Saturday, June 30, 2012

Keith Stewart on Gordon Walters

The 53rd in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1994 issue. The intro read:
Keith Stewart talks to the great abstract painter Gordon Walters about the early days of his career, as he began to develop his distinctive koru motif. People already thought he was crazy to paint, but when he discovered Maori art, “They thought I was especially crazy.”
The portrait of Gordon Walters is by Bruce Foster.

When Gordon Walters burst onto the frothy contem­porary art scene of 1960s New Zealand, his work was very much “shock of the new” to an art community that thought it had found its real voice. McCahon was already established as the messiah of New Zealand painting when the musty old New Zealand Herald reproduced in large black and white one of Walters’ paintings. It was a work of piercing clarity, its pattern of wickedly complex simplicity capturing a visual rhythm which immediately echoed its pulse to all who saw it. The rhythm was pure New Zealand in a way never seen before, breathtakingly cosmopolitan and bold.
Walters crafted sublime sophistication out of an essential New Zealand shape, a form that evokes the substance of an ancient Maori form, itself containing an essence of this place that is instantly recognisable whether seen by Maori or Pakeha. His paintings enriched and expanded the forms they grew from, and helped consolidate a growing sense of identity in a young people. It was art that worried at the core of being of here.
This was not some explosive new young talent, however, no meteor from art school, but a contemporary of McCahon who had toiled away at his art when New Zealand gave nothing but hard ground. Not that the ground necessarily made it so, but Walters’ is a hard art, pursued with almost obsessive single-mindedness and refined with the sort of stamina it takes to win marathons. It was a long, long journey from the beginning of the grind that distilled his “koru” paintings, a journey Walters started without really knowing what he was in for.
“When people start off they don’t have much to express,” Walters says. When he began, he didn’t have much to express, but he knew he wanted to do it through art, and that it would take great dedication. “I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t have the skills. Right from the beginning I was a perfectionist, and I wanted to realise things which at the time I couldn’t.”
And there was not much hope of learning, or of making a career, or even of winning recognition. “When I told my parents that I wanted to do art,” he recalls, “they said, ‘You’d better get some skills so that you can make your living, because you can’t start off, just be an artist. You’ll just starve.’ So I set myself a goal of some sort of job in commercial art, and for a long time I didn’t dare to think I might be an artist who could make a living from my art.
“I went to a secondary school where there was no art, and it was a terribly slow and lonely business acquiring the skills to slowly make concrete what I actually felt, my responses to what I’d seen. After I left school, I went to art school in the evenings and I used to paint in the weekends.”
He learned as much as he could from the people and things around him, but it was made more difficult in a community where art was seriously underrated, where there was so little opportunity to look at any art - never mind art that was challenging, that was a dynamic part of daily life.
“You have to think what it was like in the 30s and 40s when I grew up,” he says. “It was a crucial period. Here in New Zealand art had nothing to do with the bloody community. People wanted little landscapes on their walls, and that was what the art societies went for. Anything else was unthinkable.
“There were no dealer galleries - the only shows were at the Society of Arts, the Academy of Fine Arts annual exhibitions. I started off showing at these and I was very uncomfortable because they had selection committees and you submitted your three works and if you were a beginner like I was you perhaps got one in.”
Sometimes you got lucky. “I remember the first time I ever showed was when I was 18 or 19 at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. I got one painting put into that show, and low and behold the Evening Post photographer actually photographed the bloody thing and it was there in the newspaper. I felt this was a very auspicious thing somehow, but it took a while before I could really see my way. I still wasn’t really sure what I was doing.”
World War II provided a great opportunity, as the dislocation in Europe sent refugees fleeing around the world, even to New Zealand. Young Walters thrived on the art ideas they threw into Wellington’s provincial propriety. Having been rejected by the anny, he was by this time fully employed by the Ministry of Supply, creating diagrams, designing instruction booklets and undertaking various other commercial art activities, alongside people who could discuss Europe’s art world.
“That was when my education really started. The man in charge at the Ministry was a Russian called Marx, and he had a soft spot for refugees. The whole place was full of refugees. We even had some Samoans - it was bizarre because these Samoans were out-and-out fascists who would rejoice every time the Nazis made any gains - all mixed up with these Jewish refugees.
“That was a good time for me because I met all these people and I learned a hell of a lot from them. Really my focus at that time was very much on European art.”
It was an attention that had been developing even before the influences of European refugees, because Walters had already acquired the artist’s essential trait of looking, looking, looking. In the absence of real art that meant books and magazines.
“In the late 30s when I was at art school, they had a very good library at the Wellington Technical College, and I got books that really got me going,” he says. “And then there was Art Now by Herbert Read, with all the reproductions of contemporary stuff. That was where I saw my first reproduction of a Mondrian, which I didn’t understand, but it fascinated me and I wanted more, everything I could get.
“Already I was drawn to the abstract, and some of the surrealists’ things, so meeting all these refugees from Europe was incredible. There was one Dutch woman who had copies of Minotaur, the surrealist magazine, probably the only copies in the country.
“There was another, I think he was a Czech, who used to give talks on art. He was very keen on the work of Kandinsky and that expressionist stuff, and he had lots of very good reproductions to look at that I can still remember. Really I took off in that period, and not all the experiences were to do with art, because we talked about all sorts of things, but I became sure that I wanted to be a painter.”
Walters’ relationship with another refugee at this time, Theo Schoon, is considered by art historians to be pivotal in his development of the koru motifs which so dramatically announced his presence more than 20 years later. “I met Schoon through a lecture he was giving at the Wellington sketch club that I used to go and draw at some nights,” Walters remembers. “He was so contemptuous about New Zealand art, and when I talked to him he was even more bloody contemptuous. He brought home to me the differences between here and Europe.
“I showed him what I was doing, and he told me I didn’t have the background to do it. He was very skilful then, because he was not long out of art school, and he taught me how to draw properly what was put in front of me. He taught me how to get the proportions right. He would stack three chairs on top of each other at funny angles and say ‘Draw that’, so that I would learn how to get the thing absolutely right. That is not really anything to do with art, but it developed my hand and eye co-ordination.
“I never actually liked his painting very much. In fact I didn’t like it at all. But one of the things that people coming in were able to do was see things more clearly than we could. Schoon was onto that. I knew about these things, but he was saying it and making it concrete for me.”
Indeed, the beginnings of Walters’ affinity with Maori and other tribal art went back well before his contact with Schoon, probably even before he was aware he wanted to be a painter. “When I was a kid we were taken to the old Dominion Museum in Museum Street, and it was crammed with things. Old carvings, bits of rafter panels, everything you could imagine. And it was not just Maori stuff. There was stuff from New Guinea, masks and things, stuff from New Ireland, a few African things chucked in. It made such an impression on me. It was magic, like Aladdin’s cave.
“I really got to it again when I was looking at the art magazines when I was at art school, and I saw what Picasso had taken from - and he took from a lot. He was omnivorous, he just went slurp. His work is full of all these references, so that got me looking too, and I found another important book for me, by Karl Einstein, who was a German historian, on African sculpture. I had that book for years, and it was marvellous, with wonderful masks, heads, and figures. It is a very contemporary taste I think, and that got me very interested in tribal art and I started looking at Maori stuff again.”
But he could not quite make contact. “It seemed remote to me, the Maori stuff, very hard to get into. I could see how those artists used the African stuff, but I couldn’t see how I could use Maori stuff. OK, that was my limitation at the time, but I was interested in surrealism, and they went for Melanesian art, for Pacific art, because it was more fantastic than the African. Some of the surrealists did have collections, including some very nice little Maori figures, but Maori stuff was very remote at the time, almost unknown to Europeans, and I was trying to see like a European.
“I tried to make use of Maori design in about 1939-40. I tried to take elements from it and do something with it. I couldn’t, because I couldn’t see the thing properly at the time.”
Others were trying to make contact too, but they were also failing, perhaps because Maori art was too exotic for them, or simply because they, too, could not see it properly either. “So many of the painters when I was at art school were not getting into Maori art, but were drawing Maoris, painting bits of related landscape with a Maori house in, or a little meeting house. Maoris in Rotorua, that’s what those guys were into. I couldn’t see myself doing that. Something stopped me.”
But then the breakthrough came, the point of access. “Just at the end of the war I went over to Australia for about three months, and when I came back I got this letter from Theo Schoon, and he said he had found some fantastic stuff in the Dunedin Museum. These were some chunks of limestone with rock drawings on them. Then he saw some of the drawings in a more accessible site, and he told me he was going to copy them, and do something with them, and he wanted me to come down and join him.
“That was when I first started getting into Maori material, if you could call it Maori material, because it’s not like classic Maori things at all. The further back you go, that’s where you get the good stuff.”
And it was the good stuff he seemed to have been looking for all those years, even when he didn’t know quite what it was. The good stuff that is the essence of the perfection he seeks.
“I am painting the one picture all the time,” he concedes. “It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, I am trying to perfect the one thing I was meant to do. To perfect it to my satisfaction. It is an unattainable thing, but you have it there right in front of you, all the time.”
And when you get close you don’t turn away, even if it makes your life, your acceptance as an artist, harder.
“People were antagonistic towards modernism. If you showed somebody a reproduction of a Mondrian they would mutter, ‘What the bloody hell is that?’ It was so severe and so negative that it was one of the reasons I kept my stuff to myself. Another reason was that people didn’t like the idea that you painted. Commercial artists I mixed with then thought that painting was peculiar, that I thought I was too good for them, and that I was crazy because I painted.”
So just when people began warming up towards modernism and painters in general, how did they feel about his discovery of Maori art? “They thought I was especially crazy then,” he says. “Everybody thought Maori art was so old hat. Not really art at all.”
And that is just the beginning of the story. But, as Gordon Walters himself says, “Good artists are bloody ruthless. Monsters. You do what you have to do.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

