Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunday Scribbles XXI

The Notebook: if you've seen the film, you'll know what I'm talking about. I met a couple the other day, at a second-level retirement "home", who brought the reality of the movie home to me forcefully. These places aren't homes, of course. They're institutions for desperate people, most of whom are too enfeebled by circumstances to look after themselves. But I digress. This elderly couple were charming. He reminded me of the chap in The Vicar of Dibley.. No, no, no. no. yes.. and she was another caricature: the vague older persop, always confused. Funny, until you actually meet them. In this case, the lady was permanently bewildered, and he was her staunch, loving support. She is obnviously descending into the hell that is Alzheimers, and he is always by her side. She was constantly on the edge of panic, not knowing what was really happening, and he was simply there, being patient, talking to her, never condescending, always caring. Bugger. Old age often isn't graceful.

Katzenbach: I finished "Hart's War". I think it's the first time that I've finished a book, then wanted to go straight back to page one to start it again. Jenny ripped it out of my hands, anxious to get her hands on it. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Katzenbach II: I also learnt something about writing dialogue from the book, as well. The author is a master at making dialogue between his chatracters involve the reader - in other words, I felt as though I was contributing.

I Believe: On Tuesday, I'll be back for my "I Believe" series. I'm actually very excited about this idea - this may, indeed, be what the blog has always been about. And I know where it all began - with the Socrates Wine Club, in Taupo. For the first time in my life I was actually examining my principles, and sharing those thoughts with other people. How I wish you'd been there.

Reading: Nothing, right now. But thinking hard about "Hart's War", and "Rats".

Listening to: Ian Anderson, "Rupi's Dance". His best solo album.

Word of the Day: curmudgeon. I enjoy being one, but sometimes fail miserably at it.

More RATS:

He ejected the final cartridge, said “hmm,” picked up his brass, and shoved it into his pocket.
He fed five more bullets into the magazine, walked ahead fifty yards, and knelt. The target-rats had by now fixed a fresh target to the frame, and were rasing it as he got to the fifty yard mark He called out to them, telling them not to point to where his bullets hit. He could see that well enough from this distance. He waited until he heard their response, flicked the rifle-strap around his left wrist again, and swept the rifle up to his right shoulder. His arse was firmly planted on his right heel, and his left elbow was locked onto his left knee.
The five shots came in a blur, less than a second apart. Squeeze, flick the bolt up with the thumb, allow it to spring back and eject the shell, then sweep it forward, again with the thumb, and lock it down with a fresh bullet in the breech. Squeeze. Repeat as necessary. Arthur was showing off, and he knew it. He stood, and started the walk back to the 100 yard line, as Ken Swain fired his second round.
All five of Arthur’s bullets had gone through the same hole.
At fifty yards, four of Swain’s were on-target. His first round had gone high and to the left.
There were now over two hundred men watching the competition, and money was changing hands. The bets were now whether or not Arthur Tomlinson’s last fifteen shots would be on-target: that he was a better shot than Swain had already been established.
Arthur waited for Swain to come back to the firing line, made sure the safety was engaged, and then stripped two five-round clips into his rifle’s spring magazine, filling it to capacity. The balance of the weapon had changed now. Arthur hefted the rifle, then worked the bolt, ejecting five of the bullets. Adam Perry, his sergeant, fed the bullets onto a clip, and tossed it onto the ground. Arthur lay down, finding his prone position again, then shot an encouraging grin at Swain. “You’re a good shot, Ken. And I reckon you could be a very good shot, if you wouldn’t mind a few pointers.”
“You’re on, Arthur.”
“After the bet, then?”
Arthur picked up the clip from the ground, blew on it to loosen a couple of stray crumbs of dirt, and put it into the rolled-up cuff of his left sleeve. Once again, his five shots rattled away in a heartbeat. Once again – no. Four shots on-target, the last rising a hair’s breadth to the right.
“Barrel’s too warm, I reckon,” said Arthur to himself. He stripped the bolt out, and blew down the barrel a moment, then turned the weapon around and looked down the barrel. He grunted. It was starting to foul up. Swain had fired his last round, firing prone. He was starting to get a little ragged: only two bullet found the bull’s eye.
Arthur re-placed the bolt, fed five bullets into the magazine, and sat on the stony soil, facing the target. He brought his knees up, knees bent at a 45 degree angles. Twist the strap around his forearm, slap said forearm hard against the left thigh. This is probably the most uncomfortable way to shoot, and Arthur hated it. Five rounds, slow fire: five bull’s-eyes.
Ken Swain’s last five rounds were scattered about the target. Had he been shooting in anger, only three would have inflicted major harm on an opponent. Good shooting, but not good enough.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I Believe, Two

I believe that burning dead people is a terrible waste of fossil fuels, and that we should look for more ecologically sound ways of returning our mortal remains to the eco-system. I, for instance, would be more than happy to be turfed off the side of a boat, into some deep underwater trench.

It may mean adding a few kilograms of steel weight to my ankles, to make sure I’d sink, but I reckon that if the place was well chosen, I’d be fish-shit in no time at all. Perhaps a few areas could be designated “Dead People Zones”. Fishing trawlers would have to keep clear (eating fish that have eaten people may be a bit of a turn–off for some people), and if a sudden earthquake caused the trench to chuck out all the old bones, at least there’d be a logical explanation for the CSI folk when various femurs and pelvic arches were washed ashore.

I do not, under any circumstances, want a coffin. A sturdy bag, made from a bio-degradable substance… silk, I think: far better for the planet than cotton. Perhaps linen. And colourful! A rainbow or two, a flower.. whatever. Just no black, brown, or any permutations therein. And with sturdy straps for the carrying bit, and a way of opening the end so I just slip out, and into the briny.

The bag can then be re-used, or hung up as a wall-hanging. Perhaps it could have stitched upon it “This is Allan’s bag. Once he was alive. Now he’s dead.” A fine epitaph, indeed.

Eco-burial’s cool, but not a number-one preference. If the sea option’s not on, then bury me (in that bag) shallow, atop a metre of brushwood. Then - no headstone, but a tree. Hmm. A native. Rimu, tawa, or a gnarly old kahikatea. Yeah. That works.

READING: "Hart's War", John Katzenbach. It seems I find a really good book once a year. this could be 2010's. It was made into a movie, which I haven't seen: a Bruce Willis flick with no explosions or gratuitous violence? What's the point?

LISTENING TO: David Bowie, "Hours". I think it's the only Bowie album I own. Don't ask me why, 'cause I don't know.

LAUGH OF THE DAY: Telecom's XT network. Those bozoes really can't do anything right, can they? What's an XT customer? Ex-Telecom...

RATS: I'm gonna finish it. And I'm gonna write the play at the same time. Perhaps alternating lines....

So - more RATS!

