Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Land of many skies ~ spectacular images on the Met Service website

When checking the weather forecast on the Met Service site this morning I caught sight of this striking photograph by Paul Hurley, which is posted on their photostream.  It's a great collection and a delightful way to take a wander through New Zealand's scenic wonderlands.

Thanks to all the photographers who have generously contributed their work to it and the Met Service for hosting it.  

In the Flickr format used for its display there is a rather bewildering range of options for navigating through it.  One way is to go to the link to the photograph above and select the slide show option.  This can be found in the drop-down menu of the 'Actions' tab which is above the top left hand corner of the photograph: select 'View slideshow'.  To view them one at a time you can go to the miniature row of images on the right and arrow through them, etc.  There is also a range of options as to magnification and speed of display.

I must add a final note regarding the format: will someone in Yahoo please obliterate the ridiculous word 'embiggen' from their current vernacular!  How ridiculous!  Whatever happened to the words 'enlarge' and 'expand'?  That said, the format is certainly used here to good effect.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Rushleigh has a new Chronicle - for movies and television

These titles and references have been progressively clogging up the At Home index, so I've placed them together on their own web log for easier access.  To get there click on the link underneath the title above.

Although I've copied existing articles across I won't delete those already included here. However, the title reference tags in the index at the right will be simplified to either 'Films' or 'Television'.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A correspondence club ~ the subject of the book "Can any mother help me?"

In 1935 a woman living in a remote part of England wrote to a women's magazine, asking "Can any mother help me?" She was a young mother, lonely, isolated and very short of money. She had no access to a library and could not afford even a 'wireless'.  She went on to ask "Can any reader suggest an occupation that will intrigue me and exclude 'thinking' and cost nothing!"

A surprising number of women responded expressing similar frustrations, and together they decided to start a private correspondence club. Each of them had their own pseudonym, and the privacy of the magazine was paramount, fiercely guarded even from spouses. One of them acted as editor, receiving articles from members, hand-stitched them together and sent them off to do the rounds. Each member could write remarks and suggestions in the margins of the magazine if they wished.

The club was active for an astonishing fifty five years during which time some members came and went and others formed strong friendships. Eligibility was by no means automatic, prospective members having to apply, and certain criteria to be met before it was put to the vote. New members were chosen for what they would add to the group in terms of diversity and intellectual stimulation, and as a result the group included women with widely divergent political and ideological views and differing backgrounds. Their privacy being assured they were refreshingly open and forthright in their news and views, and the comments offered add a great deal of substance to the content.

When the group eventually closed down, what remained of the original contributions was donated to an archive. This is where it was found in 2003 by writer and researcher, Jenna Bailey, who went on to write this fascinating book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and only wished it was longer and included more material! 

A modern equivalent of this club would be a members-only multi-author web log. I'm guessing that the success of any such group would lie in the commitment of members to make a similarly paced regular contribution, say monthly. It could be an excellent middle path between individual correspondence and the more solitary nature of single-author web-logging. What a good idea!

Book shop links for interested NZ readers: - other edition available

Note: This book is also mentioned in my article 'A brown haze at sunset'

Telephones are put in their place ~

There are times when telecommunications effortlessly dominate our lives in the form of telephones, texts, television, and the internet. In their temporary absence we may feel strangely lost. This is, however, a relatively recent phenomenon.

In his immortal book, "Miss Mapp", novelist E. F. Benson has this to say about Mr Wyse's use of his telephone; ease back in your chair and let your mind drift to a small English township called Tilling, of perhaps a hundred years ago:
Tilling never ceased to play up to Mr. Wyse, and there was not a tea-party or a bridge-party to which he was not invited.  Hostesses always started with him, sending him round a note with 'To await answer,' written in the top left -hand corner, since he had clearly stated that he considered the telephone an undignified instrument only fit to be used for household purposes, and had installed his in the kitchen, in the manner of the Wyses of Whitchurch. That alone, apart from Mr. Wyse's old-fashioned notions on the subject, made telephoning impossible, for your summons was usually answered by his cook, who instantly began scolding the butcher irrespective and disrespective of whom you were.  When her mistake was made known to her, she never apologized, but grudgingly said she would call Mr Figgis, who was Mr. Wyse's valet. Mr Figgis always took a long time in coming, and when he came he sneezed or did something disagreeable and said: 'Yes, yes; what is it?' in a very testy manner. After explanations he would consent to tell his master, which took another long time, and even then Mr. Wyse did not come himself, and usually refused the proffered invitation. Miss Mapp had tried the expedient of sending Withers to the telephone when she wanted to get at Mr Wyse's, but this had not suceeded, for Withers and Mr. Wyse's cook quarrelled so violently before they got to business that Mr. Figgis had to calm the cook and Withers to complain to Miss Mapp.... This in brief, was the general reason why Tilling sent notes to Mr. Wyse. As for chatting through the telephone, which is the main use of telephones, the thing was quite out of the question.
     Miss Mapp revived a little as she made this piercing analysis of Mr. Wyse, and the warmth of the central heating pipes, on this baffling day of autumn tints, was comforting.... No one could say that Mr. Wyse was not punctiliious in matters of social etiquette, for though [...]
This excerpt is from "Miss Mapp" Chapter 6, page 139
 Ah, those were the days....

Book shop links for interested NZ readers:
"Miss Mapp" by E.F. Benson - other editions available - here you get three novels for one good price!
Lucia Rising:

Sunday, 7 March 2010

"In the shadow of the Moon" ~ an extraordinary documentary

This 2007 documentary is one of the best I've seen. It chronicles the American venture of getting astronauts on the Moon and is all the more remarkable in that it contains no reconstructed footage: all of it was shot during the space missions just as you see it. The footage is awe-inspiring and the sound track and editing match this quality.

