Friday, April 30, 2010


This lovely poem is my favourite about autumn


When you wrote your letter it was April,
And you were glad it was spring weather,
And that the sun shone in turn with showers of rain.

But I write in waning May and it is autumn,
And I am glad that my chrysanthemums
Are tied up fast to strong posts,
So that the south wind cannot beat them down.
I am glad that they are tawny-coloured,
And fiery in the low west evening light,
And I am glad that one bush warbler
Still sings in the honey-scented wattle…

But oh, we have remembering hearts,
And we say “How green it was in such and such an April,”
And “Such and such an autumn was very golden,”
And “Everything is for a very short time.”

Ursula Bethell

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Nature of Things

My conscious mind has accepted my Health condition. But obviously the subconscious has other thoughts. For the second night running I had a dream about being active before being trapped inside an inert body.

Last night I dreamt I was caught up in riots in Athens. I was running away but as I ran over some wooden gratings they collapsed leaving me be-straddled over some large beams, Upright I could only watch the chaos around me and couldn’t escape the tear gas.

A snippet from the previous night’s dream is my envy of the verve and energy of the school boys with whom I was trapped in the bus.

When niece Jenny was staying with us I wrote this poem. I thought it was about age and her vitality in contrast to my situation. But I realise as is the nature of poetry it is saying more.

(for Jenny)

Loss is loss, futile
to call it anything
other. New age
twittering will not
help. 28 years old
my niece moves round
the house with grace
& confidence, marvels
at a frail old neighbour*
who, heyday, modelled
nude for a well-known artist.
Hitler’s men stole many
treasures, some lost for
ever, though the Ghent
altarpiece was found
& is back in place
but that is art & I
declare flesh. Time, like
war, takes its toll. In
my decline, small solace
except this life-spirit’s
absurd & unexpected
comfort at youth’s
astonishing vitality.

*Frances Porter who modelled for Mervyn Taylor.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Strange Dream

Last night I had a strange dream. Anne was away and I was on a bus in Courtney Place just getting ready to alight on my way to Fiona and Rob’s Mt Victoria place for dinner. [Fiona and Rob live in Palmerston North and have for years. Fiona once had a flat in Mt Vic.] I had caught the bus and as it was full had been standing. I was active and strong.

There was an explosion.

When I came to I was in another bus full of uniformed school-boys all speaking with post English accents. We were driving past green fields with bluebells in the hedgerows. Very picturesque but I had trouble standing, invisible forces seemed to be holding me down. We passed a signpost pointing to Weston-super-Mare.

I managed to work out the police had ordered us to be evacuated from London. Why or how was unanswered. Feeling helpless I just sat there while the bus gathered speed. Bewildered how I’d got to England and why I had lost all power I awaited the inevitable crash.


I can see some connections. I had an email from Fiona yesterday. I had mentioned bluebells in a recent blog. I’d been reading back over my diary on Anzac Day – a few years ago I was unaware of my muscular degeneration. But why England? Weston-super-Mare? I woke this morning with a strong sense of confusion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

An Unexpected Tui

There was a tui singing this morning from a neighbour’s tree. On 2 February this year I described in my blog at being surprised to hear a tui singing at night. Here’s a poem I wrote a few days later.


To my knowledge
I have never heard
a nightingale

As a boy
on the Okuti farm
moreporks mourned nightly

Last night
in the darkened city
an unexpected tui sang

clear & loud in moonlight.
Keats keep your nightingale
amidst the alien corn

for I’ve heard a tui
toll midnight
in the hills of home.

Harvey McQueen

Monday, April 26, 2010

Post Anzac

1) It is a pity Anzac Day was marred by the tragic deaths of three young air force men in their helicopter crash. This morning’s paper raised a thought I’d had yesterday.Why were they flying over misty hilly country when it was clear over the Tasman Sea?

2) I had a stumble yesterday which resulted in my having to go the doctor this morning. In stopping my fall I grazed a considerable amount of skin off my right forearm. My skin is now paper-thin and tears easily. Life keeps getting harder.

3a) Last evening Paul and Lesley came to dinner. We watched a documentary on Maori TV, the Swoop of the Cormorant. The title arises from the battle formation of the Maniapoto tribe. In the early 19th century Mata and Hori Hetet farmed at Otrohanga. They had forty grandchildren and great grandchildren who fought in the two World Wars.

3b) Some were killed. Some were maimed. Many came back. All bore some scars. Their descendant’s interviews formed the basis of the documentary. There were many sad tales but also recollections of camaraderie and bravery. It was a moving hour and a half.

3c) One descendant became an airman – bomb aimer in the flights over Germany. Not many of his contemporaries survived. I find it hard to conceive lying at the bottom of a plane, kept warm by electric clothing, watching flak coming up at you. What courage?

3d) The daughter of one veteran told of his disillusionment on his return home. He’d fought gallantly and married an English girl. Maori did not receive war pensions. The argument was that they had their land.

4) Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals are full of tales of wounded veterans from the Napoleonic wars trudging past begging for scraps. Elizabeth’s armada wounded sailors were reduced to penury. It’s been the lot of the soldier and sailor down the ages. In America there are still tales of ill-treatment of vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Anzac Day

‘They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow,
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We shall remember them.’

Anzac Day. Up and down the country and around the world these lines from Laurence Binyon’s poem 'For The Fallen' will be recited. A few blogs back I commented on Byron’s legacy of war poetry. Binyon’s poem is not as bellicose as some of the early First World War ones. But it does represent a tradition.

But there are other viewpoints. Here’s one from Siegfried Sassoon

The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Soldiers down the ages have groused about their leadership. But in the carnage that was that war it does seem to have been more incompetent than usual. It was ironic that Churchill’s desire to break the deadlock of trench warfare in France that led to the Gallipoli landings resulted in similar hand-to-hand fighting and bloodshed.

Whatever’s said about it we do need to remember those who made the sacrifice, both those who did not come back alive and those that did. I’ll leave the last word to a great poet.

Jock Campbell My Father

Yes, I remember the transport Southland –
a tub of a ship with a contingent
of Aussie larrakins, and a few of us
from the other side of the ditch –
real New Zealanders and proud of it.
We found their boasting pretty hard to take.
Then a torpedo struck us amidships
and the blast knocked me unconscious,
I floated to the surface entangled
with ropes and every kind of debris.
What an approach to the Dardanelles!
There was no sign of the ship –
only an oil-slick, bilge, torn uniforms,
naked bodies, dead horses, and men
clinging to spars and planks, and cursing –
real blister-raising curses from the Aussiess.
We had our differences, but you can’t
help liking men who rush into battle
yelling 'Imshi Tasllah', a cry picked up
in a Cairo street. The legend that we share
was born when our joint forces fought
and died together in Anzac Cove…
I am lying here in Tahiti with my dear Teu.
It’s quiet here away from the guns, the screams,
the nightmare that was Gallipoli. I can’t
make out what she is murmuring, but I think
it’s all about forgetfulness and peace.

