beautiful monsters: January 2003 Archives

January 30, 2003

recycled bl*g

Beautiful people surround me. The lovely Jessica and Hinemoana are rehearsing down in the basement, and amazing threads of music are wafting up through the floor. Tommy is writing a new song, and he’s recorded it on our answering machine so he can remember the melody. And we’re all full of waffles and cherries and chocolate - and isn’t life wonderful during such moments?

Writing my list of 100 things has made me really sentimental. I’ve been leafing through old photos, writing to faraway friends, I’ve even dragged out Midnight Oil, and Plankeye, the Christian rock band who came to visit me in the first aid tent. Hmmmm... There’s a thin line between sentimentality and pathetic tragicness, and listening to Christian rock music may be crossing that line...

Speaking of 100 things, for those of you who are busy writing your own lists, there are some others here and here to inspire you!


Warning – regurgitation ahead. I can’t think of anything interesting to say today so I’m recycling old columns that I wrote for Salient (how tragic). I’m also feeling bad, because I couldn’t get the mould off our bathroom ceiling with natural products, so in desperation (the landlord was coming round for an inspection) I resorted to nasty chemicals. To atone for my sins I am going to recite my spiel about just how nasty cleaning chemicals are – this will make me feel guilty and hypocritical, but hopefully I’ll never do it again, and you’ll learn something from this rant. Some of the ideas are borrowed from Professor Jane Plant’s book "Your Life in Your Hands," which I recommend to all women. And guys too for that matter.

Societal Chemical Obsession Disorder

Before I moved into my flat, the previous tenants were sent back because they hadn’t left the place "clean." When I arrived and turned on the oven, I could tell it was clean, because the kitchen filled up with billowing white smoke. Oven cleaner - burning Sodium Hydroxide. Yeah, that’s got to be good for you.

Cleaning. It’s necessary isn’t it? There are germs and bacteria that we need to destroy so we don’t get sick, right? Well, not exactly. There are bacteria crawling over your skin and inside your body... but don’t worry, some of them are beneficial. You actually need them to stay healthy!

I think we’ve taken cleanliness a bit too far. Take "air fresheners" for example. They don’t make the air fresh; they interfere with your ability to smell by coating your nasal passages with an oil film, or by releasing a nerve-deadening agent. Air fresheners contain chemicals that can burn skin and cause convulsions or circulatory collapse.

People aren’t dropping down dead as soon as they open a bottle of detergent. That doesn’t mean the stuff isn’t making them sick. Have you heard of anyone dying of cancer recently? Do you now what caused the disease? The effect of a chemical depends on the dose, length of exposure, and how many other chemicals you’re exposed to at the same time. Your lungs can cope with a few chemicals now and then. But if you constantly bombard them with fumes from cleaners, combined with cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes, your lungs are likely to go on strike!

So how did we come to understand "cleaning" as filling our homes with toxic chemicals? My theory is that someone realised they could convince people germs were dirty, and sell them chemicals to kill the germs. Then someone found out that if people started getting sick, they could make money by selling them drugs, instead of minimising hazards and teaching people to be healthy. Someone else started a lobby group, to ensure the public wouldn’t find out about the dangers they were exposing themselves to. Then the media discovered they could sell simplistic, unscientific or conflicting information...

There, you see? It’s all capitalism’s fault! Well, yes... and no. I’d like to put up my hand and accept part of the responsibility. I didn’t give my consent for you to be exposed to toxic chemicals: but I failed to ask questions, question answers, and make changes. I’m sorry. But the story doesn’t have to end there...

It’s impossible to avoid all toxic chemicals – but you can reduce your personal risk. Empower yourself! Research harmful substances and avoid buying them. Learn to use alternatives. Did you know baking soda and water makes a great oven cleaner? Lemon juice, vinegar and natural soap make an all-purpose cleaner. Rosemary, manuka and lavender oils are antibacterial.

After the oven incident I went to see a doctor, who tried to prescribe me drugs to treat the side effects of other drugs which I was taking to treat symptoms that were probably caused by inhaling burning oven cleaner... But that’s another story.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 05:03 PM


"You approach the world
with open arms and hope
it wants you."
- Jenny Bornholdt.

How many nights of my life have I spent like this, searching the internet for something that I can't quite put my finger on, eyes stinging from staring at the computer screen too long, reaching out to people I will probably never touch...

I think I'm going through one of my dark spells again. I'm so sick of this, it's such a struggle just getting through the days, trying to keep up with my life.

But I'm going to try not to mope all over my blog, cos it's still so shiney and new!

"Here's the world on a good
day, turned slightly away, but this is no
offence, merely the sun was
in its eyes and it turned
briefly to avoid being
blinded by it."


Things I will do during my one week of freedom between summer school and first trimester:


Rescue my garden

Design myself a webpage

Bike to Makara

Bake gingerbred

Read Te Reo Rangatira

Write a novel

Become a brilliant cellist

Learn to speak Sami

Save the world

Posted by Fionnaigh at 09:50 AM

January 29, 2003

100 things about me

1. Ko ngati Pākehā te iwi, ko McKenzie te hapū, no te Moutere mangu no Kotirani. Ko te Oriental te waka. Ko Thomas Urquart McKenzie te tangata. No Rotorua ahau, engari kei Te Whanganui-a-Tara tōku kainga ināianei. Ko Tawatawa te maunga, ko Tapu Te Ranga te motu, ko Te Moana o Raukawa te moana, ko Tapu Te Ranga te marae.

2. My ancestors came from the Black Isle in Scotland, clan McKenzie (on my mother’s side; clan Donald on my father’s). The first of my tipuna landed at Pito-one in January 1840. I grew up in Rotorua, but now my home is Wellington.

3. I am a writer. This is not so much a hobby or a profession as deep need inside me. I don’t know what I would do without writing.

4. I have had several poems published, in journals and little arty books, and one as part of a programme on BBC Radio 4.

5. I also have a large pile of rejection slips.

6. The poem that was on the Beeb, Concerto for Two Women, was a letter to my grandmother who died when I was two years old. We played Bach’s concerto for two violins in D minor at her funeral. On the programme other people talked about the ways the concerto had touched them – Terry Waite spoke of how it helped him to survive the five years he spent imprisoned in Beirut.

7. I’m also working on a memoir about the time I spent in Costa Rica, some stories for children, and a young adult novel.

8. When I was a kid, I got so engrossed in books that I would cover them with plastic bags so I didn’t have to stop reading them when I had a shower.

9. On my back I have a tattoo of two women dancing. I designed it myself. It only hurt round the edges.

10. I’ve been bitten by spiders twice. Once when I was a kid, on my birthday (I don’t remember which birthday) a spider was inside the neck of a jersey when I put it on, and it bit me, and I sort of got trapped in the jersey and I think I screamed.

11. My favourite movie is Love and Other Catastrophes, which I first saw in Auckland with my best friend. That was the first time I ever saw two women kissing. It was a moment of realisation, everything fell into place, I thought that’s what I want to be when I grow up. We walked out of the movie theatre and my best friend said “Eeeew, it would have been so gross to be the girl who had to kiss another girl.”

12. When I am walking outside, I can’t resist crushing leaves between my fingers and smelling them. My favourites to crush are fennel and manuka.

13. I’m at university doing a Tohu Maoritanga (diploma in Maori studies). I’ve also been studying physics, women’s studies, history of architecture, political science, media studies, print culture, creative writing, and 3D design, but I’ll emerge at the other end with a BA in English Literature. Go figure.

14. My Maori studies journey landed me in the kitchen for the university Matariki dinner. It was a grand occasion, with the Vice Chancellor, Pro VCs and heads of faculty as well as all the Maori staff. My role was to invent some recipes using native plants as herbs, design a menu, and act as head chef on the night. I’ve often thought about opening a restaurant, but it’s much more fun to just pretend for a day.

15. I used to wish I had a dress made out of the sky.

16. I try really hard to be butch, but I fail dismally. I like pretty skirts.

17. One of the best weeks in my life was when I did volunteer work with Student Volunteer Optometrists Serving Humanity in Costa Rica. They do free eye tests and hand out donated glasses. I helped with the tests sometimes, but mostly I was just there to translate. The hardest thing I had to do was explain to a seven-year-old girl, in Spanish, that she was going to go blind.

18. Another best week in my life was when I was selected to be part of the first National Youth Shakespeare Production, and we deconstructed, twisted, remixed and performed Richard III. I learnt some great curses. During the performance I tripped over a box and the moment was caught on video.

19. I don’t think the glass is half empty. I think it’s full – half water and half air. Air is very important and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

20. However, if the glass is designed specifically to hold water, it’s also an inefficient use of resources - you only need half that much glass for that amount of water.

21. When I was about 11 people used to call me Janet Frame. This was because of my fuzzy hair, not because of my amazing literary talent. They also called me Rudolf because of my hayfever.

22. I was born in the eighties. In Lafayette Home Hospital, Indiana. I have duel citizenship, but my home is Aotearoa - It’s not my fault my dad did his post grad study in the USA.

23. For several years I was strictly vegan, for environmental reasons, health, animal rights, and spiritual reasons. At the moment I’m not... and I’m not sure how I feel about this but I’m too stressed with uni to exercise the will power and organisation required to live veganly amongst non-vegans.

24. I was 18 when I kissed a girl for the first time. I met her on the internet.

25. I was 12 the first time a boy kissed me. Then he didn’t talk to me for two weeks, and then one day he said he thought we should break up.

26. I’m a visual artist as well as a writer, and I’ve had a couple of exhibitions, one solo and a few as part of groups of artists. I paint with acrylics because I’m too impatient to use oils. I paint expressionist works because I’m too impatient to do realism. I once sold a finger painting for $250. The Royal Commission on Genetic Modification rented one of my paintings and they hung it in their lobby. It was a delicate abstract. They said they thought it was a GE chicken. Unfortunately the subversive organic messages I painted into it had very little influence on the Commission’s report.

27. I was raped at the end of my seventh form year by a guy who was trying to “prove” to everyone that I wasn’t “really a lesbian.” This was not my first non-consensual sexual experience.

28. I really like my glasses. I hated my last pair, cos I sat on them so they were crooked and I felt self conscious about that. I tried to wear contacts when I played waterpolo, but I have cysts on my eyelids from my allergies, and it hurt too much.

29. Sometimes I cut myself. It calms me down when I’m really distressed. Sometimes it is a way of blocking out painful memories. It’s calming, and it proves I am alive. I haven’t done it for a year, because it freaks people out, but it’s a highly addictive behaviour, so I don’t think I can ever say I’m truly free of it.

30. My favourite colours are green and blue. The green of the deepest part of lake Okataina, the green of glossy kawakawa leaves, the bright flash of a korimako. The blue of paua polished by the waves, the deep blue of the sky as the stars begin to appear.

31. My biggest fear is that people will hate me because I am messed up.

32. My other biggest fear is nuclear war. Or, for that matter, any war.

33. When I was 13 I came out as bisexual. Then I came out as a lesbian. Then I decided I was a theoretical lesbian but a practicing bisexual. Then I started calling myself trisexual because I kept falling in love with gay men, straight women, and trannies. Then I decided I didn’t believe in sex or gender. Then I started dating an intersex transgender woman.

34. I’m not confused about my sexuality, but my doctor is.

35. In my family we always ate with chopsticks, unless we had soup (spoons) or Indian food (fingers).

36. When I was a teenager, I became a born again Christian. It was my teenage rebellion, the only thing I could do that would shock my parents. They’re still recovering. So am I.

37. I’m addicted to chocolate soymilk. I’m not using the term addiction lightly. I start off making it with one spoonful of chocolate powder and just once a day, and the next thing it’s seven spoonfuls twelve times a day and I get chronic headaches, mood swings and grumpiness when I try and withdraw.

38. I used to be in the top 1% of the country for math’s and science. I don’t know what happened.

39. In intermediate I was top of the school for woodwork and metalwork but I failed cooking because I refused to keep to the recipes.

40. A writer, Fiona Farrell, taught me how to spell my name the Celtic way, Fionnaigh, and I liked it so much I changed it legally. I also changed my last name, when I was about 7. Now I use my mother’s mother’s maiden name.

41. I got hypothermia once. At a rock concert. The band was Plankeye, who were my favourite Christian rock band at the time. They came to visit me in the first aid tent and I still have the t-shirt they autographed.

42. My great-great-great-grandfather was the “Honourable” John Bryce, the Native Minister who rode into Parihaka on a white charger and arrested Te Whiti and Tohu. We have one of his books, and two antique Japanese vases he bought in London. His diary is in the national library. It’s pretty boring. He was in London, he had a cold, he was worried about money, he enjoyed seeing the first spring flowers. I find it hard to understand how someone so boring and normal could do such awful things.

43. Another great-great-great-grandfather was a publisher, and his son did typesetting for the evening post. I think perhaps this explains my addiction to letterpress.

44. My grandmother’s brother was a writer. He had a book published in the Oxford New Zealand Short Stories book in the World Classics series, 1953, alongside Katherine Mansfield, Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame. The woman he married is one of my favourite relatives, even though she’s not related.

45. If I had pets I would have weta. They’d live in the letterbox but I’d let them roam about as they pleased. I would name them Aloysius Barley and Zeralda.

46. I used to play violin in a Ceilidh band.

47. I teach Sunday School. I told them I was raised by staunch atheists and I’m a queer anarchist and probably down in police files as an eco-terrorist and I don’t even know if I’m a Christian, but they gave me the job anyway. I love it. I used to do some support work with kids with intellectual disabilities and mental health problems, and eventually I’d like to do art therapy with children.

