Saturday, April 18, 2015

I am reviewed by Jacinda Ardern

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern is reading my latest book New Zealand’s Gift to the World: the Youth Justice Family Group Conference and she really, really likes it. That is, if her comment “this brilliant book” is anything to go by. I’m taking it as a compliment:

Friday, April 17, 2015

In praise of: John Daniell

To Auckland yesterday for the launch of John Daniell’s novel The Fixer. Craig Sisterson previewed it here; Jennifer Curtin reviewed it positively in the Listener here. Quote unquote:
As a former professional player in French clubs for 10 years and author of a couple of autobiographical-style books, Daniell is well qualified to reflect on the mercenary-like nature of the modern player and the potential for corruption that we tend to associate more with cricket. Being Rugby World Cup year, it’s likely we’ll be inundated with non-fiction books dedicated to All Blacks history or reflections on rugby by players past. Daniell’s novel makes a refreshing change and contains no boosterism. Rather, the story is a sobering reminder that all is not perfect in the world of union, and that the men and women who play the game are entirely human.

The launch was great. John gave the best author’s speech I have ever heard at a book launch, because it was the shortest I have ever heard. He thanked his agent, the late Michael Gifkins, for making the book happen, and that was it. Excellent.

John Daniell is huge. Possibly contains multitudes. He must be 6ft 6in and has shoulders as wide as the Waikato river. He is a very nice man but is, frankly, a hulk. I have met a few All Blacks in my time – fun fact: I used to work with Graham Mourie and Stu Wilson – but John would tower over them. I was talking with him, Craig Sisterson (at least six feet and solid with it) and Greg McGee who – well, I have no idea how tall Greg is but he was up there in the gods with John. I was so glad no one was taking photos – I must have looked like Peter Dinklage beside them.

I made my excuses and sidled off to talk with Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson who confirmed some spectacularly good media gossip I’d had from our mutual friend Cathy Odgers, the best media gossip I have ever heard and I have heard a bit in my time. Michael Gifkins’s widow Anne. Greg’s wife Mary, whom I hadn’t seen for maybe 25 years. Our gracious hostess Sally, who in a former life was a brilliant PR operative at Penguin. A bunch of others. All people I like a lot. And all of them said, at some point, “What are you doing here?”

I said, “I edited it.”

Next morning I had coffee with my friend James Macky, the artist formerly known as James Allan, I told him the gossip story which, as a married gay man (as in, married to another gay man), he loved. As I was leaving, my former stepson, who was at same cafe with his partner, grabbed me. He – people overseas never believe this New Zealand zero degrees of separation stuff – was best friends at school with John Daniell. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

A modest proposal at Te Papa

Jill Trevelyan, author of Peter McLeavey: The life and times of a New Zealand art dealer which won Book of the Year in the 2014 NZ Post Book Awards and Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life which won the Montana Medal for non-fiction in 2009, both published by Te Papa Press, writes:
Te Papa to axe its publishing arm
I wanted to let you know about a ‘change proposal’ that was announced to Te Papa staff on Thursday 9 April.
The proposal is to suspend all print publication within Te Papa Press for the next 4-5 years.
It includes disestablishing 4 positions at Te Papa Press: those of Claire Murdoch, Odessa Owens, Harriet Elworthy and Hannah Newport-Watson, ie every person who currently works primarily with print publications.
The reason for this ‘change proposal’ is that Te Papa is redirecting investment towards ‘core museum work’.
The proposal seems extraordinarily ill-conceived. If the objective is purely to save funds, the Te Papa Press budget is negligible in the wider context of the Te Papa budget.
And the dismantling of Te Papa Press would mean such a loss to the museum – in terms of outreach, nationally and internationally; credibility as a research institution; and brand excellence. Te Papa Press is widely perceived as one of the success stories of the Te Papa project, and its highly effective staff have an enviable reputation in the museum and publishing world. If they go, print publishing at the museum will never recover.
I can only surmise that Rick Ellis does not understand the work of Te Papa Press, and is receiving very poor advice from senior staff.
It alarms me that this proposal is being rushed through with great speed and secrecy: Te Papa is calling for internal submissions by 16 April. Staff have obviously been discouraged from discussing it with anyone outside the organisation.
Moreover, there is no evidence that the museum is seeking feedback from external stakeholders.
Given this tight time frame, I think the best option is to contact Rick Ellis directly ( to express dismay at the change proposal, and the secrecy with which it is being conducted.
Te Papa Press is one of our best publishers. (Disclosure: I have done some minor work on books for them in recent years.) The idea that you can redund the staff and suspend publishing for four years and then resume again is insane. Jill Trevelyan is right: Te Papa Press will never recover, which will be a huge loss to New Zealand publishing and New Zealand culture.