What I’m reading #68

Booksellers NZ is running a useful series of articles by Jillian Ewart. The latest is on how to promote a self-published book. Highly recommended if you are thinking of doing this. Click through to see more in the series.

Craig Sisterson of Crime Watch interviews Zirk van den Berg, author of Nobody Dies and No-Brainer.

Rosabel Tan of the Pantographic Punch misses former Sunday Star-Times culture editor Mark Broatch already, and talks more generally about the role of the critic. Money quote:
But if the only thing we reward are people writing safe recommendations focusing on the kind of minutiae that benefit no one, or bloggers who are clearly inspired not by art but by themselves, and who revel in the kind of cynicism that is neither intelligent nor attractive, then don’t be surprised – and don’t you dare complain – when this is all that we get.
Joe Hildebrand is sad about turning 36. Money quote:
When you’re 35 you are at least in your mid-thirties but once you go beyond that you have to start rounding up. Let’s face it, you’re basically 40.
Forty means different things to different people. Politicians see 40 as “generational change”. TV executives see 40 as “key demographic”. Teenagers see 40 as “pretty much dead”.
In Tehran they make their own fun:
Salman Rushdie was the target of a notorious fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic of Iran, 23 years ago. Now, the author of The Satanic Verses is the subject of an Iranian computer game aimed at spreading to the next generation the message about his “sin”.
The Stressful Life of Salman Rushdie and Implementation of his Verdict is the title of the game being developed by the Islamic Association of Students, a government-sponsored organisation which announced this week it had completed initial phases of production. [. . .]
Three years ago, the student association and Iran’s national foundation of computer games asked students across the country to submit scripts for the game and the top three were handed over to video developers. [. . .]
Little has been revealed about the game but its title suggests players will be asked to implement Khomeini’s call for the killing of Rushdie.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Report on experience

Chad Taylor walks the mean streets of London and stuff happens, as his photo above shows. His report includes words such as fire, road, tyres, car, street, burning, wheel, tender. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: this is a Bruce Springsteen song.

Not on this blog. So here is Nick Cave with a song from the 2003 album Nocturama:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Peter Bland on acting and Joanna Lumley