48. I once won a competition to redesign a local park. I created a huge controversy by suggesting that the phoenix palms looked out of place in a geothermal area (they were too formal) and should be moved to a different park and replaced with natives. There was a massive outcry! Angry letters in the paper! Words like “monstrous” “horror” and “hideous” were directed at 12 year old me – “not even a ratepayer,” as one horrified resident exclaimed. The council took my side and the palms were moved.

49. I was a serious child. When I was about 8-years-old I wrote very moralistic stories with passages like “...and man saw his neighbours fighting, and man said ‘let us come to an agreement and be friends.’ And man threw down his weapons and he felt safer without them.”

50. While I was playing a witch in MacBeth I got warts on my nose and I couldn’t get rid of them for years.

51. I did the Great Lake Cycle Challenge once – it’s a 160km bike ride around lake Taupo. It took me 8 hours. Because I was too slow to ride with a bunch, I had to battle the wind. My dad had a tailwind going up the first big hill, but by the time I got there it was a headwind. There’s a huge hill near the end of the ride, it goes on for kilometers and it’s quite steep. When I got there it was the hottest part of the day and the tar on the road was melting - I got to the top and burst into tears. I won a spot prize – I think it was a drink bottle that glowed in the dark.

52. If I could magically change one thing about myself, I would probably want to lose weight. Even though I hate myself for wanting it, there is still a part of me that thinks I would be happier and people would like me if I were thin.

53. My hair is curly and very fine so it tangles easily if I let it grow. When I wake up in the morning it closely resembles that steel wool stuff you use to scrub the dishes. Once I had GE FREE shaved in the back of my head - but I only do that on election years.

54. I got kicked out of Costa Rica because they thought I was a lesbian. Well, OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. I was on an AFS exchange, and the pastor from my host mother’s church was an ex-homosexual, but he was cured and had kids and stuff. Anyway, he found out I was friends with this gay guy, and within hours AFS was on the phone telling me that I couldn’t have a girlfriend, or tell anyone I was a lesbian, or go to gay bars, or have any gay friends, or I would get sent home. So I quit the program and went to live in San Jose with my lesbian activist friend and her seven cats and her house full of books, but in the end I found it too hard in Costa Rica and I came home. (AFS never actually asked if I was a lesbian. Mind you, I don’t know if it would have made any difference if I said, oh it’s OK, don’t worry; I’m bisexual).

55. I got kicked out of Weir House after a week, because I was “disturbing the Deputy Wardens.”

56. I once killed microscopic insects during a science experiment. At the time I had no moral qualms about this. My friend and I won a prize for the project.

57. I once played Kim Hill in a radio play. I gave a terrible performance, but thankfully the evidence was accidentally destroyed.

58. I have a brother, Tomas, who lives in Sweden, and a sister, Stéphanie, who lives in Switzerland. They’re not biologically related to me. But they’re still my bro and sis. Steph is a journalist for La Liberté newspaper, Tomas is a doctor and he has worked in exciting places like Ghana and the Solomon Islands. He has a little baby, Noa.

59. The first word I learned to say was flower, but I said it “dower.”

60. When I was 6 I got into heaps of trouble because this girl in my class wrote my name on the classroom wall in glue.

61. I always wear two rings. One was my grandmother’s engagement ring, one was a sixteenth birthday present from my other grandmother. They’re both very simple designs - I don’t go in for those big flashy rings with huge stones jutting out in all directions.

62. I’ve never broken any bones. My own or anyone else’s.

63. I’ve been on Queer Nation four times, for a total of about 27 seconds.

64. I had a summer job doing Y2K testing for a company. I ran a test on the computer of the CEO, and when I tried to reboot the machine, it wouldn’t turn on. The head of IT who was with me turned white as a ghost and started trembling. You’d think I’d broken God’s computer. We fixed the problem before the CEO got back, and my life was spared.

65. When I was little I used to lie awake at night worrying about whether the universe went on forever. How could anything go on forever. I mean, really, FOREVER. But if it stops, what’s after that?! Aaaaaaargh!!

66. I’m a very sensitive person. I’m allergic to practically everything. I ended up in hospital with anaphylaxis after eating three azuki beansprouts. I used to have to go to the doctor twice a week to get injections for my allergies, but now I give them to myself. I spent a lot of my childhood on steroids and antibiotics. When I phone the doctor’s surgery the receptionists always know who I am before I even say my name, and if I died the pharmaceutical industry would probably collapse.

67. I love cycling down hills at night after rain.

68. When I was little I wanted to be a volcanologist or an astrophysicist. Then I wanted to be an architect, and I got as far as doing three years of a B.Arch before realising that actually I hated it.

69. I have lots of phobias surrounding breathing. I had to have a gastroscopy once and they started to put the tube down my throat and said “just relax and breathe through your nose.” But I panicked and forgot how to breathe through my nose, and they had to give me oxygen... It didn’t help that they gave me drugs, because sedatives usually have the opposite effect on me.

70. When I was in primary school my father went to Kenya for a few weeks. In my memory it was a few months. Apparently I was a horrible child while he was gone, lots of tantrums, my mum was really worried... I don’t remember any of that. I just remember the doll he brought me back. And that he left halfway through reading me The Hobbit.

71. Has gone AWOL.

72. I love Thai food. And most things about Thailand except that I hate hot humid weather – it makes me really grumpy and tired. Oh, and Bankok. Traffic. Too many people. Not to mention the heat.

73. It’s frightening how well I get on with my parents. We love the same music, the same movies, same food... They’re two of my best friends, and two of the people I admire most.

74. I’m scared of heights. I always get to a certain point, about 3.2 meters, and start shaking uncontrollably. But it’s never stopped me from doing anything. I’ve done abseiling and rock climbing and rope courses and stuff – it usually takes me hours to work up the courage, and everyone gets annoyed with me, but I always do it in the end.

75. My greatest achievement at university so far is handing in a piece of origami for a politics course and getting 90%.

76. I’ve been held in police cells twice. I probably have a big fat file that says I am a dangerous mentally disturbed anarchist.

77. I’ve never been arrested for stenciling political messages on footpaths.

78. Once though, a friend and I were chased by a couple of guys in one of those street-cleaning trucks with the huge metal brushes spinning around in front. They followed us down Lampton Quay, and then we ran and hid in the railway station. About 20 minutes later they were still waiting outside the entrance so we had to sneak out a different way. Then the cops turned up. My friend saw them slowing down, so she yelled “COPS!” and started running away. Great - that didn’t make us look suspicious at all. But no one got arrested and we all lived happily ever after.

79. If I can’t check my email at least 3 times a day I start to get panicky.

80. I’m a member of the Green Party but I still consider myself an anarchist. To paraphrase Metiria Turei, sometimes I work within the establishment, but I am “not now nor ever its advocate.”

81. I went to a Steiner kindergarten. On my desk I have a photo of my kindergarten teacher, who I adored. I went to a very white very middle-class very nice primary school. Then I went to an intermediate school in the lowest socio-economic zone in Rotorua where most of the kids were Maori. Talk about culture shock. And the teachers were really strict. They’d stand at the gate handing out detentions to the kids who set foot in the school grounds with the wrong brand of white ankle socks.

82. I didn’t have many friends in intermediate school. I think this is because I listened to Bartok and tie-dyed my own clothes and hung out in the library, while everyone else listened to pop music and wore surf “label” clothes and played sports.

83. I probably inherited my geekiness from my parents. They used to take me up to Auckland for Philharmonia concerts and film festivals. I remember watching three subtitled films in a row and being very tired in the car on the way home and someone saying “No, the trainload of Polish refugees were in this film, not that one!”

84. I’m disappointed I didn’t have a chance to use my hard hat and steel toe boots before I quit architecture school.

85. I’ve spent lots of money on library fines since I started university. I keep thinking about how many books I could buy if I still had that money...

86. When I was a kid I had a record of the Barrow Poets, and I loved it. But there was a poem on it that finished on the lines “and when your heart begins to bleed, you’re dead, and dead, and dead indeed.” It terrified me. I didn’t know how to stop the record player so one of my clearest memories of childhood is of running upstairs and hiding in the toilet until that poem finished.

87. On my 21st birthday I went to a marae to plant native trees. I planted makomako and kawakawa because they are my two favourite plants. Every year I’ll go back and plant more trees and one day when I’m old I’ll take children there to show them the beautiful forest.

88. I like to pretend I have a successful permacultural garden. In reality the weeds are winning. I seem to be capable of successfully growing parsley and Jerusalem artichokes, and the kinds of plants that pop up between cracks in concrete and thrive on neglect.

89. I blend my own herbal teas and I grow lots of my own herbs. Most herbs seem to survive in my garden. They’re fairly low maintenance.

90. I am usually The Responsible Person In The Flat who makes sure the bills are paid and the rent goes through, and the mould gets cleaned off the bathroom ceiling, and the oven gets fixed... This would be ok, except that I’m a disorganised, unreliable person.

91. Sometimes intense black despair overwhelms me. It feels like I’m drowning in it, like it’s unbearable, it seems to go on for ever, I can’t remember ever experiencing anything else. I cry for hours and it seems like I’ll never stop crying, but eventually I wear myself out. I want to hurt myself so much that I block out everything, cease to have ever existed. Thankfully the despair doesn’t last forever, but sometimes I feel as though I am wearing so many masks, and underneath them all there is only the blackness waiting to well up over me.

92. I see this despair as the price I play for my creativity. I hope it will make me a more compassionate person. I wouldn’t want to live without the darkness, because I wouldn’t understand the light.

93. The first non-classical CD I bought was Earth and Sun and Moon by Midnight Oil. I think the second was by Chris de Burgh. My tastes have improved since then. The most recent addition to my music collection is Charlotte Yates Dead Fish Beach. I love singer/songwriters from Aotearoa – especially queer women singer/songwriters. I also love contemporary women poets from Aotearoa, but I am trying to extend myself and read things by men, foreigners and dead people.

94. I couldn’t survive in a place without wide expanses of water. I grew up in a town surrounded by 16 lakes, and now I live in a city surrounded by the sea. I couldn’t live somewhere without mountains either, I get claustrophobic in flat places. I couldn’t live in Costa Rica because the air is so hazy, the distant mountains are never in focus. I think that’s because of the humidity, not pollution. If I had to live somewhere that wasn’t Wellington I’d choose Stockholm.

95. I have a running obsession with Tetrapak boxes. They’re made with about five layers and it’s too hard to separate out the foil, cardboard and plastic, so you can’t recycle them. It really bugs me, cos I go through a lot of soymilk. When I was studying architecture I tried to make soundproof bricks from Vitasoy cartons, but that wasn’t a huge success. They do make good thermal blinds, because of the reflective properties of the foil. If you cut them open they’re a pretty silver colour inside, and they take blind embossing really well, so for an assignment I made a set of letterpress postcards printed on the insides of Vitasoy boxes. They’re very groovy.

96. I do drag – not as a show, I just wear pants and a moustache around town occasionally. I like confusing people. Once a salesman called me “sir,” but my voice is really high and gave me away and he ended up backing away with a panicked expression.

97. I’m reluctant to identify myself as a Christian, because the term is so loaded, but my spirituality is strongly influenced by some Christian traditions, and I do work for the Presbyterian church. But I feel comfortable in a Quaker meeting, or a Buddhist meditation sit. I don’t believe in a God who is a bearded man peering down from the clouds, but I do believe in something that, for want of a better word, I call God. Something about the stars, and the spaces between stars, about droplets of rain, cool stones, an autumn leaf, the song of a bird… something about nucleic acids and atoms, blood, sweat, heart, lungs, mind, music and poetry, laughter and tears, awareness, passion, love... I feel close to God in prayer and meditation, in the forests, mountains and beaches, and in the company of friends.

98. Joining the hikoi to parliament to protest the foreshore and seabed legislation was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Simultaneously empowering and humbling, sad and joyous, intimate and huge.

99. I have two bikes, mountain and road. I don’t use them as much as I used to. I don’t do enough exercise these days. I’m going to start going to the gym and doing feldenkrais and making more time for prayer and meditation, and eating better... tomorrow. Really.

100. I’m very disorganised. On an average day I will lose my keys at least twice, turn up late for several appointments and accumulate a few more library fines. I think there are actually a lot of holes in the fabric of reality near to my house, and sometimes my keys fall through. And half of every pair of socks I own. And time is very flexible here, it keeps speeding up just to catch me out - it rushes straight to the last minute. Which is why, at a ridiculous hour of the night when any sensible person would have finished their essay and been tucked up in bed by now, the most urgent task I can think of is writing a list of a hundred things about myself.

Surfing the 100 things ring? <?100 Things#>

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:19 AM

January 28, 2003


I’m a bit worried about this blogging thing - I think it may have the potential to bring out the worst in me. I’ve been looking through some of my old journals (the paper and ink variety) and they are excruciatingly awful. Seriously. Cringeworthy does not even begin to describe some of the things I have scribbled in diaries over the years.

Given my track record, plastering my musings all over the Internet seems a little unwise. It’s too easy – you just click the mouse and your words are instantly displayed in a public space. I’m an impulsive person, and I have been known to write things I later regret. I’m sure my father and I would both be happier if he hadn’t come across a few intimate details about my sex life... then there's the ex-girlfriend of mine who has a disturbing habit of trawling through archives and digging out embarrassing things I posted to newsgroups when I was young and foolish and didn’t realise that my words would be engraved in cyberspace forever.

The other issue is that I’m prone to bouts of intense depression, which gets a bit tedious after about seven pages... believe me.

And of course, there’s the whole procrastination thing. Like, right now, I should be doing an essay. But I’m kinda getting frustrated. I was trying to find out how many Maori MPs are women, and compare the numbers in Maori and general seats, which was hopefully going to back up one of my arguments. Unfortunately I can’t work out which MPs are Maori. They don’t make them wear a patch on their sleeves or something. There are supposed to be 19, and so far I’ve come up with 15. So I can’t use that argument, which means I’ve just wasted several hours searching the Internet for nothing. *Sigh.*

I’m going to go and make hot chocolate to cheer myself up.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:47 PM

January 27, 2003

have blog

I should be writing an essay on racially based electoral representation, but a friend has just introduced me to blogs – hurray! An all new form of procrastination.