Alistair Campbell

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Berlin Zoo

This morning’s papers make depressing reading. Most of the issues circle around questions of governance and finance.

The recession chickens are coming home to roost. Property tycoon Tere Serepisis owes the Wellington City Council $2 billion in rates. He also owes sub-contractors large amounts. He claims a cash crisis because he is also owed a lot.

Council staff are negotiating with him. The fact he has pumped $5 million into the successful Wellington Phoenix soccer team is being held up as the reason for their leniency. Fine! If the Council wants to subsidise a sport let them do it honestly and openly. I have a vote. But my rates are paid - why should others get away with not paying their fair share.

The people of Canterbury have lost a vote with the appointment of commissioners to control water use in the province. Apparently Justice department officials spoke against the use of commissioners.

Apparently also Lindale tourist centre just north has fallen foul of the economic times. It was a good place to take out of town visitors too. The paper contains claims of mismanagement. Rights and wrongs are hard to separate from brief accounts. But it’s a shame.

Arizona has passed tough new state immigration law. A failure to carry immigration documents will be a crime. Police have broad powers to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. The New York Times has an opinion piece denouncing Senator John McCain for supporting the measure. He is engaged in the fight of his life to retain the Republican nomination. Sometimes Democracy brings out the lowest common denominator. Still it's the best form of government we've got. Two cheers for it as E.M.Forster said.

So much for the human zoo. The final bit of sad news is personal Three rare white tigers have gone on display in a small Taranaki zoo. Their presence has upset resident lions and monkeys. I’d love to see them. Alas, I cannot travel. I’ve always adored tigers. Here’s a poem I wrote about them in my 1994 visit to Berlin

Berlin Zoo

Tigers awe children everywhere,
always, they never fail. Families on

display in front of such dominion,
sinew under fur begging to be stroked.

A thousand year Reich, he claimed.
Without regret it is not so, but these

are under threat. A three-year old
retreats in tears before the teeth.

History condemns, admires, laments Potsdam.
Across the way, haughty giraffes contemplate

the crowds, the clamour; and in their pool
polar bears titanic a plastic ice-cream container.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Miss Banks

I started primary school in the Little River library. The old school, built in 1880, near the cheese-factory had recently burnt down - an over-zealous pupil stoking the fire too vigorously had caused the chimney to catch fire. The resultant blaze destroyed the building - a calamity to the once-thriving mill and farming community; time at that school was a shared memory. Throughout the war they dated events from that fire. Makeshift classrooms were hastily found, first in the public library, then in the Pop Aitken’s hall, the Triangle.

Miss Banks my teacher approved of me. I was bright, christened "brainbox" by the other pupils. The loss of my father made me for the older girls an object of sympathy. At play and lunchtime I set up school and taught them. Giggling they carried out my orders, especially my parody of Miss Banks calling out "Board". When she said that, the person holding the card rushed out to clean the blackboard upon its easel and hand the card on. Woe betide the child who didn't realise they held the card. This daydreamer several times received a gentle cuff upon the head. My attempts to imitate this with the girls created great mirth, as did my refusal to let them leave the room to go "wee-wees" despite their urgent pleading.

Miss Banks came across this charade. Her punishment was to give me extra time practising my writing on the blackboard. I am left-handed. Miss Banks insisted I use my right hand. I began to stutter. Mum complained. Miss Banks remained insistent. Mum set Pop her father, a long-time school committee member, onto her. I was allowed to revert to the left-hand. Miss Banks sounds a tartar. She wasn't. I helped her hear the reading of the other primers. Without realising it, I was being bent to my career.

Miss Banks and her successors, no nonsense teachers, formal, quick to chide and slow to praise, extended me by exhortation. Nothing child-centred in their approach. Uniformity was their practice, not diversity. Dr Beeby might be in his office in Wellington setting education alight but in rural Canterbury we learnt the basics of colonial life - no nonsense, thrift, hard work and the glory of the British Empire. Rather than problem solving, 'sums' were a series of drills.

Recently, a friend's five-year old who had just started school told me "we're doing 'shapes' at school". Inquiry reveals it is maths. And they work in groups, talking together as they do their shapes. In my primers we worked silently on our own, changing books to mark each other's work, the teacher calling out the correct answers from the front of the room. At the end, she recorded our marks in her record book.

A hand-bell summoned us to line up outside the classroom in two rows, one for the boys, one for the girls. Wet days, we were allowed inside, but quietly. At break one played but there were tasks, cleaning and clearing. I hated washing the blackboard. The bigger children carried it back to its easel - often not properly pushing the pegs in so that as the teacher wrote it would dramatically collapse. Having seen the ambush set, I'd wait anxiously for the inevitable crash. I recollect little infant art and even less music. Maybe it was my inclination, but probably crayons, paints and plasticine were in short supply during the war. This reflected the community. Local people hung family and wedding photos on the walls, or coloured pictures from calendars or magazines stuck behind glass and fading in the sunlight.

The temporary rooms were spartan, no doubt materials and charts lost in the fire were hard to replace. Chalk was in short supply. We did Phys Ed daily, outside if fine, inside if wet - it consisted mainly of physical jerks and lots of relay games. We didn't change. Sweaty and smelly we trooped inside for geography where I would always shine by knowing where things countries were, especially all the red ones of the Empire. Once a week the Union Jack was hoisted and we sang the anthem, "God Save the King".

While praising my cleverness, Miss Banks despaired of my untidiness. "Harvey, your shoe-laces are undone again." "Your o's should be round like an orange, not uneven like a duck-egg." "Hold your chalk steady." "Will you fill Harvey's ink-pot Marlene, he'll only spill it." "What will your mother say?" "That is a margin, don't go over it." "Australia is not shaped like that." And my posture. "Sit up boy, you'll end up round-shouldered." "Don't slouch." "Your shoe-laces are undone again."

We sat in pairs in rows, forbidden to call out. There was considerable copying from the board. We used cardboard coins to practise counting money, and a post office box for real coins - "save for victory". There was a reader with a story about how the weather god dropped a rope from the sky. But farmer Brown wanted sun for his hay while gardener Jones wanted rain for his vegetables. Mrs Smith wanted it fine for her washing but Mrs Green wanted it wet for her flowers. So the rope was taken away. One should be stoical about weather, like life. We also had lessons about health - unless you cleaned your teeth Bertie Germ would attack.

