Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Leaping Fish

My year in leaping fish (books read/reread) in no particular order and only as far as I can remember:

Oscar and Lucinda (Carey)                                  
True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)
My Family and Other Animals (Durrell)
A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)
Pride and Prejudice (Austen)
The White Bone (two thirds) (Gowdy)
My Brilliant Friend (Ferrante)
Some of Us Eat the Seeds (Bach)
Ammonites and Leaping Fish (Lively)

Leaving the Atocha Station (Lerner)
Velocity (Sayer)
Dreamtime Alice (Sayer)
Down Under (Bryson)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bryson)
Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit (Wodehouse)
Lorna Doone (Blackmore)
Orange is the New Black (Kerman)
Little Women (Alcott)

A Walk in the Woods (Bryson)
The Road to Little Dribbling (Bryson)
Boyhood Island (Knausgaard)
Moby Dick (half) (Melville)
The Writers' Festival (Johnson)
The Most of Nora Ephron (Ephron)
Heartburn (Ephron)
The Little White Bird (Barrie)
Illywhacker (Carey)
Not That Kind of Girl (Dunham)
Tender Machines (Neale)
Breathing Lessons (not yet finished) (Tyler)

Leaping fish summary: Thirty books in fifty-two weeks. For the mathematical among us that's four more than one every two weeks, though as two of the 30: White Bone and Moby Dick - incidentally, or not, animal novels both - weren't completed and my current Breathing Lessons is not quite finished either (though nor is the year quite), that is almost exactly one book completed every two weeks. Perhaps not such an impressive reading rate for a wannabe writer, but there's a pleasing consistency at least. And, there may have been more. However, if I can't remember them only so many months later I probably don't deserve to claim them as read. If you're wondering why I don't simply consult my shelves, they're VERY messy and many if not most of the books were borrowed now returned (I think).

Still, I am pleased to see that there is a rough distribution of male and female authors, with a slight favouring of the female, which is perhaps as it should be. There is also a reasonable balance of the old and new, with a slight emphasis on the new, including five brand new 2015 books, which is also perhaps how it should be. The local (NZ and AUS) and the international are fairly equally represented, if with a slight, less pleasing but understandable - it's a MUCH bigger world out there than down here - emphasis on the international.

If I was pressed to pick favourites, as famous authors often are when asked about their literary 'influences', and there's nothing like being prepared, I would probably say my favourite reads for 2015 were Lorna Doone (epic, old-time romance), Leaping Fish (a writer's memoir), the Kelly Gang (Carey at his Australian best) and the playfully post-modern female NZ poets, Bach and Neale.

Of course, nobody makes me laugh like Wodehouse at his best, and I'll always remember, with an explosive laugh, Ephron's joke that if our elbows faced forward we'd kill ourselves (women of a certain age, that is).

This was a Dickens-free year, having spent the previous two cramming nine Dickens down. Next year I might return to finish his catalogue, as I do miss his wit and worldliness and, more importantly, I want to be able to say I've read everything he ever wrote if and when an interviewer should ask that question:

Interviewer: 'So Sacha, have you read much Dickens?
Sacha: 'Are you kidding! I've read everything he ever wrote.'

On that note, I should probably get started on Shakespeare soon, before it's too late.

Of course in our day and age there is much to read besides books and much to watch on Netflix, and it's only getting worse. So by the time I'm interviewed on my reading preferences and credits, I will probably have to make it all up anyway, as my memory isn't getting any sharper either.

Interviewer: 'So Sacha, what have you read lately that you would recommend?'
Sacha: 'Pardon?' (blind panic, my mind a total blank).
Interviewer: 'Are there any books you'd recommend for our listeners?' (This is a radio interview).
Sacha: 'Oh! Well, I do love Dickens...'
Interviewer: 'So no recent books?' (frustration rising)
Sacha: '... ah,...Leaping fish! I can't remember the full title or the author's name or what the book was about, but it definitely had something to do with leaping fish.'
Interviewer: 'I think we've run out of time.'

Indeed we have.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas clear

How thin the skin stretches

nearest the ear
to hear
sonatas play sketches
on piano, leaves and grasses.

How fluid light flutters
across darkness,
and yesterday's
bubbles rise
upon today's bleary eyes.

How cold stuffing stares
smelling pine unawares,
as time studies time
with needles stored
in the muddled attic of the mind.

