Wednesday 30 March 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 30/3/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Here's some more Wondrous Words from my recent reading of Peter Ackroyd's Lambs of London.

1. Posset. Noun.

Rosa Ponting and his father were sitting by a sea-coal fire, drawing up a list of acquaintances to whom a Christmas posset might usefully be sent. 

1. A drink of hot milk curdled with ale, wine or other liquor, often flavoured with sugar or spices formerly much drunk as a delicacy or medicinally.
2. A quantity of milk regurgitated  by a baby. 

I've seen recipes for lemon possets recently but thought that this must be a different usage. It doesn't seem to be, as baby possets are a gift that noone wants. Interesting to see that possets required their own posset pots.

2. Tosh-hunters. Noun.
She looked across the expanse of waste ground, where there were two or three smoke-houses for the preservation and smoking of fish as well as the remains of a dust-heap that had been abandoned by the rag-pickers and the tosh-hunters.

My Shorter Oxford doesn't have tosh-hunters, but it does have tosher, which I assume is similar enough
1. A person who searches for valuables in drains and sewers.
2. A thief stealing copper from the bottom of ships. Now rare or obsolete.

I like how the second definition is regarded as rare or obsolete but the first one isn't!

3. Orotund. Adjective

Kemble, thick-set and orotund, had become Vortigern.

1. Of a voice, utterance, etc: full, round, imposing; clear, resonant.
2. Of writing, style of expression, etc; inflated and pretentious. 

4. Sylvan. Noun. Adjective

This is sylvan. This is yesteryear. 

Sylvan can be either a noun or an adjective

Noun. A native or inhabitant of a wood or forest
- Classical Mythology- an imaginary being believed to haunt woods or groves, a spirit of the woods
- a person living in a wood, or in a woodland region; a forester
- a creature, esp. a bird, living in or frequenting the woods
- (rare) a woodland tree, shrub, etc

1. Of, pertaining to, situated in, or characteristic of a wood, or woods.
2. Consisting of or formed by woods or trees.
3. Having or characterized by woods or trees; wooded.

I still found the usage from The Lambs of London confusing. They do appear to be talking about woodland setting for a stage production. They are worried about an actor catching her wig in the branches. And another character has a plateau of rock on which to flourish.

5. Woad. Noun.
They (warriors with spears and shields) have been painted with woad.

1. A blue dye (now superseded by indigo and synthetic dyes) prepared from the leaves of Isatis tinctoria dried, powdered, and exposed to air.

2 A glaucous yellow-flowered cruciferous plant. Isatis tinctoria, formerly much grown for the blue colouring matter yielded by it.
Woad has a fascinating history, and new uses are being invented for it even in the 21st century.

6. Traduced. Verb
"Is William to be questioned and traduced by anyone who proclaims himself an authority?"

1. Convey from one place to another; transport. Translate. Transfer.
2. Pass on to offspring, transmit.
3. Speak ill of, malign, slander, misrepresent. Formerly also, state slanderously; blame for, accuse of. 

All meanings today from my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (N-Z). I think my favourite word this week is woad. Rather fascinating. 

Tuesday 29 March 2011


I'm not sure why I had Heidi lurking in my hulking TBR. But I did.

A Google image search brings up literally dozens of Heidi covers- none of which are the cover of my budget Wordsworth Classic edition- having read the book this one speaks to me

 The docket still inside the book tells me that I bought it in Tamworth when I was there for a week of work in April 2002. I remember the week of course. I even remember what I was reading that week for some reason- Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish. Perhaps I bought Heidi for some welcome respite from Flanagan's rather bizarre early Tasmanian world?

My only recorded thoughts on this book:

I thought I got most of it, thought I knew what it was about. I thought it was about notions of history and universality of experience. Then I read the last chapter. What is it about? I have absolutely no idea. The concept is very clever, the printing lovely, and the fish tie it all together very well. But in the end I’m left wanting - an explanation.

So maybe after all that Big L Literature I was looking for something simpler? And 9 years later I found it. Heidi is a famous character in a famous book. Don't we already know the story? A young girl gamboling around the Swiss Alps with nary a care in the world?

That is sort of the story. But there is much more. Heidi is orphaned and taken to her grumpy grandfather's isolated hut in the Swiss Alps because there is no other family to look after her. The whole village is scared of Alm-Uncle as he is called by them. He lives a rather monastic life it seems, almost a hermit, certainly reclusive in his isolation, but there are suggestions of an earlier dissipated life of gambling, and reckless behaviour. 