At the moment, I’m trying to come up with a list of 100 things about myself, which is a surprisingly interesting and difficult thing to do. I’ve been reading some other people’s lists, and mostly I’m surprised because I have almost nothing in common with them, but I read one person's, and it seemed like every second thing on her list could be on mine! Scary!

It’s cold and raining. Whatever happened to summer?

Last night my flatmate and I went to see Bowling for Columbine. I laughed out loud the whole way through, but came home feeling very shaken. I think some of the laughter was relief that I’m not living in USA.

I wish MM had focused on more solutions. It got a bit depressing. And he kind of got a bit relentless. Sometimes I think he went too far, and sometimes I didn't see how what he was doing was going to help. I mean, he goes and hassles the head of the NRA, the guy gets angry and stalks off... how does this actually the situation? It's not going to change how the NRA guy thinks. It's not going to help the victims of gun violence.

Still, the movie raises some valid points, and you should probably go see it. I think everyone in America should see it, but some of them probably wouldn't get it.

MM seemed to conclude that people kill each other with guns in America because of the climate of fear which is created by the media. I think that’s part of it, but I also think it’s got something to do with ignorance. There were so many people who were totally ignorant to other points of view, totally oblivious to other ways of doing things. Well, I guess I can’t see things from their point of view either. I don’t believe we need guns to "protect" ourselves. If I get a gun to protect myself, you’re going to think I want to shoot you, so you’ll get nervous and get a gun to protect yourself in case I attack you. So I’ll get nervous that you might attack first, and I’ll buy a bigger gun, and then you’ll buy a bigger gun, and then I’ll buy an even bigger one... and no one will be any safer. Which is exactly what happens on a global level – one country sees what they are doing as "defensive," another country sees it as "offensive," and the situation gets more and more unstable.

It’s a scary world we live in, huh?

Check this out - there is proof. Bush is the AntiChrist.

My quote of the day is "we cannot bomb the world to peace."

Last night I had the most awful nightmare I’ve had in ages. Actually, the only nightmare I’ve had in ages, most nights I don’t remember any dreams.

Was at dinner with my great-aunt Chris and some ambiguous man who could have been one of my cousins. We were talking about car accidents for some reason, and how sometimes it could be worse to survive them. Chris was saying "well, tell me about *that* for 75 years," meaning that she knew all about it because my great uncle had been unwell for all that time (in reality he did have a car accident and was "not himself" for about 20 years). I felt indignant about this comment!

Then, suddenly, there was a noise like a siren (my dream wasn’t physically possible – should have been the light first) and we looked across the lake. Very far away, perhaps 100km, we could see what looked like huge fireworks, but they just went straight up in the air, like a geyser that didn’t come back down, but bright colours like fireworks. At first I thought, how pretty, but then I realised the scale – they went up for kilometers. Chris exclaimed "that was a BLAST!" I thought maybe it was a "flare," and suggested we turn the radio on. I had some vague idea that "they" might do something like that if they wanted to get a message to everyone fast (the other day a thought popped into my head; how would we know to turn on the radio to get the Civil Defense warning if there was about to be a volcanic eruption or something? I think it’s been bothering me).

The blasts were multiplying, they covered the length of the horizon. At first they had been very distant, but now they were closer and some of the sparks were beginning to rain down near us. We suddenly realised that something awful was going on, a bomb attack or a volcanic eruption. Someone yelled "RUN!" and we did. Even in my dream, I was wondering how it could be that the blasts had gone from 100km away to so close in a matter of seconds, and yet we could still run ahead of them. I was worried about my parents because they were on the other side of the lake, near where the blasts had started. My other concern was that I didn’t know exactly what we were running from, an attack or an eruption, or... I think we were running for days. And the terror! It was awful, because I couldn’t find a way to die quickly. I wanted to find a gun, or a cliff to jump off. I knew that being burned in the fallout was a ghastly way to die.

I woke up and my whole bed seemed to be trembling, I couldn’t work out if it was my heart racing or the aftershocks from some kind of explosion.

It seemed kind of superficial in the morning, getting so worried about myself, my own pain, my own fear... when so many people are dying horribly and more will die awful deaths if Bush goes ahead with all out war on Iraq.

To cheer myself up I’ve been reading a children’s book called The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean. It’s a great story set in Ancient China, and only a few people die.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 05:38 AM

January 01, 2003

Defining Poetry

“Poetry is that art of the marvellous; a simultaneous compression of language and an endless expansion of meaning.” – Fred D’Aguiar.

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.” - Percy Shelley

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” - Robert Frost.

“Poetry is thoughts that breathe, and words that burn.” - Thomas Gray.

“The poem is
A plank laid over the lion’s den.” – James K Baxter.

“Poetry puts the infinite within the finite.” – Robert Browning.

“Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognises as his own.” - Salvatore Quasimodo

“Prose: words in their best order; poetry: the best words in the best order.” – Coleridge.

"A poet, any real poet, is simply an alchemist who transmutes his cynicism regarding human beings into an optimism regarding the moon, the stars, the heavens, and the flowers, to say nothing of Spring, love and dogs." - George Jean Nathan.

"In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love at all." – Wallace Stevens.

“Poetry is the music of the soul.” – Voltaire.

“Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge.” - William Wordsworth

“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.” - John Cage

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.” - T.S. Eliot

“The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing.” – Samuel Johnson.

“Poetry is not a report on experience, rather the act of writing traces the outer limit of what we feel and understand… it is experience, it is transcendence… poetry is the way in which the mystery of things can be pronounced yet remain unsayable.” – Robert Frost.

“Poetry: all that remains after you remove all that isn't poetry.” - Robert Priest.

“Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.” - William Hazlitt.

“Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits . . . a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanation.” - Carl Sandburg.

“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That's what poetry does.” - Allen Ginsberg

“Poetry is the power of defining the indefinable in terms of the unforgettable.” - Louis Untermeyer.

"Poetry is the impish attempt to paint the colour of the wind." - Maxwell Bodenheim

“I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry.” - John Cage

Poetry should “dirty the silence.” – Bill Manhire (rather presumptuously paraphrased).

“A poem is a verbal artifact which must be as skillfully and solidly constructed as a table or a motorcycle.” - W. H. Auden

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” - Carl Sandburg

“A poem is an instant of lucidity in which the entire organism participates.” - Charles Simic

"A poem is made up of thoughts, each of which filled the whole sky of the poet in its turn." - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."
– Shakespeare.

“Not philosophy, after all, not humanity, just the sheer joyous power of song, is the primal thing in poetry.” - Max Beerbohm.

“The difference between poetry and prose is like playing violin and playing the marimba, and I won't say which one's which.” – Bradford Morrow.

“What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves.” - W. H. Auden.

“Poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking.” – Paul Valery.

“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” - Rita Dove

“I mean poetry can throw out all the punctuation, splatter itself all over the page… I mean the main thing poetry has that prose doesn't have is the use of sound and rhythm, so it can make a musicality if you like. You've got the literal meaning of the word but you can also have the feeling that that the sounds of those words and that in certain combinations create. So you can have a poem that doesn't… you don't actually understand… it doesn't literally make sense, you can't follow it like you should be able to with prose, but you still get it, it still communicates a feeling. So yeah poetry should be the best communication you can have." – James Brown.

“We define poetry as the unofficial view of being.” - Wallace Stevens

“Poetry is either something that lives like fire inside you - like music to the musician . . . or else it is nothing, an empty, formalised bore around which pedants can endlessly drone their notes and explanations.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words.” - Paul Engle

“Poetry lies its way to truth.” - John Ciardi.

“Poetry; our way back to the most private of rooms.” - Marianne Boruch

“Poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language.” - Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

“Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.” - Carl Sandburg

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” - Leonard Cohen

“Poetry is the deification of reality.” - Edith Sitwell.

“Each memorable verse of a true poet has two or three times the written content.” - Alfred de Musset

“The main difference between poetry and prose is that the former does its best to make its auditor spend maximal time on each of its words.” – Bob Grumman.

“The only difference between poetry and prose lies in a sufficiency of capital letters in the printer’s type case.” – Charles Russell.

“Poetry reveals, while prose comments." – Jean Paul Satre.

“Poetry is the suggestion, by the imagination, of noble grounds for noble emotions.” - John Rushkin

“Poetry is any written or spoken use of words which seeks to express -through a combined sense of sound and meaning, music, emotion and idea - the full capacity of language(s), testing the very limits of experience, imagination and what can be said.” – Todd Swift.

“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.” - Kahlil Gibran

If that is a poem
about the red wheelbarrow
and the white chickens
then any words
can be a poem.
You’ve just got to
- Jack (a character in Love That Dog by Sharon Creech)

“Poetry is not a civilizer, rather the reverse, for great poetry appeals to the most primitive instincts.” - Robinson Jeffers

“Poetry allows one to speak with a power that is not granted by our culture.” - Linda McCarriston

“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.” - Carl Sandburg.

“Poetry is better than nothing.” – Jeff Harrison.

“Poetry; Imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” - Marianne Moore

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?” – Emily Dickinson.

“The poem is the point at which our strength gave out.” - Richard Rosen

“Poetry is language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that can not be said.” - E. A. Robinson.

“Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle, cracked ice crunching in pails, the night that numbs the leaf, the duel of two nightingales, the sweet pea that has run wild...” - Boris Pasternak

“Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” – Plato.

what is poetry
but words,
with sounds that slip
across your tongue
and somehow
adhere to your fingers
(or your mind)
and among my favorites
even though
I’m a neophyte
and cyberphyte
words do alight,
with airy whispering
of wings upon my soul.”
– Rita Adams.

"Poetry is not the record of an event; it is an event." – Lowell.

“Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them.” - Dennis Gabor

“What is a poem but a hazardous attempt at self-understanding? It is the deepest part of an autobiography.” - Robert Penn Warren

“Poetry is a language pared down to its essentials.” - Ezra Pound.

“Poetry begins in delight and ends in wisdom.” - Robert Frost.

“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” - Edgar Allan Poe

“Poetry is the art which uses words as both speech and song to reveal the realities that the senses record, the feelings salute, the mind perceives, and the shaping imagination orders.” - Babettes Deutsch.

“Poetry must have something in it that is barbaric, vast and wild.” - Denis Diderot

“Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It's that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that's what the poet does.” - Allen Ginsberg

“Poetry is something more scientific and serious than history, because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts.” – Aristotle.

“Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement.” - Christopher Fry

“Poetry is the music of the soul, and, above all, of great and feeling souls.” – Voltaire

“Poetry is the development of an exclamation.” - Paul Valery

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” - Robert Frost.

“Poetry is ordinary language raised to the Nth power.” - Paul Engle.

“Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them.” - Charles Simic.

“Poetry is the sublimest activity of the human mind. It is the achievement of beauty and delicacy. The writer of prose can only step aside when the poet passes.” - William Sumerset Maugham

“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is a speaking picture.” – Simonides.

“Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing which enters into one's soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with it's subject.” - John Keats

“Poets view things obliquely. Prose is the hammer that strikes the nail straight, head-on. Poetry gives it a slanting blow.” – Don Holmes.

“Questions stare through life
to the heart of the universe
poetry is born of why.”
– An original (possibly unfinished) poem written with magnetic poetry.

“Poetry says something that cannot be said in prose, and does so in an unforgettable way.” – Joe Horn.

“In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.” - Paul Dirac

“Poetry is the art of substantiating shadows.” - Edmund Burke

“Poetry is a drama in which objects are cut loose from there moorings and sent flying to make their own connections.” – Louis Simpson.

“Poetry, even when apparently most fantastic, is always a revolt against artifice, a revolt,
in a sense, against actuality.” - James Joyce

“A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself, all the way over to the reader.” - Charles Olson

“Poetry gives you permission to feel.” - James Autry

“A poem is a construction of inner space. It is language in quest of essence.” - Sven Birkerts.

“Poetry does the same thing as prose, only more so. It takes language to the extreme.” – Leila May

“A poem is a piece of writing in which the words are chosen for their sound and the images and ideas they suggest, not just their obvious meaning. The words are arranged in separate lines, often ending in rhyme.” - Cambridge International Dictionary of English.

“There is no such thing as poetry, only poems.” – Dylan Thomas.

"The wisest definition of poetry the poet will instantly prove false by setting aside its requisitions.” – Thoreau.

“To define what a poem is would require defining human existence. It would require answering why is there something, rather than nothing.” - Charles Simic

“Don’t expect to understand the modern poem… Just let it explode in your face.” – William Carlos Williams.

“I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.” – A E Houseman.

“What can we do with a definition of poetry what we cannot do without one?” – Peter Turner.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 10:28 PM | TrackBack

When I was a bird

I climbed up the karaka tree
Into a nest all made of leaves
But soft as feathers.
I made up a song that went on singing all by itself
And hadn’t any words, but got sad at the end.
There were daisies in the grass under the tree.
I said just to try them:
‘I’ll bite of your heads and give them to my little children to eat.’
But they didn’t believe I was a bird;
They stayed quite open.
The sky was a blue nest with white feathers
And the sun was the mother bird keeping it warm.
That’s what my song said: though it hadn’t any words.
Little Brother came down the path, wheeling his barrow.
I made my dress into wings and kept very quiet.
Then when he was quite near I said: ‘Sweet, sweet!’
For a moment he looked quite startled;
Then he said: ‘Pooh, you’re not a bird; I can see your legs.’
But the daisies didn’t really matter,
And little brother didn’t really matter,
I felt just like a bird.

