Sunday, July 23, 2017

Richard Thompson rips it up

The July issue of Uncut magazine has an interview with serious rock person Jason Isbell in which Nick Abbott of Leeds ask him, “Have you ever had any unusual pets?” Isbell replies:
Well, my wife had a cat named Richard Thompson. She was opening for Richard on this tour. They were playing in a little opera house and a cat came in and she decided tio keep him. So she named him Richard Thompson. She tried to keep him in the van, but he threw a fit and pissed all over the van and ripped all the seats open. She called me that night and neglected to explain the situation. She just told me Richard Thompson had pissed all over her van and ripped all the seats to pieces and said, “Oh God. He’s at it again.”
I love “neglected to explain the situation”. No English, Canadian, Australian or New Zealand speaker of English would say that.

So here is Richard Thompson performing the Britney Spears hit “Oops I Did It Again”:

Thursday, June 22, 2017

In praise of: Peter Bland #2

A guest post by Mark Broatch.

Nice to get a poetry collection commissioned and published in the UK. But a follow-up? Doesn’t happen.

Peter Bland parted ways with Carcanet, publisher of his Selected Poems in 1998, which the Times Literary Supplement described as “vivid and witty. His impulse has been to continually celebrate the displaced and unremarkable.”

Then, says Bland, “somebody said John Lucas at Shoestring Press likes your work. He said, ‘Why not put together a collection of poems about your childhood in England during the war?’ So it was his suggestion and it got some nice critical responses.” Even better, it sold out. “Then he said, ‘Would you like to do another collection with me?’”

Shoestring Press put out Peter Bland’s Remembering England in 2014, presumably to coincide (ish) with the 60th anniversary of the end of the war. It mined Bland’s smog-filled memories of the 1930s, 40s and 50s as well as the odd one from the 1970s and beyond.

In London Grip, an independent online “cultural omnibus” with a special interest in poetry, John Forth said of it that the poems “are marked by an artfully fluent directness which tries to go unnoticed but creates a lasting effect, their meaning being very much the meat thrown by a burglar for the dogs”. Bland writes about a “lost generation”, he says, “their main gifts being ironic detachment, never taking themselves too seriously and the sense of humour that made us”.

The fluency of Bland’s work, says Forth, “is facilitated by his finding forms that do not draw attention to themselves. In being ostensibly secondary to what is being said in the poems, they become unobtrusively part of what is being said. If you’re still unsure who his ‘lost generation’ are – You can tell us a mile off even now;/ there’s a touch of austerity/ under the eyes…//… a lasting doubt/about the next good time. The effect here somehow leans on the word ‘lasting’, never mind the ‘doubt’ which might seem to be packing the punch. Now that’s what I call style.”

Josh Hinton in PN Review writes that the poems in Remembering England have “a gentle but powerful assurance”:
They do what the book’s title suggests, focusing on the England the poet knew, or rather, the two Englands: that of his childhood and youth in wartime, and that of his middle age in the 1970s, after his return from sixteen years in New Zealand. […] We see the boy in the bomb shelter: ‘Draw more ships,’ Grandma ordered, / keeping us busy between exploding bombs./ So we did, on wood-flecked wartime paper…/ The best were hung in old photo frames’. The violent backdrop is almost (but not wholly) inconsequential before the affectionate memory of children competing to see who could draw the best and win Grandma’s favour.

Shoestring specialises in publishing poetry collections “by established but unfashionable poets” or those who might be well known elsewhere but new to British readers.

“Not particularly fashionable” is the style of the new collection, Working the Scrapbook, says Bland, again heavily relying on the personal. It again uses what he calls “the first person plural” — it’s just another persona, he reckons, like the partly fictional voice of a memoir. But for him, it’s “where the real feeling comes from”.

The title? Bland has long kept scrapbooks, pasting in letters, photos, articles and reviews, family “stuff”, poems sent to him, art images and other gatherings. Often a poem will arise from looking at an old photograph, he says. The second part of Working the Scrapbook includes the poems of Loss, the 2010 collection he wrote after the death of his wife Beryl, and a couple of new ones.

For the six decades he has been writing poetry, Bland has had a foot in both New Zealand and the UK. In 1977 he won the Cholmondeley Award, a UK Society of Authors prize that has also been given to Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Philip Larkin, Fleur Adcock, Kingsley Amis, Allen Curnow and Alice Oswald. In 2011, having settled permanently back in New Zealand, he was awarded the poetry category of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement.

Health problems prevent him from going to the launch of Working the Scrapbook on 30 June in London, but he says fellow poets Kevin Ireland, Fleur Adcock and CK Stead will do the honours and read some poems from the book.

Stephen Stratford adds:
Coincidentally, the latest issue of local poetry journal Broadsheet, edited by Mark Pirie, highlights Peter Bland’s work. The issue includes tributes by friends and colleagues, including Fleur Adcock, Glenn Colquhoun, Marilyn Duckworth, Riemke Ensing, Michael Harlow, Kevin Ireland, Louis Johnson, Kapka Kassabova, Bob Orr, Vincent O’Sullivan, Elizabeth Smither and CK Stead.

In Peter’s brief introduction he says:
The Argentinian poet Borges admits that there’s a need among poets ‘to be familiar with the renowned uncertainties of metaphysics,’ but only in order to make the best use of staying open to experience, and ‘to help pass on what we don’t know as much as what we do.’ The sources of poetry are as ancient as cave paintings and the modern poet still has to have something of the shaman left in him in order to be able to indulge in a little cave talk and to commune alone with the deeper sources of his imagination.
Here is Peter’s bio at the Academy of New Zealand Literature. His most recent publication in New Zealand is A Fugitive Presence (Steele Roberts, 2016); Elizabeth Coleman reviews it for Takahe here.

So here is Peter (reading from his 2014 collection Hunting Elephants) with Kevin Ireland and Fleur Adcock at the Devonport Library in December 2015:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Money for writers – heaps of it #2

Copyright Licensing NZ invites writers of fiction and non-fiction in all genres to apply for the CLNZ/NZSA research grants. There are four available: priority will be given to “projects of national or significant local interest and/or those that add significantly to the field or genre on a subject”.

