Monday, July 31, 2006

Some Quilt Talk

Despite the heading on my blog, quilting doesn't seem to put in an appearance very often. However, over the last few days I have been making plans to attend Quilt Symposium 2007. We have this symposium every two years in New Zealand. Unlike the big American quilt events, it doesn't stay in one place but travels around. This one is to be held in Palmerston North, where my best high school friend lives, conveniently around the corner from the high school where the classes, lectures and some of the exhibitions are being held. So, I have booked my (free) accommodation with her, and booked my airfares. Now, I just have to finish filling out the class selection form, and send it in with a very fat cheque.

I'm not going to try and do five full days of classes. I'm going for three days, plus an extra two hour class on the Bernina Aurora sewing machines. These are the official hire machines for the symposium, and coincidentally I bought one early this year, so it will be good to find out some of what they can do. That gives me a day and a half free for relaxing, viewing exhibitions etc.

I think my first choice of class is going to be this one. The alternative is a class with Jane Sassaman. That might be my first choice, probably this one, except that I did a class with her last time she was in New Zealand, around eight years ago. (I like that it is described as "especially beneficial for the drawing impaired and the tragically literal"). That was the last symposium I attended in full, so I'm quite excited about going to this one. Four years ago it was in Christchurch, and I skipped out of work in my lunch breaks to go to some of the lectures, as well as seeing all the exhibitions on my free days, but I didn't do any classes. I stopped taking classes for quite a while, because it's too easy to become a class junkie, and not put in any effort developing a work habit, and a personal style, in between. But right now I feel the need for the excitement of being around all those quilts and quilters.

I find it interesting comparing quilt workshops with poetry workshops. So many quilt workshops that are offered, are basically product classes. "Here is my quilt design, this is how you make it" (with or without variations). This would never happen with poetry of course. The equivalent would be calligraphy, or a class in Microsoft Word, finding out how to set out the given words in the same pattern with the tab keys etc! It's the "craft not art" side of quilting. And it's what makes workshop junkies - those people who can't make a quilt without being shown how to do it. I wouldn't normally take one of those classes, because if I really wanted to make that quilt, I'd look at the picture and figure out how. I prefer "process" classes - classes that show me a particular technique, or a way of designing, that I can then put to use in my own way. This is still different from most poetry workshops I've been to. There, the emphasis is mostly on sources for ideas. Technique doesn't seem to be mentioned, often. Strangely, though I like the "sources of ideas" approach for poetry workshops, I'm wary of the few quilt workshops that are based on that approach. I think it's a matter of trust. Do I trust that this particular teacher can offer an inspiring workshop, or did they just think it sounded good? Will it leave me feeling uninspired and flat? At least with a technique, I can reliably expect to learn something.

Actually, I wouldn't mind a few technique-based poetry workshops. For instance, a focus on striking metaphors, or on the uses of alliteration, or on post-modern techniques, since I'm still not really clear what "post modernism" means. I'd like to learn more about it, even if it's just to find out for sure that I don't want to use it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sunday Scribblings- My Two Cents

What an appropriate topic for today! Tomorrow we will find the first of our new coins in our change. New Zealand has some of the largest and heaviest coins in the world. Our ten, twenty and fifty cent pieces are being replaced with smaller and lighter coins. Five cent pieces are being removed from circulation as being too small to be of value, with inflation. One and two cent coins went the same way some years ago. We have one and two dollar coins now, replacing bank notes. The smallest bank note is a five dollar coin. I have old coins in a tin - pre-decimal currency pennies and even halfpennies, one penny dating back to 1889. One and two cent pieces, no longer of any value. Soon the five cent pieces will join them (the ones that I don't remember to spend or put in a donation box first). So, I penned this little poem in honour of our departing coints (with a nod to the other meaning of "my two cents")

For What It’s Worth

My two cents
aren't worth what they used to be
no longer legal tender
I keep them in a tin
with paperclips and stray buttons.

I offer my two cents to young girls
“Yeah – what –ev-er” they say,
rolling their eyes

my purse grows heavy and fat
with twenties and fifties

soon my five cents
won’t be worth anything, either
I add them to the tin
with the paperclips, the buttons
the copper coins
and a piece of old string.

More Sunday Scribblings here

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Happy 150th Birthday

Today there is a party on in Christchurch's Cathedral Square. 150 years ago Queen Victoria granted letters patent which allowed Christchuch to have a bishop and become a city. It must have been a very small city, as it was only six years since the "First Four Ships" had brought the settlers of the Canterbury Company. However I gather that having a bishop was more important to granting city status, than was size.

Technically I think our "birthday" should date from the first settlement. Celebrating the city status seems to be to be counting a child's day of birth as the day they start school. Still, any excuse for a party on ratepayers' money.

Here are some photos I took - very casually in the crowd. Any attempts at framing a professional-looking shot were likely to be foiled by someone coming between me and the camera.

Part of the 150 metre long birthday cake (and a very nice cake it was, too).

FreedomAir were giving away 75 prizes of a flight for two to Australia, for the best costumes.

Performers waiting behind the stage for their turn

Stilt walkers seen above the crowd

A tourist poses with Christchurch's Wizard for a photo. (The Wizard used to be seen regularly on his soapbox in the Square. He's more or less retired these days, but comes out occasionally for special occasions).

