Monday, February 26, 2007

Marketing without Money

When I ran OC Books, one of the biggest issues I used to find with direct marketing, was getting the suppliers to back you up with stock. Because we often advertised books that were a little off the mainstream of Christian publishing, the suppliers shook in their shoes – or so it seemed – at the thought of holding more than a few copies of the titles we wanted to promote. Yet they knew that almost invariably, if I ordered books for our email direct marketing, we would usually do quite well with them.
Who can blame them? And who am I to preach on marketing, direct, indirect or out in left field?
While I was managing the shop I sometimes felt as though I’d read every book on marketing there is to read. I hadn’t, of course, since books on marketing are like weeds: the more you read them, the more there are to read. But I did learn a few things over the years, and put a lot of the things I learnt into practice. The actual approaches worked; it was just having enough money to take the approaches that was the issue.
We tried everything: different signage, giving away things, radio advertising (a real fizzer – for us, anyway – and expensive). Of course we tried direct marketing, which turned into email marketing as time went on, and that was pretty successful overall. We just needed more customers – and getting those was always the biggest issue, since there were several other Christian bookshops similar to ours that were fighting for the same few people.
We got ourselves in the newspapers several times, for free…and I still shudder at some of the pictures the reporters published alongside their articles. It seemed as though we were fated to have awful pictures sitting next to the text. There was one in particular which embarrasses me to this day, of a couple leaning over the counter, she wearing some long pink knitted thing that became the sole source of attention in the photo. The fact that the interior of our shop was in the background was neither here nor there.
I even contemplated tv advertising once, since Channel 9 here in Dunedin was offering it at a reasonable rate. And I do mean reasonable. I’d never considered telly ads before, but this was certainly tempting. But I was rather put off (apart from, as usual, having too little cash to spare) by the awful ad they did for the University Bookshop, which seemed to have nothing to do with books, had a strange sexual component, and must have been aimed at weirdo bookreaders. And anyway, did I really want an ad for OC Books appearing in the ad breaks for Cow TV?

More from John Wain

I find John Wain’s understanding of the Christian background to Shakespeare’s plays very good – almost to the point where I wonder if Wain isn’t a Christian himself. I’ve just seen on Wikipedia this note: "Wain's tutor at Oxford had been C.S. Lewis. He encountered, but did not feel he belonged to, Lewis's literary circle, the Inklings. Wain took literature as seriously as the Inklings did, and believed as they did in the primacy of literature as communication, but as a modern realist writer he shared neither their conservative social beliefs nor their propensity for fantasy."
That may account for more than a little!


I found another interesting section in his book on Shakespeare that I’ve been quoting from. He’s talking about King Lear, at this point.

‘All this titanic expenditure of effort and suffering to teach two stupid old men how to love? Yes: and rightly; for the colossal extravagance of means, the cosmic excess of upheaval and waste, celebrates the range and importance of the nature of man. At such time, even the supreme powers of the universe (whatever and wherever they may be) humble themselves before man, and bow to him, for

Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The gods themselves throw incense.


That line reminds me of another, in Love’s Labours Lost, where the character is talking about the effect of women on men:

And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.


There’s something in Shakespeare’s view of human beings that indicates he feels ‘the gods’ are often in awe of these two-pronged creations.


Drawing of Lear by Boardman Robinson

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A couple of bitzer quotes


I quote I found in something called, More Real People. The date is 16th Feb, 1985, and I have no longer have any idea what More Real People was.

Water bed for sale. Reason for selling: husband and wife drifting apart.

And something one of Concert FM’s announcers said the other morning, when explaining that a composer used a pseudonym when composing.

‘Pseudonym – that’s French for nom-de-plume.’

Knowing this announcer, I’m sure he was throwing this line in to see who was really listening.

