Sunday, September 28, 2008


Pohutukawa trees in flower - Whale Bay - Northland Coast

Recently I have seen the golden Kowhai tree at our back door with its beautiful spring candles and the friendly Tuis with their distinctive song, who come to collect the nectar and sing for us. From the time of the spring flowering of the Kowhai this is what all Northlanders are looking forward to - The Pōhutukawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree - and high summer.

The Pohutukawa is a coastal evergreen tree of the myrtle family that produces a brilliant display of red flowers made up of a mass of stamens.

The tree grows up to twenty metres in height, with a dome-like spreading form. Its natural range is the coastal regions of the North Island of New Zealand, north of a line stretching from New Plymouth (39° S) to Gisborne (38° S). It also grows on the shores of lakes in the Rotorua area.

A giant Pōhutukawa at Te Araroa on the East Coast is reputed to be the largest in the country, with a height of 20 metres and a spread of 38 metres. The tree is renowned as a cliff-dweller, able to maintain a hold in precarious, near-vertical situations. Some specimens have matted, fibrous aerial roots.

The Pōhutukawa flowers from November to January with a peak in mid to late December (the southern hemisphere summer), with brilliant crimson flowers covering the tree, hence the nickname New Zealand Christmas Tree.

The most settled summer weather in Northland is late January through to the middle of February. When high summer comes the light is bright and sharp and the days hot, vibrant and dazzling. If there is a warm, fresh, fair wind blowing, the best thing of all that I like to be doing in a Northland summer, is to be sailing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tea For The Tillerman - Almost Within My Grasp 2

Photo Alden Smith 2006 - Simon The Pieman - Rye, South Coast of Old Blighty

To continue with my theme of lost opportunities I must tell you about Simon The Pieman in the picturesque city of Rye on the south coast of England.

What could be better for the marriage of a Tillermans thirst with Tillermans midday appetite? Yes you are absolutely right, a sumptuous little tea shop in the middle of Rye, full, chocker, resplendent, yes outrageously, fulsomely and overflowingly ripe with a repast fit for a king, let alone a tubby little middle aged Tillerman! And from inside the little teashop the gentle chinking cadence of trays of Royal Dalton cups and saucers and fat steaming teapots bulging full of good wholesome English breakfast tea being carried to happy smiling customers sitting at cake laden tables.

Did I go in and slake and fulfil said thirst and appetite? Did I hell as like! You see I was accompanied by two intelligent, beautiful women who despite their intelligence, wit, charms and concern regarding my noontime yearnings, indulged their prerogatives and vacillations, their hummings and hahhing, they prevaricated, procrastinated and equivocated and before you could say English breakfast tea and two dozen assorted cakes please Mr Simon (and don't go easy on the cream please) the shop was out of sight. Bugger.

What to do? Well I'm going back, that's what I'm going to do. A Tillerman without the experience of Tea drinking in Rye is like a little yawl called Crackling Rosie without a tiller; rudderless on a buoyant sea of imaginings.

So I'm going back. Just see if you can stop me. Ha!

PS - Thank you ladies for providing me with this opportunity for a triumphant return.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Almost Within My Grasp

Palace Theatre London 2006 - Photo Alden Smith

When you are on holiday there is never enought time to do all the things that you want to do. Everything is a bit of a compromise within the parameters of time and money. Walking back along Oxford Street to our hotel on one of the few days we had in London I saw this theatre. There I was in London, Monty Python's 'Spam A Lot' was showing, but time and circumstance didn't allow me to see it. Bugger.

A lot of things in life are a bit like that - sometimes things seem to be within our grasp, we are standing outside the door of an experience or of an understanding and for some reason or other we cannot enter at that particular time. Sometimes life seems a bit like walking down a long long corridor with doors along both sides, there is only time to open and enter some of the doors, not all of them. To enter some means that others are closed forever. When I go back to London Spamalot' s season may well have ended. That's life I guess.

What to do? - Well I'm a bit of a tenacious old bastard and I don't give up easily, so what to do? - I'm going back of course. If Spamalot (Spamalot Two The Sequel ?) isn't showing I'll take my chances on opening other doors, and Londons not too far from other places in the UK and Europe which are on my extensive 'Bucket List'.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Spell Checker Poem

This cartoon is one that Alden Smith would have drawn if he had any talent, but because he doesn't he nicked it off the internet

(This poem was given to me by Helen at my place of work, who produced it (found it on the internet I think) after a discussion about spell checkers, Americanisims, spelling abilities in general and our respective ones in particular and the mild suspicion that using spell checkers was somehow eroding the imperative to spell correctly first time round)

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error write
Its rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.
(Copy and paste this poem into a Word Document [you will have to highlight the text once pasted and change the text colour to black] then run the spell checker. You will find that it finds no spelling mistakes except the word "marques" - it offers a capitalisation [Marques] as a correction option) - what does it prove? nothing of world shattering import except to show that spelling does in fact matter because there are a lot of words in the English language which have the same pronunciation but different meanings and spellings - I, eye, aye // weigh, way, wey, whey // so, sew, sow, // write, wright, rite, right. It also shows how sophisticated readers use the skills of context, meaning, syntax and visual cues to gain meaning from the written text - which may or may not be of interest to anyone except philologists and Reading Recovery Teachers and maybe to you good reader who has read this far :-)