Three of the grants are for $5000; the fourth includes the $5000 plus a six-week residential fellowship at Victoria University’s Stout Research Centre.

Aaron Fox received last year’s Stout Research Centre grant to work on a biography of Brigadier James Hargest. Fox, who like Hargest hails from Gore, says of his time at the Centre:
The access to the archives was truly invaluable as it got me to the centre of the research. If you’re looking for New Zealand history, you have to go to Wellington. Delving into the archives, you never know what you’re going to find.  I found myself in the middle of intellectual debate and working with other people in similar fields can get you involved in really stimulating conversations.
Applications for all four grants close at 4pm on Friday 21 July. Full details and guidelines are at the CLNZ website here; you can even submit your application online.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #79

From the edition of Friday 16 June. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
‘Choice-less future’
I see that some schools are banning all drinks at school other than milk and water. To some people that may seem sensible, the way to go even, but it is only a short step from that to inspecting lunchboxes and dictating exactly what a school lunch shall consist of. 
Social commentators are preparing us for the choice-less future which will make individualism a sin. It will be a robotic future where no one will excel and no one will under-achieve. Sport or competition of any type will be pointless, because no one will be keeping score, in case it will offend a “tomorrow” of no winners – no losers. Perhaps in such a highly regimented and regulated “tomorrow” we can stack populations of billions into accommodation built for millions, while androids do all the work for us and even improve our systems to the extent that all innovation will be their domain, not ours. Perhaps mankind will then find his true place in the universe, alongside all of the other bacterium and viruses. 
Will a past membership of Mensa or a Nobel Prize in a family tree become a great cause for shame? Perhaps there is a cosmic truth finally dawning. Perhaps it is not about us after all. 
Dennis Pennefather
Te Awamutu

Saturday, June 17, 2017

In praise of: Paddy Richardson

Stephanie Jones reviews the new Paddy Richardson novel Through the Lonesome Dark very positively (which is a relief for me, the book’s editor, as Stephanie is one of the few regular reviewers I take seriously):
From a porcelain-smooth introductory passage about the West Coast town of Blackball that could serve as a model of exposition to students of creative writing – this, class, is how you set a stage – to scenes of trench life in World War I, Dunedin writer Paddy Richardson masterfully entwines the intimate and the global [...]
I doubt there is any genre or era to which Richardson could not apply her virtuosity: her knack for inhabiting the minds of others, especially women in duress, is uncanny and hypnotic.
Through the Lonesome Dark has been on the NZ bestseller list since its launch, and my reckons are that when it starts to circulate around the book clubs it will find a whole new readership that will carry on and on and on.

So here are Crosby Stills Nash and Young in 1974 with “Carry On”:

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sir Geoffrey Palmer: the garden gnome edition


Rohan Long on Twitter posts this photo, saying “These just appeared in my local Bunnings and no one has any idea how they were made or how they got there.

Bunnings, like Rohan Long, is Australian, which makes it baffling that they would trial these garden gnomes modelled on Sir Geoffrey Palmer (who was briefly 33rd Prime Minister of New Zealand, from 8 August 1989 to 4 September 1990) there.

They cost $59 in Australia. Why can’t we buy these here? And what would the local price be?

UPDATE
A friend in Hamilton reports that Bunnings Te Rapa has these in stock. We have a suitable place in our garden, so I shall go tomorrow to check it out.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Report on experience: dead goat edition

In my main office – Red Cherry café  – this morning I had a conversation with a very nice man who had this week buried two goats. His mother-in-law’s goats, which had died for no obvious reason, so he had to deal with them by digging deep holes somewhere on the farm, bunging them in and covering them with soil. One of them had rigor mortis, which made things awkward, burial-wise.

I arrived just after he had received a phone call to say that another of his mother-in-law’s goats had died, so he was setting off to bury it. “She has three more,” he said gloomily.

He must be getting good at this: he had buried a (dead) alpaca previously. If you know alpacas, they are intermediate in size between a goat and a horse.

I said brightly, “This manuscript I am working on is about the Otago Mounted Rifles – my grandfather’s regiment – heading off to Gallipoli and three horses die on the boat so they have to be disposed of. Carried up on deck by three men and hiffed over the side. They burst on impact, apparently.”

He knew all about dealing with dead horses on land. You get a truck with a winch, or something.

I never had conversations like this in all my years in Auckland.

So here are Monty Python with: “Four hours to bury a cat?”

In praise of: Paddy Richardson

Paddy Richardson’s new novel storms straight into #3 place in its first week in the Nielsen bestseller list. Through the Lonesome Dark (Upstart Press, $24.99) is not crime fiction this time but literary-historical, about family and friendship, love and loyalty, the coal mining life in Blackball  – and the hell that was the Western Front. It is brilliant. It made her agent cry – and you know how tough those cookies are.

I particularly recommend page 295 in which – spoiler alert – she says nice things about me.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Report on experience: Te Awamutu edition

In my early days at Metro magazine, late 80s, we had a feature, “Why I live where I live”. People were interviewed about why on earth they lived in, for example, Waterview or Kingsland.

I went to Te Awamutu this morning to meet a young client from Pirongia who has written a terrific YA fantasy novel. Good meeting, good café.

The 20-minute drive home to Cambridge was through lovely country – really lovely country, with Mt Pirongia to the west and Maungatautari looming to the east. Both are volcanoes, which is only slightly unsettling. Playing on Concert FM was Ursula Langmayr singing “Zerfliesse, mein Herze, in Fluten” from Bach’s St John Passion followed by Lilburn’s Second Symphony by the NZSO under James Judd. Both were New Zealand performances/recordings.

The sky was blue, the grass was green, the leaves on the trees were red and I thought, really, this is all right. I am happy to be here in New Zealand. 

So here is Wynton Marsalis in 2011 at Ronnie Scott’s performing “Autumn Leaves”.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Money for writers – heaps of it

Fancy $25,000? That’s how much the 2017 Copyright Licensing Writer’s Award is worth. Applications close at 4 p.m. next Friday, 9 June, so get in.

