zealand. Long lost in Scottish history – the story of the lowland exodus is brought to light. Join Scotland’s leading historian, Professor Thomas Devine, OBE (University of Edinburgh), as he reveals the true scale of the ‘Silent Clearances’, and their significance for Scottish emigration to New Zealand in the nineteenth century. This will be followed by a book signing plus wine and cheese reception with the Deputy British High Commissioner. Free entry courtesy of the Dunedin Public Library. Venue at the Dunedin Library. Advance bookings required. Email email@example.com or Ph 474 3690. Professor Devine’s participation in the Scottish Festival is brought to Dunedin by the Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies, the Otago Scottish Heritage Council, the Dunedin Burns Club, the Dunedin-Edinburgh Sister City Society and the University of Edinburgh.
Tuesday 22 November
Unveiling of the Sylvia Stewart Sculpture. Join the Dunedin-Edinburgh Sister City Society for this special unveiling. A stone taken from the Leith to Edinburgh and sculpted there by Sylvia Stewart is now located at the Edinburgh waterfront. A reciprocal structure is made from Edinburgh rock and is being unveiled on the Leith side of the Stadium in Dunedin by Professor Tom Devine. For the exact location follow the sound of the pipes.
Tuesday 22 November
The Puzzle of Scottish Sectarianism. Free event at St Paul’s Cathedral. Talk by Professor Tom Devine why Scotland is unique in 2011 in having an anti-sectarian strategy and laws thought necessary by the Scottish Government.
Tuesday 22 November
Ceilidh (musical evening) at Robbies Bar and Bistro, McAndrew Rd. Come along and enjoy a great night of celebration and entertainment. The contestants for the Queen O’ The Heather will be there. Free entry provided by the Otago Scottish Heritage Council.
Wednesday 23 November Highland Bus Trip. Leaving at 9.30am. Sightseeing with entertainment (small pipes). Organised by the Campbell Clan. For details Ph 473 9921.
Thursday 24 November
10.30am and 5.30pm.
What Lies Beneath: NHNZ Film Screening: In Search of Good Keen Whalers. See one of the best preserved whaling stations from the 1830s whaling booms plus a picture of the harsh life endured in one of our first truly integrated communities. Free screening in the Teen Space, City Library.
Sunday 27 November
12 noon – 4.30pm.
Come to the Scottish Highland Games for a great family day out. Pipe Bands, Highland Dancing and Marching. Fun events that everyone can join in – Tossing The Sheaf, Caber Tossing, Deadweight Carry plus Carrying the Stones. Events for Children with Gumboot Throwing, Egg and Spoon Races and plenty more. No event entry fee. Prizes in all events. Compete for trophies and cash prizes in the Scottish Shop/Caledonian Society Handicap Mile Race. Also the Crowning of The Queen O’ The Heather will take place at the games. Gate fee $10.00. Children under 14 free. Caledonian Ground, Logan Park. www.otagocaledonian.org.nz This event is organised by The Caledonian Society. firstname.lastname@example.org Ph 4544863 or 4558839.
Sunday 27 November
Old Time Sequence Dancing. Taieri Scottish Dance Club. $2.00 entry fee. Methodist Hall, Wickliffe St, Mosgiel.
Monday 28 November
At 7.30pm Scottish Country Dancing provided by the Burns Scottish Country Dance Club. Entry by gold coin donation. Soft shoes required. Dunedin South Presbyterian Church in Chalmers Hall (back hall) King Edward St. Ph 4890453.
Tuesday 29 November
Life and Folkways of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Come and meet acclaimed Canadian writer Alistair MacLeod as he reads his stories. Barclay Theatre, Otago Museum. Ph 479 4936
Wednesday 30 November
St Andrews Day.
