Thursday, April 23, 2009

We Like What We've Seen And It's Stove Pipe Jeans

Two posts ago I wrote about my intention to do a restoration on an OK Dinghy (International sailing dinghy class). One of the photographs I posted was of myself standing in front of my new OK dinghy in 1968. It was one of three photographs all of which complemented the information about this class of yacht in the body of the posted text.

As with blog posts, people make comments and they are usually supportive and kind as were these three comments.

Delwyn commented: "I wonder how you ever got into those stove pipe jeans... "

Kathryn stated: "..But I too wondered about those skinny jeans and how on earth you managed to get into them."

Janice amongst other things wrote: ".... and I haven't seen a pair of stovepipe pants since "A Hard Day's Night". "

Now it seems that amongst my musings about restoring a sailing yacht, technical information, a bit of history etc, etc, the nostalgia of old photographs and the poetic qualities of sailing yachts - it was the tightness of my jeans that came in for the closest scrutiny and comment. These three had seen beyond the obvious and the 'official information'.

Now a more egotistical Alden would of course grab hold of these comments and envision an Alden on stage with a piece of enhancing garden hose down the front of his stovepipes strutting a Mick Jagger swagger, or envision a recumbent stovepipe clad Alden windblown whilst musing and pursing, or see a relaxed Alden, stovepipes casually on a shoulder, naked except for a rose stem clenched between his buttocks whilst singing a love sonnet to his paramour - but before we all throw up, let me make my point and it is this:

So often we think that what we see is what everyone else sees. So often what we think is of high interest to others is of small interest. Often we are using a one track mind, while others are using a wide angle lens - and they see exactly what you are seeing and a whole lot that you don't see -and amongst the whole lot you don't see - they see things of greater interest to them and possibliy to others - others may see completely different things which interest them.

I remember as a child being taken with my brothers to the Port of Lyttleton by our Grandmother to see a very large ship. I think it was called the "Dominion Monarch." It was one of the largest ships to have ever visited Lyttleton. We had seen ships before but we had never ever seen in the harbour before the thing that really took our interest. It was a Sunderland Flying Boat and it was anchored just across from the wharf we were on. A floating aeroplane! we exclaimed and couldn't contain our excitement.

I remember our grandmother being particularly miffed by all this. She had bought us by train all the way from Woolston in Christchurch through the rail tunnel to Lyttleton, dragged us down onto the wharf to see a ship the size of the moon and here the ungrateful little bastards were in a swoon over a bloody floating areoplane. Humprff she humprffed, "This is the biggest ship to come to New Zealand she said sternly..... " we sensed that she was displeased with our luke warm reaction to the ship and I remember trying to placate her by saying, "Gosh, it IS big granny," with my head turned and my eyes fixed adoringly on the Sunderland flying boat.

I also remember taking a class on a visit to a local hobby farm where they were able to play with and pick up a wide variety of animals. When we got back to school all that the boys wanted to talk about and draw was the row of army trucks they had spied from the bus window on the way to the farmlet.

Today I commented on my friend Kelvins blog about his visit to Florence in Italy and stated that amongst all the grand historical splendour one of my most vivid memories of my visit to Florence was of a local street performer who played Vivaldis Four Seasons exquisitely on a large number of water filled glasses with a couple of spoons -

Every day in the classroom as a teacher I can deliver something of importance to children's learning and have a child tell me that the spider they have been watching for the last 15 minutes has finally caught a fly in it's web high up by the window - "See Mr Smith, he's been waiting there for ages."

Despite the fact that teachers and others may find this behaviour infuriating or even rude at times, I think it is a valuable human mechanism which we should celebrate - its this wide lens that guards against indoctrination and the mind numbing world views of dictators and others who would enslave us with the perspective from their narrow lenses - it enables us to see new ideas, new possibilities and a wider perspective.

If people hadn't used a wide angle lens of the mind we would never have had flared jeans, dungarees, low riders, skinny, boot cut, straight, leg flare, jeans, destroyed -- stovepipes of course have their place amongst all those styles, all denim of them.

