Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Obituary of the week

From, as it happens, The Week, the 26 November edition, on English actress Dulcie Gray:
The diabolist Aleister Crowley became an ardent fan, once writing to invite her to be sacrificed as a virgin in a dawn rite at Stonehenge. Gray declined on the grounds that she wasn’t an early riser.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Totally natural

On this morning’s walk I took a new route, away from the cows and horses and bravely into the suburbs. I passed a house with a large sign outside offering a service I had never heard of: ionic foot detox.

So I looked it up. Apparently ionic foot detox will deal with, among other things, joint pain, arthritis, chronic fatigue, foggy brain, poor concentration and parasites. Fantastic. It can fix my feet and my head and also get rid of the cat.

Also, even though it uses electricity to ionise water, it is totally natural.

So here is the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano performing Frank Zappa’s “Bogus Pomp”:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Election update #6, final edition

To the village this morning to see Prime Minister John Key and local MP Louise Upston in action. About a hundred people showed up, not quite half of them media. Bonus: Steven Joyce was there too, taking photos. Can the Nats not afford a professional photographer? I wanted to ask Louise why they bothered with this stopover since everyone in Cambridge votes National anyway, but I guess it was on the way from Taupo to Auckland and would have been light relief after Tokoroa. No cups of tea as far as I could see, though my friend Rachael did a good job of promoting her cupcake business Bite Me – she even got Patrick Gower to interview her, but sadly the clip did not make the 6pm news.

Enough election coverage already. The Spectator has a regular Diary column with contributors ranging from Barry Humphries to Joan Collins to… well, check this one out from the 19 November issue:
London now has a new semi-permanent protest, an anti-bank tent village outside St Paul’s Cathedral, to match the anti-war tents across the road from the Houses of Parliament. It’s one of the incongruities of contemporary London: policemen carrying submachine guns on one side of the street; people breaking the law with impunity on the other. Still, the protestors don't seem to be impeding worshippers on their way to evensong, even those dressed like bankers.
There has been some progress over the past year. Twelve months ago, you had to register to use the bikes installed by London Mayor Boris Johnson. Now, a credit card is enough to give you the extra mobility they provide. Riding a “Boris bike” from the Brompton Oratory to my hotel, I felt I was keeping alive Orwell’s vision of the England of old maids cycling to their parish church.
Who is this benign observer of Occupy St Paul’s who is happy to keep alive Orwell’s vision? None other than Australia’s Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott.

Staying with Oz, here is Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle on occasional contributor Clive James:
If you did a blindfold test on a random passage from Jane Austen you could tell straight away it was written by a woman from Georgian England, and you could almost certainly name the author. It is the same with Clive James. His writing comes across immediately as the work of an Australian of our time. Yet it is also distinctively his own. Despite living most of his adult life in England, he has kept his Australian accent in both speech and prose. His two essays for Quadrant this year, on poet James McAuley and artist Margaret Olley, dwell on their Australian tone of voice. Clive knows this topic well since he has long been master of the art.
His tone of voice comes from the 1950s state high school system — not from the teachers but the other boys, mostly from battler families. The prevailing ethos was egalitarianism, though not the chip on the shoulder kind. At the time, you admired people of obvious ability — Clive has written memorably about rugby league centre Reg Gasnier — but you developed a sharp eye for poseurs, self-promoters, time servers and salesmen, and had fun sending them up and putting them down. These were the essential skills for literary criticism and Clive made the most of them when he went to London. They still serve him well today.
Indeed, he gets better as he gets older. In August, when I asked him to write about Margaret Olley, I received a great piece of 2500 words just three days later, composed under chemotherapy and sent from his bed in a Cambridge hospital. What a trouper!
That James piece on Olley is here.

My old late friend Andrew Mason has been fittingly memorialised, if that is the word, by the Whitireia publishing course’s Andrew Mason Prize for Most Promising Editor. The winner of the inaugural prize is  Kylie Sutcliffe.

In the current NZ fiction bestseller list, eight of the top 10 are literary fiction and some of them have been up there for weeks if not months. Probably sold more than 300 copies. Just saying.

