Monday, April 30, 2012

Colin the cupcake

I was gazing at the latest issue of Metro, wondering why I had bought it last week. I have mostly fond memories of working there two decades ago but nowadays live quietly in the country and am in no way part of the magazine’s target demographic, having little interest in Ponsonby Road and none in fashion. Why on earth did I fork out $9.90? Was it the cover photo starring Shavaughn Ruakere’s bosom and Colin Madhur-Jaffrey’s cheekbones? Hardly. Was it the strap-on guide to Auckland restaurants? No. Was it the promised story about “Women’s sex tourism”? Thrice no.  

Then I turned to the books pages and saw that Paul Litterick has contributed a review. Yes! That’s why I bought it. Also recommended: Susanna Andrew on Stephanie Johnson’s new novel The Open World, and three pages on Emily Perkins and The Forrests. Excellent. I have my $9.90’s worth.

A friend in the sunset industry that is the print media tells me that media gossip has it that the photo-shoot for the cover of this issue was a bit fraught. Close inspection reveals… well, see for yourselves at the supermarket but it seems quite possible, if only on the evidence of the level of detail of her earrings and his collar, that Ms Ruakere and Mr Madhur-Jaffrey were photographed separately. The photo credits list the shoes both are wearing (him: Zambesi; her: Andrea Biani) though no shoes are visible in the photo. Credit where it’s due, I suppose. 

My friend, who like so many of us is baffled as to what Mr Madhur-Jaffrey does (“What is he good at, exactly?” she asks), reports that last Thursday a certain women’s magazine she works at had some cupcakes delivered and on top of each one was the image of his face or, as she put it, “Colin on icing”. It was a promotion for the TV show NZ’s Hottest Home Baker for which the judges are professional baker Dean Brettschneider, pudding professional Julia Crownshaw and. . .  model/actor/whatever Mr Madhur-Jaffrey. You know it makes sense.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What I’m reading

James George, who wrote one of my favourite New Zealand novels, Hummingbird, on popular crime fiction – Lee Child, James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly etc. Always good to read a good writer on other good writers.

Keith Kloor, adjunct professor of journalism at New York University, at Discover magazine on green modernism.

Imperator Fish gets all satirical about the media/blogosphere fuss about David Shearer and Grant Robertson. Things have come to a pretty pass when MSM writers base their paid columns on what unpaid bloggers David Farrar, Cameron Slater and Chris Trotter have claimed, based on who knows what. Looking at you, Audrey. And you, Vernon. And you too, Ms Watkins. Things have come to an even prettier pass when the only person to talk sense is Jim Anderton:
“Did you see the polls for Helen Clark? Labour was 16 per cent and Clark 1 per cent. But some of the people now predicting Shearer’s demise also predicted Clark’s demise.”
Good to see that Booksellers NZ is having a think about its Premier Bestsellers promotion. It has been a confusing exercise, and led to this wildly erroneous story in the Herald on 20 March which, to the writer’s credit, was corrected on 30 March. This must be the nail in the coffin:
Major commercial publishers Random, Penguin and Hodder are not currently participating in Premier bestsellers.
Hachette’s Kevin Chapman  told The Read “My view is that it was never a success, and we were half-hearted participants. The important thing would be to have it heavily promoted. It isn’t known by the public and that makes it less than ideal.”
The Listener says, p77 of the current issue, that on Sky tonight, on the ironically titled channel Movie Greats, at 8:30pm we may view King Arthur, starring Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd and Keira Knightley. The film would seem not to know its Woads from its Picts, nor the Listener its Europeans from its other Europeans. The billing reads:
In Romainan-occupied Britain, a cavalry officer and his men are sent to rescue an important family from invading Saxons.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Literary gossip

At last this blog lives up to its billing. Only two items, but it’s a start.

1. There is another ruckus over James Joyce. Denis O’Hanlon of Strawberry Beds, Dublin is suing two other Joyce scholars and the Belgian publisher Brepols, claiming that their four-volume set James Joyce: The Finnegans Wake Notebooks used his exegesis of the 50-odd surviving notebooks in which Joyce wrote random-seeming words while working on Finnegans Wake.

Mr HC Earwicker was unavailable for comment, but I found this amazing website which attempts to explain all the strange words  in Finnegans Wake. That famous first sentence:
riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.
has 10 explanatory notes.  Also this, the Finnegans Wake Extensible Elucidation Treasury. Mad, but in a good way.

2. Here is a sneaky preview of David Bowie’s new book, Bowie: Object. It may not survive long online – theft, copyright, lawyers, that sort of thing – so read it while you can. Money quote:
My fading memories of those sessions are dominated by images of Eno hunched over the keyboard turning dials by imperceptible fractions, as amazed and delighted by the sonic textures he was producing as were Tony V[isconti] and myself.
“Do you know it has a logarithmic one volt-per-octave pitch control and a separate pulse-triggering signal?” said Eno, breathlessly.
I said, “Brian, if you hum it, I’ll sing it.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Questions we can answer #2

Shelley Bridgeman, bless her, asks:
Are you raising over-achievers?
No. Next!

What is wrong with this sentence?