A young partygoer flies above the crowd. The Cathedral is in the background.

John Robert Godley decked out in red and black (Canterbury colours) with a seagull hat, for the occasion.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Bit of Excitement

Yesterday I just missed being a witness to this news story, when I went out to do some banking. Just as I approached the bank I saw that the street was blocked off by police cars. I thought someone must have tried to rob the bank, but I parked the car anyway and went to check, and found that I could still go to the bank. The robbery was at a party pill shop further up the road.

I believe these pills are illegal in many countries. In New Zealand, the shops that sell them are springing up all over the place. I'm not sure whether I think the pills should be illegal. Alcohol was illegal during Prohibition, and that didn't work too well. There seem to be calls to make all sorts of things illegal, on the grounds that they are a Bad Thing. OK, there are lots of Bad Things. It's not, in general, a good idea to go around being rude to everybody you meet, but it's not illegal. It's not illegal to have an affair with a married man. Or to drink to excess. Or many other things. The fact that the shops attract robberies isn't really an argument either - electronics shops, liquor stores, banks, are all targets for robberies but we don't ban them. Still, I don't think that these pills are a good thing. And the shops look really sleazy. But then, so did the condom shop I saw in Surfers Paradise. Condoms, of course, are entirely necessary and useful at times. But I can't quite see the need for a whole shop dedicated to them.

Anyway, the story made the front page of the paper. And that, I think is a good thing. If it ever gets common enough not to make the front page of the paper, that's the time to start worrying.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Food Poetry

This week's prompt at Poetry Thursday was to share poems about food. I have a few food poems. I posted my poem about Fresh Bread on an early Poetry Thursday. Click if you want to see it, I don't think I had very many readers back then. I also have a couple of poems about eggs that I rather like, but as they are being published shortly, and the magazine has first publishing rights, they will have to wait. I've started another poem in response to the prompt, but it isn't ready yet. So, I have nothing of my own to share this week (unless you click the link above). Instead, I am posting something by one of my favourite New Zealand poets, Lauris Edmond. Yes, the title mentions roses. But it's about food, really.

Those roses

Roses, the single scarlet sort,
open at the throat as if for
coolness, sprawl at the window;
you heap on my plate a pile
of potatoes, steaming and small,
smelling of mint. 'They're
basic,' you say as we go at them
lustfully, 'they grow by the door;
you have to chase meat' - and I
notice a certain vegetable poise,
not striated like the fibrous
deposits of a more strenuous growing
but smooth, opaque; placid testimony
to the sufficiency of flesh.

'Of course you do have to hunt - '
I say, thinking of hopeful
burrowings in the soil, wresting
from the clutch of its black fingernails
each creamy nugget; and we agree
on that; we're a bit languid,
munching more slowly as each
pale pod splits open and fills
us with amber warmth - one flesh
sturdily giving itself to another.
Those roses, too, they lean over us,
and the squat black pot gives
off its dull gleam, grinning
crookedly from the stove.

- Lauris Edmond

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Drowning in a Sea of Plastic

- particularly polystyrene packaging. It's everywhere and I hate the stuff. The other day I spoke to my butcher. I asked why it was that all butchers seem to package meat on polystyrene trays, since it was the worst plastic of all for the environment. He was a bit vague about the answer and also was rather vague on whether it was biodegradable (it's not). So I said that I was considering moving to another butcher where they weigh and pack the customer's meat on demand, and the only packaging is a plastic bag. He told me that if I phoned in an order in the morning, they would happily pack it in plastic bags for me and I could pick it up on the way home. Now, I just have to get organised enough to do that. Or better still, stop in on my way to work to find out what's on special, order and then pick it up on the way home. I'm sure I'll keep forgetting to be so organised.

There was an article in our newspaper at the weekend about a man who has no rubbish. He recycles what he can. We have kerbside recycling here for paper, tin and aluminium cans, glass, and plastics of type 1 and 2. He composts, presumably, and reuses things. But no rubbish? Well, apparently if he ever buys a new appliance (infrequently), he takes the polystyrene packaging back to the shop and tells them it's their problem. I think that's cheating a little, since it still enters the waste stream. Though if enough people did it, maybe the manufacturers would stop using it. You can cut cardboard to make rigid supports inside the carton, after all - or I have seen supports made out of moulded cardboard (the same as is used in New Zealand for egg cartons).

Back to our "no waste" gentleman - if it can't be recycled, he keeps it till it can. He has a shed at the bottom of his garden for this purpose. My first thought was "wow! what does his wife think of that?" Then I realised it's not such a bad idea. There's a lot of "stuff" in our house (I dare not call it "junk") which I'd be glad to have in a shed at the bottom of the garden. Stacks and stacks of papers, enough computers to start a museum, computer parts, and general bits and pieces...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Perspectives on Age

When We Were Young
Originally uploaded by shiny shaz.
This week's haiku prompt at one deep breath is perspective: a pair of haiku offering two perspectives on the same topic.
For the first time I attempted to use a flickr photo, so the layout is a little odd as I am still getting used to the process! The second photo is of my grandmother, taken a week or so before she died, a month before her 104th birthday.
lipstick, high heeled shoes
go anywhere, do as I choose
- grown-up freedom

long summer days,
picking berries, running free,
- childhood freedom

Monday, July 24, 2006

Noisy Neighbours

They moved in a couple of years ago and since then they have been making themselves known by partying loudly all night. Yesterday I decided it was time to dob them in*. My son recorded an audio file on his laptop which I will burn to CD. Tomorrow it is going in the post to the New Zealand frog survey.