The boy grunted as he got to his feet. “But I reckon most stories is just bullpucky, eh. So I’ve got five bob saying you can’t beat Ken Swain. He’s the best shot we’ve got in the whole bloody Company mate, no question. And you’re a Zambuck, mate. Not even a proper soldier.”
Arthur smiled at the boy. 19 years old, and so wise. He was right: most shooting stories were pure bull-puckey. But Arthur had never told any tales about his own skill with a rifle, and never would. A crowd of khaki-clad men was slowly congregating around the group. More young men were drifting over, looking for a little diversion to help them through another grinding day.
The red flags were flying, and Arthur estimated the wind at a little under five miles per hour, coming left to right, and slightly down-range. The two men had decided to spend their first five rounds at the one hundred yard range. The sergeant blew on his silver whistle, alerting the target-rats, who pulled on their ropes and hoisted the paper target frames up from their trench. Arthur felt the ground under his body, adjusted the rear leaf sight to ‘100’, and prepared to fire. His elbows were solidly dug into the ground, his hip-bones had a hard contact with the soil, and his legs were spread apart at an exact 30 degrees, toes pointed outward. He wrapped the rifle’s sling around his left wrist, and shook it down his forearm until it tightened nicely. His left palm accepted the weight of the rifle, and his right hand tugged the rifle’s hard brass butt into his shoulder. Now, he looked up, and through the dull brass sights. The tangent leaf rear sight was precisely pierced, the hole precisely 1/16th of an inch across. He looked through the tiny hole, along the 25 inches of the barrel, through the blade of the foresight, and held the aim right on the black spot that was the bull’s-eye. At 100 yards, the small solid black disk of the bull’s-eye was almost invisible.
Arthur held fire a moment, not even quivering when Ken Swain’s rifle barked. He interrogated his body, and found that everything was as it should be: he was welded to the rifle, nailed to the ground. His finger squeezed softly, and he felt the trigger-shear break, releasing the firing pin on its ¼ inch journey. The pin slapped into the base of the cartridge, causing the mercury fulminate primer to spark, which in turn ignited the 33 grains of gunpowder and cordite, which expanded into a searing hot gas instantly, unlocking the bullet from the grip of the brass cartridge and sending it down the spiral-cuts of the precision engineered barrel, to burst into the air with an ear-shattering crack, and speed to the target. Less than a hundredth of a second later, the bullet pierced the paper target, two inches to the lower left of the bull’s-eye. The target-rat raised his red pointer, and showed Arthur where the bullet had struck.
His eyes flicked to Ken Swain’s target. He had shot well: a whisker above and to the right of the bull’s-eye.
Swain fired again. Arthur waited for the result: low, and to the left, maybe an inch off the bull.
Arthur fired: low, and to the left, maybe an inch off the bull.
Swain fired: plumb in the centre.
Arthur worked his bolt, ejecting his second cartridge, and almost instantly fired again. Middle for diddle, right on the bull’s centre. Swain fired his fourth round. It hit between his first and third shots. Arthur’s shot hit exactly between his first and third shots. Swain fired his last sighting round. Low, and to the left, three inches off target.
Arthur’s last bullet went low and to the left. Three inches off target.
He ejected the final cartridge, said “hmm,” picked up his brass, and shoved it into his pocket.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I Believe, Part 1

I am going to do a few blogs on things I believe. They are not things I know, because I don't know, beyond doubt. But I strongly suspect I’m right, because I have seen some evidence - and, because of that suspicion, I am prepared to make a stand. I am also more than willing to back away from the stand if I read any compelling evidence that contradicts my belief. I think that finally I am learning to understand and conquer my prejudices. And not before time.

Many polls are humbug, and are designed, I believe, to not merely mislead people, but to influence the way they think. I recently read a poll on an English news website that stated that polls indicated that 55% of all Brits believed that Tony Blair and his advisors lied when they made their justifications for going to war in Iraq. The tone of the article was that if a majority of people believed thusly, then it must be true.

Of course, this is not the case. It merely states that 55% of all Brits believe this to be true. Evidence of belief is not evidence of existence.

I think that it behooves us to be extraordinarily wary (Yea! Even unto the point of cynicism..) when reading poll results. We should be demanding to see the questions that were asked – to decide if they were leading the correspondent to make a particular statement – and to see a fair representation of the answers.

Political poll results are particularly troublesome, and can have far-reaching effects. People are –(and I include myself in this statement) fairly easily persuaded.. and if I continue hearing that the polls are suggesting such-and-such a result, then I may well be swayed against my own better inclinations. This is, of course, a function of great age and ditheriness.

READING: “Inferno”, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In it, a science-fiction writer dies and goes to hell, waking up in the Vestibule of Hell… and finds (as he attempts to escape) that he must descend thropugh a number of layers of hell. Yes folks, it’s Dante’s Infernal Comedy, but made funny. Incidentally, Jenny’s reading the real thing. Incidentally - having finished the Deighton book "Fighter", I now understand why Parks is considered the hero that he was.

LISTENING TO: The world’s greatest Choral bits. FM! Astonishing! 18th century Rock n Roll!

WORD OF THE DAY: Choral. FM! FM is an abbreviation, the second word of which is “Me”.

More RATS!

“Reckon I could, Sergeant,” Arthur said, sealing his fate.
“Tell you what,” said Perry. “I’ve got a ten quid here says you couldn’t.”
“I’m not a betting man, Sergeant,” said Arthur. “And if I had ten quid, I’d probably find a better home for it.”
“Come on, boys,” said Tiny O'Hara, a great bear of a man. “I’ve heard that Arthur’s a crack shot. Always came home with a bit of meat for the pot. What do you reckon?” Tiny O’Hara had been a regular at Northridge’s Royal pub.
The twentyfive men didn’t need any encouragement. They whipped the cap around, and counted up the proceeding. Swain shot Arthur a grin, and said “Make it seven pound, Sargeant, and we’ll take your bet, ‘orright?”
Perry smiled, and said “OK. We’ll go to the range tomorrow.”
Arthur was, to say the least, alarmed. He’d be using a rifle he wasn’t used to – and he was going to be shooting to make some cash for his friends. Men to whom even a florin was a decent bit of cash.
“Look, Sarge, if it’s all right with you, let’s just change the subject, ‘orright?” He didn’t want the Army to know that he could shoot. But Perry was insistent. “Come on, Tomlinson. You can’t let your cobbers down. You’re not betting, and I appreciate a man’s got his morals, but think of your mates.”
The men cried a “huzzah” and cheered the Sergeant on.
Arthur backed down. “All right, then, Sergeant. But I’d appreciate it if I could put five rounds through the rifle before the bet starts. To get a feel for it. I ain't fired a rifle since I put on the khaki. Ain't my job.”
“Done,” cried the Sergeant. “Done, and bloody well done. Good man.”
It was set up for the next day, a half-hour after dawn. Both Arthur and Ken Swain were to fire twenty-five rounds each: the first five to get a feel for the weapon, the second five to be fired, kneeling, at 50 yards, then five prone at 100, and the fourth five sitting at one hundred yards, and the final five to be the real test: prone, 500 yards.
Arthur had taken the rifle, feeling the weight of it, liking the balance. With the box magazine loaded with just five rounds – half its capacity – the rifle weighed in at just over 8 and a half pounds. All the wood-work on the weapon was oak. The butt was hollowed, and carried all the tools necessary to maintain it: oil, pull-through, brush, rag, and a small screwdriver. A heavy brass plate covered the butt, and sealed the tools in, protecting them from the weather. The heavily blued barrel, made from the best Sheffield steel, was iron-strapped to the yellow-oak stock, the rigidity helping maintain accuracy. The wood had to be kept well oiled, otherwise it may swell with moisture, and twist the barrel in its mountings, throwing the aim off. An adequate rifleman would work the bolt with his right hand, reaching up to slide the bolt handle up, back, then forward, and then lock it, all the while holding the butt against his shoulder with his left hand. It was very similar to the Mauser bolt that Arthur was used to, but smoother and faster in action. A very good rifleman, or someone with large and strong hands, could operate the bolt with a flick of his thumb, maintaining his grip on the weapon.
Arthur was a very, very good rifle man – and his hands were large and strong.
The morning was cool, and there was a heavy dew on the firing range, slowly steaming and obscuring the targets. The air was moving in eddies, fitful and feverish. The early sun burnt at the back of Arthur’s neck. He breathed in, savouring the air: clean and crisp, with an overlay of hundreds of rounds fired. The smell of gunpowder and cordite had been pounded into the soil.
The platoon had all gathered: seven quid was a lot of money.
Even at this early hour, most of the butts were already occupied, and there was a steady rattle and crash of musketry. Arthur looked at the range, and went to where a man lay, preparing to fire. Arthur gently kicked the sole of the man’s boot, and said “Hold it, lad. You’re gunna bugger that shot up. Let me show you how it’s done.”
The boys put the safety on, and rolled over to look up at Arthur. “You’re the joker everyone’s all got a bob or two on, ain’t you?”
“What?” said Arthur, stunned. “There’s a bit of a bet going on with the second platoon, that’s all.”
“No, mate. I’m in the third, and we all heard about it. Apparently you’re some wizard with a rifle, an’ if half the tales I’ve heard about you is even half-true, I’d bet a bob or two on you myself.” The buy grunted as he got to his feet. “But I reckon most stories is just bullpucky, eh. So I’ve got five bob saying you can’t beat Ken Swain. He’s the best shot we’ve got in the whole bloody Company mate, no question. And you’re a Zambuck, mate. Not even a proper soldier.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sunday Scribbles XX

