- March 2014
27 March 2014 ~ Daunt Book Festival

Daunt's Marylebone High Street bookshop appears to be thriving when other traditional sellers are struggling. They do have the advantage of a long if somewhat narrow room to use for events.

I went to one of their gatherings today, part of their Spring Festival. In Praise of Short Stories, chaired by K.J. Orr,  featured David Constantine, Helen Simpson and A.L. Kennedy discussing the nature of short stories and reading from their work.

All, including K.J. Orr, a talented if younger writer than the others, were excellent and not least because no egos were on display. If I have one criticism, it was cramming so many talented authors into forty-five minutes.

The highlight for me was A.L Kennedy reading from Baby Blue, which appears in her recent anthology All the Rage. (Review of All the Rage) Alison had the advantage of having been a stand-up comedian as well as a talent for making profound observations about a visit to a sex shop very humorous.

As a friend had treated me to the event, I bought her lunch at the nearby Tapa Room, a bistro that is part of Peter Gordon's culinary empire. I was staggered and pleased to see how many New Zealand wines were listed on the menu.

26 March 2014 ~ Language of the Day

Some of my short stories remain unfinished after two years and many take months to complete before I feel ready to submit them to an editor or competition. Occasionally an idea leads to a completed story is just a few days. Language of the Day is one of these.

The Royal Mail announced this week a series of stamps to honour ten people born in 1914. The shortest of the ten lives was that of Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, a woman of Indian descent who worked for the British in occupied France, was caught and died at Dachau. I had read some time ago about this remarkable woman.

The stamp honouring her was the spark for the story. The tinder was my experience of dementia. My late father, Jim, developed Alzheimer's to the stage where he needed more care than his family could provide. I was in Perth, Australia when we looked at care homes. One was run for returned service men and women. Many of the residents who had served in WWII had dementia. 

Sue's mum, Violet, is also in a care home. Eight years ago the number of residents there with dementia equaled those with other conditions. Now Vi is one of the few residents who does not have dementia. Again, many are of an age that means they experienced the ordeals if not horrors of WWII.

Language of the Day depicts a day in the life of an Indian woman with dementia who had served in occupied France. Her confusion causes her to relive the fears and challenges of being a secret agent.

As I was writing yesterday, I was aware of some similarities to one of my favourite short stories, Glorious Morning, Comrade, by Maurice Gee. This concerns a WWI veteran who is incontinent both physically and in terms of his uninhibited speech. He escapes his daughters to buy Turkish Delight and cigarettes and to prove that there is life in the old dog yet. Gee's story, first published in 1975, portrays small town life and pretensions. It has a lot to say about post-war New Zealand

My tale, which is less ambitious as well as much shorter, serves as a reminder of the dangers faced by people who volunteered to enter occupied Europe.

20 March  2014 ~  Gem Street 2014


The Labello Press announced this week the names of those who will be published in its second printed anthology of short stories, Gem Street 2014.


Congratulations to the three winners of this year's Leonard A. Koval Memorial Prizes:


1st place ~ Heron by Maureen Cullen
2nd Place ~ The Sommelier by Brian Kirk
3rd Place ~ And it Begins by Victoria Heath


I will be proud to have another of my stories printed by Labello Press alongside these three. Beholden,  set in contemporary Swansea and the Midlands, traces a girl raised on a council estate from secondary school to university and examines how exposure to privilege influences her.


19 March  2014 ~ London Aquatic Centre

A trip today with a friend to the site of the London Olympics in Stratford to try out the swimming facilities built for the games. "London Aquatic Centre" is meant to convey that the facilities are part of the legacy promised in return for the taxes, rates and lottery funds swallowed up by London hosting the games. Nice as they are, they are neither in central London nor particularly handy to a tube station. And a long part of the walk from Stratford Station is without any shelter.


The building, designed by Zaha Hadid, is stunning inside and out and practical once you are inside. If anything, it looks better now that the additional stands are gone. The interior was spotless and staff helpful.


Signs from Stratford Station to the centre are no helpful. Did we miss a sign that said go via the shopping centre? And then within the shopping centre saw nothing to help us find the right exit. The one we took led to about fifty steps and then  a pedestrian crossing. One over the road there was no sign for the centre, only one for the Olympic Park. We took that and then had to double back.