How bruised and bored 
decorations wait 
in boxes saved just in case
next year the mystery's made 
Christmas clear.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Nature's Noel

This is NZ's fabulous indigenous Pohutukawa tree that flowers in a mass of festive Christmas blossom right on Christmas. How knowing is nature!

This tree is our next-door neighbour's seen best through our daughter's upstairs bedroom window, a slightly nostalgic view this year as the girl in question moved out in Feb. But she didn't go too far and will be back for the big day that we are celebrating here, just the five of us, as we're the only family left in Auckland. All the more food and blood-red blossom for us, I say!

I don't think I'll be back here before Christmas, so I will say to you one and all, my faithful blogees, have a bountiful and blossomful Christmas; and may nature and nurture be kind to you and yours.

Sacha, xo

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Youth not wasted on the not so young

Youth is an interesting film. I haven't quite worked out what I think of it yet but I'm definitely glad I saw it.

M and I watched it last night in a twenty-person theatre, the youngest members of the audience by a good twenty years, I'd say, and we went away feeling we'd experienced something deeply interesting and surprisingly entertaining. I had tears in my eyes for the final scene, but that's not unusual for me, most things move me to tears. It's a condition.

I don't know if we were supposed to to cringe when the leggy, big-busted model-actress played by Mădălina Diana Ghenea as Miss Universe strolls naked into the spa ogled by Caine and Keitel, crinkly and wrinkly old men in their late seventies; I cringed a little (not sure about M).

But this wasn't any old-man's sex-fantasy film. It was supposed to be about age and ageing, yes, but it was almost just as much about gender and an expose of the dirty male gaze, indeed of the power of woman in youth, middle, and old age, to not just control men but to be their reason for living and their wisdom.

In the previous scene with Miss Universe, she was dressed right down - messy hair and clothes, no cleavage, bare legs or waist, such that Caine wouldn't recognise her naked - and when treated like an idiot by a youngish man in that state, with her beauty hidden, she totally owned the guy by showing she knew better the purpose of life, film, irony, art, etc, than he - a frustrated actor who took himself too seriously - did. You don't see a super smart 'Miss Universe' dress down a male actor of any age on the silver screen very often.

Jane Fonda, tarted up like the classic has-been actress with puffy blonde wig and too much make-up, also steals the show by speaking the hard truth to director Keitel, telling him he didn't make her, as he'd always presumed - classic 'big' man assumption - but she made him, or at least she made herself, with her mother's help, and was not beholden to any man for her success and that now, he couldn't make his films without her, a claim that proves a fatal truth.

It was cleverly written on the whole and interesting in a way that if taken seriously, promises a new direction in the medium of film, if not art in general. It seems to be saying that men, especially powerful (white) men, are flawed, shallow, far from complete creatures, whereas the women around them, who put up with their cheating, who work for them, who serve them, who sleep with and titillate them, are much more complex, often cleverer and essentially stronger creatures than they are.

It's still written from a male perspective, with women as secondary cast, but the women are somehow more the subjects than the usual objects of that perspective, at least much more so than the cinematic norm.

So I would say, on balance, that Youth is not wasted on the not so young, especially the not so young men, should they be big enough and not too old to watch and learn.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Born Beethoven

I was just listening to this wide-eyed, highbrowed chap last night, as I do most nights, entirely unaware that it was his birthday. Shame on me! Indeed I'd been at the mall that very day (unusual for me) and could easily have purchased one extra gift, a chocolate iPhone perhaps, retailing at $8.99. I'd decided against this gift for my boys, because there are two of them. But there is only one Beethoven. 

Google is celebrating Beethoven's birthday (245yrs) - also shared by Jane Austen (240yrs) - today, though it were yesterday, the 16th (by the Southern Hemisphere clock), with a Google doodle that allows you to play the first few bars of his famous 5th. I wonder what Beethoven would make of that, a Google doodle of his 5th symphony? I think he would be, as I am, thrilled and appalled in equal measure.

Indeed this sums up my feelings on the internet in general - one is thrilled and appalled in roughly equal measure by the miraculous readiness of information and endless inventiveness, on the one hand, and on the other by the relentless cheapening and dumbing down of life and art wherein anyone and everyone is selling themselves and manipulating others to make a buck. 

WOW, on the one hand, WOE on the other, which sounds like a balance of sorts but I fear is the kind of balance that will preclude the birth of Beethovens and Austens in the future, the kind of people who could not be bought off with an overpriced chocolate phone, indeed. My kind of people. 