Stuff reports on the mystery of the codebreaker Gareth Williams whose naked body was found in a sports bag:
“He was clearly very clever but there were those that say he was shy, an introvert and a very quiet person,” the manager told the inquest.
A clue: it has three letters and begins with a b.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I’m reading

Regular readers will know that this blog is fond of Friesians. My attention was caught by this headline:
Forest Service Considers Blowing Up Frozen Cows That Died Inside Of A Colo[rado] Mountain Cabin
US English is different, isn’t it, with its “inside of” and all. The story begins:
It may take explosives to dislodge a group of cows that wandered into an old ranger cabin high in the Rocky Mountains, then died and froze solid when they couldn’t get out.
The carcasses were discovered by two Air Force Academy cadets when they snow-shoed up to the cabin in late March. Rangers believe the animals sought shelter during a snowstorm and got stuck and weren’t smart enough to find their way out.  
IQist! Later:
U.S. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said Tuesday they need to decide quickly how to get rid of the carcasses.
“Obviously, time is of the essence because we don’t want them defrosting,” Segin said.

A.N. Wilson on the letters of P.G. Wodehouse in the TLS:
This is a sane man, writing in a lunatic world.

Chris Bourke on Jimmy Webb on songwriting:
My definition of a great song is something others want to sing, in the bath, at football, in the playground; one that nags you all day; one that continues to intrigue through an odd chord change, a crystal-clear image, a catchphrase that enters the language – or a cliché that finally gains substance when put to a melody: “your guess as good as mine”, “you always take the weather with you” …

And now for something completely different: we have all heard about crowd-sourcing and cloud-computing but, via Tim Blair, here comes crab-computing.
Finally, this story via Paul Litterick about the NSW police in strife again. Apparently it is “the fifth largest police force in the world” which I find hard to believe but the ABC should know. Money quote:
“When someone pirates your software you think who am I going to call, the police?” Mr Craig said.
“In this case, they’re the pirates.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Africa is big

We have seen that Australia is big, and we all know that Africa is very big. I hadn’t appreciated just how big until I saw this, which shows that it is bigger than China, India, Europe, the US and Japan combined – with room left over for  Mexico, Peru, Papua New Guinea, Nepal, Bangladesh, the UK and New Zealand:

Click on the image to read the text.

Monitor: David Thompson

Monday, April 23, 2012

Young sophisticates

A couple of months ago our friend Jenny came to stay for the weekend bearing pomelos. It’s a Chinese New Year thing. She made a wonderful salad with them for the Saturday lunch.

I took Eight with me to the supermarket the other day. She spotted pomelos and insisted I buy one. Tonight she and Ten requested, i.e. demanded, pomelo salad for the Monday dinner.

I couldn’t remember what Jenny had done but improvised with some Drunken Woman lettuce from the garden; peanuts I dry-roasted in the wok; coconut threads; dried shrimp; a mix of fish sauce, lime juice (from the garden) and palm sugar (not the good stuff – that is reserved for the parents) and a little chilli. They loved it and want it again tomorrow.
We moved from Auckland to the country so the children would not grow up too fast and become too sophisticated. Fat chance. Thanks, Jenny.

By George

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday (and deathday). It is also St George’s Day.

So here is Sam Brown (who was born in Stratford, as it happens) with a joyous performance of George Harrison’s last song, “Horse to the Water”, which he recorded in October 2001, shortly before he died. The clip comes from the DVD Concert for George. Also contains Eric Clapton and Albert Lee on guitar, Katie Kissoon (left) and Tessa Niles (right) on stellar backing vocals, Jools Holland and Chris Stainton on piano, Andy Fairweather Low on guitar and stellar backing vocals, and a bunch of others performing Harrisongs at a memorial concert in the Albert Hall. Not shown (they appear later) are Tom Petty, Monty Python, Ringo Starr on drums and Paul McCartney on ukulele. It was quite a send-off.

The NZ Woman’s Weekly fights back

On 16 April I blogged about the latest readership figures for New Zealand newspapers and magazines, and noted that:
In the hard-fought women’s weekly market Woman’s Day is down 5%, New Idea 3% and the Woman’s Weekly’s 2%.
The Woman’s Weekly has taken decisive action and is now trying to appeal to a new market segment: heterosexual men. At least that is what I take from the cover of the latest issue:

Works for me. I especially like the fact that the cover image has absolutely no connection with the story about Ms Middleton on pages 10-12.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The oddest sentence I have ever written

I am reading the manuscript of a novel by a friend who asked for comments. In my notes I wrote just now:
Good, this justifies the baboon.

Everyone else is doing it

So why shouldn’t I? Posting clips of the late great Levon Helm, that is. Here, to show why he was so revered, is him performing the Band’s “Ophelia” in the PBS show Levon Helm: Ramble At The Ryman which screened in August 2009. He would have been 68 or so. Astonishing – and what a great horn section.

