Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Well, I obviously have far too much time on my hands, as I've decided what my New Year's resolutions are going to be. Wanna hear?

1: Learn how to load pictures onto my blog. It can't be all that difficult: I am simply a little overawed by even the most basic teckerknogoly. So, expect to find the odd illustration.

2: Learn how to set up a website. It can't be all that difficult, etc etc.

3: To read at least one poem every day. Not the same poem, you understand: I'll start with my favourites - Mr Shakespeare's sonnets - and move on and up. Sam Hunt enchants, as well. Tennyson, too. And Walt Whitman.

4: Finish Rats. It deserves an ending.

5: Sign up for NaNoWriMo. I find the whole concept (write 2,000 words of a novel every day during November) daunting, scary, and probably impossible. So, I'm going to do it. Apparently many many thousands of people do... and not a few of them are Kiwis. i know i shan't write the Great New Zealand Novel.... but it should be fun.

6: Tell my friends just how much they mean to me. Gillian, Jo, Phil and Lynda, Paul, Stu, Reg and Caroline, Marty and Rip and Chris and Lyndsay and Mike and Kevin and Heather, and all the rest (you know who you are). You are all magnificent people, whose friendship means more to me than I ever tell you.

7: Find a way of seeing my grand-daughter. This might mean winning Lotto, of course: but I must see her, somehow.

So there you are.

LISTENING TO: The magnificent Annie Crummer, "Shine". She once sang an advertising jingle for me, for the Sheraton Breakwater Casino. I think we paid her $3,000.

READING: Nothing of note. In fact, I'm between books. What's going on?

WORD OF THE DAY: Anticipation.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: 2010: are you going to be a Twenty-Ten person,or a Two thousand and Ten person? I'm going Twenty-Ten....


Of course, Jayne Francis knew perfectly well – or thought she did. She was wrong.
“Well, I figure the shoe’s the right shape, ma – Miss Jayne,” Arthur said. “But in order to shape it I’ve had to heat it too high, so I’ll cool it now,” which he did by plunging it into a water and oil bath, so steam hissed and sputtered and billowed. He picked up a thick leather glove, and plunged it into the water, then put it on, dripping. He grabbed the shoe with the gloved hand, and it hissed against the leather. “Now, it’s still pretty hot, so I’ll take it to Beth, here girl, hoof time again,” and the horse obediently raised her hoof for him. He patted her, congratulating her for a job well done. “Then I’ll press the shoe against the hoof, and mark it.” The horse shoe was still hot enough to blacken the hoof. He dropped the shoe into the dirt, and rubbed at the hoof with the wet glove, to stop any burning. “This’ll toughen the hoof, and help it accept the shoe when it’s ready.” The boy was all activity now, but his movements were precise and economical. “Would you mind terribly, ma- Miss Jayne, if I removed my shirt? It’s terrible hot here today.” She smiled, and nodded her acceptance. He stripped his shirt off, and used it to wipe his brow. Under the shirt he wore a black singlet, washed grey, but stained black again by his sweat. He picked the shoe up, and tossed it back into the blast-furnace, pumped the bellows, and flipped the horse shoe in the blazing charcoal.
“Now what I do is reheat the shoe, to around oh 500 degrees, and then quench it again.’
“And what does that do?” Jayne asked.
“Well, to shape the steel I had to take her up to 800 degrees or so, but that makes it brittle when it’s cool. It’d crack and break under old Beth’s great weight. There’s stuff called Austentite that forms in the steel at that temperature. Reheating the steel makes it disappear, which makes the steel tough, but durable. It won’t crack, but it will wear. It’s a balancing act, ma’am.”

Monday, December 28, 2009


Finally: a "current affairs" show at 7pm that actually has no pretensions.It is blatantly entertainment, and it's very good. I am referring, of course, to "@ Seven" on TV3. It's funny, it's post-modern, it's self referential (as opposed to the usual self-reverential schlock on both 1 & 3), and it really helps to have a glassof bubbly in hand.

Finally: a bubbly that's not only affordable, but is also really, really good. And it is... Lindauer's Sparkling Sauvignon. I've always thought the regular Lindauer bubblies were great value for money: this is excellent. Taut, full of flavour, t'riffic. And we got ours on special before Christmas at $8.60. I understand it'll normally be between $12 and $13, and worth twice that.

Finally: proof that I'm not only a codger, but I live in a land that's nicely 5 years behind the times. Observe the following list, cut and pasted from an American person's blog I follow:

1. classified ads in newspapers

2. dial-up internet

3. encyclopedias

4. CDs

5. landline phones

6. film and film cameras

7. Yellow Pages and address books

8. catalogs

9. fax machines

10. wires

11. calling people on a phone

12. hand-written letters

These are, apparently, a things that have become obsolete in the past 12 years, in the USA. Of the 12, there are 9 that I still happily use. The ones that I don't use - because they are, in fact, obsolete - are 2, 6, and 9.

Finally: A wannabe mass murderer gets his come-uppance before he can get to kill a few hundred people. At least it seems that the foolish child's bomb mis-fired, and he only succeeded in burning his own balls to a crisp. What's the betting that he won't see the irony? Could it be that Allah finally took a stand in these unholy acts. Well, no, of course not. But will he ask himself why Allah wouldn't allow him to kill a plane-load of people? Betcha he won't.

Finally: Proof positive that the American knee-jerk security people are stupid. Following the afore-mentioned idiot's escapade, the powers-that-be decided (a day late) that no-one will be allowed to stand up in the final hour of any flight. I can see that baffling any more would be bombers. Actually, it would also have meant that the incredibly brave young man who tackled ol' Dimi el Walnut on the Delta aircraft a couple of days ago would have been breaking the law... and could have been tossed into jail on suspicion of terrorism. Sigh.

Finally: Jenny's re-filling my glass with the last of the bubbles. Woo hoo!

LISTENING TO: Antony & the Johnsons, "I Am A Bird Now". It is ridiculously beautiful.

READING: Comic book. A MARVEL one! "Wolverine: origins". It's actually quite good.

WORD OF THE DAY: Writing. It's bloody hard work. I added around 2,000 words to RATS yesterday (otherwise I'd start catching up with my additions here), and I started another thing (because I have no disclipline) ... about 1500 words. I was knackered!

More RATS.

“I think,” she said, “that I’d like to have you do the job.”
“Good oh, ma’am,” he replied.
He took the piece of string, and measured it against a few horse-shoe blanks, and selected the one nearest the measurement. It was short by little less than a ½ inch. He tossed the shoe into the coals, and pumped the bellows a few times, flicking the steel over and over to ensure an even heat distribution. Within minutes the horseshoe was cherry red, and he removed it from the coals with long-handled tongs, and dropped it over the anvil’s horn. He picked up the 2 ½ pound hammer, and went to work. Bip CLANG, bip CLANG, bip CLANG, bip CLANG, a steady rhythm, with every second blow a little harder, but precise. He called out to Jayne, showing off. “I noticed the hoof’s not quite right, ma’am, a bit flat on the inside, so I’m re-shaping the shoe.” He tossed it back into the coals, and worked it around as he pumped the bellows. He swiped the sweat away from his eyes, and took the horseshoe back to the anvil. “I also need to stretch it a wee bit, or she’s going to have a bit of trouble. That stone I took out was a big bug – big one, ma’am, and she’s going to be tender for a while. I’d suggest she has a few days off work if you can.”
Jayne’s smile was broadening to a grin, and she shook her head in amusement. “We’ll be stopping here in Northridge, Arthur. I’m buying the General Store.”
“You, ma’am? But you’re a wom -.” The boy caught himself, and said “Sorry ma’am.”
“Apology accepted, young Arthur,” she grinned. If there was anything that fascinated her, it was watching someone do something, expertly. Of course she’d seen blacksmiths before, but never one so young, or so naturally adept. Bip CLANG, bip CLANG, a bit of temper in the sound.
The boy looked at the shoe, gripped it in the tongs, and went out to the horse. That was stupid, he raged at himself. Grampa Smith’ll not be thanking me for insulting a new customer. His anger didn’t show in his voice, however, as he soothed the horse again, and had her lift her hoof. He compared the shoe with the hoof, and made a mental note of what he’d have to do to finish shaping it. He was still blushing when he went back to the furnace, and tossed the shoe into the flames. He worked in silence for a while, bip CLANG repeating, then looked at the shoe. It was as good a job as he’d ever done. Jayne Francis watched him, a half-smile at her lips.
“It’s all right, Arthur. I said apology accepted. There’s no need to go all quiet on me. Most people would have just carried on to say ‘But you’re a woman,’ and given no further thought to it. I can see that your Godfather’s been a fine tutor.”
“Aye, ma’am. He’s a good man.” He shot her an open grin. “Thankyou, ma’am.”
“And you can knock off the ma’am business. As I told you, my name’s Jayne, and you must call me that.”
“Right you are, Ja -.” He stopped, and thought a moment. “No ma’am, I can’t. Would Miss Jayne be all right?” Not really asking the question, but instead making it a non-negotiable issue. This was a tactic that Arthur learnt from Grampa Smith, and it served him well here, as it did a lifetime into the future when he was to volunteer for the Army.
Jayne could see by the stubborn set of his shoulders that there was only one answer. “That would be lovely, Arthur. Miss Jayne it shall be. Now tell me – what’s next?”
Of course, Jayne Francis knew perfectly well – or thought she did. She was wrong.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sunday Scribbles IIXX

My Roman numerals are getting a tad shakey, now: I think I have it right, but will gladly be corrected. It's supposed to be 18, which I think was shown as two short of twenty. Perhaps I should Google it, but, frankly, the day's too good to be fussing about trifles like that.

December 27th, and logical informs me that the Boxing Day sales should be over. Mind you, logic also insists that the Boxing day sales are a one-day phenomenon, for Boxing Day only. However, such is the commercial frenzy that infects people at this time of year that at least two major retailers started their so-called Boxing Day sales two days prior to Christmas Day. This is the side of Christmas that I despises, Precious.

The advertising got increasingly shrill and desperate. If I were to nominate one TV commercial shill to be the most objectionable for the year, it'd be a close-run thing between the guys who bellows at us for Harvey Norman (so obviously an Australian. Being shouted at is bad enough. being shouted by an Aussie is just, well, nasty.) and the pit-bull who shouts at us for Big Save Furniture. She is beyond nasty. Attractive until she opens her mouth to display her money-stained teeth, she's the epitome of everything that's foul about modern commercialism. So I think she takes the prize this year.

Christmas Day itself was great. My niece and her instant family were in attendance: three terrific kids, allof whom are experimental thinkers. I don't know what school they're going to, but it's obviously one that encourages independant thought. Terrific. And their Dad is one of those sweet, gentle, and loving men who are so often overlooked. Shannon got lucky when she hooked up with him... and the relationship looks solid, too. Rejoice, for happiness is with us.

It's time to think about New Year's resolutions. I haven't made a decent NYR since the year I gave up smoking. This year I've been thinking about nobility a lot, so I should, perhaps, think how I could bring more nobility into my life. On the other hand, I've also been thinking about tolerance, and have been having a lot of fun becoming less tolerant of the things that really piss me off: hypocracy, shonky punctuation, and intolerance. So perhaps I'll just resolve to become less tolerant of intolerance.

