Category Archives: Uncategorized

1889. Award 22: Mystery at Te Popo

How wonderful to be nominated for The Mystery Blogger Award by Dumbest Blog Ever. The Dumbest Blogger ain’t as dumb as he makes out so go have a peek. He’s also going through a bit of a no-job patch, so see if you can have a read. He’s a good friend too.

Te Popo (in the title of this posting) is the name of the area where I live. It means “The Black Night”.

The award was established by Okoto Engima. She (apparently) is your everyday writer who turned her boredom, love for fashion, and passion for writing into something productive. So, being a fashion icon in my own head, I’m delighted to provide a link.

I’m meant to answer the five questions asked, and then say THREE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF. Of course the very things that some would want to know about me shall remain a secret. Oh! What the heck! Why not expose all? Read on!

Then I’ve got to nominate other bloggers, ask them a similar number of original things in the manner in which I was asked, and finally skedaddle off to bed.

Here are the five questions:

1. Where do UFOs come from?

Three weeks before my fourth birthday (i.e. 21 days before) my parents put a dozen eggs underneath a broody hen. I didn’t know, but they were due to hatch on my birthday. Then on my birthday eve my mother told me the hen was going to hatch out baby chickens tomorrow for my birthday. I went to the chicken coop and watched. Being on a farm I knew that babies came out of the mother’s bottom – like calves and lambs and things. I also knew that chickens came out of eggs. But how did the mother hen get her babies into the eggs after they had come out of her bottom?

I was going to solve this mystery once and for all. I watched all day, and not a thing happened. The next morning the hen had twelve chickens. I do not know how the hen puts the chickens into the eggs, and nor do I know where UFOs come from.

As an addendum to this, all twelve chicks grew into handsome over-sexed roosters, which might lead to the first of the THREE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF towards the end of this post.

This is my faverolles rooster in my later years!

2. Do you like Mexican food?

We don’t have Taco Bell within a thousand miles of where I live, so all Mexican food has to be hand-crafted – a skill which I have developed to a high standard, especially when opening the can of kidney beans. So yes, I like Mexican food. Once, a couple of years back, the farming neighbours asked me to look after their farm for three weeks while they went away for a vacation. (They had never had such a capable neighbour before, and I said yes because they had lots of farm bikes and I was able to roar around all day on motor bikes here and there – it could have been interpreted as testosterone but it was simply post-adolescent inanity).

By way of thanks the neighbours invited me over for a meal, and we had Mexican. I was foolish enough to declare that one cannot claim to have eaten Mexican tacos properly unless one takes a freshly stuffed taco shell and eats it while jumping up and down in a white shirt on a trampoline. That’s what I had seen Mexican children do.

Some idiot actually photographed it

Who cares? The shirt was old anyway. Of course, those of you who want to see me with my shirt off will have to wait until the THREE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF later. I don’t like to reveal everything all at once.

3. Do you believe in life after love?

I’d like to say yes to this question, but basically I’m a bad loser. I don’t know how many times I’ve fallen in love, or even fallen in infatuation. But each time when the saga is over I turn into a complete wreck. I’m trying to select an example…

Once, when all possibility of romance dissipated, approximately around one in the morning, I screwed up an entire packet of cigarettes and threw them into the fire. The nearest in-the-middle-of-the-night cigarette selling place was about two hours walk away and I didn’t have a car. By the time I got home at five o’clock it was sunrise and I was in a ripe state.

No, there’s no life after love. Or, yes, perhaps there is, but it’s a different life – I have subsequently discovered.

I know it’s confusing but this is not me. These are actually models.

4. What’s your theme song?

I’m a bit “yesterday” when it comes to choosing a theme song. I guess it would have to be the song my father banned from us playing on the (back-then) gramophone. It was the flipside of Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren’s “Goodness Gracious Me”. The song was called “We’re removing Grandpa’s grave to build the sewer”. I absolutely loved it back then (and still do). I suppose part of the appeal was that Dad had banned it and it could only be played when he was out of the house. Apart from that as a ten year old I got given a collection of recordings of music by famous composers and I thrashed Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” to death. Mum would say, “Turn that horrible music down” but I didn’t.

I still get immensely excited by every note of it, and sometimes take the score to bed with me to read like a novel. But for the time being, if you’re hoping to get an insight into my excitement you may have to wait until you hear about the THREE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF towards the end of this reflection.

Getting ready to take Stravinsky’s Rite to bed.

5. Would you rather eat rice or potatoes?

I had two great-great-great grandmothers die in the Irish Potato Famine, so it would be treachery to claim a preference for rice. Besides, I associate rice with China, and they’re not my favourites at present.

There’s so much more one can do with a potato. Rice one can boil or throw over the bride and groom at a wedding. What a waste! Imagine throwing boiled potatoes at a bride and groom. It could be the harbinger of awkward things to come, especially if the groom got bits of mashed potato on his black tuxedo.

