Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What I’m reading

I have ordered my copy of Letters of Frank Sargeson but haven’t yet received it so am not really reading it. I have had a sneak preview, though, thanks to Graeme Lay who sent me this snippet from a 1944 letter to EP Dawson following a visit to the Tron: 
I’ve come back with a very sore chest. I think this was due to psychological causes – Hamilton – it was dreadful. I enjoyed a few days in Cambridge with my sister, but Hamilton was there all the time, like the Grey Death.
Small-town newspapers are a Very Good Thing. Our local, the Cambridge Edition, is a particularly good thing but some weeks one does sense that the staff have struggled to find enough news. They have never had to struggle as hard as the staff of the Mid Sussex Times, though – on Monday it ran a story on a shop opening a bit late one morning and even sent a photographer to document the occasion. 

After listening to MIT’s Professor Richard Lindzen my old friend Simon Carr has had a rethink about climate change. He knows as much about the science as I do but still it’s a surprise to see this in the Independent.

Space is big. We knew that, but courtesy of Open Parachute here is a vivid visual demonstration of our place in the scheme of things. Footling, basically. Also possibly makes Seti look a bit silly.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Author-publisher relationship of the day

Anthony Horowitz, author of the wildly successful Alex Rider series for children and now The House of Silk for adults which I have bought but not yet read, asks in the Guardian, “Do we still need publishers?”. He says of Orion, his adult publisher:
Relations between us have been strained ever since they published my Sherlock Holmes novel, The Mouse of Slick, with no fewer than 35 proof-reading errors. Their proof-reader tried to kill herself. She shot herself with a gnu.
It’s a terrific piece, serious and curious about how to write in the digital age.

Monitor: Zirk van den Berg

What I’m reading

Oh dear. Abbie Jury, the Waikato Times’s gardening writer, has been alerted by a reader of her blog to another case of plagiarism in a Penguin book. The offender is Sally Cameron, who has form: Jury exposed her Tui NZ Fruit Garden in May 2010, then had a real good go at the revised version published in May 2011. Today Jury turns her attention to Tui NZ Vegetable Garden. Her informant  had a copy of The New Vegetable and Herb Expert by English horticulturist David Hessayon, and wondered whether it and Cameron’s book could by any chance be related:
Not only has Dr D G Hessayon ripped off Sally Cameron’s Tui NZ Vegetable Garden, chapter and verse, but, he also had the temerity to do it four years prior to Sally being published.
Is it OK to lift entire chapters of books if you include a reference to that book at the end? Hope so, ’cos I’m just finishing my book “Great Expectations” with a small reference at the back to Mr C Dickens.
Jury notes:
My informant was working from a more recent copy [. . .] Dr Hessayon actually published his book a good ten years before Sally Cameron produced hers. It took me mere minutes to track down a copy on Trade Me. I think I paid $12 for it plus P&P and it arrived in the mail this week.
And then she lets rip with compare-and-contrast passages from both books. It’s a little unfair to blame the publisher because this vegetable book was published in 2009, before the fruit one, so at the time Cameron had not been outed as a plagiarist. But still... 

The Glasgow-based composer James MacMillan, who abandoned socialism in despair at the anti-Catholicism of the left, writes in despair about anti-English sentiment in Scotland. Money quote:
All I can remember about Ms McAlpine was her whiney Glaswegian accent, de riguer for parish-pump envy-and-grievance politics in these parts, and so beloved by the rest of the country. Not.
On a more cheerful note, Chris Bell reviews the BBC TV series The Trip which stars Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. I haven’t seen the series but Michael Winterbottom’s film adapted from it is a hoot. Money quote (apart from this from Coogan on the phone: “I can’t really enjoy it. I’m with a short Welsh man who does impressions”):
One of the most telling scenes is almost halfway through the final episode, when Coogan playfully attempts to ford a wide river on stepping stones. It’s almost the happiest we’ve seen him, until Brydon warns him from a bridge overhead, “Don’t run, there’ll be moss.” In a moment of genius that was quite possibly one of the few overt plot points in whatever script Winterbottom was given, Brydon calls down, “You’ve got stuck halfway towards your destination! You’re stuck in a metaphor!”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sentence of the day

Labor senator Cheryl Kernot on Kevin Rudd:
I expect him to win an Oscar for best actor in a non-supportive role.

