Thursday, March 31, 2011

How to write a newspaper column

As he so often does, Garth George shows the way, shines a light, blazes a trail. His Herald column today begins:
Many a time since this column first appeared have I used as a last sentence, “We reap what we sow”.
See what he did there? He started his latest column by quoting the cliché he often uses to end his column. Brilliant. Bernard Levin never thought of that, did he.

Steve Braunias, Jim Hopkins, Kerre Woodham, Deborah Coddington, Joe Bennett – take note. This is how to do it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Buddhist Rain, Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood

As previewed on this blog in January 2010, jazz pianist/composer Norman Meehan last year released Buddhist Rain, a CD of settings of poems by the retiring Bill Manhire. It’s on the Rattle label, RAT-D020.

In November I promised that soon I would blog on:
Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood – the missing link.
In February I blogged:
I promise I will resume proper blogging to reveal the secret connection between Bill Manhire and Dr Feelgood, as previously advertised.
It was all a pack of lies. Nothing was delivered.

Is it too late? No? Good.

The CD is excellent, warm late-night listening with the lovely voice of Hannah Griffin accompanied by Meehan on piano, and on some tracks the great sax player Colin Hemmingsen joins them. The songs are extremely sympathetic settings of the poems – three, including the title track, are settings of new lyrics written specially for the project that are included in last year’s poetry collection The Victims of Lightning. I can’t imagine this sort of project being done better.

Now, about Dr Feelgood. Bill was never the singer in the band, as you might have supposed, but he and original guitarist Wilko Johnson do have something unusual in common.

Bill Manhire, in an interview with Iain Sharp:
I came straight to Wellington from London, where I’d been doing post-graduate work on Old Icelandic.
Wilko Johnson, an interview with Uncut magazine (Oct 2010, not online), says of studying medieval literature at Newcastle University:
I was the only one in the English department who opted to learn Old Icelandic: just me and Professor Frankiss doing the Sagas.
Julien Temple, director of the 2009 documentary on the band Oil City Confidential, interviewed by The Arts Desk:
He is interested in William Blake, Milton, Marlowe. He can quote endless speeches from Tamburlaine. He’s one of the six Old Icelandic speakers in England. He learnt it so he could read the Sagas in the original.
And here is Wilko Johnson in performance with Dr Feelgood:

Here is a video lesson on how to play like Wilko, with the great man himself. There is no video lesson available on how to write like Bill.

I receive a present

Because I was stuck at home with two small children for four days last week while my wife was living the high life in Invercargill (i.e. attending a dairy industry conference), she brought me back a present to show her gratitude.

It was Friday’s edition of the Southland Times. It’s thoughtfulness like that that keeps a marriage alive. (It is, in fact, a very good newspaper.)

One story in it, by Sarah Lamont, is headed “Town heads to Waipu for shield challenge” and begins:
If you’re visiting Colac Bay this weekend, don’t expect to see anyone there.
The whole town will be in Northland defending the title they won in the Colac Bay v Waipu Challenge in 2009.
Colac Bay team member and former Southland flanker Jeremy Winders said 52 of Colac Bay’s 53 residents were attending the event. One person would be left behind, in case the pig dogs needed to be let out, he said.
It continues:
Colac Bay first hosted the Waipu rugby team in 2009, after Waipu heard about the Colac Bay v Bluff rugby challenge, Mr Winders said. When the Waipu team arrived the sheep were removed from a Colac Bay paddock to make the game possible.
There is more in this vein, and then the story ends:
The town of Waipu, which has a Scottish heritage, would shut down for the game at the weekend, providing Highland games and entertainment for the visitors from down south, Mr Winders said.
The people of Colac Bay had fundraised the trip by selling oysters, muttonbirds and swedes, he said.
Wonderful – great material, expertly handled. Even better, and what you can’t tell from the website, is that this story was on the front page.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Don’t Look Now – did they do it?

