Welcome to my blog. I hope you enjoy reading some of the pieces I've chosen for this site. 'First lines are easy, it's all the other lines that are difficult'... Moliere said something like that. And he knew a thing or two about writing.
Winner of the 2013 Booker prize, this book was rated highly in the press.....I wonder how many of the press read it to the end? It's no more than a fairly bog standard, well executed Victorian crime story set in New Zealand. It could have been cut by a third. The pace is excruciatingly slow, being mainly dialogue; Dickensian in manner but without the Dickensian humour and characterization. It is a slight story evolving slowly with much repetition as the many characters, none of whom are drawn well enough to elicit my sympathy, empathy or even protracted interest, put their differing points of view. Was I 'bovvered' about them? Not very much.
Although Catton deserves praise for her research, this was, at times, a bit overt and the astronomical references were a mystery to me as I found them totally irrelevant. Perhaps I missed something? I did notice the shortening of later chapters (phases of the moon?) as threads were rapidly drawn together. But the effect of this structural device just served to convince me that Catton had begun to panic at the sheer size of the monster she'd created and felt the need to sprint her characters towards what turned out to be an unsatisfying and predictable conclusion.
I'm from New Zealand so had high hopes that this novel might do much for the image of New Zealand literature abroad. Like the long haul flight to get here, this book requires stamina to go the distance and reach the end, not least because its size makes it difficult to read in bed!
Wine producers in New Zealand take their wines seriously. They don't, however, take themselves too seriously. In this book of photographs, compiled by award winning NZ photographer Kevin Judd, we meet dogs of all shape, size and age who are lucky enough to live on a vineyard (or winery as they're known here) in God's Own Country.
Accompanying each portrait, is an irreverent CV detailing individual attributes: naughtiest deed (stealing bungs from full barrels); most unsociable behaviour (passing wind under the tables at an important tasting); and most frequent partner in crime (biggest doggy buddy who often lives across at the neighbouring winery.) There's a lot of chook chasing and stealing of the workers' lunches going on, not to mention the rivalry for status between the winery dogs and the incumbent cats.
You don't have to be a wine lover to enjoy this small book. You just have to enjoy looking at stunning and painstakingly collected photographs of cheeky, lovable dogs who clearly take the stuffiness out of what is sometimes seen as an elite world. And if you do like to travel the wine trails you won't be up to much reading if you're tasting as you go, so this is an ideal book to take with you as there's not much reading in it. Just lots of pictures and tall tales that will make you want so seek out particular labels because of their dogs as well as their wines.
PS: And if you prefer Australian wines, well, they do a similar book that covers the Aussie wine producers...(who are not a patch on the Kiwis but their dogs are pretty cool).
[WINE DOGS The Dogs of New Zealand Wineries by McGill, Elliott & Judd]
I've been incommunicado for a while due to being between houses and all that that entails: poor internet, living out of boxes, can't find the right clothes to wear etc etc. However, on the fifth attempt to purchase a house (the others having just fallen through) there appeared to be light at the end of the tunnel. But also at the end of the tunnel was Kristal's departure.
Having endured a phantom pregnancy which delayed her spay operation, Kristal finally moved on. But before she left us her old flame Sparky came to stay for a weekend and they had a great time together.
Sparky's now 4 years old and Kristal adores him. He was a Guide Dog pup withdrawn from training because he couldn't get his toileting routine to suit requirements. That's come right now, so it's a shame he wasn't used for guide work because he is the most reliable and gentle of dogs.
They had lots of free runs and games of chase.
"Last one home's a pussy cat!"
Now Kristal's gone and she's left a huge empty space in our home and our hearts.
Ulric is already waiting in the wings. Good luck Kristal. Have a happy, happy life.
Oh yes, he was great! A lovely pup to have. A handsome and well adjusted young adult to hand over for the next phase of his training. Yes, Ulric is starting the new year at the Guide Dogs' centre near London, working with a professional trainer. Coincidentally, two of his brothers are there as well. I wonder if they'll recognize each other. I doubt it.
We got him by default really....he wasn't supposed to come to us at all.... we were going to have a break due to moving house (which explains my prolonged absence from internet activity).... but because his initial puppy walker had to pull out when he was only 10 weeks old, Ulric became a 'shared' pup and adapted really well to moving between two homes and two part time mums. Not only that, but during his time with me, he had to endure two house moves and a large scale bathroom renovation. He took it all in his stride. Just as he did trains, buses, lifts, shops, crowds and noisy, push-chair-packed coffee shops.
He had a set of toys and his own bed at each home and he just took a favourite blanket with him each time he moved from one house to the other. This move would be for weeks and months, not just days.
