Jun. 15th, 2010

skyring: (Default)
Sad Charles

These things are supposed to be autosaved, so when my browser crashed at the end of a long, detailed, thoughtful post, I wasn't too worried. I'd restore from the autosave, rewrite the minute or so that had been lost, and repost.

Well, I was given a blank slate instead of a draft. Heaven knows where my post went.

And yet, if I somehow get a draft saved and not posted, because I've used two browser windows instead of one or something, it hangs around for months, asking if I want to restore the two sentence stub.

Oh well.

Long story short.

On Friday night I went through a red light near Parliament House on the mistaken perception that the green turn arrow was my green go light. You don't muck about in the taxi game on the way to the airport, so I hit the gas and halfway across the intersection collected someone innocently turning right,

The various witnesses who helpfully came forward soon sorted out who was in the wrong, I got a ticket from the helpful police, and I'll undoubtedly get a nice big bill from the owner and the insurance people. Not to mention the money I lost by not driving that shift, or since.

Nobody injured. I'd feel terrible if I'd hurt somebody. Just damage to two very nice silver cars and a lot of inconvenience for all concerned.

And I can just feel the vibes from my fellow cabbies. "Thank heaven it wasn't me, this time!"
skyring: (Default)

About time I became a Grumpy Old Geezer again.

I did not love Stardust.

I liked it, to be sure. A clever fantasy, artful plot, great special effects and so on, but it didn't quite hit the mark for me.

One of the seven great plots. Bastard shopboy weds fair lady, becomes beloved king, lives happily ever after. That's always a winner. Add in some whimsy, some evil, some magic and a few plot twists, and there's the icing on the cake and the cherry on top. The good guys triumph, the badduns die in inventive fashion, music swells as the credits roll.

Well, my eyes were rolling in time with the music all the way through. Predictable as the plot was, once the essential elements were known, a good story well told will always lift me. Look at Notting Hill. You know how that's going to end, almost from the start, and yet it's a movie to watch time and again. I love it.

This one, it's too contrived for my taste. The magic isn't coherent. There are so many loopholes and absurdities that suspension of disbelief is a big ask indeed. A brick wall dividing the magic world from the non-magic, and the portal is guarded day and night. The portal is merely a gap in a stone wall that anyone could clamber over in a jiffy. You'd think the gatekeeper would patch the hole and go home to get some sleep.

Or truth-telling runes that know everything. Throw them up, ask a question, and the truth is revealed in the way they fall. Yeah, right. I know it's just a device, but when the universe, in the shape of a few stones, becomes a sentient being instantly attuned to the petty questions of random humans, then I find it hard to swallow.

And don't get me started on Babylon candles...

Yeah, I know. I loved Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium and that's full of magic.

But in that tale, the magic was coherent and limited. The magic toys and the magic store were juvenile. They didn't have all knowledge and all powers built into them. The mobile made of living seacreatures was something I found difficult, but a poignant sock-puppet or a dancing wood cube, okay, I'll swallow that.

In Stardust, the only time I felt comfortable was aboard Captain Shakespeare's wonderful flying ship, with the lightning nets and the tatty gasbag, and the ridiculously camp captain. Not to mention the overblown pirate crew. That was fun.

The magic was too Hollywood for me. Michelle Pfeiffer plays an ancient crone, made temporarily young by arcane magic. She eats a talisman and becomes gorgeous, drops her robe and her fellow crones gash in admiration and jealousy. And then each time she uses a bit of magic, she pays for it in a few instant liver spots. At one point, her breasts suddenly slump - foooomp-fooomp! - as if whatever is controlling the magic has an eye for drama. Good effect, but contrived. Forced. Imposed on the viewer.

Maybe the book is better. Sometimes an author - and Neil Gaiman is a wonderfully inventive storyteller - can hold a corny tale together with his style. Terry Pratchett is another, where the author's individual style is as much a character as any of the players.*

Maybe I should read the book, hey?

Don't get me wrong. For all of my carping and grumping, I liked this movie. I almost ordered it from Amazon - a constant temptation for easy wish-fulfilment, especially when they seem to know just what I'd like to buy from them each time I visit - or ducked down to the video store, or the library, or went for a download from iTunes, but my daughter unearthed a pirate copy she'd snapped up for a buck in Shenzen a couple of years back. It skipped and paused a few times when we whacked it in the DVD and hit the go button, but my wife and I had a pleasant couple of hours enjoying the fun and fantasy.

I'd recommend it for people into this sort of thing, but it didn't have the sort of magic that puts a movie or a book or a place or a person into my heart forever.


* Especially in the footnotes. Some of Terry Pratchett's footnotes are pure genius.
skyring: (Default)
I'm having a great deal of fun with the new blog I'm co-writing with Discoverylover. You may credit her with the light-hearted design of the thing - I just write every second letter and talk about stuff I like.

I'm going to crosspost the reviews here and to skyring.com.au, but if you want to read the correspondence and comments, you'll have to go over there.

It's also full of advertising, in that links to books and movies and songs take you to Amazon, and if you buy something as a result of one of those clicks, we get a little bit back. I selected this way of monetising the blog because it's not full of in your face ads from Google, and I enjoy a visit to Amazon, where I can read reviews and stuff, so I figure our readers probably will as well.

As for the letters we write, they are turning into something philosophical. I'm just going to let the corresepondence go where it wants - Discoverylover has an upbeat view of the world, which I love.
skyring: (Default)
It's love. Let's make no mistake. I love New Zealand.