I fought against it, but not too hard: I went to see "Avatar" with the lovely Jenny. I fought because I really, really didn't like that movie James Cameron made about the boat. He's had to spend an astonishing amoutn of money, but he has redeemed himself. "Avatar" is brilliant. The story's as weak as water: sci-fi at the level of a Kevin J Anderson yarn... but beautifully done. And the big blue cat people? Gorgeous. I want one. Perhaps more my size, though. I doubt that I'll buy the DVD, though. I really think that it needs to be seen on a huge screen, and I only have a little one. Story of my life.

Speaking of stories: I may have to break one of my New Year Resolutions. I'm going to postpone writing any more of "Rats"... I'm burning up with a new play that I want to get done. I still have a few more chapters of Rats in the can, so I'll keep eking them out here... maybe I can keep both goinbg. I don't know yet.

TOA says: Yes, you do. Don't lie! You want to drop Rats, and write the play. Don't try and make yourself a martyr to your art, because you're not.

Haiti. I've heard people say "they should parachute, or air-drop, the goods to the people?" Or "They should send the aid in through the Dominican republic.". I doubt very much that any option we can think of here hasn't actually been thought of by the experts on the ground, but there you are. I'm as guilty as the next guy when it comes to armchair sportsmanship - I'd make a far better All Black or Black Cap than any of the no-hopers who are currently playing (with the possible exception of Danny Vettori, who is truly god-like) but I have to admit that the problems involved in getting aid to tose in need are best left in the competent hands of the US Army's logistical experts...

Richard Dawkins has been instrumental in establishing a non-faith-based charity. At the very least, he's thrown his enthusiastic support behind it, by promisiing to pay the PayPal fees (up to a limit of US$10,000) of the new organisation. They aim to see any moneys collected will go to Doctors Without Borders, and the International Red Cross, both of which are thoroughly secular, with no ties to any religious organisation. The name of the new charitable collection escapes me, but i have to wonder why it's been set up. Surely they should simply recommend us sending our cash to those two organisations... the Richard D. coudld simply write out a couple of cheques to the Red Cross and the borderless doctors... rather than giving it to a bloody bank.

Met a man the other day. He's in his early 30s, has a child of around 18 months, and a lovely wife. He also has a brain tumour that's going to kill him within six months. He went blin ten days ago, and his hospice contacted me to see if I could help. So i went and chatted with them, and went back to my little van and had a quiet sob. I am extraordinarily privileged tomeet such people, and witness their courage. People really are astonishing.

Great Radio! As commercial radio seems to have lost its way in making great music programmes, going simply for the safe options, it was left to dear olf dowdy RNZ National to make the best music radio programme I've heard in years. I've been a big fan of their summertime "matinee Idle" programme since they started it six years ago. It gets better every year. It's a shame it's only on for a short time over the summer break - the hosts are brilliant (personality radio!) and the music they play bis inspired. Often bloody awful, more often bloody brilliant.

READING: Len Deighton's history of the Battleof Britain, "Fighter". He only wrote three pieces of non-fiction - a cookbook, a history of the Blitzkreig, and this one. I read it when it was first published in paperback, 30 years ago. Re-reading it now re-affirms to me how vital New Zealander Keith Parks was to the defence of Britain during those evil days... but Parks' boss, Hugh Dowding, may have been more influential.

POET I'M READING: Stephen Oliver. I knew Steve many years ago: he did the best impression of Idi Amin ever. He (and occasionally I) wrote a series of comic vignettes for play on the radio. His poetry is salty, and satirical.

LISTENING TO: Neil Young, "Greendale".

WORD OF THE DAY: Narvi. I wonder how many people are going to name their cats "Narvi" over the next few years?


Cordite made a man crook; gunpowder gave the cheap tea-leaves some extra bite.
The conversation was light, and filled with young men’s posturing. One of the men, a lean, olive-skinned individual who fancied himself as a man-killer, was boasting about his shooting. The rough khaki battledress itched like the blazes, and Arthur grunted as he scratched and said “Show us your target, then.”
Kenneth Albert Swain grinned, and pulled a tattered bit of grey paper from his pocket. “There you go, Arthur. Five shots, five clean holes as close to the bullseye as it doesn’t matter. Nailed that little bugger from 100 yards.”
“Well,” said Arthur, looking carefully at the scrap of paper. “It does matter.”
He put the target over his khaki battledress jacket, and pointed with a grubby forefinger. “Look at this. This shot would’ve gone through the lung, meaning the soldier’d die a terrible death, drowning in his own blood. These two would have blown on through, mangling the man’s shoulder blade and totally buggering up his life. This one – well, it would’ve killed him, pro’lly. The last shot here would’ve just skidded around him, busting a couple of ribs, and he would’ve been made as mad as a bloody wasp’s nest you’d kicked over.”
“Well how’d you know that, then, smart-arse,” asked Swain, as he grabbed the billy and started pouring the tea into a line-up of enamel mugs.
“I’ve hunted all my life, Ken. Here, leave a bit a room for some condensed milk. I’be got some in my pack. No, If I ever shot this badly, Old Man Smith’d be a disappointed man. And if there’s one thing I never ever wanted to do, it was disappoint him.”
“Why’s that, Arthur?” asked Rogers, a new man to the platoon. “Would he kick your arse?”
Arthur was shocked. He realised he’d had a different upbringing to so many of these young men. “No, ‘course he wouldn’t. He never once laid a finger on me. Never once hit me. No, it’s just – well, he raised me and loved me, and, well, that’s why.”
There was a silence in the group of men, broken by the odd rumiinative slurp at an enamel cup as the afternoon’s brew was got down. Arthur had noticed this before: they were a tough bunch of young men, and any mention of the softer emotions scared them.
Adam Perry, the platoon Sergeant, broke the silence with a cough. “So you reckon you could shoot better than Swain? He’s the best shot of all this hopeless lot.”
“Reckon I could, Sergeant,” Arthur said, sealing his fate.