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Man of the Year is a Woman

"For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is Time's Person of the Year [2015]." 
Nancy Gibbs 
(editor, Time)

Time's Person of the Year was officially the 'Man of the Year' until 1999, and although 'Man' has been interpreted by the judges more broadly than 'person born with penis', and awarded to some groups of men and women, as well as to three individual women, since the 'Man of the Year' award was first allocated in 1927 the vast majority of recipients have indeed been, coincidentally, persons born with a penis. 

The award is not meant to honour good doing but to acknowledge global influence, good or bad - possibly because of the global shortage of good men in the history of the world. In this way Hitler was a recipient of the award. However, Thatcher wasn't. Hitler, it seems, had more influence in his time than Thatcher, the first female head of state in the English-speaking world, had in hers, nothing to do with their different genitals.

In this vein, after Angela Merkel won the award this year for her positive global influence, as summarised above by Time editor, Nancy Gibbs, the runners up were ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who specialises in killing unarmed civilians and persuading other Muslims to blow themselves up, and Donald Trump, who specialises in spreading stupidity, prejudice and greed, and taking the worst elements of capitalism and multiplying them.

So maternal (female) morality, macho Muslim militancy and macho money madness are, according to Time, the three greatest influences of our times, which I think about sums it up. However, I also think that the time has come for the award to stop honouring the maddest and baddest men, of which the world has always produced a great many, in part, I would argue, because of the world's readiness to honour them, and simply honour the person or persons of greatest positive influence. Now that women are beginning to be considered persons there shouldn't be any shortage.    


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Paris Power

The Paris agreement on climate change to keep global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and aim for 1.5, and to give developing countries billions to help them comply whilst still developing so they're not unfairly disadvantaged, is AN AWESOME MOMENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD such that we haven't seen the likes of since we came together with Mandela to end apartheid in South Africa.

And I don't know if the goodwill surrounding the generous accord in Paris had anything to do with a shared desire to prove the power of good over evil and show the world that we won't be beaten down by evil doers, but I like to think it did, so that the senseless deaths and displacement of all those innocent people were not, as they say, entirely in vain.

Hopefully it's the first step of many in moving us towards a more cooperative, caring and wonderful world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

If men could get pregnant...

I think it's in the third season of Veep that Julia Louis-Dreyfus declares: 

'If men could get pregnant you'd be able to get an abortion at an ATM.' 

This is SO true and SO hilarious to me that if I'd been pregnant at the time of watching it, I think I'd have had a spontaneous abortion on the spot, which might have made things easier. But no; I've never had or wanted/needed an abortion.

But... that doesn't mean I can't see the epic hypocrisy of men laying down the law and challenging women's right to have access to safe abortions, a subject it's best not to talk to me about at close quarters, or at all, if you value your hearing.

And so when this little poetic piece appeared last week, comparing women's access to abortions with men's access to guns, the one being almost impossible in some states of America and the other, almost impossibly easy in all states, I thought it my responsibility to share it with all my loyal and much valued little blog babies - apologies for tiny font. Not sure why, perhaps it's baby font. Enjoy!   

"How about we treat every young man who wants to buy a gun
 like every woman who wants to get an abortion — mandatory 
48-hr waiting period, parental permission, a note from his doctor 
proving he understands what he's about to do, a video he has to 
watch about the effects of gun violence, an ultrasound wand 
up the ass (just because). 
Let's close down all but one gun shop in every state and 
make him travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, 
and stay overnight in a strange town to get a gun. 
Make him walk through a gauntlet of people holding photos 
of loved ones who were shot to death, people who call him 
a murderer and beg him not to buy a gun.
It makes more sense to do this with young men and guns
than with women and health care, right? I mean, no woman 
getting an abortion has killed a room full of people in seconds, right?"

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Nicely Fryed

Last Thursday, we, my husband and I wot, got nicely Fryed at Stephen Fry's final performance at the appropriately lavish-to-the-point-of-being-laughable Civic Theatre in Auckland.

As 'Lord Snot' on The Young Ones.

M and I have been fans of the big man for many a year, read most of his entertainingly confessional books, rolled on the floor at his masterful rendition of P.G. Wodehouse's comic genius Jeeves, and watched all of his host-with-the-most-and-more performances on QI, without ever feeling over Fryed, as it were.

Not a bit of it, in fact. Rather, at one point a few years back I was not content with all this arms-length contact and felt I simply must write to the man directly and at a length rather longer than an arm, to put to words my overwhelming sense that we were, Stephen Fry and I, practically one in the same person in our sufferings of artistic angst and chronic self-doubt, never mind the differences of sexuality and sex indeed, we were both attracted to men, weren't we? We were and indeed still are.