A modern infant room seems light years away. The teaching I encountered was closer to that of my grandparents than that experienced by today's beginning pupils.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Byron's Death

Last Monday was the anniversary of Byron’s death. Here is one of his last poems. Although not one of his better poems it expresses well his sentiment.

On this Day I Complete my Thirty-Sixth Year

‘Tis time the heart should be unmoved,
Since others it hath ceased to move:
Yet, though I cannot be beloved,
Still let me love!

My days are in the yellow leaf;
The flowers and fruits of love are gone;
The worm, the canker, and the grief
Are mine alone!

The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is kindled at its blaze--
A funeral pile.

The hope, the fear, the jealous care,
The exalted portion of the pain
And power of love, I cannot share,
But wear the chain.

But 'tis not thus--and 'tis not here--
Such thoughts should shake my soul nor now,
Where glory decks the hero's bier,
Or binds his brow.

The sword, the banner, and the field,
Glory and Greece, around me see!
The Spartan, borne upon his shield,
Was not more free.

Awake! (not Greece--she is awake!)
Awake, my spirit! Think through whom
Thy life-blood tracks its parent lake,
And then strike home!

Tread those reviving passions down,
Unworthy manhood!--unto thee
Indifferent should the smile or frown
Of beauty be.

If thou regrett'st thy youth, why live?
The land of honourable death
Is here:--up to the field, and give
Away thy breath!

Seek out--less often sought than found--
A soldier's grave, for thee the best;
Then look around, and choose thy ground,
And take thy rest.

Lord George Gordon Byron

Years ago, high in the hills behind the ancient ruins of Epidaurus I watched olive harvesting, a process that had hardly changed down the ages. The taxi driver whom we’d hired for the day had taken us to his parent’s village. He spoke English, they didn’t. It came up that I wrote poetry. He translated this to them and their eyes lit up. ‘Byron’ was the common word all were using. He is the greatest English poet they all agreed. I was shown a well-thumbed collection of his poems in Greek.

In Greece he is deeply embedded as a legend. He died while fighting for their independence as they fought to overthrow their Turkish rulers. Despite his desire for a glorious death on the battlefield he succumbed to a fever before he ever engaged the Turks. The death was not perceived as failure, rather it lent lustre as well as credibility to a cause.

This poem foreshadows much of the bellicose jingoistic nationalistic British poetry of the 19th century and on to Rupert Brooke’s early First World War Verse. “If I should die’ think only this of me:/ That there’s some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever England.

The Byronic hero became a sort of role model for British manhood, despite the fact that Westminster Abbey would not accept his remains and did not put up a memorial to him till after the Second World War. Brooke also died in Greece from a fever. His poet peers changed their minds about glory and Sparta et al in the carnage of the trenches that characterised that conflict. Unfair to blame Byron – but his legend added flavouring to the idea.

Charlotte Bronte also died years later on the same day. Her Mr Rochester personifies the Byronic hero.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Curmudgeonly Comments

Telstra is relocating its call services to Manila. How on earth do its managers imagine it’ll improve customer services.

A peace group is going to sell white poppies the day before the annual red poppy appeal. It sounds like a hostile act to me.

The Government has signed the United Nations rights of indigenous people treaty. John Key says the action will not override any existing legislation. I think he may be creating a rod for his own back. Maori will use it in court action while Rodney Hide and Winston Peters will use it to claim two levels of citizenship. Watch this space. Fascinating, there has not been a squeak about political correctness.

Tourist operators in New Zealand are still promoting Thailand as a destination despite hotels in Bangkok advising their guests to leave.

A Gisborne farm manager has been heavily fined for neglecting livestock. This has happened several times recently. I know there have been neglectful farmers in the past but precept and practice suggest that ownership establishes a bond between farmer, soil and animals.

TV3 Target commentator is promoting Hell’s pizza in advertisements using a scientific sort of chart. That’s not on in my book. I admired Andrew Cruikshank the actor who played the wise old doctor in ‘Dr Finlay’s Casebook’ who refused good money to do a whiskey ad.

I can see the Rugby World Cup being an important issue in the Auckland mayoral race this year. And Key’s timing of the general election next year will be an interesting choice. An All Black victory would mean national jubilation. A loss, the reverse.

The ‘Washington Post’ has criticised President Obama for playing golf in some of the time he gained by not attending the Polish president’s funeral. Give the man a break. There are enough madmen baying for his blood as it is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Photo

Today, for a variety of reasons has been rather chaotic. As a result I've written no blog. A while back I had an email from someone who reads my blog asking what I looked like. Here's a photo taken two years ago.

Monday, April 19, 2010


The volcanic ash cloud hanging over Europe has at least one silver lining. Niece, Jenny, now back in London went to Kew Gardens yesterday with a group of friends. There were no planes overhead barrelling for Heathrow.

I recall going to Kew in early May 1994. The bluebells were in full bloom. The decidious trees had their new leaves. The translucent light filtering through them transformed the blue carpet into a magical place. Unfortunately the serenity of the view was not matched by the serenity of sound as plane after plane thundered overhead.

A headline in this morning's paper caught my eye. Teachers finally endorse NCEA it claimed. Reading the article revealed the principal’s federation president merely said that now the bugs have been ironed out it’s working well and most teachers endorse it.

When it was introduced successive ministers had been told it did not need extra resources nor trials. The advice was wrong. Ministers are also political creatures – they want things done in their term of office. Still I’m pleased it has now meet general acceptance.

It looks like we are in for a repeat performance with the national standards tests. Hasty implementation will be at a cost of good-will. I can see the education world in for a rough ride this winter with talks of strikes over salary claims and primary discontent over the Government’s proposals.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

The ash from the Iceland volcanic eruption has disrupted air travel throughout Europe. It shows how vulnerable modern civilisation is to cataclysmic events. It’s not just people. Trade and industry will be affected.

I turn to local affairs. I’ve had an interesting two days. On Thursday I began reading Helen Stiminson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. On Friday I read on, only stopping to go to the dentist to get a tooth out. In the evening Anne and I watched Disk2 of Little Dorritt

Yesterday, I read most of the day. We had visitors mid-afternoon but as soon as they left I picked up the novel, finishing it just before dinner. After dinner we watched Disk3 of Dorritt.

The comparison between novel and TV serial (based on Charles Dickens classic) reveals interesting similarities. Both are love stories. Both have their moments of melodrama. There are moments of sheer comedy. The plots are obviously manipulative. But there are contrasts. Pettigrew is man with backbone. Mr Dorritt has little.