St Andrew is the Patron Saint of Scotland and St Andrews Day is celebrated by Scots all around the world. Always a great get-together at Robbies Bar and Bistro, MacAndrew Rd. Lunch at 12 noon. Price is $12.00 for lunch and entry by ticket only. Tickets at the Scottish Shop and Robbies. Hosted by the Taieri Scottish Society.
Wednesday 30 November
Holding Fast: From Scotland to the New World, 1791-2011. Dr Alistair MacLeod discusses the history and culture of Scottish settlement in Nova Scotia. This public lecture will be held in the Archway 1 Lecture Theatre, University of Otago. Ph 479 4936.
[Sorry the timetable has formatted so bizarrely in its interaction with Blogger. I tried to tidy it up but life is too short! It annoys me that thoughtless web designers insist on providing important info like this programme ONLY on pdf as many of us browse on smart phones these days and can't access pdfs that way. - PC]
Every year in South Korea on the 11th of November, it's Pepero day. Pepero being a chocolate-covered pretzel manufactured by Lotte. 11/11. Get it? Looks like pretzels! Of course this unique version of Valentine's Day was invented for commercial purposes but it has stuck. And it's huge, especially among the young people. When I was teaching in South Korea my students exchanged gift boxes, and teachers and professors were also included in the affectionate outpouring of choco sticks!
So I find it easy to remember Pepero Day every year even back here in New Zealand. And now that there is a larger Korean population here, with a rise in Korean grocery stores, one is easily able to find a box of Pepero sticks should one so desire.
This is the sweet choco biscuit face of gangster capitalism.
Well of course just a few days ago Pepero Day was an even bigger deal than usual: 11/11/11.
A scribbler such as myself could be overwhelmed by a great poet like Smithyman's talent and significance, and be cowed into silence, but I am heartened by the popular phrase "Let a thousand flowers bloom", an affirmation evolved from Chairman Mao's injunction to "Let a hundred flowers blossom". Only a hundred? Make that thousands of Tuesday poets!
This is the famous bar-tailed godwit named E7who has had books written about her. With transmitter attached she made the epic series of flights from New Zealand to Alaska and back that are the routine for this species of migratory bird.
Tracked by satellite, E7 made the longest recorded nonstop flight by a 'land bird'. Altogether she made a 29,000 km series of flights on her trip to her breeding grounds and back.
She has retired these days and is living in an estuary on the Bay of Plenty coast line.
Or she was, until last week. I haven't heard yet, whether anyone knows if she is one of the countless thousands of birds that have been killed by the horrific oil spill from the stranded container ship the Rena.
E7 is well known and has her tag on so the local bird experts will be keeping a look out for her. I almost don't want to know.
I can't imagine anyone reading the species statistics of the birds found dead so far without tears coming into their eyes.
This below was an early list of the dead birds that had been found and identified. It's only the tip of the iceberg of course.
At that stage there was only one bar-tailed godwit. I saw the dead albatross on the news and wept then as I weep now.
Mallard/hybrid duck 2
Little penguin 20
Antipodean wandering albatross 1
White-capped mollymawk 1
Northern giant petrel 2
Cape petrel 4
Grey-faced petrel 1
Mottled petrel 1
Antarctic prion 3
Fairy prion 12
Blue petrel 13
Buller’s shearwater 92
Flesh-footed shearwater 3
Sooty shearwater 13
Fluttering shearwater 198
Little shearwater 15
Common diving petrel 358
White-faced storm petrel 38
Australasian gannet 7
Pied shag 4
Little black shag 1
Spotted shag 2
Bar-tailed godwit 1
Variable oystercatcher 1
Rock pigeon 3
Australian magpie 1
And let us be clear. This was no 'accident'. This was an accident waiting to happen, and the 'blame' is not on one person. It can be sheeted home to New Zealand's right wing neo-liberal economic policy 'experiment' that puts corporate profits ahead of safety.
It took several weeks in New Zealand for the mainstream media to report Occupy Wall Street.
And there seems to be a lockdown here on any criticism of our money trader Prime Minister John Key.