Sonnet No 16 From - One Hundred Love Sonnets - In - The Poetry of Pablo Neruda

I am reading my way through a very large book of poetry. This large tome is "The Poetry of Pablo Neruda" - Edited and with an introduction by Ilan Stavins.
I particularly like his love sonnets and count myself lucky as there are more than just the one hundred love poems from the 100 sonnets section - there are also his famous "Veinte Poemas De Amor Y Una Cancion Desesperada - Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair" and many more throughout this book - what a feast!!


I love the handful of the earth you are.
Because of its meadows, vast as a planet,
I have no other star. You are my replica
of the multiplying universe

Your wide eyes, are the only light I know
from extinguished constellations;
your skin throbs like the streak
of a meteor through rain.

Your hips were that much of the moon for me;
your deep mouth and its delights, that much sun;
your heart, fiery with its long red rays,

was that much ardent light, like honey in the shade.
So I pass across your burning form, kissing
you - compact and planetary, my dove, my globe.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The OK Dinghy Project (Part 1)

The Ok Dinghy - a hugely successful International class yacht.
"Those were the days my friend, I thought they'd never end...." - With my new Ok Dinghy - Pleasant Point Yacht Club. Christchurch. - circa 1968.
Sailing out into the Christchurch Estuary from my old Yacht Club - hazy, lazy days.
When I grew out of my P Class yacht ( although one never really grows out of a P Class as the Cygnet Project shows) I bought this Ok Dinghy called 'Okere' - a Maori name the meaning of which I never knew at the time and now having just looked it up in my Maori Dictionary cannot find the word at all! - The closest is 'Okereha' which means orchestra.
I purchased Okere for NZ$140 in 1967 when I was 16 and too old by class rules to race my P Class 'Elusive'. It was quite a step up from the little 7 foot P Class to the Ok Dinghy at nearly 14 feet. Everything was bigger in every way possible and a lot more effort was needed to keep the Ok sailing on an even keel and sailing well - But the reward was there - if the P Class is a smart little sailer, then the Ok Dinghy is a rocket ship - off the wind with the sheets eased in any sort of breeze the Ok planes with a vengeance - it is fast and furious stuff in a big wind but incredibly exciting - pure joy, yippeeeee sailing!
The Ok Dinghy started life in 1956 when the Ok Dinghy design was created in the hands of two Danes - Knud Olsen who was asked to design a yacht by a group of Danish 'Pirat' class sailors who wanted an inexpensive one man planing, racing dinghy that was cheap, could be amateur built and was able to be transported on top of a car - and Paul Elvstrom the four times Olympic Finn Class salior who was asked to design the Ok Dinghies rig. Paul suggested a flexible unstayed mast similar to that used on the Finn. The rest is history as they say and class numbers boomed around the world. Fleets of OK Dinghies sail and race all over the globe to this day.
After the successful completion of the Cygnet project I would really like to find an Ok Dinghy that I could do a similar restoration on.
But finding a suitable boat to purchase may be difficult. Today's competitive racing Ok dinghy is built of exotic fiberglass, with a carbon fibre mast and a lot of other expensive go fast gizmo's. What I am looking for is a boat similar to the one I had when I was younger - i.e. a classic plywood Ok Dinghy with a wooden mast and a nice wooden deck that I could varnish up like a Steinway piano. To date I have not seen anything of this classic nature for sale - But I am sure there is a lovely classic OK lady out there all ready for a bit of TLC from yours truly - so I will keep my ear to the ground and my eyes on the online boat section of 'Trade Me'
If you know of one For Sale / For Sail - please let me know!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Cygnet Project (Part 5) - First Sail

Cygnet and I get together for our first sail together and the memories came flooding back. It was so good to get this little boat back in the water again. It has been over 40 years since I have sailed a little P class yacht like this - but I have to say shipmates it was a bit like getting back on a bicycle after not having ridden one for decades - except that bicycles don't talk like Cygnet did - " Nice to have you back" she purred, "We do this soooo well together don't we? " - "Yes", I replied smiling, "We most certainly do .......... it is so very, very good to be back, it feels a bit like a home coming".

One of the reasons why all this restoration took place can been seen above - it is all about memories - happy memories. But the main reason can be found by searching my blog archive (Older Posts, below) for "The Cygnet Project Part 1" and reading about the original Cygnet and her gallant skipper.