I intend to get a Tee Shirt printed for next Christmas: I Wish You a God-free Christmas.

Happy New Year, everyone. Happy New Decade! May the grace of Offler, the Crocodile God, shine upon you.

Listening to: Jimmy Buffet, "Songs You Know By Heart". Perfect summer's day listening.

Reading: Still getting through "My Year of Living Biblically". It's a book all atheists should read. The author is an atheist, but his year of living biblically is giving him some terrific insights into the value of the Bible. I've read the Bible around 20 times (I can't see how anyone could call themselves an atheists if they're not able to describe what they don't believe in) and I know where this chap's coming from.

New York, is one answer...

Word of the Day: resolution. Jenny's going to read all of Dante's great canto, "The Divine Comedy". I wish I'd thought of that.

More Rats, folks!

The horse snorted, and lifted her hoof. Jayne gasped in astonishment, and Arthur glared at her. His eyes told her she was not to make a sound. She nodded her apology. He turned back to the horse, and ran his left down the great horse’s leg, to the inside, and he cupped the great hoof, supporting it while he straddled it, and caught it between his thighs, his back to the great animal. He never once stopped talking. “My now, that’s a fine hoof, Beth, and a great and fine piece of work you are.”
The horse farted.
“And for that, I and the great Lord above thankyou, Beth,” said the boy. Jayne judged his age at eighteen. She was over by two years. She listened, fascinated.
“Let’s see now, Beth. This’ll be your problem. You’ve a nail caught and twisted here, and a nice river stone’s caught in your frog. That’ll hurt, so it will.” He reached into his back pocket, and pulled out a pair of pincers, and a clasp knife. Grasping the horse’s hood tighter in his thighs, he opened the knife and dug into the soft flesh at the centre of the hoof. The horse muttered and grumbled, and the boy continued his talk, gently calming her. A stone flicked away and pinged off the anvil, and the boy closed the knife and put it back in his pocket. “There’s a place for everything, and everything has its place, ain’t that right, Beth-my-girl,’ he said. The ongoing commentary amused Jayne, and she found herself wondering if the boy was simple. She watched as he took the pincers, and nipped the nail in half, then drew what was left straight from the hoof. Then he spent a couple of minutes with his file, cleaning and tidying the he hoof’s rim, so he’d have a clean surface for the shoes. “There you go, my girl,” he said, and fished into his pocket for a length of string, which he used to measure around the hoof, which he then eased to down to the floor.
“That was ama-“ started Jayne.
“Ma-am, please. Quiet.” Jayne shut up, wondering at the authority in the boy’s voice. He moved back to the great white face, and rubbed it for a moment, his strong hands rough against the horse’s muzzle. Then he kissed her between the nostrils, and told her she was a good girl, and she could go outside for a few minutes. Beth rolled her eyes at him again, backed out of the smithy, and stopped. Jayne gasped, again. She’d owned Bethesda for five years, and had never been able to get her to walk backwards. Not easily, anyway.
“Now then, ma’am. I reckon I have a blank here that’ll fit her. Are you comfortable with me doing the job, or would you rather we waited for Grampa Smith?”
“A smith called Smith?” smiled Jayne, genuinely amused.
“Aye ma’am. Many’s the long laugh we’ve had over supper with that wee jest.” Arthur’s face was as blank as a brick. The woman smiled, acknowledging she’d been well put in her place. Simple? I don’t think so, she thought.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Eh? Oh, sorry, ma’am. I’m Arthur. Arthur Tomlinson.” He stuck his hand out awkwardly, and Jayne saw him for the age he was. “I’m Grampa Smith’s Godson and ward.”
“Oh,” said Jayne, and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. She heard the volumes of information in that small phrase: Godson and ward. There was little doubt that the boy was an orphan, and that this Grampa Smith was a man who took his promises seriously. She took his hand, and shook it. “I think,” she said, “that I’d like to have you do the job.”
“Good oh, ma’am,” he replied.

Monday, December 21, 2009


This will probably be my last post before Christmas. The days are full. Too full, actually, but I wouldn't have missed any of it for the world. We put in a bit of an extra effort at this time of year: I've been doing the old "two days work in one" thing, just so people can take a break. Fair enough. I've also been working late, posing as that old fake, Santa, for some evenings our Kidz (hate the "z") team have put together. I am gob-smacked. I know how hard it is to gather an audience, and I was staggered on the first Christmas Storytime,up at Massey Library: 80 kids, with parents. Huge - or so I thougfht. Two days later, in New Lynn - over 200. And the audiences have grown. Huge.

These are kids of all colours, all creeds, all economic groupos, with their parents: ordinary Kiwi families. And their parents, all eager and willing to work hard to see their kids get a love of libraries, and of reaing. The Kid(z) team do some great work. Anyone who can enthuse kids to come along to the library after 6.oopm is obviously doing something particularly marvellous.

Gillian's back in the country: balance has been restored.

Meanwhile, I grow more resigned to the thought that it will be quite a while before I get to see my grand-daughter.

LISTENING TO: Janis Ian, "Between The Lines". Old album. Great album. Great voice, great songwriter. I remember being abused, lo these many years ago, for liking Janis Ian. "You only like her 'cause she's 4 foot 11, and has long hair..." I was told. Yeah. Right.

READING: A WWII spy drama by a chappy who wears the name Keizel. It's good, and I'm too lazy to go and find the book's name, etc.

WORD OF THE DAY: Chocolate Almonds. OK, two words. But they must be an anagram for "Christmas".

Time for...more RATS:

“Hello?” she had called. “Anyone there?”
“In a minute,” called back Arthur. He was in the kitchen, finishing off a slice of bread, generously slathered with bush honey. He rubbed the back of his hand over his sticky mouth, and walked out to the anvil. Jayne had looked at him: a solid looking boy, lazy brown eyes. “You’re not the boss,” she said.
“No, ma’am. Grampa’s out to the Featherstone farm. Anything I can do?” He was eyeing the horse. The animal was huge: she was one of the largest Cydies he’d seen. He glanced at the wagon, where two more Clydesdales and a truly enormous Shire stood, stolidly patient.
“She’s thrown a shoe,” said Jayne Francis, indicating the horse she’d brought to the smithy’s entrance. The boy looked at the horse, then looked at her. He made no comment about her clothing, but took in every detail.
“Yes, ma’am. I can see that,” he replied. “You want to leave her here with me? I’ll bend a new shoe for her – shouldn’t take no more’n a half-hour.”
Jayne Francis had smiled at the boy’s bravado.
“Let’s see you clean up the hoof first.”
“Righto.” He grabbed the file, stuck in into his apron pocket, and walked up to the horse. “What’s her name, ma’am?”
“I’m called Jayne, and the horse is called Bethesda.”
“Ah. After the healing place in the Bible.” The boy walked slowly but confidently up to the great horse, and reached up to fondle her ear. He looked back at the women, and gave her a slow smile. “Now, you’re not to move, ma’am. ‘zat OK?”
She nodded.
“Thankyou, ma’am.” The boy’s smile faded, and he spoke to the horse, calmly. “Well, you’re a big girl now, aren’t you, my love, and no mistake. A big and brave girl. I bet you’re not feeling too comfortable with that hoof of yours, are you?” The horse rolled an eye at him, and he favoured her with his easy smile. The horse shook her great head. He said, “There’s nothing to worry about, lass. Now, I’m going down to take a little look at your hoof, right? And you’ll be good, won’t you, Beth? You’ll be good. You’re a good girl, ain’t you?” His voice was quiet, but carried easily to the woman who watched him, with fascination. Bethesda had never allowed anyone to walk up to her like that; she was shy, and usually wickered away from strangers. The lad’s voice was quiet, and his movements slow and precise. She’d rarely seen anyone display such excellent physical control before, despite her circus history. Every move the boy made was graceful, judged: his hands went thus, his feet moved thusly. He knew precisely where each part of his body was going, and what it needed to do. His left hand never lifted from the horse’s coat. From the ear it stroked down the great neck, onto the Clydesdale’s wither, nearly six feet off the ground, then across the ribs. The boy leaned his head against the horse’s side, and listened a moment. “That’s a good heart you’ve got, Beth, boom-la, boom-la, boom-la.” He kept the quiet chant up for a minute, and Jayne noticed that it slowed perceptibly. The horse stood straight, and quiet. Arthur stood, his left hand remaining on the horse’s flank. “There’s my girl. Well done. Now, Beth: I’ll be wanting to look at your poor sore foot, so I will, so I’d be obliged if you’d lift it for me.” The horse snorted, and lifted her hoof.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sunday Scribbles XVIII

My, don't the roman numerals stack up? It's a fabulous Sunday here in Auckland: it rained a little this morning, but I'm out on the deck now, shirtless (an arresting sight. Or is it arrestable?) under the sun umbrella. There's enoughof a breeze to make it seem that the humidity's at tolerable levels...and I have an amazing CD playing.

This is my 18th official Sunday Scribbles. I have absolutely no idea what I've burbled about in the past. Nothing of any great note, I'm sure. But I'm closing in on my 100th blog. Will i mkake it to the century before Christmas? Probably not.

I have a few seriously busy days ahead. The Library wants me to double up on my workload this week, to make it easier on the following week. The logic escapes me, but i am not in any realposition to stamp my tiny little feet. It just means that I'll be driving about like a loon over the next four days. If you're in Waitakere City, I'd advise you to keep a weather eye out for a white Mazada van. It's liable to have a dehydrated and cranky driver.

Jenny and I went shopping this morning. This basically means that Jenny shopped while I carried. We first went to the Devonport Farmer's Market, which was a huge disappointment. Actually, as it was only three stands of slightly wilted vegetables, it was a small disappointment. So we upped anchor and drove to the Takapuna Market. Much more like it. Stands of tatabounded, but there were some real finds. A baker's stand, where we bought a sourdough loaf for our lunner (late lunch, early dinner) or dinch (early dinner, late lunch). Then it was a dozen free-range eggs ($2.50 a dozen: cheaper than the bread. At that price, surely a mistake) and some crunchy-fresh asparagus. We'll whip up a hollandaise, and feast like kings. I might have to get some strawberries as well. We also bought a half-kilo of Waiheke multiflora honey. Breakfast tomorrow will by a slice of Yarrow's bread and the new honey.

Time, I think, to read. I might go for something brainless this afternoon: I found a Torchwood book the other day: good brain-free stuff.

Havce a great week, one and all. See you on Tuesday.

LISTENING TO: Fiona Pears "Fire and Light". She's a violinist, in the Nigel Kennedy mould. Only more attractive.

READING: A Thorshwood book. I love Doctor Who, and Torchwood comes from the good Doctor's series. Excellent stuff... very sexual, too.