The 52nd in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the November 1996 issue and is by Peter Bland, one of his “Postcard from Putney” columns. It contains the only reference ever in Quote Unquote to Joanna Lumley in a bikini. (Elsewhere, I discovered this in the Listener archives: a Steve Braunias interview with Peter from 2003. It’s terrific.)
The London Evening Standard advertises some 52 “live” theatres open nightly in the city. That’s without the National and the RSC, Covent Garden, or the English Opera Company. Then there’s the three ballet companies currently in town, and scores of stand-up comedy shows and fringe venues. With front-of-house staff, musicians and backstage staff, it probably adds up to some 10,000 people making a living from the London theatre. At least 2000 of these would be actors, dancers or singers. The average West End contract is for six to nine months, so working in town quickly becomes a settled way of life. Dressing rooms are second homes, with fridges, TVs, ironing boards, armchairs and family pictures on the wall. A long run in Auckland is five or six weeks, not six to nine months (or longer), so the opportunity to settle into a role or a dressing room in this way is a luxury the New Zealand actor doesn’t often enjoy. Over the longer period one can fine-tune a performance in a rather enjoyable way. On the other hand, after about a year, the experience can be mind-numbing. The role one is playing begins to take over one’s life.
It isn’t enough that he sets your daily timetable with constant anxieties about getting there on time and never travelling too far away from the theatre. He has the added gall – at any time of the day or night – to constantly nag you with suggestions on ways to improve his performance. He’s merciless. If you question his growing authority he’ll simply remind you that he’s paying the bills! You are in service to him. Or so it seems month after month, as you leave for your 500th performance with another mental note from him about how to turn a chuckle into a belter.
Long runs are full of danger. The “stars” of the show may gradually grow to hate each other. I’ve known them argue on stage in strangulated demonic whispers, usually about money, sex or the billing. I can still hear Joanna Lumley in a pair of bikini briefs and some Chanel No 5 suddenly yelling out – in the middle of a Brian Rix farce – “I can’t take any more of this!” and running screaming into the wings. I don’t think she did live theatre for another 10 years after that.
Then there’s the increasing danger of the dreaded “dry” as lines are taken for granted or you’re feeling ill with the flu. Suddenly it’s Gobi desert time... Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? Every other actor on stage recognises that sudden glaze in the eyes and ducks for cover.
On the other hand, there are evenings where everything is on song and you experience a continuous “now” of insight and understanding. That’s what makes live theatre so exciting, why no other dramatic medium can finally match the audience’s thrill at “being there” as it happens.
In the 70s I did nine West End plays in 10 years without a break and suffered a sort of burn-out. This was complicated by the fact that I discovered that I wrote very little poetry when I was working in a long run. The muse refused to share me with the character I was playing. She demanded more of my attention than a long run could justify. So I settled for camera work and performances that are quickly disposable.
But I still run my eye down the West End theatre list, recognising old friends, remembering past performance, admiring those of my fellow actors who continue to walk that delicate tightrope between triumph and disaster.

Waikato Times letter of the week

This is from the 25 June edition:
Too much of everything
We are reaping the rewards of prosperity and the fruits of our successes. Drinking, drugs, family breakups to name some of the many problems besetting our lifestyle. Which only goes to prove that “money is the root of many of today’s problems”. A lifestyle full of today’s problems, cars, mobile phones, laptops etc, a sure sign that we have got it all wrong like the history books of Rome. Too much of everything.
The stresses and strains of modern living, with a pill for everything, and we are living longer. Too much affluence and money that has never been so readily accessible from banks and financial institutions etc. It’s prosperity at a cost. And what a cost! The family unit is under so many strains. Schools, hospitals, banks take the brunt of it and we just seem to be busier than any time in living memory.
The downward slide just keeps on getting worse. Prosperity: but what a price to pay for the western world. For Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy they have severe financial problems. Then we have the world credit card boom. Plastic money availability makes sure we keep on living beyond our means.
Then the government is trying to encourage people to save for their retirement. What a mission! A trend which is frankly inconsistent with today’s standards of living and mindset.
So here is the great Australian band the Church covering a George Harrison song from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack:

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What I’m reading #67

A book about Wellington architect Ian Athfield. The reviewer (that would be me) is not uncritical but summarises: “This lavishly illustrated and well- written book does him proud.”

The best way for an author to get back at a misguided (i.e. negative) reviewer. I can recommend the technique – I used a version of it about 15 years ago and it worked a treat.

The book trade depends on its sales reps. Former bookseller Steerforth of the Age of Uncertainty blog reminisces about their glory days. Money quote from a book rep:
“Phil, I got this fucking memo from some tosser at Head Office telling me I had to read this new novel and write a report about it! D’you know what I did? I phoned him up and said I haven’t read a fucking book in 25 years and I’m not going to start now.”
Oh dear, Stephen Fry has made another TV series. It is about language and it is called Planet Word. Pauline Foster, a linguist whose blog Bad Linguistics has the motto “If you are going to broadcast your views about language, you might want to get a few things straight first”, is not impressed. She reviews Episode One and Episode Two. Sample quote: 
And so to San Sebastian in Spain to eat Basque food and talk to a chef about another endangered language, Basque. This part seemed to me mostly about cooking due to Fry’s belief that “The Basque language is in the DNA of Basque cookery and preparation techniques.”  I have absolutely no idea what that could mean. Fry follows up with, “Cuisine and language may be so entwined because traditionally recipes were passed on by word of mouth,” another of his pronouncements which sound academic and weighty until you think about them for two seconds, and then they sound silly. Pretty much everything in a pre-literate culture had to be passed down by word of mouth.  (Did you know, he tells the chef in his irrepressible QI polymath mode, that the very first book printed in Basque was not till 1545! But as the first book printed in English was not till 1471, it’s perhaps not that surprising.)
Via Steerforth, we can see and hear Malcolm Muggeridge interviewing Somerset Maugham some time before 1965 because that’s when Maugham died. It is amazing that this was recorded and is available on YouTube, but how much more amazing are their accents. I showed this to my 10-year-old, as an example of how TV was when I was her age, and how English people used to speak, and she couldn’t understand a word they said:

Friday, June 22, 2012

Waikato Times letter of the month: update

Reader Brian Ougham questions whether the Ian Brougham quoted as writer of the Waikato Times letter of the month can be for real. Yes he can, Brian. Yes he can. Or at least he does exist, which is perhaps not quite the same thing.

Another reader, conspiracy expert Matthew Dentith, confesses himself similarly baffled by Mr Brougham’s revisions of New Zealand history as most of us have always understood it. So I have done some research. Via Kiwipolitico, here is a letter from Mr Brougham to the Wanganui Chronicle published on 8 July 2011:
Taniwha real
 In reply to Dusty Miller (letters, July 1), I’m not one of those experts, but I do believe the taniwha to be real, not imagined, and I’ll tell you why.
Perhaps the ancient Celts of New Zealand may never have known war or possessed weapons, as prior to Maori being brought here by Zheng He New Zealand had never been threatened internally nor externally and there was no need.
However, New Zealand was visited by Viking ships and Scottish birlinns (a birlinn is similar to a Viking ship) which used to trade with resident Celts. The sailors of these vessels were fierce, battle-hardened warriors with far superior weaponry and military discipline compared with Maori.
As the bow and stern design of these ships is similar to the head and tail of the taniwha, I could well imagine that the sight of them would strike paralysing fear into the heart of any Maori confronted by them, and for this reason I believe the taniwha represents these ships.
Believing this to be the truth of the taniwha, I would not think these ships could be found in a small creek or marshland because of their size.
Taniwha artwork is yet another example of Maori following the culture of those who came here before them, the Celts.
But wait, there’s more. Mr Brougham stood as a candidate for the OneNZ party in the Whanganui electorate in 2005 and received 214 votes, a fair way behind the successful National candidate, Chester Borrows, who received 15,846. In 2008 he had a bye. In the 2011 election, he stood for NZ First and received 1043 votes, still a fair way behind Chester Borrows who received 16,743.

That’s all I can find, sorry. There is no mention of Mr Brougham on the NZ First website. How odd.