We’re talking Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now from 1973. It is a fantastic film, no question, with Christie and Sutherland, both sexy as hell, directed by Nicholas Roeg. The question is, did they do it?

On the one hand, we have this, in the Daily Telegraph:
The sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Don’t Look Now is so passionate that viewers often wonder whether the stars were making love for real.
Forty years on, a new book is to claim that the stars did indeed have intercourse while filming the scene.
The Hollywood Reporter, a showbusiness newspaper, posted a blog by a journalist who had seen an advance copy of a book, Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob, (and Sex), written by Hollywood veteran Peter Bart.
In the book, Mr Bart claims that the sex in the scene was real.
Mr Bart, a former executive at Paramount Pictures and editor at another entertainment publication, Daily Variety, writes that while at Paramount he watched the scene being filmed and saw the pair of actors engaged in sex, the blog posting claimed.
On the other hand we have this on Stuff:
“Not true. None of it. Not the sex. Not him witnessing it,” Sutherland said. “From beginning to end there were four people in that room. Nic Roeg (director), Tony Richmond (cinematographer), Julie Christie and me. No one else.”
And whom do we believe? Donald Sutherland, obviously. There is not a man dead or alive who would deny having had sex with Julie Christie, however much a gentleman he may be. So if Sutherland denies it, it didn’t happen.

Of course it didn’t happen. What they did is called acting. And what Mr Bart does is called trying to sell a book.

Here is Randy Travis with “On the Other Hand” to reinforce the idea that what is on the other hand is sometimes what matters most.

Beware the naked man

Suddenly topical in Wellington, “Naked Man” is a song by Randy Newman, from his 1974 album Good Old Boys, and is performed here by the Grass Roots in 1975. The first verse and chorus go like this:
Old lady lost in the city
In the middle of a cold, cold night
It was fourteen below and the wind start to blow
There wasn’t a boy scout in sight
Pull down the shades cause he’s comin’
Turn out the lights cause he’s here
Runnin’ hard down the street [ . . . ]
Through the snow and the sleet
On the coldest night of the year
Beware, beware, beware of the Naked Man.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blog comment of the day

Michael J Parry on speculation by Dim-Post Danyl (yay – he seems to have got his satire mojo back) about what’s really going on in Christchurch:
“Gerry Brownlee has turned the red zone into a wasteland in the centre of which he squats atop a throne of skulls (of constitutional lawyers) demanding more buildings be sacrificed to his glory, while at his feet cower rows of naked slaves, covered in dust and filth, signing endless demolition orders written in the blood of conservation architects.”

I so want to see that as a Tom Scott cartoon…
No offence to Tom, but I so want to see that as a Chris Slane cartoon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Word of the day

Ally at Today is My Birthday has learned some new words. The one I particularly liked was “mumpsimus”, which she says means “ an opinion or idea adhered to even when proven to be wrong”. 

What a useful word, especially for Herald  readers exposed to Garth George’s columns.

UPDATE: Danyl at the Dim-Post reports and comments on Garth George’s column in today’s Herald, which is a classic of its kind. Classic mumpsimus.  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The nerve of some people

Sometimes people do stuff that is annoying. Other people, that is. At times like this one recalls Richard Thompson’s song “Can’t Win” from his 1988 album Amnesia. The lyrics end:
The nerve of some people, the nerve of some people,
I don’t know who you think you are.
What follows is a blistering guitar solo expressing that sentiment. There is an even more incendiary version on Thompson’s live album More Guitar (available from his website as a CD and download).

This YouTube clip of Thompson and band performing the song is from January last year, filmed by a punter in maybe the front row. So, not DVD standard but, you know, wow. Takes a minute or so to get going but it is a great performance of a great song. And the next time someone pisses you off, it may help to sing the chorus quietly to yourself. Works for me, anyway.

Algarve Golf

I have no interest in golf and barely know where the Algarve is but Tim Worstall has asked me to mention his Algarve Golf association and provide this link to it. Job done.

