Saturday, December 24, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Season's Greetings

This is the dear departed beloved Old Tabby who lived to the venerable age of 20.
We wouldn't risk trying to get New Tabby to dress up like this!

Wishing you a happy holiday
and peace and joy for the New Year.

Cultural Exchange

Wrapped monument resembling a Presbyterian stupa
The Exchange, Dunedin

They voted with their feet

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!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cat Science

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.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


There's a very good feature in this week's NZ Woman's Weekly giving the background to the new book about Janet Frame.

No really, it is an excellent article and not out of place given that Janet Frame is a loved NZ icon, and that this new book is very readable and enjoyable.

Here's to the demotic forum!

My only regret is that the Tabby sloped off and missed out on the photo shoot.

Postscript: A link to the article online.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Total Eclipse of the Moon

Lunar eclipse 11.12.11

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.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Marvellous Year

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 Landfall has 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.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reaching new heights

The agency cat seems to try to outdo himself in adorableness and this stunt - getting stuck up a cabbage tree - pretty much takes the cake.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Nature abhors a vacuum

And this cat cannot resist an empty space.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Ozymandias

The new Dunedin stadium

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".

Percy Bysshe Shelly

Monday, December 5, 2011

What I learnt from my cat

Focus. Extend yourself.  Stand on your own two feet. Dance.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Schroedinger's Oven

 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.