The recipe as promised

This is what my wife made the children for their dinner last night, a recipe by Ferran Adria of the celebrated El Bulli restaurant. It was “Recipe of the week” in the 18 February issue of The Week and is from his book The Family Meal (Phaidon). Pretty fancy:
Ferran Adria’s Crisp Omelette
Serves two
6 eggs
70g salted potato crisps (good quality)
4 tsp olive oil
Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with a balloon whisk until very frothy. Add crisps, taking care not to break them, then soak in egg for 1 minute.
Place frying pan over a medium heat, then add 2 tsp oil. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and use a rubber spatula to stir and loosen the edge.
After a minute or so, or when the base has set, cover with a plate. Using oven gloves carefully turn the pan so that the omelette slides onto the plate.
Return the pan to the heat. Add another 2 tsp oil. Slide the omelette into the pan and cook the other side for another 20 sets. (If you don’t want to flip the omelette, put the pan under a hot grill for about a minute.)
There you go – you too can make El Bulli at home.

So here is David Lindley with “Woolly Bully” from his great live mini-album, El Rayo-X Live!! The two exclamation marks are thoroughly deserved:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fine dining

I make the children’s dinner Monday to Friday; my wife does Saturday and Sunday. I like to think I make an effort, but tonight she made for them a dish by Ferran Adria, the guy from El Bulli: many say he’s the greatest chef in the world and that was the best restaurant. I’ll post the recipe tomorrow.

Private Eye’s Francis Wheen says that “amnesia is the handmaiden of hypocrisy”. Well, quite. He begins this piece for the Daily Telegraph:
Every few years, when spring-cleaning my sock drawer, I pull out the sheets of yellowing newsprint that line it and start reading. That’s the next hour written off. Stories that merited no more than a glance at the time suddenly seem preternaturally interesting, as the snoozing characters and incidents leap into vivid life after their long hibernation. Cash for questions! Monica Lewinsky! The Third Way!
There is more, and then there is this:
A week is not only a long time in politics, but also the maximum attention span of much of the public, which is why so many news items burn as brightly but briefly as a firework on November 5. It’s like the life of Solomon Grundy: a crisis looms on Monday; MPs scamper round radio and TV studios making a hullabaloo, which provides Tuesday’s headlines; on Wednesday, the party leaders exchange pointless insults on the subject at Prime Minister’s Questions. By the weekend, after more buck-passing and harrumphing, a new crisis looms. What was the previous week’s fandango about? No one knows or remembers, until they find it in their sock drawer two years later.
How nice to see a journalist putting journalism in its place.

And now, for no particular reason other than that I have been listening to a lot of Texas blues, here is Freddie King in 1966 with “I Loved a Woman”: similar technique to fellow Texan Albert Collins (whom I saw in a bar in New York and was amazing). That’s Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown (whom I saw in a bar in Auckland and was amazing) running the band behind him. All I know about King is that he was a big influence on Eric Clapton and after the concert at Western Springs in the 70s he put his hand down my then girlfriend’s front. I never did find out what she was doing backstage.

Kevin Rudd – latest

The headline on Stuff’s latest story on Australian Labor’s implosion is:
Rudd calls for unity in Labor party
So here is Alanis Morisette:

Friday, February 24, 2012

What I’m reading

Those Nigerian scammers scammed right back.

Hate the Oscars? This is for you. Money quote:
It’s four hours of Hollywood gleefully face-fucking itself in front of you, with 15 minutes of Leno jokes interspersed throughout. It’s like a presidential primary season: it’s long and drawn out and expensive, and there’s no one worth rooting for.
More about the law of unintended consequences and penguin-boiler Joseph Hatch, subject of Geoff Chapple’s play. Money quote:
Why don’t they just introduce foxes to deal with the rabbits? What could possibly go wrong?
Whitney Houston: the greatest singer of all time or the Toyota Corolla of pop? Money quote:
Let’s admit that, if we’re honest, greatest singers of all time tend not to approach songs with all the empathy of an articulated lorry approaching a hedgehog.
The Australian reports that:
Labor’s leadership rift has plunged the party into its worst crisis in decades, with the showdown between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard exploding into open warfare that has split the cabinet and left the government mired in distrust and personal animosity.
So no change there. The story is headlined “ALP burns its own house down as cabinet splits”. Which brings us to Talking Heads in joyous funky form in the Jonathan Demme concert movie Stop Making Sense, featuring (starring, if you ask me) Bernie Worrell:

Kevin Rudd: what people think I do

Did I mention that I love Aussie politics? This is from the National Times:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The wizards of Oz

I love Aussie politics – it’s my favourite spectator bloodsport. The SMH had an excellent live feed from the Gillard press conference this morning; the Australian has astonishingly detailed reporting, regularly updated on the website. As it’s a Murdoch publication most of the best stuff is behind a paywall – but fortunately there is a promotion running at the moment whereby you can have a month’s access for free. Brilliant timing.

The photo above shows Kevin Rudd leaving his Washington hotel to fly home for the contest. I wonder how many people he is waving to. Possibly none, for at that Washington press conference:
His audience was a handful of TV cameramen and a couple of reporters, but he looked around as if he was addressing the United Nations. [. . .]
He would take no questions, he said, leaving the room. “I have much, much to do.”
 Peter Smith writes on Quadrant’s website:
Apparently it is okay to put Australia’s foreign relations in the hands of a man held in such disrepute. What harm can he do? So what if he calls the Chinese “rat fuckers”; presumably they can’t understand English.
How do you follow leaders who you believe are deranged and psychotic? Well why not throw in one who combines a unique level of incompetence with an aversion to telling the truth. And there you have it; a Labor Party incapable of electing to leadership someone of sanity and integrity. Maybe it is because they have no-one? The “Mad Monk” looks pretty sound and centred compared with the lot the Labor Party has given us.
None of this would matter if they were running a Labor Party branch somewhere out in suburbia. They are running the country and seem determinedly bent on wreaking havoc; not deliberately, of course, but out of sheer unbalanced bloody-minded incompetence.
 He would say that, wouldn’t he – Quadrant is conservative. But he is not alone. Political scientist Peter Chen of Sydney University calls a plague on both their houses:
“Rudd can’t win over his own party and Gillard can’t win over the public. The pair could have been a great team but regardless of who wins this spill, neither can win the next election.”
Mr Rudd was an egoist with a massive sense of grievance, said Dr Chen, an expert on the former prime minister’s political history.
“If you look at his speech this morning, it was the most egocentric speech I’ve ever seen,” he said. “[He was saying] only he can save the Labor party, only he can save Australia. Anybody looking at that who is wavering would think ‘This guy hasn’t changed at all’.”
The Gillard government had been more effective at getting things done than the Rudd government, but they were terrible at communicating their achievements to the public, Dr Chen said.
“So they are both screwed.”
Which brings us to George Frideric Handel, whose 327th birthday it is today and of whom Beethoven said: “Handel is the greatest composer who ever lived. I would bare my head and kneel at his grave.”

Here is the late great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson in Handel’s oratorio Theodora, which was first performed on 16 March 1750. This is the 1996 Glyndebourne production, with Dawn Upshaw and David Daniels, and William Christie conducting. The aria is “As with rosy steps the morn” and the recitative preceding it begins:
Ah! Whither should we fly, or fly from whom?
Which is what a lot of Australians must be thinking.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kevin Rudd quote of the day

The Australian reports that the foreign minister has resigned:
“It’s time for some plain speaking on this,” he said.
Fucking oath, mate.

Dear diary

My wife is in Wellington being important so last night I had a sad and lonely bachelor dinner of mahi-mahi courtesy of Craig over the fence who has previously supplied seafood and had gone out deep-sea fishing at the weekend. After lying about the 350kg marlin he hooked but got away, he recommended coating the mahi-mahi in panko then lightly frying it in butter “with a little rice-bran oil so the butter doesn’t burn” – he is a farm advisor so is a details guy. So that’s what I did, with spuds and a salad from the garden. As I say, a sad and lonely bachelor dinner, but one muddles through somehow.

