Tuesday, December 29, 2009
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 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
5. landline phones
6. film and film cameras
7. Yellow Pages and address books
9. fax machines
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!
“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
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
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?”
“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
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.
WORD OF THE DAY: Relax.
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 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.
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
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.
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
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.
“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
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.
WORD OF THE DAY: Hubris.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.