Here is the great Patsy Cline with an early Willie Nelson song:

I bet Gina Rinehart couldn’t do this

She may be the richest woman in the world and about to steer the supertanker Fairfax from left to right as it downsizes the Sydney Morning Herald and Age to tabloid format, but can Gina Rinehart match Rupert Murdoch in depth of knowledge of the industry? Via Tim Blair:
The story is told in one Murdoch biography (Murdoch by William Shawcross) that shortly after purchasing London’s Sun he decided to have it printed as a tabloid. Told by his printers that the broadsheet presses he owned could not print a tabloid, Murdoch informed his employees that their printing presses were originally supplied with bars designed to fold pages to tabloid size. The head printer, Shawcross reports, denied this. Whereupon the publisher removed his suit coat and jumped up onto the press. “In a box at the top of the machine,” writes Shawcross, Murdoch “found the bar in question wrapped in sacking and covered in ink and grime. The printers were impressed.”

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sentence of the day

The Waikato Times – along with probably thousands of other newspapers, websites and blogs – reports that the Rolling Stones are planning a meeting in London  to discuss plans for a 50th anniversary concert this year. After rehearsals in April, Keith Richards “has confirmed there are more sessions planned for next month” and as he told Rolling Stone:
It’s all very hush-hush.
You didn’t hear it from me.

What I’m reading #66

In the Spectator Philip Hensher gives a rousing welcome to Martin Amis’s new novel Lionel Asbo: State of England:
But all in all, it is not as bad as I feared.
Courtesy of Shorpy: the Anti-Flirt Club. Here are the rules as published in February 1923:
1. Don’t flirt: those who flirt in haste oft repent in leisure.
2. Don’t accept rides from flirting motorists – they don’t invite you in to save you a walk.
3. Don’t use your eyes for ogling – they were made for worthier purposes.
4. Don’t go out with men you don’t know – they may be married, and you may be in for a hair-pulling match.
5. Don’t wink – a flutter of one eye may cause a tear in the other.
6. Don’t smile at flirtatious strangers – save them for people you know.
7. Don’t annex all the men you can get – by flirting with many you may lose out on the one.
8. Don’t fall for the slick, dandified cake eater – the unpolished gold of a real man is worth more than the gloss of a lounge lizard.
9. Don’t let elderly men with an eye to a flirtation pat you on the shoulder and take a fatherly interest in you. Those are usually the kind who want to forget they are fathers.
10. Don’t ignore the man you are sure of while you flirt with another. When you return to the first one you may find him gone.
Still sound advice, especially # 9. Younger women think that older men are defanged. They aren’t.

Lev Grossman on genre fiction as disruptive technology, responding to a piece in the New Yorker about “guilty pleasures”, a stupid concept if ever there was. Money quote:
The plots in genre novels are of a different kind, after all, constrained as they are by conventions. But conventions aren’t the iron cage they’re made out to be. Sonnets are bound by conventions too, but that doesn’t stop them from being great, and wildly various. Conventions are more like the rules of chess: a small set of constraints that produces near-infinite complexity. They’re not restrictive, they’re generative.  
Chad Taylor has finished writing a new novel. Good. Now he has time to praise Pete Dexter.

Much angst in Oz about Gina Rinehart, a rich woman, and Fairfax, a media company she owns a chunk of and whose board she would like to be on. Shock horror ensues. This terrific piece in the Guardian gives the background and quotes John Singleton, who is the Aussie equivalent of Bob Harvey – knows everyone in the media, has seen and remembered everything in and about the media, is probably just as mad but is always worth listening to. Money quote:
Singleton, who has known Rinehart since she was eight years old, says the suggestion that she would damage the Fairfax brand is ridiculous.
“If you trash a brand day after day and put on the front page that mining should be compulsory and you should eat iron ore for breakfast, then the circulation would go down along with the credibility. We don’t need lectures from bloody politicians about branding,” he said, adding that she must have a seat on the board.
“You get an Australian who’s been very successful and has nearly 20% of the company and she doesn’t get any board seats? Who the hell do they think they are?”
Alex Ross on Jack Johnson, world heavyweight champion from 1908 to 1915:
The boxer was, incidentally, an opera enthusiast, with a particular fondness for Verdi; he once appeared in a silent role in a production of Aida.
So here are Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Michael Henderson and the rest of the 1971 band in a performance of “Yesternow” from A Tribute to Jack Johnson:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Waikato Times letter of the month

This is from the 19 June edition:
Navigation claims
Maori over the past few years have decided to celebrate Punga/Matariki (Orion/Pleidaes constellation). The North American Indians were the people that were connected to this star constellation, also the Celtic people. Maori are claiming that they navigated by these stars. 
Maori never navigated here, they were brought here as slaves, males only, no women, by Admiral Zheng. He was a Chinese pirate/trader who abandoned them on the shore. How could slaves ever know anything about navigation? This was taught to them from the people that were living here while at the same time teaching them their culture, that they are using today, part of which is star navigation. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Our neighbour over the back fence, the one who reckons he’s got his fishing costs down to about a K per kg, came over this afternoon with some kingfish he caught on Sunday. Today is Tuesday. How fresh is that?

The kingfish was about 18 kg, he said, so not much smaller than my smaller child, and he’d caught it about 18 miles out. He said it was a wild ride – stormy weather – but “invigorating”. I don’t know if you have ever been out in a boat off the Bay of Plenty in these conditions but trust me, it is terrifying.

He said I should make sashimi with it, if I had any wasabi and soy sauce. Well, d’oh. But what were the other options? I consulted Al Brown’s Go Fish which has never failed me and found a recipe for Kingfish Carpaccio with Crisp Capers which I am about to prepare. Sadly, my wife is away being famous so I have to eat this on my own.  I can’t help it if I’m lucky.

So here is Bob Dylan in a keffiyah, with “Idiot Wind”:

Monday, June 18, 2012

The saddest text message ever?

My wife was in Auckland last Friday overnighting on business. On Saturday morning she txted to let me know she was on her way home and about half an hour away. The message read:
Huntly 9:30am.
I couldn’t tell if the message was a cry for help or an expression of existential despair. 

So here are Eric Burdon and the Animals, live in 1965, with one of the songs I most enjoyed playing in a loud rock band. Once more with feeling:

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Dancing about architecture

Failure is an orphan, success has many fathers. So the line “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” has been ascribed to Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and many others. Seems as though it was Martin Mull who coined it, though he might have nicked it too. (I had an LP of his, Normal, in which the song “Jesus Christ Football Star” included the line “Drop-kick me, Jesus, through the goalposts of life”.)

Writing about dancing: yes. Dancing about music: yes. Writing about architecture: yes, if you must. It is even possible to cartoon about architecture. But what about composing about architecture? Can it be done?