But we quickly see that Grandfather is a rather doting guardian for his young charge- he has a rather spartan lifestyle, but he immediately makes Heidi a bed from hay, and positions it so she can look out of the window, and he makes her her own chair. When Heidi starts to go off with Peter the young boy from the house half way up their mountain track who is the local goatherder, she discovers that Grandfather's two goats are the handsomest and best behaved of the flock. Grandfather ensures that Heidi is safe, warm and as well-fed as he can provide for. Grandfather also waxes quite poetically about the beauty in the setting sun. 

The food depicted is rather astonishing actually, for it's lack of variety, and lack of what we would see as nutrition these days. Heidi, her grandfather, and their neighbours all appear to exist on the most meagre rations. Sure, there is a lot of goat milk. But there appears to be milk and bread and very little else. An occasional reference to sausage or cheese (presumably again goat's cheese, but possibly cow's milk cheese). I've been having goat milk on my cereal this week just to feel a little bit Heidi. 

Heidi worries about Peter's grandmother (who she simply refers to as grandmother) and her ability to chew the hard black bread (?pumpernickel) that is generally available, so much so, that when she is in Frankfurt Heidi won't eat a single soft white bread roll and she stockpiles them to take back to grandmother.

When Clara, Heidi's invalid companion, is eventually able to come to Heidi's mountain hut Grandfather decides to build her up with goats milk, butter, cheese and the limited amount of meat he has at his disposal. 

Heidi provides some fascinating insights into medical superstitions of the time also. When Fraulein Rottenmeier thinks of Clara possibly being scared by the apparent ghost in the Frankfurt house, she is worried that ghost sightings often bring on epileptic seizures or St Vitus's Dance! Every character has a strong, abiding faith, and religious doctrine does guide a lot of the action, but it seems very appropriate for their time, and never out of character.

Heidi expresses such a simple joie de vivre, rejoicing in the simplest pleasures of life- a bowl of goat milk, soft white bread, a beautiful vista, the sound of wind in the fir trees, a star lit sky, that it is impossible not to want to reconnect with nature in the way she can. Heidi can still teach us something in our modern world. 

This post is the second that I'm completing as part of the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up Reading Challenge 2011. Which is fantastic, because it's the books I'm reading anyway at 1001 Childrens Books You Must Read

It also suits the Foodies Reading Challenge

Wednesday 23 March 2011

A weekend in Sydney

I was lucky enough to have a recent trip to Sydney to hear my sister deliver her Inaugural Professorial Lecture. A big moment!

Even though it was a fabulous lecture not everyone was as thrilled with the after-match function as I was.....

And I finally found a clinic for me! Perhaps now I can get my Lifestyle Threatening Condition properly diagnosed and treated by compassionate and caring professionals.

It was a big weekend otherwise as well. Lots of shopping. Some products you can expect to see popping up on my companion blog, Adventures in a Low GI World.

Some you may not.

Central Sydney has gone considerably upmarket since my last visit to the city, with a revamp of Centrepoint. 

This one looks fancy til you realise it's a Nescafe shop!

A trio of enthusiastic young Japanese folks entertained us in Pitt St. Double dutch may be rather 80s but it is still fun to watch
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Of course we got pretty hungry watching all this energy expenditure
DJs has upped the ante on their chocolate dipped fruit- not just strawberries and nicer chocolate- it smells amazing

Our own Macaron Day for those unable to be in Paris 20/3/11
(eucalyptus, pistachio and apricot, peach tea, 70% cocoa)

The next morning was perfect beach weather. 30 degrees already at 9am, and a quick trip to South Maroubra Nippers before heading westwards

Sadly the little rainbow didn't translate into pixels, but I know it was there.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Eat Your Veggies!

I love serendipity. A mere few weeks or months ago I would have walked past these lollies in the Reject Shop without a sideways glance or a single regret. Just recently I was stopped in my tracks by them.

I remembered a recent-ish blog post from one of the many Parisian blogs that I torture myself with most days. I had only accidentally found the more humdrum gummi bears, that are the birthright of French children, and not the more exotic Dragibus and Tagada that I fear shall need to wait til my next trip to France (don't miss that link it's great, although it may not make you want to eat any of the Haribo products featured) .