Under the Bed

My mother died recently. She was never the sort of person to have things like life insurance, and, because she lived with us for the last 22 years, she had no need of house or car insurance (she gave her car away one day to a young man who had his eye on it!). Furthermore, she believed in the principle of sowing riches in heaven, and we are still getting what she rather ironically called, ‘begging letters’, from the large number of the charities she had donated to, in small amounts, for many years.
She kept telling us she was giving us all her money while she was alive, and that there wouldn’t be any inheritance. We were happy with that: she was one of the most generous people I’ve known.
However, we discovered, after she died, that she had quite a large sum of money under the bed (literally in a drawer under the bed), the sort of amount most people don’t believe in keeping lying around. And on top of that, her bank account had more than enough in it to pay for her funeral, something she always said would be the case. We were very grateful that the money was there. We could have covered the costs, but it would have reduced the money we had considerably. Funerals, even for little old ladies who would sooner not have one at all (!), don’t come cheap.
We were fortunate too, I guess, that she didn’t have a long spell of sickness before she died. Covering those sort of medical costs can quickly reduce the income – especially as I’ve only got back into full-time work after being unemployed for around six months.
Insurance portal online – normally known as the rather more mouth-filling insuranceportalonline.com – is one of those sites where you can get quotes for the three basic types of insurance, life, house and car. It’s a nicely laid-out site, with good, clear guidelines to what insurance is and isn’t, and, apart from one typo (‘frequent asked questions’) on the bottom of every page, is easy to follow. They don’t do medical insurance, but that’s okay. They’ll have enough on their plate doing the other three!
I don’t know whether it was their site, or my browser, but on their frequent asked questions page, the text suddenly changes from the normal small size they use to a different font (the equivalent of moving from Times New Roman to Ariel in a different point) and the lines are sitting partly on top of each other. An eye-catching effect, but probably not an intended one!
Disclosure statement Mike Crowl also writes here

Saturday, February 24, 2007

One thing leads to another...

Things on the Net lead from one thing to another. I was looking at a post on myLot (yup, that’s the way it’s written) and in the course of one of their forum discussions came across a link to a site where there was some discussion of other places you get paid for posting. I went to the site, clicked on the link, and clicked, and clicked, and a lovely blank column between two columns with advertising came up. Finally I emailed the owner of the blog and mentioned that there seemed to be a problem. Since then, she and I have had an ongoing conversation about blogs and paid posts and such, and she’s been very helpful.
She fixed the link, apparently, because next day it was back to normal, and one of the sites she mentions as being worth a look is blogsvertise, which runs things in a slightly different way to PayPerPost, but seems a bit more friendly. Well, my email friend says they are on her site, and she’s in the know, having used them.
blogsvertise, which I’ve now had to add to my spellchecker, doesn’t have the same sort of discriminatory process that PayPerPost seems to be indulging in at present. That’s nice – it joins Blogitive in my books as being a place I’d prefer to deal with. Not that I’ve give up PPP completely, as one of my most recent posts suggests, but if they keep on going with their current policies, we may have to part company.
In the meantime, here I am trying yet another approach to making money on the Net, and waiting for some results from my new acquaintances at blogsvertise.

More on the job

I meant to say, in the post I did on the place I’m working at, at present, that for some of the staff a good deal of the day is spent running (not literally) back and forth between the two buildings. This is probably about a 100 metre walk from where I work, along the road to the corner and down at right angles, but several of us indulge in this form of exercise several times a day. When, as a temp, I was in the job I was originally employed for, I spent more time wandering back and forth. It gave me some fresh air, gave me something to do to fill in the not-always-filled time, and gave me contact with a different set of faces. In my current status, I’m not able to leave the office quite so much, but there are still excuses for getting over there, such as when one of the other staff says, ‘Are you going over to H St?’ and I say Yes, because why should I not?
I’m not getting the normal exercise I’ve had for years in my other jobs, where I was able to walk to work. With this job starting at 8, it takes quite some effort to get away by 7.30, and it’s further away than my other jobs were. I may yet start to gear myself up to getting up early enough to do this, but after some months of not having to get up quite so early as in the past, I’ve got out of the habit.
By the way, I mentioned the ANZ man in yesterday’s post. For those who don’t know what I was referring to, this is the link.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Who cut the corner off?