I've never actually seen them, as they turn quiet whenever I get near. But according to the frog survey website, it seems as if they may be brown tree frogs. These are an import from Australia - New Zealand native frogs are silent. The call of the brown tree frog is "a series of cricket-like trills and chirps". That sounds pretty much like what we hear. The website also reports that they do not compete with New Zealand frogs for food and habitat, and indeed may benefit them by reducing predation - so this is how we treat out Aussie neighbours! "Come over here and be eaten, to protect us."

I found a picture of the brown tree frog on this site. It is the cute little fella on the top right hand side. Lacking the opportunity to photograph the real thing, I am including a photo of a frog ornament I have, which looks quite similar.

*New Zealand slang for "report them to the appropriate authorities".

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Thief in the Cherry Tree

Today's prompt for Sunday Scribblings - "thief"

We have a cherry tree at our back door. When we moved here, I didn't know it was a cherry tree. I didn't take much notice of it for several years. Eventually I noticed that it had started to bear small, hard red fruit that the birds seemed to enjoy. I assumed they were sour, like the crab apples that the birds also liked. I didn't think much about it until one year I spotted two dark red, plump juicy berries that the birds had missed, hiding under a leaf. I tasted them and found they were sweet, ripe cherries.

The next year we tried to pick some of the berries before the birds got to them, and ripen them on the windowsill. It wasn't very successful - even at the ripest we could get them, they were still a little hard and tart. Then we tried covering branches with netting. It was a big tree. Perhaps if I had realised early enough what it was, we could have pruned it and kept it to a manageable size. The branches were spreading and far apart. We thought we had covered the lower branches, but the birds found a way in underneath the netting and stripped them once more. One year we were on holiday in an area where there were many cherry orchards. We stopped at a roadside stand to buy fruit, and I asked how they kept the birds off the cherries. They told me they fire gas guns. The noise frightens the birds away. If that stops working, they shoot a few birds. The sight of the dead birds scares the others off. Unfortunately that's not a practical solution in a built-up area. I found another, though - pantyhose. The leg of an old pair of pantyhose stretched over a branch protects the fruit from the feathered thieves. Or at least, it does until they have stripped the rest of the tree. Then they start pecking at the pantyhose until they have pecked a hole through, and they steal those as well. Still, as long as I am quick and pick the cherries as soon as they are ripe, I do get a couple of pounds of sweet cherries this way. It is slow though, covering the branches one at a time. And it requires a ladder as the tree is so high. Many branches are out of reach. In fact I would be glad to share the cherries with the birds, if they would only feast on the upper branches and leave the lower branches for us. But every year it is the same. One day they seem to be leaving the unripe cherries alone. Then suddenly the sun is shining, and the birds are flying in and stripping the branches again - at first, all in a day. Now that the tree has grown, it takes a little longer, but the birds take all. They probably think of us as thieves if we try to compete with them.

There are other problems, too. Our cars are parked near the tree. It overhangs the translucent roof of the conservatory which contains our spa pool. In cherry season the birds drop cherry stones all over the cars and the roof, and poop cherry coloured poop everywhere. And the tree towers over the two storeyed house. Its roots spread far across the garden. They are undermining and cracking the concrete driveway. Shoots come up all over the back lawn. I imagine falling asleep for a hundred years, like Sleeping Beauty. The cherry tree shoots would have grown into a thick forest. I have serious doubts that any handsome prince would be able to find his way through.

Sadly, the tree has to go. Already my husband has removed most of the lower branches, and one of the two trunks that was rubbing against the spouting of the house. Eventually the whole tree will come down. It is easier, anyway, to buy my cherries from the supermarket. But they will never seem quite as tasty as the ones we fight the birds for.

Friday, July 21, 2006

National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day in New Zealand. It has been celebrated with underwhelming enthusiasm - that is to say, I hardly noticed until I overheard a reference on the radio which was on in the background at work.

Still, certain things have been happening. There was a reading at the university at lunchtime, which I couldn't get to. The winner of the poetry category of New Zealand's Montana Book Awards was announced. There was an article in this morning's newspaper, with comments on how it was not possible to earn a living as a poet, and some haiku, mainly political, written by the newspaper columnists.

And - not in New Zealand but still on the subject of poetry, I noticed the new Guardian Poetry Workshop is online. Strangely they forgot to include the instructions for e-mailing your poem, and the deadline. Assume a deadline of a few days only, and if you want to enter, check last month's wokshop for the e-mail address. But even if you don't want to enter, there is a useful discussion of animal poems with quite a few examples as links.

Some further links:
Leaf Salon (news and reviews on literature in New Zealand, including poetry)
Best New Zealand Poems - the selection of the "best" 25 poems each year from 2001 - influenced of course by the editor's personal preferences. (There is a different editor each year).
New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre

Exploring the last, I found a poem which both fits in with this week's Poetry Thursday topic - sex - and with the Guardian Poetry Workshop theme - animals:
Snail Ears

A couple of addenda: I am going back to yesterday's post as promised, and adding a comment about the background to the poem - though many felt it was unnecessary.