Non-fiction writers in particular are encouraged to apply. Any topic or genre is eligible, but applicants must be New Zealand citizens or permanent residents, and also be writers of proven merit.

Full application details are available on CLNZ’s website: the guidelines are here and the terms and conditions are here. You can even apply online.

Last year’s winner was Neville Peat for his project “The Invading Sea. There were 74 applications: the judges said that those that stood out paid close attention to the awards criteria, had engaging writing samples, and who were from applicants actively engaged with a prospective publisher.

If you are going to apply, and you’d be mad not to, do pay attention to the criteria; do include a really good sample of your writing; and it really does help to have a publisher lined up. That last bit isn’t essential, it just helps, but the first two are absolutely crucial.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #78

From the edition of Saturday 27 May. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Losing value
Oh, woe are we, country going to the dogs or perhaps Chinese. 
First they wanted to change the flag to a black sheet with a fish skeleton on it, now they want to drop the penguin from our fiver. 
I suppose a black and white panda called Nat-Nat or Lab-Lab (depending on who gets in at the next election) would be better than nothing. 
Without a penguin I expect the face value will be $4.50 and when they delete “New Zealand” it will slip down to $3.99. 
I have a 5/- note from Gibraltar and have longed for a $3.99 note. I might be in luck. 
Laurie Polglase
 Hamilton 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Wintec Press Club: Jacinda Ardern edition

The Wintec Press Club lunch is staged by the Wintec School of Media Arts three times a year for the benefit of the journalism students. The guest list features big names in politics, media, entertainment, sport, business, law and the arts. And me. The MC is Steve Braunias.

Most tables have one or two students who get to meet industry veterans. It’s a brilliant idea and I have always enjoyed talking with the students. I try to discourage them from entering the profession, suggesting they instead do something useful or lucrative. The speakers are usually eminent media types – last year’s speakers included musician Dave Dobbyn (whose band Th’Dudes controversially won the 1976 Battle of the Bands, ahead of me and Jenny Morris); controversial poet Hera Lindsay Bird; and controversial Herald columnist and professional angry person Rachel Stewart.

This luncheon’s speaker, Labour’s deputy leader Jacinda Ardern, was wilfully not controversial.

Media star guests this time included the Herald’s Matt Nippert; TV One’s Te Radar; former Metro columnist Charlotte Grimshaw; current Waikato Times columnist Peter Dornauf (as featured in Waikato Times letters of the week #76 and Waikato Times letter of the week #77) introduced by Braunias as “the cat in the hat”;  Louise Wallace from “reality” TV show The Real Housewives of Auckland; and Herald columnist Lizzy Marvelly, her eyes shining with the light of certainty. Thrillingly, there was also Lawrence Arabia, whose music I like very much. If I had known he would be there I would have brought a CD and asked him to autograph it: one is never too old to be a gushing fan.

Political star guests included James Shaw, Julie Anne Genter and Chloe Swarbrick of the Greens; Willie Jackson formerly of Mana Motuhake, the Alliance, the Maori Party and currently of Labour; Don Brash, formerly of National and Act (he introduced himself; I bonded instantly with his partner who is from Te Puna, near my turangawaewae of Pukehinahina); and various people world-famous in Hamilton local politics. 

Charles Riddell of the Wintec media course told me that this is the only press club in the country left standing. Can this be true? It would explain why so many journalists from around the country attend. It was a bit like the Canon Media Awards, only a lot less drunk.

Lunch was chicken roulade with sesame and hazelnut spiced dukkah, served on sweet carrot puree with a potato and herb rosti with seasonal green vegetables. Dessert was dark chocolate torte with Black Doris plum puree and an almond praline crisp meringue. It was quite nice. Also, wine.

Our host Steve Braunias, a journalism student in 1980, began proceedings with a very long introduction. It was about three times as long as usual. Yes, that long. Sample quotes: “this is the first day of regime change”, “election year”, “the fucking National government”, “Queenstown, Hamilton of the South”.

I was told when I entered the venue that I was not to report what the speaker said. No reason given. On the other hand, I am a Life Member of the Wintec Press Club and have the certificate to prove it. So here goes.

Actually, there wasn’t much to report. Jacinda read her speech from notes: there was nothing about party politics, for which one was grateful; she talked mostly about social media and clickbait on news websites. Which was relevant for the audience, but was a bit dull and unquotable. However, she came alive at question time.

Annemarie Quill (reliably hilarious) from the Bay of Plenty Times – that Tauranga connection again – asked, “Does Andrew Little dull your shine? Do you ever want to push him off a cliff?”
Tony Wall of the Sunday Star-Times asked, “Do you sometimes feel like a winner in a loser party?”

It was all a bit like that. The room liked Jacinda – well, everyone does. (I do – when we met at the May 2012 lunch, she said she was reading my latest book. And she was.) She handled all these friendly but often awkward questions with grace and good humour.

Tim Murphy of Newsroom was live tweeting. Some samples:

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daily Telegraph letter of the month

Reprinted in The Week, 13 May:
Up in smoke
Britain’s coal-free days are celebrated – but ironically are down to Drax, Europe’s largest coal-fired power station which, by burning wood, now produces 16% of Britain’s renewable energy. This wood is grown in the US and brought in on ships that produce more pollution than all the diesel cars in London combined.
Kevin Prescott, Littlehampton
West Sussex
It’s not easy being green. So here is Kermit the Frog, with a visitor from Walton-on-Thames:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

In memoriam Rosie Scott


Very sad news from Australia – New Zealand-born novelist and literary activist Rosie Scott has died. She was a fine writer, great fun to be with and a force for good in her lucky adopted country. Condolences to Danny, Josie and Bella.

