Thursday, December 24, 2009

MERRY CHRISTMAS from Franz Josef!

We’re now in the township of Franz Josef, having left Christchurch with not a whisper about where our luggage is or when/if we might see it again. PACIFIC BLUE SUCKS BIG TIME! Jo took my Property Irregularity Report at the office on Monday morning & encouraged me to call for news, which I did during office hours. They simply stopped answering the phone & I was only able to get a recorded message—telling me the office hours were 9.00 to 5.00 and that they were sorry they couldn’t take my call and that I should leave a message—on Tuesday and Wednesday.

So, I’m over it. I’ve stopped calling now (well, it’s Christmas Day) and I’ve got used to my new cheap wardrobe.

I scooted around Christchurch for a couple of days taking photos. We crossed the Southern Alps on the Tranzalpine on Wednesday and it was breathtaking. Yesterday we walked on the Franz Josef glacier. It’s probably the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done, apart from pushing Alex out. (Well, perhaps it’s just the most strenuous thing I can remember doing. Perhaps when I was younger and stronger I did more physically difficult things, but I can’t remember any.) I don’t think I have too many more years left when I can think of attempting such a climb. But I’m glad to have worn cramp-ons on big old walking boots one time in my life.

Franz Josef glacier and its brother/sister, the Fox glacier, are the glaciers closest to sea level in the world, (just 300 metres above) and only 19 km from the Tasman Sea (or the ditch as we call it in our part of the world). It's quite comfortable, as far as temperature is concerned, to climb the glacier in the summer. Apparently Australia is to blame (to be thanked?) for the large volume of precipitation here: the glacier gets 7 metres of snow a year. Warm hot air comes across the ditch & hits the Southern Alps & can't go through them, so rises and forms precipitation when it hits the high cold air. Voila! Glaciers and a very wet west coast.

OK, got to get inside now. Am being eaten alive by sandflies & I can only access the internet from the office, which is now closed, so I'm sitting on the bench outside. More later.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

JETSTAR SUCKS: A Bagless Lady in Christchurch

Arrived at Sydney Airport about 3.3o for ourflight to Christchurch at 5.10. We would arrive in the capital of New Zealand's south island at 10 pm or so, but that was the earliest flight I could get on Sunday. Picked up the boarding passes, went to gate 25 and waited with the others.

About 4.30, when we expected the boarding announcement, we hear: "This is an announcement for passengers on JQ151. The flight has been delayed due to infrastructure and baggage room issues. Jetstar regrets the 30 minute delay to the flight and thanks you for your patience."

What is a "baggage room issue", I wonder. Have some pollies been debating on the carousels? I sit and read the paper, glancing up sometimes to watch the munchkins crawl over the carpet. One little blond boy whizzes around making whooshing noises, his grubby security blanket billowing behind him like Superman's cape.

A little while later and another announcement citing the ongoing "issues" with the luggage and regretting the delay. And then we're told we will be boarding in five minutes. People perk up, and then passengers with seats from 15 to 30 are invited to board. Ours are 29 and 30. Even though you'll read in the Wikipedia link for Jetstar that it allows passengers to choose seating when booking online, unfortunately it hasn't perfected that revolutionary practice as yet, and my son and I would be seated one row apart.

The Korean lady, who'd shared with me her occupation (she is a housewife), her recent past (she'd been on a three-day tour of Australia), and her future plans (she was now flying to New Zealand for a three-day tour) asked me what was happening with the flight. Explanation was difficult as her English language confidence exceeded her ability. However, I showed her five fingers and pointed to her watch. She smiled and nodded.

When I got to the front of the queue and handed over my boarding pass, I pointed out Jetstar's mistake in our seating arrangements and asked if Alex and I could sit together. She said that it was impossible change the seating at this time: the plane was fully booked; I might be able to negotiate with other passengers once the plane had taken off. The girl took Alex's boarding pass and placed it back into his passport and handed it back to him. Mine she lingered over.

"Oh, you've dropped off the system," she told me. "Someone else has been assigned to your seat, even though you have a boarding pass."

"What does that mean?" I asked her.

"The plane's fully booked," she told me. "There aren't any extra seats."