I was thinking of following tradition, and posting "100 things about me" as my 100th post, but I have just noticed that I am up to 104 posts already. Oh well. My list is only up to 38 things. I'm having trouble figuring out what is actually interesting about me. I may post it eventually.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Thursday Bonus

Two posts today, so scroll down if you are looking for my Poetry Thursday post.
Thursday is one of my "non work" days. I got up feeling very grumpy. I think it's one of the longest spells of cold wet winter weather we've had in a long time. Usually we have lots of sunny days,crisp and frosty in the morning but warming up later. The weather and other things seem to be bugging me lately.

i decided that there's nothing like a spot of housework to cheer things up. You can tell I don't do this often, or I wouldn't think it was worth mentioning. I now have a shiny sparkly bathroom, even if it's not shiny and sparkly outside. I dusted lots of shelves and vacuumed. Then in honour of the return of my Kenwood mixer, I did a heap of baking and put it in the oven with a roast dinner. All of which put a smile on the face of the bottomless pit that is the teenage son.

I have been thinking about clocks. Both of my watches broke some months back. I haven't replaced them yet. Not because I don't care about the time, but because it's everywhere. There is an alarm clock in the bedroom. There is a wall clock in my studio. Then I moved the computer in here, so there is the clock on the computer as well. In the kitchen there is a digital clock on the stove, and another on the microwave. It's an open plan area combined with a dining/family room, so there is another clock on the DVD player. There is also my husband's grandfather's clock - which is a grandfather clock - but we tend to forget to wind it up. There are of course numerous other computers in the house, each with a clock, and there are alarm clocks in the other bedrooms as well.

There is a clock in my car, and at work we have five clocks so I can tell the time not only in Christchurch but also in Honolulu, Rome, London, Los Angeles, and New York. On the way to work I pass large clocks that tell me the time and also the temperature (which I really don't want to know at the moment). If I should ever get caught somewhere with no clock nearby, I can always check the time on my cellphone.

So, what do I need a watch for?

Poetry Thursday: About Sex

This week's prompt for Poetry Thursday was to write about sex. That's a topic that doesn't usually make its way into my poetry. Not that I don't enjoy reading well-written poetry that includes sex, I just don't write about it. To tell the truth, I think I am far more at ease inside my head than in my body.

Still, I have one poem that I wrote recently that does mention sex. I'm not sure that it is actually about sex, but it does mention it. Now, it's a bit offbeat, and I don't usually like explanations of poetry. If I go to a reading, and someone feels obliged to give a long explanation of their poem, I tend to find myself thinking "Enough already! Just read the damn thing." There is a reference in this poem that you might remember if you have been reading my blog for a while. Otherwise, I am going to let it stand without explanation at first, and I will add some background to the comments in a day or so.

On Not Being Charles Lindbergh

Snow on the ground
we are lying in bed
cold outlines the curves of our thighs
making love with socks on
thinking about
Charles Nunsegger and Francois Coli
missing over the Atlantic
with ten days’ supply
of caviar and bananas.

By the way, all writing on this blog is copyright to me. One of these days I will put a note in the sidebar.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Random Ramblings

A grab bag of items today:

1. Firstly I have figured out that people couldn't post comments unless they were on Blogger. I have changed the settings - I hope I have fixed this. I do try and reply to comments where I think it is needed - so remember to check back.

2. Takahe is a literary magazine for which I do administration - their website is up and running here.

3. I spent part of yesterday afternoon at the museum ogling historical costumes. I've been thinking about going to Oamaru, a small town about three hours from here where my greatgrandparents first settled. Every November they have a Victorian Heritage Festival with lots of dressing up in period costume. I thought it might be fun. However, the pattern catalogues - Butterick, Simplicity etc - being American, have costumes from American history with particular emphasis on the Civil War period. I wasn't quite sure if New Zealand pioneer women wore similar fashions or not. I suspect the patterns for Civl War costumes place heavy emphasis on what the gracious ladies of the deep South war - the ones with households full of servants. Did New Zealand women really scrub floors, haul laundry and do other heavy chores in dresses with hoops, bustles and all the parephernalia? My greatgrandfather went bankrupt twice (once in Scotland and once in New Zealand) and there were eight children to bring up with, I suspect,no money for servants.

The costumes are gorgeous - I should have taken photos, and will go back to do so. There is one from 1872 which has a sleeve that looks very like what my greatgrandmother wore in a photo I have of her before she left Scotland, and before the bankruptcies. I don't think my sewing skills are up to the massive bustle in the rear, though - and I hate to think of the cost of all the fabric. I think if I do decide to sew a costume, it will be from a later period - around 1900 when a fairly simple skirt, a blouse with leg of mutton sleeves, and a straw boater dressed up with flowers will do the trick. Or I could just hire a costume - but that may need an extra trip to try it on and reserve it, and I don't want to do that.

I'll post photos if I can get some good ones at the museum. If anyone has good ideas or sources for historical costumes, let me know.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Urban Haiku

This week's topic at one deep breath is to write haiku about the city. The topic was posted while I was at work today (I took a sneak peek on the work computer) so my brain was able to start churning while I drove home in busy rush hour traffic.

at the traffic lights
smoke rises into the sky
from car exhaust pipes

in the sliver of sky
between car yards
a Russian dome

cubist reflections
make windows of sunlight
on concrete walls

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Baggage

Back when I was working as a forensic scientist, I used to travel to other towns to give evidence in court. Usually I was only away for one day. But occasionally because of weather conditions, the airport was closed and I was stuck overnight. I remember ringing my boss to say I wouldn't be back to work until later the next day, and he was very concerned about whether or not I had a toothbrush.