Pettigrew is a cultured man of correctness, detachment and old-fashioned chivalry. He is the last person you would expect to fall in love and he does. I fell in love with the two chief characters on the first page. I knew what would happen The rendering of Dickens by contrast opens with mystery. What I did not anticipate with the Pettigrew was the comedy along the way. The duck-shooting scene ranks with the best of Pickwick Papers. While the golf club dance ends in chaos and disaster Pettigrew feels a fool. And doesn’t know how he could have acted differently.

Although basically a romance the novel touches on issues of urbanisation, greed, race relations and the clash between faith and desire. There is a comic and ironic tone that gives it depth and it sweeps the reader along. Stock characters made real. That’s some achievement. In retrospect aspects of the plot creak - isn’t that a Dickens’ characteristic? But above all the delicate and sensitive portrayal of cross-cultural love is so well-done.

Tom Courtenay is brilliant as Mr Dorritt. TV can never fully capture the richness of Dickens nor the extent of his sub-plots. But it’s not doing a bad job with this series. Despite a sore mouth I’ve had two good days albeit without enough exercise. The equinox winds still do blow.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Countrywoman

Reading 'Wildes Licht' I came across Meg Campbell’s poem ‘My Countrywoman’. I’d read it years ago but this reading made me realise I had underestimated it. It’s a good poem.

She is the Kiwi, the Dodo-bird
of the South Seas, weak-eyed,
with heavy legs and arse
and beak that doubles as a weapon –
pecking sharpens her mind.
Violent and amiable, both, she is
often seen at shopping centres
flanked by kids and elderly mother.
Sometimes she is seen in undergrowth
of jumble sales or Church bazaar,
pressing to the front, her money
extended to buy the tastiest cake.
In the bedroom at night, she sports
tiny wings – the curious remnant
of her long-lost flight.

Meg Campbell

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wildes Licht

A week ago Anne represented me at a Goethe Institute function. Dieter Reimenschneider had editied an anthology of New Zealand poems called Wildes Licht (the title of the Michele Leggott poem). He has translated them into German. Anne read my Makeshift Holding Pen (in English) in my absence. See blog 6 April 2009.

I’ve been reading the selection over the past week. It’s a good collection, a balance of known and new poets. Curnow’s best two poems – moa and you’ll know when you get there. I like the Manhire selection. Smither’s “A Cortege of Daughters’ is always striking. Mark Pirie’s included. The book’s a good addition to my library’s anthology section.


The two monarch butterflies we christened Mainwaring and Wilson have emerged from their cocoons within half an hour of each other. We put them outside. They stayed for a while testing their wings before fluttering off. How they will get on in these colder days I don’t know. I presume they leave eggs to hatch next summer.

On the second swan plant Jen gave us there was the smallest caterpillar imaginable. I was going to call it Pike but Anne called it Tiny and that name stuck Tiny is growing fast, a voracious eater. She had to transfer him to a second plant. By the time he (or she – do caterpillars have sexes) emerges from the cocoon it will indeed be a colder world. Rain today with a top temperature of 17 forecast.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leaving The Tableland

I’m reading Kerry Popplewell’s ‘Leaving the Tableland’ her first book of poems. From the moment I read the first poem I was hooked. Called ‘Acclimitisation’ it begins by describing Ursula Bethell gardening and ends
‘this conglomerate place
where, aping each other’s call
blackbird and tui give chase.’

That describes our garden too. The next poem about harvesting potatoes leads to reflections about her Irish ancestors and their back-breaking labours. On Anzac Day 2004 thinning carrots she meditates upon her young great-uncle who died in the First World War. This is how most of my poems work – present to past, immediate to general. So many contact points. I too loved reading The Master, was blown away by the Rosalie Gasgoine exhibition, was awestruck in the Uffizi Gallery, saw the Queen in 1953 and that production of The Cherry Orchard.

Another poem recalls the Second World War. The man overseas looking at a photograph. The wife at home in Paihatua waiting like Penelope. The child
‘I was five when my father came home
When he tried to hug me, I hid.’

I especially liked ‘A Photograph of William Atwood’s Bullock Team, 1857.'
‘The steamship’s standing
well out to sea
while the bullock team waits
a black silhouette
on Wairau beach
near the end of the day.’

There’s a gentle strength in her poems. She’s good on family, warts and all, tragedy and future generations. But she really comes into her own in the last section – tramping poems set in New Zealand and Australia. Her passion for the outback and the high country shines through with a compelling intensity. Glover imagined what it was like. Popplewell experiences it. The cameraderie, the loss of companions, the sense of wonder and weariness – experiences that convey to those of us who have only been amateur trampers what it’s like to be a dedicated one.
'Up on top, wind's the dictator.'

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Conspiracy Theories

Life is random. Accidents happen. Events occur. Contrary to what is common belief there is no destiny. The detail of the future can't be accurately foreseen for there are many possible futures. Such is the stuff of history. But of late there has been a plethora of pseudo-historians claiming a present conspiracy that denies the righteous their due. They concoct relations between happenings that have little connection. Modern media gives their theories credibility and publicity.

I’ve been reading ‘Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History’. by David Aaronovitch which examines this phenomena. Christ's lineage through Mary Magdalene survives, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbour, Marilyn Monroe was murdered, Oswald didn’t shoot JFK, the moon landings were a fake, the Bush administration orchestrated the 9/11 attacks – Aaronovitch takes these and other similar claims and scrutinises them. His interest is not so much the conspiracy. It is the theory that underpins its popularity. He defines such a theory as ‘the attribution of deliberate agency to something that is more likely to be accidental or unintended.’

Conspiracy theories play into paranoia. People seek explanation for what is happening. It’s the fault of the Jews. Germany was stabbed in the back. It’s Wall Street. It’s the Trotskyites. It’s the CIA. When Clinton was in power Right wing conspiracy theories flourished. With Bush the pendulum swung to Left conspiracy theories.

I find it incredible that people can deny the moon walk. The cover-up for such a lie is impossible to conceive. Likewise, 9/11. What a gigantic plot if it was one. Of course the movies have softened us up for such theories. James Bond thrived on them. There are evil demonic forces trying to dominate our planet and out lives.

So-called investigative TV programmes can be factual or slanted. For the casual viewer it’s hard to know where the border-line is. While the internet gives a whole new ball game. Start a theory and it can snowball.

Take 9/11. What about a cockup theory rather than conspiracy. There is little doubt that homeland security had been lax. But in the few hours after the planes rammed into the Trade Towers confusion and panic reigned. To those involved heaven knows what else was going to unfold. It is easy in hindsight to say what should have happened. But to the decision-makers of the day they were reacting in shock to unreeling events.