I repeated the earlier question. "I just have to speak to my supervisor," she said, and for the next 40 minutes or so, the three staff discussed my situation with the supervisor and among themselves, but not with me. I waited and watched as all the other passengers boarded. I stayed close so that I could listen in to their conversations for news of my plight because they were not sharing anything with me directly.

Finally Carolyne, a beautiful young woman from Fiji, said that they had arranged for me to get a Pacific Blue flight which was leaving soon and that she would walk me to the gate. It was a couple of kilometres over the polished tiles to gate 63. When we got there Carolyne hesitated. I said, "You're staying with me. If you don't organise my flight, they won't know what's happening."

"Yes, but there doesn't seem to be anyone here from Pacific Blue."

She was right. There were no Pacific Blue staff behind the counter, but many agitated people milling around and three of them now appr0ached us.

"When are we boarding?" asked a man from the U.S.

"Sorry, I don't know," answered Carolyne, "I don't work for them. I work for Jetstar."

"We've been calling the Pacific Blue office and they keep telling me they're sending someone, but no-one's come," said a young Aussie guy. "Can you tell them to come?"

"Sorry, I have no connection with Pacific Blue." But she was doomed. Her red blazer made her stand out and every few minutes another desperate passenger approached asking for news of the flight. They'd been in the lounge waiting for an hour and a half with no information and no airline staff. A Pacific Blue guy finally came and asked some of the passengers what was going on.

He went down the passageway with a couple of colleagues, whipping through the self-locking door down to the on-ramp and away from the approaching group of irate passengers. After about half an hour, two Pacific Blue staff arrived. One of them, Marija, had been sent down to solve the chaos, after being hired by the company about five minutes earlier. As I watched them put my details into the Pacific Blue manifold through trial and error, Carolyne suggesting a fix when they weren't able to enter the information, I had an uncomfortable thought that my problems were probably not over yet.

Well, we did finally get onto the Pacific Blue flight and arrived in Christchurch about 2.30 a.m. on Monday. My foreboding when I watched the three inexperienced women on the computers the night before was realised. We had arrived in Christchurch with our carry-on luggage which included this laptop and a camera, but no spare undies or a toothbrush. (From this, dear readers, unfortunately you get a very good view of my priorities.) The taxi dropped us at the Ibis Hotel down the lane from Cathedral Square and right next door to a luggage shop.

Have not heard good news from the lost baggage people at Christchurch Airport. Am off to find a change of undies, a toothbrush, and perhaps something a bit warmer to wear. (It's bloody cold with that wind, though the skies are very blue.)

More information about Christchurch anon.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Change of Seasons

I love this time of year in Sydney. The winter quilts come off & they're stowed at the top of the wardrobe until next May. The weather is not very hot yet, not as hot as it will get over the next five months. It's warm enough to go about with thin cotton clothing, no sleeves, shorts, but not so hot that you have to cover up and race for shade to escape the baking radiance of the sun.

On Botany Bay, the kiteboarders get out in the wind and ride the choppy water.

In November the jacarandas bloom: lovely exotics. Strong perfume of jasmine on the night breeze and the Christmas trees turning pink and then red. No Christmas beetles these days, though. When I was a child, November and December meant flying hordes of them. My brothers caught them, raced them in competitions. Colours like gemstones.

And more recently in Sydney, November means Sculpture by the Sea, ranged along the cliff walk from Tamarama to Bondi Beach.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Images from the Blue Mountains

Spent a weekend in the Blue Mountains with my yoga teachers and classmates. This is the view of the Megalong Valley from Kanimbla Retreat at Blackheath.
And here are some of the flowers around the bush on the property.

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The Resolution of the Optus Saga . . .?

Just to follow up the previous post, at my wit's end, I contacted the TIO (the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) by email, describing the situation. They got back to me telling me that I should give Optus 10 days to recify the situation. (In addition to the seven or so months they'd already had.) I was not happy with this because I was about to start working in a new position which necessitated me being at the college until 9.30 on Wednesday nights. I wanted my son to be able to reach me on my mobile phone.

SingTel Optus Pty LimitedImage via Wikipedia

At the same time, I had found the only person who actually does any work in Optus (I mean apart from the labour of apologising, wishing people a nice day, and taking garbled messages). His name is Petrit and he managed, in one hour, to do what a host of people had not managed to do in over seven months. He called me and told me that I would need a new SIM card. He said that it would be faster if he organised a SIM card for me at my closest Optus shop, and took the sim number from the shop assistant, to begin the process of having it turned on before I picked it up.