Here is the Australian Society of Authors obituary:
17.05.17
We were saddened to learn that Rosie Scott passed away on 4th May as she has been so important to the organisation, having served on our board and executive for ten years, during which time she was elected Chair. In 2005, she was appointed to a permanent honorary position on the ASA Council.
Author and activist, Rosie was a greatly respected and admired member of the ASA community. While she was Chair she helped instigate and then continued to champion our mentoring program, working as a professional mentor for over a decade. In her position on the Council, she was also part of the committee that selected the first 200 books for Copyright Agency's Reading Australia venture.
Her first published work was a 1984 volume of poetry Flesh and Blood, followed by the play Say Thank You to the Lady, for which she won the prestigious Bruce Mason Award in 1986 in New Zealand. In 1988 she published her first novel, Glory Days, which was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards and published internationally in Australia, Germany, UK and the US. Rosie went on to publish five more novels, a short story collection and a collection of essays.
In 2013 Rosie co-edited an anthology on asylum seekers with Tom Keneally, A Country Too Far. She later started the group We’re Better than This, a movement dedicated to fighting against the detention of refugee children.
On Australia Day in 2016, she was awarded Member (AM) in the General Division of The Order of Australia Honour, not only for her service to literature, but also for her work in human rights and inter-cultural understanding. Later that year she was also the recipient of the NSW Premier’s Special Award for her “significant service to literature as an author”.
As if this weren't achievement enough, Rosie also completed a Diploma in Counselling and a Doctorate at the University of Western Sydney, taught creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney and continued to mentor and inspire young and novice writers.
Current ASA CEO Juliet Rogers said, “Rosie will long be remembered and honoured within the ASA family, not only for her celebrated career as a writer of standing in both New Zealand and Australia, but also for her passionate activism, caring advocacy and thoughtful mentorship to so many. Rosie left her mark on this organisation and our thriving mentorship program is just one manifestation of this. We were very fortunate to have had more than a decade of her leadership, care and support and we will miss her. We send much love to her family at this difficult time."
Close friend and ASA colleague Robert Pullan remembers Rosie:
“When she limped out of her last ASA board meeting everyone clapped, not because Rosie was leaving — hobbling after a hip reconstruction — but because she was as always the real thing, going because she had to, going because she had reached the end of a small sentence — the ASA one — in the immense Rosie narrative.
“On the wide wooden verandah in the country retreat we shared for a few magical years in Buladelah, overlooking grassed hills that stretched into morning cloud, Rosie radiated a calm that eluded some of us in the collective, including me. She was our still centre, smiling in greeting as the city latecomers emerged in the evening from the three-hour drive from Sydney.
“‘I go through with all my characters in a pretty visceral and intuitive way,’ she wrote in Movie Dreams, saying her struggle to acquire a male character’s voice was ‘easily the most painful and difficult process I have ever gone through writing a novel’.
“None of us knows ourselves entirely. How could we, with the multitudes we contain? But conversation with Rosie always contained the possibility of change and always left out hierarchical errors of reasoning that sometimes stunted fellow humanists. If she was tormented by the question whether writing changes things, I never heard her say it. She believed in political action. And in her work on behalf of refugees she pushed against evil in its most menacing visage in Australia and the contemporary world. Her loss leaves a space we cannot fill but — I can hear Rosie saying it — we must get on with it.”
Rosie’s family would like to extend an invitation to all those who knew Rosie at the ASA, to her memorial service which will be held this Sunday (21st May 2017) at 2 pm at the  Marrickville Town Hall.
 And here is Rob O’Neill’s interview with Rosie from the August 1996 issue of Quote Unquote, in which she comes out against malice and in favour of sex and exuberance. So Rosie.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Sand in the machine

The Economist reports that sand is in demand:
Indias “sand mafia” is doing a roaring trade. The Times of India estimates that the illicit market for sand is worth around 150bn rupees ($2.3bn) a year; at one site in Tamil Nadu alone, 50,000 lorryloads are mined every day and smuggled to nearby states. Gangs around the country frequently turn to violence as they vie to continue cashing in on a building boom.
Much of the modern global economy depends on sand. Most of it pours into the construction industry, where it is used to make concrete and asphalt. A smaller quantity of fine-grade sand is used to produce glass and electronics, and, particularly in America, to extract oil from shale in the fracking industry. No wonder, then, that sand and gravel are the most extracted materials in the world. A 2014 report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates they account for up to 85% by weight of everything mined globally each year. [. . . ]
Sand may appear plentiful, but is in fact becoming scarce. Not all types are useful: desert sand is too fine for most commercial purposes. Reserves also need to be located near construction sites; as transport costs are high compared with the price, it is usually uneconomical to transport sand a long distance. That, though, does not stop countries with limited domestic resources (and deep pockets). Singapore and Qatar are big importers; the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai was built using Australian imports.
I have stayed in the Armani hotel (someone else was paying, obviously) at the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and been to the outdoor observation platform on Level 148, 555 metres up: I would not have been so confident had I known it was a hotel built on Australian sand.

So here are Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra in 1968 from their timeless album Nancy and Lee:

Friday, April 28, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #77

Aka The Cat in the Hat: the sequel. In the previous instalment, Waikato Times Letters of the week #76, four of the paper’s readers upbraided columnist Peter Dornauf for his column of 17 April in which he complained about the Tauranga Citizens’ Club asking him to remove his hat for luncheon. Today came a letter from the president of the TCC giving its side of the story:
Dornauf’s hat
In response to Peter Dornauf’s editorial (April 17), the Tauranga Citizens’ Club executive, management, staff and members endeavour to welcome all our members, their guests, affiliated members and their guests into our club.
 The receptionist on duty on the day in question asked Mr Dornauf to remove his hat as our rules do not allow hats to be worn in the club room unless the hat is for a good reason eg medical, religious or for themes such as the Melbourne Cup.
 Mr Dornauf refused to remove his hat and the manager was then asked to come to the counter. The manager also asked him to remove his hat, he again refused and asked why he should, was again told that those are the rules and the club employs the staff to ensure the rules are upheld.
 If any of our people visited Mr Dornauf at his private residence (clubs are private) and were asked to remove their hat or shoes which could be part of their identity, they would not hesitate to do so as a show of respect to the hosts.
 The manager asked his partner if he wore his hat at their dinner table, she said no, but yet wished to wear it at ours.
 Mmmm go figure. 
Stephen Hawkings
President