THREE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF

At last we have arrived at this most revealing section. Some of you have been faithful online friends for seven or eight years, and some just a few weeks. Some know things about me that others don’t. Anyway, here are bits of me in no particular order and for no particular reason:

1. I am gay. My partner is Eric. He is French. We get on well enough. He speaks nine languages and I speak English. He uses the eight other languages when he doesn’t want me to know what he’s saying. I never chose to be gay. My five siblings are now all GREAT grandparents. Such things would have its joys and non-joys (and expenses). I have a dog and a cat. I love them nonetheless. It’s not quite the same but it’ll have to do!

2. I was a catholic priest for nearly thirty years. Those years, plus the eight years of training, were an important part of who I am. Sometimes, when people hear of my past, they say “Good on you for leaving”. I always get a little hurt by that. It was almost forty years of my life! I don’t think there was much wrong with what I did!

3. I have had a chronic heart condition for 25 years or so. Apparently I need a heart transplant but I’m not going to be given one because there’s a paucity of hearts about and I haven’t made a big enough contribution to society to be very far up the list! I said to the heart specialist when he told me that, “as long as the heart I would’ve got goes to someone younger who has a life ahead then that is fine”, and he said that no one had said that before and he burst into tears. I thought that might’ve improved my chances but it made Sweet Fanny Adams of a difference!

Anyway, it’s just as well that this wonderful award asks for only three, otherwise I’d be talking about myself all day.

I now have to ask five questions and nominate others. Well, this is the sad bit. I should’ve said it at the beginning. I don’t nominate, but I mention the blog addresses of other bloggers I follow that I like and maybe you miss out on. If I don’t mention you, know that I don’t NOT mention you to make you feel bad.

a). Passing on the flame. This is an archive of poetry translations (Medieval/Baroque/Modern/etc) from the German, by Peter Lach-Newinsky. I like this site because it exposes something to me that I wouldn’t have a clue about otherwise.

b). Observation Blogger. Lifelong learner and blogging enthusiast. Matthew is an Australian who lives in Colombia with his family. I think he’s currently in permanent lockdown – the poor bugger. He posts interesting stuff about music and things. The bits I like most are his introductions to Latin American music, singers, and songs.

c). Lisa of arlingwords blogs about a number of things, but mainly about her communal garden in Washington DC where she creates produce for the poor and gets eaten out by wild and pernicious rabbits.

d). European Origins. As a (lily) white Caucasian I enjoy Marcel’s blog and dream about my European ancestral lineage! I hope I’m allowed to…

e). Sweet Life Kitchens. Noel presents country-style cooking and baking. I like it because it gives a few ideas and shows how to cook things without a million pop-ups and ads that have now taken over recipe sites. This is good stuff!

Now I have provided no questions because these are not nominations but recommendations. But if so desired then recommended bloggers can answer the same five questions no doubt more satisfyingly than my response!

Thanks again to The Dumbest Blogger for his kindness in nominating me.

Here’s a picture of my washing to let you know that despite all I’ve said, it’s a cow of a life.

Poem 96: Self-portrait in still life

(Today there is no story, but Poem 96. This is the second “Self-portrait” poem – the first one was “Landscape” and this one is “Still Life”. This poem is probably not to everyone’s liking. I try to cover as much territory as I can and sometimes feel a bit strangled by the expectations of the occasional some. So if I don’t follow myself I end up in some quagmire of  uncreativity and consumed by self-doubt. Sorry if this didn’t make sense. For those who prefer to be warned, there is a swear word in the poem).

Today I pulled out weeds in the garden.
I don’t have a clue what the weeds are called.
I s’pose they have names.
I have a weed book (with illustrations) called
“Weeds”. All the names inside

are Latin, like Taraxacum officinal
which is just an antediluvian nomenclature for dandelion.
A friend of mine once made tea out of Taraxacum officinal and got the runs.
Yes, I have friends.

(Fa la la la la).

One of the weeds was all tanglely and sticky.
Another had roots so deep it snapped underground.
Yet another was prickly
and another slimy because of spit beetle spit.
Anyway, I couldn’t help but think –

I am a fern frond stuck in a vase in a still life painting
– not that a fern is a weed –
stuck in a vase with a couple of dowdy dead flowers,
and next to a banana.

(Fa la la la la).

I am a fern frond stuck in a vase.
I am a fern frond stuck in a vase next to a banana.
The frond reminds Mabel up the road of the most intricate lace.
But it’s the same all the way up.
It’s the same all the way down.

Everything’s the same.
It’s the same fa la la la la.

(Fa la la la fucking fa la).

Some days I feel the need to escape
the picture.

If the above link doesn’t play, then try clicking HERE!

Poem 95: Self-portrait in landscape

The landscape’s crumpled undulations
stand perhaps as some sort of metaphor.
It’s as if when god got to make me a muttering was heard:
stuff this, who cares about this one?
The blueprint was screwed up
and tossed to the ground.

You know, you know,
people snapshot it, they take pictures
of the blueprint as if it’s the beautiful thing,
and yet the scene proclaims…

(nothing really, it doesn’t matter).