He looked up the closest shop for me and I was there in an hour to pick up the SIM card which was effective: I was able to make and receive phone calls immediately.
With communications anything is possible! I agree Optus. If your valued clients are willing to hang on for 6 months, it is possible to find someone actually working in communications in Optus.

Thank you Petrit. Big gold star for you! Brickbats for your employer.

However, seems that the saga has still not reached its last page. Yesterday I got a phone call from a man in India. He said he was an Optus employee checking on how I liked the service (Ha!). I told him that getting my mobile service turned on was marginally less painful than pushing my son out of my womb and took nearly as long as the pregnancy. He said that he would ask about that soon but first he needed my date of birth for "security reasons". I said that, as I couldn't check who he was, I felt insecure about giving my date of birth. I asked for his employee number. He didn't hear that. (In fact, I wondered if he could hear very much at all. He was shouting down the phone line so loudly that I had to hold the mobile away from my ear, to avoid injury. )

In spite of the volume of his monologue, I was able to make out perhaps 60% of what he was trying to shout. Virtually incomprehensible to me, despite my skill at comprehending the English of less-than-fluent speakers which has been a large part of my job for the last 30 years.

So he said he could ask me another security question: when was the mobile service established? I told him the date it was turned on and he said that was wrong. His records showed that it had happened earlier. I told him his records were wrong, and that I was beginning to experience a flashback to the earlier trauma caused by my trying to deal with Optus. I begged out of the conversation. And now I contemplate my next round: the calls that I will have to make in a week or two when the first mobile bill comes.

I did, however, get a call from the Optus complaints resolution department in Perth, on the day the mobile was turned on. I told John about my dealings with the company and he asked how he could make it right for me. I said that money was the bottom line and that Optus could compensate me for the disservice it had done me. He offered a credit of the first six months of charges to the that mobile number. I agreed to that. We'll see whether it happens. If not, I'm going straight back to the TIO. It seems to get results.
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Friday, October 9, 2009


I have been distracted in the past couple of months with the frustrations that using newish technologies elicit. The biggest frustration is having to tell your pathetic Luddite story to one call centre technician after another in Bangalore, or Delhi or Manila; being tossed from one to another, like human remains between tiger sharks. I know I need to calm down, take some long slow breaths, do a downward dog or an ardha chandrasana, but that's not what I do. Never one to take good advice, especially from myself, I get irritated, then angry, then sleepless.

At the beginning of September, I bought Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac. I'd watched video podcasts on the amazing effects one can produce with the software and I lusted after it. I found a good price from a place in Sydney. With the student/teacher discount the price was just under $100. (The Mac Shop sold the same item for $196! Unbelievable! How can they justify a 100% markup? )

So elated with the new toy, I sashayed home, loaded the software and, well, not very much really. I played and played and watched many video podcasts, and over a month of playing I worked out how to use some of it. The problem with the software was that the help screens were not helpful. They are factual in a kind of Wikipedia way; they describe what the program can do--they don't tell you how to do it. What I needed was an Ikea kind of manual.

There are a great multitude of people and companies who will happily sell you courses to teach you Photoshop Elements; however, the courses cost more than the software. The free video podcasts on iTunes were very informative, though. The more I learned the curiouser I became. I was able to follow and carry out some of the transformations guided by the beginner podcasts and began creating funny (to me) composite photos starring friends and family.

But there was something curious: the Elements screen I saw on the podcast videos was not exactly the screen I saw on my computer when I opened the program. These podcast people had lots of fascinating little thumbnail icons on the right of their screen under the rubric "Effects": shadows, boxes, colour swatches, patterns--all the fascination of a treasure trove of possibilities. I, on the other hand, was only able to see a rather depressing grey rectangle, and, when I moved my cursor to the area, a black circle with a diagonal line through it, denoting something is illegal.

I found an on-line bulletin board and asked my question: Where are my "effects" and got very timely answers. (Someone was out there to hear me scream.) I searched my hard drive and found a funny little file which I chucked in the trash, following instructions, but I still couldn't see the "effects". I uninstalled and reinstalled the program a couple of times, but still no luck.