Yes, it can. Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music, has done it before in his Third Symphony and he has done it again in his brand-new Ninth Symphony which, says Ivan Hewitt in the Daily Telegraph, was inspired by a building:
The passages with a key signature in this symphony are often associated with an extra brass group of six players. “Yes, I think of those passages as an intrusion into the main musical argument. The idea was partly inspired by the wonderful medieval side-chapels in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, which are very garish and clash with the main body of the church in the most amazing way.”
Even on the page, there’s an element of militaristic parody in these brass “intrusions” which hint at a more urgent expressive purpose. I soon discover just what that is.
“I think these musical ‘chapels’ are a hangover of my absolute fury at the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Maxwell Davies. “It led to the loss of so many lives, and for what? I think it’s on the scale of the Crusades in its depravity and stupidity.”
 This might seem an astonishing sentiment coming from the Master of the Queen’s Music. Maxwell Davies doesn’t think so. “The Queen made it clear to me that I should feel no constraint in the opinions I express in my creative work. I think composers have a duty to bear witness to the times. It’s the most important thing we can do.”
 The tone of Maxwell Davies’s voice may be mild, but the old anger is still there.
There is a review of the first performance of the Ninth Symphony on 9 June here.

So here are the Pointer Sisters in 1974 with “Yes We Can Can” (compare and contrast: here is Lee Dorsey’s 1970 original):

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I’m reading #65

Tim Worstall approves of Michael Gove’s idea that seven-year-olds should be taught languages. He thinks it is:
[. . .] an absolutely fabulous idea. Grammar, vocab, spelling, pronunciation: I cannot think of a better preparation for the life ahead.
We could start with English…..
The longlist for the 2012 Ngaio Marsh Award for best New Zealand crime novel is out:
Collecting Cooper by Paul Cleave (Simon & Schuster)
Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster)
Furt Bent from Aldaheit by Jack Eden (Pear Jam Books)
Traces of Red by Paddy Richardson (Penguin)
By Any Means by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins)
Bound by Vanda Symon (Penguin)
The Catastrophe by Ian Wedde (VUP)
How to talk to a judge. This PDF of a transcript of a Queensland trial has gone viral but here it is in case you missed it. It’s only 167KB so is a tiny download and well worth it. A small sample follows (warning: this is from Australia so may contain coarse language):
HIS HONOUR: Now, Mr B-----
DEFENDANT: You can get stuffed.
HIS HONOUR: -----the trial will be-----
DEFENDANT: I don’t give a-----
HIS HONOUR: -----preceding-----
DEFENDANT: -----fuck, you and your trial, mate. Stick your trial up your fucking arse. I'll go.
HIS HONOUR: Sit down please, Mr B.
DEFENDANT: ... No, fuck you. You don’t tell me what to do, who do you think you are?
Books can be useful. Who knew?

James le Fanu, a doctor and author of the excellent The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, reviews David Healy’s Pharmageddon. Money quote:
Certainly drug companies, like any investor-owned enterprise, have a fiduciary responsibility to increase their shareholder stock by ‘growing the business’ and maximising their market share. But, Healy alleges, they have done so by systematically subverting the intellectual apparatus of science and its methods of distinguishing truth from falsehood, thus exposing the sick, and indeed healthy, to the hazards of potent and unnecessary treatments. 
 Adam Mars-Jones reviews Martin Amis’s new novel Lionel Asbo. Money quotes:
Amis doesn’t so much inhabit his characters as leave them to seethe like charged rods in a viscous bath of language. The pleasures of reading Amis are electrolytic.
Of course Lionel Asbo is overwritten – it’s by Martin Amis! The problem is that it’s under-overwritten. And there it is, the voice in a generation’s ear, charming without charm, insistently dazzling, milking the paradoxes until their teats are sore and they have no more nourishment to give. It’s easy to write Amislike sentences, hard to write good ones, and there are signs that Amis feels this too.
Finally, a conference in August I will pass on even though it will be just up the road. It is at Waikato University and titled “The Creative University: Education and the Creative Economy Knowledge Formation, Global Creation and the Imagination” (sic). In their call for papers the organisers mention “economy”, “economic” and “economies” many times, e.g.:
This conference investigates all the aspects of education in (and as) the creative economy. The conference objective is to extend the dialogue about the relationship between contemporary higher education and the changing face of contemporary economies. A number of terms describe the nature of the contemporary capitalism of advanced economies: ‘cognitive capitalism’, ‘metaphysical capitalism’, ‘intellectual capitalism’, ‘designer capitalism’. The conference will explore the relationship between the arts and sciences and this new form of capitalism. It will look at the global reach and international imperatives of aesthetic and scientific modes of production, the conditions and character of acts of the imagination in the range of fields of knowledge and arts in this period, and the role of the research university in the formation of the creative knowledge that has a decisive function in contemporary advanced economies.
Pretty economics-intensive, then. So how many economists will speak at the conference, you ask? None so far: four speakers are listed, all of them education academics. Sample topic: “Beautiful Minds and Ugly Buildings: Object Creation, Digital Production, and the Research University. Critical Reflections on the Aesthetic Ecology of the Mind”.

Speaking of economists, Tyler Cowen asks, “Is popular music becoming sadder?”. He quotes a study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts which finds that over the last 50 years pop songs have become “longer, slower and sadder”:
“As the lyrics of popular music became more self-focused and negative over time, the music itself became sadder-sounding and more emotionally ambiguous,” according to psychologist E. Glenn Schellenberg and sociologist Christian von Scheve.
 Analyzing Top 40 hits from the mid-1960s through the first decade of the 2000s, they find an increasing percentage of pop songs are written using minor modes, which most listeners—including children—associate with gloom and despair. 
Cowen ends:
By the way, the Turtles song “Happy Together” is mostly in a minor key.
Of course it is – it’s about unrequited love. Not a happy song at all, though the Turtles made it sound that way. Fun fact: vocalists Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan sang backing vocals on T Rex’s Electric Warrior, and with Turtles bassist Jim Pons were part of Frank Zappa’s band in the early 70s. So here are three former Turtles and Zappa live in 1971 with “Tears Began to Fall”, which was released as a single in 1971 with  their version of “Happy Together” on the B-side. Pop music was different then.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Stephanie Johnson says farewell to film reviewing

The 51st in this occasional series of reprints from Quote Unquote the magazine is from the December 1995 issue and is by Stephanie Johnson, who had been our film reviewer for two years and had had enough. Not of the magazine, fortunately – she continued to review books for us.