Who is Tim Worstall, you ask? He explains here what he does for a living when he is not blogging on economics and such (basically, he is the Lord King God of Scandium, a surprisingly important rare earth), in a blogpost that is the most magnificent serve to a critic I have ever seen. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bedtime music for a six-year-old

Tonight the six-year-old requested “Po-Jama People” from Frank Zappa’s 1975 album One Size Fits All. The nine-year-old agreed with her choice.

The lyrics start:
Some people’s hot, some people’s cold
Some people’s not very swift to behold
Some people do it, some see right through it
Some wear pyjamas, if only they knew it

And on it goes. Superb interplay between Zappa’s bluesy guitar and George Duke’s gospel-ish keyboards, plus Tom Fowler on bass, Ruth Underwood on percussion, and the mighty Chester Thompson on drums. Bliss.

I don’t know which bits of the song/performance appeal to the children, but they have been requesting it occasionally for the last three or four years. I suppose eventually they will shift allegiance to Kid A

Pak’n Save as farmers’ market

The business section of Friday’s Waikato Times had this story on its front page:
Competition watchdog the Commerce Commission will consider next week a complaint by Farmers Markets New Zealand against Pak’n Save for comparing itself to “a Farmer’s Market – only indoors” in a current advertising campaign.
Farmers Markets said the advertising breaches the Fair Trading Act and “grossly misleads” Kiwi shoppers.
Farmers Markets is a community of independent growers and artisan food producers who meet regularly in cities and towns to sell seasonal, locally produced food direct to the public. The food is produced in a defined area, with no middlemen, supply contracts or bulk buying agreements.
Farmers Markets vice-president Jonathan Walker, a Waikato bacon and sausage producer, said the supermarket was attempting to piggyback on the good name, growth and success of the group.
“Pak’n Save supermarkets do not resemble Farmers Markets in any way. They do not sell only food, the people who produce the food do not sell it, and the food is not grown or made only in a defined local region,” he said.
The photo above is of Cambridge Farmers’ Market this morning. As you can see it’s like a Pak’n Save supermarket  only outdoors.

Unlike a supermarket, at a farmers’ market the fruit and vegetables were picked the day before – in some cases, that morning. Freshness is all – the apples we buy every Saturday are amazing. And when we buy flounder, we know they were speared the night before. 

Supermarkets are a very good thing and they can always compete on price (not always successfully) but they can never, never ever compete on taste.   

Friday, March 18, 2011

The modern multi-media family

Room 1: the nine-year-old and her friend are playing the Beatles’ “Let it Be” at high volume and singing along in preparation for their school concert. Possibly contains dancing.

Room 2: the seven year-old is watching the DVD of Barbie as Thumbelina at high volume.

Room 3: their father is listening to Frank Zappa’s “Hog Heaven” from Shut Up ’n Play Yer Guitar, a 2-CD set of guitar solos and nothing but guitar solos, at high volume. 

Each of us in the house is, in our own way, in Hog Heaven.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sentence of the day

Yesterday we talked about shape-shifting reptiles; what are they, what do they want and why is Donald Rumsfeld failing to deny being one.
You are so going to click on this link.

Some animals deserve to go extinct

Scientists at the University of St Andrews studying beaked whales, a species that frequently becomes beached in Britain, concluded that they were extraordinarily timid creatures that were scared “by virtually anything unusual”, despite being the size of a rhinoceros and weighing the same as a London bus.
Pussies. If I was the size of a rhinoceros and weighed as much as a London bus, I wouldn’t be scared of anything. Well, maybe my big sister and my mother-in-law, but that’s all.

This comes from a story in the Daily Telegraph headed “Wind farms blamed for stranding of whales”. You know where I’m heading – yes, I looked at the paper cited in the article, “Beaked Whales Respond to Simulated and Actual Navy Sonar” published at PlosOne. It isn’t peer-reviewed that I can see but it was edited (maybe that is the same thing) by Simon Thrush from NIWA which is good enough for me. The paper does not mention wind farms. Not once.