So it was with great excitement that I found a packet of Haribo anything. I was then very surprised  to read the ingredients. Sure there was the usual Glucose syrup, Gelatine, Dextrose, Citric acid. No surprises there really. But then Fruit and plant concentrates (Safflower, Spirulina, Apple, Sweet potato, Carrot, Radish, Blackcurrant, Hibiscus and Lemon). Safflower- more than likely to be oil I suppose. But Radish! I've long been aware that the French are crazy for radishes. There are French Breakfast Radishes after all. But are they crazy enough to want them in their lollies? And the Germans are crazy enough to make radish lollies for them?

Of course I was fully intrigued by this time. Would they taste like radish? Or kumara? Or please God no spirulina? And then I read on down the label. There is further interesting banter:

This is a genuine branded product that has been parallel imported.
The composition and taste of the product may differ from the local equivalent product.
It does not have the official support of the local distributor.

Hmmm, almost a warning- Innocent Wide- Eyed Australians Beware! Those crazy Europeans types have put radishes and kumara and even goddamn spirulina in these lollies!!!! Eat at your own risk. Who knows what could happen?

You might start wanting to eat radishes at breakfast instead of vegemite on toast. That would be rather unsettling, and rather Un-Australian. Ever willing to rise to a culinary challenge I ripped open the packet tonight.

My first professionally lit shot! (The photographer was holding one of his fancy lights off to the side)

All those vegetables but then only four colour variants? There goes my theories that there may be any with individual flavours. Each one does taste different to the others, they weren't like closing your eyes and trying to work out what colour of the giant python you were eating. But try as I might I can't discern any radish in any of them. It's tempting to think that the orange one might be carrot and kumara, and that the green one is spirulina and apple. But they all just taste like generically sweet lollies. The texture is quite a bit firmer than our traditional Australian brand lollies (is that what they were warning us about?), and not all that appealing for me. I don't know that these have immediately converted me or made me an addict. And we will just have to wait and see if I suddenly crave radish for breakfast in the morning.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Wondrous Words Wednesday 16/3/11

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

I have just recently read Peter Ackroyd's The Lambs of London. And while I wasn't completely besotted with this book, it did have a lot of great words in it.

1. Mantua-maker

There was a pipe shop here as well as a mantua-maker, a carpenter's workshop and a bookshop.

Hmm, no clues there really. Seems a mantua-maker was basically a dressmaker or seamstress. It's astonishing how a whole industry can become defunct and near unknown.

A more preposterous mantua

2. Jakes

'The city is a great jakes.'

I didn't understand this sentence at all, which was a worry to me as it was in the very first paragraph of the book.

Jakes (n) from my Shorter Oxford
1. A privy, a lavatory
2. Excrement, filth

It all makes so much sense now that I have looked up the meaning. And explains the very first sentence of the book. ' I loathe the stench of horses.'

3. Harlequinade

He had no recollection of William Ireland, who had been seated by the door of the Salutation and Cat; Ireland had in fact been partially obscured by a wooden pillar around which various advertisements- for a harlequinade, for an exhibition of acrobatics- had been pasted.

Harlequinade(n) from my Shorter Oxford
1. A kind of pantomime; the part of a pantomime in which a harlequin plays the chief part.
- a piece of buffoonery
2. A piece of gaily-coloured variegated work.

4. Mullioned

William stood in front of them, having refused the offer of a chair, and looked out of a small mullioned window at the dome of St Paul's.

Mullion (n) from my Shorter Oxford
A vertical bar in the lights in a window, esp in Gothic architecture.

I know that I've looked this one up before. Maybe I'll remember it this time.

But the best word I came across this week was goatsucker. And I found it accidentally, flipping through a crossword dictionary at a book store.

Goatsucker is another name for the birds otherwise known as nightjars (of which I have heard, but know essentially nothing of, and don't believe we have them in Australia).

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that I could only be bothered getting the A-M off the shelf. You will have to wait until another time for the more abundant N-Z words.

Monday 14 March 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's

It's a strange experience watching such a famous movie as Breakfast at Tiffany's. The images of Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly are so iconic, that all her outfits look familiar. Holly's gorgeous LBD from the opening scene.

That fabulous hat that Holly wears to visit Sing Sing.

Although mercifully, images of this hat appear to be not so commonplace.

It's like she ran into one of those fancy chickens while rushing around a corner and somehow the poor creature got impaled on her forehead.

These images are all so commonplace, so absolutely iconic, that it makes you think you have seen the movie, when in fact you haven't seen it at all. You know it's set in New York. You know that she has a thing for Tiffany's. You know that there's something vaguely unseemly about it all. The familiarity makes you think that you know the story. And then it starts, and clearly, you've never seen the movie, and in fact have absolutely no idea what it is about. 