- Katherine Mansfield.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:21 PM

The Dugout

Why do you lie with your legs ungainly huddled
And one arm bent across your sullen, cold,
Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you,
Deep-shadow'd from the candle's guttering gold;
And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder;
Drowsy, you mumble and sigh and turn your head...
You are too young to go to sleep forever
And when you sleep, you remind me of the dead.

- Siegfried Sassoon

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:20 PM

When it comes

Even when you’re not afraid you might be pregnant,
it’s lovely when it comes, and it’s a sexual loveliness,
right along that radiant throat
and lips, the first hem of it,
and at times, the last steps across the bathroom,
you make a dazzling trail, the petals
the flower-girl scatters under the feet of the bride. And then the colours of it,
sometimes an almost golden red,
or a black vermilion, the drop that leaps
and opens slowly in the water, gel
sac of a galaxy,
the black-violet, lobed pool, calm
as a lake on the back of the moon, it is all
woundless, even the little spot
in jet and crimson spangled tights who
flings her fine tightrope out
to the left and to the right in that luminous arena,
green upper air of the toilet bowl,
she cannot die. There will be an egg in there,
somewhere, minute, winged with massive
uneven pennons of serum, cell that up
close is a huge, sodden, pocked planet,
but it was not anyone yet. Sometimes,
when I watch the delicate show,
like watching snow, or falling stars,
I think of men, what could it seem to them
that we see the blood pour slowly fom our sex,
as if the earth sighed, slightly,
and we felt it, and saw it,
as if life moaned a little, in wonder, and we were it.

- Sharon Olds

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:19 PM

Not waving, but drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

- Stevie Smith

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:16 PM

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:15 PM

The Sick Rose

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

- William Blake

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:14 PM

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:12 PM

Acquainted with the Night

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

- Robert Frost

Posted by Fionnaigh at 01:11 PM

Rainbow Room Matariki Liturgy

Matariki Liturgy

For the service led by the Rainbow Room Children at St Andrew’s on The Terrace. The children wrote some of the liturgy, chose from a selection of poems to read, and made star decorations to hang from the cross and under the balcony. We decorated the walls with Matariki posters from the Maori Language Commission, and The Green Rule posters from Faith and the Common Good. The congregation joins in the responses in bold itallics. Most of the hymns are from Alleluia Aotearoa


GATHERING – written by Jono, Matthew & Chris

Haere mai
We come to this place
of kindness and welcoming
We come to worship God
We come to welcome God
with our prayers and songs
We come to think of people
who have died
and who shine like stars around us.
We come to thank our lucky stars
for warm homes, for hearty food and clean water
We come to share
the starlight of love.

CALL TO WORSHIP – Written by Bonnie & Victoria

We are gathered in this sanctuary of light.
Here in the presence of God
We are sheltered from the world of darkness.
Today we meet as the family of God
We come in the bright joy of celebration
We come in the dark sorrow of loss.
In all times and places
we come to rejoice and give thanks.

United we come as one
Together we stand
All races, religions and genders.
We enter this place of worship,
Coming forth to God’s name,
To try and become the people
We have always hoped to be.
Now we stand, gathered
To spread hope, truth and light
In a time of darkness.
In all times and places
We come to rejoice and give thanks.

Cosmic Celebration (Words: Ian Cairns. Tune: Hymn to Joy)

1. Celebrate the cosmic birthing,
Flash of primal energy:
Swirling gases, densing matter
Stuff of galaxies to be.
Celebrate the life-force pulsing
through these 15 billion years,
Trillion, trillion stars emerging
From the cradle of the spheres.

2. Celebrate the white-heat furnace-
life evoking mother sun;
Celebrate her planet-offspring
Nine, in cosmic dance as one.
Celebrate her favoured daughter,
Earth, in cloak of fragile green;
Cragging rocks, and sounding ocean-
Surface-lashed, beneath serene.

3. Join the mystic dance of species,
Chaining, weaving, circling, one
Strong-competing, close depending,
Life swift ending, new begun.
Sing our senseful keen awareness-
Form and sound, scent, taste and hue.
High achieving, passing, transient-
Living, dying born anew.


Mihi ki te whenua
Greetings to this land
To the icy June winds that race across the harbour
To the Tararua mountains, dusted with snow
To the harbour, storm-tossed and grey
He mihi aroha

Mihi ki nga mate
Greetings to the dead,
to our ancestors
who laid down the path we walk on
and to loved ones
whose absence still aches like an open wound
He mihi aroha

Mihi ki a koutou katoa
And warmest greetings to all of you
If this is your first visit to St Andrew’s
or if you have returned after an absence
we welcome you.
Your presence enriches us
and this time together.
He mihi aroha.

This candle symbolises inclusiveness
everyone is welcome in our community.



(Usually an adult gives a talk for the children, but when the children lead the service we have a talk for the adults. For Matariki we talked about Whakapapa, and interconnectedness. We asked the adults to think of stories about where people are descended from. Examples include Adam & Eve, Rangi and Papa, stardust (big bang), amoebas (evolution) etc. A lot of these origin stories suggest that we have common ancestry – with other humans, but with the rest of the planet too. We did a demonstration of this interconnectedness, with volunteers playing the parts of a tree, tui, weta, soil, rain, worm, etc. Ribbons were used to show which of these were connected to each other. Then we demonstrated what would happen if one part was taken away –everything connected to this web would feel the tug and then the web would collapse.


Ezekiel 17:22-24.
Mark 4:26-34

The Night Sky, by Joy Cowley

Oh God, when I stand under the stars
I am filled with nameless awe
at the immensity of your presence
and I wonder how, in my daily thinking
I can make you so small.
Oh Holy One, the All of existence
How can I claim to know your mind?
How can my tiny words describe the Word
that brought this universe into being?
Could it be that I worship and idol
of my own making?
In your all-pervading presence, you know
The limitations of the human heart.
Have you given us this night sky
this vision of galaxies growing and unfolding
to remind us that we have two gods
one that we make in our image
and the One who made us?
Oh God, I stand under the stars
filled with nameless awe.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
Thanks be to God.


E Te Atua Aroha
Kia whakatapu tou Ingoa
Loving God, in whom is heaven
May your name be kept pure
Kia tae mai tou rangatiratanga.
your new day come, your will be done
on earth as in heaven

Homai ki a matou aianei
he taro ma matou mo tenei ra.
With the bread we need for today feed us
Murua o matou hara,
Me matou hoki e muru nei
io te hunga e hara ana ki a matou.
In the hurts we absorb from one another,
forgive us.

Aua hoki matou e kawea kia whakawaia;
Engari whakaorangia matou i te kino:
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great too endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

Nou te ihi, te wehi
Te mana aroha
ake ake ake
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
Now and forever.

HYMN Our life has its seasons AA 113

Our life has its seasons,
and God has the reasons
why spring follows winter,
and new leaves grow,
for there’s a connection
with our resurrection
that flowers will bud
after frost and snow
so there’s never a time to stop believing,
there’s never a time for hope to die,
there’s never a time to stop loving,
these three things go on.

There’s a time to be planting,
a time to be plucking,
a time to be laughing,
a time to weep,
a time to be building,
a time to be breaking,
a time to be waking,
a time to sleep,

There’s a time to be hurting,
a time to be healing,
a time to be saving,
a time to spend,
a time for grieving,
a time to be dancing,
a time for beginning,
a time to end.


Matariki is a time to learn about whanau and to remember those who have passed on from this world. We put a paper star (actually a star shaped post-it note) inside each service sheet, and at this point the congregation were invited to write the name of someone who had died in the past year, or an ancestor, on the star, and place it on a dark blue sparkly cloth up the front. Some of the kids wrote the names of pets, because they didn’t know any people who had died.

WAIATA – Whiti Te Marama by Hirini Melbourne

Whiti te marama
i te pō
tīaho iho mai koe
hei karu mō te mata )
o te pō ) x 2

Ki te kore koe
te karu o te pō
pōuri ana taku ara e ) x 2

Tō an ate rā
ki te moe e
tīaho iho mai koe
hei karu mō te mata )
o te pō ) x 2

Hoki ana ahau
ki te moe e
tīaho iho mai koe
hei karu mō te mata )
o te pō ) x 2

Shortest Day, a poem by Brian Hardie

God, we are hankering after more light
We are tired of short days and long nights.
Our feet hardly touch the floor,
We only seem to begin the day
when night closes in on us,
and we are preparing again for our beds.

God, we need more light to brighten up our day.
We need more light to find our way in the world.
We need more heat to take the stiffness out of our bones,
So we can keep up with life and laugh on at the world.

God, too much darkness makes life dull,
even on the best of days.
Lift off this dim bewilderment.
Let the bright light of your love
shine into our world to brighten up the horizon.

God, we are sick of being in the dark.
We want to feel your penetrating insight
calling in the summer, shrugging off the winter,
waking up the spring,
to make our spirit glad, and bright, full of play.

God, on the shortest day
we are craving a bit of light,
to stave off our week of night.
Make your presence felt
with fresh enlightenment,
to lift us up with the wonder
of your dawning insight, today.

Another theme of Matariki is conservation.
and respect for the earth.

A poem by Nancy Wood

The earth is all that lasts.
The earth is what I speak to when I do not understand my life
nor why I am not heard
The earth answers me with the same song
that it sang for my fathers when
their tears covered up the sun.
The earth sings a song of gladness
The earth sings a song of praise
The earth rises up and laughs at me
Each time that I forget
How spring begins with winter
and death begins with birth.

REFLECTION – DVD - Renewing the Sacred Balance

HYMN Jesus Comes to me as a springtime Tree – AA 77

Jesus comes to me as a springtime tree
and I receive him as a springtime tree
Fragrant the blossoming of the child
fresh with laughter, free and wild
and carrying the green of summer.

Jesus comes to me as a summer tree
and I receive him as a summer tree
Warm in the sun and richly laid
with patterns of growth through
light and shade
and carrying the fire of autumn
Jesus comes to me as an autumn tree
and I receive him as an autumn tree
Seasons of ripeness, brightly ablaze
like a torch in the quietness of closing days
and carrying the wood of winter.

Jesus comes to me as a winter tree
and I receive him as a winter tree
Gentle the cross and gentle the snow
gentle the path where he and I go
carrying the buds of spring.



Winter Blessing by Michael Leunig

We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season to cherish the heart
To make warmth and quiet for the heart
To make soups and broths for the heart
To cook for the heart and read for the heart
To curl up softly and nestle with the heart
To sleep deeply and gently at one with the heart
To dream with the heart
To spend time with the heart
A long, long time of peace with the heart
We give thanks for the blessing of winter
Season to cherish the heart.

Hymn Come to our Land AA 26

Come to our land, come to our hearts
Spirit of peace, spirit of truth
bring in the spring, the hope and the green
Spirit of growth and spirit of youth
And all our people will sing together
Wairua Tapu, holy your name
there’s one great Spirit in all creation
one great Spirit of God!

Come to our land, come to our hearts,
Spirit of life, breath of new birth
teach us to care for water and air
nourish the seed and cherish the earth

Come to our land, come to our hearts
Spirit of bush, Spirit of bird
speak to the soul of Aotearoa
joy in your world, and joy in your word.



In our circle of prayer today we think of all those
who are working to care for our fragile earth.
We remember those who work to nurture te reo Maori,
teachers and learners alike.
We pray for all those who strive for peace and understanding
amongst the peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand


BLESSING – written by Fionnaigh

As we near the shortest day of the year
we teeter on the brink of a promise
of hope and light.
The cold winds of winter
whisper of spring.

May the beauty of the earth
Fill you with wonder.
May the love of your ancestors
wrap around you like a cloak.
May this new year be bursting with possibilities
unfurling like fern fronds.
May your life be filled with blessings
as numerous as the stars.

E te Atua (AA 31 tune Kum ba yah)

E te Atua aroha mai x 3
Ake ake tonu e x 2

E te Atua manaaki mai x 3
Ake ake tonu e x 2

E te Atua awhina mai x 3
ake ake tonu e x 2


Posted by Fionnaigh at 05:44 AM | TrackBack

Thoughts on Buffy

Contains spoilers. You have been warned, proceed at own risk.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved seasons one through four. I loved the repartee. I loved the intelligent sense of humour (as opposed to the usual British style of humour (a naked man runs down a street) or American style (a man runs down a street and an anvil falls on his head) or the pan-western juvenile sense of humour (a man runs down a street farting). Not to broadly generalise or anything, but… it was refreshing to discover a series that had wit and punning and obscure cultural references that made me laugh. I loved the characters. All of them. Yes, even Xander, despite the fact that I found the whole Cordelia/Xander snoggage the most scary evil in the early seasons.

But. (Come on, you knew that was coming). It was just entertainment. Another tool in my procrastination kitset. It didn’t really change me, move me, challenge me, make me think.

The early seasons are more fun, more entertaining. But for me, the later seasons are more powerful. And I think it’s because around season five is when I started relating to some of the characters. I think the first episode that hit me real hard was Blood Ties, when Dawn cuts herself to try to prove that she’s real. Oh, have I been there. And it’s about the blood. Like Dawn says, “Is this blood? This is blood, isn't it? It can't be me. I'm not a key. I'm not a thing. What am I? Am I real? Am I anything?” I’ve asked all of those questions... ok, so not the thing about the key. But the blood, it’s comforting. A sign of life. Ok, also a sign of death. But if it’s flowing from your own arm, and you can see it, and it’s warm... then you must be real, right? Spike puts it so well in The Gift “Blood is life, lackbrain. Why do you think we eat it? It's what keeps you going. Makes you warm. Makes you hard. Makes you other than dead. Course it's her blood.”