Monday, January 18, 2010


I was listening to a few Paul Simon songs the other day, and I was struck by the opening lines to his song “Duncan”.

“Lincoln Duncan is my name

And here’s my song, here’s my song.”

The implication is that the narrator of the song, Lincoln Duncan, has a song.. and that possibly we all have a song, if we should choose to look for it. That thought continued, and got itself mixed up with another project that’s been rattling around the back of the cranium: that of bringing the internal dialogue to life.

We all have an inner dialogue. Some call it our conscience, some may think it’s proof positive of schizophrenia, or multiple personalities (not the same things), some may superstitiously believe it’s their guardian angel.

My own opinion is that my internal dialogue is a full-time chat between me and my censor. I learned fairly early on that it was advisable not to be too honest. That it was generally best to modify statements before I make them.

And I also think that it’s possible that this inner blue-nose is also one’s song: the actual person. The naked person. The raw person.

This blog has, generally speaking, been an honest and frank discussion. I’ve written things here that I wouldn’t necessarily say in a general conversation around a dinner table. Yet I have to admit that, while writing it, i continuaslly censor myself. Not in the use of “bad” language: if I feel it necessary to drop in the “f” word or the “c” cord, then I’ll do so.

But hang on - note that “if I feel it necessary” in the previous sentence. I know that I often wimp out. I don’t say what I really, really think. So yes, I’ve been slowly becoming aware that I’m not entirely satisfied with the level of disclosure.

Now, and in the future, you’re going to see the odd line inserted from TOA – The Other Allan. (Perhaps “The Real Allan”?) He/I’ll be saying what I really think, and pulling no punches. Writing this down has made me nervous: TOA is worried about what people will think of him. Well, it’s about time I found out. I’m 57 years old, for heaven’s sake, and I’m probably a little too anal about apostrophes and commas. I am certainly too worried about what people think of me. I don't really have self-belief. Or the courage to let others see the real me. But, what the hell. The friends who read this blog to keep up with my blitherings will simply have to accept they’ll be learning a bit more about me than they probably want to know, and for the few strangers who read this… well, at least you may have some slightly less than dull jokes to tell at the next cocktail party you attend “Oh, I read this blog written by this total jerk-off in New Zealand… and he said that he reckons that every newsreader on TV needs a swift kick in the cunt…” Anyway, you now know what to expect if you see something from TOA. It’ll be interesting to see how long my courage holds.

I found a couple of articles / blogs / things that I reckon you'd like.

Actually, my niece tipped me onto the last one. I nearly ruptured my spleen laughing.

LISTENING TO: John Fogerty, "Revival". Swamp rock / blues. Excellent.

READING: James Rollins, "Sandstorm". Every now and then you need a speed-read thriller, and Rollins simpy never disappoints. Within the first 60 pages we've had 3 murders, a suicide, a ball-lighning (or was it?) explosion, the British Museum half burnt down, a mysterious ghostly death in the Sahara Desert, an aristro taking methamphetamines, an Indiana Jones look-alike in a Hamilton Jet boat race down the Yangtse River, an EMP grenade, Chinese spies, sinister Bedouins, and at least onemention of New Zealand. Things will, I hope, hot up soon.

WORD OF THE DAY: Corkscrew. The theory at work at work is that Prinny Charles' corkscrew-shaped penis is what caused Diana to go all twisted. Could be.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: And here's a quote from one Jennifer Love Hewitt, who was chatting to some talk show host about her new book about relationships: "After a breakup, a friend of mine Swarovski-crystalled my precious lady," she said. "It shined like a disco ball so I have a whole chapter in there on how women should vagazzle their vajayjays."
A gay friend of mine tells me we can thank Operetta Winifred for the word "vajayjay". Sigh.


Arthur Tomlinson, blacksmith, had entered the room a mere half-hour ago. Arthur Tomlinson, soldier, left it, head hanging low.

By the time twenty minutes had past, Arthur Tomlinson had told his Grampa, who’d sat heavily on the kitchen chair and sighed, deeply. “Well, boy, you’ve gone and done it, so there’s nothing to be said. But you’re sure?”
“No, Grampa, I ain’t sure. But I can’t see that I’ve any alternative. I can't go to prison, I just can't. And the Sergeant did say that I’d be certain to go into the Red Cross: you know, helping the wounded and sick.”
The old man sighed heavily. He looked at his ward, and saw an open and guileless lad, someone who had an innate belief in the goodness of his fellow man. “I hope you’re right, Arthur. I hope you’re right.”
Arthur nodded, absolutely certain that he’d made the right decision, and went to the Royal, where he drank, and was absolutely certain that he’d made the worst decision of his life.

Chapter Five

“He’s a bloody fool, is what he is,” said Jayne Francis. “There’s no other bloody word for it. A bloody, bloody fool.” A tear trickled down her cheek. She wondered just how bloody the bloody fool would become.
Gerald Smith sighed, and said, “Yes, I suppose you’re right. But there’s no turning back, is there.” It was a flat statement, not a question. He waved a hand in the air, helplessly, and then ran his palm over his head, enjoying the feel of his hands’ deep calluses scraping against his bald pate. “We often talked about it, you know. I’m against the war, you’ll know that, Miss Jayne.” Again, a rhetorical statement: both of them had argued the same pacifist platitudes against the jingoistic platitudes that were regularly trotted out at the poker evenings. Gerald Smith had been mildly surprised to find that Judge Weatherby shared their point of view. The judge’s son George Weatherby had been overseas for four months now, training in Egypt, preparing to rout Johnny Turk and Fritz the German from the great oceans of sand that lay over the great lakes of oil in Saharan Africa.
The great movers and shakers in England had other ideas, however, and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force found itself aboard ship, heading for Blighty.
The excitement among the troops was, of course, intense. Most of them had been born in New Zealand, but considered England to be their true home. It was the heart of the greatest Empire mankind had ever seen, and they were going there, to breathe in the air they had heard and read about: the clean and pure air of freedom.
Meanwhile, Arthur was writing home to Old Man Smith every day from the training camp at Trentham. So far, it looked as though the Army was holding true to its promise. He was becoming a better than average First Aid man, learning how to set a broken bone, how to apply pressure to a wound, how to apply a tourniquet, how to pinch an artery.
He learned how to run under fire, how to keep his helper with him. How to fall to ground, and drag the stretcher behind him, and to make decisions in the field that would affect another’s life. Or, if it came to it, death.
Then, one fine day when the sun shone and the bellbirds were kicking up a fuss, he made a boast that would one day send him quite mad.
The platoon of 25 trainees had been put on a forced march, eighteen miles in full kit, wearing the bloody great hob-nailed boots that chafed a man’s feet raw. They’d slogged the length of the Hutt Valley, and climbed a bit into the Rimutaka Hills, and collapsed on the bank of a quick-running creek. Sanders produced a billy, and Arthur dipped into his pack for the tea. It was only Smooch, the cheapest and rawest tea the Government could find, but on a hot day it was as good as nectar. The billy was boiled, and the tea leaves scattered over the rolling water. Arthur broke a .303 round, and poured the gunpowder into the water, being careful to keep the thin strip of cordite in the cartridge. Cordite made a man crook; gunpowder gave the cheap tea-leaves some extra bite.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sunday Scribbles IXX

Haiti. Where the livin' is dreadful, and the dying is easy. Each one of us is powerless in a situation like this. The devastation of the Boxing Day Tsunami, a few years ago... the tens of thousands who died in China in their earthquake a year or so later. Now this. Our government has pledged the usual initial million bucks, and will undoubtedly send more as the situation becomes clearer. We're a tiny nation, at the bottom of the world: there's not much we can actually do, but every little bit helps.