One expects this level of meretricious “reporting” from the Guardian, the BBC and so on, but what has it come to that we can no longer trust the Daily Telegraph?

Paul Litterick in the Comments says he cannot find the offending article online. That, it turns out, is because the Telegraph yanked it and has since published this:
Correction: whales and wind farms
Scientists studying why whales strand themselves said yesterday there is no known direct link between those strandings and off-shore wind farms, although the construction of turbines may affect the mammals’ behaviour.
Prof Ian Boyd, of the University of St Andrews, said the construction of offshore renewable energy sites is likely to cause some species to move to other areas and to distrub [sic] their feeding and reproductive cycles. At present it is not possible to predict precisely how this will affect their populations.
However, he wished to correct a report on this website this week that said there was a proven link between off-shore wind farms and strandings.
The professor said a quotation attributed to him in a press release issued by the university, which discussed strandings related to sonar emissions from naval vessels and which suggested renewable energy sources also contributed to the disturbance of whales, had been taken out of context.
We are happy to make this clear.
That distrubing literal (which is what we in the trade call a spelling mistake) is a bit embarrassing – editorials, apologies and corrections really should be error-free. One blames the Australian subs. 

More to the point, it may seem from the Telegraph’s correction that the error in the original text was not the fault of the reporter but of the idiot at the university who sent out the press release. But I spotted it and I’m not paid to, unlike the reporter. Inexcusable.

There should be a paper in all Media Studies courses called “Press releases are not gospel, they are not news: fact-check them”.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yvonne du Fresne

The writer Yvonne du Fresne died on Sunday, aged 81. Her funeral will be held at the Harbour City chapel on the corner of Cockburn Street and Onepu Rd, Kilbirnie, at 2pm on Thursday (tomorrow). 

After winning the PEN best first book award for her 1980 short-story collection Farvel, she was twice runner-up in the NZ Book Awards, first for the 1982 novel The Book of Ester and then for the 1985 short-story collection The Growing of Astrid Westergaard. Her books are suffused with her Danish-French Huguenot background: in her last published book, the 1996 novel Motherland, Astrid returns to Denmark and has a reunion with her Danish relatives. There is a last novel which she worked on for years but remains unpublished. 

She will probably be remembered most for her short stories which Maurice Gee calls “beautifully fresh stuff, unlike anything we’d had before. Danes in New Zealand and back home were her true subject, the thing that lit her up. Her writing, especially those early stories, is unique.” 

In his introduction to Farvel, Bill Manhire writes:
Like the oldest Norse tales, the Farvel stories have all the flair and pace of oral narrative . . . But a better way of describing their effect might be to borrow the image of embroidery which appears so often in them. Farvel is like a tapestry, with fresh scenes being added story by story until at the last the richness of a complex picture is revealed. And Yvonne du Fresne’s language can be like a needle flashing in and out of linen. Her writing has the intense, controlled exuberance of one of her Danish women at work on a piece of tapestry – human energy directed well.
Nina Nola writes in the  Oxford Companion to NZ Literature:
Critics operating from realist premises have struggled both with the blurred borderline between reality and fantasy, and the claim of Danish spiritual affinity with Maori in the two novels [Ester and Frédérique]. While they consistently celebrate du Fresne's sharp and exciting language, humorously employed to look ironi­cally at herself and her community, they are frequently uncomfortable with her construction of an indomitable immigrant community identity and its mythical connec­tion to another place, a superior homeland that is not England. This depiction of difference is a deliberate negotiation of New Zealandness in a distinctive style of voice du Fresne calls her “Danish clonk”.
 For Was I Not Born Here?: Identity and Culture in the Work of Yvonne Du Fresne, by the Norwegian academic Anne Holden Rønning, is available at Fishpond, and the NZ Book Council bio is here. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Charlie Sheen

It is a law that every blog should comment on Mr Sheen and his current travails. So here we go:

If you had to invent a name for a drug-addled egomaniac TV star, wouldn’t “Charlie Sheen” be rejected as being too obvious? As in “Charlie” for the drugs and “Sheen” for the preening self-regard?

