Wednesday 30 January 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 30/1/13

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

I recently read Anna Quindlen's Imagined London. As befits a Pulitzer Prize winning author there was quite a vocabulary, and more than a few new words for me. 

1. Catafalque (Noun)

On that first visit to London one of the first stops I made was in Westminster Abbey, at the catafalque of Elizabeth I; in my girlhood, before anyone used (and overused) the term "role model," that distant princess was mine, refusing to be demoted and undervalued because of her gender, determined to be the greatest ruler England had ever known and making a go of it, too. 

A raised bier, box, or similar platform, often moveable, that is used to support the casket, coffin, or body of the deceased during a funeral or memorial service. Wiki.

2. Ishmaelites (Noun)

Untidy, full of Greeks, Ishmaelites, cats, Italians, tomatoes, restaurants, organs, coloured stuffs, queer names, people looking out of upper windows, it dwells remote from the British Body Politic. 

In the Bible, the son of Abraham who was cast out after the birth of Isaac. He is traditionally considered to be the forebear of the Arabs. The Free Dictionary. 

3. Scrim (Noun)

Perhaps it was that I wanted to see what I had learned, what I had read, what I had imagined, that I would never be able to see the city of London without seeing it through the overarching scrim of every description of it I had read before. 

An open-weave muslin or hessian fabric, used in upholstery, lining, building, and in the theater to creat the illusion of a solid wall or to suggest haziness, etc, according to the lighting. The Free Dictionary.

4. Fealty (Noun)

But little is left of the Empire except a few stray Caribbean islands, the good-natured fealty of the Canadians, and the fact that, according to one cab driver, the second most common dinner dish in the U.K (after roast beef and Yorkshire pudding) is tikka masala. 

1. a) The fidelity owed by a vassal to his feudal lord. 
b) The oath of such fidelity.
2. Faithfulness; allegiance. The Free Dictionary. 

5. Bowfront (Adjective)

6. Greensward (Noun)

But Park Lane was savaged in the early part of the last century, the bowfront houses with gardens running right down to the edge of the greensward largely demolised and the road along Hyde Park widened into a major autobahn. 

Bowfront- having an outward curving front. 

Greensward- ground that is green with grass; turf. 

7. Jeremiad (Noun)

The jeremiad that followed about the effects of immigration on the economy, the crime rate, and unemployment was as old as time, and as literature. 

A literary work or speech expressing a bitter lament or a righteous prophecy of doom. 

8. Foursquare (Adverb)

The long graceful rows of identical buildings, standing foursquare to the street, give nothing away about the lives inside except, perhaps, that on some cosmetic level they are lives well lived. 

In a forthright manner; squarely. 

Sunday 27 January 2013

Piano Rock

I bought Piano Rock on my last trip to New Zealand two years ago, but hadn't got to reading it yet. So I figured it would be perfect reading material for my recent trip over the Tasman. It certainly was, it filled an hour or so of my time on the plane beautifully.

Piano Rock is the story of Gavin Bishop's early childhood in the remote parts of the South Island of New Zealand in the 1950s. Three year old Gavin arrives in Kingston in 1949 with his parents. Gavin's father has moved the family to Kingston on the edge of Lake Wakatipu for his job with the New Zealand Railways.

Gavin describes their remote, simple life. Sometimes lovely, sometimes harsh and brutal. Gavin learns very young that "you can't have a dog that bothers sheep", and what happens to a dog that does, and that pigs are for food. He also mentions the rather quaint old custom of wearing brown paper to help prevent travel sickness.

He starts school early at 4.

"Might as well," Mr McLeod, the teacher, said to Mum. "He's ready for school."

Kingston School was a one room school, with 12 pupils and one teacher, a mile from Gavin's house. Four year old Gavin walked to school and back, occasionally the kids next door would give them a ride on their big old horse, Chum. Gavin was the only one in his class and would receive special sums and lessons.

Gavin was to grow up to become on of New Zealand's pre-eminent children's author and illustrators (he received the New Zealand Order of Merit in the New Year honours list while we were there), but he found his passion from an early age. Art was his favourite subject at school, and he drew all the time and everywhere.

I drew forts and houses on my printing books and dogs and cars on my arithmetic books. One day I was asked to write the alphabet on the blackboard. When I put funny faces and arms and legs on the letters I got a smack from the teacher. 

