Sunday, June 11, 2017

June 2017 update

Golly - I have not posted here since the end of 2013. I still find a need, however, to jot down a few things about what I'm reading, watching, hearing or tasting - as I get older, I'm finding it harder to keep track of such things. To kick things off again, rather than try to write formal reviews or the like, I'll just kick off with what I did today.


I am midway through Michael Crummey's Sweetland. This is a novel set on an island somewhere near St John's, Newfoundland. Moses Sweetland is he main character - his family have been on the island (it bears his familial name) for 200+ years. The cod fishing dried up about a generation ago and the island is so unsustainable that the government is willing to pay everyone $150,000 to leave the island. The catch is that everyone has to agree - and Moses (initially with a couple of others) won't budge. There are incidents aimed at making him leave - beheaded rabbits and a fire - but the first half of the novel is mainly about revealing the nature of the man and his relationships with the islanders. He comes across as a curmudgeon but there have been many recipients of his kindness in the past and, indeed, his nephew is a current recipient. I find I need to mention the Priddle brothers - twins born nine months apart, drunks, losers in many ways, but when something terrible happens, one of them is really there for Sweetland. Two last points about what I have read so far. Reet seems to have done everyone's hair as a community service for ever - but this is the kind of place that Duke can start a barber's business, have people come in and shoot the breeze or play chess but have no customers for 20 years! The second point is a sport the Priddles engage in - one holds a lit cigarette up and the other tries to put it out - using a .22 rifle! 

I had to put the book aside, however, because I need to read Rachel Cusk's The Last Supper for bookclub. It is about her family's travels to Italy - I'm on page 43 and they're about to arrive. Her prose is immaculate, although I thought she was a bit mean. They go across on the ferry and the two kids, like kids the world over, want a treat. At first they can't have one because the canteen is not open, then "to their satisfaction [it] eventually opens, though this represents no particular change in their circumstances". Earlier, writing of their first morning, when they have to wake up really early: "It is half past four: it is the first stroke of the chisel on the block of our travels." Rachel is learning Italian with the aid of a couple of textbooks - the sort that has conversations between people in various situations. She starts of saying that they provide a kind of guide to etiquette, but then muses for several pages on the characters of the people in the books. On the way to Italy, the family spends two nights in France in two different private homes - operated as posh B&B's - which Rachel reports on in great detail.


It is probably good that I wasn't writing this a week ago, as I would have had to recount my experience of watching The Bachelor New Zealand. I will say that he probably made the right choice for him: Viarni is nice, without the spirit or spark Lily has, but at least Zac was able to work out that he wouldn't be able to keep up with her. Poor Claudia was devastated by not even being in the top two - she really grew on me as the show progressed.

But today's watching was a wee bit more high-brow than that - the first episode of the recent BBC adaptation of Little Dorrit. I've not yet read the book, so watching it first feels a bit like cheating but, well, I think I'm really going to enjoy it. Amy is Little Dorrit: she is 21, has spent her whole life in Marshalsea debtor's prison, where her dad has a remarkably spacious apartment. During the course of this episode, her brother Tip (who doesn't seem to be able to stick at anything) is also locked up for non-payment of 40 pound, although dad must not know.

Amy gets a job as junior housemaid for a crotchety old lady, Mrs Clennam, who has a rundown fabric shop and is confined to a wheelchair. Her other help is Jeremiah Flintwich, who presumably runs the shop and acts as a sort of butler, and his "wife", Affery. She's lovely, says their marriage was cooked up by the two "clever ones" - she was just told to bring her bonnet and it was done. He's a nasty piece of work, lurches and mutters as he walks, has his head cocked to one side, bullies her and when he is instructed to burn some important documents, only pretends to. We don't know what they are yet, but they're obviously significant. Mrs C wants them burnt because her son, Arthur, has come back after a 15 year absence, convinced by his father that there are dirty dealings in the family's past, dealings for which reparation must be made. He thinks it has something to do with Amy, as his mum is uncharacteristically kind to her. This sees Arthur follow Amy to Marshalsea and get locked in.

There's another family, the Meagles, I don't know how they fit in yet, but they were on the same boat as Arthur, and he seems to be taken with the daughter. With them they have Harriet, although they call her Tatty or Tattycoram - she gets very upset with being called baby names and having the fetch and carry for them when they won't do the same for her. I hope this is not some sort of play on her unknowingly being a slave. There's a Miss Wade who seems to want to safeguard her.

Finally, there's Rigaud - a "distinguished murderer", not some "petty smuggler" who is released from a French prison and (I think) ends up in England.


Not so much - I came across a band called The Miltones and listened to several of their songs on Youtube. I liked them so much that I bought a ticket for a show they're doing here in July.

Eat and Drink

After about a year's absence, I went in to Marbecks - it may have changed hands since I was there last, there were just a few subtle differences, like the ham and cheese toasties having a different composition. Coming home, I popped into the new Sampan House - cheap, cheerful and very brightly lit. Liked the Bong Bong chicken, but the Chinese sausage fried rice could have done with more sausage. The only other occupants were a family celebrating a 21st - the parents seemed to delight in mocking the way the birthday boy looked when he was first born.


If today had gone to plan, none of the above would have been written. I was going to go for a drive into central, check out the Ida Valley, stay in Ranfurly, come back via the Kurow Hotel. Sadly, my Jeep let me down - repairs to the suspension revealed considerable problems with the brakes which needed to be rectified. Full credit to Midas, however, who are not a paint by numbers mechanic here: the owner is an old school mechanic who has had the business 27 years. He worked Friday night and through Saturday, then invited me down to show me exactly what has to be done.


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