The Royal Bank of Scotland has something they call the ‘mint’ card – it’s basically a form of credit card. I’ve checked out their site and can’t quite see why they’ve called it a mint card, but maybe I’ve missed something. (You’d think it had something to do with the Royal Mint). There are two odd things about the mint card: one is that it’s the first credit card to have a corner cut off it. Okay, you say, that’s interesting. (Yes, I thought so too!) This certainly makes it stand out a bit from the rest, but to me a far more interesting thing is that they’re offering a no interest deal up till December 2007 if you transfer your balance from another credit card. That’s pretty good. (There’s no interest, but there is a 2.9% charge on the balance, which is a little odd - number two ‘odd’ in fact).
The third odd, then, is that amongst their question and answers on the site (this in particular is related to the mint gift card – more about that in a minute) we have the question:
Why is there no chip on a MINT Gift Card? And the answer, which I find odd, is:
There is no need for a chip or pin to use a MINT Gift Card. Instead, the Card is neatly equipped with a magnetic strip, which means purchases will always need to be signed for.
‘Neatly equipped with a magnetic strip?’ But credit card producers have been working against this very form of identification for ages, and here in New Zealand, most people now use a pin as identification with credit cards. It’s almost invariably a lot safer than a signature. Oh, dear, Great Britain continues to remain behind the times when it comes to technology.
It always used to amaze me when US students or young travellers came into my former shop that they would proffer for payment a credit card without any signature at all on it! As far as I was aware, in NZ it’s illegal to offer a card with no signature, quite apart from the obvious possibility that the person proffering the card may not be it’s legal owner. They would happily tell me that they never signed the card in case it got stolen, which was a piece of illogic I could never get my head around, and then they would show me a student ID from back home, which was okay, but still begged the question of why their credit card wasn’t signed.
Back to the mint card. The mint gift card is a kind of credit card with cash already on it; the only thing is that when you’ve spent all the money on it, there ain’t no more. No credit limit you can then hook into. Aunty Sally sends you a mint card with £50 on it, and you gleefully go out and buy that new toy you’ve had your eye on, assuming that when you spend rather more than the £50, the credit will somehow link into Aunty Sally’s account, and she’ll pay the bill. No such luck. Once that card has run out of cash, you pay the bill.
The better deal here, I think, is the ‘no interest’ one. If I were in Scotland, which I am not, I might even take it up myself. (It’s a better deal than ANZ were offering some while ago, which I’ve also written about.)

Disclosure statement

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Where I work



On into another foyer (the old driveway, where stuff is stored higgeldy-piggeldy) and into another section, with a meeting room on the left, and open-plan offices on the right. (We’re now in the newer single-storey section). The people in this section seem somewhat exposed, after all the glassed-in parts. And finally to a tea-room down the end. There’s another on the first floor of our offices: when they play table tennis up there in the lunch hour there’s a lot of noise comes through the ceiling. If we go in the opposite direction from our offices we have the overall manager, and then another foyer and then a hole cut in the wall leading into another section where there are some new offices created out of who knows what – and another lot of men’s toilets. Which I only discovered the other day. These are new, and only half-completed. This whole section is under construction, but work seems to have ceased on it before Christmas, and never got going again. This is just one section of the company. The rest is along to the corner and down the road in a much bigger building with offices and workshops galore, all mingling into each other. The IT and accounting people are upstairs, and the workshops, with ceilings higher than cathedrals’, are obviously downstairs, along with more offices. It all has an air of being cobbled together as best as could be managed in a hurry. The IT and accounting people are all in workstations, but rather like a child would put together a series of blocks. Nothing seems to have much order up there. Between the two buildings is a stainless steel company, and the workers there seem to consist of a few old grizzled men (stained from the steel, I suspect) and a bunch of youths, gangly and skinny and full of wide smiles and noisy jokes and Coca Cola and huge sandwiches being stuffed into their mouths as they sit out on the pavement at lunchtime. There’s no nightlife in this part of town. 4.30 is going home time for more than half the workers, and the place is shut up by six, I’d think. It’s a great area to teach the kids to drive, especially on the weekends – as we did with ours. The streets are very wide, and there’s little likelihood of hitting anything. Then there’s the smell. A bit of wind from the harbour (which is only a couple of blocks away from where I work) and the fishy smell enlivens the area thoroughly. Add to that the paint smells, and the manufacturing welding type smells and old car smells (there’s a big broken-apart car yard just along the road) and the general air of things just being dumped and left in yards all over, and it’s an interesting part of town…

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

John Wain

John Wain's book, The Living World of Shakespeare: a Playgoer's Guide, is full of quotable moments, but like all such books, remembering where the moments are without making a note in the pressure of reading is a bit of a task.

Anyway, here from page 39 of Papermac edition:

...the dispossed king is a powerful symbol, for deep down every man thinks of himself as a dispossessed king.

and from page 75:

...the deep heart of courtship...is of course, self-knowledge. The reason why young people so frequently select the wrong partner is because they hold mistaken views about their own characters. The first essential for a lasting love of someone else is a sound assessment of one's own identity. Only when we see clearly what we have to give, and what we need from others, can be begin to be happy a deux.