As ever, Mick Hartley got there first and provides some good links as well as a magic clip of the Band in 1969 or so rehearsing “Up on Cripple Creek”. The vocal blend of Helm, pianist Richard Manuel and bassist Rick Danko is, well, magic.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The best Margaret Thatcher story ever

Possibly. It’s in The Times so is behind the Great Paywall of Murdoch, but fortunately The Week has summarised the story in its 14 April issue:
During the Falklands war, [Mick Fellows] was a member of a team of Royal Navy divers summoned to deal with a 1000 lb unexploded bomb that had hit HMS Antrim. With the ship coming under attack from the air, he used a secure line to call colleagues in the UK for help. All they could suggest was that he keep the bomb level, and that perhaps they should notify his wife as to the situation he was in. In response to the latter idea, Fellows unleashed a torrent of profanities.
“What I didn’t know was that this whole conversation was being broadcast to the Cabinet Room, where Margaret Thatcher was listening,” he recalls. Later – having succeeded in saving the ship – he was invited to meet the PM. “She said she wanted to meet the angry man. She told me that she had heard a lot of swearing when she worked in her father’s grocery, but said, ‘You still taught me some words I didn’t know’.”
She showed him a map of the Falklands that was under the Cabinet Room table, and asked him to point out where Antrim had been. And then, he says, “the Prime Minister kissed me on the lips. I stood up so quick, I hit my head on the table. She said to me: ‘Ever since I was a girl, I’ve always wanted to kiss a sailor’.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

What I’m reading

Gloom and doom from the tomb of print journalism, as reported in the Sunday Times and summarised at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Samples:
Since 1985, the Guardian has lost more than half its sales. It gives away its online content and is burning £90,000 a day.
At 230,000 copies, Private Eye’s circulation remains unchanged since 1985.
Possibly because the Eye does not give away its content online.
The number of digital subscribers to The Times already exceeds the daily circulation of the Independent.
Nearly a quarter of Americans use mobile devices to get news.
Since 2008, newspapers have lost more than £1 billion in classifieds, much of it from the regional press, and the analyst Claire Enders estimates that 40 per cent of the jobs in regional journalism have gone in five years.
In the United States, the number of daily newspapers has dropped from 1611 in 1990 to about 1350. In Europe, newspapers are faring better: circulations are dropping at about 4 per cent a year, half the rate of national papers in Britain.
Concert pianist Stephen Hough is enjoying Wayne Koestenbaum’s new book Humiliation. Money quote:
one of my former piano teachers has just made an unnamed appearance [. . .]: Adele Marcus who, so overcome by nerves just before the Schumann concerto’s whiplash orchestral E and the piano’s zigzagging chords which simply ask to be smudged (and forgotten), vomited on to the keyboard. [. . .] The author observes:
“Vomit on the keyboard – that image symbolizes, for me, the always possible danger of the body speaking up for its own rights, against the stringent demands of the mind’s wish to construct a plausible, attractive, laudable self for other people to admire.”
Last week Jillian Ewart wrote at Booksellers NZ about how delayed release dates for New Zealand frustrate booksellers. This has been going on a long time but is worse now because we can all see online which books have been published and we want NOW. This week she reports on booksellers’ responses to that article. All writers  should read this: the book trade is harder than it looks.

Tim Worstall on corruption. Money quote:
It’s not for nothing that until recently you could declare bribes to foreigners as a tax allowable expense in your company tax return: bribes to anyone at home meant jail.
The Atlantic reports that amount of data we have on our universe is doubling every year thanks to big telescopes and better light detectors.

A new word to me: gerundive. There is an explanation here, from the Iconoclast, who quotes Dot Wordsworth in the Spectator a while back:
A creature so rare that its existence had been discountenanced has been discovered in South Africa. The creature is the English gerundive, a relative of the extinct Latin gerundive, and its discoverer is Jean Branford, the respected editor of A Dictionary of South African English. I had never believed in the existence of the English gerundive until now. Just to place it in its habitat, let us remember that:
1.      The participle (Latin amans) shares properties of verbs and adjectives, as with reading, ‘the reading public’.
2.      The gerund (Latin amandum) is a verbal noun, active in meaning, as with reading – ‘reading occupies Charles’ (where reading acts as a subject); ‘reading law journals occupies Charles’ (where the noun phrase is the subject of the sentence, and reading takes an object, law journals, in the noun-phrase); ‘Charles enjoys reading’, where the gerund functions as an object.
3.      The gerundive (Latin amandus –a –um) is a verbal adjective passive in meaning.
It is translated as ‘fit to be loved’, ‘fit to be read’, or ‘lovable’.
The Iconoclast ends by asserting that “scratching post” is a gerundive” but “whipping post” is a mere gerund. 

So here is Frank Zappa in 1984 with Bobby Martin on killer vocals and keyboards, Alan Zavod on keyboards, Chad Wackerman on drums, Scott Thunes on bass, Ray White and Ike Willis on rhythm guitar and vocals, and  Zappa on intense guitar. During a 1974 concert in Helsinki, in the brief silence after the abstract piece “Building a Girl” (if the album is an accurate representation of the concert, which it won’t be), a drunk in the audience called out for “Whipping Post”, an Allman Brothers rock-blues. “OK, just a second.” Zappa conferred with the band. “Oh sorry, we don’t know that one. Anything else?” Incomprehensible reply from the drunk. Zappa: “Hum me a few bars of it, please. Just show me how it goes, please. Just sing me ‘Whipping Post’ and then maybe we’ll play it with you.” The drunk got two or three notes out before Zappa interrupted: “Judging from the way you sang it, it must be a John Cage composition, right?” Hilarity ensued – but later Zappa decided to arrange the song for his next line-up which had in Bobby Martin a member who could sing the hell out of it – and this is the result. The DVD it is from is called Does Humour Belong in Music? but the soloist is not joking at all. This is worth watching in full-screen mode with the volume cranked up: 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

