October 2013   21  October 2013 ~ HG Wells Festival  Grand Prize

I returned from four weeks in New Zealand on Saturday - more of which later - to find that a short story entered into the competition run as part of the HG Wells Festival in Folkestone has been shortlisted for the Grand Prize. Two things make this especially pleasing. Shortlisted entries will be published and the competitions links to a great writer.

The competition required a story on the theme of flight. My entry, The Suitcase, concerns an asylum seeker's experience of the UK.

Further details of the publication will be added after November 17.

22  October 2013 ~ Article on E-publishing Published

The New Zealand Society of Authors latest bi-monthly magazine have included an article I wrote called E-publish a book in a day - for free. A pdf of the page with the article is included on this website.

25 October 2013 ~ Pukekos vs. Kiwis

Over the last twenty years or so pukekos have emerged as a New Zealand icon. Almost every shop selling souvenirs has a number of pukeko items. I grew curious during my recent trip about why this bird has begun to rival the kiwi of late as a national icon.

Both are curious if not ludicrous birds. The kiwi has its hunched shape and the pukeko oversized feet; all the better for traipsing over boggy ground.  It is a type of rail, the family that includes coots and crakes.

    Image from Wikipedia -  http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pukeko                                                           Example of  a souvenir pukeko made with paua shell - www.pauaworld.com 

Both kiwis and pukekos were common at the time of early European settlements in New Zealand before swamps were drained and fire used to clear bush for pasture. And before introduced mammals – including cats and stoats – devastated native birds. The nocturnal kiwi would have been heard more and the pukeko with its resplendent colours seen more by the pioneers. 

While kiwis numbers have dwindled steadily, the pukekos can often be spotted foraging on damp and sometimes not so damp ground. I saw a few in Marlborough this month near well-drained vineyards and dozens of others during walks and drives in other parts of the country.

There were other avian contenders for a national emblem a hundred and more years ago, such as some of the parrots found in New Zealand. But these birds are less unique. Parrots, for example, are found  in many other parts of the world. So why did the dull and shy kiwi become the emblem rather than the pukeko?

I suggest three possible reasons. Firstly,  Australia has  purple swamp hens that are identical to pukekos. Secondly, Victorians were squeamish about the “pu” part of pukeko and what the whole word might be abbreviated to. And who would want a national symbol known as a "swamp hen"? Thirdly, the pukeko is rather gaudy and the first colonists were by and large puritan. They preferred what appeared to be the dullness of the kiwi plumage. In fact, kiwi feathers close up are rather beautiful.


26  October 2013 ~ New Zealand Film -  Boy

An advantage of flying Air New Zealand was the chance to catch up on films made in New Zealand. By far the best on offer and a contender for best NZ film to date was Boy, written and directed by Taika Waititi and released in 2010.


The film’s strengths include a stunning performance by the central character, a good supporting cast of children and adults and its relevance to a major social issue, quasi-outlaw gangs of young men and sometimes middle-aged men.


Gangs have long existed in New Zealand. As elsewhere, they provide a community for adolescents rejected elsewhere or struggling to find an identity.


I recall reading in the early 1970’s how the average age of motor bike gang members in New Zealand differed by several years when Pakeha (European) members were compared with Maori. The researcher’s explanation was that when Maori members were ready to quit the gang their families and the wider Maori community welcomed their return. Pakeha gang members found re-entering mainstream society much harder.


The 1970s saw the emergence of gangs in Wellington and other urban centres that were predominantly if not exclusively made up of people who were of Maori and Pacific island descent. These gangs have grown in influence and criminality. Members of the Mongrel Mob, which started in Hawke’s Bay in the 1960s but now exists across the country, account for ten per cent of New Zealand’s prison population.


Waititi avoids dealing with the gangs head-on. Rather he looks at the pretensions and inadequacies of gang members through the eyes of a child and Boy's growing disillusionment with his father who has recently returned from prison.


The darker material is countered with great humour and insights into the strengths and workings of a rural Maori community.
I look forward to seeing Boy on  a bigger screen and from a seat with more leg room.

 27  October 2013 ~ Kekeno / Southern Fur Seals

The wildlife highlight of our trip to New Zealand was a day trip from Blenheim to Kaikoura to see kekeno, the seals that live in New Zealand waters and breed on its coast.

We had seen them before, but not in such numbers and not so close up. Part of our success this time was the season and the opening up of a track to a freshwater pool where mothers lead theirs pups and leave them while fishing.

   The Pup Pool at Ohau Point    Pup playing in the current created by the waterfall 
A dozen or so pups graced the pool when we were there on October 10th. Numbers can be far higher at times. A few pups slept on the bank opposite where sightseers gather to view. Most cavorted in the water playing games with each other and testing their swimming skills against the eddies created by the waterfall. Spray from the cascade made photography more difficult and chilled the air. I'm not sure of the source of the stream, but the Kaikoura mountains were topped with snow.

We then drove south to Kaikoura, through the town and followed a cost road to Point Kean where adult seals come ashore to rest. They are used to vehicles arriving and tourists approaching. As you can see below, one didn't open her eyes and another could only be bothered to momentarily open one eye.
    Seal using two Point Kean parking bays for sun bathing     This one preferred a seaweed mattress 

The Kaikoura seals were again using the parking area and beach when we called at Point Kean on our way to Christchurch a week later.