In this photograph I am representing the Pleasant Point Yacht Club ( Canterbury, South Island NZ ) in my bright red P class "Elusive" in the 1966 'Tauranga Cup' National P Class contest on Evans Bay in Wellington. I was 15 years old. Where have the last 42 years gone? - blowing in the wind that's where! - I don't look back and want it all again. I just look back and celebrate it all - such happy, happy sailing days.

Who was this much slimmer and oh, so serious sailor? It was a very heavy weather contest that year and I broke this mast in the fourth race. I can remember being dog tired after every race and sleeping soundly every night with a smile on my face despite every bone in my body aching.

2009 and aged 57 years - much older, much tireder, and a lot wiser? hmmmm. Well, wise enough to know that happiness and delight can come with simple pleasures - a small yacht, an open expectant heart and a good breeze blowing.

Cygnets first sail was on the waters of Parua Bay Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand.

After a couple of hours of sailing in an oscillating, fair to moderate breeze we called it a day.

"Thankyou", said Cygnet as we headed towards the boat ramp, " It was great to get out on the water again, I could feel that you were really enjoying yourself, we will have to do this again some time." - I looked at her with a very, very big smile, "Yes" I said, " if there is one thing you can count on, it is that we will be going sailing together again soon."


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sonnet No 6 From - One Hundred Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

When I was recently in Wellington attending the 'Monet and the Impressionists' exhibition I made a valuable purchase. It is this very large tome of poetry by one of my most favourite poets, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. This is what a contemporary and friend of Neruda said of him:

"And I tell you that you should open yourselves to hearing an authentic poet, of the kind whose bodily senses were shaped in a world that is not our own and that few people are able to perceive. A poet closer to death than to philosophy, closer to pain than to intelligence, closer to blood than to ink." - Federico Garcia Lorca

LOVE SONNET NO 6 - Pablo Neruda

In the forests, lost, I cut a dark stick
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
perhaps it was the voice of crying rain,
a broken bell, or a torn heart.

Something that from so far away seemed
seriously hidden to me, covered by the earth,
a cry deafened by immense autumns,
by the darkness of the leaves, humid and ajar.

But there, waking from the dreams of the forest,
the hazel branch sung below my mouth
and its roaming odor climbed to my view

as if the roots which I had abandoned, the land
lost with my childhood, suddenly came searching for me,
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering aroma.


Impressions of an Impressionist

Meadow With Poplars (1875) - Claude Monet

I didn’t really want to go to Wellington to see the exhibition of Impressionist paintings at Te Papa Museum. But I am glad now that I did. The reason I am glad can be summed up in two words: Claude Monet.

Inside the entrance to the exhibition a continuous loop of black and white film shot over one hundred years ago could be viewed. An elderly Claude Monet is under parasols in the garden he constructed painting his beloved water lilies. He is portly, dressed in a cream or white three piece suit. He wears a straw hat, has a cigarette in his mouth which is half ash, half cigarette; and as many watching noted out loud, despite his movements, none of the ash falls off. He holds in his left hand a small quiver of brushes and a very large painting palette on which he mixes his colours. It is a classically shaped palette so large it would seem a pretentious cliche if held by any other. Strangely he is painting wearing leather gloves – it is hard to ascertain whether these are to protect his hands from the paint or to match his immaculate three piece suit.
Monet dabs and daubs at a very large canvas which quivers under his attention. The black and white film is grainy and flickers very slightly with the changes in the background light. In the background the trees move gently and the water lilies float serenely on the small lake.

These old black and white films always create a distance between the subject and the audience. Even though I was successful in colouring in the film with my imagination, no immediacy of image could disguise the fact that this man belonged to a different age – that what I was watching all happened a long time ago.
I am glad that I took the time to view this film before I viewed the paintings because the contrasts between the two mediums couldn't have been more dramatic.

Like most people I have on occasion flicked through art books and looked at a wide variety of paintings. I have always been drawn more to abstract expressionism and the experimental art movements of the mid to late 20th Century rather than the early experimental Impressionist movement from which all this was born. Often the reproduced art prints of the Impressionists have appeared dull to me and the subject matter a bit unexciting and tedious.

So I came with some preconceived ideas about what I was going to see. I have to say that what I saw took my breathe away and stood my preconceived ideas on their heads. I was impressed by the Impressionists, I was captivated and enthralled.