My copy of Piano Rock, is a beautiful hard bound copy, with a textured cover, and illustrations throughout. A style emulated by the newer release The ACB with Honora Lee by Kate De Goldi, which I should have bought while I was there. Actually there were a few books I should have bought while I was there over Christmas, New Zealand titles don't seem to be that available here in Australia, but it is nice to try and keep up with a few Kiwi authors.

Piano Rock was a finalist for the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards

Saturday 26 January 2013

Nelson Market

I do love going to markets especially when on holidays. Recently I made a very brief visit to the Nelson Saturday Market whilst in New Zealand.

I love the colourful things

Cool shell poppies

The colourful people

And the local delicacies on offer.

And that kids hair!

Some fudge may have died in the making of this post

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books

Monday 21 January 2013

Imagined London

I'm going to Paris this year! Which is Tremendously Exciting. But I'm not only going to Paris, I'll also be making my first visit to London. Which is Pretty Exciting too. Major world city and all that. To someone who grew up watching British TV shows and reading English books London seems familiar, which of course it is to some extent, but also new.

Anna Quindlen, whilst American, had this same experience too. London was her favourite place in the world from her extensive reading of English literature, dating from her own childhood. She has been taken to London by many of the world's greatest authors and despite not taking her first trip until well into her forties, but her enthusiasm never waned.

For a person raised on books, walking through streets in her mind's eye, engaged in the love affairs and life losses of imaginary men and women, London is indisputably the capital of literature, of great literature and romance novels and mystery stories, too. There can be no doubt. The London of Thackeray and Galsworthy, of Martin and Kingsley Amis, of Margery Allingham and Dorothy Sayers, of Nancy Mitford and Elizabeth Bowen. The London of Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Dickens. 

Anna loves exploring the London of her imagination on foot, but she warns us that London is a labyrinth where even experienced residents may get lost. What hope for the hapless tourist? But it's exciting to read of Charles Dickens London, the British Museum and St Paul's. I'm looking forward to walking about and possibly getting lost in London Town too.

Anna discusses the change in novels about London over time. Older books she feels make "clear what any reader knows about London: that geography is destiny."

It is one of the central tenets of English literature: Where you live tells us who you are, or who you have become, or who you want to be. 
The literature of London now reflects its modernity, as it should. It also reflects, less happily, the everywhere-is-anywhere ethos of easy air travel and effortless chain imports that has homogenised most of the developed world. Only the detective novels, perhaps needing some firm undeniable bedrock for their uncommon tales of murder, blackmail, and back channel plots, still draw heavily upon clear and specific delineations of place..... Ethnicity, too, has become its own setting, so that novels of the immigrant experience are among some of the best and most successful that modern London can offer. 

I always love rather random facts, and Anna shares a few with us.

An Anti-Gallican Society was set up in 1745 to "oppose the insidious arts of the French nation".

There was a Clink Prison in South London (1144-1780), that gave its name to all prisons to come.

One third of London is said to be parks and gardens.

The best selling book in America in the decade following WWII was Forever Amber. A book that I'd never heard of til now.

Saturday 19 January 2013

Tie dye?

I've always had a strange love for tie dye. Sadly my last tie dye shirt died quite a few years ago now.

Perhaps it's time to get a new one?

Sadly these aren't t-shirt designs. Although I reckon I'd buy that second one. 

They're homegrown beetroot. 

Giving their lives for a rather delicious beetroot hummus. Loosely based on this recipe. I forgot the onion, and used peanut butter again instead of tahini, as I learned from Nigella

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Wondrous Words Wednesday 16/1/13

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

Today's words come from my recent reading of T.S Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

1. Serried (Adjective)

She probably escaped with ease, I'm sure she was not drowned-
But a serried ring of flashing steel Growltiger did surround.

Pressed or crowded together, especially in rows. 

The answer was actually there in the illustration!

2. Terpsichorean (Adjective)

Reserving their terpsichorean powers
To dance by the light of the Jellicle Moon.

Of or related to dancing. 

3. Braw (Adjective, Scottish)

For your Pollicle Dog is a dour Yorkshire tyke,
And his braw Scottish cousins are snappers and biters,

i) Fine, splendid
ii) Dressed in a fine or showy manner

4. Prestidigitation (Noun)

At prestidigitation

i) Performance of or skill in performing magic or conjuring tricks with the hands; sleight of hand
ii) A show of skill or deceitful cleverness. 