The landscape’s crumpled undulations
are as green as anything; muddled as anything.
There is no old history.
There’s nothing to say the place is sacred,
this dude is home, this fellow’s holy,
this guy is worth half another look.

You know, you know,
people snapshot it, they take pictures
of the blueprint as if it’s the beautiful thing,
and yet the scene proclaims…

(nothing really, it doesn’t matter).

The landscape’s crumpled undulations
can be unravelled if anyone cares to loosen;
undo the screwed-up-ness, flatten the blueprint out.
But it’s munted, the twisted scene’s munted,
the blueprint’s screwed-up twice
and chucked to the ground.

You know, you know,
people snapshot it, they take pictures
of the blueprint as if it’s the beautiful thing,
and yet the scene proclaims…

(nothing really, it doesn’t matter).

Someday someone might pick up this bit of trash
and set it on fire.

If the above link doesn’t play, then try clicking HERE!

Award 21/Story 1872: A Blugger Award

I love awards. It’s over a year since I got an award – 9th of April 2019 at 5.19 p.m. This time I have been nominated by the Dumbest Blog Ever blogger for the Outstanding Blogger Award. I enjoy the Dumbest Blog Ever blogger’s blog and I’m sure many of you would too if you don’t already know it – but be prepared at times for a touch of the bizarre that can have layers of meaning (or not). He’s also an expert at old Greek stuff and made me read the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was also brought up on a farm with cows. Thanks N. for thinking of me.

I was never really rebellious but I was never much good at rules either, so I’ll get the rules out of the way quickly. Here they are:

• Provide a link to the creator’s original award post. (Done!)
• Answer the questions provided.
• Create 7 unique questions.
• Nominate 10 bloggers.

Now to answer the 7 questions!

Question 1: What is the meaning of life?

I have no idea what the answer to this question would be! I took Philosophy for three years in earlier days. I slept through a number of the lectures. The climax came with the final assignment. I was given the topic, “Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge”.

Bertrand Russell – “The best life is the one in which the creative impulses play the largest part.”

I didn’t have a clue what his Theory of Knowledge was about and for the assignment I drew faces of little pigs to illustrate what I thought Bertrand Russell was saying. A message came from the Professor of Philosophy. He wanted to see me. I knocked guiltily on his office door. I was in a sweat. This would be it. He would announce a failure. He would say I should never have taken the philosophy course. My three years would be brushed aside and all because of rows of little pigs’ faces.

Oink! Oink! Oink!

“Yes,” said the professor, “where did you get this information from?”

“I read the book and that’s what I came up with,” I said.

“Well,” said the Professor, “I never understood Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge until I read your essay.”

I got an A+ pass for the course. But to this day I can’t say I understand Bertrand Russell’s Theory of Knowledge, and nor do I know the meaning of life.

Question 2: How fast is too fast?

I do everything like a bull at a gate. Everyone says, “Don’t go at it like a bull at a gate,” but I can’t help it. It saves having to think and learn. For example, I sat through Algebra classes at school surreptitiously solving the theorems of Euclidean Geometry because they were more interesting. I spent Latin classes reading George Eliot novels under the desk. To this day I know few Latin words and nothing about Algebra.

If I had my life again I would take things slower. I would study Algebra step by step. “Make haste slowly” would be the motto. Or as they said in Ancient Rome: Festina lente.

Question 3: Do you believe in Karma?

Yes I believe in Karma but possibly not in the sense understood in Hinduism and Buddhism – they’re out of my cultural league so I don’t pretend to understand it. But in the sense of everyday usage – good or bad luck, viewed as resulting from one’s actions – I’d go along with it. I dream of helping a little old lady across the road and being left a fortune in her will. That’s sort of what Howard Hughes did to this guy who stopped to help when Hughes got a puncture: left him millions. Whether the guy got the money in the end or not I’m not sure.

Howard Hughes – “The only time an aircraft has too much fuel on board is when it is on fire.”

The last job I had was as a country school librarian. It wasn’t a 40-hour week job because that would require full-time wages. It was for 37 hours so I could be paid the cheaper part-time wages. (Don’t ask me how that works). I taught music (without any resources) for 7 of those hours on librarian’s wages (which is less than 2 thirds of what a teacher gets). Suddenly a young teacher in a short skirt applied for the job of music teacher. But how to get rid of me first?

In the meantime, a mother of a student hanged herself from a tree in her garden. I was asked to play “sad mood music” at her funeral. Later to another teacher I expressed surprise that the Head Master hadn’t attended the funeral but chose to go to a rowing regatta instead. Before you knew it I was hauled into the Head Master’s office. Had I criticised the Head Master? I said I had expressed surprise. I was on my bike. That was that.

Two years later I read in the paper where the Head Master had been forced to resign; he’d been fiddling with music teachers in short skirts. Do I believe in Karma? Indeed! Have I forgiven the Head Master? Indeed I have – the wizened-up, over-sexed, inadequate, bat-festering, little twerp.

And I never found another paying job ‘cos I couldn’t get a reference from my “previous employer”.

Let’s play that again, Class.