More on those CLL payments

On 2 April I blogged that applications were open for the very generous CLL 2012 Writers’ Awards, $35,000 each for two serious non-fiction projects. This unleashed a torrent of comments (i.e. one from Keri Hulme ) about CLL’s payments to authors out of its revenues from photocopying licences. I hope I managed to clear various misconceptions up in the ensuing energetic discussion but there was a later comment from Bill Manhire that is worth bringing up to the front page, as it were, for further discussion. What he said was news to me:
One problem with CLL and anthologies like the proposed AUP one is that payment for work copied is made, not to the particular contributor, but to the anthology editor. This is administratively convenient, but manifestly unjust – especially given the number of secondary and tertiary institutions that compile handouts and course readers from the pages of published anthologies. It’s especially bad news for NZ poets.
As always, Bill is quite right. It is unfair. (It also explains why I received a payment – it would have been for one of the short-story anthologies I edited with Graeme Lay though I have no idea which, because the publisher didn’t pass on that information.) It is easy for CLL or whichever RRO (reproduction rights organisation – this is an acronym-intensive business) is handling the licensing and apportioning revenues to identify the editors because their names are recorded in the metadata: the names of the authors are not. It would be a huge job to get this information: as I observed earlier, “Perfect sampling would be so expensive that there would be no money left over for authors or publishers.”

In my case the cheque I received was around $20-30; Graeme would have received the same, so let’s say there was $60 to distribute. The book was most likely Home, published in 2005. It contained 100 short stories. Assuming that CLL could get a copy and track down all the writers, each one would have been entitled to a payment of 60 cents. The process would have cost hundreds of dollars. Cui bono? There may be a way around this but no one anywhere in the world has figured it out yet.

I was in the CLL office last week talking with its dynamic new (since mid-2010) CEO Paula Browning. She said her next meeting was with a certain major publisher about whether they might consider telling authors which books have contributed to their CLL payment.

“Have you been reading my blog?” I asked.

She smiled enigmatically.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Jews, no journalists

Jane Mayer writes in her brief New Yorker obit of Christopher Hitchens:
On assignment in Palm Beach, Hitchens scored an invitation to dine at the town’s most exclusive, and allegedly anti-Semitic, country club. [. . . ] Surrounded by billionaires politely nibbling at Crab Louis with their families, Hitch was presented with the establishment’s menu. There was a pause, as he scanned the entries. Then, at a volume designed to be heard on all eighteen holes of the adjoining golf course, Hitch handed back the menu to the waiter and boomed, “This won’t do. I NEED THE KOSHER MENU!”
After the ensuing commotion, the member who had hosted Hitch was suspended, and a new club-house rule was passed: added to the list of social taboos from that day on was an absolute ban on journalists.
Monitor: Rob Hosking via FB

Questions we can answer without reading further

The headline on this piece by the Daily Telegraph’s assistant books editor Sameer Rahim asks:
Can non-Christians appreciate Bach’s St Matthew Passion?
Yes. Next!

What I’m reading

Chad Taylor muses on books, fashion and death.

Matt Nolan, an economist, muses about love, marriage, “good enough” and the theory of the firm.

Pascal Bruckner muses on the fashion for apocalyptic thinking:
What is surprising is that the mood of catastrophe prevails especially in the West, as if it were particular to privileged peoples.
It wouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has read Norman Cohn’s great The Pursuit of the Millennium: revolutionary millenarians and mystical anarchists of the Middle Ages, which is one of the best books I have ever read.

That’s enough musing. Paul Litterick sentence of the month:
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the wankiest of them all: Sting or the people who write about him on Wikipedia?
Stuff informs us that men are dumber around women and illustrates the story with a pic of George Clooney.

English writer Terence Blacker looks forward to the Olympics. As Mona Lott used to say, it’s being so cheerful as keeps him going.

Chris Bell, who is both author and techsmart, generously shares his knowledge about publishing e-books. There are people who charge for this stuff, and Chris is better.

Brilliant cartoon from XKCD showing real lakes and ocean depths. Fascinating, and worth exploring for the hidden jokes and for the “Russians are awesome” line about the Kola borehole.   

Brian Sewell is an English art critic of a certain age and a certain disposition. My painter friends will be horrified by my confession that I have always enjoyed his writing. I did know that he spoke in the most affected accent ever, one that makes the Queen sound common, but had no means of sharing this. Until now. Don’t miss the second page. Click fast enough on different links and you get a wonderful sequence that makes as much sense as most contemporary art criticism. Try his “Liverpool” and “Hungarian art”. Then “White eunuch” and “Sliced cucumber”, in that order. 