Thursday, April 27, 2017

What I’m reading #144

Get out your tissues: Robin McKie at the Guardian reports on Monty Python’s Terry Jones and his dementia. Quote unquote:
It is also obvious he gets strength from the presence of [Michael] Palin. Towards the end of our interview, Jones reaches out to grasp his hand, giving it a good squeeze. The pair hold hands for a couple of minutes, a gesture that perfectly reflects their 50 years of friendship – and its importance in sustaining Jones through his tribulations.
Harry Eyres at the New Statesman on my magazine-editor hero Alexander Chancellor. Well, not so much on him as on what happened to the Spectator after he left. Quote unquote:
Alexander was a brilliant and unconventional editor whose methods derived from Chinese Taoism: he achieved miracles while appearing to practise wu wei, or “do nothing”. In fact, Alexander operated instinctively, sniffing out writers whose style he liked and encouraging them, regardless of political viewpoint.
The effect was to rescue an ailing publication and set it on a course of unwavering success. Those who credited him with setting the tone of the modern Spectator, of making it readable, irreverent and witty, were partly right.
But the Spectator began to deviate from his liberal, civil open-mindedness only a few years after he stopped editing the magazine in 1984. This deviation took two, perhaps related routes. The first was a hardening of the paper’s political stance, first making it into a Tory organ (Alexander was never in his life a Tory) and then into a right-wing-of-the-Tory-party, brexiting rag. The second consisted of the introduction of a casual, jokey, faux-macho incivility – a malign mutation of Alexander’s irreverence – aimed at shocking the liberal bourgeoisie.
Two words: James Delingpole.

Dany McLauchlan at the Spinoff on Max Harris’s The New Zealand Project is the best book review I have read in years. It takes the book seriously, presents its arguments fairly (as far as I can tell, and anyway I trust him) and you’ll never guess what happens next. Devastating because Danyl knows the territory so well and is sympathetic to the views expressed – just not this book. The material on framing is brilliant: why, it’s as if he has spent years around political parties. Quote unquote:
If you pay more attention to politics, and read online commentary, or go to political conferences, or progressive hui, and listen to more brilliant left-wing intellectuals agree on What Must Be Done, it gradually becomes apparent that the progressive left has the answer to every problem in politics, except for the problem of how to actually persuade voters to listen to them, and thus affect meaningful political change. Which is a shame, because without that all the other grand ideas are pretty futile. All the talk about What Must Be Done starts to feel less like activism and more like a form of fantasy roleplaying, only instead of pretending to be dragon-slayers, or vampires, progressive intellectuals pretend to be people who are relevant to contemporary politics.
Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian on Warren Beatty’s new vanity project Rules Don’t Apply: Quote unquote:
Ludwig Wittgenstein once said that we cannot experience death because death is not an event in life. But then Wittgenstein never had to sit through this unbearable new film from Warren Beatty, his first in 15 years, co-written, produced and directed by its star, Warren Beatty, who may well be affecting a kind of kinship with his subject, the crazy but allegedly lovable billionaire recluse Howard Hughes. Beatty may also like the low lighting Hughes favoured.
Kate Mossman in the New Statesman on how Mayte Garcia found married life with Prince. Quote unquote:
I’m on the phone to Prince’s first wife and I’m trying to picture the wrestling. He had a very strong upper body, Mayte Garcia says brightly – but she had very powerful legs. “When he knocked me down, I would take my legs around his body and squeeze really hard. So he stopped tackling me down to the floor.” She doesn’t know why they wrestled – couples do weird things, don’t they? Like the hypnosis. In her new book, she says she loved the hypnosis because it was the only time he’d let her talk without interrupting her.
 Stuff reports that, sadly, Wellington diners may have to wait even longer for Jamie Oliver to open a restaurant there. They are possibly not missing much. He has, says Stuff, “42 Jamie’s Italian restaurants in the UK and more than 36 abroad run under his name.” Tanya Gold was not impressed when she reviewed for the Spectator Oliver’s latest London venture, Barbecoa at 194 Piccadilly, overlooking my favourite church, St James’s. Quote unquote:
I used to like Jamie Oliver, or the idea of him. I liked his willingness to be a spokes-chef; to damn parents who feed their children Turkey Twizzlers and roof insulation; I liked that he is fat. Then I ate at Jamie’s Italian in Soho and met a plank resting on two tins of tomato paste bearing greasy salami and cold cheese, and steak frites that thought they were Italian, and I stopped liking him.
 I began to think him cynical and money-grubbing. There is a peculiar depravity to the mid-market family restaurant in central London that offers bad value through a good name, and I cannot forgive Jamie for pretending he was different; for pretending, as he ripped up basil with his bare hands and told men, yeah, you can cook, that he was my mate. (That is the evil of television. Fake intimacy.) The dish may have been called Jamie’s Plank, but I do not remember. I hope it was. It should have been, even if the plank was me.
 The Economist on the hidden data on your airline boarding pass. Quote unquote:
All of this goes to show that yes, airlines should probably not make data available through a barcode scanner that they don’t want to make available on a printed boarding pass. And yes, you are probably better off using an electronic boarding pass on your phone, inconvenient though it may sometimes be. But the biggest takeaway is simply that your personal data are a lot easier to hack than you probably think. A wide range of seemingly harmless slips of paper, containing your name and an identifying detail or two, can open you up to a hacker’s attack. So the next time you check for your personal belongings as you exit a plane, you might want to make sure your boarding pass is among them.
 So here are Black Sabbath in 1970 with “Paranoid”:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Waikato Times letters of the week #76

Yes, letters of the week. All four letters to the editor of the Waikato Times yesterday, 20 April,  were in response to this column in the 17 April edition by Hamilton poet, novelist and art writer Peter Dornauf about his recent visit to Tauranga. Quote unquote:
At the Citizens Club I had to sign a register – odd in itself, I thought, but I conformed: Name, signature, place of origin. What more did they want? Fingerprints? A mouth swab? But then came an inexplicable request from the ageing receptionist. I was asked to remove my hat!
Mockery ensued on Twitter, started by Elle Hunt and abetted by Ashleigh Young (“The funniest thing is how he buggered off and ‘drove back immediately to Hamilton’, thus expressing the full scope of his rage”), Toby Manhire (“A lot to like but I’m especially keen on all purpose par2 ‘The reason for these opening remarks will become apparent further into the text’.”), Giovanni Tiso and others. It is a very funny thread, turning that par 2 into a meme that rewrites the openings to Pride and Prejudice, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Star Wars.  
  