Another list, this time Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists. Lists appeal to boys, but it’s a dumb concept because music is not a competition – and how can they put Jeff Beck at only #5 and Ry Cooder at only #31? Richard Thompson at #69 and John Lennon at #55? Etc. No Roy Buchanan, Amos Garrett, Cornell Dupree or Danny Gatton. No one from jazz. But many of the comments are good because they are by other guitarists rather than journalists – Andy Summers on Pete Townshend is an ear-opener.

Prince is rated at #33: the entry cites his wonderful solo on “Purple Rain” and mentions this version of George Harrison’s dirgy “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” which electrifies it. I love the way he grins while doing it – he so knows he is fantastic. He manages to channel Albert Collins (#56) and Robbie Robertson (#59) at the same time and showboat shamelessly throughout. Glorious.

Don’t forget to vote.

Meant to say re Steven Joyce acting as some stranger’s photographer that I couldn’t imagine this happening in the US, the UK, France, Germany – any country where politicians take themselves seriously. Australia, for sure. Ireland, maybe. But where else?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I’ve been reading

From The Poke.

Everyone else is writing a crime novel so why shouldn’t Paul Litterick? Parental advisory: may contain phenomenology.

Matt Nolan on that “top 1%” concept with actual NZ-relevant stats.

When River Phoenix died in 1993 my friend James said, “That is so tragic. Now he will never get to sleep with me.” At last I know how he felt. Molly Ball in the Atlantic advises that the Hermanator has been terminated so now I will never get to use the word “hermaneutics” in a sentence. Same thing, really.

A story about the demise of Borders and how indie booksellers in Nashville are benefiting. Vultures!

Karl du Fresne on political journalists. Money quote:
When Garner announces “This issue isn’t going away”, under the guise of making an objective statement about the political controversy du jour (such as the Café Urban furore), he does so with the certainty of a man who will make damned sure it doesn’t go away.
A good local stats blog new to me here. It looks to be in the spirit of the Stratford Theory of Numbers and well worth checking in with regularly. Especially if you are a journalist.

Entertaining smackdown of this Labour press release by David Farrar. Well, he would, wouldn’t he, but the numbers tell the story. 

A fantastic competition from Booksellers NZ. Free books. All you have to do is take a photo. I’m going to.

The Financial Times emails:
What does Chris Patten think of Deng Xiaoping, or Stephen Fry of Lady Gaga? Why is Istanbul the FT readers’ favourite city? What do Bear Grylls and Gary Shteyngart dream of doing on holiday. And where can you have lunch with Angelina Jolie, Roger Waters or a Shaolin abbot?
FT Life & Arts is the place to find out. A brilliantly edited mix of features, reviews and interviews updated every weekend, featuring the FT’s finest writers, it brings together the best in arts criticism, book reviews and photography.
Regular columnists include award-winning names such as Gillian Tett, Susie Boyt and Simon Kuper, as well as the extraordinary advice of Agony Uncle Sir David Tang
Talk about a mixed message. David Tang is a delightful fellow – he was at my friend Clara’s 40th in Shek O (at the second house down here) – but I have no interest in Lady Gaga and (SHOUTS!) do not wish ever to hear any more of Stephen Fry. And lunch with Roger Waters does not appeal: talk about monsters of rock. If ever I saw him in the street I’d run like hell.

Cue the Waters-less incarnation of Pink Floyd. It’s not one of their better songs but at least they had a decent bass player in Guy Pratt (whose memoir My Bass and Other Animals is very funny):

Oh yes, there is a referendum on Saturday about our voting system. Official information here.

Election update #5

Best blog comment of the week is from Lance at Kiwiblog on a Farrarpost (it has an excellent graph of NZ’s trade deficit with China and the effect of the 2008 NZ-China free-trade agreement) about how the Greens and Winston First are against imports from China:
The Greens and Winston should tell all their followers that a vote for them is a vote to shut down the Warehouse.
I suspect they will conveniently leave that bit out.