Finally, a writer’s worst nightmare: English author and Private Eye journalist  Francis Wheen has lost his library of 5000 books, his CDs, his old vinyl, letters from friends such as Christopher Hitchens and his work in progress, the novel he has been writing for the last year, all because his shed blew up. He was laid low last year with a bad back so this piles Pelion on Ossa (Virgil has it the other way round [at 276])  but Wheen is philosophical about it:
Now, in the absence of books or records to entertain himself, he would simply “sit in the lotus position and contemplate the four noble truths”.
Despite apparently remaining upbeat, Mr Wheen, 55, admitted that the past few months had been difficult. He is currently suffering from spinal problems and was laid low with a “ghastly virus” on Saturday which left him “throwing up all over the place”.
“I’m going to read the Book of Job to find out what happens next,” he said. “Is it the plague of locusts? Or will I have my camels and oxen taken from me?”
I won’t quote from his Facebook page because we all know how private FB is, but his responses to condolences from friends and strangers have been lovely. Grace under pressure, in extremis. You can hear him talk about it all here on BBC4. On a more positive note he is also in the Guardian being amusing about modern delusions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The fury of the furries

Vicki Anderson of the Press apologises for offending members of the furry community. She had interviewed some people who wore furry costumes but who were not, in fact, furries. A genuine furry explains:
The majority of us are just ordinary people who like to put on costumes and perform.  The biggest misconception is that it is all about sex and wild parties.
Not a misconception I have laboured under, for I have never heard of these people. But it is a complex community with delicate gradations:
He added that of those who identified as furries, only around 30% were fursuiters.
Complex, but leading blameless lives:
“Like myself, the others depicted in the photographs were upset to hear that they were insinuated to be part of the fetish crowd when that is not what we do. [. . .]
“We do a lot of work with children and are carefully vetted. Anything like this can be very damaging to our reputations and livelihood.”
So here is Furry Lewis (1893–1981) with “When I Lay My Burden Down” in about 1972. He has an unusual technique – brilliant right hand but, at about 3:00 minutes in, see how he uses his left elbow:

Alternatively, here is John Cale, who can simultaneously play the viola and sing,  performing “Venus in Furs”:

Monitor: Paul Litterick via FB

Monday, April 16, 2012

NZ magazine and newspaper readership

The research company Roy Morgan has published its readership estimates for New Zealand magazines and newspapers for the 12 months to January 2012. There is some good news and a lot of very bad news.

First, the good news. Some provincial newspapers are doing well. The Bay of Plenty Times is up 12% (all figures here are my calculations from the raw numbers and are rounded), the Ashburton Guardian is up 14% and the Manawatu Standard is up 15%. Among magazines, Cuisine and Dish are up 16%, NZ Geographic is up 9% and the Listener is up 3%. Three per cent may not sound like much – but it is when you consider the bad news elsewhere.

Let’s consider the bad news elsewhere.

The teenage-girl market is done for: Crème is down 19%, Girlfriend 26% and Dolly 48%. Hard to see the latter surviving. I wonder how much of this is due to social media, with teenage and tweenage girls spending so much time txting, tweeting and Facebooking that there is no time left for consuming magazines, which are so last century. And where teenage girls lead, the rest of us may well follow. 

Computing magazines haven’t performed much better: NetGuide is down 9% and PC World 38%. Hard to see that one surviving either – it has lost its reason to live.

National Business Review is down 16%; Bride & Groom is down 19%; and over at ACP, North & South is down 12% and Metro is down 16%.

In the hard-fought women’s weekly market Woman’s Day is down 5%, New Idea 3% and the Woman’s Weekly 2% – these losses are, relatively speaking, drops in a bucket.

Readership is not the whole picture – all these results have to be read alongside shop sales, subscriptions and advertising ratios to get an idea of the health of each title, but I can’t be bothered doing that research for free. I wish someone who is paid to be a media commentator would.

A final point: several of these magazines have been bleeding readership for years so these losses come after a string of other losses. Big publishers can carry a struggler; smaller ones can’t. And even big publishers will lose patience eventually. Ultimately they depend on media buyers in ad agencies and, like policemen, media buyers get younger every year: they have no loyalty to or sentimentality about former stars. What counts is today’s performance. Under the impact of social media and the Internet generally some niches and titles will survive and thrive, and those now limping will collapse and die. 

I loved it when I worked there in the 80s and 90s but I’m so glad I am out of the industry now. So here are Cream from their 2005 reunion with “I’m So Glad”:

The ploughman’s lunch

Yesterday we attended the 57th New Zealand Ploughing Championships, held nearby. Thirty-seven farmers had come from as far afield (geddit?) as Temuka, Winton, Asburton and Gore to demonstrate their skill in the conventional (i.e. with a modern tractor), reverse, vintage and horse ploughing (shown above) categories. Judging ploughing is a serious business, requiring assessment of the opening split (10 points), crown (20), main bodywork (40), finish (20), ins and outs (10), general appearance (10) and straightness (20.

There were displays of agricultural machinery, both vintage and modern, a parade of vintage fire engines and more. It was a good demonstration of why the rural life is so unquiet.   

There were also new tractors on display. This is one of the Magnum series from Case IH. No price was displayed but as you can see you get 4000 FlyBuys points, which gives us a clue:

Optional extra: a 19th gear. For a better sense of scale, see below (models: blogger’s own). It is, frankly, awesome.