Question 4: What’s your favorite type of jelly?

Oh my goodness! Here I am faced with a cultural dilemma. Not only am I forced to spell “favourite” without the U, I am confronted with the word “jelly”. Even though strictly speaking in New Zealand we could use the word “jelly” for a spread on toast if it’s set with pectin and strained (quince jelly for example) we usually use the word “jam” for both jam and jelly. Strictly and stickily speaking, jam has bits of pulverized fruit in it. Here, the word “Jelly” is usually reserved for what Americans call Jell-O.

I am therefore presuming that by “Jelly” in the question is meant the spread and not the dessert. Rhubarb Jelly is my favorite, for no other reason than I made a large pot of it, and dripped it through muslin cloth overnight. What a pretty sight it was in the jars catching the light! This wasn’t for eating as a spread as such. It was for painting on fruit in a dessert to make the fruit shine. It provided a wondrous glossy glow and the fruit looked even more delectable and the rhubarb jelly was without taste. If you want to be fussy, what I’ve described is not called Jelly either but Nappage. Thanks for the question, because I forgot I had made it and it’s been sitting in the back of the cupboard unused for about five years.

Question 5: What is the best mode of transportation?

A few years ago I thought I’d attend a friend’s father’s funeral and booked a flight to the city where it was. Not wanting to leave my car at the expensive, money-guzzling airport car park for several days, I asked a neighbour if he would take me to the airport in my car and then bring it back home.

”Sure,” he said. And we set out.

Towards the airport we had to pass through a busy barely two-lane really old tunnel. We were behind a slow driver. The tunnel was where the neighbour decided to pass the car in front. There was a bus and a row of cars headed straight for us. I wasn’t worried about my car. I was worried about my life.

I have never felt so safe getting onto a plane. That feeling has stayed with me. Hence the best mode of transport is out of a tunnel and into the air.

Question 6: How would you solve the world’s problems?

Don’t get me started! I probably would start with the fact that “people are not problems” they are “mysteries”. Problems get solved; mysteries get pondered. The modern world likes to turn everyone and everything into a problem; our differences are a problem, our forebears are a problem, etc. I could expand this for several pages, complete with little drawings of pigs’ faces but I shall save you the effort of having to read it.

Question 7: What’s your favorite meal?
Pancakes.
I would begin with a pancake stuffed with seafood, and then move on to lots more pancakes stuffed with various stuff.

For dessert it would be several pancakes stuffed with blueberries and lashings of whipped cream – that’s if I was dining at home. Otherwise dessert would be simply Jell-O if that’s what they serve in the coronary care unit in the hospital.

I don’t do nominations, but I do do recommendations. Here’s 10 blogs I follow, selected for no particular reason and in no particular order. Don’t feel bad if you’re left out. You’re still loved. I follow so many wonderful writers that I feel bad about selecting only ten. I reckon all these blogs are worth the time!

1. Red’s Kingdom. Phil’s blog involves photography, painting, music… anything that’s creative. And he seems to be a nice guy as well!
2. Iseult Murphy. Iseult is a horror, fantasy and science fiction author. She must be the most prolific reader on the Net and her reviews are worth the read in themselves. I believe she expressed a keenness to get murdered in one of my stories. I’m still choosing the weapon Iseult because I want it to be as exciting as your book!
3. Wandering Ambivert. Hannes lives in South Africa (I think) and his passion is photography, film, travel, nature, books… I have an expensive camera (it was a gift) and very little brain-power to use it properly. I relish the Wandering Ambivert’s postings in explaining what all the buttons are for.
4. (CALIATH). João-Maria writes in both English and Portuguese – the latter being his first tongue but you wouldn’t know it wasn’t English! I enjoy his writing because I find it challenges me not to be such a stick in the mud. I think he manipulates English in an original and creative way. It discomforts me in my prison walls!
5. Author Sarah Angleton. I’ve followed Sarah’s blog since way-back. She is a novelist and historian. On her blog Sarah usually once a week selects a tiny snippet of history, researches it, and presents it in a delightful way. You learn about interesting things you never dreamed you ever wanted to know about!
6. PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture. Max gives a daily menu of stuff you heard on the radio for years and forgotten you had. But it’s with fresh eyes and fresh insight. You’ll learn things you never knew about a song – such as the one today as I write, the whispered overdub on Riders on the Storm; the overdub being the last thing Jim Morrison did before his death.
7. shakemyheadhollow. Daedalus Lex aka Gary deals with conceptual spaces: politics, philosophy, art, literature, religion, cultural history. I don’t agree with everything he thinks about, but it certainly makes you think! I find it interesting.
8. araneus1. Terry is the second oldest blogger that I follow. I don’t mean he’s old; I mean I’ve hung around his blog for a long time like a bad smell. He’s Australian and his yarns are bloody good. Of all the story-tellers around, he is the one I always say “Oh good!” when I perceive a new posting.
9. Letters from Greece. M.L. Kappa lives in Greece, when she’s home because she takes you through Greece and to art exhibitions all over the place. On top of that she’s a fabulous artist herself. Her observations on history and art are rewarding and interesting. Her blog is a delight to visit, and you get a good overview of what’s happening these days in Greece as well.
10. Harvesting Hecate. I shouldn’t say this, but Andrea is my favourite all-time blogger. Not only does she encourage others, but she can turn the simplest walk into the most beautifully crafted odyssey. The writing castes a spell; in fact, it harvests Hecate. Andrea is also the blogger I’ve followed for the longest time – so in real life she’s probably lovely too! I can’t recommend her magic enough!