As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic in the letters are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times. The punctuation (and associated spacing) in this batch is especially noteworthy.
Dornauf’s hat
So Peter Dornauf (Monday, April 17) used up nearly half a page of the Waikato Times to tell us that he has bad manners and no respect for other people’s wishes.  I was taught by my parents to remove my hat when entering a person’s house , church or any building that requested it. Also while serving in the royal navy anyone entering our mess would, as a courtesy, remove their cap, officers included, unless on official business rounds etc.
It is also a rule of the RSA and the Australian RSL that you sign in and remove your hat, so maybe you should brush up on your manners in case you ever need to enter these establishments.
Geoff Yeend
Matamata
Dornauf’s hat 2
What a brilliant and topical column on “Hat police” by Peter Dornauf this Easter Monday.
The column being written by such a word-master as Dornauf was excellent of itself . . . yet it probably was also a metaphorical masterpiece to associate with the desperate anachronism still being perpetrated by some local authorities to prevent general commercial trading on “holy days” over the Easter holidays. The leaders of such councils pretend to pay homage to the fact that their duty as councillors is secular, and thus divorced from the imposing of religious dogma upon our secular society. They clutch at straws to maintain an almost clerical authority over our holidays, by claiming that the restrictions are to prevent the exploitation of “the workers”. The workers are protected by the common-law assumption that no employee can be penalised for not wishing to work on public holidays. If there is any doubt on that matter, it could be removed by a simple amendment to the Holidays Act. I guess that many would support what Mr Dornauf seems to be stating metaphorically on the matter, which is, “We are the pop culture of the new millennia . . . Beethoven’s Song of Joy and Onward Christian Soldiers, are not the anthems of secular councils” . . . nor should they be.
Dennis Pennefather
Te Awamutu
Dornauf’s hat 3
For many years I have read Mr Dornauf’s column, often with pleasure. However, this morning’s column showed him to be pretentious, egotistical, self-centred and just plain ill-mannered and rude. Who does he think he is to DEMAND to wear his hat indoors? Maybe I’m a few years older than him BUT a gentleman always removes his hat on entering any premise, maybe their were no “ladies” present but does that give him cause to be so uncouth? Perhaps his self-importance is such that he thinks he should ride rough-shod over the minions at the club/restaurant! I am so pleased he left — what a thoroughly objectionable person to have to eat with!
N E Devantier
Hamilton
Dornauf’s hat 4
It must have been a sad and slow day in Peter Dornauf’s world that he manages to dedicate 14 paragraphs of a 17-paragraph editorial to his moral outrage about having to follow a couple of minor rules.
It appears the crux of the matter was not being allowed to wear his fedora, “which has become part of my identity “, all a bit vainglorious methinks.
He states: “I am a grown man, no longer six years old and nobody tells me what to wear any longer” (actually states this twice), so clearly does not drive a car (wear your seatbelt), nor drives a bicycle or motorcycle (wear your safety helmet) or works in an environment where the wearing of personal protection equipment is a necessity.
Well I hope you feel good about your high-handed stand there, Peter, and the poor person at the club merely doing his job had to put up with your arrogance. (Abridged)
Saen O’Brien
Raglan
So here is Etta James performing Randy Newman’s “You Can Keep Your Hat On” at the 1991 Newport Jazz Festival.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

In praise of: Barry Ashby

Regular readers will remember Barry Ashby from his contributions to the QUQ series of Waikato Times Letter of the Week. They didn’t always make sense (for example this and thisbut he was obviously a good bloke, as is clear from this obituary for the Waikato Times by Charles Riddle of the Wintec School of Media Arts. Quote unquote:
Son Craig noted at his funeral that a young Barry would spend long hours at Mt Albert Grammar being forced to rewrite assignments.
“We saw this again much, much, later in the way he wrote his letters to editors of various newspapers – they were not instantaneous creations. I saw him spend many hours rewriting and rewriting, sometimes to the point that I felt they completely lost their meaning.”
Barry set out his philosophy in a suitably rambling and jumbled memoir. “A guiding suggestion is, so long as you are living in one of these rather lax democracies, never to be frightened to question authorities but, wherever possible, always put it in writing.”
He certainly took his own advice, perhaps most memorably, when the Adult Adoption Information Bill passed into law in 1985. The law allowed parents who had put children up for adoption to veto any later request as to their identities. Barry, whose wife Tricia was adopted and never able to trace her birth father, felt strongly on the issue. Each year for more than 20 years he wrote a personal letter to every politician deploring the veto, finally giving up in 2008 on Tricia’s death.
On a second occasion, he certainly went further than most in questioning those in power. Invited to make a video link submission to a parliamentary select committee on replacing the Privy Council, Barry was taken aback, at the start of his submission, by what he perceived to be three or four committee members nodding off. Not wanting to waste his allocated 15 minutes, he demanded they all stand up and wave their hands. The startled chairperson took exception, but Barry said he would name those asleep. They all stood and waved.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What I’m reading #143