More Rats:

She had laughed, grasped his old, lined face between her hands, and gave him a kiss he still remembered with regret.
It had been a warm kiss, a soft kiss, a kiss of affection and nothing more, and he strove to not damn her for it. She had meant well, but the kiss lingered on his lips far longer than any of the kisses his beloved wife had given him.
He knew full well that sometimes you had to accept the gifts the good Lord gave you, but this was one he wanted to return. He tried explaining it to Arthur, a decade later.
“See, boy. I loved my wife, and I cherish the memory of her.” Arthur knew the truth of this. At times, and usually on a Sunday, the Old Man would wander off, and Arthur would follow him to the cemetery, where he would watch over his Grampa as he squatted by his dear dead wife’s graveside, plucking weeds from the stony soil and chatting away, telling her of recent events, and asking her for advice.
It seems she often answered, for the Old Man would return to the smithy with a spring in his step.
Arthur had never let him know that he’d watched this ceremony, but he had no need to: the Old Man knew.
“Aye, I loved my wife. And she, God bless her soul, loved me. Can you imagine! And I remembered everything about her. Everything.” The Old Man poked at the fire with a stick, and stirred the embers. “But now, I don’t recall her kiss. How can I face her, lad? How can I face her when I meet her in God’s own heaven, when she knows that I have the taste and feel of another woman’s lips foremost in my memory?”

Jayne’s wagon had drawn into the village’s square late in the afternoon, when she had first arrived in Northridge. It was 1902, and Queen Victoria had been dead for two years; many women still wore black as part of their daily clothing, as a mark of respect to her passing. Jayne Francis didn’t. in fact, she caused a ripple of gossip and scandal when she first came into town: she had been wearing a red rough flannel shirt, a broad-brimmed hat with a silver-chain hatband, a broad green neckerchief, and a pair of brown corduroy britches, held up by red braces, and a pair of dusty high-heeled boots. She had pulled her wagon up a few yards from the blacksmith’s, hopped down from the driver’s bench, coiled her whip, tapped the dottle from her curved walnut pipe, and took her lead horse from its harness, fussed over it for a moment, and then walked it over to the smithy. “Hello?” she had called. “Anyone there?”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Strawberries, and summer salads.

Summertime. Christmas-time. Strawberry-time. I bought three punnets of strawberries for $4 on the way home today. Two of them, around 800 grams in total, have gone. Vanished. Hit the uvula, and beyond.

Strawberries are what makes this time of year so fresh and zingy. The ones I bought today were small, and packed a powerful, sugar-and-flavour laden punch. I'm almost dizzy with delight. I chopped the little buggers up, mixed 'em with a little icing sugar (confectioner's sugar to you North Americans) and then slodged on a couple of huge tablesponns-ful of home-made Greek-style yoghurt. Stir twice, eat.

Jenny and I are finding that it's far better to eat a full meal in the middle of the day. I take a couple of freshly-made salads (one of them potato salad, the other a green one) and some cold meat to work. At the end of the day, we just have something light. We sleep better, and wake refreshed. And it's certainly easier to maintain this sort of regime in the summer, when there's such as abundance of relatively inexpensive fruits and veges: wintertime's a tad awakward. Most workplaces don't have the facilities for whipping up a roast meal in the middle of the day...

Speaking of which: are you on the organic / free-range pig bandwagon yet? It's been a long while since I ate a battery-farmed chicken, or one of their eggs... And I doubt very much that we'll be having anything but free-range pork in our household, either. If we can't farm them ethically, and in a cruelty-free environment, then we don't belong in the farming business. And every New Zealander is in the farming business. New Zealand dies without our farms... and our farms die without our custom. Our connection to farming comes through our wallets.

Which means, of course, that we really have to look at ways we can help our agrarian sector reduce its share of our carbon emmissions.

Incidentally - don't get too hyped by the old "NZ's emmissions have increased by 20% since we signed the Kyoto agreement." yes, they have. But our poopulation has also grown by, gee whiz, around 20%. Yes, we should be doing better. We have, essentially, been standing still. Not good enough.

Strawberries, of course, are carbon-friendly, emmission-free, and environmentally sound. They have to be. Nothing that good could possibly be an evil entity.

Reading: John Connolly's "Gates of Hell". Hmm. Also "The Year of Living Biblically", by someone Jacobs. Hilarious, and thought-provoking.

Listening To: Wait for it.... Instrumental Memories, Disc One. A Walk in the Black Forest. A Swingin' Safari! Stranger on the Shore! Classical Gas! Themes from Bonanza, James Bond, The Avengers, The Pick Pussycat, The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly! Exodus! The Shadows! Mancini! Acker Bilk! And yes - it's better than David Gray, by a factor of, oh, galaxies times 10 to the power of 23.

Word of the Day: Billboard. Loved the St. Matthews in the City billboard: grumpy Joseph lying next to unsatisfied Mary, with the headline: Poor Joseph. God is a hard act to follow.

More Rats:

He had questioned everything as a boy, and he questioned everything now.
Too much at times, thought the old man. Grampa Smith loved Arthur Tomlinson with a depth that made his old frame tremble, and he also admired him enormously. Arthur’s grown to be the man I had always hoped to be, and could never be, he thought. He has courage to burn, but I worry that I have fed him the milk of meekness, instead of the strong drink of faith. God will be my judge, he thought.
Aye, thought Arthur. And God will judge you well. The old man had been Arthur’s only real point of stability in his life. His parents, while dead and martyred, had been fickle and shaky with the direction they had attempted to give him. His memory of them wasn’t kind, and was not coloured by rose-tinted spectacles. He remembered his mother as being weak, and forever ill. He remembered his father as being a great noisy creature, full of bluster and drink, but with little substance. Still, he honoured their memory, for they had given him life.
A sudden bugle call interrupted their reverie. “Oh, not again,’ groaned the old man.
“Don’t be daft, Grampa. It’s Miss Jayne!”
The local constable had given up arresting her for breaching the peace years ago, as the-then judge had always only given her a stern talking to, sent her on her way, and then went to her back-room on every available Tuesday night for the regular poker school.
Jayne Francis hosted the town’s only all-night poker game, attended by the afore-mentioned judge, the doctor, Father O’Leary, and Whetu Ngamoki, from down at the pa. Occasionally a second table was set up, and Old Man Smith, the current constable, Mr Lee the Chinese greengrocer, and Ben Weatherby, George’s father, would play.
Jayne didn’t play, but was the referee: and her word was law.
Arthur had been a boy of sixteen when Jayne Francis had come to town, and he had been immediately entranced by her. She was the brightest creature the growing village had ever seen, and had scandalised the matrons of Northridge. Firstly, of course, she had bought the General Store out from under old man Turnbull. He'd been a cheating bastard, but he was their cheating bastard. She opened a line of credit for the Maori down at the pa, and it had been strictly honoured. She spoke the Maori’s language reasonably well, and could swear a blue streak in English, French, Dutch, Flemish, and German: countries she had visited often before washing ashore in New Zealand. Jayne Francis had never told anyone – mainly because it was none of their bloody business, thankyou very much – that she had been the child of a couple of wandering magicians, employed by a circus that travelled through Europe every year.
Jayne Francis had arrived in Northridge on the driver’s seat of a large wagon, drawn by three great Clydesdale mares, and a Shire stallion. All her worldly possessions had been in the wagon, including a bank’s letter of credit, to the value of slightly more than five thousand guineas: a respectable fortune.
She was a slight woman, with an animated face, and flashing blue eyes. Her red hair was untameable: every morning she yanked it back into a savage bun, and secured by a dozen interlocking pins that still managed to fall out over the course of the day. She had considered cutting it all off, and shaving her head as she imagined a nun would, but acknowledged that her hair may well have been her best feature. Her wide mouth, as suggested earlier, could spit a stream of venom that would stop a navvy in his tracks, but her intense intelligence also meant that unexpected ideas and opinions could bubble up. She wore a smile as often as a scowl, and her laughter could charm a Tui from the flax-bush.
She almost always wore trousers, bush shirt, a bandanna at her neck, and another tied around her wrist: scandalous clothing which had sent more than one sharp tongue to wagging, but when she attended the Christmas Ball with Old Man Smith in 1903, she had stopped proceedings. Her bright green satin dress was wide at the hem, supported by a dozen starch-stiffened petticoats. It pinched in at the waist, and was cut low to expose a glamorous cleavage, emphasized by a froth of lace. At her wrist was a fine red silk scarf, instead of the usual blue neckerchief. At her throat rested a string of creamy pearls, matched by simple pearl ear-rings. Grampa Smith’s smile was a brilliant as hers, and he later told her that if he hadn’t been a Godly Christian, ma’am, then he would have given the lot of them bloody bluenose bastards the fingers. She had laughed, grasped his old, lined face between her hands, and gave him a kiss he still remembered with regret.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Good taste

I have always considered my friends to have good taste. After all, it follows that if they've chosen me as a friend, then...

Yeah, well. Anyway - a friend recommended I listen to a certain musician. This person's CDs never fail to please, I was told. Interesting lyrics, beautul and strong melodies, a whole new way of music is upon us, she said.

So, I got a David Gray album out of the library. And i played it. No, that's not quite true. I played the first four tracks. I think I can be said to have given it a decent shot. I will never listen to another David Gray song again. Ever. So now I know that at least one of my friends has a small lapse in her tastey things. Actually, that doesn't read all that well, but I think you'll know what I mean. After all, you're a friend... which means you have perfect taste. Well - almost perfect taste.

In my job I get to read a lot of bumper stickers. Some are funny ha-ha, and then I see some that are funny-peculiar. Occasionally, i see one is just plain stoopid, like the one that swanned into view today: "I am not ashamed of Jesus. I am not ashamed of the Bible. I am not ashamed of God." it said. Well, I'm sorry, but yes you are. That sort of schoolboy sloganeering has its roots somewhere... If you're not ashamed, what are you? Deeply embarrassed? Cringeing just a wee bit? One thing you're not... is proud. If you were, you'd be telling the world. Wouldn't you? or is that an embarrassing question?

I see that the Cosmopolitan Club has just demonstrated what a bunch of back-country hicks they are. They invite an Indian Sikh gentleman to their club to honour him for his good works in the community - then refuse him entry because he's wearing his turban. Cosmopolitan yokels: it's a concept.

READING: John Connolly's latest. It's different. More on that later.

LISTENING TO: Not David Gray. No, I'm listening to another "Best Of" collection: this time it's the Rolling Stones... "Gimme Shelter"is bursting my eardrums right now. I've started listening to more RS these days that Beatles. And i just heard that John Lennon's been dead for 29 years. Crap.

TODAY'S WORD: Dyscalculia... it's like dyslexia, only to do with numbers. Cool.

More Rats!