Thanks once again Dumbest Blog Ever.  I owe you a whiskey, or at least a beer; and failing that a drink of good Wisconsin milk.

(Tomorrow it’s back to the regular daily story!)

1800. Army training

Today is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia. It’s the day when we remember those fallen in wars. Ironically, the date is on the day of the greatest failure and loss of life in our common history: Gallipoli. Since I’m writing this reflection a good three and a half weeks before the posting date, goodness knows whether the pandemic will allow any public commemoration of the day. The day usually starts with Dawn Services at various cenotaphs.

Also, the number of this posting is Story 1800, and as with most “round numbers”, I usually relate something more personal – if I can think of something (which I just have!)

When I started high school (it was a boys’ boarding school because we lived too far in the countryside to travel daily to a high school) it was not that long since the end of World War II. Hence, as part of the school curriculum, there was military training. We called it “Barracks”. Every Wednesday there would be “Barracks”. And then, twice a year there would be “Barracks Week”.

I hated it.

We were issued with “Sandpaper Suits”, i.e. shorts, jacket, and beret, made of rough fabric, which with all the marching simply sandpapered your groin into oblivion. Every night the dormitories reeked of “Brasso” as everyone polished the brass buttons on their uniform.

I hated it.

My paternal grandfather (Boer War)

We would march and march and march. It was drill drill drill. The high school was just down the road from the country’s largest military camp, and army personnel would come to drill us and shout at us and order us hither and yon. Sometimes we seemed to stand still in the hot sun for hours. I learnt to obey everything with half an ear but my mind retreated into a world of make-believe. If I spied a lone distant house on a hill I would invent its rooms, its view, its story. Or if I saw a bird I would fly to its nest and concoct its life.

My maternal grandfather (World War I)

During Barracks Week we were given guns and had to ponce around with them in various positions. Then we were taken “down to the river bed” where we shot at targets all afternoon and (I would imagine) I mainly missed.

I hated it.

Occasionally we would decorate ourselves with flora and crawl through muddy creeks and prickly hedgerows to fire blanks at opposing army personnel. It was to turn boys into men.

I hated it.

My mother’s brother (World War II) – he didn’t come back

Once a year we would go on “Bivouac”. We were herded into army trucks and transported deep into the mountains where we would set up camp in the middle of the forest, sharing with another the single canvas ground sheet (one sheet on the ground and one above). From there we would eat our rations and set a watch all night because the army was going to attack. And attack they always did, usually around 3 in the morning.

I hated it.

A school photo but I’m not in it! – shows building, rifles, uniform

Barracks continued for all five years of high school (in New Zealand high school roughly goes from age 13 to 17). It was discipline without mercy. I guess if I had been called up for war I would have gone, but the military experience taught me one thing:

to hate myself.

Today as we remember the “fallen heroes of the past” no doubt some liked the compulsory military experience and some did not. Personally I feel most for those who died fighting for our freedom…

… and hating every minute of it.

Some graves at Gallipoli

1774. The Perfect Book Tag

Imagine my excitement in having just returned from taking the dog for an extended walk (and in the process collected a bucketful of wild mushrooms) to discover that someone has challenged me to complete The Perfect Book Tag (even though I’m a free spirit and not taggable). That someone blogs at Dumbest Blog Ever; a blog that is self-described as Stu(pidity) on Stareoids. The postings range from the erudite to the enjoyably stupid, from the sublime to the cor blimey. The blog is well worth the visit (I reckon).

This posting sees a departure from the daily story, and is a bit longer than usual. Of course nothing is perfect, not even myself when I was eleven, but these are some literary works I have enjoyed over the years.

Some snippets of these reflections you may have heard before. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I’m not averse to repeating myself. I hope the selection (which borders on the classic and boring) doesn’t show me up to being a tedious snob. I’m not averse to repeating myself.

The Pretty Good Genre
A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

This is the title of O’Connor’s collection of short stories, and contains the best short story ever written – also entitled A Good Man is Hard to Find. Even though you know from the start what’s going to happen your hair stands on end as it happens. The writing is both funny and horrifying. I’ve always been a fan of Flannery O’Connor and a big fan of the short story genre.

“She looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity.”

The Perfect Setting
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and the Yorkshire Moors are the perfect setting for this extraordinary novel – which surprisingly a lot of people haven’t read. The plot IS the setting. The setting IS the characters. The setting IS the theme. Everything in this novel is integrated into the one thing. Perfectly constructed. I guess I’ve read it maybe 50 times or so.