Monday, September 15, 2008


Spring must be on its way. I snapped this Tui in our Kowhai tree just before our redoubtable cat Zebby scared it away with one of her searing 'I am going to eat you' stares.
This poem is one of my favourites:
KOWHAI - By A. R. D. Fairburn
When the candles burn again in the kowhai tree,
I shall return, remembering older springs
when the sky was a blue pool where dreamily
clouds floated like silver swans with folded wings.
I shall return, remembering how Love
fulfils in the spring her immortal trust,
and builds her leafy temple in the kowhai grove,
scorning the dull remonstrance of the dust.
I shall lie on the cliffs under the small gold flowers,
and smell wild honeysuckle, and hear the chime
of waves, like bells ringing in the shadowy towers
of some grey village of the olden time.
I shall return, But oh, the spring will falter.....
yield her green faith to summer's unbelief,
and the kowhai will darken the candles on her altar,
and strew on the grey winds her golden grief.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Two Out Of Five Stars For Mamma Mia

Some Middle Aged Men Identify Strongly With This Movie

If you have been reading my blog from time to time you may have noted my enthusiastic endorsement of the movie MAMMA MIA. I was pretty enthusiastic about the film and really enjoyed it. I may go and see it again, just to see what my reactions will be a second time round and to try and consider some of the criticisms the movie has provoked from some quarters. It is apparent that this film is having a bit of a polarising effect.

Below is a review of the film that I cut and pasted off the Internet. This person gave the film a 2 out of 5 star rating - so this review (which I think is written in a level headed and fair handed way) stands in contrast to my enthusiastic 5 star endorsement. What do you think?

"Armed with irresistible hooks, soaring melodies and near-celestial vocal stylings, the Swedish pop group ABBA churned out a body of insanely catchy tunes - "Waterloo," "SOS," "Fernando," "Dancing Queen," "The Winner Takes it All," etc. - that made it the world's top-selling musical act of the 1970's and early 1980's. Several decades later, ABBA's music became the basis for a hit stage musical entitled "Mamma Mia!" in which a simple narrative was deftly woven around many of the quartet's songs.

Now, the much-ballyhooed movie version of "Mamma Mia!," written by Catherine Johnson and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, has arrived on the scene. The story takes place on a beautiful Greek island where the never-married Donna (Meryl Streep) single-handedly runs a modest hotel for an ever-thinning crowd of tourists. Her daughter, Sophie (the charming Amanda Seyfried), has never known who her real father is, mainly because Donna herself doesn't even know. With the help of her mother's diary from twenty years ago, Sophie narrows the candidates down to three (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard), then secretly invites them to her wedding in the hope that she will be able to figure out which of them is her real father in time to have him accompany her down the aisle.

On stage, "Mamma Mia!" succeeded primarily because it was able to keep its wafer-thin storyline modest in scale and life-sized in scope. But blown up to the magnified proportions of the big screen, the material becomes a compendium of overacting (Julie Walters being the most egregious culprit in that regard), ham-handed literalization, forced spontaneity, and production values that look both gaudy and chintzy at one and the same time. Moreover, the direction is clunky, the choreography abysmal (especially compared to what we were treated to in "Hairspray" just a year ago), the photography either over or underexposed (depending on whether the scene is set at night or during the day), and the singing not unlike what one might hear emanating from the local pub on an average karaoke-night. In fact, there has always been an inherent problem built into "Mamma Mia!," which is that much of ABBA's charm derives from the crystalline voices of its lead singers, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Faltskog. Take away those harmonies and at least a certain percentage of that charm is lost. Now the movie version of "Mamma Mia!" comes along and simply compounds the problem by hiring big-name actors rather than trained singers to somehow interpret the pieces for us. Indeed, this must be the only musical in movie history made up almost entirely of people who can`t sing (at least in the old days they used to dub the voices in if they had to).

One has to give Streep brownie points for at least trying to belt out the tunes, but her rendition of "The Winner Takes it All," which was the roof-rattling showstopper in the stage version, falls flat due not only to her own inadequacies as a vocalist but to the awkward staging and foolish hand gestures she uses to accompany her singing (almost as if she were trying to act out the lyrics as she`s singing them).
Actually, I've never understood why anyone would buy either the original cast recording or the soundtrack to "Mamma Mia!" anyway when the real thing is readily available and clearly far superior to any imitation.

All that being said, I am still inclined to at least half-heartedly recommend that people go to see this movie for a number of reasons. First, because the music itself (written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) is fun, infectious and finally irresistible, no matter how much the singers may be unintentionally stomping all over it; second, because even though their singing leaves much to be desired, Streep, Bosnan and Seyfried somehow make us care about the characters and the silly little predicament they're caught up in; and third, because there are a number of scenes that actually work quite nicely, the best being when Donna sings the sweet mother's lament "Slipping Through My Fingers" (a song clearly within Streep's limited vocal range) to her soon-to-be-wed daughter. Streep and Seyfried are both very moving and poignant not only in that particular scene but in all of the scenes in which they appear together. For the half dozen or so audience members who aren't already familiar with the ABBA oeuvre, one can only hope that they will use "Mamma Mia!" as a springboard to sampling the real deal.