This morning a former Listener colleague emailed to say how much he had enjoyed meeting my wife at the Business NZ function last night: “Far too good for you, of course,” he noted.

This is a widely held view. After meeting her for the first time, my mother said to my sister, “She’s a lovely girl – but what on earth does she see in Stephen?”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What I’m reading

A ground-breaking advancement in the field of obsolescence, yours for only $NZ 854.42:
This antique typewriter has been modified to work as a USB Keyboard for PC, Mac, or even iPad! That’s right—its a beautiful and fully functional computer keyboard!
The USB Typewriter can type all letters, numerals, and punctuation marks. It also includes shift, space, and return carriage (which is literally activated by the typewriter’s return carriage!). Many non-standard keys, such as F1-F12, esc, ctrl, and so on are available with a special toggle key.
The modification is very clean leaves the typewriter looking, feeling, and working like a regular typewriter—and yes, it still writes beautifully on paper. A beautiful, functional, unique addition to your home office.
A good profile/interview by Craig Sisterson with Paul Thomas in the Listener, in advance of his excellent new crime novel Death on Demand, out on 28 February.

Mick’s nix to Blix.

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. But what if a writer is not only a wordperson but also a swordsperson? Dunedin crime writer Vanda Symon says that at the NZ Masters fencing tournament she:
was delighted to gain a bronze medal in the women’s electric foil and came 4th in the mixed visual foil.
OMG. I had no idea when I edited her first two novels what a risk I was taking.

Farming fun fact of the day

Last year in New Zealand 100 students graduated in agriculture, but more than 2000 creative and performing arts students, aka waitpersons.

Jacqueline Rowarth, Waikato University’s new professor of agribusiness, warns in today’s Waikato Times of a skills shortage in agriculture:
A shortage of young people training in agriculture at university level is reaching crisis levels, with not enough graduates available to fill jobs, Rowarth says. With more farmers reaching retirement age, the situation will only get worse if New Zealand does not focus on this important area, given that agriculture is the backbone of our economy.
The trend away from young Kiwis studying agriculture followed former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s high-profile promotion of the creative and performing arts as a career choice in the 1990s, Rowarth says.
“We had scholarships, the Peter Jackson effect and the knowledge wave, so we had a whole lot of young people going into the creative and performing arts. [. . .
Not having enough agriculture graduates to fill available jobs has seen the Government add agricultural science to the skilled migrant list, while graduates from other degrees struggle to find employment related to their studies.
Australia will start head-hunting our best young people if we don’t make studying and working in agriculture more attractive in New Zealand, Rowarth says.
“The Australians are going bananas, saying their agriculture skills shortage needs to be treated seriously. They need 4000 people for jobs in agriculture but are producing only 300 graduates, so guess where they’re going to get them from?” [. . .]
“We have bred a whole generation of people who want to save the world, but right now it’s easier to teach pollution than production. We could rename the study of agriculture ‘natural resource management’ or ‘sustainable food production’.
 “We should also be teaching our young people to consider where the jobs are. One of the greatest problems facing the world in the future is feeding the world. If you want to save the world and make a difference to your country, you should be studying agriculture.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wedding of the year

The Kevin Ireland and Janet Wilson story – you read it first here! – in the NZ Woman’s Weekly is now online.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Long live the Queen

Private Eye celebrates the Queen’s diamond jubilee in its 10 February issue (click on the image to get Prince Charles’s comment):

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mark Derby on Hone Tuwhare

The 46th in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue.  No photo credit because I don’t know who took it: happy to credit when/if the photographer makes contact.