“I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk.”

The Pretty Good Main Character
The Book of Thel by William Blake

Thel is the character in this longish poem by Blake. She is too afraid to come into existence, because that begins the journey towards death. Thel is ephemeral.

Ah! Thel is like a watry bow, and like a parting cloud,
Like a reflection in a glass, like shadows in the water,
Like dreams of infants, like a smile upon an infant’s face,
Like the doves voice, like transient day, like music in the air.

The Pretty Good Best Friend
A Certain Age by Cynthia Jobin

Many readers will be familiar with the poetry of the late Cynthia Jobin. She took a keen and positive interest in so many bloggers and posted her brilliant poetry on her blog. Her final poem Night Draws Near, Brother Ass is heart-rending. I was unaware she had died when I received in the mail from her a collection of poems by William Stafford called Even in Quiet Places.

Let me down easy
the way hints of winter
fall exquisitely today
scattering icy lacy flowers
from a cloud bouquet

The Pretty Good Love Interest
Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

I’m not heavily into love stories, although I have read a great number of novels by Danielle Steel and enjoyed every bit of them. Shhh! But I chose Richardson’s Clarissa because it’s one of the earliest books written in English and I got through the hundreds of pages of love letters never once being able to work out if “they were doing it”. It was all insinuation. Clarissa Harlowe is abducted by Robert Lovelace. That was the gist of it, and I found it pretty riveting really. Besides, I had to read it for exams at university.

“Love gratified, is love satisfied — and love satisfied, is indifference begun.”

The Pretty Good Villain
Richard III by William Shakespeare

I know it’s predictable but it’s inevitable. Richard III is one of my favourite plays. That horrid movie with Ian McKellen missed the point because the film omitted Queen Margaret’s great cursing scene. Each curse comes true, bit by bit.

Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal’d in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother’s heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father’s loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested—

The Pretty Good Family
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

My sisters adored this novel in my childhood. Once I grew up I was old enough to be seen reading it. When I studied in Boston, USA, I would go to Walden Pond in New Hampshire. The Alcotts, Hawthorne, and Thoreau lived within walking distance from one another. It must’ve been something in the water.“I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”

The Pretty Good Animal
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter

I loved this story as a kid – and still do. I think it was because Jemima wanted to hatch out baby ducklings and I kept ducks as a kid and was forever hatching out babies. I didn’t mind the fox in the story because in New Zealand we don’t have foxes. There is something quite magical about a bird’s egg!

“Quack?“ said Jemima Puddle-Duck, with her head and her bonnet
on one side.

The Pretty Good Plot Twist
The Leader by Eugene Ionesco

This short ten minute play by Ionesco is one of my favourites. Mind you, all of Ionesco plays are my favourites! The leader off stage is watched by fans on stage. They go ape-shit over him/her. They go goo-gar. “He’s patting a pet hedgehog! He spits a tremendous distance.” (Incidentally, the actor who said those lines in a production I once directed became the Prime Minister of New Zealand in reality!) When the leader does appear at the end he/she is headless. “Who needs a head when you’ve got charisma?” Ionesco used to write to me but his letters stopped once he died. Strange.

“Shut up! Shut up! You’re ruining everything”

The Pretty Good Trope
Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame

Janet Frame was a New Zealand novelist and this was her first novel. It tells the story of a women with mental problems, who gets shut away in a mental hospital and watches the mountains through the keyhole in her cell. (The story is a lot better than that). Throughout the novel, Frame creates associations with images, so at the end of the novel she only has to mention all these jolly images and you burst into tears! (At least I did).

“She grew more and more silent about what really mattered. She curled inside herself like one of those … little shellfish you see on the beach, and you touch them, and they go inside and don’t come out.”

The Pretty Good Cover
A Guide to Folk Tales in the English Language by D.L. Ashliman

I bought this book for about $250 around 25 years ago. It has a summary of 2,335 folk tales. Back then I earned a living writing for children to perform on stage so such a book came in handy! I don’t care too much about covers, although for a novel I don’t appreciate an artist showing me what a character should look like. That’s the writer’s task. It’s why I’ve never seen any of The Lord of the Rings movies – they ruin the imagination. I like this cover. It’s plain, and in another life I learnt the skills of a book binder and could create plain covers like this!

The Pretty Good Ending
The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge

I think this is my favourite all-time play (at least for today). At the end Pegeen Mike whispers: “Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”

“… it’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time – two fine women fighting for the likes of me – till I’m thinking this night wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in the years gone by.”

Thanks for reading!

1750. Oh rats!

Every fifty stories or so I deviate into the quagmire of narcissism and tell a story based loosely upon the truth.

Years ago, when I was in my teens and at boarding school, something happened that didn’t exactly change my life but it left a lasting impression. The boarding school was next door to a large poultry farm. There were gigantic sheds with row upon row of caged battery hens. There must have been several thousand hens in cages. A hen would lay its egg and it would roll down gently in front of the cage to be collected. There were automatic feeders, and polythene pipes everywhere to bring water automatically to each cage. (These days, you’ll be glad to know, battery hens are mainly a thing of the past).