Friday, April 13, 2012

What I’m watching

It’s school holidays so I am solo parenting while my wife is away mixing with geneticists, IP lawyers and such. So I was stuck at home today, helping Eight and Ten with their baking. At  about 2pm I snapped and said “It’s me time” and put on the DVD of Janacek’s opera Káta Kabanová, the one with Karita Mattila in the title role. Mattila is brave as – Google her, if you wish, in Richard Strauss’s Salome in which she appears naked. She is brave here too, and OMG what a beautiful voice. Amazing staging too:

But I had to explain to Eight and Ten what the story was about: basically, a married woman has an affair (“What’s an affair, daddy?”) and chucks herself into the Volga (“Why, daddy?”). We had a suicide in the whanau last year so they understand the concept but even so, it was a challenge. 

Next up was the DVD of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, with Bryn Terfel, Renée Fleming and Hei-Kyung Hong. I whimpered every time Ms Hong appeared and the children demanded to know why Donna Anna was sad, why Donna Elvira was cross, why Don Attavio was jealous, and whether Leporello was as bad a man as Don Giovanni. Also, why did women like Don Giovanni if he was so awful? I couldn’t really explain that – who could? – and I couldn’t explain why this is perhaps the sexiest scene in opera ever. I was pleased though that they could tell that throughout the entire opera the Don was lying through his teeth. Girls really ought to know how bad boys are.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What I’m reading

An excellent interview with Damon Albarn, who back in the day took loads more and harder drugs than we knew. The skinny: Blur are back, but not for long, and there will be no more Gorillaz. And he’s now BFF with Liam Gallagher. WTF?

Joshua Brown says that any social media site/platform that claims it is “committed to protecting your privacy” is possibly being economical with the truth. Money quote:
And when we say data – we have pictures of you and your friends and family and kids. We know where you go on vacation, what political leanings you have, who you pray to, what size clothing you wear, what you read, which foods you like and what kind of shit you buy at 2 in the morning from an iPad. We know the movies you rent, the music you download and we can triangulate your purchases to determine when you might have a baby, get married or quit your job.
And if we can’t monetize this stuff, you’re goddamn right we’ll find someone who can. Our millions of subs are warm bodies to be harvested and advertised to, if we could find a way to stick a cookie up your ass, believe us, we would do it. Keep clicking.
David Shearer says New Zealand should be more like Finland, which has more heavy metal bands than anywhere else. Has he really thought this through? Life is hard enough in Hamilton as it is.

More sense from Home Paddock on a Chinese company buying the Crafar farms. Always good to hear from a farmer. Good comments too from people who know.

This is disgusting – seriously – and totally NSFW but is a useful example of the nastiness that nice people on the left will excuse from their side but would condemn if it came from the other side. My Labour friends think that the Democrats are lovely, like Labour here; that the Republicans are evil, like National only more so; and that only right-wing nutters believe that the BBC has a left-wing bias. Maybe so, but here is a BBC presenter recommending a clip by a US stand-up comedian about Sarah Palin’s vagina (he doesn’t use that word, uses the four-letter one) and “retard baby”. Ugly, not funny and impossible to imagine even the most right-wing shock jock doing something equivalent about, say, Michelle Obama. Unless Howard Stern has already been there.

Agonies of the left, from David Thompson:
Amanda Marcotte tweets:
“I also love them pretending there’s no such thing as multi-tiered hierarchies of racial privilege”
Zohra Moosa:
“We were talking about sexism in games and whether pac man is gender essentialist”
Matt Nolan, an economist, on the Productivity Commission’s report on housing affordability. He reckons that “housing affordability has improved over the last decade” and “when adjusted for quality, rent relative to income has been declining”.

Julia Jones on crime novelist Margery Allingham’s dad. Nobody reads him now and probably few still read his daughter – great though she was – but what’s interesting is his obsession about the format of the published work. Weirdly pre-echoes today’s concerns about whether an e-book is really a book. Money quote:
Over the next fifty years until his death in 1936 he wrote at least ninety-eight identifiably separate serials which were published at least two hundred and ninety nine times in various formats (re-print, abridgement, re-write, re-format) in at least fifty-eight different periodicals or newsagent’s ‘libraries’. The weekly readership of some of these papers was measured in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. Over the fifty years of his publishing career Allingham’s words touched the lives of many working people -- many of them among the most financially impoverished in society. Yet Allingham did not consider himself to be a ‘proper’ author. To be a proper author, he told his younger daughter, Joyce, you had to be published in hard covers.
Finally, Guy Pearce may be an actor but he is smart and funny and brilliant about Canberra:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Economist letter of the month

In the 7 April issue, from Nikhil Raj, Delhi, responding to this article:
It is incorrect for you to think that one of India’s “great strengths” is the rule of law. If that were true half our politicians would be in jail.

Happy birthday, Dido and Aeneas

If the Concert Programme announcer this morning is to be believed, on this day in 1689 Henry Purcell’s short opera Dido and Aeneas was first performed. The text by Nahum Tate was based on an idea by Virgil.

It was the first great English opera and, much as I admire Birtwistle and Adès, its only real challenger has been Britten’s Peter Grimes which made its debut in 1945. That’s a long time between masterpieces.