The intro read:
Few of us can claim to have shot a poet, but Mark Derby can. He recalls his time as researcher and associate producer for the Gaylene Preston TV documentary Hone Tuwhare, screened last month.
His hospitality elbowing aside his reclusiveness, Hone Tuwhare agreed without hesitation when I asked to bring a film crew to invade the privacy of the tiny Southland coastal community where he now lives. He must have regretted this impulsiveness many times during the demanding weeks of shooting, with our five-person crew crammed into his tiny living room and a radio mike wired to his collar. Yet he never objected to our presence, and went along stoically with requests to drive his car back and forth along the same stretch of road until every member of the crew was satisfied. To Hone, the former Worker’s Union branch chairman, a deal’s a deal.
It wasn’t all hard work and disrupted home life, however. With the camera finally turned off for the night, the whisky bottle could come out, the neighbours could come over, and the muttonbirds go on the stove. Like much of his poetry, Hone’s favourite foods are rich in protein, and most enjoyable when shared.
The finished film, called simply Hone Tuwhare, centres on Hone’s life today at Kaka Point, the tiny coastal settlement an hour’s drive south of Dunedin where he’s been living for several years. His house is a two-room crib with the southern ocean filling its front windows. The shed out the back ignores the view, and on most days Hone spends some hours there in front of his elderly computer, working on poems, letters and new projects like the libretto for an opera.
At 74, his greatest concern is being able to spend as much time writing as possible, in the face of constant demands to appear in public. The film follows him to Wellington where he was a featured writer at this year’s International Arts Festival, sharing a platform with US Poet Laureate Rita Dove, who asked to be photographed with him afterwards.
On the same trip, Hone was guest of honour at a gathering for young Maori writers and artists at Wellington’s Taputeranga marae. Ever generous with his time and encouragement, he still frequently wished himself back home at Kaka Point, where the local storekeepers are under instruction to deter uninvited fans.
During one of our conversations in the early stages of making the film, Hone told me that he wrote his first published poem because he unexpectedly found time on his hands. In 1956 he was working as a boilermaker on a hydro dam on the Waikato River, and living in the Mangakino workers’ village with his wife and young family. As an active Communist Party member, his evenings and weekends were given over to meetings, discussions and organising. Then he heard how Stalin’s tanks were brutally suppressing the Hungarian uprising, burned his Party card, and soon began wondering what to do with all his free time.
The result was a poem, “Thine Own Hands Have Fashioned”, typed up by the local teacher, Party comrade and novelist Noel Hilliard, and later published in a small magazine. Other poems followed at long intervals, eventually attracting the attention of Hamilton bookseller and publisher Blackwood Paul, who published Hone’s first collection, No Ordinary Sun, in 1964.
It was another 10 years before writing became a fulltime occupation, instead of something to be fitted in between welding jobs when the foreman wasn’t looking. Even then, public actions often took precedence over poetry. Hone travelled the length of the North Island with the 1975 Maori Land March, visited Inner Mongolia as a guest of China, met future independence leaders in Bougainville.
The documentary tells very little of his remarkable life story, largely because of Hone’s discomfort when talking about his past on camera director Gaylene Preston found him a very different interview subject from the women veterans who lit up the screen in War Stories.
It’s likely that many of the old photos, anecdotes and press interviews I collected will end up instead in the forthcoming biography, due to be published to coincide with his 75th birthday next year.
Having given us so much of his time, goodwill and reserves of energy during the making of the film, I doubt if Hone watched it when it screened last month. More likely he was in his writing shed surrounding himself with crumpled drafts. But I hope those who did watch gained some further appreciation of Hone’s pungent poetry and huge heart.

The “forthcoming biography” mentioned was Hone Tuwhare: a biography by Janet Hunt, published in 1998. Mark Derby reports that: “I have since heard from Hone's relations that both he and they particularly liked the portrayal of him in this documentary.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

I have a problem with the Listener

This week’s issue of the NZ Listener has:

A. on the cover (above), Nigel Latta pulling a comic face.
B. on the back, an ad for TV’s new show Would I lie to You? with Paul Henry pulling a comic face.