To the artist, writer and film-maker, the critic is, figuratively, a kind of monstrous parent sitting in judgment. Among the artistic fraternity, critics are loathed almost as much as producers are by screenwriters. They are deemed ignorant, slow on the uptake and, most of all, unkind.
Theatre management have sound economic reasons for hoping critics will be magnanimous. Actors and playwrights read their reviews with trembling hearts, the spectre of cancelled performances looming in the dark of their mind’s eye. Painters scan theirs with the vision of an unpeopled gallery and vacant bank balance. As a young actress I had an idea that critics were all failed writers, hunched over in the gloom, their brains aflood with acid, waiting to deal the death blow with one swipe of their pens.
Someone once said that we become what we most fear. Given my early image of the reviewer, my incarnation as critic made me nervous even though I told myself that every time a book is read, or painting seen, or movie watched, then that consumer becomes – in that moment – a critic. The individual weighs up the worth of the work against their own standards and requirements, their own sense of aesthetics and ethics.
Most of us keep our opinions to ourselves, or share them with a few friends who have also experienced that book or film. As my reviews began to appear in print, I realised that publishing one’s opinions on contemporary culture is a strangely exposing pastime, more denuding even than publishing fiction.
The parent metaphor was one I discovered in my two years as film reviewer for Quote Unquote. It seemed the trick was not to allow a single weak facet, such as a less-than-confident performance, an over-enthusiastic designer or a clumsy script to overwhelm the otherwise delightful aspects of a movie. A film that was less than technically proficient may have a brilliant script; a miscast lead may throw an otherwise compelling film off-balance. It was important to “see the whole picture”: the making of a film, any film, is an enormous technical and logistical achievement.
What is most important to me, in the viewing of a film, is that it has a heart. This dawned on me slowly. Beautiful photography is not enough, just as it is wrong for critics to dismiss a film purely on the basis that it has a different morality from their own. It must go further than that. My sense of ethics suddenly seemed very conservative, as I grew more and more irritated with films such as Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction.
Quentin Tarantino, as we all know, is a gifted and interesting director, but to me he sells himself short. He is more than capable of making a film that does not take the easy way out of situations, a film that raises the human spirit rather than lowers it to a realm of cold, smart-arse glibness.
It strikes me now that it is not con­servative, or reactionary, for a critic to judge a film’s morality. In this secular age we have no doctrine to refer to, just a gut feeling that a film may have a negative influence on street life in the cities it screens in. In the late 80s we were all bamboozled, shocked and titillated by Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. A few brave critics and writers tried to ring alarm bells, to ask art-house filmgoers what they really thought they were going to see.
Around the same time I remember feeling nauseated by Greenaway’s ZOO, with its shots of slowly putrefying corpses. It all seems very innocuous now, less than a decade later. I watched Pulp Fiction surrounded by braying youths in black clothes. They thought it was hilarious, which it is, in parts.
As a terrified, gibbering young man on screen had his brains splattered all over the inside of a car, they wet themselves laughing. Myself, I failed to recover quickly enough from overwhelming pity for him to appreciate the joke in the next screen minute. I begin to wonder if we really are being hardened, that if youthful film-makers want to shock the establishment, they must try harder and harder to do so. The establishment these days is pretty thick-­skinned.
It has become commonplace now, especially in the US, for producers to hold a screening for selected audiences before the film’s final cut. The audience gives the producers their responses to the film, and from this the producers hope they will be able to foretell the movie’s success or failure at the box office. If the film-maker is present, then they must field questions and criticism from the floor, answerable already at this early stage to market forces.
High capital investment and the collaborative nature of film-making have made this seem necessary: no one would expect this of a writer with a half-finished novel, or a painter still to dab on the final brushstrokes. That audience’s response, in spite of how wide a cross-section of society the producers have assembled, will always be peculiar to the dynamic of that audience itself, just as the later critics’ responses will be subjective. The only subjectivity necessary to the creation of a work of art, film or any other genre, should spring from the artists themselves. Any criticism should come later, when the finished film opens for general viewing at the cinemas.

Over the last two years I saw films that delighted, educated, irritated and horrified me. There were films that sneaked up on me with their brilliance, sometimes one or two days after viewing them. There only two that I dismissed out of hand (Killing Zoe and Natural Born Killers) and many that I recommended wholeheartedly: Into The West, The Piano, Farinelli, Farewell My Concubine, Bad Boy Bubby, Muriel’s Wedding and War Stories, to name a few.
I determined early on, not always successfully, never to “tell the story”. Giving away the plot of books and films is not the job of the critic. It is a great failure, I think, and lazy too. Reviewers of books in magazines and the dailies often preface their crits with such brain-dead statements as “I liked this book” or “I didn’t like this book” before giving a not-always-accurate synopsis of the plot.
In her collection of essays, reviews and interviews A Small Personal Voice, Doris Lessing says that the creative individual longs for understanding and illumination from the critic, and is inevitably disappointed. She never reads reviews of her own work and in this she is not alone. Many writers don’t, but I’ll wager most do, longing for that parental approval.
Critics, then, are stretched on the rack between creator and consumer. It can be an uncomfortable place. And now, dear readers, I invite you to criticise the critic: “You! hypocrite lecteur! – mon sembable, mon frere!”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Publishing: a straw in the wind

More of a gale than a wind, really. The Daily Telegraph reports that the AA will stop publishing printed copies of its travel guides, and is going digital:
AA Publishing is the largest travel publisher in the UK. The first AA routes, accompanied by handwritten details, were issued in 1910. The AA’s “Key Guides” travel series started in 2004.
One freelance travel writer, who has contributed to many AA travel guides but wished to remain anonymous, suggested that commissions had begun to tail off last summer.
Earlier this year, the author was advised to accept other commissions rather than rely on work coming through AA Publishing and later received confirmation that there would be no travel guide book commissions in the near future.
The official line is that the company is “currently focussing resources on delivering… information across multiple digital platforms”.

So here is Leonard Cohen on Later with Jools Holland in May 1993 (the superb backing singers are Perla Batalla and Julie Christensen):

Monday, June 11, 2012


Mark Broatch, editor of the Culture section of the Sunday Star-Times, has had his position “disestablished”. In English, he is out of a job, and books/films/music/etc will be covered in the Escape section under Angela Walker.

Mark has been at the SST for five and a half years and has done a sterling job. He’ll be all right – he has published a couple of books, shared last year’s Buddle Findlay Sargeson fellowship to work on a novel, and has high-level editing skills that someone somewhere will want – but I doubt that I will renew my subscription to the paper, and I know others who feel the same.

I bought him a large glass of red wine yesterday – it was the least I could do. But Chad Taylor has gone one better and designed a T-shirt:

I have ordered one in blue.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jargon, adspeak-wise

Mumbrella is an Australian website of news and comment about “media, marketing & entertainment”. It was website of the year in 2011. It’s great – I bet it’s a must-read in Oz.  