Actually I didn't mind in the least being stuck without luggage. And I could always buy a toothbrush. The only thing that I made sure I always had with me, in case I was stuck overnight, was my contraceptive pills. These days, that's not a problem. Actually, the chance of being stuck overnight away from home is not something that's a problem these days. Still, I was thinking about what I'd want to have with me. Firstly, my asthma medication is always in my bag. I have very mild asthma, but I'm not taking chances. Secondly, more and more I try to have my digital camera always on hand - in case I see a truly beautiful sunset, or some other photo worthy scene, just when I'm not expecting it. My handbag also contains a notebook and pen, just in case a line or two of a poem strikes me. And if I was travelling, and might be stuck overnight, I'd want clean underwear and a clean shirt. For a trip of a few days, if I was trying to travel really light, the list above would pretty much do it, except with a few more changes of shirt and underwear. And a passport, if I was going out of the country. I think I could survive pretty well on that lot. What would you take?

It's interesting that we use the phrase "he/she has baggage" to mean something bad. We all have emotional learning from the past - sometimes bad feelings, sometimes good. Without learning, we would be like babies starting over each day. Travelling light can be a good thing, but there is emotional "baggage" that I am glad to have. I have learnt that some people are good, and caring, and loving, as much as I have learnt that some people are not. And that's baggage I'm glad to travel with - it weighs less than the other sort.

More Sunday Scribblings here.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

There are Two Sorts of People....

...those who believe there are two sorts of people, and those who don't. For instance, there is that perennial question: "Do you believe the glass is half full, or half empty?"

Well. I dunno. It all depends on context, doesn't it? If I am pouring liquid into a glass, and I pause to check the level, then it is half full. If I'm eating dinner in a swanky restaurant, with the wine waiter hovering to top up my glass as I drink (which incidentally I find very rude), then it is half empty.

Show me a picture of a glass, the water level at the half way line, and no context to judge by, and then I am not quite sure. I think I would probably say half full. Unless it is a really, really hot day, and I'm thirsty, and I'd probably say "That's all there is to drink? It's half empty!"

What I really want is a neat and tidy way of saying "That glass contains half of its total capacity of water." But I wouldn't say that, it sounds really awkward. Which is all a way of saying that I don't see myself as an optimist - I'd make a lousy salesman. Apparently the best qualification for that job is the ability to just keep on, assuming that even if the last hundred people didn't buy anything, that big sale is just around the corner. On the other hand, I don't think I'm a total pessimist either. I don't assume things are going to get a whole lot better, but I don't assume they are going to get a whole lot worse either.

Which is why a passage in a book I am reading jumped out at me. The book is The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. (A very interesting book, by the way). And this is the passage:

In the game of evolution, is it better to be monogamous or polygamous? Gentle or aggressive? Cooperative or selfish?...Optimistic, pragmatic, or pessimistic?

There's the word that hit me - I don't have to be optimistic or pessimistic. I'm "pragmatic". I think it fits me perfectly.

Friday, July 14, 2006

It's a Small World After All

"The world begins to feel very small when one finds one can get half round it in three months"
- Samuel Butler (written in 1859)

"Space isn't remote at all. It's only an hour's drive away if your car could go straight upwards"
- Fred Hoyle

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Humour

I find it easier to be humourous when responding to someone else's humour, rather than being funny straight out of nowhere. And it's certainly difficult to be funny on cue, just because someone asks you "be funny". I gather off duty comedians sometimes have trouble with this one. So I don't write humourous poems very often. I have one poem that would be perfect for this week, but it's being published at the end of August, so you will have to wait.

Instead I cast my mind back over some of the funny poems I've enjoyed over the years. Limericks, of course:

A peculiar bird is the pelican
His beak holds more than his belly can
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
I'm darned if I know how the hell- e -can

I think I learned that one somewhere around the age of ten.

And then in high school I discovered the verse of Ogden Nash. We were allowed to submit lists of books we'd like if we won prizes, so one year I asked for his complete works, which I still have on my bookshelf. This one, however, is by a far less well known poet. It came originally from another book of humourous verse that I discovered in high school, and whose name I have now forgotten. What it has in common with much humourous verse is its clever rhyming, which I always enjoy.

I Had a Hippopotamus

I had a hippopotamus; I kept him in a shed
And fed him upon vitamins and vegetable bread.
I made him my companion on many cheery walks,
And had his portrait done by a celebrity in chalks.

His charming eccentricities were known on every side.
The creature's popularity was wonderfully wide.
He frolicked with the Rector in a dozen friendly tussles,
Who could not but remark on his hippopotamuscles.

If he should be affected by depression or the dumps
By hippopotameasles or hippopotamumps
I never knew a particle of peace 'till it was plain
He was hippopotamasticating properly again.

I had a hippopotamus, I loved him as a friend
But beautiful relationships are bound to end.
Time takes, alas! our joys from us and robs us of our blisses.
My hippopotamus turned out to be a hippopotamissus.