There was nothing for it: I would have to go to that place where we all would rather not--I would have to call the service desk in India.

Now, perhaps I am overstating the case, here. There may be people who are unperturbed at the prospect of waiting on the line, being misdirected, waiting on the line again, and repeating their symptoms to two or three or four people, all of whom seem to have learned the lesson about apologising and wishing clients a good day, but generally lack some other vital skills: notably a knowledge of the product and comprehensible pronunciation: specifically, intonation.

However, this time I did finally speak to a helpful technician, Kanal, who stayed with me, talking me through a series of procedures for an hour and, voila, I could now see all the missing bits of my program. Seems I had to log on as an administrator to access the "effects". Why, I have no idea; never encountered a program before that had bits only accessible to administrators. So I logged on as an administrator. The next problem was, I couldn't access my "Pictures" folder with my photos on it, which is saved among the Elements folders, if I logged on as an administrator. So . . . I changed my log-on details so that both the username and the admin name have the same rights and thought myself very clever indeed.

This problem was relatively short-lived; it took just a couple of weeks to solve. However, I am still grappling with another problem involving regular phone calls to India, which has been festering for SIX MONTHS!

In April I was contacted on the land-line by an Indian guy calling himself Nates, who provided me with his Optus (an Australian--actually Singaporean, I believe--Telco) employee number: CP405549. He asked me if I would like a whizz-bang new mobile. I was not interested, actually. Came to mobile phones very late and I was happy with my bottom-of-the-range machine: no camera, no graphics, no access to email or the internet. I just used it to make phone calls to keep in touch with my son or to tell the office if I was stuck in a traffic jam on my way to work. So that bit did not fill me with lust. However, I had been unhappy with my bandwidth allowance and knew people who had a much bigger allowance for less outlay with the same company. So I told Nates that, and he promised me a deal which included more gigabytes of bandwidth (10 as opposed to my 6) and this new mobile set, which would arrive in a couple of days. I would not have to do anything, according to Nates--Optus would do everything: turn on the mobile at a prearranged time and institute the new bandwidth allowance at the beginning of the next calendar month.

Well, at the beginning of May Optus did not supply me with the promised 10 gigabytes of internet access. They supplied me with 7 gigabytes. Even though I did complain on the 1st of May, you have to tell them BEFORE the beginning of the month if you want your allowance changed the next month. Catch 22 is that you don't know what your allowance will be until you access your account on the first day of the new month. So, I had to wait another month for the promised increased bandwidth allowance.

The mobile phone, though, arrived a couple of days after Nates' phone call, as promised. I opened the package and inside was a warning that if you opened it, you could not change your mind and send the phone back in the 10-day cooling-off period. Tricky that, putting those instructions inside the package, instead of outside. OK, though, I played with the machine and waited for Optus to port my mobile number, as they said they would do. A few days later, I was still not able to make calls from the new phone. OK, I thought, doesn't worry me. I'm happy with the old phone. As long as they don't start charging me for phone calls, I'm sweet. I'll just put the phone into a drawer & forget about it. Which I did, until a month ago.

In September I got a letter from Optus giving me a deadline to ring them at a Melbourne phone number and explain why I hadn't got the phone turned on. I rang and explained about Nates and his assurance that I would not have to do anything. I quoted the information inside the telephone package which said the same thing: the number will be automatically ported in a couple of days. Carry the two phones on the agreed porting day.

Andrew in the Melbourne Optus office said they'd have to get me to agree, over the phone, again, to have the number ported from my old Telco, Virgin, to Optus. He said he'd ring me back when that was organised. When he got back to me, he appeared to have forgotten what he'd just said and talked about my sending back the phone. I said I'd opened it, but if he wanted me to do that I would. He said they wouldn't accept it because I'd opened it, but I would have to pay for it now: $300. I said that if they sent me a letter demanding $300 I would close all my accounts with Optus & choose another Telco. He said I was free to do that.

I waited for the letter. It didn't come. What did come was a text message, on my old phone, saying that the number would be ported in the next couple of days. Nothing happened. I got back to Optus. Someone played a tape to which I responded by agreeing again to have my mobile number ported to the new phone. That was about a month ago. Nothing much happened for all that time, except I spoke to Delhi four or five times asking them when the number would be ported. I insisted on speaking to the call centre worker's supervisor, Brian, a couple of times. But the problem with the call centre is that they don't do the work, they just take messages. No-one will give you a direct number to the people who do the work.