Waikato Times letter of the week

From the 22 November edition of the Waikato Times, a letter in response to previous expressions of concern from dingbats, I mean readers, about the danger of radiation from smart meters:
Simple remedy
To John Cook, of Orewa, and Noel Gregory, of Hamilton, and other concerned readers, there is a very easy and simple remedy for radiation that Smart Meters transmit.
One hundred per cent pure therapeutic essential oils overcome and restore damaged body cells, without any side effects. These substances have the ingredients with no chemicals. Any substance with chemical is a toxin to our bodies. Very few substances meet a 100 per cent pure grade. So radiation is not the only toxin being swallowed!
There is another school of thought on this topic, called science, which knows quite a bit about electromagnetic fields and radiation. And about smart meters too.

I wonder, if Mr Frommherz believes that “any substance with chemical is a toxin”, where he stands on the dihydrogen monoxide issue. It’s a bigger danger than sodium chloride, apparently.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nights in the Garden of Stephen

At the weekend my wife, who does the non-food gardening, removed a couple of blobs of teucrium by the entrance to our house and inserted a couple of young maples. This process revealed – ta-DAH! – a couple of fine upstanding reeds.

We have named the one on the right AH Reed and the one on the left AW Reed.

That’s me in the spotlight

Since my 1970s debut in the national media, fully frontal naked in Marcia Russell’s great Thursday magazine, I have appeared in the Listener, Metro, the Herald and other newspapers, not to mention the Samoa Observer. For a few heady years I was a regular on national TV’s Good Morning and 5.30 with Jude. In England I have contributed to the Spectator, Private Eye and the Economist. I have been photographed by Jane Ussher and, for a magazine cover, by Bruce Connew. Heady stuff. And yet, and yet... 

I was not satisfied. I felt a failure. The Great Prize of New Zealand Media Fame always eluded me.

Until now.

Yes, at last I have made it into Little Treasures. The reporter and photographer were unaccountably more interested in my wife and our children, Seven and Nine, but still, I’ll take the points on offer. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

The election in Cambridge, wildlife edition

Not only has a frog called Sarkozy taken up residence in our garden but also for some weeks now a duck has been occupying the agapanthus at the entrance to Seven and Nine’s rural primary school – the same school that Cactus Kate attended.

It is Cactus’s birthday today, so in her honour we have named the duck Trevor.

The election in Epsom, ESL edition

From the Herald:
”It’s made me totally disenfranchised as a voter,” said Susan, 61. “I’ll vote for Goldsmith because we want to get Act out.”
Get that woman a dictionary.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Scariest author photo ever?

I own a signed copy of Caves in the Hills by A.I.H. Paterson (now known as Alistair Paterson) which was published by the Pegasus Press in 1965. It was his debut poetry collection but, confusingly, the title page says:
Selected Poems by
A. I. H. Paterson
Usually a Selected Poems consists of selections made from a number of books published over a decade or more. Still, the past is a foreign country: perhaps they did things differently in Christchurch in 1965. Incidentally, the book is a hardback. Lift your game, VUP, AUP and Steele Roberts.

Here is the first stanza of the poem “Guns”:
Guns hold a fascination deeper far
Than the collector finds in stamps, in fine
Bold marquetry, in prints and epitaphs —
Flints and barrels, locks with furniture
Ennobled by a dead engraver’s art,
Portraying ills that lead alone can cure,
Lend to the faintest heart a touch of steel.
Which may explain the author photo above, of the author cradling an antique pistol and wearing an inscrutable expression that could be wry or could be threatening. Perhaps it could be both, as if he were channelling Michael Caine.

Whatever, it is the scariest author photo I have ever seen. I showed it to Karyn Hay (whose own debut poetry collection will be published next year) and she suggested that I run a caption contest. Her entry is:
“So, what did you think of the poems?”
That is possibly the winner right there but other entries would be welcome. Not sure what the prize is yet, but isn’t entering and doing your best what it’s all about?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The joy of tweets

Cactus Kate says:
All politicians should be made to tweet and I relish the chance we will get if Andrew Williams is elected an MP for NZ First and a techie introduces him to tweeting.
Oh yes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What I’m reading

Mick Hartley is one of my favourite bloggers because he is a great source for sourced information on Sudan, North Korea, Arab anti-semitism, photography and artwank. But sometimes he comes up with something completely different, like the strange story of the Falkland Islands’ warrah.