My concern is this: the corruption and venality that have been the driving forces behind governance in Haiti for the past century or so have led directly to the appalling death toll there. There is no reason or excuse for Haiti being one of the poorest countries in the world, and for the average wage to be around NZ$1.25 a day. The place has been ruled by cruel gang-lords, criminals, and magic-peddlers since the early 20th century... and that lack of civil rights and civil rule has led directly to the situation they find themselves in now. We, or course, are only slightly less culpable: we've all stood by and done nothing - mainly because we'd get nothing out of interfering in this so-called "independant" nation's activities.

But what about the UN? We've signed up to various UN statutes and treaties. Are they toothless? The Rights of the Individual, the Rights of Children, bla blah blah... We all acknowledge that no child should live in conditions like those of Haiti, Ethiopia, Chad, Mogadishu, and so on... but what do we do about it? I'm not suggesting that we should send in heavily armed men and women to impose civil rights on people. But we can actually insist that the UN grow some social teeth. We should arm it with sufficient funds and enable it to go out to these places and provide all the childfren with an education, and with good healthcare. Educated people become wealthy people, and wealthy people are able to build the infra-structure that will minimise the effectes of these appalling natural disasters. Wealthy and healthy people also breed less - and lowering the fertility rates of the planet's population can't be a bad thing.

We watched "Good Night and Good Luck" last night. Did my blood-pressure no end of harm. It's the story of one of TV's pioneering investigative journalists, Edward R Morrow. The theme of the movie revolves around the conflict between the interests of corporate America and the media needs of the audience. Morrow believed that there's a significant number of people who actually want to be informed... while the bean-counters maintain that all people are capable of understanding or wanting is light entertainment. Morrow was right (his programme was instrumental is bringing down the fascistis Mccarthy), but Morrow lost. And, in the process, we've all lost. I bang on about the pettiness of commercial radio and television, and how it fails everyone in the world who has an IQ that's higher than their hat size... and I know that it's all futile. Fox TV arose on the slimey back of infotainment, and rapidly overtook CNN as America's most-watched news programme. And even CNN is a blasted heath when it comes to actually investigating anything. Al Jazeera (The Terrorist's Network, according to Fox) has some very thoughtful programming, and the good old BBC also employs real journalists and occasionally allows them to have their say. Australia's ABC, our Radio New Zealand... these are government funded media outlets that have the freedom to ask the dangerous questions, and to present programmes that don't pander to the lowest denominator. Radio and Television used to be be run by people who believed they had a social obligation. They're now run by people who discovered they could extract a 33% per annum profit out of the businesses by dumbing them down. Shareholders and sponsors' interests are the priority, rather than the audience's needs. And yet here in New Zealand it's Radio New Zealand that wins all rating wars: the public actually want to be informed, and to have their questions answered. The broadcasting business is blind to social needs. It's a blindness that may bite them in their corporate arses.

Listening to: Dianne Reeves, "When You Know". DR was used in the movie mentioned above. She's a modern-day Sarah Vaughan: go find this album and liten. She's beyond brilliant.

Reading: Frank Beddor, "The Looking-Glass Wars". In which it is revealed that Charles Dodgson, a.k.a Lewis Carroll, dumbed-down Alice's story to make it more acceptable. The real story, about Alyss, civil war, insurrection, and blood is now being told. I love the conceit.

Word of the Day: Boonslang. It's a type of snake. I was reminded of the word by the "Listener" crossword. It's just fun.

More RATS.

You’ll be picking up our poor broken boys and taking them to safety, and stitching them up all right.”
Arthur was still doubtful “You’re absolutely certain of that, Mister – sorry, Sergeant Andrews? My Grampa Smith says that the Army’s full of lies and deception.”
“The very thought!” Sergeant Andrews was horrified by the calumny. He could almost taste Molly Kendrick’s quim, and he wasn’t going to let that prize go easily. His eyes narrowed, two ice-blue chips. “I can understand what you’re saying, Arthur. I know that it’s hard for folk of your persuasion. Conchies, I mean. If it were up to me, I’d pin a bloody medal on the chest of every conscientious objector in the country. Why, if every one was of a like mind, then there’d be no war, right? But they ain’t, and there is. What’s a man to do?” He sat, and looked down at the paper. Come on, he thought, just sign the fucking thing! He looked back up at Arthur Tomlinson’s honest face, and repeated “What’s a man to do?” and then answered himself. “Why – only his duty. Just his duty, that’s all. And if he sees his duty to go and help with the hurt and sick, why then – the Army understands, and will do everything it can to satisfy your conscience.”
Arthur hesitated, and the Sergeant thought “Ha! Got you!” and his prick started swelling with the thought of his reward.
“Perhaps I should talk it over a bit more with Grampa Smith and Miss Jayne,” Arthur said. The Sergeant’s dick deflated. He thought quickly.
“You already know what they’ll say, Arthur. You’re a grown man now. You’ve seen, what? 27 summers? And you need the help of others to help you make up your own mind? Why, Arthur, Arthur: if you needed to discuss everything with other folk, you’d never get ‘owt done.”
“Yes, but this is more than..”
“No it’s not,” the Sergeant insisted. “You’d already made up your mind when you stepped into this office, young Arthur. And think, man: if you go, if you sign on the dotted here, then you’ll find yourself in the same regiment as your comrades from this town of your’n. The lives you help as you skivvy about with your stretcher and gauze bandages will be of your brothers, from right here in Northridge, and from Southridge.”
Arthur stood, and turned toward the door. He gripped the brass doorknob, and stood a moment, head bowed. I either sign up now, or go to prison when the conscription comes. And I can’t do that, he thought. I can’t go to prison. And if I’m in a position to do some good, like the Lady of the Lamp, Miss Nightingale, did –
He turned back, picked up the steel-nibbed pen, dipped it into the ink-pot, and scratched his signature quickly, once, twice, thrice. God have mercy on me, he thought, as the Sergeant got a raging hard-on.
“Well done, boy. Well done,” Sergeant Andrews said. “Well done. Your country’ll thank you for this, you mark my words. You’ll march with heroes, and glory shall be your just reward.”
Arthur Tomlinson, blacksmith, had entered the room a mere half-hour ago. Arthur Tomlinson, soldier, left it, head hanging low.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


It is officially hot. Well, as official as anything gets when I make a pronouncement on it. It's still 22 degrees here, at 7.45pm. It's almost bearable.

Mind you, a few days ago Melbourne recorded their hottest minimum temperature. That doesn't even begin to want to make sense, but oddly enough i knew what they were saying. 37 degrees or something absurd. My grand-daughter's there! If she has a single gene of mine attached to her DNA, she's not a comfortable kid.