The most recent change in my situation is that since Monday this week, my number has been partially turned off from my old phone. As I said earlier, this is now six months after Nates' original phone call. Now, if someone calls that number, they get a message that it has been disconnected. Very useful for staying in contact with my son, work and my friends. I can still, however, make calls using that number from my old mobile set, but not from the new one.




Please watch the dead parrot sketch for a more informed understanding of the way I feel. I am John Cleese trying to get it through the thick head of a mall full of Scandinavian Blue salesmen that their birds are deceased.

Oh, and don't try to call me. My number has been disconnected. I'll call you.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Blood Red Dawn

Wednesday morning 23rd of September 2009 will be remembered for a long time in Sydney. It was the day we woke up to blood in the sky and dust in our mouths. Can't make out the first photo? It was what I saw at 6.15 or so that morning. For contrast, the second photo was taken around the same time on Saturday (this) morning. Still strange, other worldly, but with the red leached out. The third photo was taken around three hours later this morning. You can see a horizon, the other side of Botany Bay. You can even see a container ship approaching the docks on the far right if you look hard. The sky is once again blue-ish.

Another dust storm today. I could not remember a dust storm in Sydney, though I did spend more than ten years out of the country. The papers vindicated my memories: although weather bureau records show that dust storms have swept Sydney before, in 1994 I was out of the country; in '68 I don't know what I was doing, but I don't remember it; in '57 I was too young to remember anything and in '42 I wasn't even a twinkle in my father's eye.

The dust which blew over Sydney was estimated to weigh one quarter of the weight of Uluru, that Australian icon situated in the centre of the continent. The origin of the dust which still blankets Sydney was the area around the salt lakes of South Australia (about 1,500 kilometres away) and northern NSW. (These areas have been in drought for eight years.) A couple of weeks ago, scientists were studying this very dust on the snow of Mt Hutt in New Zealand.

Sometime this week I will take a photo at the same time of day as the first and second above to demonstrate the difference between what I see every morning and what I saw on Wednesday.
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

All Bonny Once

The evening class & I
(No women in the class. They weren't allowed out at night.)

A year or two ago, I got an email which I thought came from a sister-in-law, inviting me to join Facebook so that I could see her photos. I did this, setting up my own profile. I then found out that she didn't have any photos uploaded and that the email was automatically generated from Facebook itself. Before this, the only thing I knew about Facebook was that it wasn't "cool" any more (to young people), because the Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, had a profile--and he definitely wasn't cool.

I uploaded a few photos and nothing happened for over a year, except that a few ex-colleagues with Facebook accounts and also living in Sydney, contacted me asking to be my friend. And then I got a friend request from someone whose name I didn't know and whose message showed that he was not a native English speaker. I responded, asking him--I had encountered the name before in my years of teaching English, among my Arabic speaking students, and recognised it as a male name--why he wanted to be my friend, when we didn't know each other. And he responded by asking me a few pointed questions about my life: wasn't I the woman who taught in Cairo at the I.L.I., and then went to Hawai'i. . .? etc. Yes, that was me. But who was he?

The messages went slowly back and forth between us through Facebook and when he sent a photo, I realised that he had been one of my students in Egypt. He had changed his name somewhat when he emigrated from that country. We had become friends while I was in Egypt. We snailmailed each other for a while after my time in Cairo, but had somehow lost touch over the years. He said he visited me in Hawai'i but I have no memory of that. (Why is perhaps not salient here, but it's not the first time I haven't remembered something that a friend/acquaintance swears is true. Is this part of the human experience or am I getting Old Timer's disease?)

This contact brought back old memories and sent me trawling through my photo drawers. I looked and wept at the time gone and friends lost. And not only friends lost, but selves: the daughter, the traveller, the young woman, the backpacker, the partier, the expat, the dancer, the student, the girlfriend . . . "All changed, changed utterly".

And yet, inside I feel the same. The mirror brings me back with a start. What happened to that young woman? I look at myself now and think how bonny I was. At the time I did not think so. But in the comparison to the woman of many summers who now inhabits this space, I was Helen of Troy. And we were all bonny once.
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Friday, August 28, 2009

Torturing Children

I’m upset this morning, having read the headline and story about Philip Garido’s kidnapping, rape and 19-year incarceration of Jaycee Lee Dugard. She was abducted when she was eleven years old. I can’t imagine what that little girl went through.