From the moment I landed in Auckland with my bride on our honeymoon, twenty-something years back, I have been intoxicated by the land, the beauty, the people, the history.

For two weeks we roamed the two islands from top to bottom, pausing in our campervan at scenic beauty points, admiring the raw and rugged mountains, tramping up to glaciers, boating along underground rivers lit only by millions of glow-worms, and simply enjoying the land, each other and happiness.

And for the next twenty years, as we raised a family and settled down, we dreamed of returning.

Which at last we did, retracing our steps, this time staying with friends or in motels, swapping the campervan for a rental car with a couple of teenagers in the back seat.

The magic was there, as strong as ever. For our two kids, it was their first overseas trip, and while I can no longer think of New Zealand as quite the exotic destination it seemed at the time, it was still a suitably foreign land.

Twin manias marked our return visit. Lord of the Rings and BookCrossing.

Top BookCrossers

BookCrossing first. I'll write more about it one day, but basically this crazy American idea is that you go to a website, get an identification number for a label which you stick in a book, which you then leave - on a park bench, in a coffee shop, dangling in a plastic bag from a tree, or, as I did one sunny afternoon, under the snout of a New Zealand glacier. People find the book - after all, a book is a valuable and useful object - read the label which directs them to the BookCrossing.com site, enter the ID number and read about the book. Who registered it, what travels it has had, where it was "released into the wild". And if they want, they may make their own entry in the book's journal.

The stories build and continue, but though the books have tales to tell, by far the most interesting element of the operation is the half million or so BookCrossers around the world. Well-read, clever, generous and quirky people, they are such a delight to be with that for the past few years of my life I have devoted myself to meeting as many of them as I can, at various meetings around the world. Which is how I found myself sitting at Discoverylover's smiling feet, one evening in Wellington.

I left a trail of books around New Zealand. On beaches, in parks, on the interisland ferry, on hostel swapshelves and by pools of boiling mud. And I got to meet some of the most amazing BookCrossers in the world, people who had released thousands of books.

The Lord of the Rings was the second madness. Peter Jackson had just finished filming his trilogy of movies and the whole country was Lord of the Rings crazy.

In Wellington huge figures of orcs and elves, trolls and Nazgul decorated the buildings, every restaurant seemed to have a themed menu, the Post Office had issued Lord of the Rings stamps, and you could not turn a corner without a billboard proclaiming the premiere of the third and final movie, The Return of the King.

And I must say that New Zealand landscapes lend themselves to the flavour of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. The mountain ranges are tall and snowcapped, the hills are green and rolling, the forests dark and impressive. As we drove through the land, we could almost sense the hobbits in the rural hills and groves, the orcs in the wild places, the trolls in the mountains and the mighty armies marching over the long plains.

I enjoyed my second honeymoon as much as the first, taking such pleasure in the experience that I wrote a book about the two trips, called Bookcrossing through Middle-Earth. Self-published on Lulu, it has seen a modest success, and while it is little more than a peek at this small country and proud history, I enjoyed writing it, and there are some patches of humour in it.*

Since that trip. I've been back once or twice each year. Sometimes, a roadtrip, sometimes a week, sometimes a night in an airport hotel. But one thing's for sure - if the New Zealanders are holding a BookCrossing convention, I am there!

The scenery is stunning. I like to say that it leans in the window and says "Hello!", and compared to Australia's largely horizontal vistas, that's what strikes me. The mountains tower overhead, one looks down over glittering lakes, blinding white glaciers, convoluted shorelines of capes and inlets, and everywhere you look, the eye is thrilled by something.

Queenstown is possibly the most beautiful place I've seen on this planet. Looking down over placid Lake Wakitipu from Bob's Peak, the tourist town is a quiet green gem surrounded by water, with the stunning backdrop of the snow-capped Remarkables beyond. It is the sort of place where overseas film stars maintain holiday homes, and may occasionally be seen walking amongst the backpackers.

Dunedin, southernmost of the four big cities, has a quaint Scottish charm to it. Chill and dour in winter, the grey stone buildings of this university town evoke the Scots capital. Robbie Burns looks down on the central square and Highland Pipe bands compete each year, marching and skirling through the streets.

Christchurch probably has my heart most of all. This comfortable city has the beautiful River Avon winding through the middle, parkland to one side, old stone buildings and modern office blocks on the other. Boatered punters take tourists out on the shallow river. In Autumn, the leaves are a riot of colour.

Wellington on the North Island is the capital, reminiscent of San Francisco overlooking a harbour with wooden houses perched on hillsides. The city itself is cramped between mountains and sea, and it hosts one of the best national museums in the world. Te Papa holds the soul of the nation, Māori and Pākehā history and heroes in great galleries, the unique flora and fauna beautifully presented.

And, northernmost of the four, Auckland is the largest. Fought over for centuries by the Māori for its strategic position, it occupies a narrow land between two harbours. Aptly named the City of Sails for the yachts that crowd its waters, it has the population and the feel of a great city. For myself, I love the ferry ride across the harbour to Devonport, home to a library of second-hand bookshops and quaint cafes.

Or a meal I once had, of exquisitely tender lamb shanks washed down with Monteith Golden Ale, beside the Viaduct Wharf where the America's Cup competition was held, a gay waiter outrageously camp for us.

New Zealand holds so many wonderful memories for me. I can't do the land justice in a blog post - I should write a book.

Oh wait, I did!


* Mostly in the footnotes.


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