When I was a young man I read an account by a student about joining an obscure religious sect. The world was going to end and they alone were to be saved. They met on a hilltop to await the arrival of the flying saucer to ferry them to the better place. Time passed and the saucer didn’t appear. Their guru then had a flash on inspiration. There was a delay to enable them to make another effort to convert the ungodly. The faithful remained faithful. The student left. I recall thinking his presence added another factor to the mixture. But the fact the belief was not shaken was the key point.

Conspiracy theory believers are unlikely to give up their beliefs in face of facts. That evidence is mere confirmation of how devious the conspirators are. It is hard to accept that what you believe is nonsense. It is easier to counter with the cliché that there there is smoke there is fire.

The believers have another ace up their sleeves. Conspiracies do exist. The fact that the Roman Catholic church has attempted to cover-up child abuse lends credibility to the claim it has cover-up the true lineage of Christ. An American president did fake the Gulf of Tonkin attack to give him a pretext to bomb North Viet Nam. Aaronovitch skilfully acknowledges this at the beginning of his book. It lends credibility to his statements.

It’s a frightening read. But I am left with one huge caveat. I accept his thesis and his findings. There is a hole in his book. He does not investigate the theory that the Bush administration conspired to claim that Saddam’s agents met with one of the 9/11 hijackers. Confessions from tortured captives were used to support this claim. I have a question for Mr Aaronovitch. Why did you not investigate this theory? Could it be it was because he supported the war.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


When I started secondary teaching I was asked if I had ever caned. I replied ‘how and why should I have?’ I was given a cane and advice. Apparently a boxer doesn’t aim for the chin. If he does he pulls his punch. The intent is to have momentum. So you aim for the kidneys not the buttocks. It all sounded very sick-making.

But when in Rome? All male teachers in the school caned. – I couldn’t afford to be different. As a process of discipline it was unsuccessful and was not an effective means of changing behaviour. After adding another notch to their belt the naughty and bad boys went on repeating their offences. It was unfair –for a similar offence girls did not have to face corporal punishment.

I observed it worked with the average boy who did something stupid, and knew they shouldn’t have. I learnt a hard lesson with my third form English class. As the first term progressed they got noisier. Just before Easter they got even more raucous, calling out answers across each other. Foolishly I said, "I'll cane the next boy who calls out." They realised I meant it and quietened down. Near the end of the period a very quiet scholarly boy who had never previously opened his mouth unless I asked him a question, called out an answer. "You gotta cane him, sir. You said you would". I knew there was no option. "Outside" I said.

Head down he went out before me. The phrase this hurts me more than it hurts you was never more true. I also knew I could not cane him gently - the class inside waited expectantly. I hit him once. He waited for the second stroke. "That's all. And don't call out again." Back in the classroom someone quietly said, "you only caned him once." "He only called out, once," I replied. The humour eased our mutual unease at the injustice of the situation. Moral - never utter a general threat, it can collide with justice.

When caning was abolished in schools the move had my whole-hearted support. It’s proponents claimed the sky would fall in. It didn’t.

Although the anti-smacking legislation was introduced into Parliament by Sue Bradford of the Green party it became associated with Helen Clark’s government - the albatross around her neck for the 2008 election. Despite John Key’s support to pass the bill he did not gain the same stigma. And he seems to have successfully weathered the recent referendum calling for the removal of the law. Common sense seems to have prevailed.

The reason why I am writing about this is that the latest issue of Time magazine has a heading ‘Study: Spanking Kids Leads To More Aggression.’ Research from Tulane University shows that those youngsters smacked more frequently as 3 year olds were more aggressive as 5 year olds. Earlier research from Duke University revealed that infants ‘who were spanked at twelve months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.’

The Tulane researchers suggest that spanking installs fear rather than understanding. ‘Even if a child were to stop his screaming tantrum when spanked, that doesn’t mean he understands why he shouldn’t be playing up in the first place. What’s more, spanking models aggressive behaviour as a solution to problems.’ The major point made it seems to me is that spanking becomes less and less effective the more it is used.

Judging by the furore of comments made about the column the issue is as much a hot potato in the USA as it was here a few years ago. Again, there is a need for common sense.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Little Dorrit

Anne took me to the Orthotic Clinic this morning to see if anything can be done to assist the right foot drop. They have given me a simple device – a strp around my ankle and a loop to two hooks in my shoes. It has made walking feel more safe. I noticed on the drive there that the deciduous trees in the Gardens are beginning to get their autumn colours.

Over the weekend we began watching the BBC production of Little Dorrit on DVD. Apparently there are 14 episodes. Dickens lends himself to the moving image. So many of his characters are caricatures. Rags to riches and back again –a very Dickensian plot.

19th century London is always a rich backdrop to period drama. As Anne said yesterday as we discussed the series ‘we are 20th century inhabitants.' Last century to us is the 19th. But increasingly it is not a large part of the mental mindscape of our society. Dickens is going to become increasingly remote.

The novels of Dickens like those of Hardy blacken as the authors got older. Under The Greenwood Tree and Pickwick Papers are basically sunshine and light-hearted fun though there are hints of decay and disorder. By the time of Jude, Hardy was very bleak. By the time of Little Dorrit, Dickens was too. In both novels the characters are greater than their circumstances. I studied the novel in Stage I English years ago at Canterbury University.

What a cruel system! Debtor’s prison – in which some poor wretch languishes because they owe money. Unable to work they remain there until the debt is paid. Unless charity, an inheritance or the intervention of a rich relation happens along there is little chance of escape. William Dorrit is in Marshalsea – his sole support is his youngest daughter Amy who supports her father with her meagre income from dress-making. His other children, snobbish musical hall star Fanny and lazy Edward visit him but do nothing to help.

Arthur Cleannan’s mother, a cruel old wheelchair-ridden woman employs Amy. Her son Arthur is attracted to the young girl. But Dicken’s plots are convoluted and the course of true love does not run smoothly. Evil lurks. I look forward to seeing the rest of the series.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crab Apple Jelly

This morning when I awoke, still in bed, I pulled back the curtains. Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning. Lying there I watched two rosellas in the broken boughed oak next door.

We got two different jars of fruit jelly two days ago. Friend Ali gave us quince jelly and Colin brought crab apple. Anne’s put a piece about the making of the quince jelly on her food blog

In the past Anne and I used to go to Colin’s Brooklyn garden to pick crab apples, it was at that stage a yearly ritual. His tree always had a prolific crop. We turned the tart fruit into jelly in our kitchen, sharing the filled jars with him in an Italian landlord/peasant type of arrangement - he owned the tree and helped us pick the fruit but we provided the labour (and the sugar) to turn it into jelly.

The process put our bath out of use for at least twenty-four hours. The fabric shop assistants used to look warily at me at first when I ask for muslin, but hearing that I want it for making jelly, they were eager to help and started talking about their mothers making jellies and jams when they were young.