There had been no fellowship of Friends at Northridge, but the old man enjoyed his own council, and studied the Scriptures every day. And every day, when the young Arthur had come home from school, filled with questions about the day’s lesson, he had done his best to answer. God alone knew whether he had answered adequately, but he felt that he had always answered with sincerity, if not love. So it was up to God and Arthur now. Up to God and Arthur.
Arthur cleared his throat, and said, “Conscription’s soon to be a reality, you know. As a single man, I would be eligible.”
“That’s truth, boy. You would indeed. What can I say? I can’t advise you on this, Arthur.” The old man sucked at his pipe, and sighed. “I’m glad the decision’s not mine to make. I feel that I would turn my back on them. I did, when they went to South Africa on that fool’s errand. They’ve no right to order young men to go and kill other young men!’ The old man was growing angry, and his voice was shrill and cracked. Arthur reached up, and adjusted the oil lamp. Great hu-hu moths were beating at the thin insect screen, desperate for the flame. Joans of Arc, thought Arthur. Joans of Arc, eager to do battle in the flame of war. And in the end it was flame that ate her. How could a church that preached love do that to a fellow human? He shook his head, and thought again of Amy, as he did a dozen times a day.
Amy Copthorne, as the observant reader will have deduced, is Tim’s much older sister. She’s almost 25, and in danger of being left, as they say, on the shelf. Arthur wonders why he thinks of her so often, then wonders why he wonders. Arthur was nothing but truthful with himself. She’s not for him, anyway, he thought. She’s a Copthorne, he’s an orphan blacksmith.
Still, he loved her. He spoke to her at least once a week. She always seemed to be at Miss Jayne’s house when he went around there to do some chores. Arthur Tomlinson was now 28 years of age, directionless and rudderless. He owed a debt to Grampa Smith, but could never repay it. This talk of war repelled him, and perversely excited him at the same time. His beliefs, moulded as they had been by more than 20 years of debate with his foster-father, were unshakeable. He suffered every time he shot a wild beast, so he knew that he could never bring his gun to bear on a fellow human. Yet at the back of his mind Satan’s imp was whispering about glory and medals and returning with honour, and how he could ask Amy Copthorne…
He shook his head, and moved away from that train of thought. It’ll never happen, he thought to himself.
Arthur stood five feet nine inches tall, and his labour over the anvil had given him a solid, thick build. His shoulders were broad, his chest deep. He enjoyed spending a weekend in the thick bush that was still within an hour’s walk of the village – although the farmers were starting to beat it back. The bush was thick with game: the introduced deer roamed freely, and cleared paths for the hunter. His hands were heavily calloused, broad, and muscular. He could cradle a rifle’s weight and hold it rock-steady for minutes at a time. His chest nipped in to a slim waist, and his legs were almost too long for his body. He was a strong man, made for activity and action. The old man had scrimped to keep the boy in school until the age of sixteen, and the lad had responded well, his open face eagerly shining for the knowledge that the teachers had for him. He hadn’t been a model student, by any means. His continuing education with Grampa Smith had seen to that. The old man had encouraged the lad to question everything, to accept nothing at face value, but to recognise truth when he saw it. This had resulted in a number of thrashings, but they had been all well-earned. He had questioned everything as a boy, and he questioned everything now.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sunday Scribbles XVII

The annual stuff-fest is underway. The time of year when you see and meet the best that's in people, and the worst that's in people. I despise Christmas. If it was a religious festival, I wouldn't mind so much. Hang on - it is a religious festival. Duh! The religion beinng the worship of stuff. How much crap is going to change hands this year? Billions of dollars will be spent. How much of that crap is actually going to be worth anything? 5%? 10%?

They say that it's for the children. Actually, it's for the retailers, and their businesses. This is the month many retail businesses do up to a half of their annual turnover. That's OK: there's nothing wrong with a person making a living. But let's not kid ourselves that Christmas has any other focus than that of acquiring stuff.

Leaping to God's defence. The news, a couple of days ago, that an atheist organisation was fund-raising to put some ads on a fewe buses was welcome. The ads are to say something like "God probably doesn't exist.. so stop worrying, and get out and have some fun". A fine sentiment. The reaction to the news was immediate, and predictable: god-botherers leaping to the defence of their omnipotent and all-knowing deity - as if he (yes, I'll stick with the masculine pronoun. It's how god is seen by his patrician creators. So I'll be polite.) actually needed defending. I would have thought that if he was almightily annoyed by atheists, he would have been getting in a few smitings by now. He didn't, so therefore he either doesn't need the defence of humans, or he doesn't care a rat's ass, or he doesn't exist.

If he does exist, he must be sorely disappointed by the level of argument that has been put up by his corner. The Bible says he exists, and the Bible was written by god, so therefore... That was a goody, and nearly convinced me. Right.

Actually, I feel the reactions (on Stuff.co.nz) from the god botherers demonstrated that god definitley doesn't exist. If he did, then he would have made sure his defenders at least knew how to spell and punctuate. It was obvious that most followers of god were, at best, semi-literate.

Probably. A lot were concerned by the use of the word "probably", and crowed mightily that atheists wouldn't just come out and say "God doesn't exist". Atheists should never come right out and say that, because such a statement is an act of faith, not of fact. It is almost impossible to prove a negative. And, as many atheists' non-belief is powered by a scientific point of view, they can't state categorically that there is no god, because it can't be proven. But a quiet stroll through the gardens of reason and clear thinking will demonstrate that god probaly doesn't exist. We can be 99.999% certain, but never 100% certain. Christians would rather be boiled in oil than have it proven that god doesn't exist.

The atheists were also castigated by their anti-christian statement. This, of course, is chauvinism, and subsequently utter tosh. The statement isn't anti-christian : it's anti-god. The whole judeo-christian-moslem god structure is built on sand. Any god will do: he just probably ain't there.

Listening to: Steppenwolf, "At Your Birthday Party". Great 1960s rock. Really great.

Reading: John Connolly, "The Gates". More on that later.

Word of the Day: Probably. A word that demonstrates the open-mindednessof scientists, the world's most valuable people. Give me a scientist over a theologist any time.

More Rats:

“Aye, Grampa. You did me a good deed that day.”
“But did I, boy? Did I?” the old man was earnest, and troubled. “Your parents weren’t of the Friends. They were good solid Methodists, God rest their souls. I was a friend of your Dad’s, but they didn’t really approve of me, with my Quaker ways.”
“I don’t know, old man. “ Arthur steadied himself for a moment. He looked down at his hands, still grimy from the day’s labour. He was confused, and stammered on. “You gave me a home, guidance, and love when I needed it. I am who I have become, and I’m happy with it. You taught me that killing is wrong, that to make war is stupid. As it happens, I have applied my mighty intellect against your arguments,” and he flashed a quick grin at the old man, “and I find no fault. No, sir. This morning was annoying because I brought shame to you, and for that I apologise.”
“No embarrassment, no apologies,” Grampa Smith’s voice was brisk. “Although you were a damn’ fool. You handed that blasted Weatherby exactly what he needed. But we’ll need to keep an eye on young Tim. Did you see how eager he seemed?”
The Old Man questioned himself severely every night, as he lay in his lonely bed. He cared for the boy deeply, and had treated him with great kindness. Arthur had wanted for little as he grew. He had schooled well. He was bright, inquisitive, his mind a diamond-bright darting minnow that ferreted after the truth. The old man had followed the Society of Friends’ teaching – as he understood and remembered them – since his childhood. There had been no fellowship of Friends at Northridge, but the old man enjoyed his own council, and studied the Scriptures every day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Driving Tiger, Hidden Hydrant

A little while ago I was given further consideration to the subject of nobility, and started making a short list of people who acted - to my mind, anyway - nobly. Nobley? Tiger Woods was in my list. Now, however, it seems he's just been a knob. A knob who's been nobbled.

When the whole so-called Tigergate (sigh) scandal broke, I was vaguely surprised by how unsurprised I was. It was, I suppose, bound to happen. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris. The self-delusion if infallibility, and being certain of your invincibility.

When you spend more than a nanosecond on deep thought about Tiger's self-ordained dilemma, you have to acknowledge how inevitable it all was. Here's a good looking, really, really wealthy young man who is away from hearth and home for great stretches of time. And he fell to temptation. He wouldn't have had to expend any energy whatsover in finding a beautifully skinny woman whose first instinct is to get horizontal when a good looking, really, really rich young man swings into view. Especially if he's also (apparently) unattainable. He faced temptation, and lost. Take into account his name, and the fact that he is an alpha-male, one who is driven to have things his way...and you'll see that

he never stood a chance. Why we built him up to be the person we all wanted him to be rests in our consciences. He has enough problems of his own without having to carry the can for our expectations. There's some justification in the argument that this whole media bunfight tells us more about ourselves than it does about Tiger. Let's leave the poor bastard alone.

Blog to read: Ivyleagueinsecurities.com

LISTENING TO: Mark Knopfler, "Kill To Get Crimson". Track One is ridiculous: lachrymose, saccharin. The rest are OK.

READING: I made a start on the new Dan Brown book. Gave it a good shot: 16 of his 3 and 4 page chapters. It's crap. So I read a Doctor Who book, instead. Huge fun. I have the new John Connolly "kid's" book waiting for me. yum yum yum.


More Rats:

every day Arthur saw the object of his heart’s yearning, he would gaze, and simply sigh.
Weatherby’s triumph was complete. “I signed the King’s commission, yesterday, coward.” He spit the word. “I am to be made Colonel, and I shall be going to peril against our King’s foe alongside the real men of this Province.”
Arthur bowed his head. So, he thought. This is the taste of defeat. He would never have thought that the blustering bully Weatherby would have found the pluck.
Arthur turned away, to the laughter of the crowd, and, blushing scarlet, picked up his hammer again. Grampa Smith had been working angrily at the bellows, and the horseshoe was cherry-red. Arthur lifted the hammer, and beat, and beat, and beat at the metal, cooling it with his tears of rage.
It was late in the evening, and the two men had eaten well of mutton, potatoes, and cabbage. At the back of the smithy was a ponga lean-to, and Grampa Smith had spent the past few years attracting a colony of glow-worms into it. The creatures flickered their love-messages to each other in the deepening night. The old man made a pot of tea, and sat a can of condensed milk beside the enamelled tin cups. Arthur punched a hole in the can with his pocket-knife, and dribbled a sweet spoonful into his cup, then poured the strong brew over it. He sighed, and took the mug in his hands. The heat poured through the metal, but Arthur’s thickly calloused fingers and palms protected him from being burn. All he felt was a pleasant warmth.
The old man, Grampa Smith, sat on the bench opposite him, took a breath, and growled “I’m sorry, lad.”
“Sorry?” Arthur was astonished. “You’ve nothing to be sorry for, Grampa. It was me who spoke out, and I’ll accept the consequences.”
There was a long companionable silence before the old man spoke again. “You’ve made me very proud, lad. You were, what? Five. Yes, five when I brought you in, when your folks died in the house-fire. Otherwise it would have been St James’ Orphanage, up in Hamilton for you.”
“Aye, Grampa. You did me a good deed that day.”

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sunday Scribbles XVI

I think I've actually started to crystallise what I was trying to say ther other day. It's really not the beoming As One with Australia that worries me. It's the way of doing it. The entire structure is founded on growth. My problem is this: hasn't the world foundered on growth? This insane desire for more tat, more bling, more plasma... it ain't healthy. I'm not an advocate of getting rid of technology. But I am concerned that corporations - international businesses that are predicated on growth - have more influence on what happens to the planet than do individual nations. And when their need for growth overcooks them, they come to the state witgh their hands out, crying out to be fed. And we've done so... because to not feed the maw of growth and consumerism is to see us fall back to the levels of the (say) 1970s. Or the Third World. Actually, the way we lived in the 1970s is how the Third World lives now, in many, many ways. Oddly, I didn't mind it then, and I wouldn't mind it now.