In years to come, which major rock star will he come to resemble? Charlie Sheen, this is your future:

Beware the Ides of March

Today is the Ides ofMarch here in New Zealand. My friend Kevin Ireland – poet, painter, novelist – alerted me to this with the words, “Watch your back.” 

Readers in other time zones still have the Ides to look forward to. You have been warned.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Sentence of the day

Danyl @Dim-Post explains why Phil Goff has ruled out Hone Harawira’s putative new party as a partner:
Presumably Harawira’s proposed policy of putting Phil Goff against a wall and shooting him is a factor here, although of all planks in Harawira’s agenda this is the policy item that would have the widest support amongst non-Maori voters.
Quite. Vernon Small reports that:
However Goff continued to leave the door open to NZ First led by Winston Peters, saying he would wait to see if Peters made it back into Parliament.
He said Peters had stuck with a Labour Government for three years and as Minister of Foreign Affairs he had acted in a way that was compatible with the support agreement.
But not always in a way that was compatible with dignity. I was never more proud of my nephew Simon than when he was at a meeting in Moscow, as one of several NZ residents there rounded up to meet our then Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he told Peters – who was in excessively convivial mode – that he was a disgrace to New Zealand. My nephew is the least censorious of men, and pretty convivial himself, so if he objected to Peters being excessively convivial, he (Peters) must have been royally excessively convivial. 

Phil Goff, who was a good minister of Foreign Affairs, would know exactly how well Peters performed his duties.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I am trapped in a house with five females. One is my wife so that’s OK but the other four are excitable girls aged from six to nine who have eaten birthday cake. Lots of birthday cake. It will be a long night and an even longer morning on Sunday.

Friday, March 11, 2011

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Tomorrow we host a children’s birthday party so the house will be full of nine-year-old girls for the afternoon after they’ve been horse-riding in the morning and, yes, they will stay overnight. Sunday breakfast will be hell. 

Children’s parties these days often have a theme and live entertainment. We’re thinking along these lines:

The photo – click on it for an enlargement – is by David Mercado/Reuters and shows a member of the “Diablada Autentica” during the Carnival parade in Oruro, 200 km south of La Paz, Bolivia, on 5 March. For other parents with the same problem, there are more inspirational/aspirational photos like this – from Mardi Gras in New Orleans to Carnival in Rio – at The Big Picture.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What makes a great Kiwi book?

 That is the topic for tomorrow evening’s NZ Book Month event in Hamilton, at which I have to speak. In any other context than birds, the word “Kiwi” makes me shudder. 

I said as much to a booky friend who replied, “There should be a list of horrid words and they should be banned – starting with ‘booklover’ which is on the same loathsome scale as ‘jazzfest’.” Quite.

Any other suggestions for the List of Horrid Words? Or any suggestions for what to say about what makes a great Kiwi book?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Damien Wilkins, rock star

Who’d have thought? The author of the 1990 short-story collection The Veteran Perils (his debut), the 1993 poetry collection The Idles and novel The Miserables (I have read it twice, which I couldn’t say of many NZ novels not written by Vincent O’Sullivan) and half a dozen novels since, is about to release an album of his music, Group Hug by the Close Readers.

Product placement alert – if you go here, you will find a very stylish promotional package of graphic (the one above, which I assume is the cover art), text and a free download of some of the songs. No alarms and no surprises: they are good. 

And here is Nigel Cox’s profile of Damien Wilkins (along with Ian Cross) in Quote Unquote the magazine in 1993.