And, speaking of Spike, my absolute favourite moment in season five was the kiss at the end of Intervention. Still not totally clear about whether I wanted to be kissing Spike, or to be Spike kissing... anyway, season six it was Spike I could really relate to. Also Buffy at times, mostly when she was with Spike, because it seemed like she was doing it just to feel... and I’ve tried that. Doesn’t seem to work in the long term. As soon as the memory of their touch on your skin cools, you’re numb again.

A couple of people have (independently) said to me (or been overheard by me) that they don’t think much of Spike in season seven. But me, I’m still rooting for him. OK, yeah, there’s the whole rape incident, but hear me through. Spike is a vampire. And the way I see it, that’s kind of like a disease. You get infected through a certain kind of contact with another infected person’s blood... and then you change. You’re not yourself. Almost like an extreme mental illness. When I’ve been really sick, I’ve done stupid stupid things. I’ve hurt the people I love most. I’ve been cruel and selfish. I’ve acted carelessly and put myself and others in danger. But that’s not me. That’s the illness taking control. I don’t want to do any of those things. And when I start to come out of it, become myself again, god how I hate myself. I just want bang my head against a brick wall, over and over until the pain goes away. So yeah, I’m there with Spike, when he’s going mad in the basement, re-souled, realising what he’s done, hating himself, punching his fist into his own head. What he did was wrong. But he was a vampire... with a chip, yes, but not a soul. Vampires without souls are supposed to do dreadful things. Angel killed Jenny, but he has been accepted back into the fold.

Anyway, I’ve only seen four episodes of season seven, so maybe episode five Spike turns into a total jerk, but so far I’m liking. Him, and the season. Same Time, Same Place was particularly brilliant. The scene in the basement, with Spike rambling madly to the friends who are invisible to each other? Really clever. And as for the baddies, so far the only ones that have really crept me out (aside from Cordelia and Xander snogging) were the Gentlemen in Hush. But that was before I saw Gnarl. Eeeeeeeeeeew!! I cannot stress that enough. As far as gross and scary baddies go, Gnarl is a work of absolute genius. The singing. And the licking. *Shudder.* He actually had a personality, rather than being an anonymous bad. Interestingly, Camden Toy, the actor who played Gnarl, also played one of the Gentleman in "Hush" (the tall one that seemed to be the leader). Check out Buffy Guide for more interesting facts.

So yeah, that’s the real reason I’m writing a blog entry at 4am. I’m so freaked out by Gnarl that I can’t sleep. I’ve never been this freaked by a Buffy ep! Except the Gentlemen...

Oh, and yay for Dawn, she’s actually been allowed to stretch her legs a little, and even kick some butt. She’s got a sharp mind, and she’s more smiley, and less whiney. Thank god. Realistic? Yes. But also grating.

Posable Dawn... so cute.

Posted by Fionnaigh at 02:16 AM

Books and movies and stuff...

You Don’t Know Me by David Klass

I thought this was a really interesting book – even startling. The voice is so attention grabbing, right from the first paragraph. That said, I got a bit sick of the voice. The sardonic tone started to grate, and after a few chapters I thought, if he says “you don’t know me” or “whatever that means” one more time, I am going to have to throw the book across the room (only it was a library book, so I couldn’t).

I didn’t quite believe in the female characters, especially Glory Hallelujah. And I didn’t really believe the ending either, it was a bit over the top, especially the teacher coming to the hospital with flowers.

The bullfrog tuba was excellent, absolutely the highlight of the book.

Silent to the Bone by E L Kongisburg

I really liked this book, I found it utterly believable. Connor was perhaps a little too insightful and sympathetic for a boy of his age, but I didn’t care. It was well written, and I was interested in the themes of abuse and also waiting for the baby to wake, because they are both situations I have lived through. There is a real sense of satisfaction as the pieces of the mystery start to fall into place and make sense. It’s a chilling story though. Perhaps it would have been even more chilling if the nanny hadn’t been quite so one-dimensional. The story raises some interesting ideas about silence and truth.

A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I loved this book! I think the books I love most have a combination of interesting and believable characters, playful use of language, and themes I can identify with. In this case the themes were writing, childbirth, and feminist analysis of writing and American history. The characters are fantastic, even those with bit parts are well rounded and interesting.

I thought that truth and fiction were woven together beautifully. I was disappointed to find out that the teacher/poet Emily didn’t really seem to exist, but I enjoyed finding the place names in an atlas and learning more about the time. Jennifer must have done a huge amount of research for this novel, and I appreciated the integrity of the writing. I think this novel could be for adults, as well as young adults.

The language was beautiful and poetic; “They leave things behind sometimes, the guests. A bottle of scent. A crumpled handkerchief. A pearl button that fell off a dress and rolled under a bed. And sometimes they leave other sorts of things. Things you can't see. A sigh trapped in a corner. Memories tangled in the curtains. A sob fluttering against a windowpane like a bird that flew in and can't get back out. I can feel these things. They dart and crouch and whisper.” It was appropriate, given the narrators love of writing, for her to muse like this. And Mattie’s dictionary game meant that plenty of interesting words could be used, without making the character sound unrealistic.

I found parts of this novel unbearable, when I thought Mattie was going to marry Royal – I wanted to shake her and yell, what are you thinking? But such pressures are hard enough to ignore in our own times, let alone in Mattie’s world.

The story is set not so far from where I was born, and the descriptions, from the still lake to the maple sugar… it made me want to return there.

Right Where it Hurts by David Hill

I think it’s great that people are starting to write novels about self harm, especially people other than Steven Bloody Levenkron. (Psychotherapists should rarely be allowed to write non-fiction, let alone YA fiction. I would write a review of “The Best Little Girl in the World,” but I can’t bear to read it again. Poor messed up girl, no one understands her, until she meets the wonderful psychotherapist who knows her better than she knows her self, and he saves her. Puh-leeze! Talk about an ego trip. And here endeth the rant).

I can’t argue with the actual writing in Right Where it Hurts, because it’s well done… but it’s not as imaginative, original, clever or beautiful any of the novels I enjoy more.

The trouble with Right Where it Hurts is that it’s a bit too much of an issue story. I felt as though David had decided to write a book about self-harm, and then come up with a story to go with it.

The first time I read it I thought, “he doesn’t know anything, this is totally unrealistic.” The second time I read it, I thought, maybe it’s not unbelievable, it’s just hopeful. If a real life Mallory had a doctor like Prianthi, she would be very very lucky. If she had friends like Slade and his mum, Conor and Angie, it would be nothing short of a miracle. As someone who talks openly about self-harm, and who has spoken to dozens of people who do it, I can say that the experience of finding understanding and supportive people, even among mental health professional, let alone high school students, is frighteningly rare.

A book like this is good because there are so many thousands of people in Aotearoa, particularly women, who self harm, and if they come across books about it they will know they are not alone. Hopefully it will also help friends, family and medical professionals think about constructive ways of helping.

Cut by Patricia McCormick

I have issues with the shininess of cover designs for children and young adults this year. Harper Collins (and the Flamingo imprint) seem to be the worst offenders. I have particular issues with the cover of this book, because when held at a certain angle, the shiny bits reveal themselves as scalpel blades, razors, and other sharp objects. Recently, while trying to deal with sugar withdrawal, I learnt that even a picture of a piece of cake stimulates chemical reactions in the brain that make resisting the temptation extremely difficult. There are plenty of studies that show that sugar is addictive. Well, so is cutting. There are studies that back this up, and those who argue with this claim have never actually done it themselves, so how would they know what it’s like to try and stop? The sight of an array of blades, even shiny illusions on a cover, stirs up the bloodlust inside me. “Yeah,” I think, “that saw blade would feel good.”

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say… I’m all for talking openly about cutting, because breaking the silence is going to dismantle stereotypes. In Right Where It Hurts the story is told from the point of view of a boyfriend, so there’s a bit of distance from the actual cutting. That was good. It meant that I could have some perspective, see it as other people saw it. Cut actually tries to get inside the head of someone who self-harms. “Then I placed the blade next to the skin on my palm… a perfect, straight line of blood bloomed from the edge of the blade. The line grew into a long, fat bubble, a lush crimson bubble that got bigger and bigger.” That kind of detail, it’s telling a recovering drug addict how you get your highs. I’m not against that kind of detail… but I want a warning, because it could trigger me, and I want it followed by advice. What can I do if reading this makes me want to cut? Who can help? What techniques might help instead?

Other than that, I think I liked the book. The voice was interesting, addressing it to “you,” the counsellor. A bit like You Don’t Know Me. But the voice made me feel a bit distant – from the character but not from the action. I was watching her but not quite there with her.

And what’s with the last line? “Then, tomorrow, I’m going down to your office first thing in the morning. And tell you everything.” Does that even make sense?

Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt

Cynthia Voigt is a fantastic writer, and I loved this book when I was a teenager. I can’t believe it’s not on our booklist! I read it over and over when I was younger. I adored Gwyn, I wanted to be her, brave and mysterious and able to pass as a man. I loved the magic of the tale, and the setting, the time and place. Lords and outlaws, gold coins and daggers, funeral pyres and spring fairs. Journeys through the snow, little huts in the woods, hot stew bubbling away…

Reading it again, I love it as just as much. I only meant to flick through it to find out something, but I ended up engrossed. I love all the characters… they remind me a bit of the cast of Pride and Prejudice. The fussy mother and sensibly father, the spoilt younger child, one kind, sweet and beautiful daughter, and one sharp-witted and stubborn but sensible daughter… the stand-offish and proud gentleman who turns out to have a kind heart and a wise head, and the wonderful romance that seems impossible until right at the end.

I love the idea that there is some truth in any story. Jackaroo rides, even in our own world.

The Other Side of Silence by Margaret Mahy

I really like Margaret’s “consensus reality” books, where nothing technically impossible happens. And I love the philosophical ideas that are explored in her stories, especially about the nature of truth and reality, and the power of Story. And I love that in lots of her books, one of the main characters is a writer!

I wasn’t sure about the way that it jumped into third person at the end – I would have liked it to be tied up in first person, leaving us guessing a little bit rather than rounding it off so nicely.

Otherwise, it was a fantastic story; thrilling, touching, and utterly believable.

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

I’m going to nitpick, because that’s just what I do, ok?

This book is incredibly clever… perhaps too clever. I’m not sure she quite pulls it off. She seems to be trying to tie too many threads together at the end; some of them are left hanging loose, new ones are suddenly added, and others don’t quite match up. To give a very small example of a loose end that bothered me, what does Seb mean when he says “you worked the nowhere vases”? I don’t think the vases are ever properly explained.

I didn’t see quite how the quotes from the ballads fitted in with some of the chapters – and I don’t know why she chose to change some details. For example, if the number of years between funerals had been seven instead of nine I might have guessed the connection and that would have made the story more interesting.

Also, I wanted the significance of the title and the picture to be brought into the story. I wasn’t sure if the symbolism was intentional, I expect it was, but I wanted to know more. In the end I did my own research; in the ballad, Tam Lin deflowered the girl, “At her he askd nae leave.” When she gets home, an old knight notices that she’s pregnant, and her brother advises her to fetch a herb that will end her pregnancy. The herb is not described in the ballad, but it could well have been hemlock, since it has been used for herbal abortions.

Enough nit-picking! It’s actually a really good book. It’s just I’m a fussy reader. If the plot is going to be so complicated then I want it to be tight, and Fire and Hemlock just wasn’t tight enough.

Dare, Truth or Promise by Paula Boock

Six years after it was published this is still my favourite book. It’s the book I curl up with when I’m lonely or scared; the book I escape to when everything is going wrong. It’s been halfway around the world with me, and comforted me during foreign nights. Really, it’s a wonder the pages are still holding together!

So what is it that I love so much? Well, it’s the language, the way each sentence seems to perfectly balanced, each with a smooth rhythm and cadence… And it’s the characters, all their eccentricities and charms, their realness; even Judas the dog seems to leap off the page. But most of all, I love the story.

I was in High School when Dare, Truth or Promise came out. My mother read an interview with Paula somewhere, and told me about it, and I rushed out to buy a copy. It was before it won the award, so it hadn’t quite reached notoriety. I bought a copy for our school library just to be sure they wouldn’t overlook it! Back then, I didn’t know any Real Live Gay People. I had caught a few glimpses of queer people in books and on television, but none of them looked like me. The women were all much older, they wore leather and short hair, bared their breasts in parades, lived in Auckland or San Francisco. I didn’t want to be like them.

What I love most about Dare, Truth or Promise is the way that the relationship is dealt with so gently. It just happens. And Willa and Louie are just ordinary (spunky and wonderful) young woman. When I first read it, I thought “hey, maybe what I feel isn’t so weird after all.” (And I feel deeply in crush with both of them – I couldn’t decide who I wanted to be, and who I wanted to be with.)

When I was in Costa Rica, my best friend wasn’t very comfortable with queer stuff – she said she was ok with gays as long as they kept away from her. Before I came out I gave her Dare, Truth or Promise to read, and afterwards she said to me, “wow, I never thought about it like that… I mean, I’ve never liked a girl, but maybe I might, one day it could just happen… like it happened to Louie…”

That’s why I love this book. Because it challenges so many stereotypes – not by wrestling with them or trying to shout above them, but by quietly painting an alternative so believable in can’t be ignored.

weetzie bat by Francesca Lia Block

“An ingeniously lyrical narrative,” with a “desperately needed message” exploring “personal identity and the strength of love.” Apparently. But I didn’t get that at all – if it wasn’t firmly attached to the back cover I would have assumed it was talking about some other book. I didn’t care about any of the characters, I didn’t feel any emotions while reading this book; I didn’t even feel slight interest. It was all so superficial and glossy. And none of the “ingenious lyricism” did anything for me. “His eyes like charcoal stars…” ??!! Honestly! They’re just weird and wacky metaphors that mean nothing. The whole book is hollow. Easy to read though. I can sort of see why it’s popular, but I wouldn’t want to write something like that. Or read any of the other four.

