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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Brilliant comment on NZ flag proposals

The massed yawn continues.  Our millionaire ex-futures trader prime minister is determined to go out with (a) a knighthood, and (b) the massed approval of his business roundtable mates and (c) the reputation of the bloke who changed the New Zealand flag.

First he budgeted $26 million to the project. Then was appointed a committee to have a look at lots of designs.  Please note this committee does not have a single vexillologist.  Lovely word.  It means an expert in flags and their designs.  Which the committee thinks it can do without.  It makes you think of the old saying that a camel was a beast designed by a committee.

And now they have come down to the shortlist of four.  Pictured above.  Please note that it is really a shortlist of two -- the fern vs the koru, the last of which is going to look really strange when frayed.  As flags do.  Our PM, described above, wants the fern, so he has been given a choice of three.  Is this democracy?

Opinions, all negative, abound, but Dominion Post columnist Rosemary McLeod published a particularly brilliant commentary today.

"OPINION: They are not alone. I, too, could have had truly lousy ideas for a flag," she begins.

"I could have doodled kowhai blossom in a blue sky, a lactating cow peeing into a murky river, or that wretched buzzy bee we trot out as a Kiwi invention."

So what does she think of the Final Four?

"The designs aren't even amusing; $26 million wasted is not a parlour game. They demonstrate exactly why we've never done a new flag since adopting the current one in 1902, and shouldn't do it now. And think of what $26 million could have done for kids in need."

And now for the nitty-gritty.

"I assume this elaborate prank was the brainwave of rich businessmen, among whom the prime minister moves, whom he thinks are in touch with the mysterious thing called real people, and who are enchanted with branding.

"Branding used to apply to businesses and products, but now applies to human beings, like the All Blacks, who have become not sportsmen so much as marketing tools in underpants. We are sold market forces, and their friend branding, as rational things and therefore good. And with them comes that awesome thing, the printed business mission statement. You see it everywhere, stuck to the office wall while staff beneath it yawn and pick their noses.

"Well, market forces made little kids chimney sweeps in the 19th century, because they'd work 15-hour days for next to nothing, and if they dropped dead it didn't matter. Market forces had women crawling through mines half-naked to drag out the coal, and yet more tots employed to open and shut trap doors for the loaded coal carts.

"Women were cheap labour. Even hookers earned peanuts, because there were so many desperate competitors. Starvation is a great motivator, as well as a great market force I dare say."

Brilliant.  Read it all

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Arthur Chidley, maritime illustrator

A friend showed me this picture of an artwork, being curious to know some thing about (a) the ship and (b) the artist.  A google hunt revealed that the ship is the Aristides, and that the artist was Arthur Chidley.  And, that another copy, apparently black and white, is held in a museum in Newcastle, New South Wales.

The tiny silhouette on the horizon balances the weight of the subject, making it a satisfying study. Very nice indeed.

But who was the artist?   He seems to belong to the first couple of decades of the twentieth century.  Quite a large number of his works have been up for sale in a number of galleries, and can be printed off on demand.  Chidley illustrated a couple of books, and contributed to a set of military cards that were produced soon after the First World War.  It seems that he illustrated calendars, too.  But there the information stops. 

The ship itself is much easier.  Lars Bruzelius, on his invaluable site, provides the bones of her history.

An iron full-rigged ship built in 1876 by Walter Hood & Co., Aberdeen. Dimensions 260'0"×39'5"×34'5" and 1721 GRT, 1661 NRT and 1498 tons under deck.
1876 March
Launched at the shipyard of Walter Hood & Co., Aberdeen, for Aberdeen White Star Line (G. Thompson & Co.), Aberdeen. Assigned the official British Reg. No. 70454 and signal PVQC. Captain R. Kemball late of the Thermopylae (1868) was given command of the new ship.
1876 July 6 - September 18
Sailed from London to Port Phillip in 74 days,
1876 November 28 - February 17
Sailed from Melbourne to London in 81 days.
Sailed from London to Sydney in 85 days.
Captain Spalding replaced Capt. Kemball.
1903 May 28
Sailed from Caleta Buena with a cargo of nitrate for San Francisco and disappeared on route.
So she was fast, and she was comfortable.  And she carried hundreds of passengers to a new life in the "lucky country." 

Friday, August 28, 2015

A modern conversation ....

We paid a visit on Grandma, and she was so happy to see us all ...
A thought-provoking commentary on modern family life

With thanks to CatherineMayhew

Monday, August 24, 2015

An apple a day ....