And don't think that this means I'm feeling my age and am indulging in dribbling nostalgia. I'm not. The '70s introduced disco to the world, for goodness' sake. But the Western world enjoyed good health care, good education, good transport.... and contained within it the seeeds of our current plight. The world's going to hell in a handbasket, and we're sending our politicians to Copenhagen to find a solution. Pewrhaps we need to look at the philosophy of growth. If we spent our defence money on educating, feeding, and caring for the world... we'd be a lot better off.

I've never said I wasn't naive.

Or stoopid.

Beautiful day here in Auckland today: I'm looking forward to breakfasting, and going for a long walk. And while I'm walking, I shall make sure that I won't be going into any shop that's larger than adairy. I so object to Sunday shopping. It contributes nothing to society, and takes parents away from their children.

READING: Still with John Birmingham. He's just killed offf another half-billion people. he sure doesn't think small. I've just picked up a copy of "Stalingrad" - am eagerly anticipating getting into that.

LISTENING TO: "Back Against The Wall", various artists. It's Pink Floyd's "The Wall" as done by others. Entertaining.

LAST MOVIE SEEN: On DVD, last night - "I'm Not There", the Bob Dylan Biopic, with a half dozen people - including Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere, and Christian Bale - all playing Mr Zimmerman. It is tremendously good. I will have to watch it again: it's complex, introguing, poetical, allegorical, epic, and brutally honest.

WORD OF THE DAY: Allegorical.

More Rats.

Weatherby hated Arthur Tomlinson. An unreasoning cold rage gripped him whenever he thought of the stocky blacksmith. Tomlinson’s effortless popularity stood in stark contrast to Weatherby’s own hard won – and hard bought - support, and Weatherby suspected that Arthur had the prize he had sought for himself.
Weatherby had been two years ahead of Arthur at the local school, and had been humiliated by the younger boy at almost every turn. Tomlinson’s natural skill and proficiency with a rifle had earned him the shooting medals three years in a row, and he had a natural athleticism denied the older boy. Arthur had made the first XV the same year as Weatherby, and had been a fearsome first-five eighth. In summer, he had played cricket on the village green, dressed in patched flannels, and out-bowled, out-fielded, and out-batted the impeccably turned out Weatherby. At every turn of the young Weatherby’s life, he’d been bested by this upstart. But this time he knew he had him exactly where he wanted him. Arthur, in his turn, had felt the edge of Weatherby’s tongue needling and taunting his all through his school years. He had fallen to his knees in thanks for the respite handed him when Weatherby left for Britain, and had hoped that the man’s return would bring with it an easing of the one-sided feud. It was not to be. Weatherby returned with, it seemed, an even greater dislike for the one man he saw as a rival, and he took every opportunity to belittle and provoke Arthur into an indiscretion. Weatherby hatred for Arthur Tomlinson was boundless, reasonless, and on this occasion he made it work for him.
“You dog, Weatherby!” Arthur stormed. “How can you talk of the glory of war, when it is nothing but a callous slaughter of innocents? If you are so brave, so courageous, why is it we don’t see you dressed in the King’s uniform, eh?”
Old Man Smith was a popular figure in Northridge. There wasn’t a man or woman who didn’t know him, and who hadn’t looked with approval on the job he’d done with the orphaned Arthur. Arthur was as well-liked: he had a kind word for pretty well everyone, and was patient with children – and very good with the horses. If Arthur had but known it, he had been setting the hearts of young women a-flutter for a good ten years now. Arthur’s inborn modesty, however, was a hindrance to him. He honestly believed that he would make no woman a good husband. Besides which, he was in love, and it was a love that was hopeless – so, he daily repaid Grampa Smith for all the kindness the old man had given him over the years, and every day Arthur saw the object of his heart’s yearning, he would gaze, and simply sigh.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Men aren't, as a rule, good at remembering anniversaries and birthdays. Most of us struggle to remember what date Christmas is. I've forgotten anniversaries in the past, and the birthdays of various spouses. Actually, I've got Jenny's birthday down pat: the problem is I occasionally forget to do anything about it. Knowledge and actions - if they don't go hand in hand, then neither's worth squat.

Today is an anniversary for me, and I don't think I'll ever forget it. It was twelve months ago today that I was made redundant. December 3rd, 2008. I've actually forgotten the name of the guy who delivered the axe-blow that decapitated our wealth - Stephan something - but I retain my sense of betrayal. There you go. Not, of course, that TRN did anything wrong, or anything they should feel shame-faced about. Heaven forbid that such a thought should occur to you. No, they were all honourable men, acting in thoroughly honourable ways. And anyway, it wasn't personal. It was business, that's all.

So far it's cost Jenny and me around a quarter million dollars. But I guess I've learned something: a catastrophe like this needn't cost you everything. We've learned who our friends are (and we've been thrilled by their caring. And I've learned the value of a truly excellent marriage.

Almost worth it, really. No - it is worth it. There's nothing "almost" about it.

But I can't help thinking, every now and then, of chucking a rock through a TRN window, and following it up with something hot and flaming.

LISTENING TO: "I'm Not There". It's the soundtrack to the movie of the same name... all Dylan music (oddly enough, given the subject matter of the movie...), and all performed by other people. It's superb.

READING: Comic Book, "The Preacher". Very, very good. As good as "Transmetropolitan".

WORD OF HE DAY: Bastard. Stephan Wossname, that is. Blame the hatchet-man, that's me. Very mature.

More RATS:

Arthur’s voice drowned the politician’s, and Weatherby glared back across the square, and held back his smile. He could have cheered.

On the day that Arthur shot his first man, he also shot 18 rats. And every time he shot a rat with his RSMLE (his Rifle, Short, Magazine Lee-Enfield, model 1907) he thought of that humiliating moment. Everyone has a turning point in their life, and that moment, when he had seen Weatherby’s lips curl into a smile, had been Arthur’s. And he despised himself for it.

Tim Copthorne, bright and eager, had turned his head at Arthur’s call, and waved his arm. “Arthur! Ain’t it grand?”
“No, it’s not grand, you young fool. It’s madness, and that’s God’s honest truth.”
The crowd had turned their attention away from Weatherby, and he drew them back. He harrumphed, raising his voice again. “Is that the conchy Arthur Tomlinson I see over there, the coward who shows his true mettle by skulking behind his anvil of iron rather than stand in the recruitment line where New Zealand’s true heroes stand? Is that old Gerald Smith there, the same old coward who refused to help his nation when it needed skilled farriers and ostlers in the adventure against the bloody Boer? Take no note of them, young Copthorne. Here is where your destiny lies. Here is where you show yourself to be the man your father knows you to be!”
Arthur, anger misting his eyes, pulled a shirt over his shoulders, and strode out into the square. “You’ll take young Timothy over my dead body, Weatherby. He’s a lad, just a lad. He’s not yet seventeen, and you hope to lure him into war? You dog, Weatherby! For shame!”
“A pup of sixteen, is he, Tomlinson? And already twice the man you are. Conchy, ladies and gentlemen. Conscientious Objectors: another name for coward. Arthur Tomlinson, I would give you the white feather, if not for the fact that it would shame the chicken the feather was plucked from.”

Weatherby hated Arthur Tomlinson.

Monday, November 30, 2009

All Blacks and Aussies

The media and their fascination with fame and the flaming All Blacks. I blither on about the media a lot, but that’s only because the people who populate it are so bloody brainless. Thick, especially in the skin area. Tact-free. They need sensitivity lessons. I guess, really, that I am really wittering on about the writers. The people who bang out the stories we see on news websites… like New Zealand’s very own Stuff.co.nz Some might call them journalists, but I call them clods. They have no idea about propriety. F’r instance, there was a terrible accident over the weekend in which a child, a six-year old girl, was killed. I cannot imagine how the parents must feel. Regardless of how it happened, this is an appalling story. And when I saw it on Stuff, it was headlined “All Black’s niece dies in accident.” What? WHAT?? The oafish writer, in 17 key-strokes, has taken away a child's humanity and relevance, and turned her tragic accident into a fucking rugby story. The fact that the child’s uncle is a famous sportsman has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. It’s salacious, it’s nasty, and it beggars belief that the writer wrote the headline, and that the editor passed it for publication. I know that New Zealand’s not alone in having trolls write their news. At least I hope we’re not alone in it. My heart goes out to the child’s parents, and to her extended family… which happens to have, in its number, a grieving footy player. Let’s ask ourselves this question: when was the last time you saw a headline that went “Truck-driver’s niece dies in accident,’ or “Insurance clerk’s niece dies in accident”? When? Never, that’s when. That’s because it’s simply not relevant.

Aussies. Don't get me wrong: I'm fond of our neighbours. After all, my grand-daughter'sne of them, and both my sons are naturalised Aussies, if that's not an oxy-moron. After all, there's an awful lot about the country that's either artificial,or has a fascination with things manufactured.

We do, as well, but I think we're closer to the land and the scenery... all that green stuff - than the Aussies are. They've had to congregate into cities for protection from their natural wonders. Everything there (including the seven remaining koalas), it seems, is a threat to the life of mankind. There is a species of spider over there that's harmless, but it's only found on an outlying island... and that island's drifting away from the mainland so fast that in 170 million years or so it'll be in Antarctica, and the spider will have evolved a huge fur coat. It'll be slaughtered in the million by sentient crocodilia for use as handbags. But this is taking me ever further from my point, which is this: Don the Brash came out yesterday waving a document in the air. He'd been briefed by the government to find out what it would take to drag us up/along/over/down to the same level as the Aussies, GDP-wise. I really want to ask the question: do we want to become like the Aussies, and if so, why? Is personal wealth all that important? Why not look at nations that share some similarities: Norway, or Sweden, for instance. On the Happiness Quotient that's taken every year, the so-called doleful Scandinavians are at the top of the heap. Wealthy, yes. But they're gone about accummulating and distributing their wealth in a different way. Their wealth is in their society... not in the individual. The gap between the wealthy and poor is narrow. There are extremes, of course: the very rich, the impoverished. But the Scandoes don't have the vast numbers of poor that the Aussies (and we Kiwis) have, and the relatively few rich. We've followed the British and American models... and they haven't worked for the average Joe there, either. Any society that has 95% of the wealth in the hands of just 5% of the population is unhealthy. And it leads to unhealthy envy-worship, and bad journalism. Probably obesity, as well, and too much attention being given to fashionistas and celebrity chefs. So there.

I advert to all budding writers the existence of NaNoWriMo. I'm gonna be part of it next November. Heard about it too late this year.

WORD OF THE DAY: Languid. It's just such a superb word. Sounds like it's meaning. Have a go, and roll your tongue about as you're saying it...La-a-a-ngu-i-id.

LISTENING TO: Neil Young, "Hawks and Doves".