The process as Anne’s blog describes is quite simple though it’s labour intensive. The resulting juice was a gorgeous pink colour. I used to boil it up again with sugar – 500g to 3 cups of juice – skimming as I went to remove any impurities. When it was ready to set I decanted it into clean, hot jars, straight from the dishwasher.

For years both households give jars to gifts to friends, but there was enough of the brilliantly crimson jelly with its slight sharp taste to eat all year. I used to put tablespoons of it in my meat casseroles to add to the flavour. I look forward to eating Colin’s and Ali’s offerings this year.

Our next door neighbours here have a tall crab-apple tree but it bears little fruit. Blackbirds have been pecking at them and when I got up this morning the rosellas were there too. Not a feast for them but a treat. For me to see them too.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Garden Lion

I have been given to review the book 'A History of Gardening in New Zealand. It has a lovely photograph of poet Ursula Bethell in her Cashmere garden holding her cat Michael. There is a short poem to the cat in the excerpt. In my mind cats and gardens go together.

Here is another of her poems about Michael


O Michael, you are at once the enemy
And the chief ornament of our garden,
Scrambling up rose-posts, nibbling at nepeta,
Making your lair where tender plants should flourish,
Or proudly couchant on a sun-warmed stone.

What do you do all night there,
When we seek our soft beds’
And you, old roisterer,
Away in the dark?

I think you play at leopards and panthers
I think you wander on to foreign properties:
But on winter mornings you are a lost orphan
Pitifully wailing underneath our windows;
And in summer by the open doorway,
You come in pad, pad, lazily, to breakfast,
Plumy tail waving with a fine swagger.
Like a drum major, or a parish beadle,
Like a rich rajah, or a grand mogul.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Mountain


(from Erubus Voices)

I am here beside my brother, Terror.
I am the place of human error.

I am beauty and cloud, and I am sorrow;
I am tears which you will weep tomorrow.

I am the sky and the exhausting gale.
I am the place of ice. I am the debris trail.

And I am still a hand, a fingertip, a ring,
I am what there is no forgetting.

I am the one with truly broken heart.
I watched them fall, and freeze, and break apart.

Bill Manhire

In my lifetime New Zealand has had three collective transport calamities, the Tangiwai rail disaster, the Wahine sinking and the Erebus crash. Bill Manhire is one of our poets fortunate enough to have visited Antarctica. His poem about the Air New Zealand plane crash into Mt Erebus magnificently and starkly catches the horror and the awe of an event that shocked the nation. The use of rhyme is particularly effective.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Launch of 'Goya Rules"

Here is Vince O'Sullivan's speech at the launch of 'Goya Rules'.

"I hope it doesn’t sound too like a cliché, when I say Harvey is very much a poet of his time. I say that because so much poetry at the moment sounds as though it wants to plug into something that is somewhere else; it even sounds, at times, as though it wants to sound as though it’s written by someone else. So let me begin with what strikes me first as I read Harvey. What interests him, and how he says it, rings with the values and the apprehensions, with the language and the rhythms, of those who share where he is, and when it is he is talking to them.

This volume takes on and takes in so much that matters to his generation, from what derives from the Thirties, when he was a boy, through the years of war succeeding war, into our own local political follies, our current views on the past, and what today actually looks like- which also means what pretty constantly troubles an intelligent observer. This is poetry with its eyes open to what goes on out there, as much as directing attention to what goes on as one thinks of mortality and illness.

'Goya Rules'. It’s a fine title for this clear-eyed take on what’s good, and what’s troublesome, in one man’s life. It’s there in this cleverly chosen cover – Goya’s depicting a celebration, the dancing, the music, the costumes. But there’s that sinister figure too that has joined the dance. And if you look at the faces in the crowd, the faces of any crowd, they’re not too lovely, many of them. Goya rules all right.

And yet one remembers there’s that other side to Goya, those compassionate portraits, the conveyed delight when the sun simply shines on women with their parasols – there’s a good deal more than just his celebrated darkness. And Harvey is alert to both. He had his own celebratory lines for what he calls ‘A perfect day for a Renoir party’; or when he invokes “Eve, mother of us all, isn’t she beautiful.’

There’s a good phrase where Harvey tells you where, as they say, he’s coming from – ‘it’s ‘an alcove in the universe that I inhabit.’ That alcove, that perspective that he writes from, so very often is a garden. He makes you attend to things outside your window in the way Ursula Bethell made you attend. As you move through these poems, poems that don’t for a minute back off Goya’s darkness, you’re even more aware of just how much delight he takes in every day. As Mansfield said about the short story, what holds us is ‘the life in the detail’. That, when the chips are down you might say, is perhaps the strongest defence we have against what in another poem is called ‘the horrifying banality’ of those people or those things that would deny the detail of others, the detail they don’t approve of. All poetry, if you like, is a stand against that.

And never forget that Harvey is a teacher. Right back with the Romans, their poet Horace made a point of it: the business of poetry is to instruct, and to delight. Teaching after all, like poetry, is based on the premise that somebody knows something that somebody else will be the better for knowing. I feel that so often as I read one of his poems. I’m the better for knowing what he tells me. But there’s that pleasure too in the shape and the how of the poems, the shape the telling takes.

And can I say this too. Harvey’s directness, his honesty, become a quality in what he writes, his knowing that there are things to face that are a long way from being fun. He puzzles about questions that have always puzzled – the ‘who are we, what are we here for, where are we going’ kind of questions. Or as he puts it in his fine poem about Ted Hughes’ Crow, ‘this is no simple flirtation with existence’. He knows entirely rational answers won’t quite do – as he says, ‘he’s already on/ the back foot for he knows reason unleashed / Robespierre.’ He knows, to quote again, ‘The spirit seeks more than the dead-end / But doubt remains predominant.’ And yet in his poem called ‘Unnoticed’, he has written words that could be set to music and sung at St Ninian’s. Like a good historian, he knows human continuity doesn’t run in straight lines.

It has been a privilege to say a few of the many things that might be said about this book. It’s good to say them to a group of friends who admire Harvey for his poetry, and for much more as well. I wouldn’t be the only one to think how appropriate to the man we know this line of his is: ‘Stoicism / under siege buckles but rallies, old habits hold.’