His 'number 2 mum' and I live fairly close to each other so we were able to ensure that we used the same training methods and commands and, over coffee, we'd discussed our approach to introducing new experiences to him. For example, every week he went to Riding for the Disabled where he was an added attraction for the children. And for himself, he gained an insight into which bits of a horse to stay clear of. He never learnt to stay clear of the horse muck though.... the fresher the better! But nothing that a good dip in the river didn't sort out. (Some critics say that a guide dog's life is all work and no play. Don't you believe it!)
As a result of being given such a wide range of experiences Ulric's become a very adaptable dog and nothing seems to phase him. (Fingers crossed!)
It doesn't get any easier to part with the dogs. Ulric was puppy number nine for me. I just hope he has a lovely life with someone who really appreciates him.
And puppy number ten will be turning up on our doorstep around April time. Watch this space!
Kristal was out in the garden this morning when suddenly a string of sausages fell from the sky.
Like a shot, she was on to them, and not about to let them go.
Obviously, they'd flown over the fence from next door, and, as new neighbours, we ought to do the right thing and return them. Oh, but not yet, eh Mum? First she had a great chase around the garden with one end in her mouth and the rest trailing. In and out of bushes and up and down the driveway.
Then she settled down to test the flavour. Mmmm. Slight essence of slobber... a hint of yuck... a bit of muck.
Then they squeaked at her. WHAT? Where did that come from? Not edible after all? Well, you know us Labradors... we'll give anything a go.
No sooner had I retrieved the sausages before they ended up looking more like mince meat, than a frisbee landed right in front of her nose.
Oh joy! It's raining toys.
Oh come on... you're not going to make me give it back are you?
Village life suits Kristal. She's learning to chill. She's become a regular at the village pub and even at the local manor house where we indulge in a posh coffee now and then after our walk across the fields.
Now 16 months old, she's looking very mature. However, she's had a troublesome couple of months since our move to a temporary home. First she had a phantom pregnancy which went on and on and meant that she couldn't be spayed at the right time. Then, having just recovered from that and all her bits and pieces looking normal again, she developed a large abscess behind her eye which pushed the eyeball forward making her head look weirdly asymmetrical. It was very very painful. She couldn't open her mouth wide or chew her food. Anyway, after a month of antibiotics and having to endure eye drops five times a day, she's now fully recovered.
Because I gave her a treat each time she had her eye drops she got to the stage where, if I'd forgotten the time, she'd come and nudge me to remind me. She'd then throw herself down on the floor and roll over, presenting her eye to me for treatment. What a little trouper! This could have been a doubly stressful time if she'd decided eye drops were not for her.
She's made herself at home in our temporary accommodation and loves the fact that this cottage not only has two staircases, but has no doors to several of its rooms. It's a veritable indoor adventure playground and great for hide and seek. The main bedroom is downstairs and it has no door. The kitchen also has no door. First thing in the mornings when I'm making tea, Kristal will stand in the kitchen and gaze through the gap at the prostrate figure that is my husband, still in slumberland. She does this silently. And every time he stirs or snores her tail wags.... but still she makes no sound. She'll keep this silent vigil until he eventually joins the land of the living. Then she's all over him.
But her favourite place is at the top of the stairs that lead to the room I'm using as a study. She's not supposed to venture upstairs at all, and she knows it, but now it seems as if she's claimed the territory on the landing as her own.
She's not turned it into a game; it's just as if it's a given that this space is hers.... she's claimed it. From this vantage point she can see who comes and who leaves and assess what's going on in other parts of the cottage. Talk about Big Brother watching you...
I know she listens in to conversations because if we mention the 'W' word or the 'D' word or the 'L' word, she's down those stairs two at a time.
Her favourite walk (the 'W' word) is around the perimeter of this field at the back of the garden.
The hedgerows are home to a variety of wildlife and at harvest time, Kites (the feathered kind), can be seen patrolling the skies.
When the hay was being harvested, Kites, Kestrels and Magpies just sat around waiting for lunch to emerge from the gradually diminishing ground cover.
Kristal and I like to come and sit on this seat in a sunny corner of the churchyard. It will soon be time for harvest festivals and when living surrounded by arable farmlands it's brought home to us much more sharply how village life has evolved and changed. At one time the church would have been the focal unifying point for the community, its doors ever open. Now they're locked against intruders. Cottage doors would have stood open so that neighbours could greet each other... face to face rather than on Facebook. The High Street that once boasted a butchers, a bakers and retail outlets to meet all the needs of this rural community, including several pubs, now only supports a hairdressers (something you can't buy over the internet), two pubs and a general store that's hanging on by a wing and a prayer. Today's residents commute to work in bigger towns and shop en route. For those who no longer commute.... well, there's an hourly bus if you're lucky. Whether you like it or not, in rural communities where personal contact used to be the norm, house alarms, electric gates, locks and bolts have replaced open doors and windows (even on stifling summer days) and the internet has become a necessary faceless fact of life. You can't help wondering what some of the long departed residents might have to say about life in their village today. No doubt some would turn in their graves.