READING: The John Birmingham book. Sacre Blue, mate! The body count started at 300,000,000.... And some Canadians and Mexicans, too.... But I also got Frank Miller's "Sin City" out today. Ooooh! What to do?

More RATS.

As for Arthur? Arthur was discovering that he wasn’t the man he’d fondly imagined himself to be.
The stories that were filtering back about the treatment of the Conchies were horrifying. The rumours of Soames Island, so easily dismissed just months previously, were now being openly discussed. Filthy cells, in darkness, with no sight of the sun or moon. Being made to cut and stitch and sew the battledress uniforms that brave young men would wear as they faced the Hun’s or Turk’s bullet and blade and bomb. The thought of it made Arthur tremble. The thought of it made normal folk grimly cheerful.
George Weatherby had been a humourless boy, and had grown into a purse-lipped man, one who believed in himself and his destiny to eventually lead this tiny country at the bottom of the world. He was 34 years of age, and every move he’d made since graduating from Cambridge University with a law degree had been carefully considered. One of two sons of Benjamin Weatherby, a local circuit court judge, George had made his ambitions plain from an early age. Since his return from England he had worked tirelessly to advance himself in the local Liberal party’s ranks, and had risen far enough that he would be considered for candidacy in the next election. The coming of the war gave him more opportunities for advancement, and his campaigning had borne great fruit. Now all he needed was a way of announcing his news, and he thought he knew how to do it to the very best effect.
Grampa Smith spat onto the horseshoe, and shoved it back into the coals, and pumped the bellows again. He grunted as he spoke. “Anyone’d think he got a quid for every mother’s son who joined up, eh son.” It wasn’t a question.
“Aye,” replied Arthur, drily. “There’s another man who’d sooner see the boys go than the men. Especially men of his station. Or ambition.”
Weatherby had drawn a small crowd about him, men and women cheering his patriotism and stirring words. He lifted the enamelled tin speaker’s horn to his mouth, and spoke: “I call on all young men now! Your nation calls on you, your King calls on you. If you’re 18 or more, heed the call and take heed, and say yes to the requests our good King, his prime minister and councillors here in our fair Dominion make: the flag’s flying over the fields of France, boys, flying in the face of a fearsome foe.” His was a good voice, warm and mellow, and he used it well. He coaxed velvet tones out, but when the phrase was right his voice cut like a razor. He looked up at the great Union Jack flying over the council buildings, and pointed to it. “For all these years the three great united crosses of the British flag have been our protection! And now,” his voice dropped to a hoarse, tear-stained whisper that nonetheless carried to every ear “and now the flag calls for us.” Cheers greeted the call. Weatherby drew a breath, and carried on, his rich baritone carrying the whisper of a sob. “The flag of Great Britain calls for our sacrifice, for a few short months of our time. And yes, it may be that Britain will call for us as individuals to lay down our lives, or the lives of our sons or brothers. But what are our lives, ladies and gentlemen, lads and lassies? Eh? What are our lives, those lives, when measured against the Empire that has given us suck since the days we were brought mewling into life? It has been the Empire, the great and glorious British Empire that has sustained us, schooled us, and taught us the great eternal truth that is this: in Britain we are great, and our greatness of heart and spirit and courage must be returned to the Empire from whence it came!”
Grampa Smith sucked on his pipe, and screwed up his broad face in distaste. “I tell you, boy, that if I hadn’t been brought up to fear the Lord and respect His teachings in all things, and if it wasn’t too late, I’d geld that bastard. There are boys out there in that crowd who are going to die one day, purely because of the vile claptrap – Christ in His mercy, is that young Tim I see, cheering?”
Arthur raised his head, and looked across the square. His uncannily perfect eyesight swiftly picked out the boy. Timothy Copthorne's bright red hair was a giveaway at any range.
Weatherby had been keeping a weather-eye on the open front of the smithy, and he’d seen the old man’s gesture. He smiled: this was his opportunity. “How about you, young Copthorne? Will you take the banner, and follows the drums to glory?”
Arthur sucked in a deep breath, and shouted “Tim! Tim, you young scamp. Come over here, lad! I need a hand with Miss Jayne’s horse!” Arthur’s voice drowned the politician’s, and Weatherby glared back across the square, and held back his smile. He could have cheered.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sunday Scribbles XV

Back, after a coupleof Sundays away. Blame laziness - I do.

The Erebus Disaster. Is there something wrong with me? I can't help but think the whole 30th commemoration of the Air New Zealand crash on Erebus has been an overblown parody. It was a terrible and tragic event that saw hundreds of New Zealanders die in an instant, and blah blah blah. The cause of the crash was folly, stupidity, venality, and incompetence sob weep wail. The years after the crash saw nervous little men found out and justly pilloried, sigh oh dear me. It saw fine and noble men suffer in the cause of the truth, yawn and stretch. But the last sod of earth was shovelled onto the grave of the whole miserable affair years ago, and it should have been allowed to rest.

But along came a new Air New Zealand chairman who wanted to do the right thing. He very publicly apologied to the families of the crash victims. This was a good thing: Air New Zealand had behaved badly. Thirty years ago. Three decades. A generation and more ago. He offered to send a half-dozen family members, chosen at random, to Antarctica on the anniversary of the disaster. Nice of him. It should have ended there. Excellent PR campaign, done well.

Instead, it became a ghastly media circus. Camera crews from a dozen different "news" programmes told the story, over and over. Family members were interviewed until they burst into tears.. yes folks, the money shot. It has been a dreadful imposition on the actual people involved. A prominent businessman was pilloried for trying to help another businessman organise a commemorative flight.

Yes, people died. Sad, tragic, and all that. But it was 30 years ago. I doubt very much if we'd be having this sort of carry on if the tragedy had been the result of, say, a ferry sinking. When was the last time anyone got all tearful about the Wahine disaster? The "news" organisations rush about like demented jackals because it was an aeroplane crash in a stange place. Any plane crash is automatically interesting: The headlines will bellow "Small plane crashes: two dead" and will follow up with a breathless story about a Cessna crashing in Paekakariki... while relegating the car crash that killled four to page three. Air New Zealand has behaved well. TVNZ and TV3, TRN, Radioworks, and Radio New Zealand, Fairfax and Newsmedia have all behaved like slavering offal-eaters. They've disgusted me.

Rugby. As I write this, the All Blacks are playing France. I've just heard on the news that the ABs are leading. I'd be quite happy to watch the game, but I can't: we dropped our SKY subscription. Acxtually, even with a SKY subscription I wouldn't have been able to watch it, because one has to pay extra to watch sport. So, rugby has become less relevant. It's a game that needs to be seen: I can imagine cricket from the radio commentary, but not rugger. And they wonder why the game is becoming irrelevant: they've taken it away from its audience. The TV drama "The Wire" was broadcast here in NZ at 11.00pm, and sank without a trace: everywhere else in the world it waqs hailed as the best TV drama ever, full stop. Rugby will go the same way: a great game, perfect for TV, disappearing because over three quarters of the potential audience have been disenfranchised by the money-grubbers.

Strawberries are back on the shelves, and all is good with the world. About $2 a punnet, making them cheaper than they've been in years. And they're plump, juicy, full of flavour. My favourite fruit.

LISTENING TO: The radio. Media Report - 9.00 o'clock, Sunday morning. Excellent programme. Apart from that - yesterday, I dragged out an old Doris Day (!?) CD, and it was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. So i slapped on a Dean Martin CD, then a Perry Como one. Great music, full of joy. I ended the day with the Neil Young DVD, "Heart of Gold". Bliss.

READING: John Birmingham, "Without Warning". In the first six pages he had stripped the North American continent almost bare of people. He doesn't think small.

WORD OF THE DAY: Johnkey. Rhymes with donkey. Means shithead. Our prime minister isn't going to Copenhagen. Keeping (or making) New Zealand clean and green means nothing to this scabrous fool. Prediction: a one-term National government.

More RATS:

She looked deep into the younger woman’s eyes, and was only mildly surprised at what she saw there.
The pair bound Arthur’s wounds, and then went to look for the old man. They found him, snoring at the back door, with the old man’s old black cat licking at the huge blue knot on his forehead. Amy’s hand reached out, and took Jayne’s, which tightened fiercely around her fingers.
Amy said “I,” and stopped, at a loss.
Jayne replied “I know. And it’s good, Amy. It’s very, very good.”
Chapter Three.
The war in Europe and the Middle East had proceeded another four months, and the thin Radius bone in Arthur’s forearm had healed well. He bore two scars from the earthquake: a Vee-shape on his forehead, and a ragged coin of pink on his left forearm. Old Man Smith, after having had his eyesight restored, had worked his godson hard, and the arm had made an almost complete recovery. The muscle had been torn, and the scar glistened in a deep dimple: but Arthur’s strength had hardly been impaired.
The war was on everyone’s lips. The casualty lists had been a black-bordered horror in far too many copies of the Northridge Oracle, the local newspaper. Jayne Francis had devoted the left hand window of her General Store to make a memorial. She had arranged black ribbons and black bunting at the window, and every day she placed a different photograph there, for people to see, and remember. She had started with just the two pictures: the Cornwell boy, and his mate de Mille, both of whom had perished on the day of the earthquake, in far-off Turkey. Now, five months later, she could put a different photograph in the window for every day of the week, and she wept at the day’s end when she took one loved son away from public view, and replaced him with another. The seven photographs were rotated each week, even on Sunday when her store was closed. None of the boys whose photographs she displayed had been older than her when they died: the youngest, Adam Hall, had been just 19.
Conscription was now a reality, and the conversations in the smithy were heated, tempered, beaten, quenched, and thrust into the flames again. The old man was adamant that the war was evil, and nothing could budge him.
As for Arthur? Arthur was discovering that he wasn’t the man he’d fondly imagined himself to be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Numbness, be my friend.

Libraries have this thing called the "Stack". Actually, it's just "Stack". No preposition, no article, just "Stack". Stack is where old books go to be stored, and asked for by old buggers. Let's face it - who remembers Dennis Wheatley these days? That's right: old farts. Right now I feel as though I should be sent to Stack for a rest. A quiet decade of being shelved with Enid Blyton, Leslie Charteris, Gerald Durrel and his brother, John Creasey and John Cleary, perhaps checking out Mickey Spillane's dust-covers... slightly foxed, I see, Mick.
It was a hard day. As hot as a rocket's exhaust, and I had to get around a vast retirement village with 8 boxes of books... and no hand trolley. Some bastard nicked it from the back of my van.
A box of books weighs in at anything between 12 and 25 kilograms. I was humping them, one at a time, by hand, for up to 200 metres each. That's because the nearest park I could find was way the hell over there, by that tree. The closest door to my van was 73 paces. On the longer one I was staggering a bit. That was at 10 in the morning. The day of lifting and carrying didn't finish until 4.30. Yes, I had a half-hour lunch break.
So this will be a short post. I am, to be blunt, buggered.
But let's take time for a quick happy moment. I spent ten minutes yesterday with John and Jean Birkbeck. He's 84, she's 6 months younger. They're English - and they've known each other since they were two. I frankly thought I'd been hopelessly romantic writing about a couple (Henry and Mary)who'd known and loved each other since they were 7. Jean and John have had an eventful life: they lived a half-mile from an RAF fighter base in WW2, and were subsequently bombed a few times. Once, John's parent's home was half demolished by an anti-aircraft round that had failed to explode. It came down, crashing through the roof, demolishing the dunny, and then ricocheting around the parlour, where John's Mum was sitting, knitting. Apparently, she didn't drop a stitch. Jean and John: even their names are the same, allowing for the genderising. Nice people.