Such was my need to tell Stephen how alike we were, I even convinced myself that he would benefit from knowing of my microscopic existence on the other side of the world and duly penned said letter and tracked down a possible address to which to send it.

Alas for Fry, and for the world, I never quite found the courage to send the tragically long lament that would probably only have found its way into the void anyway.

But seeing and hearing my twin in all important respects perform live this week, while not quite as intimate as a personal letter followed by an earnest reply requesting an ongoing lengthy correspondence and eventual meeting, it was closer than I've ever gotten before and dare say am ever going to get in the future - though one can hope. And for that, I must say, I am very much obliged. Nicely Fryed indeed.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Billionaire baby

"CEO and wife make announcement..."    "Mark Zuckerberg and his wife..."

You know, these kinds of headlines that render woman a nameless, identity-less, implied gold-digging appendage of some well known man, piss me off, no matter who the people or what the subject. And they will, in my educated view, ultimately defeat any effort to make the world a fairer place to girls, no matter how rich their father.

They are a legacy indeed of the time-honoured Western tradition of pronouncing married couples 'Man and wife' instead of the more obvious and reasonable 'husband and wife', or even better, 'wife and husband', but that's getting light years ahead of ourselves.

In these deeply but still somehow deceptively sexist formulations, man is the substance and woman the accessory; man the great hero, woman the grateful recipient. And although most couples are now pronounced 'husband and wife', giving the semblance of the all-important equality of respect upon which to base the rest of their lives together, some continue with the sexist tradition. I even heard it used recently, without irony, in some otherwise not particularly sexist movie.

These headlines from two days ago announcing the pledge to give Facebook money in the billions to charities, a pledge that some believe is a canny tax dodge, others the biggest charitable donation ever made (it is probably a bit of both) reduce womankind to accessory status, no term signifying this reduced status better than 'wife', never mind that the woman in question is an accomplished doctor and educator, while the man in question is merely a Johnny on the spot character who got lucky with a single, somewhat socially dubious, and in part stolen idea that has not entirely improved the lot of humanity, indeed, and that which cheated its co-founder to the point that he successfully sued for many millions, or was it billions.

I applaud this recent idea much more than the original one, even if there may be tax advantages in it, and I credit it almost entirely to Dr Priscilla Chan, the 'and wife' of Zuckerberg, with the help of Melinda Gates, who set the example, and of course to the children that they have given these otherwise single-minded men - their husbands - that made them realise the ultimate technology before which they, and all men, should be humbled, is the egg and the womb, and the selfless love that nurtures the life they give unto the world every moment of every day without fanfare or financial reward.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Not having children was the best decision I ever made,
he said, and invented the Segway instead.

It was called 'Ginger' at first,
nobody can say why,
then plain 'It',
such were the expectations
It might help us to fly.

Is that it? Diane Sawyer asked at the unveiling, to laughter from the assembled group,
more in response to her wit
than to It.

Then the man who bought It, the company,
promptly rode his off a cliff, 
and the price plummeted
along with It. 

He has a helicopter too, the man who invented 'It', 
and a car and legs, but what he really wants now, he says, 
is a time-travel machine. I bet.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A slip and a trip for being so thick

Well it's the first of the month and although nobody has tried to pinch or punch me yet, I woke up this morning covered in fresh blue bruises as if a whole army had had their first-of-the-month, pinch-and-a-punch way with me last night.

But no. In fact it was my own darn fault for hurrying across jagged volcanic rocks in my flappy flip-flops yesterday for no good reason but that they were there and I wanted to prove that I still could, something I find myself tragically needing to do more and more these days as I approach middle-age - another jagged course - in a hurry.

Still, slipping and falling, as I did, or tripping and falling like this unfortunate chap here, is an education in a) humiliation, and b) hurt, and some of us who are otherwise quite lucky sods really, in tending to land more on our feet than our faces, can probably do with a slip and a trip now and then to remind us that we're not immune to misfortune and that the older we get, the more jagged the rocks.

So although I started this post intending to have a good old whinge about my bad luck in slipping on a sodding rock and falling on my backside, elbow and ribs (talk about OWW!), I have decided in the writing of it that I'm better off looking on the bright side - it could have been worse - and making the most of the lesson learnt, namely: forget volcanic rocks and stick to vodka on the rocks; the fall's generally less bruising.