So here are Sarah Connolly as Dido and Lucy Crowe as Belinda in the final scene, the aria “When I Am Laid in Earth”, also known as “Dido’s Lament”. You can see the classic Janet Baker version from Glyndebourne in 1966 here, but I reckon this, from the Royal Opera House in 2009,  is even finer: we live in a golden age of opera singing. It’s a long story but here’s the skinny: Dido has killed herself because her man done gone, and these are her dying words:
Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,
On thy bosom let me rest,
More I would, but Death invades me;
Death is now a welcome guest.
When I am laid in earth, May my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Angry Penguin

A parcel arrives from America. It is addressed to me. This is exciting and unusual because unlike everyone else in the household I have not had a birthday for weeks and I do not do TradeMe. I open it, wondering what could be within. A writer’s clock, perhaps?

Uh-oh. It is a copy of I’ll Go Home Then, It’s Warm and Has Chairs: the unpublished emails by David Thorne. I ordered it so I would have the copy with the penguin on the cover, as above, and not the revised version with cats which came about because Penguin objected to the penguin – see the correspondence here. It is a wonderful exchange, which Penguin’s copyright lawyer ends by saying, unarguably, that:
there are any number of alternatives to Antarctica such as skiing or being in space.
This is Thorne’s second book: the first one I received as a 2010 Christmas present from myself. It was the funniest book I have ever read. This will be possibly the second-funniest book I have ever read so I must not open it because I am writing my own book, for money, so must not be distracted. Maybe just the introduction:
[. . .] The only emails I ignore are those sent from New Zealand. The narrow emotional ledge on which New Zealanders squat may have a grand view but nothing good can come from communicating with these people.
So here are Fairport Convention in 2009 with Richard Thompson’s “Meet on the Ledge” with Richard Thompson himself on beret and guitar, not to mention Linda Thompson, Teddy Thompson, a bunch of other old folkies and the great Dave Mattacks on drums:

If you prefer your Richard Thompson straight, as many do, here he is performing the song solo, acoustic and in Australia.

Writer’s clock

It is real. Designed by US author Linda Rohrbough it is available in black, white or red for only $US34.95 including shipping. I’d like the black one, just saying…

Monitor: Mary McCallum

Monday, April 9, 2012

Two takahe today

Over Easter we had housepests from Ngunguru (readers overseas: don’t worry, many New Zealanders couldn’t pronounce it either). Not far from our house is Maungatautari Ecological Island, a bird sanctuary consisting of 2400 hectares of native bush inside a 47-kilometre fence that keeps out predators such as rats and stoats. As DOC says, “it is the largest project of this type on mainland New Zealand and possibly in the world”. Inside the fence, endangered species such as kiwi, takahe and hihi are safe and can breed. And apart from the nocturnal kiwis, you can see and hear them all.

So we like to take visitors there. Last year we took friends from England and saw one takahe waddling through the bush about five metres away. This year our friends from Northland were treated to the pair above, who constitute about one per cent of the world’s population of takahe. Fantastic. It’s probably equivalent to seeing 10 billion pigeons or seagulls at once. 

I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help wondering what they’d taste like. Probably like turkey so one wouldn’t really bother, but still…

In the garden

Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) writes in his 1681 poem “The Garden”:
What wond’rous life in this I lead!
Ripe apples drop about my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons as I pass,
Ensnar’d with flow’rs, I fall on grass.
It’s not quite like that in my garden. The Black Homburg vine produced few luscious clusters, for one thing.  Otherwise it’s all good.  Apart from ever-reliable staples such as lettuce, beetroot, rhubarb etc, currently most productive are chillies(a dead heat – geddit? – between the serrano, jalapeno and cayenne), raspberries and passionfruit. Try as I might I can’t think of a way of combining the three in one dish.   

So here is Prince with “Raspberry Beret” from his 1985 album Around the World in a Day. Prince won’t let his real videos appear on YouTube so this is the Pop Up one with annoying visual pop-ups, but even so it is always a pleasure to see him, and also Lisa Coleman on keyboards and especially Wendy Melvoin on guitar:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

In praise of: Her Majesty the Queen

In the 31 March issue of the Spectator theatre reviewer Lloyd Evans discusses A Walk-on Part: the Fall of New Labour which is – I am not making this up – a dramatisation of the three volumes of political diaries by Chris Mullin, who was a minister in Tony Blair’s government. The books are said to be very amusing.

One incident involves his fellow minister Clare Short when her beeper went off during an audience with the Queen:
Short compounded her embarrassment by taking the device from her bag and reading the message. ‘Someone important?’ Her Majesty asked.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Architects are wankers

So says Steve Braunias and who am I to argue? But I will.

It is true that some of the biggest wankers I have ever met are architects. It is also true that some of my best friends are architects. One of my architect friends is Malcolm Walker and this is his book, his seventh:

I like it very much. It gathers in its 188 pages a generous selection of cartoons mocking the absurdities of other architects, mainly from Architecture NZ but also from Progressive Building, Sunday News and even Interstices. The book costs $50 and is worth it.

I am proud to say that I published some of these cartoons. John Walsh, until recently the (outstanding) editor of Architecture NZ, provides an introduction and an illuminating interview with Malcolm; there is also a foreword by that other great architectural cartoonist, England’s Louis Hellman.