On 30 May adman Jon Holloway had a rant about the overuse of jargon by ad agencies when dealing with clients, called “Speak English, Morons”. It starts:
Plain English. Is it really that hard? As an industry we are obsessed with baffling, the whole one-upmanship of this crazy advertising and marketing world is making us all look like clowns.
Einstein was right; ‘if you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it enough’. Does that sum up our industry; do we not care enough to actually understand what we are talking about?
It is so easy to become a social media guru, a marketing Jedi or a digital ninja by spending 10 minutes on twitter, reading a few blogs and some out dated books. Then vomiting them all back up in a random order over unsuspecting people who come to you for advice.
Then he gets really cross. Great stuff. Great comments too. One gives a brilliant parody of what Holloway is talking about:
This month we’re really going to break through the clutter with this campaign and deliver some paradigm-shifting news that, at the end of the day, should capitalize both on our core competencies and on your hunger for change.
Things in advertising lately have been all-business, all-the-time. So we’ve decided to spin-up a new communications initiative that I’m calling – and this is a real game-changer – Adwording.
Our messaging this month is all new and standards-based. It’s a bit of a thought experiment right now, but we’re going to run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it. If we can get buy-in from a majority of our 300,000 key stakeholders then we may just make Adwording a tentpole of our core messaging strategy and a key differentiator of our value proposition.
Make no mistake – this is some real blue-sky thinking here. We wanted to keep you in-the-loop so that, moving forward, we’re all singing from the same sheet music.
 We hope to leverage your interest in what’s new at our organization and align that with our propensity to eat our own dog. FOOD! Dog food. Sorry, I’m still getting the hang of this.
See, that’s an example of what we call “pushing the envelope”. Also “bad business practice.” It’s really just a matter of us honing in on which levers we need to pull to enhance the end user experience, and which levers are really just avenues to fostering user detachment.
On the other hand, Holloway is a fine one to talk. He describes himself as a “strategy director”.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Stuff up

On Stuff this afternoon there was an amazing satellite photo of the South Island showing where the snow fell, and also a smaller pic illustrating the lead story about education minister Hekia Parata who would seem to be, as Cactus Kate would say, quite hot for a chick her age. The photo was changed within maybe five minutes of it going live, but not before it was recorded for posterity (click on the image for a clearer view):

What I’m reading #64

Further to my comment yesterday about book awards shortlists being of interest for the absences as much as for the presences, Mary McCallum comments on some absences from this year’s NZ Post Book Awards shortlist: Hamish Clayton, Sarah Quigley, Owen Marshall, Vincent O’Sullivan, Jenny Bornholdt, Peter Bland and Tanya Moir. The Listener’s Guy Somerset mentions a few more, with the added bonus of a podcast with convening judge Chris Bourke.

Philip Matthews reports on and illustrates life and work in Christchurch last week.

An excellent 1998 article from Skeptic magazine that has a serious go at Deepak Chopra’s misrepresentation of quantum physics as providing support for his lucrative brand of mumbo-jumbo. Debunking is timeless.

What Jack White can teach us about economics. Yes, that Jack White.

In praise of booksellers.

In praise of publishers

In praise of Amazon. Not really – more like shock and awe. It is a US article so it is US-centric – they are provincial, aren’t they – but terrific reporting on, for example, how important e-books are to small publishers. Money quote:
But Amazon isn’t the only player willing to play hardball. Random House, for example, quietly began in March to charge public libraries three times the retail price for e-books, causing Nova Scotia’s South Shore Public Libraries to call for a boycott and accuse the German-owned conglomerate of unfair e-book pricing. It gets worse: according to the New York Times, “five of the six major publishers either refuse to make new e-books available to libraries or have pulled back significantly over the last year on how easily or how often those books can be circulated.”  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The NZ Post Book Awards shortlist

The shortlist for the 2012 NZ Post Book Awards has been announced today. The full press release from Booksellers NZ is here; the finalists in each category are below:    

From Under the Overcoat by Sue Orr (Vintage)
Rangatira by Paula Morris (Penguin)
The Trouble with Fire by Fiona Kidman (Vintage)

The Leaf-ride by Dinah Hawken (VUP)
Shift by Rhian Gallagher (AUP)
Thicket by Anna Jackson (AUP)

Illustrated Non-Fiction
A Micronaut in the Wide World: The Imaginative Life and Times of Graham Percy by Gregory O’Brien (AUP)
New Zealand Film:  An Illustrated History by Diane Pivac, Frank Stark and Lawrence McDonald (Te Papa Press)
 New Zealand’s Native Trees by  John Dawson and Rob Lucas (Craig Potton)
Playing with Fire: Auckland Studio Potters Society Turns 50 by Peter Lange and Stuart Newby (Auckland Studio Potters Society/CNZARD)
Whatu Kakahu / Maori Cloaksby Awhina Tamarapa (Te Papa Press)

General Non-Fiction
Bligh: William Bligh in the South Seas by Anne Salmond (Penguin)
The Broken Book by Fiona Farrell (AUP)
The Hungry Heart: Journeys with William Colenso by Peter Wells (Vintage)
So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder That Shocked the World by Peter Graham (Awa Press)
Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator by Joan Druett (Random House)

What’s always at least as interesting as what’s on the shortlist is what isn’t.  The winners will be announced on Wednesday 1 August.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Peter James on Martin Amis

Never annoy a novelist, Part II. I blogged on Friday about how the crime writer Peter James was once snubbed by Martin Amis and swore to take his revenge in the next novel in his series featuring policeman Roy Grace. I am reading that novel, Not Dead Yet, and confirm that he does.

We meet a character called Amis Smallbone on page 76:
Amis Smallbone was, in Grace’s opinion, the nastiest and most malevolent piece of vermin he had ever dealt with. Five foot one inch tall, with his hair greasily coiffed, dressed summer and winter in natty suits too tight for him, Smallbone exuded arrogance. Whether he had modelled himself on some screen mobster, or had some kind of Marlon Brando Godfather fixation, Grace neither knew nor cared. Smallbone, who must now be in his early sixties, was the last living relic of one of Brighton’s historic crime families. At one time, three generations of Smallbones controlled protection rackets across Kemp Town, several amusement arcades, the drugs going into half the nightclubs, as well as much of the city’s prostitution. It had long been rumoured – a rumour circulated with much enthusiasm throughout the police – that Smallbone’s obsession with prostitution came out of his own sexual inadequacy.
On page 102 Smallbone is celebrating his release from prison with expensive whisky, an expensive cigar and an expensive hooker. She slips her hand inside his trousers: 
“Like a pencil,” she breathed, huskily, into his ear. “Like a tiny little pencil stub!”.
Amis doesn’t take kindly to this so belts her then falls down, drunk. She taunts him again so:
[. . .] he climbed to his knees and lunged at her. But all Amis Smallbone saw, for a fleeting instant, was her left foot coming out of nowhere towards his face. An elementary kickboxing manoeuvre. Striking him beneath his chin, jerking his head upwards and back. It felt, as his consciousness dissolved into sparking white light, as if her foot had gone clean through his head and out the back of his skull.
On page 168 another villain tells Smallbone:
“You was never as good as you thought you was. Your dad – now there was a class act. Everyone feared your dad, and everyone respected him. You’ve always lived on that, traded on being your dad’s son, but you was never half the man he was.”
No doubt Peter James will read Martin Amis’s next novel with keen attention.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Diamond Jubilee: the biker queen