Out Walked Mel by Paula Boock

I love the way Paula manages to address spirituality – Māori and Pākehā – with subtlety and dignity. In fact, she manages to address most things with subtlety and dignity!

Out Walked Mel is great, sort of a complex “chapter book” for teenagers. She manages to cram so much into only a few pages – family dynamics, expulsion from school, intense friendship, sexuality, death… and somehow she manages to pull it off.

I love Mel, I love her absolute fallibility, especially the way she blows all her money on boots and then hates herself for it.

The only (very minor) quibble I have is that I stumbled over some of the back-story; I like it to be differentiated from the text more clearly – italics or something.

The War of Jenkin’s Ear by Michael Morpurgo

Though this is another boys school story, I enjoyed it much more than The Chocolate War. I think it’s partly because there were a few women characters, and the adults, the teachers, were more human that those in The Chocolate War.

This was a really daring story to attempt. I think Morpurgo really wants to believe in Christopher, but I didn’t really accept him. As an earnest child, yes, but not as a Christ. But I thought the story worked whether you believed Christopher was Jesus or not. And the characters were really interesting.

Exodus by Julie Bertagna

OMG – Adjective Overload! There thirty or forty adjectives on some pages – seriously, I counted! The characters don’t just get hungry, the feel a gnawing hunger and a desperate thirst. The sea is sparkling, the drowned city is dark, and gloomy. The world isn’t just hurled into shadow, it’s hurled into sunless shadow. No, really? The shadow is sunless?

Also, the entire book is written in the present tense, and this didn’t really work for me. The pace was slowed too much by description and contemplation, I kept reading it in the past tense and then stumbling when I was thrown back into the present.

Don’t get me wrong, I really liked this book, and I liked most of the ideas it raised… But I have quite a few quibbles as well. Mostly consistency. If a book is set in a completely invented fantasy world, fine, the author can do pretty much what they want. But if it is set in a future based on the skeleton of our own world, then I want it to be consistent.

Wing seems to be an imaginary island, but all the other places Mara names are real – they’re islands off Scotland. Most of them are clustered in and around the Shetlands. The city of New Mungo is built over the ruins of Glasgow – which is at about 68m above sea level today. In Exodus there are still small areas of Glasgow above sea level, so we can assume that the sea has risen about 60 to 80m. That means it’s probable that some of the Shetland Islands are still poking up above the water. But supposing that people did travel in a boat south (and we know that in Exodus they travelled south not North) to New Mungo, they would have had to navigate their way through narrow channels of water between vast areas of land. They would have had to get past the highlands, which would still be rising more than a thousand meters above sea level.

The other issues I have are more philosophical than technical. Exodus just seems too black and white. I can’t believe that after Candleriggs was cast out of New Mungo resistance died out completely. That makes the people in New Mungo seem non-human. And isn’t that part of the point of the book, that we’re all human and we shouldn’t imagine others as less than human? Even in Nazi Germany, when dissenters had to flee or were killed, networks of resistance were always alive. I can’t believe that only a generation after the Meta no one asks questions. That’s inhuman.

And it’s possible that Greenland could “pop up like a cork,” but I don’t think it would happen that quickly. The massive glaciers that once covered the Swedish archipelago are long gone, but the land is only rising a few millimetres each year. It’s popping up like a cork, but only in a massive geological timeframe.

Also, I can’t believe that if land still existed no one in the New World would take any notice. Surely, even if they’re evil and self-centred, they’d pounce on it to mine or farm, or use as prison camps or something!

And what was with the statues of Thenew? I don’t think there are actually statues of her all over Glasgow, are there? I wanted more clarity about the symbolism. If Candleriggs new that the name of Mungo’s mother was Thenew, why didn’t she know that the fish with the ring, the tree, the bird and the bell were the seal of Glasgow? Did she make up the Stonetelling to keep people hoping, or what? The whole face in the stone thing seemed a bit far-fetched.

Also there were lots of things in the book that seemed over-the-top and tokenistic. And moralistic. Like the feminist thread. I didn’t quite believe in some of Mara’s revealations. At the end, when she suddenly thinks “oh my god, I’m doing exactly the same thing as Caledon, I’m just as bad as him,” it seemed a bit forced. I didn’t want to be told that she’d changed, I wanted to be shown, somehow.

Blah blah blah… I’m nitpicking. I think it could do with a bit of editing. But I liked it, I really did.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

I thought this book was quite brilliant - it really captured the world of a person with Asperger’s. It reminded me a little of Love That Dog because it manages to capture powerful emotions in a very subtle and understated way. It seems stripped bare of emotions, but in a way it’s stripped back to the very base of emotions. Christopher crumples to the ground, groans, expressing emotions in a physical, almost animal way, that most of us are incapable of.

I’m not really convinced that this is a YA novel though, I think that a lot of teenagers would find it boring. (Mark Haddon actually wrote it for adults, it was his agent who suggested the broader marketing). However, I think that young adults should read it. The Curious Incident would be a great read for anyone who has a sibling, friend, neighbour or classmate with Asperger’s.

I actually guessed the solutions to the mysteries right near the beginning, so I didn’t have the suspense to propel me through the book. Still, it’s a harrowing story and very effectively told. As Mark Haddon himself says: “Here is a narrator who seems to be hugely ill-equipped for writing a book — he can't understand metaphor, he can't understand other people's emotions, he misses the bigger picture — and yet it makes him incredibly well suited to narrating a book. He never explains too much. He never tries to persuade the reader to feel about things this way or that way; he just kind of paints this picture and says, "Make of it what you will." Which is a kind of writing that many writers are searching for all the time.”

lady: my life as a bitch by Melvin Burgess

Yikes. I can’t say I liked this book exactly, but it sure was original. I mean, sure, there are plenty of books where the characters are animals, but they’re personified animals. They don’t do wild animal things – hunt, kill, shit, mate… What a weird book. Weird because I found myself suspending disbelief even though it was so bizarre. But I found it all deeply disturbing. Most of all the ending, when she realises she “never was a human in the first place.” What is the writer saying? That there are girls who, even though they walk on two feet, only really care about hunting and fucking?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it… I like books that are driven by prose, and by character, rather than bizarre plot. Neither Sandra, nor Lady ever became a strong character for me, and the prose wasn’t exactly breathtaking. But, I’ll admit, I read practically the whole book in one sitting.

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

How wonderful, to curl up with a Margaret Mahy book I haven’t read before. Her stories always leave me breathless with awe and adulation. They’re magic. How does she do it, time after time?

I don’t think The Tricksters is quite as good as some of her other books, but I still enjoyed it immensely. The characters are robust and endearing, the story is exciting, and the language is deliciously poetic.

I love the way, in Margaret’s books, the fantasy scenarios invade the ordinary everyday world. Her ghosts and magicians and witches are all very down to earth. At first I thought that the characters of the Tricksters weren’t as strong as some of her other characters, but then I realised that they aren’t supposed to be. Each of them is only one piece of a personality.

I thought perhaps the last couple of chapters could have been pared back a bit. It seemed to go on a bit long after the climax, tying up too many loose ends.

The story raises an interesting question; if someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder dies, how many ghosts (spirits, souls) do they leave behind?

Alex by Tessa Duder

I remember the first time I met Alex. I was ten years old, and my cousins were visiting from London. My great Aunt, who is a publisher, often gave us books to see what we thought of them. Mostly those she’d published herself, but sometimes New Zealand authors from other publishers. Becky, the eldest, was staring glumly at her latest present. The Alex Quartet had just been published, and Chris wanted to know what Becky thought of it. “It looks so boring,” groaned Becky. “It’s all about swimming. How dull.” I didn’t think it looked boring. I liked the photo on the cover, the young woman looked strong, interesting. “You can have it if you want,” said Becky graciously. “Just tell me what it’s like so I can tell grandma.” By the time I saw Becky again, the cover of Alex was hanging by a thread, and the pages were soft with turning.

I think I loved Alex most because she was a survivor. I could relate to her life because I also swam, acted, played music and did well at school. But I related most strongly to the emotions she was experiencing - especially the way she felt distanced from her peers, an outsider, a bit of a freak. Alex was a fighter, and she pulled through, she succeeded in the pool, in her exams, on the stage… she was a strong role model, but I lacked her determination. I tried to do everything but fell to pieces and ended up crying over the high ambitions that had slipped from my grasp. But I’m glad I had her companionship, because at least she helped me to feel proud of being different.

I think the way the book is written is very clever. The way that the final race is present through the book is also very effective. I used to swim competitively (I was always second to a girl named Kathryn) and I know how long a minute can seem, how far a second can stretch, how many thoughts and memories can flow through a mind in an instant. I especially the way that the book opens in the present tense, on the day of the big race. Then it slips back to Alex’s childhood, and the rest of the book is told in the past tense, until halfway through the last chapter. We catch up to the day of the race, and Alex slips back into the present tense. It’s as though, sitting in her room preparing for the race, Alex has relived the whole year and shared it with us.

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Though as a kid I used to read the occasional Willard Price, generally I find it hard to get into boy stories. Especially stories set in boy’s high schools. I liked The Chocolate War, but probably not enough to hang onto for a second reading. I disliked most of the characters, which made it less pleasant to read. I couldn’t relate to them at all, even the “nice” guys.

This novel is well written, with a gritty, sweaty kind of realism and some powerful textural descriptions. There is plenty of drama and suspense, and the tension isn’t quite relieved with the end of the book. (I hardly ever say this about books, but in my opinion this one would actually make a good movie – I nominate Mike Leigh as director).

I think most of my reservations about The Chocolate War are due to the fact that I don’t want to believe the story. I don’t want to believe that people can be so nasty – even though I know that they are. I don’t want to believe that children en masse are capable of so much cruelty, though I know (even from personal experience) that they are.

As a teenager I often read for escapism, and most of the books I loved were beautiful, slightly wistful, often melancholy. The Chocolate War is a stark contrast, a brutal assault rather than a pleasant read.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I’m so jealous of anyone who can write funny books. Terry Pratchett, Adrian Plass, and now Douglas Adams. I don’t do funny. Is there a school you can go to and learn to be funny? Perhaps I’m not old and cynical enough yet.

The Magdalene Sisters

I went to see this movie because of a song I love. The Magdalene Laundries is sung by Joni Mitchell on the Chieftains album Tears of Stone. It’s one of my all time favourite CDs, and that song in particular always sticks in my mind.

It’s not a movie you want to go to if you’re depressed. I suppose there’s a faint glimmer of hope at the end, but most of the time it’s brutal. Set in Ireland, it follows the stories of four women sent to work in the Magdalene Laundries. They are treated as slaves, locked up, beaten and emotionally abused. This is their punishment for being loose women, for having children out of marriage, being raped, looking too pretty. To atone for their sins they labour in the steaming laundries, but the hardest stains to remove are those marring their own reputations.

Although it is a powerful story, I didn’t find the film as moving as I thought it might be. I felt as though the audience was distanced from the horror. In the same way that survivors of abuse create distance by dissociating and blocking out, I felt as though the filmmaker was creating distance. We saw a lot of the beatings and the bruises, but less of the surrounding emotions. Perhaps the women had to bury their emotions to survive. Perhaps my response is just due to the nature of the violence – systematic and institutionalised. And I felt as though the emotions I was supposed to be feeling were forced down my throat, rather than emerging of their own accord.

I think that the most interesting stories were left out of the film – those of the nuns, the parents and the community. Why were they letting this cruelty happen? How did an institution that is founded on love become so warped? Instead of exploring the motives and dilemmas of these characters, the director (Mullan) stripped them of their humanity. The parents were cold and uncaring, the nuns were brutal and cruel. It was harder to feel compassion for the young women when their oppressors were so two-dimensional.

The story of the Magdalene laundries needs to be told, but I’m not sure that Mullan was the one to do tell it. I couldn’t help noticing the irony when I realised that he cast himself as the father of one of the girls. He appeared only briefly in the movie, dragging back his daughter who had tried to escape. He calls her a whore, and beats her with his belt in front of the other women, before storming away again. Some moments of the film seemed overly exploitative, almost as though he wanted to include pain for it’s own sake. “What have we done to deserve this?” asked one of the women, and I couldn’t help agreeing with her.

I could be wrong on this point, but I’m pretty sure that I remember that Joni Mitchell had a child taken away from her. This could be the reason she can tell the story of the Magdalene sisters with so much empathy. I still find her song much more powerful than the movie.

The Magdalene Laundries
by Joni Mitchell

I was an unmarried girl
I'd just turned twenty-seven
When they sent me to the sisters
For the way men looked at me.
Branded as a jezebel,
I knew I was not bound for Heaven
I'd be cast in shame
Into the Magdalene laundries.

Most girls come here pregnant
Some by their own fathers.
Bridget got that belly
By her parish priest.
We're trying to get things white as snow,
All of us woe-begotten daughters,
In the steaming stains
Of the Magdalene laundries.

Prostitutes and destitutes
And temptresses like me
Fallen women
Sentenced into dreamless drudgery
Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?
Huh, charity!

These bloodless brides of Jesus,
If they had just once glimpsed their groom,
Then they'd know, and they'd drop the stones
Concealed behind their rosaries.
They wilt the grass they walk upon,
They leech the light out of a room,
They'd like to drive us down the drain
At the Magdalene laundries.

Peg O'Connell died today.
She was a cheeky girl,
A flirt
They just stuffed her in a hole
Surely to God you'd think at least
some bells should ring
One day I'm going to die here too.
And they'll plant me in the dirt
Like some lame bulb
That never blooms come any spring,
Come any spring,
No, not any spring...