Adam sent me some photographs, though. Printed ones, not electronical ones. She is gorgeous. And hot.

The lovely Jenny and I threw caution to the wind last night, and spent up large. we went to the movies. Sherlock Holmes. Very, very good. SH as Big Clever Action Hero. Dr Watson as Big Clever Action Hero. More clever dialogue in every single five minutes than you'd find in twelve seasons of CSI Miami, New York, and Original Recipe put together. It has an excellent plot, clever bits, Holmes as a junky (as AC Doyle saw him), and positively the best explosion I've ever seen on the screen. Love interest? Yes! And it's a love interest that ACD wrote about. Good, satisfying. It's adventure movie the way the first Indiana Jones movie was.

What a Sunday we had last weekend! Three astonishingly fine people around for lunch, much wine and beer and lots of excellent food. Jenny wisely let me nowhere near the skillet: she made a chicken, pear, and cheese concoction, and baked it in many, many layers of filo pastry. A long lazy lunch on the deck has much to offer, especially when the cast of characters is made up of some of the finest people I know.

It's too early to even think about Haiti yet. Why do these things happen to the poorest people on the planet? bangladesh will be having their annual floods next.

But the time is right to call the TV3 news-writers a pack of bloody idiots. The RNZAF pilot who died today wasn't even cold, and the TV3 news-yapper (the bland blithering blonde one, or the blander blathering brunette bloke. They're interchangeable, like Lego blocks) said "An Air Force pilot crashed his high-performance plane today..." Gosh. So they already know that it was pilot error, do they? From crash to enquiry rfesult in three and a half hours: that's got to be a record. I wonder if the man's wife has been officially told that her dead husband was a fuckwit? ARE THERE NO EDITORS ANY MORE?

Listening to: Cold Chisel. Their first album. It's.... OK. trying really hard to say something political, and missing by.... that much. Good lead guitar, though. Actually verging on great.

Reading: Terry Pratchett, "Nation". This is one of the rare ones that he's actually set on a place that seems suspiciously like Earth, instead of the Discworld. So far, so excellent.

Word of the Day: Heat. I hate heat. If the temperature climbs above 23, I've a sodden, sweating, blithering mess. I probably make as much sense as a TV newsreader when conversing...

RATS continues...

She returned her purse back to her pocket, and thanked Arthur with a smile, and led the great horse away.

Chapter Four.

The recruiting Sergeant was a big, beefy man, with a drinker’s nose, and hard eyes. Blonde mutton-chop whiskers framed his round face, and his breath stank of stale beer.
It was late in the Friday afternoon, and Arthur stood nervously in front of the Sergeant’s desk. The Army maintained an office in the Town Hall, paying the council ten shillings a month for its use. The office was open every Monday and Friday: the Sergeant spent Tuesday in Huntly, travelled to Southridge on Wednesday, spent Thursday morning there, then caught the mail-boat to Northridge on the Friday morning, opening the office at mid-day. The Sergeant had enjoyed a good week: two from Northridge on Monday, four from Huntly – two sets of brothers, always the most easily caught – two from Southridge, and one more from Northridge on this fine afternoon. He had a weekly target of ten, and was paid a bonus of five shillings for every one over that. He had five bob in his pocket now, and wanted to make it a nice crisp ten shilling note. Arthur Tomlinson was his last interview, and it wasn’t going well.
“You see, Mr Andrews,’ said Arthur.
“Sergeant Andrews to you, Tomlinson.” The Sergeant growled.
“Sorry. Sergeant. You see, I’m against the whole idea of war. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“It makes sense when you have German thugs spitting French babies on their bayonets, boy, and raping the French women. Even the God-fearing nuns are being raped, you hear what I’m saying?”
“Indeed, Sergeant, and if those things are indeed happening,” Arthur was uncertain. He felt lumpen, wooden: a sullen hump. “if they are happening, Sergeant, it’s appalling. But I still can’t see that killing them will do any good.”
“It’ll stop the fuckers from doing it again, won’t it. All I need you to do is sign this paper, here and here and here,” and his nicotine-stained finger jabbed at the page that lay on the desk between them, “and you can go and slaughter the Hun, which is what he justly deserves.”
“But Sergeant – I can’t. I shan’t. I thought that if I volunteered for the Ambulance Service. You know, help with the wounded and sick. The Army must have a special group to do that?”
The Sergeant looked at the piece of paper in front of him. All he needed was for Arthur to pick up the pen and write his name three times, three measly fuckin’ times, and he had another five shillings to spend at The Crown and Anchor. Molly, the barmaid, could be had for two bob, and he reckoned on giving her a fine rogering tonight and tomorrow, and she’d be paid for by Arthur’s signature.
“If that’s all you’re worried about, son,” he said sincerely, “then take a look at this line here: Preferred Service, it says. You just put ‘ambulance’ there in your own hand-writing, and it’s as good as gold. Nothing surer, my boy. Safe as the Bank of England. You’ll be picking up our poor broken boys and taking them to safety, and stitching them up all right.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Weapons of Mass Distraction

It seems that Waleed ibn Huffwhit, the Nigerian Underpants Bomber, is being charged with a collection of crimes, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction.

I have a couple of questions: as the weapon turned out to be nothing more than a first-class testicle toaster, the American security people should be hugely relieved. It is apparent that whatever branch of al Qaeda that the dimwitted terrorist belonged to was, and probably still is, incompetent to a degree that makes the CIA look like a collection of over-acheivers. So why aren't they all doing high fives?

Secondly: exactly what is a Weapon of Mass Destruction? I thought it would have to be a nuclear weapon, or a seriously hazardous biological weapon. They were the non-existent WMDs that GW Bush started the war over, nine years ago. If they're going to claim that something that can bring down a passenger aircraft is a WMD, then why aren't they killing all Canadian Geese, Muscovy Ducks, and Black-Backed Seagulls? Why aren't they locking up everyone who buys a box-cutter? Remember what the 11/9 terrorists used? (I've started calling the incident 11/9: I found that I'd started thinking the whole sorry affair happened on the 9th of November...)

If an explosive device that has the ability to destroy an aircraft qualifies as a WMD, then the US had better disarm its entire Air Force. Now. They have gazillions of things that are designed purely to kill aircraft and everyone in them. In fact, the Americans* even gave a vast number of them to the very Afghanis that they're trying to kill right now... And given that Major or Colonel Doctor El Sicko went wacko on a US Army base a couple of months ago and shot eleventytwelve soldiers, it's not impossible to think that an F16 skyjockey could go bananas one day and sic a Sidewinder missile onto an Air New Zealand plane full of nuns. Going back a step: I wonder if the Nutzo Doctor appreciates the irony that he was laid low by a woman? Who, quite possibly, was a virgin? One of the 76 he earnestly hoped would be there to greet him on the other side of the veil..

So it occurs to me that a WMD is only something (no matter how insignificant it may be) that can be used to kill a lot of Americans*. I which case, somebody had better tell the US Government authorities about the Smith & Wesson and Colt handgun factories. Those little buggers are used to kill something like 30,000 Americans* every year.