Here is a photo of Queen Elizabeth II, long may she reign over us because the alternative is so much worse, riding a motorbike, a BSA C10. She was 19, maybe 20 at the time:

Paul d’Orléans at The Vintagent writes:
Granted, she may not have actually ridden since the dark days of the Blitz, but then Princess Elizabeth ‘did her part’ during WW2, joining the military training scheme ATS (Auxiliary Training Service) at age 19, learning (or at least being photographed learning) to change truck tires, finger spark plugs, and – one thing which can’t be faked for the photographers – riding a military-spec BSA C10 250cc through a training course of whitewashed petrol tins. [. . .]
The ‘QEII motophoto’ was supplied by journalist/biker Prosper Keating, who, after hearing of Elizabeth’s motorcycling skills, managed to dig up the goods. He supplied the negative to the Queen herself, who wrote back in her own hand, grateful that she could show her grandchildren that she was ‘once cool’.

Q&A #2

Q: Where do we keep our options?
A: On the table.

Q: What are we all reading from?
A: The same page.

Q: What are we all singing from?
A: The same hymnbook.

Q: What are we taking?
A: Steps.

Q: Where are we taking them?
A: To the next level.

Q: Whom are we backing?
A: Ourselves.

Q: Whom are we targeting?
A: The end user.

Q: What are we enhancing?
A: Their end-user experience.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A bone through her nose

In the National Business Review of 25 May, the issue devoted to the Budget, Rob Hosking writes (not online):
If your columnist were ever granted the power to unilater­ally re-write Parliament’s stand­ing orders – and I do sometimes dream of this (it’s been a full and exciting life, it really has) – there are a few standout areas that need a fairly substantial re-think. […]
Other countries make special concessions for budget debates, although they’re pretty minor.
In the UK, the only time any­one is allowed to consume alcohol in the House of Commons debat­ing chamber is during the budget speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Fair enough, you might think – but of course the only person who is allowed to consume any alcohol is the Chancellor himself. Not, sadly, the listening MPs or anyone in the galleries.
It’s difficult to avoid a nagging feeling the Brits have got this the wrong way round.
I’m not going to suggest New Zealand allow drinking in the chamber by any MPs – although I’ve felt, down the years, that one or two MPs would benefit from the ingestion of some of the stronger narcotics.
No, I’d just change the dress code. Anyone taking part in the budget debate – especially the party leaders and finance spokes­people – would have to wear nothing but loin cloths, and bones through their noses.
They also would carry sticks for gesticulating with.
The centre of the debating chamber would be cleared, and be piled up with the previous budget’s fiscal strategy reports; estimates of appropriations; min­ister of finance speeches; budget forecasts; revisions of budget forecasts; revisions of revisions of budget forecasts; and expla­nations of why the revisions of the revisions of budget forecasts weren’t quite as accurate as every­one thought at the time. […]
Pile the documents into the middle of the chamber and set fire to the lot.
The budget debate would then be conducted around this pyre, with the various party leaders and finance spokespeople danc­ing around the fire in loin cloths, making faces at each other and pointing with bones and sticks.
Backbench MPs could beat drums as they do so, and chant and sing loudly.
This is, of course, pretty much what happens anyway, in allegori­cal terms.
So here is Richard Thompson, live, in 1991 with a fine band that includes Shawn Colvin on acoustic rhythm and vocals, performing “A Bone Through Her Nose” from his 1986 album Daring Adventures. Dodgy visuals and a hum on the sound but it’s worth it for the witty lyrics and the guitar solos – the second one is amazing. Talk about scorchio:

Friday, June 1, 2012

What I’m reading: international edition

Martin Amis on ageing:
Have you noticed, religious people – really religious people – look sinisterly young? Because it’s consciousness of death that draws all these lines on us. Not just the time moving past you, but where it’s headed.
Bollocks. That’s what you get with Amis junior. My children, Ten and Eight, are conscious of death – we have had four deaths in the whanau in the last year and nothing has been hidden from them the way it was when I was a child, not even the suicide – but are their faces lined? No. People’s faces get lined because they get older, especially if they are smokers. Like, for example, Amis junior. 

 Never annoy a novelist. Peter James, a guest at this year’s Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival, on Martin Amis:
“I was at Charterhouse School with Martin Amis, many years ago. I didn’t see him again until an awards ceremony in 2010. I went up and said, ‘You might not remember me, but we were at school together.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t remember you – and you only remember me because I’m famous.’”
James says this with a drawl meant to mimic the writer.
“I stormed off and wrote on Twitter that I had just met the rudest writer on the planet. Ian Rankin [his fellow crime writer] asked who it was. I told him and said I was going to get my revenge by writing Amis into the next book [Not Dead Yet] and giving him a very small penis. Rankin bet me a hundred quid I wouldn’t. He’s going to have to pay up.”
{In the novel a character called] Amis Smallbone is ridiculed by a prostitute, who compares his manhood to a stubby pencil. The gangster he is staying with says, “You’ve always traded on being your dad’s son, but you was never half the man he was.”
Joe Hildebrand offers a guide to how one should behave when meeting the Queen. For example:
The Queen does not want to hear your incomprehensible prattle or whacked-out political theories. This especially applies if you are Prince Philip.
Tim Blair, my favourite right-wing Aussie petrolhead, attends a Prince concert against his will and, to his surprise, loves it. Well, of course. Fun fact: “Prince is now 53, eleven years older than was Elvis Presley when he died.” Money quote:
One moment, not choreographed, sticks in the memory. Prince is singing with his back to a piano. He reaches back with his left foot and hooks it around the leg of a chair, quickly shifting it about ten centimetres closer. Why did he do that?
It was so he could use it to leap on top of the piano, which Prince accomplished in one movement – without looking behind him. A tiny event within an enormous show, but illustrative of his stage awareness. He makes the most nimble Olympians look maladroit. 
Thanks to Paul of the Fundy Post I have discovered a wonderful blog, The Age of Uncertainty. I began here – he starts out wittering about Twitter but soon gets very funny about books. This, about having a child with OCD, is heartbreaking but hopeful. I’m hooked.