I loved all the Impressionist paintings. The simplified planes of colour of Cezanne which describes his towns, fields and portraiture – the artistry, beauty and painterly quality of Renoir – the oh so clever narrative of Degas with his cavalcade of Ballet postures drawing attention to the beauty of the human body – But in Claude Monet’s pictures I saw the light - because that is the subject matter of his later paintings – the light. Claude Monet paints light.

What I had thought to be boring in the art prints comes alive in the original paintings. The light shines with luminosity in paintings such as “Grain stack Sunset” (1891) with subtly in “Charing Cross Bridge” (1900) and with vibrancy in “Cap Martin near Menton” (1884).
The paintings from his Cathedral series exhibit a curious effect. From a distance of a few meters all that can be seen is a hazy outline – as you increase the distance the effect is of a camera lens slowly bringing an image into focus. At 10 meters the image is sharply defined – and the Cathedral glows in a soft light.

Amongst all of this visual feast there was one painting I kept coming back to again and again. It was another one of those paintings I had only ever given a cursory glance at in an art book. The painting is called “Meadows with Poplars.” (1875). I took what is probably an illegal photograph of it and it is the feature photo at the beginning of this posting.
I was astounded by the impression I got from the painting (funny that Alden, they aren’t called the Impressionists for nothing you know!).
The painting communicates, evokes, a feeling of a ‘slow’ day. The feeling I got was palpable, tangible. I felt the mood. I remembered my own experiences of this kind of day. I was transported emotionally there by the painting. I felt the impression rather than just imbibing a graphical image.

I have seen and felt and lived a slow day like that. Clouds that stand still all day. The heat at noon. A single bird singing high. The sound of insects. The still air. The shimmering earth radiating back the heat of the sun. The sense of time standing still.

As I came back continuously to view this particular painting I reflected on the fact that amongst painters that are wondrously gifted, Claude Monet stands out as a genius.

I also reflected again on the fact that the black and white film clip had created an historical distance between the person of Monet and myself - but that his paintings did exactly the opposite. Some would say the effect and impact of his paintings are so immediate that they could have been painted yesterday – I got the impression they had only been completed half an hour ago and that Monet was still at Te Papa cleaning his brushes.

Of course if you want to create you own impression of the Impressionist painter Claude Monet, go to the Te Papa Museum in Wellington and view the exhibition – in the final analysis a picture is worth a thousand words (Unless it’s a Claude Monet Impressionist picture – his are worth at least a million). :-)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Cygnet Project (Part 4)

Cygnet is now almost fully restored. All she needs now is her name painted on the stern and we can go sailing. I have painted her white which is best for the very harsh Northland light ( has one of the highest UV rates in the world) Dark paint doesn't do well here.

I also painted her white because a yacht with a white sail is a bit like a blonde in a white dress - When observing the boat (or the blonde) one is not distracted by any vibrant colour. White tends to let the underlining beautiful form to show through as the delicate subtleties and shades of shadows are contrasted more fully with the colour white as a counterpoint. (-: anyway that's my theory for yachts and blondes and I'm sticking to it until I can invent a better one :-)

Although she is only seven feet long (the same size as a small yacht tender) she is a little ship indeed. She has a small cockpit so that during a capsize only a relatively small amount of water has to be bailed out. The sail area is big enough to make her fast and exciting to sail in any sort of breeze. If you can sail one of these little beauties you can sail anything. I think she's gorgeous.

A cam cleat for the main sheet on either side of the deck gives the skippers hands a rest. The webbing straps inside the cockpit are to hold your legs as you hike out to keep her flat and moving fast. Other features are the boom Vang, (red rope from bottom of the mast to front end of the boom - stops the boom from skying up when running free) - the splash boards on the foredeck, main sheet, tiller extension, centerboard, rudder, wooden mast and rigging.

This photo shows the hull with its finishing coat. All painting was done with a paintbrush in keeping with the era of boat and my lack of equipment (spray painting would indeed give a better finish).

Completely stripped and she doesn't bat an eyelid - small yachts have always been natural and uninhibited sorts of creatures. But when she's fully dressed, she can pick up her skirts and run down wind like smoke.

The skipper always drinks the worlds best sailing beer when working on pleasurable projects. There is something about Heineken beer that makes me want to own the brewery.