LISTENING TO: The Raconteurs. Just how staggeringly geniussy is Jack White?
READING: Nothing new, but I do have the new John Birmingham on order. Explosions! Science Friction! Derring Do!
WORD OF THE DAY: Discombobulated. Thankyou, John Campbell.


“Well, Arthur. You’re in a right pickle here.”
“Miz Jayne. ‘zat you?” He was mumbling. The pain in his arms was intense. He flicked his eyes either side, and he could see Jayne Francis’ denim trousers at one side of the car, and Amy Copthorne’s floral dress on the other.
“Me and Amy,” Jayne murmured.
“Thank you.”
“Don’t say another word. Amy: those blocks of wood. Stuff a couple under the wheel hub here. I’ll put a couple… no, three, under this side.”
Arthur hears a scraping, and a second voice. “Hello, Arthur. Not to worry, we’ll have you out of here in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail.”
“Thanks, Miss Amy,” he said, and relaxed. The wheel hub hit the timbers at Amy’s side too hard, and they flew away, and the car dropped. He made a grab at the axle again, and stopped it a fraction of an inch from his throat. The crack from his arm was like a small rifle-shot.
The pain that shot through him as the bone in his left arm broke made him yell. “Christ!” The sound ricocheted through the workshop, an angry sound that made Amy scream. Jayne swore, scrambled around the car, grabbed the hub of the wheel, one foot on either side of the weight, and hoisted up. She barked “Amy, grab the man’s legs and pull him out of there. Now!”
Amy did as she was told, marvelling at her unexpected strength, at Arthur’s dead-weight. Jayne swore again as the hub slipped through her fingers, and the car crashed down. The spring leaf tore a flap of skin away from Arthur’s brow, and blood gushed. A bone poked through the skin of his forearm, and it, too, bled freely.
“Christ, I’ve killed him,” mourned Jayne, a sob thick at the back of her throat.
“No. He’s all right. Look.”
Arthur’s sweat-stained chest was bare, his black singlet having been hiked up to his armpits. There, to the left of his sternum, a sparrow was leaping and battering under his skin.
Jayne Francis crossed herself vigourously, and caught Amy’s surprised eyes. “Sorry. I spent a couple of years in a boarding school in England, being beaten by bloody nuns. Some habits are hard to break.”
“We’d better get the doctor.”
“Not a chance. Didn’t you hear the commotion from the Lee’s place? The Doctor’ll be there for sure. ”
“They’re Chinamen. Arthur’s a white man!”
Jayne’s slap set Amy back on her heels. “If I ever hear you say anything like that in my presence again, Amy Copthorne, or even hear of you saying such a thing, then you’ll not be welcome in my home ever again. Imagine the like! Your father would be disgraced, to hear you say such a thing.”
And it was true. Jayne Francis knew Amy’s father, Albert Copthorne, well: he was a regular at the weekly poker games, and, since she arrived in Northridge, had made sure that Jayne never went short of firewood. Amy was curious about the friendship, but her Mother had never made any comment, and it did seem on the surface to be innocent. Amy was aware only that Jayne and her Father shared a deep knowledge of one another, and a great friendship.
“How dare you hit me! How dare you!”
“I dare because you are my friend, Amy. And my friends do not ever say such things. Nor do your Father’s friends. Now, which is it to be, girl?”
Amy snorted, and bent to rip her skirt hem into long, flowered strips. She was blisteringly angry, purely because she knew she was in the wrong. “Let’s get this head bandaged,” Amy said. “His arm’s broke, but I don’t know enough to splint it. We’ll need to wait until the doctor’s free,” she said.
She busied herself for a moment, wrapping the wound, which immediately turned the makeshift bandage scarlet. There was a minute’s silence, which Jayne broke. “I’m sorry, Amy. I should never have lifted my hand to you.”
“No,” said Amy. She looked up, and tears were glistening at the edge of her eyes. “I don’t even know where that came from. You were right. My Da’ would be shocked to hear me say such a thing.” At moments Amy’s North England background came out in her speech, despite having been born in this new country at the bottom of the Earth.
“So be it, then,” said Jayne. “So be it.” Jayne reached out, and touched the smear of Arthur’s blood on Amy’s hand. She looked deep into the younger woman’s eyes, and was only mildly surprised at what she saw there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

'tis Spring, and we argue

It's an annual event: the shirt argument. Every year I look at my summer shirts, and then at my waist, and I despair at the fact that shirts shrink over winter. Then I tell the Lovely Redhead that I need to buy a couple of new shirts... and it's on. I want colour and strong patterns. Actually, I want Really Fat And Loud Shirts. The lovely Jen listens to me, and suggests something in a placid plaid, or perhaps a subtle check, in pastels...or something fainter. Or she'll spot a shirt that's all white, with a tiny bit of colour under the collar. And the shirt-makers agree with her. Here in desultory Kiwiland, a man's shirt ain't a man's shirt unless it's predominantly black, charcoal, or turgid taupe. If there's a primary colour, it's been mixed with grey, so it doesn't attract attention. If it really has colour, strong, vibrant colour, it's priced at $400. If I could afford $400 shirts, I would also be buying a bottle of single malt every week, and it's been a long time simce I did that. Oh, that's right: I've never done that. Why the hell have the "fashion"people decided that I should wear black,charcoal, taupe, or greyed-down dull red? I WANT BIG FAT PRIMARY COLOURS, PEOPLE, AND I WANT THEM NOW!

I, don't, understand why, they get people, to, talk like... this. There's more than one TVC on at the moment where the VO guy, or the chap facing the camera talk with some really wierd phrasing. I first noticed it when Cameron Bennet was, doing his, 60 Minutes.... stories. Then Pete thingy started on the Civil Defence TVCs... and now, it.... seems, the infection, has really started to take.... root. It pisses me off.

I'm actually in a great mood for being annoyed today. It's been hot, I slept badly last night, I met some real Effwits on the road, and I'm wearing the most colourful shirt I could find to buy that Jenny would like... sigh. It's kind of... muted stripes.

Saw "Julie and Julia" over the weekend. Merryl Streep is a godette. The movie is more fun than it should be, and is perfectly written and acted. By everyone. And it does inspire one to find a reason for a blog... Julie cooked all Julia Child's recipes in a year. Perhaps I could bonk all Hugh Hefner's Playmates in a year? Jenny might have something to say about that....

LISTENING TO: "Paint It Black", Various Artists. Whole buncha people doing Rolling Stones songs, REALLY LOUD. Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Bowie, The Mighty Lemon Drops (?), Rod Stewart, Flying Pickets... it's fun.

READING: Jeffrey Deaver. Broken Window. he writes a compulsive read. Damn, he's good.

WORD OF THE DAY: COLOUR. Gimme Some! Don't Want To Paint it Black No More!

MORE... Rats....

Arthur filled his lungs, and yelled “Grampa!”
Grampa Smith was the first casualty of the 1915 earthquake that hit Northridge. His eyesight dim now, he’d become a little confused as the earthquake started rattling and rolling, and walked – ran, really – into the edge of the door, the jamb catching him on the forehead and cutting it to the bone. He lay unconscious for four hours, and when he recovered his eyesight had been restored to its youthful vigour.
“Bugger me,” said Arthur, when the old man read a verse from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. But at the time of the earthquake, Arthur was pretty sure he was buggered.
“Grampa,” he bellowed, as the first cold trickling of fear hit his backbone. He grunted, and pushed upward. The car shifted an eighth of an inch, enough for him to scoot forward by a smidgen, giving his arms the truly vertical stand they needed. His left arm trembled slightly, and a drop of oil landed next to his left eye.
“Christ in His cups,” he muttered. “Help! Please, someone: help me! In the smithy! I’m stuck!”
The front end of a Model T Ford weighed in at a hair over a half-ton. The axle was over Arthur’s throat, and the engine was over the axle. If his arms gave way, the car would fall and crush his larynx. He would die, choking and spitting like and alley-cat.
No-one came. The village wasn’t badly damaged. A couple of chimneys had fallen, and Mrs Strange’s outdoor dunny had collapsed. Mrs Lee, the Chinaman’s wife, had been burned when the copper kettle in their laundry toppled, sending a gush of scalding water down her legs. Her screams of anguish had attracted the first people who’d recovered from the great shake.
“Help! For God’s sake, help!”
Arthur’s elbows were grinding into the packed clay of the workshop floor, and his wrists were burning. He sucked in some air, and shouted again. No-one came. Beads of sweat popped from Arthur’s brow, and trickled down. One crawled its way down his eyebrows, then into his ear. He shook his head, growled, and shouted.
Another drop of oil leaked from the engine, and splattered next to his eye, which burned. The muscles on his forearms were starting to quiver with the strain. Each tremble made his heart beat a little faster, and each beat made his arms tremble. He shouted.
His sight was greying, and he knew he was on the edge of blacking out. The blood roared in his ears, and his breath hissed. He stopped, and tried to relax. Come on, lad. You’ve done harder turns. Just last weekend you humped that deer carcase out of the hills. Five miles you walked, with a hundredweight of meat on your shoulders. For god’s sake, this is nothing.
Like hell it’s nothing. His voice was weakening now, a croak. He groaned. This was going to be such a stupid death.
“Help. Please. Someone, just come. Please.”
He couldn’t hold out much longer. The sweat was pouring from him, and the big muscles on his forearms were shrieking an alarum that he would hear in his grave.
“Well, Arthur. You’re in a right pickle here.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Genius, and the Floydness of Pink

GENIUS: They say - well, it was said by someone, and oft-repeated by others - that genius is a hair's-breadth away from madness. It occurs to me that genius may, in fact, be a form of madness - perhaps a symptom, perhaps the full monty. The true genius, the freakishly intellectually gifted, is set so far apart from the rest of us mortals as to be marching not just to the beat of a different drum, but dancing to the music of an entirley different symphonia. Da Vinci had a maniacal way of considering the impossible before breakfast, and Einstein understood the cosmos. Hawking conceived of a universe that in expanding at ever-increasing speeds, and of fuzzy black holes. (The fuzziness of black holes is important. Without it, you wouldn't have drawn your first breath. True.) But in order to conceive of the inconceivable, your intellectual and emotional kitbag must be so very different from those the rest of us carry around.

Ergo, and quod erat demonstradum - you're bonkers. Barking. Doolally.

I've had the pleasure of listening to a couple of solo albums over the past couple of days. One is Roger Waters' "Amused to Death", the other is David Gilmour's "On An Island". You'll have spottede the connection - both Pink Floyd boys. Apparently they had a falling out, and have kind of reconciled, as long as they live in different counties. But they should know they're butthole buddies. Both albums are Pink. One is Pink Floud, the other is Pink Flood - or perhaps Floyd Light. Flood Light? Sorry.