At night the place was crawling with hundreds of rats.

In the middle of the night I would sneak out of the school dormitory and taking a machete, a torch (flash light), and the school’s little fox terrier (called Elsie), I would go to the poultry sheds. By covering the torch with red cellophane I could see all the rats but they couldn’t see me, for (apparently) rats can’t see red. Anyway, in the red light they took no notice of me.

I would go along the battery cages and flick each rat into the air with the machete, and Elsie would snap the rat dead in mid-flight. That way I’d get dozens of rats each night. It was kind of fun.

Then one day the Headmaster made an announcement: Someone has been going into the fowl-houses at night and killing rats. It is not our property and the farmer has requested that we don’t do it.

Well, it didn’t stop me did it? The following night I went down to the sheds as usual and began decimating the rat population. And then quite suddenly and accidentally my machete cut open a polythene water pipe. Water sprayed everywhere all over the hens in cages. It was as if the fire brigade had arrived to douche a conflagration. And I couldn’t find where to turn the main water supply off. It was two o’clock in the morning!

There was only one thing for it: I had to go and wake the farmer and get him to turn the water off. I did that and he was none too happy.

Two days’ later I was called into the Headmaster’s office. The farmer was there. I got a good telling off. I just about wet my pants. And then one of them guffawed, and they admitted it was the funniest thing that had happened in a long time.

That’s when I learned that not everyone on this planet is a rat.

1730. The plot continues

Sometime ago I didn’t exactly promise but said I possibly might give a running report on my garden. So here it is with pictures. For those of you who don’t have the slightest interest in my electrifying private life, there will be the usual story tomorrow – far more coldly objective but just as true.

Thus far, our summer has been fairly cold and cloudy and windy.

You might remember, last September/October I started digging up bits of the lawn for gardens.

We made tall fences for climbing beans, thornless blackberries, and sweet peas. The blackberries will take three years to mature, but already they are laden with hundreds of yet-to-ripen (yet-to-be-stolen-by-birds) berries.

We made little fences out of poplar twigs around each garden. People say “It looks very French!” but basically we did it because the dog knows it is not allowed to step over these fences!

The cold, wet weather meant the bush beans got some sort of fungus and I pulled them out. I planted some more bush bean seeds, but the wild rabbits came in and dug most of them up! However, it has been a fantastic year for peas and capsicums (bell peppers). I have frozen a good dozen batches of peas, and lots and lots of my second favourite soup which is Peapod Soup made out of… (you guessed it) peapods!

With the colder summer weather the mâche (corn salad/lamb’s lettuce) lasted longer than usual. We now have lettuces and cucumbers coming out our ears so there’s salads salads salads. The zucchinis (courgettes) are being harvested. Swedes (rutabagas) and silver beet (Swiss chard) have been producing. The globe artichoke season is over – we devoured over 60; the Jerusalem artichokes and Chinese artichokes are coming along! (None of these three types of artichoke are related – same word, different plant). Broad beans (fava beans) are finished and frozen. Corn is in flower, as are the sunflowers, dahlias, petunias, cosmos, and sweet peas.

Incidentally our Number 1 favourite soup is Jerusalem artichoke soup! Potatoes were pathetic this year, as are beetroot (beets). Borsch is a nice winter dish so I might have to buy some beetroot. Here’s my freezer – it’s already full!

The cabbages have gone berserk and I’ve been making piles of cabbage stews for winter. Cauliflowers are coming along. Celery and celeriac are producing. We’re letting the leeks go to seed to collect. And besides, the leek flowers look very pretty in the garden! The flowers are slightly bigger than a tennis ball.

No onions. There are two things we have never been any good at growing: onions and spinach. We have no idea why. No matter where we’ve lived it’s always the same – onions and spinach don’t like us. But the garlic and shallots have been harvested and are drying in the sun (since removed to the wheelbarrow to facilitate quick removal when it rains!)

Having got a new lawn mower for my 70th birthday (the birthday I share with Saint Nicholas’ Feast Day) and a long garden hose for Christmas, life is much easier. The house water is rain water, but the garden water we share with the farm animals which is pumped to troughs and our garden tap (faucet) from a creek. So we don’t have to go easy on watering the garden. Here’s a trough just out the kitchen window!

And tomatoes! I almost forgot! Lots and lots of tomatoes! And I’ve taken to making wine, but so far haven’t used anything home-grown in the process.

Here endeth the report. Oh! And lots of rhubarb!

Also been making pickles, chutneys, jams, and stuff.

Incidentally, the best book is one I found in a second-hand shop in Asheville, North Carolina. It cost a dollar. It’s got everything you need to know about growing, canning, pickling, drying, and freezing. It’s called When the Good Cook Gardens. It was published by Ortho Books in 1974. I believe it’s available on Amazon.