This story is shocking because of the youth of the child and the way years were stolen from her childhood, her life. It’s more shocking because such stories are very unusual in the U.S. or anywhere in the first world. When we hear about such an outrage we are stunned, but throughout the world such stories would be more commonplace, if the child victims had a voice to tell them.

That story was a reminder about what kids all over the world suffer due to their lack of power. One of my students once told me about how she left her country. Let’s call her Grace. She was six when soldiers came to her village in Sierra Leone, and burned it. Her parents were killed, and Grace and her 10-year-old brother ran. They ran and ran until they had run right across the country, from Sierra Leone into Guinea, the ten-year-old protecting the six-year-old. My own son was ten at the time and I was aghast at the prospect of a child of that age looking after himself, let alone a younger child. The children I have known just didn’t have very much commonsense at that age. I guess that little boy, Grace’s brother, learned fast, and Grace kept it together in unimaginable circumstances, somehow, until she and her child managed to arrive in Australia, after many years in refugee camps.

The stories of children are more compelling than those of adults because their suffering is more tragic. They have no power to change their circumstances and overcome their oppression. We must feel for them. I support Oxfam because of their successful program which frees child soldiers.

The militias which kidnap children and force them to become soldiers are proxies of multinational companies and foreign powers. See
Because we all consume the products which are developed from the raw materials mined in places like the Congo, we are all culpable in this kidnapping and torture of children.

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My Music Wen Go

The music on my blog started playing up recently (no pun intended). I had hoped that it would just go on playing there in the background ad infinitum and I would add a new sound file now and then, when I intuited my readers might feel like hearing something new (or when I did). (BTW, if you're interested in quirky bits of information about English, click the link to "ad infinitum" and follow the links on that page.)

But today, I am informed, my playlist is empty. And so, I had to root around again through all my connections and links to work out where I got it from.

The google search "how to put music on my blog" led me to blogger help and a list of sites that store playlists. I know I used one of them, as blogger help was my only mentor when I was setting up. So, clicked through the list of links looking for one whose home page I recognised. Not the first, or second, or third. I wondered why I hadn't just chosen the first or second music host. Would have been the easiest option. But then I remembered that I was looking for David Parsons and gamelan

Sundanese Gamelan Degung.Image via Wikipedia

music, something I'd heard on "That Striped Sunlight Sound" (thanks Bob from Brisbane).

So eventually clicked "Playlist", which was recognisable, and so I think it's my host. The only problem was that it was down. Have just checked and I see that it's back up again, but now I appear to have another problem. Due to "licensing restrictions" it appears that some of my tracks (all of them, it seems) are no longer playable. Well, this gives me some research to be going on with today. I didn't realise there was a timelimit on hosting music. Must look closely at the terms & conditions at Playlist. Does anyone know anything about playlist hosting?

Have just dropped in at Playlist. It appears that Playlist will no longer host music for non-US members. I was directed, by another Playlist user, to imeem, but imeem only hosts 30 seconds of a track AND they wish to access your email list. Don't like that. Don't think my email contacts will like being emailed. No, I have to find another host. I'm wondering if 30 seconds is the norm for hosting music tracks. If you have any idea about this, please let me know.

(About my blog title: it's Hawai'i Creole English. "Wen" is a past tense marker, to which the infinitive is attached, in this case "go". )
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Talking Books II (London Fields)

What do they say? If you do the same thing twice and expect to get a different result, you're fooling yourself? Or are you mad? Can't remember.

2007 fiction listImage by Kilgub via Flickr

I admit that many of the talking books I have listened to have been annoying, frustrating, and sometimes so irritating that I have given up the fight & decided that I just wouldn't waste the time (e.g., "Middlesex"; see my July entry "Talking Books" .) But I have listened to a good one or two along the way ("Lord of the Rings", "People of the Book", "The Poisonwood Bible").

And so I came to Martin Amis' "London Fields" in the local library. Meaty!