5. Legerdemain (Noun)

At legerdemain

i) Sleight of hand. 
ii) A show of skill of deceitful cleverness. 

6. Brummell of Cats

In the whole of St James's the smartest of names is 
The name of this Brummell of Cats

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (7 June 1778- 30 March 1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men's fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. Wiki.

Picture source

7. Strassburg Pie

And you might now and then supply
Some caviare, or Strassburg Pie

A pastry containing pate de foie gras and bacon, wiki says this was formerly known as Strassburg Pie in English, as Strassburg was a major producer of foie gras. 

A modern incarnation
Although they apparently used to look more  like this extraordinary creation!
All other definitions from

Monday 14 January 2013

Les Miserables 2012

Somehow I've escaped seeing any version of Les Miserables til now. Well, I suppose I've actively avoided it. I have always thought of myself as someone who doesn't like musicals. I think I'm changing my mind about that. Or perhaps it's a bit like a vegetable you say you don't like, but then you haven't really tried it, and when you do actually try it you find you don't mind it, or perhaps even quite like it.

I should have known that I would enjoy Les Miserables, despite the near incessant singing (there is a bare minimum of actual speech throughout the whole movie). After all, I do have rather an enduring passion with all things French, and Parisian in particular. And this is a rather Parisian story. In my ignorance I had thought that it was a story of the French Revolution, but Les Mis is set some 20-40 years after those extraordinary events of 1789. The story first starts in 1815, and the major part of the action takes place in 1832. The Book Haven helps explain the history of the events portrayed in Les Miserables.

At the heart of Les Miserables is an ongoing animosity over years between policeman Javert (Russell Crowe) and former convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). Victor Hugo's powerful story makes us consider the poverty, ill health and poor circumstances that much of the French populace has endured over time, and indeed many people around the world still do.

The movie has some wonderful performances, and spectacular imagery. I'm not a Russell Crowe fan, and found him rather wooden throughout, I hadn't realised that he had such a major role. Anne Hathaway is very good as Fantine, and her plight is particularly moving. Young Daniel Huttlestone is extraordinary as Gavroche.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were brilliant in providing some light relief as the innkeepers. I thought Samantha Barks was the standout as their daughter Eponine.

Sadly I haven't read any Victor Hugo as yet. From my limited dabblings with French classics (Madame Bovary, The Three Musketeers) I expect that I will like his writings.  When I was last in Paris in 2010 I had a wonderful visit to the Musee Victor Hugo. I'm still planning on taking my copy of Notre Dame de Paris with me to Paris this year, which is a sensible size to try and read on holiday, but now I find myself wanting to read Les Miserables. Yes, the TBR just grew again.

Sunday 13 January 2013

The Giver

Wow. Just wow.

A much lauded novel, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1994, controversial and moving so it still frequently appears on banned book lists. It's still read and loved too though, coming in a #4 on School Library Journal's Top 100 Children's Novels 2012.

Anita Silvey in her Children's Book-A-Day Almanac describes it as the best children's novel of the 1990s, and one of the best science fiction works of all time. While I'm not sure that I think of it as science fiction, it's a dystopian vision of the future certainly, but I guess I need robots and aliens to make me comfortable with the science fiction tag (even though I know that the sci-fi folks don't necessarily see it that way). The Giver was said to be one of the first dystopian stories, paving the way for recent blockbusters such as The Hunger Games and Matched.

It's hard to know what to say about this book without spoiling it for those who may not have read it yet. Jonas is an 11 year old boy living in a future community when we meet him at the start of the book, living a comfortable life with his parents and younger sister. But it's coming up to December and he's becoming anxious about his upcoming Ceremony of Twelve when he will be assigned his future job.

The Giver is a deceptively simple, but beguilingly complex and powerful story. Lois Lowry shows us the importance of memory, history, love, wisdom and a bond with nature in an extraordinary and moving way.

In her acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal (best read after reading the book) Lois Lowry talks of how the roots of The Giver formed in experiences extending back to her own childhood and later experiences as an adult.