13 March 2014 ~ Tony Not Toni Published

My thanks to Deep South, an on line journal produced by the English Department at the University of Otago, for including one of my short stories in their latest edition.


The editorial describes how submissions were read blind in order to discourage the favouring of better known authors. This makes acceptance all the more gratifying, but the single most pleasing aspect is that until now I had no fiction published in New Zealand.


A pdf version of Tony Not Toni is also available from Head in the Clouds.


12 March 2014 ~ Bush Now Available via Kindle & Kobo

Last week I learned that Payhip, the only sales platform I had been using for e-versions of my books, is only accepting credit cards via a third party that takes a significant cut. This has led me to also use Amazon's Kindle Store and Kobo to distribute e-versions.


Payhip is still the cheaper option, at £3, for purchasers with a PayPal account. My books on Kindle and Kobo will sell for c. £4.80, which reflects the larger commission taken by these vendors.


The Bush Baptist is now available from the new platforms and Mr Vitriol will soon follow.






5 March 2014 ~ Reviews

The Bush Baptist is being reviewed in the next issue of the Journal of New Zealand and Pacific Studies.


I am also looking forward to a review for the same book in NZ Booklovers.


1 March 2014 ~ Sceptical Glossary

I have long admired The Devil's Dictionary by the satirist Ambrose Bierce, a collection definitions that act as a commentary on the foibles of his times. A free on line version is available.


It occurred to me to try my hand at his style by defining some of the less rational aspects of contemporary culture. The result is a Sceptical Glossary, which I intend to add to from time to time. Contribution sought.


18 February 2014 ~ Raising the Roof

Having seen so many people forced from their homes by floods, we were grateful to be on a hill until Saturday night. The gale lifted a ridge tile which shattered on the ground.


No water appears to have penetrated. I think the cement that was under the tile is still intact. I spoke with a roofer today. He has raised the possibility that the flying tile might have damaged others. We await his availability.


I went to buy a matching ridge tile. I was surprised at the length (45cm) and weight 5 kg. Perhaps the wind veering up the hill and over the roof of the house door created a powerful combination of prising and sucking.


The roof was renewed less than ten years ago and everything else has suggested the team did a great job. So we're ascribing the missing tile to freak weather.


It took over thirty minutes to get through to our insurer. My main reason for ringing was to see if they could get a roofer more quickly than we could. Fat chance. It soon became clear that if we didn't get the repair sorted out, nothing would happen. At least we didn't have to wait for a loss adjuster.


I expect the recent weather has made insurance companies far more busy. My fear is, they had done little to be prepared for a large increase in calls and not taken on sufficient temporary staff despite the weeks of extra claims.


12 February 2014 ~ The UN & The Vatican

Media on February 5th gave much coverage to the release of a report on The Holy See, the formal name for the pretence that the Vatican is a nation state rather than a district of the city of Rome. Unlike San Marino, which has a long and uninterrupted history of independence that included neutrality in WWII, the Vatican had been fully incorporated into Italy in 1870. The once much bigger papal state was resurrected as a few city blocks in 1929 following a treaty effectively between Mussolini and Pope Pius XI.


No other faith has pulled off this Ruritanian-type scam. Thus the only religious leader with a diplomatic corps and seat at the UN was the pope. I imagine the Catholic top brass were cockahoop about this arrangement until it backfired and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child began to examine the church’s record. Last week saw the publication of the Committee’s Concluding Observations of the Second Periodic Report on The Holy See.


The media made clear that the report was scathing. The Catholic Church had not just failed repeatedly in many countries, the cover ups were still going on. Or at least that is what a close reading suggests. E.g.


Ensure  a transparent sharing of all  archives which can be used to hold the abusers accountable as well as all those who concealed their crimes and knowingly placed offenders in contact with children. (44. C)


A Google news search tonight shows the Holy See has yet to respond to the substantive report. The only murmurings have been complaints that the report strays into theology. E.g. see Irish Examiner.


The Vatican's tetchy response related to the Committee expressing concern that Church teachings on contraception and sexual education increase the risk of young people getting HIV and girls getting pregnant. The anger might have been more acceptable had the Vatican accepted the bulk of the findings. But then much of the problem for the church dealing with clerical abuse of children has been a reluctance to acknowledge individual outrages and collective failures to deal effectively with paedophiles and sadists.