I’ll risk a final moment of unaccustomed masculine sentiment, if I may, to say if I imagine being bailed up by a Martian and had to answer, ‘What are the qualities you most value in New Zealanders,’ I’d take a short cut. I’d say, ‘You might do worse than take a look at Harvey McQueen.’ And if I were quizzed a bit more, on how I thought the man and his poetry intersect, I’d read the last paragraph of what I say at the beginning of this book – and thank you for the chance to say so. ‘These are poems in the long and admirable tradition of the humanist belief that to face the facts, to find the language for speaking of them, is also to live alertly, kindly, attentive to what day is and what it brings. For that is what this collection adds up to. It is an unashamed declaration to a world that gives much, that expects much, and poetry is the way to say so.' '

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crime Stories

Swedish author, Steig Larssen, died before the last of his Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked Over the Hornet’s Nest was published. I have just finished reading it. I had not read the earlier two books, which is a disadvantage. But one is enough. I am pleased to have read it but I do not intend to read the others.

The style is stark and simple – very modern, urban, fast, staccato, vivid detail. It’s that murky world of espionage and counter-espionage, violence, casual sex and power games. Ethical dilemmas rather than moral issues predominate. Computer hacking dominates. Surprise rules supreme. Humour and solace are absent. .

I do not respond well to conspiracy theories. It disturbs me that some readers believe ‘The Da Vinci Code’ is truth and not a novel. I accept corruption occurs at the highest political levels but I found Larssen’s account lacking credibility.

Likewise his characters. The heroine is operated on to have a bullet removed from her brain in the opening scenes. A few days later she is moving freely around and using a smuggled laptop to contact the outside world from her hospital bed. The hero escapes a machine-gun assassination by grabbing the barrel of the gun. This is Hollywood, not real life.

The best scene is the trial scene. A court-case can be riveting drama. In this case it is so. The whole fabric of lies is demolished as the prosecution’s case unravels. After that the rest is anti-climax. I do wonder if the author’s death left the ending up in the air. I found it most unsatisfactory.

I suppose one source of my unease is my rather naïve assumption about civilised behaviour. I do not move in a world of stolen identities, of computer hacking, misinformation, constant coffee and serial sex. So I fail to respond to narrative based around them. Out-of-date man, you might say. .

I know these things go on. I’m sure the Americans and the Chinese are busy trying to hack each other’s military and commercial secrets. And I doubt if we are lily-white clean. Every technological advance has its downside.

Ken and Rosemary lent me the eight disks of ‘Underbelly’, parts one and two. I had roughly the same reaction to the series. Gripping viewing. The moving image adds power to the narrative. Will the girl courier smuggling drugs strapped round her body get through customs? The viewer gets sucked in to willing her to get through safely, ignoring the fact, as she also does, that if she succeds, hundreds are going to suffer.

The glorification of corruption, violence, murder and drugs with sex thrown in as an incentive to action is powerful stuff. It’s not Hollywood though, it’s close to home. I know the good guys appear to have won out. But the story was not about them despite feeble efforts to portray it as such. And to play ‘The Carnival Is Over’ as the bad guys at the end face arrest was an act of bad taste, destroying positive memories of a well-loved melody.

I must say, however, the use of music in ‘Underbelly’ was striking. Life is as ever, complex.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Golden Lasses

At the end of watching the Margot Fonteyn DVD Shakespeare’s lines ‘golden lads and lasses must as chimney sweepers come to dust’ flashed across my mind. Such beauty and grace ending up old and frail. She said something terribly sad towards the end of her career. ‘They’ve come to see a freak’. An old lady still dancing. She got it wrong. They came to see a legend.

Yesterday I watched another DVD, Catherine the Great. From an obscure German princess she transformed herself into the most powerful regent Russia ever had – another rags to riches story. I enjoyed the story but felt the actress playing Catherine was neither lusty nor forceful enough. Catherine did not die a pauper’s death. She was buried in the St Petersburg cathedral; not like Fonteyn in an obscure Panamanian graveyard.

Both women had unbelievable strong wills. Little else in common; except being human. With strong wills went strong passions. Both imposed their stamp upon their eras.

Catherine survived treachery and plots. She ruled Russia from 1762 till 1796. She befriended Diderot the French philosopher and tried to impose his ideas upon her people. She rebuilt much of St Petersburg. Her armies extended the Russian borders southwards, conquering the Ukraine and Crimea. She had many lovers. She also became a legend.

Monday, April 5, 2010


A strange dream last night. I was at a huge rally – James Mason the actor was on stage building up the hype and then he morphed into Winston Peters who launched into an anti-Asian speech and attacking whanau ora. Someone unfurled a swastika and all mayhem broke loose. Shots were being fired. People were running in all directions. I was young and fit again

The origins of that dream are manifold. I’m reading Larssen’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest a novel about the Swedish SIS. The TV news had a clip of Winston speaking on whanau ora. And another one on a pro-Nazi rally in the United Kingdom. We watched a DVD on Margot Fonteyn last evening. The thought flashed across my mind that her Panamanian husband, Roberto Arrias, reminded me of James Mason and I must look at some of his old movies. The assassination attempt on Arrais left him crippled.

The excerpts of Fonteyn dancing were the highlights of the film. Her passion, grace and lyricism made her a great artist. Away from the choreography of the stage her life was more chaotic. People make gods of stars forgetting they are but human beings who excel at some art or sport. Think of Tiger Woods.
And we almost lost her. See my blog of 13 June last year. Had she been killed in Holland she would have been a brief paragraph in the history of her company. Instead, she survived to become a world famous personage. The scenes of her dancing with Nureyev were breathtaking. I would have been better off dancing with her in my dream but that was not to be.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Stocktake

People sometimes ask do you think ‘life’s unfair’. The answer is yes and no. Easter Sunday seems a good day to do a stocktake.

There are moments in my present existence when it does seem unfair. In my mid-70s I could be enjoying an active, mobile retirement. I’m not. But that can’t be helped. Matters need to be seen in perspective. Mum had a saying, ‘you can only play with the cards you’ve been dealt.’ True! There are moments of anger, regret, depression but they jostle with good memories and present acceptance and sometimes cheerfulness. Age and being an invalid does have some advantages. Teen-age obsessions and boredom have long departed.

Taking the life in the long view – a successful career, 18months working closely with the Prime Minister of New Zealand, head of the Teachers Council, volumes of poetry, teaching and public service that upheld a good education system, two marriages, love and friendship, the successful Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, travel, (22 countries), exploration of New Zealand, the balance is well and truly on the positive side. It’s been a good life. It’s not over yet.

Years ago after an exasperating session with my mother I said to my niece who had been present ‘she’s just a stupid, stubborn, old git’. Janine responded, ‘takes after her eldest son’. One of Mum’s characteristics was to downplay celebration.

After I had my first serious illness I wrote this poem. Allowing for post-illness despondency it illustrates another of Mum’s characteristics. One does not blow one’s own trumpet.