She was pretty run down at the beginning of the project. But there is an old saying about "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" and it's certainly true of a yacht with good lines. No matter what state a yacht is in, if shes got good lines she will always have that hint of underlying beauty - And with a bit of TLC will be out there again - slow dancing on a scintillating sea and giving her lucky skipper the time of his life.

Monday, April 13, 2009


When our children left home we installed a revolving front door. It is the same as those revolving doors you see as entrances to large department stores. The door provides access while keeping the weather out. It also makes it difficult for department store thieves who might want to sneak out something large like a Steinway piano under their coats.
We thought that a revolving door might limit the size of the furniture and and all the other junk that they would bring home as they revolved through the door over the decades - (Saying goodbye to your children is not called ‘The Long Goodbye’ for nothing.)

Of course like most parental strategies it didn’t work very well. One child returned and managed to drag through the revolving door a 747 jumbo jet and a concrete mixer. Another bought home 3 water beds, 20 kms of telephone cabling on a giant reel, a bus and a Russian nuclear submarine – I had high hopes about the submarine because as it squeezed through the door I heard voices inside. I thought that maybe it was crewed by an all female Russian crew who did belly dancing in their spare time. But it was an all male crew who sat around looking very gloomy, drinking copious quantities of vodka and farting a lot.

Our only daughter bought home her new boyfriend who is a trapeze artist with a circus. He had trouble getting the elephant through the door but the cute little Shetland ponies were a cinch. This particular boy friend had a particularly interesting tattoo. He had a large fox tattooed on his back. The fox was chasing a rabbit which was disappearing up his rectum. I know this because I saw the chase live as I opened the bathroom door at the same moment as the boyfriend decided to bend over and pick his toenails – “Sorry” he said, standing bolt upright as I entered the bathroom ( as you do in your own house) – “Can yer ken John Peel ? ” I enquired - as you do when confronted with a fox rampant chasing a frightened rabbit. “Jeez man you are a wag” he replied as he left to dress in my daughters bedroom. I must say he looked quite handsome in my dressing gown, its amazing how my clothes fit their friends.

All this might make you think that I am feeling a little cynical about my children continuing to revolve as they evolve into adults. Well not really. Who am I to make judgements about how my children wish to behave in my house, such sentiments are sooooooo last century.

Seriously, I have no problem with all of this – but I do with the next part of my story.

I am a very clean individual. I shower every day. I wash myself and shampoo my hair. It is a simple ablution in a simple setting. One shower head, one shower tap to turn the water on with and one plastic shower bottle. I use VO5 Volume boost shampoo – not that moi needs a volume boost but hey baby if you have got it (hair that is) why not flaunt it – but I digress.
When my daughter starts using the shower, life gets complicated. The floor of the shower becomes covered with a multitude of bottles. Many of these look exactly like my own bottle of shampoo. There is Schick Skin Protect, St Ives Apricot Scrub, Garnier Fructis (whatever the fuck that is), Schwarzkopf Colour Protect Conditioner, Pumice Foot Scrub ( where do they get the pumice? hold nets over active volcanoes?).

Now my problem with all this is that as I find myself confronted with all these plastic bottles, and being aged 57 and one half I forget which is my bottle of shampoo. And because the print is so small on the bottles and I am in the shower without my glasses on I can’t read any of the print on the bottles. So I fumble around like a wet 57 and one half year old naked man in a shower exclaiming very politely about my inability to read the fine print under a deluge of water.

But just as for every rabbit there is a hole and for every cloud there is a silver lining, there is for every bottle of shampoo with unreadable words a business plan.

There are many millions of parents around the world who endure in the shower what I endure so this is what I intend to do.

I shall market a range of my own shampoo. The bottles shall have the words SHAMPOO written on them in very LARGE letters. My shampoo shall be marketed under the brand name FOXY. It will have a little poem under the word 'Shampoo' that states – “Look Foxy and make your hair as soft as a Rabbits” – It will have a picture of a fox rampant, chasing a rabbit that is disappearing down the shampoo bottles spout.

I shall of course become a multi billionaire. As an act of whimsy I will probably buy the brewery that makes the best sailing beer in the world - the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. In fact I might buy the whole of the Netherlands, up anchor it, sail it to New Zealand and moor it off the coast. Jeez when you have lots of money why should you go all that way just for a bloody beer.