Listening to Waters' album, I kept on expecting someone to ask the immortal question "How can you expect any pudding if you don't eat your meat?". Listening to Gilmour's album, I kept on checking the horizon for a floating giant pig.

Myself. It irritates me that people are using this word instead of that good old two-letter word "me", and the ever solid one-letter word "I".

"The team was made up of Tommo, Freddo, Billo, and myself." "Roger and myself like the new Roger Waters album."

It's always used in conjunction with a proper noun: no-one, as yet, is saying "Myself likes the new Roger Waters album," but it's a matter of time. Thus endeth the dribble about my most hated modern speech-ism. I promise I shan't mention apostrophes today.

LISTENING TO: Well, you already know. Gilmour, right now. Actually, I like it, even if it is Floyd Light.

READING: "The Death and Life of Superman". They call it a graphic novel, but really it's just the collected comic books. As I've never really been fond of the big blue boy scout, an involuntary cheer left my lips as he carked it. Now, I have another 300 pages of comic book to read before he inevitably, Mithras, Christ, and that Egyptian chap with the alligator's head-like, comes back to life. If it happens on the third day I'm-a gonna scream.

WORD OF THE DAY: Grief. I was chatting with a 94-year old woman today. She's in agony: her parents ands grandparents all got telegrams from some royal knob to celebrate their 100th birthdays. She's anticipating another 6 years of pain, and boy is she tired of it. She daily grieves for her youth.

More Rats.

On the day the first ANZAC troops, volunteers all, landed at Gallipoli, Arthur was having a few problems of his own.
Grampa Smith had acquired a Model T Ford, just six months ago. Not a new one, you understand. The old man’s wallet wasn’t that thick. And not to go gallivanting around in, either, young Arthur! For one thing, the old man’s eyesight was pretty shot by this time. He couldn’t see much more than a yard or two in front of his face, and his days of reading were gone to him completely.
No, the old man had bought the vehicle because he understood it was the future. That within Arthur’s lifetime, the demand for a skilled farrier and ostler would diminish beside the need for a good motor-car mechanic.
So, he bought the Model T, and took it apart. Then, he put it back together again. Then he had Arthur take it apart, and rebuild it. Now, for the third time, Arthur was putting the damn’ thing back together.
And, because of the eathquake, he was in trouble.
He’d jacked the right hand front corner up, and removed the wheel, and then lowered the axle onto a triangular stand. Then, he’d done the same to the left hand front corner.
The car’s axle was an easy two feet off the ground, and Arthur gave it a nudge to make sure it was stable. Then, he backed himself under the car, to look at the wiring.
“I don’t know why they left this wire here, Grampa,” he grumbled to himself. Grampa had gone back to the house to boil the kettle, and make a brew. His timing was beyond awful.
Arthur muttered some more, his throat dry. A good cup of gumboot tea’d hit the spot right fine. “It’s open to all sorts of damage from rocks being tossed up by the wheels. I reckon I’ll make a plate and bolt it on to protect – what in the name of God’s that?”
That, in the name of God, was an earthquake. Arthur heard it at first. A deep, mournful grumbling, God’s bellyache, a howl from the depths of the earth.
The earth shook. Then the shed shook. Tools dropped, clattering and harrumphing, from the wall. And the car rocked on its supports.
“Damn,” said Arthur. “I knew I should have made them like a bloody pyramid.”
The left stand buckled first, folding like wet cardboard. Arthur was on his back, his hips and legs sticking out from the front of the vehicle. His right arm shot up, elbow slammed into the oil-soaked soil, and his hand caught the axle as it dropped. The ground shook again, like an old cat coughing up a fur-ball. The stand on the other side of the car crumpled, and Arthur’s left arm took the position.
The weight of the car was now bearing directly downwards on his wrists and forearms.
Arthur filled his lungs, and yelled “Grampa!”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Da Vinci's Brain

I went to the exhibition of da Vinci's machines on Saturday. Someone had come up with the bright idea of building the machines from da Vinci's notebooks (no,I'm not talking about Albert da Vinci, bricklayer, of Mangaweka. I'm talking about his Italian cousin, Len.) and displaying them.
It seems fairly certain that, like Einstein (Al Einstein, that is. Not Zac Einstein, terracotta tilemaker of Dunedin.), da Vinci had roughly the same amount of brain as the rest of us mortals.
Around 1200 grams, that is, for a man. Women have slightly less, but they use more of it.
In fact, such are the similarities between us all.. on a biological, cellular, and molecular level) that we can pretty well say that we are one and the same creatures, all of us. We are legion.
The differences between an Esquimeaux (that's what they call themselves, innit? I intuit that is is so..) and a South African Bushman are insignificant.
A DNA particle here, a DNA widget there. And there's something in those indescribably small parts that makes the difference between a da Vinci and a Chuckles Manson, an Einstein and an Eichmann.

Providing we accept that the brain is the centre of the mind (there are cogent arguments for there being different seats of reason. Man's second head, for instance.) then we have to acknowledge that minor differences make for major changes. After all, there is no black and white about the brain: it is a grey area. Sorry. I've been saving that one. Perhaps I should have kept it to myself.

But is it genealogical? Is it nature? What about nurture? Neither dV nor E were, it seems, granted spectacularly brilliant or supportive parents. They just were what they were.

Some would point to this as being a proof of a god... but if that were so, one would expect E and dV to have been aware of it: and Einstein was definitely an atheist, and it's been nicely argued that da Vinci was, as well. As well as Shakespeare, that is.

Anyway. I've read that all it takes to be a successful god-botherer is to have the ability (or gullibility?) to believe in three impossible before breakfast. Da Vinci, it seems, was capable of having three world-changing ideas before the morning candle was lit. Einstein and Shakespeare, of course, knew the mind of god, and both found it wanting - invented, as it had been, by power-hungry politicians of little human ability.

The da Vinci exhibit was startling. I went with my friends Reg and Rolls. They both came out looking as I felt: stunned. Like a trio of mullets.

The following day I went, with my love, to a memorial exhibition bought and paid for by the Belgian government: Passchendaele. The Belgians, bless 'em, remember that New Zealand lost the cream of her manhood there in the First World War. From a country of less that a million souls over 100,000 men went overseas to fight. That was 50% of our breeding stock. We lost 18,000: and there is no way we can blame sloppy Pommy generalship. The nation loved it. But we're still paying the piper, even now, nearly 100 years later. Nearly 5% of the Nation's population was either killed or wounded (more than any other nation's, bar none.). An Army battalion was taken from the line after suffering that sort of casualty rate.

The ANZACs, the Diggers, were involved in ten major battles during World War One in Turkey and the Western Front, and they died in droves. Our men, men who should have been our ancestors, stood and faced the enemy, side by side, pakeha and Maori, Aussie and Kiwi: and we died equally. I came from the memorial wanting to weep.

Belgium remembers. Thankyou, Belgium.

LISTENING TO: Instrumental Memories, various artists. A collection of instrumental numbers from the 50s and 60s. They are quite brilliant: the Mac's "Albatross" is playing right not now.

READING: Ted Dekker's "Saint". This is one of his really, really, really good ones.

WORD OF THE DAY: Centenarian. Some bastard saw fit to tie a 103-year old to her bed, with a knotted sheet. Shit. Disgust barely comes into it. A person like that deserves to be kicked for a couple of parasangs.

More RATS.

It was while pondering this enormous question that he realised his eye had slipped, and he had to start counting again.
Arthur Tomlinson was made to be an outdoors boy. There were no dangers in the great New Zealand outdoors, save perhaps the odd Captain Cooker pig in the hills, descended from some wily old porkers that had either managed to escape the edge of the butchers knife when Cook had landed a couple of hundred years ago, or had been set free by settlers just forty years ago.
So intent had the lad been on counting his lucky stars that the fire escaped his attention. The old dunny was a good fifty yards down a track, leaving the house sheltered from view by some flax and a few huge Totara and Rimu trees. When the old man found him, fast asleep, leaning against the back wall of the toilet, he’d wept.
Grampa Smith wasn’t a man who wept easily. He, too, was an uncomplicated kind of cove. What you saw was what you got.
As it was with Arthur. What you saw was a man of medium height, no more than five-nine. Well built, with wide shoulders and thick, ropey muscles on his arms and legs. He had a fine layer of fat under his skin: raised, as he was, on butter, the best pork dripping, mutton roasts, milk by the gallon, cheese by the pound, and vegetables by the barrow-full, he always had a bit stored away for those long weekends he spent in the bush.
Arthur was reasonably well educated for a man of his time. The old man had had the boy reading well before he started school at age six, and he was strict about the lad doing his homework.
“You get one chance at most things, Arthur,” he'd say. “You’ll take the education that’s on offer, and you’ll be thankful for it.”
“Righto, Grampa Smith.”
If ever there was a person for whom the adjective “practical” was invented, it was Arthur Tomlinson. He saw a task, and he sat and figured out a way of getting the job done. He was fearful of few things: letting Grampa Smith down was chief among them.
The war was omnipresent. It was what everyone thought of when they rose from their beds, and what they prayed about when they retired from the day's labours. Patriotism was rife, and women were looking hard at every able-bodied man in town, especially those who could handle a rifle. A number of men were already serving, and rumours of a new front somewhere in Turkey were being confirmed. Every evening, as the hu-hu moths fought to spend a few bright minutes in the light of Grampa's kerosene lantern, he and Arthur talked about the war, and what sort of role Arthur should or could play.
Arthur Tomlinson was no stranger to killing. He often went into the hills behind Northridge and usually returned with a gutted pig or deer carcase. He took no dog with him. He despised dogs for their slavish attitude, and he despised hunters who needed a dog to help bring down the quarry. Either the shot was there, or it wasn’t. A hunter who set a dog against a deer ruined the meat. A man who set a dog against a pig was looking to own a dead dog – and ruined meat. An animal that’s been killed while in a panic or rage will have muscles that have been marinated in adrenalin, and the meat is tainted, tough, and tastes of fear and rage. Shoot the beast when it’s unaware it’s in peril, and the meat will be fine.
So Arthur continually practiced his skills with a rifle. He shot prone, he shot standing, he shot at the kneel, and he shot sitting on his rump. Almost every shot he made would arrive on target. He slipped up every now and then, and when he did he’d note the shot in his note-book, recording everything: the wind, the humidity, what load he’d put into the cartridge when he’d put the bullet together.
Arthur Tomlinson was as complex as a knife. Handle and blade. Utilitarian. Solid. Honest. Neither good nor bad-looking: his plain face would disappear in a crowd of three. It was a broad face, with widely-spaced eyes – the gift that gave him such excellent eyesight. The more widely the lenses are separated, the better the parallax will be. His focal length was phenomenal, and everything he saw was in perfect 3-D. His hair matched his brown eyes, and his skin took a tan readily, which meant he was often mistaken, by strangers, to be a Maori.
On the day the first ANZAC troops, volunteers all, landed at Gallipoli, Arthur was having a few problems of his own.