The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school
for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made
a note and posted on the apple tray: "Take only ONE. God is watching."

Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a
large pile of chocolate chip cookies. A child had written a note, "Take all
you want. God is watching the apples."

With thanks to Don Gilling

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Midsummer Night's Dream a hit

We went to the ballet today, and so were amongst the thousands of Wellingtonians to see the birth of a hit.

A worldwide hit in the making.

It was amazing.  The story was told simply and eloquently -- with spirit and humor.  The set, a fairyland of arches, with great toadstools, and a misty overbridge, told in shades of silver and blue, would have done credit to Lord of the Rings.  The costumes were stunning.  The dancing was superb, doing perfect justice to the brilliant choreography and the music -- by Mendelsohn of course, played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra -- was scored with perfection.

The full house was ecstatic, as the deafening applause demonstrated.

The reviews, so far, have been breathless.

“The magic and delight never let up. This is an absolutely splendid production of which choreographer, Liam Scarlett and the Royal New Zealand Ballet can be justifiably proud.” says dance critic Ann Hunt from the Dominion Post. “One can see why he (Scarlett) is the current wunderkind of British ballet.”

“The dance rises to such heights,” says Jennifer Shennan in her review on Radio New Zealand today.

The RNZB’s largest-ever set and stunning costumes created by New Zealander Tracy Grant Lord and enchanting lighting design by American Kendall Smith wowed audiences.

“There is a charmed symbiotic relationship between all the elements of this ballet. Together they have made magic.” says Ann Hunt.

The production offers something for everyone. “An extraordinarily beautiful night at the ballet” that “will appeal across generations.” says Jennifer Shennan

I have to admit a personal interest in A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Not only is it a favorite play, but I incorporated it in a novel called Judas Island.   And, just for you, the relevant extract follows ...

But just to explain.  Harriet is an actress sailing on the pirate brig Gosling. At Valparaiso, the commander of HMS Nympha begs the favor of a short drama after a formal dinner.  The seamen from the Gosling find this extremely funny -- but not as amusing as the pirate himself, Captain Jake Dexter.


Harriet lay with her eyes shut, draped with her silken shawl. She heard a little bell, and the officers shushing the audience until Captain Mara could be heard. 

Then, through a speaking trumpet, the Irishman announced that they were about to be greatly favored with a dramatic recital by the Nympha’s Thespians. “A famous recital from the Immortal Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will be flattered with the unexpected presence of none other than Miss Harriet Gray, of the famous Gray family of the Royal Opera House, London!  She has graciously consented to play the part of the beautiful fairy queen, Titania.”

The ensuing silence was stunned, most of the astonishment, Harriet was certain, emanating from the Goslings.  Then there was a polite round of applause from Captain Mara’s officers and guests, after which she heard the actors make their entrance and gather about.

And then: “If I were fair, Thisby, if I were only thine!” the actor playing Bottom brayed. His tone was muffled, and when Harriet opened one eye it was to see he was wearing a most magnificent mask, a very hairy donkey face, made of rope ends fixed to wire and canvas.

“Help, we are haunted!” cried the other actor-yokels, reacting melodramatically to the sight of their comrade magicked into an ass. “O monstrous! O strange!” they cried.

And Harriet listened to the retreating thunder of their boots, as they yelled, “Pray masters, fly masters! Help—help—help!”

“Why do they run away?” asked Bottom plaintively. “Is this a knavery of them to make me afeared?”

“Bless thee, Bottom,” cried an actor-yokel, briefly reappearing. “Thou art translated!”—and away he went again.

“I see their knavery,” Bottom mumbled to himself. “They hope to make an ass of me—to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir from this place, do what they can: I will walk up and down here, and will sing, that they shall hear I am not afraid—

The ousel cock, so black of hue
With orange-tawny bill
The throstle, with his note so true
The wren, with little quill—

His singing was more loud than tuneful, but not as loud as the tramp of his navy boots. Then the stamping came to an abrupt halt by Titania’s couch, which was Harriet’s cue.  She sighed and stretched, and inquired in ringing tones, “What angel wakes me from my flowery bed?”

And when she opened her eyes she looked straight into Jahaziel Dexter’s face. He had apparently declined to sit on a chair, for he was leaning on the side of a deckhouse, most disconcertingly near. If she was about to fumble her lines he was not going to miss a word of it, she deduced—and never had she seen his eloquent face so wickedly amused.