Speaking of artwank, as Paul Litterick often does, here he is on best form on that very subject.

Here is Matt Nolan on capital gains tax and the minimum wage. Call me old-fashioned but on topics such as this I do like to hear from economists rather than newspaper columnists. 

New Zealand’s “best-known and loved writers add their support to keeping MMP”. Bully for them. Could we please have next Shearers for STV, Farmers for FPP, Plumbers for PV and Stay-at-Home Mothers for SM. I have friends who are shearers, farmers, plumbers and stay-at-home mothers, and I value their opinion every bit as much as I do those of my friends who are writers. 

Some people think that Fenella Fielding has the sexiest English voice ever. Oh yes. Here is some evidence. 

David Thompson rounds up reportage and comment on the Occupy movement. He comes down on the side of Mayor Bloomberg and others opposed to “round-the-clock drumming, unprovoked abuse and shitting in the streets”. 

The Sunday Star-Times business section reported (not online) on 13 November that:
New Zealand’s average internet connection speed in the second quarter of 2011 was 3.8Mbits per second.
The good news is that has multiplied 90 times over the past 40 years.
I am just old enough to remember 1971 and the terribly slow internet speeds we had then in the dying days of the Beatles. But Computerworld alleges that the first email from New Zealand was sent in 1983, and at InternetNZ we read that “New Zealand’s first link to the Internet was established” in 1989. Whatever. It was still way slower in 1971.

Lou Reed is doing to his catalogue what Bob Dylan is doing to his. The horror, the horror. One can hardly blame his backing band, Metallica. 

Every author knows not to respond to a reviewer but this guy did. Hilarity ensues. Not really, but it’s a good illustration of the wisdom of silence.

How to name your first novel. Mine was called Safe Sex Seemed a good concept at the time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Election update #3: tweet of the day

This is in response to the Greens activists putting stickers on National billboards:
#votenz will someone deface Labour’s billboards by putting their leader on them?
Monitor: Kiwiblog.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Election update #2: tea ceremony in Epsom

Stuff reports, as does the Herald, that this afternoon John Key and John Banks stopped for a cup of tea together. So unexpected, as you can see in this picture of cameras, microphones, notepads and two bashful politicians:

If, heaven forbid, I met John Banks between now and election day I would say to him:
“You can run, but you can’t Hide.”

I wonder if either Banks or Key remembers the rather more famous cup of tea had by David Lange in 1988, and where it got him. And how long will it be before someone makes the “Tea Party” connection? Honestly, sub-editors today…

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Election update

A comment at Dim-Post about voting strategies in Epsom:
I live in Epsom, and I’m leftish, so I’m voting for Banks.
Rationale: this election’s gone already, and the best bet for 2014 is that Key’s second term is derailed by a nasty fight on the right. Brash (definitely) and Banks (less so) aren’t going to Parliament to support soggy sops to swing voters and the Maori Party. Let’s get them on the telly every night for three years, bickering about the Nats and each other, starting with Banks’ leadership coup (“Breaking news … it’s a tie, one vote each!”).
Save ACT! The friend of my enemy who becomes the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or something.
Where I live it is very soothing because everyone – apart from the two teachers who live in the next valley – votes National so there is no need to discuss politics. Ever.

In other news, cats that look like Cunliffe. Four cheers for social media.

Three school friends and I heckled Keith Holyoake in the Tauranga Town Hall in 1969 – one of us had a cassette of Country Joe and the Fish’s Vietnam-war chant: “Gimme an F, Gimme a U, Gimme a C, Gimme a K”, which he played LOUD when appropriate. This is shaping up to be the most entertaining election since.

Danish fun fact of the day

Denmark’s population is around 5.5 million. Its journalists’ union has 15,000 members.