You have no idea that it is associated with Moon River. You have no idea that Holly Golightly is quite loopy, and refuses to name her cat (who plays more than a minor role in the movie) because of the possible impermanence. And then it was so exciting to later discover that Orangey the talented cat actor, won two feline Oscars for his work. 

As a long term shiftworker I can't but help but coveting her alluring eyemask and ear plugs with tassels.

Breakfast at Tiffany's is a great movie to watch, and an excellent way for my friend and I to kick off our Audrey Hepburn phase, watching Movies Made Before We Were Born. There is an intriguing morality to this movie, which belies the Truman Capote novella I suspect- a novella that I now most definitely want to read. 

Sunday 6 March 2011

The Lambs of London

I love reading detours, the wonderful paths we happen along, diverting us from what we feel we should really be reading, but enriching our reading just the same. This is the tale of such a diversion.

Recently I started what will be a rather slow read of Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare.

An extraordinary book, in print since its publication in 1807, written by two rather extraordinary authors. A cursory Google about the Lambs was enough to be intriguing. Mary suffered bouts of mental illness and stabbed and killed her mother in 1796. Charles, an essayist and writer, also had periods of mental instability, but looked after his sister after her crime, and died of erysipelas, aged 59, another tragedy of the pre-antibiotic era.

My literary detour was to read The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd which I discovered on my library catalogue.

I've long been intrigued by Peter Ackroyd's books. He is a biographer of Dickens amongst many, has written about Oscar Wilde, and has written massive tomes about London, which I know that if I ever get to visit the opportunity to visit London, I will be dreadfully keen to read. Here was a much shorter book in which I could dip my reading toes and partially satisfy curiosity about Ackroyd, about London and the Lambs all at once!

Well, that was the plan. Certainly, Charles and Mary Lamb are major characters in The Lambs of London. But the book isn't really about them. It is much more about William and Samuel Ireland, but The Irelands of London would not have drawn me in quite so easily.

It's not that there isn't warning. It's right there on the first page:

This is not a biography but a work of fiction. I have invented characters, and changed the life of the Lamb family for the sake of the larger narrative.

I guess I really should have read a biography of the Lambs instead. That's what I'm really interested in. I found this work of historical fiction frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying. Not that it was a bad book, it's not. It's just not the book I wanted to read. I'm not sure about his motivation. I think the Lambs must have had quite a fascinating enough life of their own. I'm not sure why Ackroyd needed a "larger narrative".

Charles Lamb is working as a clerk at the East India Company, when he buys a book from William Ireland, who is working in his father's bookstore. Charles and Mary befriend William, and share his passion for all things Shakespeare. Charles does blame Mary's friendship with William for her increasing restlessness. Perhaps this is why Ackroyd needs the larger narrative supplied by the Irelands? To explain Mary's illness. But can't it just be a mental illness?

Many of the literary references went sailing past my head, but these didn't interfere with the story too much. It seems clerks of 18th century London were much better read than modern day doctors. There was just too much William Ireland for a book I wanted to be about Charles and Mary Lamb. I was rather peeved at one point when a beggar removes a fake goitre from her face (!). Goitres of course are growths arising from the thyroid gland in the neck, and not from the face. I've tried to find something about goitres being on faces in the 18th century, but haven't found anything to support this use, but did come across some rather interesting stuff.

The picture is from a fascinating article about the historical treatment of goitres. I really wonder how the belief started that the touch of a dead mans hand would be curative for a goitre? Now that's astonishing. And not quite where I expected this post to go, but you just never know where life, or reading, or blogs, will take you, do you?

Saturday 5 March 2011

The Whale Rider

Like many people, I knew of this story because of the 2002 film Whale Rider. I saw the film at the time, with the rest of the world, but haven't seen it since. I was excited to include Witi Ihimaera's 1987 book The Whale Rider into our February reading schedule for my 1001 Children's Books You Must Read quest. It was timed to coincide with New Zealand's national day Waitangi Day on February 6, it's just taken me a while to get to blogging about it. 

The Whale Rider tells the story of Kahu, a young girl growing up with her extended Maori family in coastal, small-town New Zealand in the 1980s. We know it's the 1980s because of references to the protests at the controversial Springbok Rugby tour of New Zealand in 1981, and the French nuclear testing at Muroroa Atoll in the Pacific. Whiti Ihimaera creates quite a broad political backdrop for his local story.