The contemporary commentary is provided by the astronauts themselves, many years older now and certainly their faces have aged, but all showed a mental alertness and emotional candour that amazed me. For me this exemplifies the maturity one would look for in those of advanced age which I haven't often seen. In conversational language they describe their backgrounds as aeroplane test pilots, their preparation for the space missions, and the thoughts and emotions each experienced during them.

What made this documentary truly memorable for me was what the astronauts said about how the space flights affected their world views: for each it was a transformational experience, both in how much more they appreciated 'the good Earth' and how they felt about universal and spiritual truths. For each this took a different form. These were unlooked for and what the astronauts say about them are no trite recitations. In a world that struggles for any sense of purpose, this kind of testimony is important.

What was sad, as well as sobering, was the observation that the magical blues, whites and subtle colours of Earth as seen from outer space are no longer clean, but increasing discoloured by pollution - shame on us all. Animals and the natural world haven't created this, people have, and politicians and business people continue to dispute 'climate change' as a reason for putting on the brakes. Climate change be blowed - isn't the mess we've made so far enough reason, or do we meekly accept the fate of an existence in a rubbish tip rather than fighting for the survival of our living breathing paradise?

Here is the film trailer:

Further details of the film can be found on this IMDB webpage
And in case you can't easily find the link there to other people's reviews here they are.

Later Note:

Spaceship Planet Earth!

Mention of earthquakes in the previous article reminded me of the movement of the whole planet, not only in it's daily rotation, but also of it's annual journey around the sun. It skims through space at an astonishing 107,000 kilometres per hour! Further to this our entire solar system is moving at an incredible speed, so I suppose it's not surprising that the planet quakes a bit at times!

Here an astrophysicist explains these cosmic movements in rather more ordinary terms!

I went to the American NASA site for this information knowing that would be a reliable source.  NASA stands for 'National Aeronautics and Space Administration'.

For those of us who are looking for beauty rather than intellectual content, the NASA picture of the day provides a gallery of glories. Note that the backward and forward buttons which enable the viewer to move from one image to the next can be found below the picture caption: look for the 'elbow' shape to the left of the word 'Archive' and an opposite shape to the right of the word 'Discuss'

Here is a photograph from my own collection. If not strictly astronomical in subject, it does show the cosmic forces in action at closer range!

Weather, tides and earthquakes ~ New Zealand web links for forecasts and events

New Zealand is an island nation situated in a large amount of ocean and with fault lines running along its length. This means that the weather is changeable, and most of us live within easy distance of the sea and are likely to know what an earthquake feels like. Locals as well as visitors may find these websites useful for reference:

Weather forecasts, as provided by The Met Service.
    Ocean tide times, as provided by Ocean Fun Publishing or more particularly this page
    This website is brilliant and a must-have for anyone who enjoys the beach or the water! 

    Earthquake information: if you feel one or want to file a report you can go to the GeoNet site                                 

    On this page you can see how frequent they are! To non-New Zealanders I must add that mostly these are mostly very minor, for example, we felt the one on 25th February but only because we were sitting quietly at the time. It was a similar vibration to that which can felt when truck or bus passes by, and if there had been traffic on the road outside at the time we wouldn't have noticed it. I confirmed it when I looked up the site later and filed a report.

    This site also includes information about volcanic activity, tsunamis and landslides.

        Wednesday, 3 March 2010

        Remarkable Rocket ~ a truly versatile vegetable

        It has been suggested to me that the salad vegetable, rocket, is so named because of the speed at which it grows. This could be so, as it certainly does grow prolifically and at an astonishing rate. Here you can see a fresh crop coming up in the centre foreground where I crumbled some seed heads not so long ago; it's mixed with parsley and flanked by marigolds, chives, and the rather spindly remains of a silver beet plant:

        This vege patch is rather small and I've decided that in future I'll only attempt to put a row of anything in at the back, which is at present occupied by tomato vines, and simply scatter seed and some seedlings over the rest of it. I've wasted loads of growing time waiting for rows of veges to 'finish' so I could plant the next row, and given my tendency to leave taking things out rather longer than is practical I think I'll get greater production this way!

        We use a lot of parsley and rocket, so there is never too much of it, and the crowded seedlings wont be crowded for long, which is just as well as they will soon have 'proper' leaves.  You can see a more advanced plant here:

        The mauve-flowered plant at the left is catnip which is popular with the local cats as well as being the favoured destination of many bees. After it has died down in winter our little cat, Louisa, likes to sit on its remains! I hasten to add that this area is well away from the vege patch. Rocket seems to grow easily anywhere.

        It's such a tasty salad green. If one is in any doubt as to it's identity, this can instantly be resolved by breaking a piece which will release its distinctive tangy aroma. This mouth-watering smell is part of what makes it so tasty!

        Even the flowers are edible, and have a pleasantly nutty flavour.  I'm reluctant to eat flowers at the best of times as it always seems like eating the plant's face (!), but you may find these contribute something special to your meal or snack so I encourage you to give them a try:

        Most people know this plant only as a salad green, whereas it's delicious cooked, in stews or casseroles, in place of parsley, or simply steamed. Occasionally if it's been very slow growing it can be a little bitter and stalky, but this isn't usual and I must say I prefer it to silver beet or spinach. I discovered this one winter when our silver beet plants were not producing well and it became our main cooked green. You might enjoy it too.