Americans*: We all know that I mean citizens of the United States of America. But hey, let's not forget that Canadians and Mexicans also live on the North American Continent, and so are also entitled to be called American. They might smack you in the mouth if you did, mind you.. Brazilians are also Americans, but they're uniformly either stunningly beautiful or dirt poor, so can't be compared to the Ugly Blisters who live between the Mexican and Canadian borders.

Listening to: Lucinda Williams, "Essence". It remains the solidest and coolest C/W recording of all time. Plus, she's hot. Must have a Brazilian mum.

Reading: Michael Shermer, "Why People Believe Wierd Things". He's a cool dude, for someone who can't spell sceptic.

Word / Phrase of the Day: Night-terrors. I was talking to a woman today whose husband is a 91 year old ex-soldier. Paratrooper. He was dropped at Arnhem, for the gigantic FUBARred Operation Market Garden that saw many thousands of Allied soldiers captured by the Germans. He was one of them.. and to this day has bad dreams about the treatment he received in the POW camps. Anyone who suggests we don't owe that generation a huge debt needs to know about him.

More RATS! Ya-ay!

Grampa Smith had made the scones earlier in the day. He was a fair baker, and if he was going to be away he tried to leave the boy a treat to come home to. He bought his bread from the town’s baker, however. Zebediah North was the second generation of his family to operate the big ovens for Northridge in the past 40 years, and made a fine white barracuda loaf both Grampa and Arthur were particularly fond of. But, as was the case in many a small-town bakery, he also made his ovens available to housewives who would come along with their own loaf-tins filled with home-made dough. Small-town life in the earlier years of the 20th Century was remarkably different to the lifestyle of city-dwellers. Isolations and communal living meant that the entire village was dependant on each other: it took a village to raise a village. Every third home had a chook-house, and a dozen or so hens, and that house would provide eggs to its immediate neighbours. One householder might be a keen orchardist, and his trees would provide the raw fruit for his neighbours to bottle and preserve. A neighbour might raise a couple of pigs every year, and call on the butcher to slaughter and salt them, with payment being a half of one of the beasts. One might be a hunter – as Arthur was – and come home once a month with an animal carcase on his back. Meat was shared, fruit and vegetables swapped with the day’s gossip. Everyone thought they knew everyone else’s business, and everyone had their secrets they shared with no-one. The Northridge Oracle rarely had to report local goings-on, but did so anyway: it gave a man a thrill to see his daughter or son’s name in print.
Northridge was a farming village, and had come into existence to support the growing numbers of farmer in the district. The river flowed north and escaped into the Tasman Sea only fifty miles or so from the big city of Auckland. Goods came into the town by steam-boat from down-river, and also by road, in horse-drawn wagons. The odd motor car or motor-truck made it into Northridge, but they were still a relatively rare novelty for everyone. New Zealand had a number of electrified settlements at he turn of the century: Northridge wasn’t one of them. George Weatherby’s father, James, had given financial support to the council’s importation of a large coal-fired steam generator, and around half the town was wired up for electric lighting: the Weatherbys even had an electrically heated oven, which Zeb North, the baker, was greatly interested in. The local mill was investigating electricity-driven saw-blades, and an electrically heated kiln and electrically powered factory was in the process of being built by Clarrie Hume, who had figured out a way of making concrete pipes quickly and economically. New Zealand’s economy was changing rapidly, and Northridge was keeping pace.
Jayne breathed deeply, fished into her pocket to pay Arthur for his work. Her great horse had obediently raised its hoof again when Arthur took the cool shoe to her, and it was the work of just a minute or two to nil it into place, and nip off the ends of the nails.
“No charge, Miss Jayne,” the boy had said. Me and Grampa Smith always make our first job for a new customer free. It’s our way of saying welcome to Northridge, and we hope to see you again.”
Jayne was bemused. She’d never heard of this happening before. She returned her purse back to her pocket, and thanked Arthur with a smile, and led the great horse away.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Most Beautiful Car In The World.

It's a 1946 Cadillac. About a year ago, when Jenny and I were still in Taupo, I walked home after seeing this particular car. I told her that I'd seen the most beautiful car ever...

And now it's been featured in a magazine. It's (the car) owned by a very lucky (and obviously reasonably well-off) chap somewhere in Auckland. I think it's Auckland,anyway: I have seen the car once here. The magazine article very wisely didn't mention the owner's address, for fear of people like me stalking him...

The car had a 5-litre engine, and probably consumes a litre of petrol for every lamp-post it passes. Apparently the chassis, gearbox, and motor came from a WWII tank that Cadillac made during the war years. They just stuck this beautiful, gorgeous Art Deco body onto it....

I now have to figure out how to move photographs. The big problem with learning something is, of course, it tends to lead on to other things you have to learn in order to make the thing you originally learnt work properly. I had carefully put the cursor where I wanted the second picture, then did the loady-picture thing, and the second one became the first, and... oh, I don't know.

It's been a while since I had a haircut, and it's getting a tad shaggy. Jenny suggested I get a trim, and told me that I didn't want it cut short. Hmm. I could have sworn I did. I think she's more concerned about the ebbing of the hairline than I am. I couldn't, frankly, give a toss that I'm going bald. I do give a damn that I'm starting to grow what looks like the start of a comb-over....
It'll be the first anniversary of my Dad's death on the 22nd. And Mum's cat, Bella, has just upped and done a runner, so she's being left on her own again. Not good.

READING: Still on the Larry Niven book: gosh, it's good to read some good hard sci-fi. Really, really good. Speaking of sci-fi, who's read any of Brian Herbert / Thingy "dune" follow-ups? Brian's father must be spinning in his grve. They are dreadful.

LISTENING TO: Wait for it. The Shadows! Actually, it's obvious that Hank Marvin was a really good guitarist. Their drummer, however, would have made a good house-painter.

WORD OF THE DAY: beauty. There's so much in my life: Seeing Jenny at the end of the day, getting an email from Gill, seeing a fine piece of sculpture like that Caddy....

More RATS. Got another 3,000 words done the other day, and correctedome of what you're about to read. Still the first draught, though. Draft?

Now, she knew she could also be here and enjoy herself.
The boy poured the tea, then stepped out to give a carrot to the horse, which nuzzled his hand with her big, soft mouth.

The Lee Enfield .303 Mark 3 rifle that was issued to the British infantry during the First World War was a formidable weapon. It was such a good design that it would remain in service with some countries for a further 80 years. In the hands of a skilled rifleman, it could throw twelve precisely aimed shots a minute. A very skilled rifleman could beat that by another five rounds. Like all good man-killing weapons, it had an aesthetic appeal: nearly 45 inches in length (a little over 1.14 metres), its butt and stock was almost balways carved froak, and occasionally walnut or hickory. The butt was hollow, and contained the maintenance and cleaning tools: the pull-through, the oil, the screwdrivers. The Mark 3 model, which Arthur used to such devastating effect in France, had a stock that extended the length of the barrel, and was cinched tight by metal straps. Just forward of the bolt and ejector the leaf-blade sight could be adjusted to allow a good rifleman to fire a shot accurately out to 300 yards. In the hands of a superb rifleman, the weapon was deadly to 1,200 yards. Arthur was an excellent shot. Timothy Copthorne was superb. The box magazine that both men used held ten rounds of .303 ammunition. The cartridge case was 2.15 inches in length, and held a 36.5 grain charge, throwing the lighter Mark 7 174 grain bullet from the muzzle at 2,440 feet per second. That’s a fairly hefty slug of metal spinning through the air at 743 metres each and every second.
Whatever was hit by the .303 round tended to stay hit.
At the weapon’s muzzle was a clip designed to take the number 9 pig-sticker bayonet: a fourteen inch rod of needle-pointed steel that would puncture any good will.