Daylight by Elizabeth Knox

For weeks I looked forward to reading Daylight. It sat beside my desk, 356 pages to reward me when I survived all the end of term deadlines. And it started off well. There seemed to be a few interesting characters wandering around in beautiful places, and I’d been assured by Bill Manhire that the vampires in Daylight were as believable as the angel in The Vintner’s Luck.

In the first chapter there were even a few passages that made me smile. When Bad’s girlfriend gave him a motivational book, he “gave the book a decisive little shake. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘This can be my – what do they call it? – my vade mecum.’ (They had visited a library of illuminated manuscripts in Florence and had admired the incunabula.) ‘This can go with me,’ Bad said. Then, ‘But perhaps you shouldn’t.’”

Unfortunately, a few pages later the book started to go downhill and never fully recovered.

It wasn’t that there was anything terribly wrong with it. I mean, Elizabeth Knox is a fine writer, and she hasn’t done anything inexcusable. It’s just… there were so many little things that grated that by the time I reached the last chapter I was sick of the book. I kept reading because there was one particular piece of information I wanted to find out, but unfortunately it was never revolved.

The vampires in Daylight aren’t quite like the ones in Buffy (where I have acquired most of my vampire related knowledge). For a start they don’t seem to be evil, at least not all the time. Also they don’t have fangs, as such. They have spines on the roofs of their mouths, and a nasty habit of biting people’s tongues.

Now if I was a kiwi bloke travelling through France and I suddenly came across these pale skinned characters with glowing white hair lurking around in cave systems biting people’s tongues, I’d freak, to put it mildly. My mind would be racing with questions. Aren’t vampires a myth? What’s with the hair? Aren’t they supposed to go for necks, not tongues? Where the hell is the nearest escape route?!” But none of the humans in Daylight go through this sort of dilemma. They wander around oblivious for several chapters, and then one day they calmly think to themselves “these guys are vampires,” and then rush to join the tongue-biting action.

Oh well, I didn’t really care about any of the characters to start with. It was too much of a struggle keeping up with their stories and I felt too distant from them. There was a lot of indirect speech, and long passages of dense prose. The same narrative style that seemed refined and elegant in The Vintner’s Luck became splattered with gory blood sucking details in Daylight. After a while it got kind of relentless. I’m inclined to agree with Charlotte Grimshaw from the Listener when she says “the problem here, more than anything, is one of empathy. How are we to feel as this threesome gnaws away? Is it sex, or dinner, or a nature scene from National Geographic?”

Other minor details annoyed me throughout the book. At one point a vampire is worried about running out of oxygen, which didn’t sit well with earlier accounts of vampires being shot or falling from great heights then patching themselves together and going on being un-dead. An near the end of the story it is suddenly revealed that one of the central characters is Indian, but this doesn’t seem to make any difference to the story, so I kept wondering why it was suddenly brought up a few pages from the end.

The story touches on some interesting philosophical issues, but none of them are explored in any depth. Unsurprisingly one of the central questions raised is, are vampires evil? Any more so than humans? Occasionally the vampires in Daylight are overcome by violent and bloodthirsty lusts, but we never really find out how they feel, why they kill some people and yet become emotionally attached to others, or why some of the vampires seem to be all evil and others seem to be mostly human. And their lovemaking is thick with cliches and empty abstractions - more tedious than erotic.

One of the highlights of the novel was when one of the vampires realised that the vampire cells were like a virus, gradually replacing the human cells and taking control of her body. She wonders "whether it was possible that a soul could go to God piecemeal... she hoped her own soul was going to God like a slow vapor, like the mist lifting as daylight comes." However nothing interesting comes from the theory, or the vampire.

The most interesting character in the book is Daniel’s mother, and she only appears for a few pages. At an event last year Elizabeth Knox read the passage about Daniel’s childhood home, filled with deliciously disgusting details. “The rats were supposed to run outside and die, driven by their thirst. But the house was sodden and there was always laundry left soaking for days in a soup of fermented soap, so the rats stayed indoors. They plunged in agony through the walls. One managed to run into the circuit behind an outlet, and died there, died and cooked. Daniel and his mother went about for weeks with powdered herbs pressed to their noses. The lights went out, one by one, their Bakelite collars cracked and unable to hold the bulbs anymore. Daniel made his way about in the dark, his hand running across the fibrous, fraying walls of piled newspaper.”

I actually started to care about Daniel’s mother – she came alive for a few pages… unlike the other characters who spent most of the book bleeding, sucking, fucking, or all of the above simultaneously. In retrospect, I should have just appreciated the passage Elizabeth read as a wonderful short story, and not bothered with the novel.

But that’s just my opinion - don’t let me stop you from reading the book. Emma Donoghue says it is “quietly enthralling, unnerving, erotic… a dazzler.” You may well be dazzled. I wasn’t.

CREW 255 Reading Journal; Picture Books

The Red Tree by Sean Tan

A friend showed me this book, and I have been taking refuge in it all week. Shaun has managed to capture the despair and frustration, darkness and confusion, so effectively, both with the text and the illustrations.

When I opened to the first page, with the girl speaking into a megaphone trickling a jumble of letters… I felt as though someone had taken a photo of me. Not my physical body, but my emotional reality. It’s just like that, when you want to shout, you know you need to be heard… but you’re so tired and nothing seems to work. The poor girl looks so utterly dejected, she looks how I feel when I’ve been trying to get the help I know that I need but the doctors have already made up their minds and they won’t listen to me – and in the end I just give up. I get so tired, my words dry up into a pathetic trickle, and I stand there, waiting for whatever will happen.

Although The Red Tree is a picture book, I have found it very useful for communicating to older children, adults and even mental health professionals! I’m not sure how many younger children would appreciate it, but it might be useful for children who have a parent struggling with depression, or for children are dealing with similar emotions themselves. Often childhood depression manifests in different ways to adult depression, but I’m sure younger children would be able to relate to some of the images in the book. And there are children who go struggle with the same symptoms of depression that adults face – sometimes children as young as five.

Even though it is a serious subject it is also humourous – the pictures are fantastical and exaggerated, almost absurd… and yet they manage to capture the exact feeling so beautifully. Each image is completely different but each manages to capture an aspect of depression. All the pictures together express the total experience of depression.

Sean uses very simple sentences and a minimum of text, but, like poetry, every word is carefully chosen, and he manages to capture the essence of the experiences.

The Red Tree is beautifully produced. The font, the size and alignment of letters, every aspect of the design is used effectively and complements the pictures. Visually, the text is integral to the message on each page, and at times the text interacts with the images. There is no white space in the book. The colours and textures used in the negative spaces around words and images are appropriate to the different aspects of depression.

The hopeful image at the end of the story doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t help or make any of the awful images go away… but it is often like that when I am in the depths of depression, there is a glimmer of hope, not necessarily logical or useful, but it reminds me that even in the darkness there is beauty and hope and life.

There is a red leaf on every page, but sometimes it is hard to find… just as, in times of darkness there is always hope, we just have to keep looking until we find it.

Prosper’s Mountain by Henrietta Branford, illustrated by Chris Baker

This is a beautiful story, about a gardener who was sad because he dreamed of having a house filled with children… then, one day, a boy hatched out of an egg, and is raised by the gardener and his hen. He’s a sweet and cheerful child. “Felix and Dorcas named him Prosper, and there was no trouble until his wings began to grow.”

Although there is no use of metaphors or similes, there are beautiful descriptions in this book. Felix the gardener is “brown from the sun, bent at the knees,” and he drinks mint tea. Specific details such as this add a lot to the story.

The story is quite moralistic, but not annoyingly so. Obviously the theme (lonely old folk magically blessed with a child) is very powerful, as it appears over and over again in different times and cultures. I wonder if that is because it is a story that rings true for children, or for adults? I guess children might like the idea of being special, magical, longed for.

“He flew up until the mountain blazed and dazzled under him. The storm clouds gathered, fat with snow. Even as Prosper watched they boiled and curdled round the mountain peaks.”

It’s a lovely book. The last page is almost hauntingly beautiful.

After the War

Judging from the title, I thought this was going to be a sad story, but actually, it’s not a story about the war at all. It’s about how, afterwards, life goes on. It’s a beautiful illustration of time passing. Over the seasons and years we notice changes, in the tree, in the kitchen, the family, the town and the landscape.

I really like this book, and I think the illustrations were very clever and thoughtful, and unmistakably kiwi. The changes over the years are very subtle. At first the calendar in the kitchen is from the General Store, then it’s from a 4-Square, then a supermarket. The kitchen décor changes, and the tin of Edmonds baking powder is replaced by the Griffins Selection and a bottle of olive oil. Down in the town new buildings appear. The roads are busier. The Coop Dairy Co disappears and in its place is the Import Warehouse. Trees are cut down, and then pine seedlings are planted.

The words seem chosen carefully. The story flows well, and it has a nice circular feeling, beginning and ending with the planting of a tree. At the end of the book, a kowhai is planted, a reminder of the bush that once covered the hill. I am left feeling that the story will continue after the last page.

The Whales Song by Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe

This is a beautiful, magical story. I like the realist illustrations, which were obviously created with a great deal of time and dedication. I like illustrations that don’t look as though they were thrown together in a hurry! I like the way this story is somewhere between myth and reality. It’s magical, but it might almost be possible.

Why do dogs sniff bottoms? by Dawn McMillan and Bert Signal

Oh puleeeze. When was the last time you saw a dog with a bottom that didn’t match the rest of it?

The Christmas Caravan by Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton

This is a very sweet story. I like the distinctive kiwi setting, Christmas in summer. I like the way, even though it’s such a short story, we get a sense of the two main characters. They’re very independent and resourceful. It’s nice to read a story that starts with a competition, but in the end, everyone wins. I like the recycling theme, and the “money can’t by everything” moral, which is present, but not annoying. Lovely illustrations too. Makes me wish we hadn’t given away our caravan!

Hello Red Fox by Eric Carie

This book is a great illustration of complementary colours. For kids who like science, it could even be used as a starting point for discussing how the eye works. Younger kids would enjoy the repetition, they could chant along towards the end. I love the beautiful textures of Carie’s distinctive illustrations.

The Pumpkin Man and the Crafty Creeper by Margaret Mahy

I love this book. Perhaps it appeals because I have spent so many hours ripping out Covolvulus and Old Man’s Beard, Morning Glory and Japanese Honeysuckle. I know how treacherous those crafty creepers can be. I love the idea of a plant that demands an orchestra and poetry. I play music to my plants, and they seem to like it, but they never whine if I don’t have the time. My favourite line is when Lily Rose Willowherb bursts in. “The moment I heard that orchestra I guessed just where you were.” The book is overflowing with delicious lines, and I was chuckling the whole way through. Dial an orchestra! With musicians who sustain themselves with strawberries and champagne! I can really imagine them existing somewhere in the world. Margaret Mahy is my absolute hero!

The Whale Bird by David Elliot

This is a really fun story, I really like the idea of a flying whale. My inventions always go horribly wrong too. It’s got a very satisfying ending too, I like stories that finish “and they did.”

Bright Penny by Geraldine McCaughrean

This is a really sweet story, with a nice twist at the end. The illustrations kind of irritate me, I feel they are too over-the-top-jolly and cartoonish and they don’t seem quite right for the story.

Olivia by Ian Falconer

What a fantastic book! It’s got some really funny little details. I love this bit… “In the morning, after she gets up, and moves the cat, and brushes her teeth, and combs her ears, and moves the cat, Olivia gets dressed. She has to try on Everything.” It’s such a familiar situation, the kid gets up, cleans and brushes, and gets dressed. But that crazy little extra, moving the cat, makes it hilarious.

The text and illustrations work well together, for example the understated text “She got pretty good,” alongside the picture of a huge skyscraper sandcastle. I loved the Jackson Pollock painting in the gallery (I don’t get his stuff either) and I especially love it when Olivia bargains and eventually gets three bedtime stories. Reminds me of my own childood.

I love Olivia, she’s my new hero!

What planet are you from Clarice Bean? by Lauren Child

I thought this was a really fun book, though I found it hard to read the text which went in all directions. There are some fabulous lines in this book. “Sometimes I think gravity is a pity,” and “Kurt says he’s going to be an ecowarrior. He’s got a tent and everything. Dad says, how are you going to pitch a tent up a tree?” (I must point out that this is slightly out of date, these days if you want to be cool you have to cool yourself an ecoterrorist). I like the way the annoying kid actually turns out to be useful in the end. And I have a crush on Kurt – he’s so cute!

The Big Pets by Lane Smith

This book has plenty of the Damien factor (disorientation) and it has some great images, like the scratching forest. I like the way it has a circular feel, returning to the original image “the girl was small, the cat was big.”

Moonbeam on a Cat’s Ear by Marie Louise Gay

I challenge anyone to come up with a cooler title! It’s such a lovely image, “a new moon shining on a cat’s ear.” There are lively rhymes that don’t feel forced, and the lines are delicious to read; “It’s Toby Toby with the bright red hair.” The pictures match the story well.

My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton and Lynley Dodd

I used to live with a two year old, and if you started him off and he had the pictures for prompts he could recite this whole book off by heart. He loved it. And I never got sick of it either, it’s rather yummy. I guess the repetition and rhyme appeal to young children, and make it easier to memorise. The pictures are simple but effective. It’s very satisfying to read.

Give a Dog a Name by Barrie Wade

I loved this book, I thought it was brilliant. Grandad has a new dog, and everyone tries to get the dog to come. They try every name they can think of, Spot, Rover, Bonzo, Rex, Anthony, Kermet, Sparky… but the dog just lies in the basket and doesn’t move. So they tell Grandad there’s something wrong with his dog, “he just lies in his basket.” Of course, Grandad has no problem getting the dog to come, he just calls “Rosie, here Rosie,” and the rest of the family stand there with their mouths open. So simple, but so clever.