The story begins with the birth of a child. Kahu is the first child born into her generation.  Since the time of the mythic ancestor, Kahutia Te Rangi, a high chief who travelled east from Hawaiki on the back of a whale, the first child born has always been a male. The leadership of the tribe is passed down this unbroken male line. Kahu's grandfather Koro Apirana, is the current leader, and is devastated at the birth of a girl.

I really enjoyed the story, but found the book got in the way of the story. I'm lucky enough to be a frequent visitor to New Zealand, and have been for the last 15 years. So I know a smattering of Maori words. But the sheer volume of Maori vocabulary made it very difficult for an average Pakeha reader to follow.  There was a four page glossary in the back of my library edition. But sadly even this was inadequate. Some words just weren't there, sometimes important words like korero (meeting/discussion), and phrases were not included at all. Some Maori langauage usage is obviously vital, such as when Koro Apirana starts up a regular session to instruct the young men of the village in the ways of the tribe. 

Just the men, he added, because men were tapu. Of course the instruction wouldn't be like in the old days, not as strict, but the purpose would be the same: to keep the reo going, and the mana of the iwi. 

This lead to constant flicking back and forth to the glossary. I really think that it could have been handled better for non-Maori readers (footnotes for instance, or even just brackets of translation, and it's very hard to piece together meanings of phrases from individual words, naturally they usually have implied meanings beyond the actual words).  Particularly frustrating as most chapters ended with the same sentence. Haumi e, hui e, taiki e.

It's all very well now in 2011 with our Google world to work out what this phrase means. This would have been impossible for me when the book was released in 1987, and I think would have severely curtailed the reading pleasure to be found within its pages. Luckily for us there was an exhibition in Christchurch in 2001 at the Christchurch Arts Centre (now sadly closed until further notice after the devastating earthquake last week) called Haumi e, hui e, taiki e. And they give a lovely explanation of it:

HAUMI E! HUI E! TAIKI E! is an exclamation, a cry often heard at the end of tauparapara (the classic chant to start a speech), waiata tawhito (ancient waiata) and whaikorero (ceremonial speechmaking), and a call for the things that are known in te ao wairua (the world of the spirit), to be given life in the living world. 

The back cover blurb of my library copy talks of "capturing readers with universal themes of conflict between generations and genders, respect for nature, family love and personal courage." I think the book certainly does that and more. It also tells us of the importance of cultural heritage. Rawiri has to leave NZ (to "cross the ditch" as the Kiwis always say) to live in Australia and New Guinea to reawaken his sense of belonging to his Maori culture. I know that I too appreciated Australia much more after I had lived 2 years in Canada (not that Canada isn't a great place, it's just that your eyes can see your home more clearly when they've seen other places too). I really liked the term "aggressively expatriate" referring to the white population in New Guinea. I think that's wonderfully expressive. 

I broadened my Whale Rider experience with revisiting the 2002 movie. It's an enjoyable movie, but there are some major deviations from the book. Several characters are renamed-  Kahu becomes Paikea, which has also become the name of the whale riding ancestor. Paikea here is one of twins- but her twin brother dies at birth in the opening scenes of the movie. The narrator switches from uncle Rawiri to that of Kahu/Paikea herself. And some other characters are changed considerably- Paikea's father life is quite different in the movie compared to the book. Still the movie has a gentle feel to it, and was an enjoyable way to spend a quiet Monday evening. 

I was intrigued to find that my library also had a picture book version of The Whale Rider. The picture book version was published in 2005, coming after both the original book and the movie. As such it is a bit of a mix of both. Kahu is still called Kahu here, although the ancestor Kahutia Te Rangi becomes Paikea again. Each version has a somewhat different version of Kahu's mother's death. Not sure why. The picture book focuses on the major events of the book- Koro Apirana's school for the boys to pick the next leader, the school concert, and the whale stranding. The story is a bit more obvious and circular in picture book format- Kahutia Te Rangi has one magic spear that refuses to leave his hands as he arrives at Aotearoa, and so he sends it into the future. "Go, fly forward, into the future and flower where you are needed most." Of course it is needed most in Kahu's time. The book is beautifully illustrated with lush, evocative oil paintings by Bruce Potter

This post is the first that I'm completing as part of the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up Reading Challenge 2011. Which is fantastic, because it's the books I'm reading anyway.