At Popbitch, a reader writes:
My brother once organised a talk and book signing with left-wing journalist and documentary maker John Pilger at Waterstones back in the late 90s.
The Q&A afterwards was a bit  quiet, so I stuck my hand up and asked if he thought that the internet would be useful for investigative journalism. He looked at me like I was deranged and dismissed the idea with a booming “NO.”
Last I heard he was hanging out with Julian Assange. My brother got a job with Amazon and that branch of Waterstones has closed down.
The second insight is that while international trade seems to involve competing with foreigners, it’s often more illuminating to see it as a battle between domestic producers. My home town of Oxford makes Minis, which we can export in exchange for camembert. But what if a post-Brexit government decides to hammer the camembert trade? It’s not impossible: cabinet minister Liz Truss did once describe the UK’s reliance on foreign cheese as a “disgrace”.
There are two ways to make cheese in the UK: the obvious way, using cows, and the indirect way, by making cars and then trading the cars in exchange for cheese. The British cheese industry is, in a very real sense, directly competing with the British car industry. Protect one with a tariff, and you hurt the other.
 Aidan Hartley who writes the “Wild Life” column in the Spectator is a farmer in Kenya. It is grim because of weathers and poachers. Quote unquote:
Around the farmstead itself is a high security electric fence with thousands of volts pulsing through it. I’ve seen a baboon climb over it — and I know a leopard got through it one night — but unless the wires are cut there is no way a human can breach the line without triggering loud alarms and flashing lights. The first alarm goes off at about 9 p.m. I go out with the fencing team until we find the cut wires, fix them and restore power. We have an askari defending the barn, where our last hay reserves are stored for the farm’s cattle. It’s just a matter of time before the invaders try to either steal it or burn the barn out of spite.
At midnight the alarm goes off again. Wandering along the fence line in the dark with the team, the hairs on my neck stand up. People outside the fence are watching us and I wonder what arms they carry and if they will use them. The cut is found and fixed. At 2 a.m. the alarm sounds again — and then again at 4 a.m.
At the Spinoff, the distinguished Katherine Mansfield scholar (also poet, novelist, librettist, dramatist, biographer, anthologist etc) Vincent O’Sullivan on dem bones, dem bones of KM and the plan to disinter them and bring them to Wellington. Quote unquote:
In our capital city one is able at times to see a lock of hair; the shawl that covered a coffin; the typewriter; the manuscripts with their lines of text like distant tangled wire. (An image I draw from her childhood in Karori.) So what a deft mayoral instinct this seems to be – we must own the bones. Are our corporeal remains no more than our pure water, to be given free to foreigners? Yet the recumbent, a niggler says, didn’t she choose France as where she preferred to live? Ah yes, the mayor says, to live! He has us there! But who would prefer to lie, forever, near rackety Versailles, when Wellington is still on offer?
Poets to the left of me, versifiers to the right. Here, at Open Culture, is TS Eliot reading The Waste Land and The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock. Hard to tell that he was from St Louis, Missouri. Fun fact: he wrote Prufrock, possibly the most middle-aged poem ever, when he was 22.

How to speak British: dialect coach Andrew Jack demonstrates the regional variations of English plus Scottish, Irish and Welsh. I am not convinced by his Yorkshire, which to my ear depends not so much on vowels as on stressing the surprising syllable, often the first (to be fair, he covers only South Yorkshire), but the others are brilliant. I detest the English prejudice against the Welsh – it is non-trivial – but he is amusing when he concludes: “Come down the west coast [from Liverpool] and you’re in Wales, North Wales where it’s breathy like that, and South Wales where you get much heavier and Welsh people who sometimes even sound a bit drunk.”


Economist letter of the month: a modest proposal from Ted Stroll of San Jose, California. Quote unquote:
There is a simple solution to the Brexit conundrum, one that will allow Britain to have its trade cake and eat it too: the UK need only become the 11th province of Canada. Canada and the EU recently concluded a trade agreement and the UK would accede to it as a Canadian province. It would also join NAFTA and enjoy liberal trade terms with the United States.
Adjustments would be few and easy. Canada’s provinces have wide powers and by treaty the UK’s could be even broader. The queen would remain head of state. As a provincial flag, the Union flag would still be flown, with the Canadian flag a discreet presence on government buildings.
More from Open Culture: George Harrison on why everyone should play the ukulele, which I had to learn so I could teach the children. (My wife, bless her, thought it would be easy for me because I can play the guitar. Wrong: different number of strings, different tuning. But I had performed Joni Mitchell songs in her weird tunings – every song a different tuning! – so I was a half-step ahead, I thought. Wrong again.) Quote unquote:
“You can’t play it and not laugh!”
Possibly true – Miss 13 plays “Smoke on the Water” on it, which does make me laugh.

So here is the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, Bret McKenzie on vocals, with Randy Newman’s “Short People”. When this record came out I had a girlfriend who was 1.82 m tall. She thought the song was hilarious. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

You walrus hurt the one you love


This photograph by Rick Beldegreen “was taken from a bluff overlooking several thousand walrus on a beach along the Aleutian Peninsula on the Bering Sea in Alaska. I was lying on my belly looking straight down on the herd.” Via Mick Hartley.

So here, inevitably, are the Flaming Lips with “I Am the Walrus”:

Monday, March 20, 2017

What I’m reading #142

I can’t see who the interviewer is but this today at VUP with Bill Manhire is very good. Quote unquote:
Some people think collaboration is tight cooperative teamwork. I’m happy if it’s less intense, even long-distance. One person does one thing, and the other adds to it and transforms it, and then there might be a bit of to and fro. With Ralph [Hotere], it was a friendship thing, a temperamental affinity – we both enjoyed sitting quietly in a room and occasionally grunting. Well, I did.
 I might have posted this before but if so it bears repeating: a PDF of 10 Principles for Fair Contracts by the International Authors Forum. The AIF is a very good thing and so is this (I spent 25 or so years – unpaid, because that’s how we roll – advising NZ authors on contracts so this is one of the few subjects I know a bit about). I don’t agree with all of it – yes to defined time limits; lump-sum contracts which they don’t like work just fine for some authors e.g. me on occasion; but as principles these are solid. Any author presented with a contract that doesn’t meet them should challenge it.