Any slipping of his bland smiling mask (as with the throat slashing gesture Key made in Parliament last week to Phil Goff) and the evidence is removed from online archives and doesn't appear in news bulletins.
It's an information stranglehold.
Free Speech is OK as long as you agree with the Big Boys.
Hypocrisy. Is. Everywhere. Not just in Wellington. But especially. In.
New Tabby likes to position himself in the highest place in the room. This time he found he had competition for the role of Top Cat. Golden Pussy had a scarily fixed stare and just would not blink or back down...
For an urban garden the wildlife is not too bad here in the rambling two story mansion. We are on a hill overlooking the harbour and so the view of the city, sea and hills is amazing. It's only five minutes' drive to the centre of the city. And there are pockets of bush on our section and nearby. So we have resident tui, flaneuring flocks of wax-eyes, and even have been visited on occasion by a couple of fat 'wood pigeon' kereru.
We make sure to attach bells to the Tabbyssinian when he goes outside and so far (cross fingers) he hasn't brought back a native bird at all. In fact he seems to prefer chasing insects and catching lizards, and almost always brings the reptiles back in a rescuable form. He stalks the common skink (not the rare jewelled gecko, thank goodness!) - and at first it was only the tail he was left with, but he soon cottoned on to that trick and started presenting us with the skink minus tail. Then he wised up to the detachable tail thing and has lately been returning with the animal whole. I hope they survive when we take them back outside. It's not easy sometimes, living with a predator, but we do our best to minimise the slaughter. And I understand he's just trying to contribute to our household stores. For himself, he prefers cat biscuits to anything that creeps or crawls or flies.
Mystical contemplation of a tiny bug.
Note the bright spangly pink collar (it has two bells).
Another marvellous book from the amazingly prolific Martin Edmond, who seems to have been "in the zone" for years on end, producing book after book after excellent book.
And here's the latest title, which garnered a rave review in The NZ Listener from Justin Paton, who as art curator and critic knows what he is talking about. Says Paton, "it's always a relief to encounter a new book by Martin Edmond." I know exactly how he feels, and I share the difficulty in not knowing how to shelve Edmond's books. They are a mix of non-fictional, poetic and fictional treatments of biography, art criticism, history, autobiography, fantasy and travelogue.
The current one - on the great NZ painter Colin McCahon's fugue in the Sydney Botanical Gardens - is gentle, full of quiet moments and contemplation, easy walks, clear signposts, and when the dark falls and things are decidedly hairy, we are led on a careful walk through the darkness. It's as if we have night goggles on. Edmond makes a genial self-effacing guide through impossible lost territory. He shows us things that never happened - but he doesn't play tricks on us, or tell barefaced lies - and it's his honesty and his own imaginative wanderings and wonderings that make us feel we understand a little more as we make the Way of the Cross through seedy Sydney.
Hello there! What I'm reading is an incredibly fascinating and well-designed new book about one of my favourite subjects:
VOLCANOES OF AUCKLAND: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE by Bruce W Hayward, Graeme Murdoch and Gordon Maitland (Auckland University Press 2011).
I grew up in Auckland on a ridge near the Onepoto crater and skinned my knees on scoria many a time. But there's so much new to learn and this book is just a delightful combination of education and enjoyment. There are maps, lists, artists' impressions, historical and scientific facts and conjectures with useful illustrations and all organized in pleasantly logical ways. "The essential guide" is not a misleading subtitle at all. There are some reassuring facts about the scope of future eruptions and the amount of likely warning time, but plenty of room for a touch of frisson also...
The book won't die while there are books like these around that feel good to hold and look at and read through.
According to the famous mathematical thought experiment, Schroedinger's cat is neither dead nor alive. So it's a cool concept if you don't like being locked into binaries. Not so good if you don't like being locked into a lethal booby-trapped box. And from the cat's point of view, there is no ambiguity at all.