Kekeno were hunted by Maoris and numbers severely reduced in the North Island. The South Island, being colder had fewer people and the seals fared better there until the arrival of Europeans. Kekeno numbers plummeted until a ban was introduced in 1894. Even then, periodic culls were allowed until as late as 1946 to conserve fish.

The kekeno are now protected and though some are lost through trawling and illegal shooting the numbers are growing and some former 
territories are being recolonized.

29  October 2013 ~ World of Wearable Art

The creative highlights of our trip involved a New Zealand-inspired phenomenon called the World of Wearable Art. WoW began in Nelson, a city with just over 61,000 inhabitants, with one woman's idea and is now a major event that attracts entries from around the world.

I had been twice to the museum in Nelson that displays a small proportion of the stunning costumes that have won prizes in the Annual WoW competitions and seen a  video of one the shows put on to display the entries. The show outgrew Nelson and moved to Wellington where it runs for several nights. I was able to book tickets and Sue and I thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.

I consider the WoW show a new art form. Ballet has music and costumes, but the emphasis is on dance. Opera can have dance as well as fabulous costumes, but the emphasis is on music. WoW has music and dance, but the primary vehicle is costume. And whereas most ballets and operas have a single story spanning the whole performance, WoW is more like a series if vignettes that  also might include acrobatics, mime and light shows. At times the spectacle and loosely-woven stories reminded me of Cirque Soleil. Some Carnival costumes share the same creativity as WoW's, but the routines performed as revelers progress through streets are necessarily less inventive that those put together in a well-appointed auditorium.

I consider the WoW show a new art form. Ballet has music and costumes, but the emphasis is on dance. Opera can have dance as well as fabulous costumes, but the emphasis is on music. WoW has music and dance, but the primary vehicle is costume. And whereas most ballets and operas have a single story spanning the whole performance, WoW is more like a series if vignettes that  also include acrobatics, mime and light shows. At times the spectacle and loosely-woven stories reminded me of Cirque Soleil.

       A WoW Costume

Examples of WoW Bizarre Bras

Even better, as far as I am concerned, is the way WoW involves so many people. Anyone can enter and many, including children, are part of the show. Many of the international entries were from Asia, as well Europe, North America and Oz.

Do a Google image search for "World of Wearable Art" to get an idea of the creativity inspired by WoW.

There is also much humour. Past shows included a section for Bizarre Bras that involved much wit. Google Bizarre Bra images for more examples.

One Kiwi stated that the WoW shows are a somewhat "samey". I can understand that as Cirque Soleil, for all its creativity and changing themes, has evoked a similar response from me after seeing two shows.

Harder to understand was the response of a New Zealand artist who rolled her eyes when I mentioned my enthusiasm for WoW. I was left with the impression that she regarded WoW as an interloper in the world of art. I can imagine WoW provokes envy because of its commercial success and the way it has created waves overseas. But I was disappointed to sense that some were sniffy about it for these reasons and because it has mass appeal and a sense of fun that "high art" struggles to provide.

The museum in Nelson seemed smaller and less vibrant after seeing costumes in the show, but I would still recommend it to anyone visiting New Zealand and would always include Nelson in my itineraries because it is the birthplace and home of WoW.

30  October 2013 ~ Toon Trees

Spring in New Zealand can be less obvious as most native trees are evergreen. Even the lambs that once helped to herald the season are less common due to the switch to cattle rearing. What does strike the eye are orchards in blossom, gardens with daffodils and other bulbs in flower, and some of the indigenous plants, such as kowhai, which blooms from July to November. Kowhai has been planted in many New Zealand gardens and public spaces.    
Kowhai picture from

Another sign of spring are clusters of arum lilies that appear in the middle of the countryside, such the one opposite taken in Poverty Bay miles from the nearest town and with no farmhouse in sight. The lilies dominated an area several times larger than what is shown.

We kept seeing a tree in New Zealand gardens, some quite tall and others more like coppiced growth, that neither of us recognized. The pink mass suggested blossom until closer examination revealed the colour was in the leaves.

The tree is Cedrela sinensis flamingo, also know as Toona sinensis, Chinese Mahogany, Chinese Toon, or Red Toon.

The leaves turn green for the summer, but what a marker for spring. We were so taken by it that within a week of our return we had obtained one and planted it in our garden. The supplier was Crocus, who have also supplied the photo used above.


31 October ~ Halloween Lecture


I was fortunate enough to get tickets to Surgical Horrors: The Operated Body in Horror Film and Literature. Lecture doesn't do the evening justice, informative though it was.  The two presenters, Professors Conrich and Edwards, and several others present were dressed for Halloween. And the venue was The Old Operating Theatre, dating from 1822, in St Thomas Street near London Bridge Station.


It was chilling to know one was sitting were generations of medical students and the curious had sat and watched major operations carried out before anaesthetics. Surgeons and their patients valued speed, but this was before electric lighting and power tools to hasten bone cutting.


Tickets for the lecturer were limited to 50 by fire regulations because the theatre and the museum that stands next to it are in the attic and accessed by a narrow spiral staircase.  While the setting added to the ghoulish fun of the evening, what shame so many were unable to gain admission when the content, which included excerpts from several horror films, was so interesting. 


The Old Operating Theatre

Note the two gas jets suspended from the ceiling.