Cover of Cover of LONDON FIELDS

18 CDs. No need to look for another one for a couple of weeks. Kill the dreaded commute and its traffic frustration for some time. But now I think that the bad is outweighing the good in my experience of talking books. I will have to find some other way to survive the ride. The problem is that nothing can pull me in like a good story to make me forget the tedium and frustration of being in traffic.

"London Fields" is read by Steven Pacey, and I think he generally does a good job. He does a New York accent, a cockney accent, an upper-class twit accent, a Jamaican-London accent, all very creditably, I think. But as with the readers of "Middlesex" and "The Unknown Terrorist", where this reader falls down, is when he tries to portray an important female character. I don't believe Nicola Six. It's not just that the accent is not very good, not like the Balkan English accents I'm familiar with. But also, Nicola's dialogue doesn't sound like it is delivered by a sexy woman, more like a chain-smoking drag queen. And so I can't buy it that all the male characters are in love with her, which is a big disadvantage for this novel, whose plot turns on her ability to manipulate the men and so bring about the climax of the novel.

On the one hand, I blame the actor for my inability to suspend my disbelief and live in the world of the novel for a couple of weeks. On the other hand, I have a nagging doubt about the novelist's skill. So I go to the critics because, as I said in my earlier entry on talking books, after my encounter with the talking book, I could not bear to read the print version now.

Most of the more recent reviewers laud "London Fields" as one of Amis' best and some go so far as to say it's a modern masterpiece. I only found one review that I was able to agree with: "What can Amis have against these minimally developed characters that he devotes nearly 500 pages to demolishing them? There's disgust aplenty here — but little else" (Library Journal). There is more damning criticism from reviews written soon after 1989, when the novel was published. But I still can't decide whether my opinion of the novel would have been different had I read rather than heard it. I know I liked "The Information", published a year or two before "London Fields", very much.

Miss Understood by David ShankboneImage via Wikipedia

I don't believe in Nicola Six and I have a suspicion that Amis fell down in his attempt to write a woman. (Can't remember how well he did in his portrayal of a woman in "The Information".) Nicola Six is a male fantasy, but she says herself that she is a male fantasy. Surely no woman thinks of herself in this way. Others might think of her like this but does any real woman think of herself as a non-person, someone else's idea? Doesn't every person think s/he is real? And wouldn't someone just off herself if she didn't want to live anymore? And why doesn't Nicola Six want to live any more? There isn't a reason given, as far as I could glean. So I'm no closer to an answer to my question here.

Am I arguing with the novel or the reader?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What are you reading?

riemann surface of Sqrt[z], projection from 4d...Image via Wikipedia

Have just finished "The Housekeeper + The Professor" by Yoko Ogawa. When I was tossing and turning with the night frights at 2 am, I sank into its sweet leaves. After a chapter, I was able to close my eyes again, and drift off in a contented sleep for another couple of hours, until the alarm woke me.

Sweet story about the friendship between a housekeeper, her son, and the former maths professor who she keeps house for. The professor has been in a car accident, and, as a result, can only retain the previous 80 minutes in memory. After 80 minutes, he remembers only the long-term memories he had at the time of his accident more than thirty years ago. He loves the housekeeper's son and calls him "Root" because the top of his head is flat just like the square root sign.

On "First Tuesday Book Club", Marieke Hardy gave the book a less than complimentary review, saying something to the effect that it attempted to make maths look like fun, but she didn't buy it. I did, although I hated the subject at school, and was greatly relieved when I didn't have to study it as an undergraduate at uni, only to despair again when it reared its head as statistics in more recent courses. "Standard deviation", I can remember, at least the name, if not the definition. And "fishing trip", and "sample size", but not much else. But the novel, and its maths was fascinating.

Cover of "Half of a Yellow Sun"Cover of Half of a Yellow Sun

I have been quite busy over the last couple of weeks with my photography course, and so I haven't read as many novels as I like to. Began "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but I found it hard to continue. Quite cold, somehow, the prose. I didn't feel for any of the characters. I think I should give it another go. (It got great reviews.) I should try again to crack this imaginary world and taste it. I think I have read Chinua Achebe, a fellow Nigerian and a mentor for Adichie, but, unfortunately, unless I have someone to talk to about the books I read, I forget a great deal about them. Sometimes I even forget the titles and borrow them again from the library and about 20 pages in, I begin to predict quite accurately what will happen.

So many books, so little time. I can't afford to be reading too many books twice.

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