I can’t decide whether to put the magazine on the coffee table cover-side up or cover-side down. Latta or Henry? Henry or Latta? Either way strikes me as sub-optimal.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ace of bass

Via Victoria Jones, the Tal Wilkenfeld of the NZ Symphony Orchestra, here is Rinat Ibragimov, principal double bass of the LSO, performing Bottesini’s Concerto for Double Bass No 2 in B Minor on a three-stringed period instrument by Antonio Gagliano. Catherine Edwards is the pianist:

Friday, February 10, 2012

What I’m reading

Don’t miss the story on pages 26-27 (not online) of this week’s NZ Woman’s Weekly, the Valentine’s Day special edition: it features the wedding of the year, between Kevin Ireland and Janet Wilson. It was a wonderful occasion: the bride was radiant and so was the groom. There were at least six other poets among the guests – I counted Bland, Brown, Ensing, Harlow, O’Sullivan and Stead and there may well have been more. There were also ukuleles, posh frocks and, over dinner, brilliant speeches. A very good time was had by all. (The photos, including the one above, are uncredited but I think they are by Gil Hanly.)
The story is now online here.

Linda Olsson, my favourite NZ-Swedish novelist, tells me that last month she sold an option on the film rights to her second novel, Sonata for Miriam (known in some countries as The Consequence of Silence). This is excellent news:  Maurice Shadbolt told me that he made more money from selling and reselling options to his novel Season of the Jew (which was never filmed) than he ever made from selling copies of the book, and he sold truckloads of those. More New Zealand novels have been filmed than I’d thought – a quick flick came up with Came a Hot Friday, The Scarecrow, Pallet on the Floor, Predicament (i.e. all four of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s novels), The Vintner’s Luck, Mr Pip, Sons for the Return Home, Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree, The God Boy, Sleeping Dogs, Hang on a Minute Mate!, The Silent One, Other Halves, The Quiet Earth, Among the Cinders, In My Father’s Den, A Soldier’s Tale, Alex, Once Were Warriors, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?, Heaven, The Insatiable Moon and now Anthony McCarten’s novel Death of a Superhero is in the works. There must be more – what have I missed?

Nick Cohen, author of You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom, in the Literary Review:
It is a mistake to think of repression as repression by the state alone. In much of the world it still is, but in Britain, America and most of continental Europe the age of globalisation has done its work, and it is privatised rather than state forces that threaten freedom of speech.
Too much information: the Economist urges us to forget.

Detailed support for the Stratford Theory of Numbers. Money quote:
“It should be a compulsory part of a trainee journalist's education because people mislead all the time with numbers, or mislead themselves with numbers. I think a healthy scepticism, a healthy doubt, an inquiring mind and some modicum of technical ability is a basic requirement.”
Well, you’d think so.

More stats from StatsChat, critiquing the Sunday Star-Times front-page lead story of 5 February about selling farms to overseas buyers. I liked it because it ran counter to the received “wisdom”, but StatsChat found fault with the presentation: the comments there are good too. But I don’t believe the Luxembourg number – surely this reflects a buyer or buyers registered but not necessarily based there.

Caption of the month, from Jan Banning’s book Bureaucratics, via David Thompson:
Marlene Abigahit Choque (1982), detective at the Homicide Department of the Potosi police. The department has only broken typewriters, no computer, no copy machine, not even telephone. It shares a car with the Vice Squad: “If there is no petrol in the car, we have to buy it from our own money. If the car is gone, we take the bus. We have to pay the tickets ourselves.” The head on the cupboard to the right is used to make witnesses of murder cases show where the bullets went in or out.
Monthly salary: 920 bolivianos ($114)
Niru Ratnam writes in the Spectator about “the manipulation of the contemporary art market”:
‘Contemporary art used to be of interest to the upper-middle-class with slightly progressive leanings who wanted to buy work of their time,’ said my anonymous London-based collector. ‘Now it is of interest to a status-quo-leaning, conservative group of high-net-worth individuals. It makes contemporary art a whole lot less interesting.’
It can’t happen here:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

In praise of: Lockwood Smith

This clip of Winston Peters (via Whale Oil) attempting to ask a question in the House has been edited, but I think from the expression on the Speaker’s face we can trust that the clip is not entirely unfair: 

Report on experience

To Tauranga on Sunday, to take my mother out for lunch. We usually go to The Bridge, a restaurant over the bridge by the marina. I was told it has a new owner – Phil Judd. Wonderful. I could imagine Phil wandering about the floor, playing his mandolin and crooning old Split Enz songs. But I had been misinformed – the new owner is Phil Rudd, the drummer in AC/DC, who has lived in Tauranga for the last 28 years.