My housekeeper regarded him with jaundice in her eye.
She did not want a colony of hippopotami.
She borrowed a machine gun from her soldier-nephew, Percy
And showed my hippopotamus no hippopotamercy.

My house now lacks the glamour that the charming creature gave.
The garage where I kept him is as silent as a grave.
No longer he displays among the motor-tires and spanners
His hippopotamastery of hippopotamanners.

No longer now he gambols in the orchard in the Spring;
No longer do I lead him through the village on a string;
No longer in the mornings does the neighborhood rejoice
To his hippopotamusically-modulated voice.

I had a hippopotamus, but nothing upon the earth
Is constant in its happiness or lasting in its mirth.
No joy that life can give me can be strong enough to smother
My sorrow for what might have been a hippopotamother.

-- Patrick Barrington

More Poetry Thursday here

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Catch Up

Normally I would blog on Tuesdays, since it is one of my not-work days. However yesterday I got caught up in my enthusiasm for genealogy.

A while back my hard drive failed. At least I got a great new computer out of it. But unfortunately I found that my latest back up wasn't very "late". I painstakingly restored all my family history files, but one got missed. So yesterday I went back to some of the web sites where I had found information, and started to recreate the file. By looking at everything with a fresh eye, I was also able to find some new relatives.

Newcomers to genealogy often post messages on the message boards and e-mail lists that go something like this: "My greatgreatgrandfather had twelve children, and just one of them - my greatgrandfather - has several hundred descendants, so there must be thousands more out there, descended from the other eleven children".

Well no, actually. Unfortunately if that were true there would be standing room only on the planet. I read just the other day that the average life expectancy in Scotland in 1860 was around forty years. Even though I know that a lot of people died in childhood, or childless in early adulthood, it still amazes me sometimes when I try and trace large families, only to find that not one of them had children. Some commentators deplore the declining rate of marriage and childbearing (below replacement rates), but they are not going back more than fifty years or so in their comparisons. In the past large groups of unmarried brothers and sisters ran farms together, or the unmarried daughters took teaching jobs and stayed home with their parents, or children died of diseases like measles and whooping cough. In one family that I found with seven children, six of them died before the age of five years old - the other one did grow up to adulthood.

At some stage I'd love to do a study comparing birth and death rates in Scotland, New Zealand, and some of the other countries that the Scots emigrated to, around the late 1800s. I have a feeling the death rate at least was lower in the colonies, perhaps due to cleaner air or less overcrowding.

Despite all this, I am always hopeful of finding new relatives. So I took the time to enter a bunch of the people I had found onto the Lost Cousins website. This is a brilliant concept - one enters the details for any relatives from the 1881 census. There are other genealogy sites where you can look for contacts - one of these keeps claiming they have found new matches for me, and yet all I registered was my maiden name. These people are supposedly related to me because somewhere in their tree they have someone with the same name. Well, my name is not quite as common as Mary Smith, but almost. The Lost Cousins concept means that if they find a match, it is pretty well guaranteed to be someone who is genuinely researching the same families as you are. Even though my ancestors had mostly left Scotland by 1881, I am able to find their relatives who stayed behind, and enter those. And every time they double their membership, the chances of a match increase fourfold, hence this plug for the site. Sadly, I didn't find any new matches yesterday, but I am always hopeful.

I've actually written two posts today, so check out my haiku for "one deep breath" in the post below (still on the genealogy bandwagon).


The haiku topic at one deep breath this week is ritual and ceremony. for some reason I was thinking of the days when getting your photograph taken was a real ritual. This is one of my collection of old family photos, it is my Greatuncle Dave in his soldier's uniform (World War 1). Fortunately he was one of those who came back, although he lost an eye.

official photo
before he ships out
might be the last

Monday, July 10, 2006

Since You Asked

I had a few requests to tell more about my past career as a forensic scientist. The truth is that it's not nearly as glamorous as it seems on TV (but then, what is?) Actually, my subsequent career as a mother of five was far more varied and interesting, and no one asks me about that. (I heard a story about a woman at a gathering of her husband's work colleagues. He told her "Honey, don't bring out the baby pictures. Everyone here either has one or they don't.")

On the TV shows there seems to be one person who does it all. In our department (it was a long time ago and may have changed) there were basically three sorts of scientists. Firstly, those who mainly analysed body fluids - blood and semen - they did blood grouping but DNA testing was very much in its infancy. Secondly, those who handled physical evidence such as paint flakes, glass fragments, and ballistics testing. There wasn't very much ballistics testing since this is New Zealand and we don't do guns all that much, except for duck shooting and the like. Well, not as much as in the US, anyway. One of the gunshot experts later took a job in Hong Kong as a bomb disposal expert. I'm not sure what his wife thought about that, expecially since his predecessor had apparently blown a hand off.

Thirdly, there was a large amount of work to be done analysing drugs. That's the work I did, which you don't see on the TV shows much. You can't prosecute someone for possession of, say, cocaine, unless you prove it is cocaine. Even if they firmly believe it is cocaine - they may have been ripped off, after all. Once I was called in urgently on Boxing Day, because someone thought they had found drugs in their Christmas pressie. It was a cute animal money box with a little plastic bag of white powder inside. It turned out to be bath salts. Later I saw identical animal money boxes for sale in the shops, still in their boxes which - surprise! - were labelled "contains bath salts".