She delivered him a black scowl, and then looked away, to smile ravishingly at Bottom. “On first view, I say,” she exclaimed, “I swear I love thee.”

“Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that,” Bottom objected, and all the Gosling men came out of their daze to hoot in agreement. “And yet, to say the truth,” the actor philosophized, “reason and love keep little company together nowadays.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” said Valentine Fish—a feeble joke, Harriet thought, but one that was greeted with roars of laughter from all about the rigging.

Harriet waited out the ruckus. Then: “Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful,” she breathed. Her fingers brushed the air, hovering over the donkey mask, dared then to caress the hairy hide, while the Gosling men whistled and cheered.

“Not so neither,” objected Bottom to shouts of agreement, then went on to convey that if he did have wits, he would be well out of this wood.

“Out of this wood do not desire to go,” Harriet commanded—

Thou shalt remain here, whether thou wilt or no,
I am a spirit of no common rate
The summer still doth tend upon my state
And I do love thee, therefore go with me
I’ll give thee fairies to tend thee—

—and four fairies arrived, right on cue, clumping out of the darkness with a dutiful clicking of boot heels.  She cried out their names—“Pease-blossom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed!” and, “Ready!—And aye, aye, aye!” four heavily bearded and tattooed fairies chorused.

“Where shall we go?” they asked.

“To have my love to bed!” cried Harriet, and waited out the whistles and bawdy comments until she could make herself heard again.

And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes,
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies!

“Hail, mortal!” cried the fairies, each in turn, and, “Lead him to my bower!” commanded Harriet, rising from her couch. “Tie up my lover’s tongue, bring him silently.”

And off the extempore stage she wafted, while the audience stamped with delirious approval.

 Well, the memory added a little extra touch to a wonderful performance that needed no extra touches at all.  Brava and bravo, Royal New Zealand Ballet.  Everything -- dancing, costume, music, set, acting, humor -- was absolutely perfect, in every sparkling detail.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lions of Namibia

I have a friend who has just returned from a Namibian safari.  She was kind enough to share some of her photographs with me.  And absolutely no lions were shot.

Except with a camera, that is. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.  And enjoy.

With thanks to Diane Wyber

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Novel About a Whale and a Child Wins Big Award


A novel with an anti-whaling message has taken the title of the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Wellington author Mandy Hager was awarded the top prize for Singing Home the Whale at a ceremony at Wellington's Government House on Thursday.

REVIEW: Mandy Hager's prize-winning Singing Home the Whale

Singing Home the Whale is the 2015 Book of the Year for children and young adults.

Singing Home the Whale is the 2015 Book of the Year for children and young adults.

The book, which is set in the Marlborough Sounds, tells the story of a teenage boy who protects a baby orca after its mother was killed by whalers.

It also won the Best Young Adult Fiction award.

Judging panel convenor Bob Docherty, a children's book reviewer and literary consultant, said the novel would have won in any year it was entered, and the decision was unanimous.

"Mandy Hager is writing out of her skin at present and her understanding of the human condition and human attitudes towards each other and other inhabitants of Planet Earth are beautifully presented.

This novel should be compulsory reading in any country that still hunts whales."
Hager claimed $15,000 for her twin prizes.

The awards promote excellence and provide recognition for the best written and illustrated books for children and young adults published by New Zealand authors each year.

Docherty said the quality of this year's entries was outstanding.

"The demand for stunning books is clearly there, and the future of publishing in New Zealand looks healthy."


Best picture book - Jim's Letters by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Best junior fiction - Monkey Boy by Donovan Bixley
Best non-fiction - Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill by Debbie McCauley and Tamati Waaka
Maori language - Nga Ki by Sacha Cotter, translated by Kawata Teepa
Best first book - Maori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Vote for New Zealand's new flag

The entire populace thinks it is a total bore, but our prime minister wants to go out with something permanent on his record: he wants the country to have a new flag.

And even if we don't want it, we get to choose the new one.

So, I thought, why not let the world (or at least my readers) to have some input, too.  For reference, here is the current (old) flag of New Zealand.

Quite smart, really.  Two problems:  (1) the Union Jack is a bit outdated, as we lost most contact with Britain, which backed out of being the "Mother Country" in favor of the EU; and (2) people confuse it with the Aussie flag, which is the same but with extra stars (and their stars are not as pretty).

And here is the 40-strong long list for the replacement:

Possible new flags narrowed down to 40 

If you click on the image, it will enlarge, so that you can study it at leisure, if so inclined.

What do you reckon?