Grampa Smith had made the scones earlier in the day.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Blogging 101

To think that it's taken me this long to figure out how to pop a picture onto this thing. Almost embarassing, really. Fortunately, I have a thick skin, and I am deaf to the sound of mocking laughter, and the sight of pointed fingers.
Now all I have to do is work out how to get them into the appropriate place. Watch this space, but be patient.
It was a foggy morning here in Northcote when I took this picture. I don't think there can be many places around Auckland that still boast this entanglement of above-ground power and telephone cabling: I wonder how long it will be before these are buried?

I was leafing through a New Scientist magazine last night, and I read something rather profound. There are, apparently, similarities in the way bacteria and banking institutions are organised... and, of course, major differences. Life, while apparently chaotic, is in fact highly structured. Even at the bacterial level, life is organised to "optimise growth for any internal and external conditions", while banks have attempted to operate without paying any heed to their external environment. This is a rough paraphrase, you understand: I have stolen these words from Merrelyn Emery, of Canberra, Australia. Anyway: It seems that these two main organisational structures may explain why bacteria are hugely successful in their endeavours, while banks are somewhat chaotic: by being forced to pay attention to the external environment, bacteria are highly regulated by those external forces. Modern market-force banks, by contrast, attempt to self-regulate (ie internally) from the top down. And they fall apart. This is, of course, biological Marxism, and it may even be that nature is naturally a socialistic thing. From each, to each etc. An interesting thought, anyway.
Had dinner last night with Caroline & Reg: they rang mid-afternoon and invited us around to share in a roast beef. The animal had been a Jersey.. and Jersey meat is delicious. Quite distinctive. The Lawsons are fine people: funny, interesting, caring. If everyone had friends as good as them, the world would be a fine place indeed.

No Rats today: I'm doing a bit of an edit on the yarn, and need to write another chapter or two. Patience!
Reading: Nope. Writing.
Listening to: really loud Beatles - the "Love" album that was assembled for the Cique de Soleil show. It is quite excellent.
Word Of The Day: Work!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

One Hundred Down

This is my 100th blog. It's a milestone, I suppose. But it is, after all, just a number. If we lived in a Mayan society (which, I believe, used 14 as their arithmetical base) 100 wouldn't mean spit. 14, 28, 42, 56, 70, etc would.

It's a lot like the celebrations for ticking over a new decade. Again, arithmetically speaking, we won't do that 'til next year, just as the so-called millennium didn't start until 2001. But these numbers are totally arbhitrary, and mean absolutely nothing. They merely give us a base for the momentum of our society, and our history. Our social book-keeping, if you will. Some time ago a lotof fusty men wearing dresses sat down and got things organised. We need a calendar, they said, or else we'll never know when to celebrate our birthdays. So, they kicked one off, basing it upon a handy Sky God myth that thed majority of them used to keep the populace under control.

We went to the beach after work yesterday: Long Bay. We live in a city with, oh, 780 beaches within an hour's drive. That may be a slight exaggeration,and the drive may depend on peak traffic. But no matter where you are in the greater Auckland area, you're never far from a beach. Long Bay's about 20 minutes by fast Mitsubishi from our wee cottage in Northcote.

We sat on nicely tended grass, and ate our salad and sausage sandwiches, drank a glass or two of a nice Chardonnay, went for a dip - the water was nicely crisp, thankyou, and I didn't suffer from too much shrinkage - and then we came home and watched a movie: Appaloosa.

Ed Harris starred in and directed the movie. I do enjoy a good Western, and this one was based uoin an extraordinarily good book, by Robert B Parker. It's an excellent adaptation. Viggo Mortensen plays Ed harris' sidekick,with Renee Zellwigger (sp.?) as the love interest. Actually, th movie's broad focus is on her character. Very good, very violent, very matter of fact about the violence.

The previous night we'd watched the Clint Eastwood-directed movie "The Chosen". Angelina Jolie stars. Excellent flick.

I've just noticed (amazing what pops up when you've done something 99 times before) a little icon that says "Add Image" when I roll the mouse over it. Is this going to be the moment when I meet a New Year's resolution head on, and learn how to add a picture to my blog?

YES! Well, it didn't go where I expected it to, but hey: I've got a picture on my blog! You will have noticed it already.... I took it some time ago, when Jenny and I lived in Reporoa: it was a foggy morning, and I was out on the deck, watching the neighbour's cows walk by. I hadn't truly appreciated how silently cattle walk until that morning: they were quite ghostly.

READING: Larry Niven & Edward L Lerner, "Destroyer of Worlds". If you're a sci-fi fan (as I am) then you'll have read the Ringworld cycle. This book covers the years before the Ringworld's discovery.
LISTENING TO: Ennio Morricone's film themes, as played by the John Blackinsell Orchestra.

Word of the Day. Melancholy. It's one of those days, and the tone of last night's movie was quite melancholic.

More Rats:

It won’t crack, but it will wear. It’s a balancing act, ma’am.”
“Miss Jayne,” she replied, allowing her smile to broaden.
“Right. Miss Jayne. Sorry.”
“’Sorright. And how do you know you have the right temperature?” Her interest was genuine. She’d seen many a smithy pounding away at his anvil, but this was the first time she’d been invited in to watch the process.
“It’s the colour, Miss. See the metal now? Sort of straw colour, in there with the red? That’s about what we’re after.” And he dropped the shoe into a bucket of oil, and watched it splutter away. “This should be ready in a few minutes, Miss Jayne.” The name was coming more easily, now. “Would you like a cup o’ tea? I’m fair parched, I am.”
“That would be very nice, thank you, Arthur.”
“Be with you in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail, then.”
He disappeared into the cottage that the smithy had been built against, and came out with a kettle, which he filled at a pump, then dropped into a grate that he set into place over the furnace. He reached up to a shelf, took down a green enamel teapot, and spooned a couple of teaspoons of tea leaves into it. The kettle boiled briskly enough over a fire that only moments ago had been hot enough to bend steel, and he poured the water into the pot. He set it down, and went back indoors while the tea brewed. He came out, hands and arms cleaned, and bearing a tray upon which he had set two china cups and saucers, a small jug of milk, a sugar bowl, a dollop of butter he’d scooped from the churn, a small jar of plum and rhubarb jam, and three huge scones. In his back pocket he had three carrots. He set the tray down on the anvil, and asked “Milk?”
Jayne, smiled, and said “So there’s a Granma Smith, then?”
The boys stopped, and looked at her, brown eyes aglint with amusement. “Well, Miss Jayne, Grampa Smith’s always tried to drum it into my thick head that if it’s all right for a woman to buy the General Store, then surely it must be all right for a man to make a batch of scones, and churn some butter, and to dust the sideboard. I reckon he’s probably right. An’ I reckon you probably would, too. Wouldn’t you?”
For the second time in less than half an hour this boy had put her in her place. Jayne smiled. She thought she’d like living here in Northridge. She’d already been committed to coming here, of course: she couldn’t bear to be anywhere else. Now, she knew she could also be here and enjoy herself.