1700. The hand we’re dealt

Look at that! 1700 is a round number if ever there was one! Usually for such a significant number I deviate into some true narrative or other. This time I’ve hit a complete blank. I don’t believe in “writer’s block” but I must admit that these last ten or so postings have been like trying to get blood out of a stone. I wanted to get to Story 1700 before Christmas and then have some time off until sometime in the New Year. And so I’ve drawn a blank. Let me think…

Well I’ve thought of something… but I don’t know if I should chat about it or not. Counting up it happened 33 years ago!

The photo incidentally is not of what I am going to talk about – it’s of another group unknown to me, but it gives the general drift.

I dare say those involved have long since moved on. I was teaching Music and English at St John’s High School in Hastings, New Zealand. Hastings had a pretty “varied” population. St John’s High School was a boys-only school and the only High School in the city that would accept students who had been expelled from other schools and couldn’t find another school to attend. That’s how I ended up teaching a class of 24, 14 of whom had a “history”. They were all aged 14. Montzie, for example, had a criminal record since the age of six.

The school didn’t have a great number of resources. My classroom was an old shed set apart from all other classrooms and in the middle of a field. We called the shed “The Shack”. The record player and all the stuff for music were in The Shack. The trouble was: The Shack couldn’t be locked. I told the class that if anything was ever stolen from this shack I’d “have their guts for garters”. (I also had to explain what garters were).

“Don’t worry,” they said, “we’d never steal from you.” We were the only school Music Department in the whole city that hadn’t had all its electronic equipment go missing. And then it happened. One night, the classroom was stripped. The policeman was very nice about it. He took notes and said he’d keep an eye out. That wasn’t good enough for Montzie and friends. Did not the policeman want to know the names of those who took the stuff? Did not the policeman want to know the place in the city where these thieves stored their stolen goods? The policeman was kind of stunned!

With such information it still took six months for the police to act. In the meantime insurance paid for new equipment and when our goods were returned we had two of everything. And Reuben, a master of the “five-finger discount”, would most days bring five or six long-playing records that he’d “got from the shops during lunch break” to replace the records stolen. I explained it was wrong. It was above his comprehension. He was helping out. (And I might add that not even the shops wanted to know because the packaging had been removed).

Many other things happened during the year which can wait another time, except to say I am a master pickpocketer; for they passed on skills you wouldn’t believe. I was never party to their activity, but they were surviving in the only world they knew.

The highlight came when I was selected (because I was pretty good at it) to represent New Zealand at an International Youth Theatre Festival – with theatre performances from Germany, England, India, South Korea, Australia, United States and New Zealand. It was inordinately expensive to get a theatre team to the festival and to survive a week. That is when I started to write little musicals for elementary schools and market them. Within two easy weeks, we had enough money to travel. I suggested we do a performance about New Zealand’s many endangered species. And would you believe? The class wanted to dance it, and from all the five-finger discount stolen records to dance to they chose extracts from Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloé”. At least I’d taught them something!

It was street-dancing. They did the choreography themselves. It was an outstanding hit! The boys were so well behaved and more charming than I could believe. At the end of the performance the audience didn’t clap; they stood and sang a song they all knew. It was very moving. The newspaper reviews were stunning.

I dare say these kids would be heading for their mid-forties now. Those who aren’t dead are possibly in prison. I know a couple have done murders and some are destroyed by drugs. A teacher can’t keep in touch with everyone.

But they were one of the nicest and most talented group of kids I’ve ever taught. A pity they weren’t dealt much of a hand.

(A Happy Christmas and New Year to all! See you some time in 2020!)

1695. An unapologetic promotion

Wally was bored silly over the holiday period. His mother was up the wall. She’d asked him again and again to mow the lawn and in the end the only way she could get him to do it was bribery. Bribery usually worked as a last resort. The lawns got mowed and Wally was slightly richer. But he was still sour, sullen, and selfish.

At least he had his computer, but that had long since ceased to provide any sort of novelty.

“Being on the computer is no different from being at school,” said Wally. “I’m bored.”

“I know what you could do,” suggested his mother. “You could read Bruce Goodman’s Bits of a Boyhood about growing up in rural New Zealand. I think you’d like it. It’s available online for free.”

The online version is HERE.
The downloadable pdf version is HERE.

Wally reluctantly went to the site and began to read.

“I couldn’t put it down,” said Wally. “I texted my girlfriend and now she’s reading it. I told my friends and now they’re all reading it. When my father gets home from work I’m going to tell him to read it and get everyone in his office to read it, even while they’re at work. The whole world should read Bruce Goodman’s Bits of a Boyhood. It’s the best thing to happen since Adam was a boy. I have no idea why it has never been published. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he got the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

When Wally finished reading it he wanted more. His appetite was insatiable. But sadly, although there are other momentous works by Bruce Goodman, the autobiography finished when the author had just turned eighteen.

Filled with enthusiasm, Wally went out and mowed the lawn a second time. This time there was joy in his heart and a spring in his step.

The same could happen to you, dear Reader, if only you would let it. I wish each and every one of you a happy day!

The online version is HERE.
The downloadable pdf version is HERE.

P.S. If you find yourself mowing the lawn don’t say you weren’t warned.