In beginning to write The giver I created – as I always do, in every book– a world that existed only in my imagination – the world of “only us, only now.” I tried to make Jonas’s world seem familiar, comfortable, and safe, and I tried to seduce the reader. I seduced myself along the way. It did feel good, that world. I got rid of all the things I fear and dislike; all the violence, prejudice, poverty, and injustice, and I even threw in good manners as a way of life because I liked the idea of it.

I think that perhaps The Giver will be up among my favourite books of the year. Which is great, but also a bit depressing to think that you might have peaked too early with the first book you've actually read for 2013. I know I will reread this book.


Saturday 12 January 2013

Panoramas of New Zealand

I spent a wonderful two weeks in Nelson, New Zealand over Christmas and New Year. It's a beautiful area at the top of the South Island. I've been very lucky and visited the area quite often.

I don't always take that many photographs there for some reason, but this year we played with the panorama setting on my camera.

Fifeshire Rock, Nelson Harbour

Rabbit Island

Overlooking Nelson from The Centre of New Zealand

View back towards Nelson from The Glen

Top of the Takaka Hill

Pupu Springs (actually Te Waikoropupu Springs)
Australasia's largest spring and the world's clearest fresh water
Wainui Inlet

Whanganui Inlet

Near Puponga

Old coal jetty at low tide near Puponga

Overlooking Farewell Spit
Golden Bay from Farewell Spit at low tide

Cape Farewell, most northern point of South Island
Named by Captain James Cook in 1770

Wharariki Beach

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from Alyce  at home with books

Thursday 10 January 2013

The Hobbit

It was the perfect timing for me to read The Hobbit recently. I knew the Peter Jackson movie was coming out, and we were planning a New Zealand holiday for Christmas. I'd tried reading The Hobbit to my son a few years ago as a read aloud bedtime book, but we'd both got bored by it. I was unsure how I'd like it this time round. Thankfully I was less bored.

Hobbits were everywhere in NZ

As possibly the last person in the world to read The Hobbit, the story probably needs no introduction to most everyone else. A band of thirteen dwarves gather and set off on an adventure with one hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, to try to reclaim the golden treasures within the Lonely Mountain. These treasures are guarded by the terrible dragon Smaug, who stole from the dwarves and decimated their King and their civilisation. Of course their journey is beset by many perils and terrible monsters- wargs, orcs, trolls, giant spiders. All rather classic quest story and battling with nasty monster stuff. Possibly The Hobbit set the bar for such tales I suppose.

Air NZ has gone Hobbit crazy,
besides the whole safety video thing
the first of two Hobbit planes to fly the skies,
sadly we didn't get to fly on this one

As I've said before, fantasy is not my thing. I generally don't like books with maps at the front, or the need for Frequent Capitals to Denote Things of Note or Import. And if you're going to put a map at the front of the book, then please make it one that is helpful, and not one that doesn't help until most of the journey has finished anyway.

Picture source

I liked the book well enough overall, despite the rather frequent intrusions of the omniscient narrator, but I did like it much more in the last 100 pages, after Smaug actually enters the action at around page 200. I did find some of Bilbo's later actions quite morally dubious, and wondered about that, but otherwise it's an action packed adventure, beloved by most everyone in the world it seems.

Hobbits on cups

My favourite quote, and one that is probably quite famous, at least it should be, it's pretty funny.

He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul's head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment. 

The  One Ring was made in Nelson NZ

Of course we went to see the first installment of the three part Hobbit movie whilst visiting Middle Earth (although sadly I didn't get the passport stamp even though I asked specially, and very politely, I just got the dismissive "Oh we don't stamp Australian passports" and a shrug).

I was never a great fan of the Lord of the Rings movie franchise. I enjoyed the first one, but was increasingly disturbed by the violent nature of the second two films, plus I don't find orcs that visually pleasant to watch, which of course made The Hobbit a bit of a visual challenge too. I enjoyed it well enough, but didn't feel that the story really needed the introduction of the White Orc, although he certainly does have a cool prosthesis, and it certainly didn't need Sylvester McCoy's character who was covered with bird poo and racing about the place in a chariot pulled by bunnies. Still it was a visually splendid movie experience, excepting of course when the orcs were on screen.

Hobbits taking it to the streets
well orcs and dwarves really, not sure why you'd want an orc van
or park your gnarly ride outside the library