As John Walsh says, the cartoons “tell a story of 25 years of architecture in New Zealand, of the issues that have come and gone, and of those that persist and recur”. They are also very, very funny. Several made me laugh out loud, especially the set of Old Masters at pp 148-9 – very much an in-joke, but a magnificent one that features, among others, John Blair, Ted McCoy, Chris Kelly, Andrew Patterson, Pete Bossley, Peter Beaven and the irrepressible Michael Thomson. The Crosson Clarke is the cruellest, but then it is April. 

The cartoon below, “Sheilas in Architecture” (click on it for a bigger version), is from a 1993 issue of Architecture NZ: “Mandy” must be Amanda Reynolds; “Jane” is possibly Jane Aimer, whom I adore. The book was designed by Malcolm’s partner Diana Curtis, whom I adore even more. She is the best designer I have ever worked with and has inserted a few jokes of her own. I don’t mean to shout, but this is a Very Good Book.

Sentence of the day

Anna Egan-Reid at Mary Egan Ltd on Kim Evans’s new cookbook, Treats from Little and Friday, which she designed and is currently #1 on the non-fiction NZ bestsellers list:
I’m pretty thrilled it has already gone to the third reprint and only officially went on sale 5 days ago!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Crazy ’Bout An Automobile

This is for my friend Ian who is a total petrolhead and turns 50 about now. It is Ry Cooder and band – and what a band. 

It’s from the film Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces: Let’s Have A Ball which Les Blank made at a concert in Santa Cruz on 25 March 1987. It was the end of the tour and Cooder had turned 40 a week or so earlier. Many clips from the film (which is not available on DVD, as far as I know) have been posted on YouTube by mbroders: if you like this, just click on all Cooder links from mbroders and you’ll probably get the whole concert.

The band is: Jim Keltner, drums; Van Dyke Parks, keyboards; Jorge Calderon, bass; Flaco Jimenez, accordion; Miguel Cruiz, percussion; Steve Douglas, sax; and George Bohannon, trombone. They are all fantastic, as are the singers: Bobby King, tenor; Terry Evans, baritone; Arnold McCuller, tenor; and Willie Green Jr, bass.

The 1988 album Live and Let Live! by King and Evans was produced by Cooder, who plays on it throughout: there is a great version of “At the Dark End of the Street”. Roots heaven.

Monday, April 2, 2012

CLL writers’ awards

Copyright Licensing Limited has announced that applications are open for the CLL 2012 Writers’ Awards. Every year two writers receive $35,000 each to work on a non-fiction project. Could be history, could be science, could be biography, could be anything, really, as long as it is serious.

Recent notable publications by award-winners include Paul Millar’s No Fretful Sleeper: a life of Bill Pearson, Martin Edmond’s The Zone of the Marvellous, Hazel Riseborough’s Shear Hard Work and Peter Wells’s Colenso biography The Hungry Heart.

To apply you must be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident, and provide a summary of the work and a sample chapter. Closing date is Tuesday 26 June. Full details are here.

CLL, a non-profit organisation owned jointly by the Publishers Association of NZ and the NZ Society of Authors, licenses educational and other organisations that copy published material and distributes the income to the works’ authors and publishers. After deduction of operating costs and a contribution to the CLL Cultural Fund, which pays for these awards, all licensing revenue is returned to rightsholders. (It’s mostly textbooks but occasionally even I get a small cheque.)

It’s a very generous award, one of biggest in New Zealand, so if you have a suitable project you’d be mad not to apply.

Keri Hulme expresses a view in the comments.

Nom du jour

In the Dec/Jan issue of the Literary Review Christopher Andrew, professor of modern and contemporary history at Corpus Christ College, Cambridge, reviews Robert Service’s new book Spies and Commissars: Bolshevik Russia and the West. He reports that:
In the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University, Service’s main source of new material, he has uncovered possibly the most preposterously named intelligence officer of the early twentieth century, Monsieur Faux-pas Bidet…
Isn’t that “of the early twentieth century” an extraordinary qualification – surely this man was the most preposterously named intelligence officer, if not person, of all time?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Best book cover ever?

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov:

Don’t know who the publisher is, or the designer, but whoever chose that pic is a genius.

via Helen Lewis Hastely who owes her article’s title to Francis Wheen.

Long spots, short stripes

Art investment advice from Felix Salmon, via Marginal Revolution. Money quote:
Recently Cady Noland had a piece at auction. It went for $US6.6 million. It had seven spots on it. We’re approaching that psychologically important one-million-dollars-per-spot level.
 I can’t find any Spots to go long on but here are the White Stripes with “Black Jack Davy”:

Eclectic as the Stripes were, that is probably the only song they have in common with the Incredible String Band. Below is a late version from the ISB in 2003 which is no match for the one on their 1970 album I Looked Up, but on YouTube we take what we get and are grateful. The song itself is very old, a Border ballad probably from the early 18th century, and every version is different, which is what you get with real folk music. I can’t quickly find a good source of info online that isn’t Wikipedia but apparently Nick Tosches is very sound in his Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Monitor: Penny Wise