Robert Gottlieb in the Paris Review on the art of editing. Quote unquote:
Editing requires you to be always open, always responding. It is very important, for example, not to allow yourself to want the writer to write a certain kind of book. Sometimes that’s hard. My favorite of Heller’s books is Something Happened. When we are working on a manuscript, Joe is always telling me (rightly) that I want him to write Something Happened again, and that he could only write it once. Inevitably you will like some of a writer’s books better than others. But when you’re working on a manuscript, that can’t matter. You have to be inside that book and do your best to make it as good as it can be. And if you can’t approach it in that spirit, you shouldn’t be working on it.
As Parker’s quintet walked onto the bandstand, trumpeter Red Rodney recognized Stravinsky, front and almost center. Rodney leaned over and told Parker, who did not look at Stravinsky. Parker immediately called the first number for his band, and, forgoing the customary greeting to the crowd, was off like a shot. At the sound of the opening notes, played in unison by trumpet and alto, a chill went up and down the back of my neck.
They were playing “KoKo,” which, because of its epochal breakneck tempo — over three hundred beats per minute on the metronome — Parker never assayed before his second set, when he was sufficiently warmed up. Parker’s phrases were flying as fluently as ever on this particular daunting “Koko.” At the beginning of his second chorus he interpolated the opening of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite as though it had always been there, a perfect fit, and then sailed on with the rest of the number. Stravinsky roared with delight, pounding his glass on the table, the upward arc of the glass sending its liquor and ice cubes onto the people behind him, who threw up their hands or ducked.
Fiona Pitt-Kethley, a poet and travel writer, on how even a successful writer can struggle to get an agent. Quote unquote:
Over the next few years, I asked a few well-known agents to represent me but they all said no. Many said, either truthfully or tactfully, that they were taking no new clients. The novelist Wendy Perriam suggested I ask some others who might at least take me out to lunch. I never got a lunch out of it. In one case I was asked to meet up in London and the agent failed to show. I wrote to him afterwards and he said there was a reason but never gave it. From then on, it was all downhill.
Francis Wheen on how Heywood Hill survives as an independent bookseller in London. Quote unquote:
Not long ago, hearing that the Duke of Devonshire was going to New York, [Heywood Hill chairman] Nicky Dunne asked him to act as transatlantic delivery boy for a paperback that had been ordered by Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue. The duke tells me proudly that he took the little parcel—tied with blue grosgrain ribbon, like every Heywood Hill package—all the way from Mayfair to Manhattan and “into her holy of holies in the office.”
Good as they are, you don’t get that level of service from Auckland’s Time Out or Wellington’s Unity Books.

The Guardian on how UK bookseller chain Waterstones bounced back – by running each store like an independent (for a certain value of “like”). More Paper Plus than Whitcoulls, I guess. Quote unquote:
One reason for the turnaround in the chain’s fortunes has been the stagnation of the ebook market. It stopped selling Kindle e-readers in 2015 in a move that was regarded as a watershed moment in the battle between physical and digital books. Sales of children’s books have played a big part in its resurgence, and data from market researchers Nielsen Bookscan revealed that, far from embracing the digital revolution, young readers were among the most resistant, with 75% of children favouring physical books and 35% refusing to read digital copies at all.
I came out of reviewing retirement to do CK Stead’s new short-story collection The Name on the Door is Mine, which gathers his greatest hits and adds a few new ones. For the review I re-read all the originals — I have a complete collection of the works of CK — and compared them line by line with the new versions. You won’t believe what happened next.The best joke in the review was edited out so I will post the full text later.

Via Mick Hartley’s excellent blog, Richard Morrison in The Times on La La Land:
What’s most disturbing. . . is how the critics have accepted, almost without a murmur, the underlying racism in the film. I mean casting a white actor, Gosling, as the pianist who — alone, it seems — can save jazz, the quintessential black art form, from disappearing or being diluted by populists. Yes, there are great black musicians in the movie, but in the crucial scene where Gosling introduces Stone to his favourite jazz club he obliterates their performance by blathering a monologue over the top of it. After all the criticism two years ago about the glaring absence of Oscar nominations for minority-ethnic actors, you might have thought that Hollywood would have learnt a few lessons about diversity.
Tom Cox offers a brief encyclopedia of his record collection. Quote unquote:
I am the opposite of fond of the term “guilty pleasure” but I often enjoy music wrongly bracketed within it. What people mean by the term “guilty pleasure” 99.5% of the time, when talking about music or anything else, is “something genuinely joyous that pretentious dickheads told me not to like”.
There have been many great GIFs on the Twitter following the Merkel-Trump meeting. This was my favourite for a while, Dr Merkel incredulous:


But this is my new favourite:


So here is Alison Krauss live in 2002 with Union Station (Jerry Douglas on dobro!) performing “New Favourite”:

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Waikato Times letter of the week #75


From the edition of Thursday 23 February. As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.
Animal instincts
Racism, arrogance, bigots, religious and political intolerance. Ethnic hatred and the differences that lead to all these human reactions and behaviours, are usually centred on belief systems where intolerance of differences becomes of group importance that will usually lead on to anti actions and behaviours. We humans tend to hide much of our behaviour behind the notions espoused in various religions, Pseudo Darwinism and the survival of the fittest, as excuses and explanations. Walking in the village today I noticed once again, Mothers attending to wee babies. No intelligible words were spoken, but the behaviour of these mothers was one absolute reinforcement that they would kill to protect their babies and all other children belonging in their I think protection. And we live by the ripping fang and the tearing claw. We are after all just animals.
Barry Ashby 
Raglan

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What I’m reading #141

Not a lot to be honest, can’t read much when I’m editing, but this review in the Economist of Kapka Kassabova’s new book stood out like dogs’ thingummies. It says:
Kapka Kassabova’s poignant, erudite and witty third book, “Border”, brings hidden history vividly to light.
I am sure it does. I am sure it is poignant, witty and erudite. Kapka is all of the above. But it is not her third book.

I edited two novels by her, Reconnaissance (Penguin, 1999) and Love in the Land of Midas (Penguin, 2000). There had already been a terrific first book of poems, All Roads Lead to the Sea (AUP, 1997) which I tried to get shortlisted for the Montana Book Awards but my bone-headed co-judge (name available on application) wasn’t having it, and its successor Dismemberment (AUP, 1998). 

That’s four books so far, isn’t it? Kapka’s website is, how shall we say, economical but does list the tango book Twelve Minutes of Love, (Portobello, 2011), the third novel Villa Pacifica (Penguin, 2010) – which I have never seen and had no idea existed – and the memoir Street Without a Name (Portobello, 2008). There are also the Bloodaxe collections Someone Else’s Life (2003) and Geography for the Lost (2007). 

Seems to me that Border is her 10th book. But hey, I only got up to Stage III maths.