On a bit of a tangent, it reminds me of this “riddle.” A man is driving along in a car with his son beside him. Suddenly someone pulls out in front of him, and there’s a terrible accident. The man dies instantly, and the boy is rushed to hospital. The surgeon walks into the operating theatre and says “I can’t operate, this boy is my son.” How can this be? (You’d be amazed the answers people come up with, involving adoption, second marriages, sperm donors, ghosts, genetic engineering…)

Moving By Michael Rosen and Sophy Williams

I thought it was really cool to have a story from a cat’s eye view, but not a silly personified cat. This book has some marvellous lines; “I vanished myself… I warmed a new nowhere, and I waited.” Complemented by beautiful illustrations.

Let the Celebrations Begin! by Margaret Wild and Julie Vivas

I liked the way that this story used such a small, personal story to convey the story of the holocaust. The small details tell so much. The pictures are really interesting, Julie has such a distinctive style. My friend has this book and about four other books illustrated by Julie Vivas. (Did you know that Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge changes his names when he is published in different countires? He is called Wilfrid Alexander Graham Johnson in Swedish, Guillermo Jorge Manuel Jose in Spanish, Guilherme Augusto Araújo Fernandes in Portuguese…)

Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman

I enjoyed this story, the repetitive pattern is very satisfying. I thought the best part was the parallel story going on in the illustrations.

Where Does Thursday Go? by Janeen Brown and Stephen Michael King

What a neat idea for a story! And the lines are so poetic; “As it flapped past, its wings whispered in the cool night air.” I like lines that feel so good to read.

The Frances books by Russell Hoban and Garth Williams

I got this out of the library after hearing Damien talk about it. I’m really not sure about the whole personified animals thing. I think it works in My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes, and Olivia, but I don’t know quite why. I’m not entirely convinced that it works for Frances. Perhaps it’s partially the combination of personification and blatant gender stereotypes. The only character wearing clothes is mother, and she’s wearing an apron.

Nitpicking aside however, I enjoyed Frances and her silly songs and all her questions. I like the way she works out what to do in the end. I like her father’s dry sense of humour. I think it’s just her mother who annoys me… And the illustrations. Call me a snob, but all my favourite picture books had beautiful illustrations…

Letting Swift River Go by Jane Yolen and Barbara Cooney

I thought this story was incredibly poignant. The text is very poetic and there are lovely details; “catching brown trout out of the pools with a pin hook and a bit of thread.” There’s a really strong sense of time and place. Lovely illustrations too.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

I have a confession to make.

I never read Where the Wild Things Are when I was a child. I’ve never admitted this to anyone. Of course, I knew about the wild things. I’ve seen the toys, and the posters in friend’s houses, and the references in cute dyke movies… but I read the book for the first time this evening. And then I phoned my parents and demanded to know why I’d been so cruelly deprived. They could provide no excuses. It was blatant neglect. If I fail as a children’s writer, it’s all their fault!

The text is brief, but so carefully crafted; “and an ocean tumbled by…” and I love the way if flows from page to page. A few great rhymes thrown in, but not too blatant. And fabulous pictures. Huge dose of the Damien (disorientation) factor, and an extremely satisfying ending. Yum.

Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

I hadn’t come across Mog either, until I heard Kate review Goodbye Mog on National Radio. It sounded good, so I made a mental note to keep an eye out. I thought that Mog was a relatively recent character, but then one of the kids I was babysitting for pulled out a 1975 copy of Mog for a bedtime story.

Mog is great! I laughed out loud several times during this book, and at one point I had to stop reading for a couple of minutes while I regained my composure. I think it was the picture of Mog with her tongue out, one leg sticking into the air, and a bewildered look on her face. She looked just like my friends cat, Maggie, who is just as forgetful.

Judith manages to give such a strong sense of Mog’s personality with just a few words. And (as you may have gathered) I like books when cats are cats, and do cat things, not people things. Also, it’s great the way the pictures add a little bit more to what is going on in the story. I especially like the way the burglar ends up joining them for a cup of tea at the end!

CREW 255 Reading Journal; Novels for children

Gulf by Robert Westall

This book is really well written, but it’s soooo sad! I felt really shaken when I got to the end.

I found the story incredibly believable and moving. I do believe that there is more to life than we can scientifically understand. And, after some of my experiences in psychiatric hospitals, I know that sometimes people are diagnosed with illnesses when in fact they are incredibly sensitive, and often incredibly intelligent. If a boy did start picking up the experiences of a boy in Iraq, yeah, he probably would be sent to a hospital. But he’d be very lucky to encounter someone like Dr Rashid.

I learnt quite a lot about the narrator from the way he describes the world. When his mum describes his dad as legless, Tom worries “that one day he might have no legs, and seem very small, and not be able to throw me up to the ceiling any more.” And when he watches baby Figgis sleeping, “it was awful, that we couldn’t talk to each other yet.”

Through Tom, a lot is revealed about his father, and I came to feel that maybe his father wasn’t so tough after all.

This story is a very clever way of showing different sides of the story. I thought it was excellent, because it didn’t demonise or stereotype anyone. All the reactions seemed very real, and I could empathise with all of the characters, from Latif to Tom’s parents. I though bits like the descriptions of Saddam as someone “…human. Like a used-car dealer you wouldn’t trust an inch, and yet you might have a drink with him in a pub, and listen to his stories,” were very well done.

It’s amazing, because although there are no direct descriptions of Iraq, we are given a very vivid picture of the place and the people through the actions of Figgis holed up in a corner of the hospital. I think perhaps it’s more effective than a story simply told through the eyes of a kid in Iraq.

The ending is incredibly sad. When Andy turned into your average bratty kid wanting bigger and better toys, I almost wished he had died instead. And then, when Tom says "And suddenly I'm scared; because nobody seems to give a damn about anything outside our house any more…” I burst into tears.

What an incredible book! I couldn’t put it down.

The Haunting by Margaret Mahy

I love this book. I loved it the first time I read it, as a child, and I still love it after reading it for the ten millionth time. Margaret Mahy should be sainted (I associate her with dozens of miracles)!

I love the people in this book. I feel as though the characters are so familiar I know exactly what I’d give Claire for her birthday, and if I saw Tabitha walking down the street I would recognise her straight away and invite her in to compare notebooks over mugs of hot chocolate. I love the way Margaret tells us about the characters in subtle ways, for example how they interact with each other. “Barney looked after her in surprise, thinking how different family kisses were from one another. Tabitha had hugged and kissed him as if she had run out of words and had been practising with some new way of talking to him.”

I love the way none of the characters are demonised. Great-Granny Scholar seems quite fierce, but it is revealed that she has very real motivations for acting the way she does. Great-Uncle Cole seems as though he might be a scary bad guy, but in fact he turns out to be rather endearing, if somewhat misguided.

It’s beautifully written. It’s scary at times, but has loads of Margaret’s wonderful quirky humour. And it has my favourite opening paragraph in a book, ever. “…he had thought that being haunted was a babyish thing that you grew out of, like crying when you fell over, or not having a bike.”

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant!

Unseen by Paul Jennings

I was trying to work out what had appealed to me reading Paul Jennings as a young child, as he didn’t seem so appealing now. I think his books have just the right blend of grossness, scary moments, absurdity and humour that children love. When I was a child gross humour and toilet humour didn’t appeal to me at all, but I have observed that a lot of children find theses things very funny.

Some of the Jennings stories are just silly. I didn’t find ‘Squawk Talk’ amusing at all - in fact it was tedious and irritating. However, other stories are quite clever. I enjoyed the twist at the end of ‘Ticker,’ and ‘Shadows’ is an interesting play on the common phrase ‘he isn’t himself today.’

The stories contain very little character development and the writing is not very textured. There is almost no use of metaphorical language, instead there are phrases like ‘the large gloomy tent’ and ‘a beautiful lady,’ which don’t actually give the reader much information or emotional experience. The stories are driven by action. There is no sense of place, it is hard to relate to the people, there is no sense of the experiences.

I think Paul Jennings is the Children’s Literary equivalent to junk food. Okay for occasional enjoyment, as long as it’s not the main source of nourishment.

The Kite Rider by Geraldine McCaughrean

This is a beautifully and skilfully crafted piece of writing. The descriptions are exquisite, almost poetic; “Haoyou let the fragments of his father’s rice-straw jacket rest on his face and shoulders like a blessing.”

When metaphors are used they are entirely appropriate to the time and place; “It takes a light footfall, and salt on your finger-ends, to pluck a big fat ragworm from its burrow.”

The storyline is exciting and fast paced…


I didn’t like it.

There, I’ve said it. I hope I don’t fail the course for such a sacrilegious statement.

I think the characters are two dimensional, and I didn’t warm to them at all. They were like bad actors from a tacky soap opera, and they irritated me.

Di Chou is obviously supposed to be the ultimate villain. In some places he has some resemblance to Richard III; “Your pretty mother needs telling, boy.” But as a character Di Chou is nowhere near as successful as Richard. We get inside Richard’s head and discover his feelings and motivations, and we find someone capable of ghastly actions. We get inside Di Chou’s head, and we discover a tedious caricature. “A woman with brats needs to think about how she is going to feed and clothe them.” Brats? He’s trying too hard, and it’s not believable.

Uncle Bo is a stereotype of the greedy man, and he is equally two-dimensional. We don’t find out what it is like for him, his motivations are simplistic. I’ve never met anyone who is so greedy and has no other aspect to his personality.

Even Haoyou seems to be a stereotype of naivety or obedience.

I found some reviews by college students, and quite a few of them were negative. Before The Kite Rider won the Carnegie medal, the lower school boys at Dulwich College said they didn’t think it would win, and wrote reviews describing the book as average, but not a winner. One of the boys said, “This book is really nothing special - its plot and characterisation are mediocre to say the least, it is somewhat flat and lifeless. On the other hand it is quite readable and keeps going nicely. The story is set in Ancient China - an interesting setting, but not nearly enough use is made of it. There were much better books that could have been shortlisted: Slaves of the Mastery is exquisite, Tribes is exciting, You Don't Know Me is enjoyable. This book is none of these.”

Take this passage. “Haoyou recoiled in shock. His right hand, folding across his body, grasped his hurt shoulder. There was no point in arguing. Mipeng had seen through him. Was his cowardice written so plainly on his forehead? Or did she, after all, have magic powers to read the thoughts in his head?” It’s too over-the-top. I can’t imagine a real boy thinking like that. Compare it to this passage in The Haunting. “…for the first time it occurred to her that being haunted might not be simply exciting and interesting, but actually terrifying. She felt a new respect for Barney, who was trying to keep fear locked inside his own head. It was a very brave thing to do, thought Tabitha, and immediately became impatient with him too, because he was doing nothing about it.”

There is one possible redeeming explanation. It could be that Geraldine was trying to write in the style of old Chinese stories. In this case, the characters would have to be two-dimensional, trapped within their roles. If this was Geraldine’s intention then she has succeeded, but I still didn’t enjoy reading the book.

I’m sorry if I’ve been rather negative, but you already know all the good stuff about this book, so I don’t need to tell you that. But I seem to have an allergic reaction to stereotypes, especially the evil kind. Of course there are lots of stereotypes in fairy stories, but this isn’t a fairy story. There’s no magic, no witches or fairies. It’s not once upon a time, it’s in a particular time and place. The setting is believable… but the characters are not.

A Little Lower than the Angels by Geraldine McCaughrean

Sorry. I’m really really sorry. Geraldine just blew her one possible redeeming explanation. I had all the same problems with A Little Lower that I had with the Kite Rider. I have worked with a lot of children, many of them with intellectual disabilities, and yet I have never met a kid as irritating and stupid as Gabrielle.

Beautiful writing is not enough. In order to enjoy a book, I actually need to care about the characters. I didn’t give a damn about Gabriel, Lucie and Izzie. I didn’t think the threats (The Mason, Garvey) were believable. I had to resist the urge to throw bricks at them all (and it takes a lot to get this sort of reaction out of me – usually only Keanu Reeves annoys me this much).

Is this the part when I get kicked out of the course?

Tulku by Peter Dickinson

Aha! Now this is a book that is beautifully written, exquisite metaphors, plenty of action, set in historical China, follows a plot that resembles the Kite Rider to some extent, but this book has engaging characters. I really enjoyed it.

I think part of the difference is that the characters actually evolve during the book, rather than being static within their roles. They learn and grow, they make mistakes. They are very real, very human.

Also, the characters are described through beautiful details and actions. Compare these two passages;
“Once again she flared up at him. “Then you don’t know much, do you? It’s just as well you don’t have to earn your living as a Clairvoyant! But he got the impression that she was more scared than angry…” The Kite Rider

“He saw this with sudden sharpness on the second day of their journey, when during the midday halt he found Lung brooding beside a bleak upland lake, whose slaty waters and treeless shores seemed a world away from the brilliance and richness of the valley.
“Changed, changed, all changed,” muttered Lung.
“Are you going to write a poem about it?”
“No poems. Not any more.”
“I’m sorry.”
Lung turned away with a noise that began as a laugh and ended as something like the cry of a fox…” Tulku

The first passage tells us the emotions, but doesn’t really enrich the characters. The second passage is so specific, the detail about the poems, and the fox like cry, that the characters become incredibly lifelike.

Even the minor characters who only appear briefly in Tulku were more real to me than the main characters in The Kite Rider.

Eva by Peter Dickinson

I think this is quite a remarkable book, exploring some interesting ideas.

It is well written. At first I found the broken sentences at the beginning of each chapter a little weird, but as the plot unfolded I realised they could be written from a chip perspective. “A new life beginning… Sun on a naked pelt… Chimp odours, chimp voices…”

I read some reviews by people who didn’t like this book because the basic idea was “impossible.” I think it seems plausible – not now, but at some p

Posted by Fionnaigh at 12:17 AM