Probably the most exciting part of the job was that we got to have huge bonfires of the cannabis samples that were no longer required. Or it would have been, except that we burnt them still wrapped in plastic, and who wants to sniff plastic fumes? Not me, anyway.

Back then, there weren't any specialised forensic science courses. I did a Master's degree in chemistry and I had received a study award from what was then the DSIR (government science department) at the end of my first year. That meant I was obliged to work for them when I finished, which wasn't a burden really - I was glad to have a guaranteed job. I worked first in toxicology - mostly doing postmortem drug analysis of liver, kidney and blood samples. We also took turns analyzing blood samples from drunk drivers for two weeks at a time. That's pretty much gone now, they use evidential breath testing instead.

From toxicology I switched to the forensic section but it was much the same thing, only without being "packaged" in body tissue :)

The silliest crime story I heard while I was there involved some young men who burgled a store. I can't remember the details but it involved a broken plate glass window and cut tendons. So they stole a government car (which was parked outside the store in question with the keys inside!) to drive to the hospital, where the injured offender was put in plaster. Of course he obligingly left his blood all over the car.

While he was on bail for that offence, he and some mates went and "did" a liquor warehouse. When the police found little crumbly bits of plaster on the floor, of course they knew exactly where to go. They found him with cartons of stolen liquor stored in his house.

Then there was the young offender who gave police the slip when they were chasing him on foot - he had learnt his running skills at a police-run youth programme :)

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sunday Scribblings and Other Matters

This week's topic for Sunday Scribblings is "hotels". I almost decided to give it a miss. When we travel we don't usually stay in hotels, unless you interpret the term rather loosely. We prefer motels (and also use timeshare resorts) - units that come complete with kitchen, so we can cook.

I didn't think I had much experience of hotels, until I started thinking back. There were the blandly similar hotels that I stayed in way back before children. I was a forensic scientist then. I travelled to different towns and cities to give evidence in court. Whille my husband travelled for his work, around the globe, I saw a lot of identical police stations and court rooms in small town New Zealand. Then there were the hotels we stayed in when we relocated from one city to another, while our furniture was packed up and we looked for new rental accommodation. And there was the hotel we stayed in when we decided to travel to Auckland to see an exhibition of da Vinci drawings, and the brand new Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World, taking our eldest three children (the fourth was a bump in my stomach). We don't seem to do things like that any more.

And who ever stays in a hotel in their own city? I had that experience a couple of years ago. It was a prize in a competition - "Summer Sonnets". Part of the Festival of Flowers and Romance. First prize was a spa weekend at a hotel in a thermal resort , second prize was a night in a hotel in the same chain, here in Christchurch, and third prize was dinner at their restaurant. I figured first or third prize would be very nice, so of course I came second! (Well, I was surprised and grateful to win anything). It turned out to be a very pleasant experience - leaving the family who are old enough to look after themselves, checking in, strolling around the city, eating dinner at a restaurant, finding the pool, spa and sauna in the basement and then a night alone with each other before checking out in the morning and returning home.

But what I really wanted to say about hotels is that it would be nice to be in one right now. I want to be in some blandly unmemorable hotel, somewhere warm and very memorable. Instead of here, where it is winter.

Which brings me to the mail order catalogue that came in the mail yesterday. It reads "Spring is in the air! Whcih means we can kick off our shoes and head outdoors again. It's a season full of promise, when bright green shoots appear and flowers begin to bloom. Like a breath of fresh air, everything feels new again..."

Okay, we just had the coldest June for thirty-four years. That's official. We are about two weeks past the shortest day of the year. I am wearing all sorts of woolly layers. At least I am at home, on work days I dress down a bit because it is warmer. (That's one of the bad things about New Zealand - our houses are not built for warmth. But that's another topic altogether.) And now here is this catalogue trying to sell me bikinis?!?

The silly thing is that obviously lots of people do buy clothes so early it's the previous season. Then when I finally get round to wanting new clothes appropriate to the current weather, I find all the styles I like are sold out in my size. It's a good thing I don't care about clothes too much.

Lynn at Sprigs wanted to know why I needed cheering up. It's a winter thing, I think. My body seems to want to go into hibernation lately. I feel low on energy and unmotivated. I was having a particularly grumpy day yesterday, Lynn, when I wrote that comment, but I am feeling much more upbeat today. I might actually get something done. (That hotel would be nice though. Somewhere like Spain, or Paris, or Hawaii).

Friday, July 07, 2006

Apparently I'm Part Yankee

On Tracie's blog I found a link to a quiz: "What Type of American English do you speak?" Since I don't speak any sort of American English I thought it would be amusing to try it. There were twenty questions, I had to answer randomly for a couple of them since none of the options fitted. Here are the results:
Your Linguistic Profile:
35% General American English
30% Yankee
25% Dixie
5% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

Now, will someone please explain Yankee, Dixie, and Upper Midwestern to me?

Bubble lamps, the hundredth monkey, noodles cycloids and squircles

- are just a tiny fraction of the things mentioned in a very unusual (and very large) book I just borrowed from the library: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher.
Fletcher is a designer. He says in the introduction "More of a visual jackdaw than a compulsive collector, I acquire stuff...This book attempts to open windows to glimpse look at things from unlikely angles...The book has no thesis, has no beginning, middle or end. It's a journey without a destination".