The Bay of Plenty Times enthuses: “Tauranga joins London, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles for being a town you will fly to just to eat.”

Rudd says:
“I love Tauranga because it’s got everything you need within reach. I can go out on my launch, moor it, have a shower, drive home and my hair is still wet. I can drive back out to the hangar to take my helicopter to run the Lambo on the track. The sun shines. The people here accept you. People are not over-awed by success. I like that, it’s cool here. I don’t know anywhere else in the world like that. [. . .]
“The most important thing for me is that the restaurant feels right. It doesn't have a music theme but a music smell.”
To me, “a music smell” means beer-soaked carpet and residual nicotine the morning after a gig loading up the gear – fortunately Phil’s Place, for that is the new name, does not smell like that at all. Apart from the terrible name, it is rather good. The food and service are fine, you can see the harbour, the Mount and the city. I always find that Tauranga is improved by a bit of distance.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday night at the opera

Handel’s 1724 opera Giulio Cesare is about the affair between the Roman general Julius Caesar and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. The Glyndebourne production of 2006 was directed by David McVicar; the conductor was William Christie; the cast included Sarah Connolly as Caesar, Angelika Kirchschlager as Sesto and Patricia Bardon as Cornelia. Impossible to imagine a better line-up.

As if that wasn’t enough, the Cleopatra was Danielle de Niese. Here she is performing the aria “V’adoro, pupille”. At about a minute in, Cleopatra emerges from the rolled-up carpet and starts singing and, frankly, shimmying at Caesar:

The lyrics translate as:
I adore you, o eyes, the darts of love,
Your sparks sweetly pierce my breast.
My mournful heart beseeches your pity,
Since it ceaselessly calls you its dearly beloved.
This performance may not be what Handel had in mind in 1724 but it had me and the children riveted this afternoon as we watched the DVD. “She’s pretty,” said Seven. “Yes,” agreed her friend Eight. “The show’s not over till the slim lady dances,” I said.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bring in the elephants

David Bowman, professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, says that:
the giant African gamba grass, introduced as food for livestock in the 1930s, wreaks havoc on the landscape and provides dangerous fuel for wildfires across northern and central Australia.
“Australia has a deeply troubled ecology and current land management approaches are failing.”
His solution? Bring in elephants and rhinoceroses:
“I’m talking about using elephants as a machine or ecological tool to manage this grass,” he said in an interview for the Guardian, acknowledging that his proposal is radical and has major risks associated with it.
Possibly so. The introduced cane toads weren’t a great success unless you’re a cane toad, and some Aborigines might say that the introduced English and Irish weren’t a great success either, for much the same reason. On the other hand, Ricky Spencer, senior lecturer with the Native and Pest Animal unit at the University of Western Sydney, says that introducing elephants would pose significant problems:
If we did go down the road of introducing elephants to Australia, we had better develop the technology to clone sabre-tooth tigers to eventually control the elephants.
How cool would that be? 

Monitor: Tim Blair

Stephen Hawking, Arthur C. Clarke and women

In its 7 January issue New Scientist interviewed physicist Stephen Hawking on the occasion of his 70th birthday. He talked about black holes, supersymmetric particles, M-theory and suchlike. Here is the final question and his answer:
What do you think most about during the day?
Women. They are a complete mystery.
So here is the excellent Neil Hannon, who trades as the Divine Comedy, on the same topic in “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” from the album Victory for the Comic Muse. Sample lyrics:
Do you remember that old TV show
Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World?
Well if ITV make a new series
They ought to come take a look at my girl [. . .]

She’s a mass of contradictions
A pick’n’mix of strange convictions
It can be a source of friction
But there are worse afflictions
Love doesn’t make distinctions.

Now to make matters worse she claims the universe
Is expanding like a balloon
But baby if it’s meant to be infinite
Then where is it expanding to?

A good question. The way Michael Moorcock tells it, Arthur C. Clarke found women a bit of a mystery too.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Happy birthday, Oxford English Dictionary

The first volume of the first edition was published on 1 February 1884 under the title A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society.

So here are the Bee Gees in 1971 with “Words”:

Monitor: Home Paddock