Onward, Christian soldiers

Quentin Letts writes in the Spectator about his distant relative Nicholas Monsarrat’s novel The Kappillan of Malta, whose central character is a priest, Father Salvatore:
One day he has lunch with the Governor of Malta, Lieut-General Sir William Dobbie. Monsarrat did not invent Dobbie. Dobbie was a keen member of the Plymouth Brethren. A veteran of the Boer War, he was once sent to quell some rioting in Palestine in the 1920s. ‘We will have to fight only four days a week,’ he said. ‘The Arabs won’t fight on Friday, the Jews on Saturday and I certainly won’t on Sunday.’
So here is Melina Mercouri singing “Never on Sunday” (“Ta Paidia Tou Piraia”) from the 1960 movie of that name: she won Best Actress at Cannes that year; the song won the Oscar. Ms Mercouri (b. October 1920, d. March 1994) was Greek’s Minister for Culture from 1981 to 1989.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My life is good

For most of today there was a man outside my office trimming the neighbour’s hedge. It is a tall and long hedge, and his hedge-trimmer was very loud. He wore earmuffs: I didn’t.

So the only work I achieved was, just as I was sitting down to lunch, a phone call from a client who said, “I’ve only got a couple of minutes,” as if I were imposing on his time rather than him on mine, and who then talked at me for 25 minutes about his book.

Tomorrow morning I shall rise early and wrangle Miss 11 and Miss 13 so they will be ready to leave the house at 8am for the 40-minute drive to Kihikihi – which is very near Te Awamutu, Crowded House fans! – to be dressage runners at the Kihikihi International Horse Trial. These are the school holidays, which breed unproductive days.  

So here is Randy Newman, live in concert in 1983, with “My Life is Good”:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #48

This is from the 30 March edition.
Jobless fix
The Government is about to reduce uemployment to about half of one per cent. Information leaked to the blogger Dripping Tap advises that Government has decided to replace the lonely, single, slightly deaf Siberian who speaks English with a Scottish penguin speech defect. She is to be released from being the sole call centre person for the Trans Pacific Phone Answering network. Dribble & Puddle & Associates, consultants to Government, have advised John Key to make it compulsory for all phone conversations to be answered  by a real live person and this will bring back almost full employment. Blogger Dripping Tap is reliable, but like some in government, suffers memory loss and brain fade.
Barry Ashby

As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times. Regular readers may notice that the writer’s name and address format has changed but not – hurrah! – anything else.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Crime wave in Cambridge #4

As mentioned here previously, people often ask me, “How do you find living in Cambridge, population 18,400, after living for so long in Auckland, population 1.5 million?”

Here is an entry in the police report from this week’s issue of the Cambridge Edition:
Tuesday, March 24
There was a call of disorder to a house in Stafford St where a male was heard screaming. On investigation he was found just to be excited watching the cricket.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I’m Reading #125

Nick Cohen reviews for the Spectator Oliver Kamm’s new book Accidence Will Happen: The Non-Pedantic Guide to English Usage, whose title says it all. Quote unquote:
You may regret that disinterested can now mean uninterested as well as impartial, although if you make a fuss you will betray your ignorance that in the 17th century disinterested meant uninterested too. You may want to ban people from starting sentences with ‘hopefully’ — although no pedant has explained why it is not also wrong to start sentences with ‘thankfully’ — but you will be fighting a losing battle against a living language, which is always changing. Your ‘rules’ will be no more than incoherent prejudices.

What I’m reading #124 quoted Arrant Pedantry having a crack at Grammarly. So here is Arrant Pedantry having a crack at Correctica, which claimed that “online grammar errors have increased by 148% in nine years”. It includes a detailed analysis of the stats, not necessarily to Correctica’s advantage. Quote unquote:
So in sum, the study is completely bogus, and it’s obviously nothing more than an attempt to sell yet another grammar-checking service. Is it important to check your writing for errors? Sure. Can Correctica help you do that? I have no idea. But I do know that this study doesn’t show an epidemic of grammar errors as it claims to.