The following passage on synaesthesia caught my eye for somewhat personal reasons:

"Alexander Theroux listed things that he felt 'seemed' yellow: 'maiden aunts, gumdrops, diffidence, the letter H, all women's poems (except Emily Dickinson's, which of course, are red), lewd suggestions, debt, the seventies, Nat "King" Cole's song China Gate, sadness, the Yale English department faculty, the name as well as the country of Brazil, August, the House of Congress, the word "hills", lampshades, physicians, insurance agents, the thin, squealing noises of children in playgrounds, political compromise, the state of Nebraska, illness in general, old wagon wheels, and the vapid name Catherine.'"

Well, I like yellow, write poems (women's poems, of course), and my birthday is in August - but "vapid"? What's with this guy?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday: "Confessional Poetry"

I was musing over some thoughts on "confessional" poetry, and then looked again at this week's prompt and realised that it actually asked about intense personal experiences, which might be private - mentioning the word "confessional" only in passing.

Still, I wanted to put out the thoughts I had about what is often described as confessional poetry. I was pondering the topics usually covered. It seems not everything is used, yet, as the topic for poetry. Most of this type seem to fall into a few categories - rage at a parent (often now dead); childhood physical or sexual abuse (which can overlap with the former); "divorce" poems i.e. feelings about a relationship or marriage, usually now dead.

It occurred to me that only those who no longer care about the other party involved can easily put such poems out in public. One of the reasons that I am never likely to write such poems. Most real relationships, fortunately, are not so one-sided. There is fault on both sides. Whatever the validity of our feelings, others are involved, and if you don't want to burn your bridges, their privacy needs to be respected.

Then it occurred to me that most so-called "confessional" poems confess nothing. Sure, they reveal secrets - but they are not confessions of the author's wrong-doing. They are not "confessions" in the Roman Catholic sense. In fact a famous poem which is a confessional poem in this sense, is William Carlos William's poem This is Just to Say which does actually use the words "forgive me"

Poets, it has been said, are no more moral than any other people, just because they create fine art. In fact, some of them may be quite nasty people. But they do not usually confess to being the perpetrator of violence or abuse.

Back to writing about intense private and personal experience - as I said, in many cases these are experiences involving relationships and other people. I do write from personal experience, but I tend to come at it sideways, not revealing specifics. I suspect there are more reasons involved than just privacy. It leaves more room for the reader to link to their own experience. It seems somehow more "poetic" - which is perhaps the same reason - perhaps poetry is something which makes a universal of a particular.

The other part of the prompt was to create an audioblog of myself reading a poem. Unfortunately audioblogger, it turns out, works by telephoning a United States number. I probably could do it from here, but it would be expensive - so I had to pass on that one.

Here is one of my own poems which is about as revealing as I am likely to get:

What My Science Teacher Told Me

Two atoms can never really touch, she said.
They can approach just so close
before the forces between their outer electrons
become so great
they push each other away.
In other words, when we embrace
in the illusion that we touch
what we feel is the force that keeps us apart.

That is why, when I lie here in your arms
nothing comes between us.

More Poetry Thursday here

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


This week's theme for one deep breath: journeys

through the windscreen
an unfamiliar landscape
the journey begins

seabirds follow
the wake of the ferry
a thread between islands

More haiku here

Monday, July 03, 2006

A Good Day for Some

This news item in today's paper caught my attention. A local woman had her car stolen. A week later the police recovered it. There would be nothing newsworthy in that, except that it was recovered complete with a new battery, wheels, steering column and glove box. Its performance is also much improved - she no longer has trouble starting the car in cold weather.

(I can't help wondering though - were the parts used to fix it stolen, too? And if so, what is her legal position?)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Sunday Scribblings: Two Peas in a Pod

Anne Geddes is a photographer who specialises in baby photographs like this one. She has posed her babies inside giant rosebuds, or perched on huge pumpkins, or dressed as bees, or as caterpillars.

Chase and Cru Kahui were two tiny baby boys, three month old premature twins. I can imagine them dressed as two peas in a pod, posed for an Anne Geddes photo. Instead they were taken to hospital with severe head wounds after a beating, and they later died. The story is here.

I had a long post following this, but I have edited it out. I decided that I'm not qualified to offer opinions on the causes of this and other problems in society. But the image of the two tiny baby boys stuck in my head, after the prompt was offered, and I couldn't take the phrase in any other direction either. So I will leave it at what I have posted above.


I am always very aware when I type up my entries, that most of my readers spell differently from me. As I write "colour", "favourite", "centre" I wonder if I should be apologising that perhaps they look odd. Of course I resist the urge to explain, and to declare that I really can spell properly. At least, I did resist until today. After all, this is my language, my version of English, and I should no more need to apologise for that than I would apologise for writing in French or Spanish, if that's what I chose to do.

I recall though the story of New Zealand family who were temporarily living in the United States. They had two school-age children. They recounted the story of how their ten year old had come home from school saying she had got 19 out of 20 on her spelling test. What did she spell incorrectly? One of those troublesome "-our" words? Or an oddity like "plough/plow"? No, it was something entirely different. "Over here', she told her mother "they spell revolution with a capital R".

On another note: another acceptance letter in the mail today. Yayyy! A set of three more poems will be published, later in the year.