Few of the media stated where to find the report or even gave its full title. I found the report with difficulty and could not find a version I could save as pdf. I’m not sure why this should be the case with a UN document.


 9 February 2014 ~ The Geffyre Museum & Health Food

A friend exhibiting at the Millinery Works  prompted us to visit the Geffyre Museum today while we were in Hackney.


The former almhouses built in 1714 and the grounds look magnificent. And the displays are interesting and especially appropriate given the areas long association with furniture making.


However, the layout reminds me the Irish local asked for directions by a visitor. "It were me, I wouldn't be starting from here."


The small almshouses do not lend themselves to displays, a fact emphasized by a notice warning that on busier days buggies and prams will not be allowed into the gallery connecting the houses.


On the street outside we saw a squirrel hop from bushes, over a low wall and into a street rubbish bin next to the wall. S/he emerged with chips, which were eaten on the wall before several more trips into the bin. I would like to report the squirrel was obese and looked under the weather. But no, the fur was glossy, the eyes bright and the body lean.


The squirrel reminded me of an experiment conducted when I was a primary school teacher in Naenae. I obtained four surplus white female rats from the Psychology Department of Victoria University. Pupils chose two for a healthy diet and two for junk food. The pairs were kept in separate apple boxes with wire mesh lids. A healthy diet included raw vegetables and the poor diet included crisps and biscuits.


After a month or so, the "poor diet" pair looked healthier. More than once I was tempted to swap them round after the kids had left for the day. Then a pair chewed through their apple box during the night, escaped and brought the experiment to an end. The remaining rats were taken home by pupils.


Perhaps rodents cope better with the kind of diets that shorten the lives of humans. 


6 February 2014 ~ Toberstan & New Kiwi Flag

I finished today a draft of a play, tentatively called Toberstan. It’s my first play and I have little ideas as to its merits or even how long its 16 scenes would take to perform. All the action takes place in two houses that face each other across an outer London cemetery. Death is one of the themes, along with fetishes and cults. It’s not a comedy, but I have inserted some laughs and even a joke.  I will let the script rest for a few months before going back to it.


The joke, which is based on one found on the Internet, goes:

A man rings up a funeral parlour and says his wife is dead, could they come to collect the body.

‘And where do you live, sir?’

‘On the corner of Eucalyptus Boulevard and Sequoia Esplanade.’

‘Could you spell those for me?’ 

‘What say I drag the body to the corner of Oak Road and Ash Lane?’


For the last week, many New Zealanders have been discussing a suggestion by the prime minister that it was time for a new national flag. A lot of people think Mr Key’s timing is suspicious. It may be, but I hope the debate this time leads to change.


The front running design is a silver fern on black. Other suggestions include recycling the Southern Cross from the existing flag. My preferred option would be something similar to the spiral design created by Hundertwasser.


If we had a flag with a black background, what would the preponderance of black represent other than what has become our sporting colour? And while ferns have long been a symbol of New Zealand, the “white feather” variety has unfortunate connotations and owes nothing to Maoritanga. Maori culture makes much use of fern inspired designs, but these take the form of an unfolding frond koru as used in the Hundertwasser design.

Hundertwasser added the vertical stripe because black is a traditional Maori colour. Yes, but from a very limited pallete. I am not aware of black having a particular significance for Maori painters and carvers other than being traditional from a time of limited pigments. I think the Hunterwasser design would be improved by dropping the black.


As an atheist, I don’t want a cross of any kind on the flag. The latest census shows that four out ten Kiwis are non-religious and any claim to a Christian majority is shaky. But more importantly, the Southern Cross is another example of Europeans supplanting native culture. Maoris knew the constellation by a variety of names, Te Punga or The Anchor being one of the more common.


In any case, stars on national flags are hackneyed. My guess is about a quarter of countries use one or more stars.

The most important thing for me is dropping the Union Flag from New Zealand's. Not only would this suggest we are independent, the current flag was never a good design in the first place. The days of New Zealand as London-on-Cook or the Britain of the South Pacific are long gone.