I can’t provide a checkable source for this but it’s what the chair of the Danish journalists’ union told me a week or so ago. He wasn’t joking or exaggerating because, frankly, he was Danish. Seems a high journalist-to-civilian ratio, doesn’t it.  I wonder if their media is better or worse than ours. Anyone know?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


We have a new neighbour. This morning, walking around the estate, we noticed that someone had moved in. A squatter:

 I like frogs. I like how they look, how they sound. I also like their legs with a little garlic, a little butter…. (Click on the pic to see the frog up close, plus the wasp nest which I have to try to remove wihout upsetting the frog.)

We have named this one “Sarkozy”. But maybe this tiny frog is not a male. She could be a  female. In which case,  I hope she is not a frog princess. Take it away, Neil Hannon of the Divine Comedy:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Entertainment option of the week

The Economist dubs Branson, Missouri “No-Sin City”:
It calls itself the live-music capital of the world. To match its theatre-to-resident ratio, New York would need 41,000 theatres. Avant-gardists will find little to applaud, but if you have ever wanted to board a 700-seat showboat to see a violinist in a sequined leotard hang upside down to play “Stairway to Heaven” and then right herself to thank America’s troops while belting out “My Country ’Tis of Thee”, then Branson is for you.
Haven’t we all, deep down, had a life-long desire to see a violinist in a sequined leotard hang upside down to play “Stairway to Heaven” and then right herself to thank America’s troops while belting out “My Country ’Tis of Thee”? I haven’t, as it happens, but I do now.

So here are Dwight Yoakam and K.D. Lang performing Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman’s “Sin City” in 1989:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What I’m reading

Very interesting piece from Booksellers NZ about the production of Rugby World Cup books the morning after. HarperCollins, Penguin and Hachette all got books to print on the Monday or (very early) Tuesday morning after the game. On Monday:
Hachette’s first editorial team members hit their desks at 5.30am, at Penguin, some were in as early as 5am; at HarperCollins it was a 6.30am start.
 HarperCollins had the great Bill Honeybone in charge, so the book will be excellent; Hachette’s writer was Phil Gifford, so the book will be excellent. Penguin had the official RWC contract and the photos were by Andrew Cornaga so the book will be excellent. Hachette went on sale on Wednesday 26 October, Penguin on Thursday 27 October and HarperCollins on Saturday 29 October. An outstanding effort all round, especially when you consider that this all happened just days after the Frankfurt Book Fair so some of the people in charge would have been massively jet-lagged. 

The Brits do obits better than anyone. You want evidence? Try this: the Daily Telegraph on William Donaldson, who was clearly an unsatisfactory person but god he was funny. My copies of Both the Ladies and the Gentlemen, The Henry Root Letters, Henry Root’s World of Knowledge and Is This Allowed? were all stolen in the Great Book Robbery of 1998. If ever you see a book by him, grab it. Two quotes from the obit give the flavour: 
 The following years were a blur of starlets and minor celebrities, including the American singer Carly Simon, whom Donaldson jilted when she was preparing to come to Britain to marry him.
In 2011 terms, that is like jilting Scarlett Johansson. And then this:
Donaldson/Root’s torment of his victims was often lovingly prolonged and Donaldson readily accepted there was something unpleasant and dishonourable about the whole operation. It was claimed that one of his more redeeming features was that while he hated pomposity and hypocrisy in others, he disliked himself even more.
Paul Litterick writes about a recent experience at Artspace:
They were Canadian. They made videos. They questioned the values of the art world while trying their hardest to make as much money as possible from it. They were really Eighties. [. . . ]
But visiting curators are expected to bring artists from overseas and they are expected to find stuff which is “challenging.” They don’t. They find stuff which fits the same old paradigm of international curatorial practice.  This is why our contemporary art spaces are like airport lounges: everything is sort of the same, wherever you go. It is never quite the same, but neither is it very different. It features videos and concepts and performances, all stuff which was done by the end of the ‘60s. The people who come to see this stuff are the MFAs and PhDs who live on K Road. Nobody else cares.
 Finally, this Ode to Wellington from Andrew Sullivan via Cactus Kate.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Last night on Facebook

Private Eye’s Francis Wheen, author of many good books including a biography of Karl Marx and How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, wrote yesterday on Facebook:
Time for my annual self-salutation: “Hello, Wheen.”