I dozed at meetings
cantering through
a long brief career
interior rooms
a sparkling view
ambition on every side
power with its gestures
                      & rituals

there were
times off duty
a camel at
the pyramids
a hired car
in the Cotswolds
a black sand bath
at Beppu
even our own
Franz Josef

the alternative
to living
(should that be loving?)
is defeat

talkative linesmen
install Saturn

the X-ray packet
safely stowed
behind the sofa

Had I lived in earlier centuries I’d be dead by now. As it is I am still here. Two rosellas called yesterday to investigate the crab-apple tree and a tui comes daily to the abutilon.

I have on the whole escaped partisan rancour and cultural insularity. I have not known first hand war, famine or terror.

As regards the two marriages I make only one comment. The thing I regret most is the thing I’m most pleased to have done. It has been a joy living with Anne with thirty years. Companionship is one of life’s greatest blessings. A regret that I do have (and legitimately) is the loss of the ability to do things together, shows, travel, meals out etc.

Even though I can’t put socks on I can still struggle in to my dressing gown. And today Diane who is of French stock is bringing her famous rabbit and prune casserole for the midday meal. Normally we used to go to her place for Easter Sunday dinner. Now, she’s coming to ours. Adaptability – one of our species’ greatest abilities.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

An Old Easter Poem

Good Friday, 2005

Cat, now lying languid in the sun,
it’s more complicated than you
realise - a recent English survey
revealed 50% didn’t know Easter’s
origins. Bye, bye Shakespeare. What
do you read my Lord? Images! Images!
Images! The pot may call the kettle
egotistical & snow is black. My
concern’s my language & you’ve
vomited all over the carpet thrice
& the vet’s closed over the holiday.

Harvey McQueen

In ‘Goya Rules’ there are five cat poems. This is one of them. It was written at the time one of our two cats William was being sick. What I didn’t realise at the time he was terminally ill.

When I wrote the poem I was more concerned about a news item I had just read. Half the population of the United Kingdom appeared not to know the origins of Easter. To them it was a holiday with chocolate eggs and rabbits.

Without that Biblical background much of Shakespeare becomes meaningless. This excludes that magical fantasy ‘The Midsummer Night’s Dream’. It is a dreamworld peopled by fantasy and fairies. Yesterday I watched the fifth cinema adaptation of it, 1999, directed by Michael Hoffman.

Bottom is played by Kevin Kline, Titania by Michelle Pfieffer, Puck by Stanley Tucci. It’s a film way over the top, playful, sexy. It wavers from the realistic to the slapstick to the pathetic (using the word ‘pathos’ in its true sense). Heroines mud-wrestling is very unShakespearean but I’ve a hunch he would have approved. And the rustics portrayal of the Pyramus and Thisbe legend has never been better done.

Image, language and plot combined to make a film I really enjoyed. Film adds its own dimension to theatre. Magnificent music too. An ear-feast as well as an eye-feast.

Friday, April 2, 2010


In Tokyo they are welcoming the cherry blossom. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s easy to forget that Easter was originally a spring festival celebrating new life. For years, each Easter, I used to make pashka – a traditional Russian treat designed to celebrate the end of Lent. It’s certainly not exactly healthy, but we ate it only once a year.


40 g sultanas
two tbsp of vodka
350g full-fat cream cheese
175g unsalted butter
15g crushed, blanched almonds
½ tsp of vanilla essence
75g caster sugar
a handful each of glace cherries and glace peel

To make the custard

One egg yolk
2 tsps caster sugar
75ml cream

Soak the sultanas overnight in vodka. Line a large size sieve with muslin, making sure there is enough left over to fold over the top. Mix together in a bowl the cream cheese, unsalted butter, vodka-soaked sultanas, almonds, vanilla essence, caster sugar and cut-up glace fruits. Make a custard by beating the egg yolk and second measure of castor sugar together. Bring two/thirds of the cream to boil, add to the egg and sugar mix and stirring all the time bring it to near boiling. When it begins to thicken remove it from the heat. Allow it to cool a bit before blending it in to the cream cheese. Mix in the remaining cream.

Put the mixture into the muslin in the sieve and stand in another container to collect the whey. Put it in the fridge with a weight on top (I used a clean garden brick) for 24 hours. Removing the muslin turn it on to a plate, ready for Easter Sunday. Yum!. Most recipes suggest decorating with the glace fruit but I added them to the cream cheese mixture. Labour-saving, it didn’t look as decorative but it added to the flavour.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

ATale of Two Cats


It’s been bloody rain
for a week & I’m
tired of emptying the
kitty litter - the night
it started raining the
cat flap jammed & in
the morning a most
distressed moggy &
ever since he has
refused to go out-
side. He came close
to losing all his nine
when he sprayed my
computer. Trouble is
he catches mice & rats
but they are not going
to run inside to seek
his teeth & claws. Stupid
animal! It takes one
to recognise one. He’s
also the most devoted
cat I’ve ever had.
Another sign of his

This poem is in ‘Goya Rules’. For it’s own reasons it tells only half the story.

Shortly after we shifted to our previous house we were given two kittens. We named them William and Dorothy for we had just returned from a visit to the English Lake Country and the Wordsworths, brother and sister, were fresh in our minds. They were well-named. He consistently chattered and whined a lot, she was plump and placid, and they were devoted to one another. She purred most of the time when she was awake, even when eating. He rarely purred, was nervy but agile, and the poem’s correct, was an excellent mouser.

As the poem says the cat-flap in the back door jammed one night in a bad storm. During that night Anne woke me up to anxiously say something was bashing at the front door. ‘Only the wind’ I muttered. But it continued, so with torch and tension I slowly open it. In bounded Dorothy. She had never done that before. My language was extremely unparliamentary.

Next morning, when I went into the kitchen, there was William, back paws on the garden seat under the window, front paws on the sill, screaming in rage and anguish at me through the glass. He was drenched. When I opened the door he shot inside, refused all food, and cuddled up on the sofa for a day-long sleep.

We replaced the cat door with one that had a magnet to stop it flapping in the wind. This didn’t deter Dorothy, she continued to enter and exit regally. William, however, was much more nervous, gingerly testing its resistance. A sudden winter hail storm cured his caution as he hit it in a flash.

A few years later, sadly, we had to put William down. But now in the new house Dorothy’s still going strong. As I describe in last Sunday's blog she’d have won an Olympic aged cat’s speed race. On the whole she detests strangers. But friend Roger she not only tolerates but appears to admire. Here’s a brief biographical poem about her.


(for Roger)

like all cats

a kitten wailing
atip a manuka bush
after tumbling, scrambling
& then
up again

vanity is a proudly presented mouse
let loose to escape behind the dresser

curiosity at any empty box

undisputed rights to my lap
& access to
the kitty litter

retreat from most visitors
but not from Roger