Susie Boyt in the Financial Times offers the Henry James guide to parenting, inspired by his novel The Awkward Age. Quote unquote:
Parental anxiety is rife with good reason. We live in an age in which, when a teenage girl chats to a boy at a party, it is fairly normal for that young man to suggest the next day that she sends him a picture of herself and that picture is not meant to feature clothes. What is the best defence against that sort of carry-on? What would the Master have to say?

I have never seen anything like this before and, like Halley’s Comet, will almost certainly never see it again: an arts blog taking ecomomics seriously. The post is headed “Art People: Learn Economics, I Beseech You”. Good luck with that. Quote unquote:
Economics is a deep topic but the core concepts are within easy intellectual reach. If you can’t explain how prices are determined then you have no business complaining about neoliberalism.

Hugo Rifkind in Tatler advises posh people on how to swear. He is a Scot so knows about swearing. Quote unquote:
As every writer knows, a profanity written has a kick many times that of one merely said. The same is true of one said in an accent that ought to know better. If, say, Bob Geldof told you he’d got a fucking puncture, you’d only be thinking about his tyres. If the Duke of Edinburgh did, he’d sound so cross that you'd wonder if he’d had the driver shot. [. . .]
It’s all about deliberation. The words are important, so you need to know precisely what they mean. When David Cameron said the word ‘twat’ on the radio, he sounded foolish not because he had sworn, but because he clearly didn’t realise it meant vagina. You need to be on top of this stuff. ‘Arse’ isn’t swearing any more. Your arse is just your arse. ‘Shit’ remains a bit sweary, but has mainly become a perfectly routine term for either ‘not good’ or actual faeces. If you want to keep it properly rude, add the Celtic e and make it ‘shite’. ‘Shite’ remains a great word. ‘Fucked’ means broken, or otherwise damaged. That is all. Even if something is broken as a result of actual sex (a bed, say), this is mere coincidence; there are no such connotations.

A female friend of mine did once break a bed in this manner – while house-sitting, which was a bit embarrassing. But I digress.

What the musicians who performed at Woodstock got paid. Jimi Hendrix the most, obviously: $18,000. Melanie got as much as Santana ($750). The Incredible String Band ($2250) got nearly as much as the Grateful Dead ($2500) and heaps more than Joe Cocker ($1375), but all of them much less than Ten Years After (3250). Quote unquote:
Though these were the purported prices agreed upon by the artists’ agents and the show’s promoters, there is some speculation that a few of the artists were never paid in full.

I spent about 20 years playing in various rock bands and I find this very hard to believe. Snort.

So here are Sly and the Family Stone ($7000) at Woodstock with “Higher and Higher”:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Farm art

From the old jokes home:

Q: What is the difference between a buffalo and a bison?

A: A buffalo is a large hairy mammal, millions of which used to range over the American prairie. A bison is what Australians wash their hands in.

So here is a buffalo:

 A painted buffalo, from the International Buffalo Bodypainting competition held in Jiangcheng, China last year. Quote unquote:
Each buffalo in the competition was painted by 3-7 artists, with the cash prize for the most beautiful example a sizable 100,000 yuan ($16,042). Some of the competitors are from other countries such as Laos, Vietnam, New Zealand, Finland and Germany. This year, at the end of the harvest themed festival, a group of schoolchildren took home the big prize.

Waikato Times columnist Joshua Drummond recently painted an entire cow named Daisy in public for the Hamilton Arts Festival – here is a video of him in action. Quote unquote: 
Some people get really weird when they come across someone doing art in public. I reckon the artist becomes part of the exhibit and thus kind of invisible, or not quite human. Germans have been the main source of strangeness. “Moo! Perhaps it comes alive!” yelled one from right behind me. Another one bailed me up and railed at me at length about the themes and meanings of the painting. I told him what I tell everyone: I just like birds.

So here is the illustrated cow:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Waikato Times letter of the week #47

This is from the 19 March edition.
Standards slipping
If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything – a quote that says it all in today’s advertising conscience driven world.
Why are standards slipping and solicitors so busy with contracts in the modern lifestyle? But not any more – contracts have replaced the norm of individual integrity. Integrity seems to have slipped in the professional world and its contract this and witnessed that. Integrity seems to be an ethic of the past.
I’m beginning to wonder what the future holds for us.
Maybe, just maybe, if we emphasised it in the schools as a way of living there, and that personal ethics stand for something and define the person, they will be setting a standard for the future.
Too much bad publicity of some schools lowers the expectations and ethics start to slip.

As always, spelling, punctuation, grammar and logic are exactly as printed in the Waikato Times.