I believe what Wain is saying here, but I suspect that for most of us this self-knowledge only comes after we've lived with someone for a long time, rather than during a period of courtship, where the passion of love tends to blur the edges of anything the other person actually is.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The joys of cellphones

There was a time when I wouldn’t have bothered with a cellphone. I’ve probably mentioned this before, in fact. My wife seems to be forever buying herself a new one, on the other hand, and I don’t know how many she’s gone through since the craze started. There was the one she dropped in the toilet, for instance, plus the others that just decided to die on her. Cellphones don’t seem blessed with longevity, to my way of thinking. I suspect they have an inbuilt use-by-date, so that the companies can sell you the next and most exciting kind. The last one my wife had took photos, and she was forever snapping something or other – until it died. To her considerable distress, I must add, since she was forced to downgrade, due to lack of finances, and be content – if that was the word for the occasion! – with the same cheap model as mine. At least now we can help each other out if something mysterious occurs; and that too, seems a feature of cellphones. You can work your way through the booklet until you’re blue in the face, but some unknown facet of the phone’s capability will suddenly come to the fore and do something you didn’t expect: like turn the sound off, for instance.
We’ve nearly always used the pre-paid approach - although not every other member of the family has, sometimes to their joy and sometimes to their distress. I’m yet to be convinced that there’s any better way, and I see that a site called Wirefly recommends the prepaid phonetoo, for good reasons. They encourage us on their site to buy as you go, which I assume is similar to the system available here: you pay some money down, and then use it up. (Usually it’s a minimum of twenty dollars, but every so often the company gets generous and gives you a free top-up.) the credit card approach to having a cellphone, where you are charged after the event, seems fraught with peril to me, particularly since cellphone companies here are forever encouraging you to text until your thumbs fall off. Personally I don’t always find the thumb the best digit to tackle the tiny keys on a cellphone with: my are too stubby, for some reason. And if cellphones get any smaller, not even my little finger will be of use!
I've just discovered there are such things as self-sterilising cellphones. There's one Korean phone that attacks pathogens and promotes deodorisation by using a single nanometer-thick coating of silver particles. Hmmm, have you noticed your cellphone smelling?

Disclosure statement

Adam Bede

‘It’s the silliest lie a sensible man like you ever believed, to say a woman makes a house comfortable. It’s a story got up, because the women are there, and something must be found for ‘em to do. I tell you there isn’t a thing under the sun that needs to be done at all, but what a man can do better than a woman, unless it’s bearing children, and they do that in a poor make-shift way: it had better ha’ been left to the men. I tell you, a woman ‘ull bake you a pie every week of her life, and never come to see that the hotter th’oven, the shorter the time. I tell you, a woman ‘ull make your porridge every day for twenty years, and never think of measuring the proportion between the meal and the milk – a little more or less, she’ll think, doesn’t signify. The porridge will be awk’ard now and then: if it’s wrong, it’s summat in the meal, or it’s summat in the milk, or it’s summat in the water.
‘Look at me! I make my own bread, and there’s no difference between one batch and another from year’s end to year’s end: but if I’d got any other woman beside Vixen [the dog] in the house, I must pray to the Lord every baking to give me patience if the bread turned out heavy. And as for cleanliness, my house is cleaner than any house on the Common, though the half of ‘em swarm with women. Will Baker’s lad comes to help me in a morning and we get as much cleaning done in one hour without any fuss, as a woman ‘ud get done in three, and all the while be sending buckets of water after your ankles, and let the fender and the fire irons stand in the middle of the floor half the day, for you to break you shins against them.
‘Don’t tell me about God having made such creatures to be companions for us! I don’t say but He might make Eve to be a companion to Adam in paradise – there was no cooking to be spoilt there, and no other woman to cackle with and make mischief, though you see what mischief she did as soon as she’d an opportunity. But it’s an impious, unscriptural opinion to say a woman’s a blessing to a man now; you might as well say adders and wasps, and foxes and wild beasts, are a blessing, when they’re only the evils that belong to this state o’ probation, which it’s lawful for a man to keep as clear of as he can in this life, hoping to get quit of ‘em in another.’
Bartle Massey in Adam Bede by George Eliot, chapter 21. An interesting viewpoint from a known feminist...

More on PayPerPost

Well, in spite of my griping a bit about PayPerPost (I've got it rightly written this time) in my last post I have to admit they’re on the ball, offering new approaches to making money from their site. There have been two new features recently, one the typical referral program (you can see a link to this over to the left) and the other something a bit more novel.
In this second approach, any other blogger reading this blog can do a review of any of my posts– not just the blog ads ones - and get paid for it. If you click on the badge at the bottom of this post, and sign up with PayPerPost (it costs you nothing, unlike some other blogging sites), you get a special ‘opportunity’. Opportunities are what you work from on the PayPerPost site, where you’re offered a certain sum of money to talk about a particular site. This opportunity will pay you US$7.50 for the joy of ‘reviewing’ one of my posts. I don’t know what US$7.50 is currently in NZ dollars – yes, I do: it’s $10.75. It’s not going to buy the weekly groceries, but these payments do add up over time. (Some of the big-time bloggers on PayPerPost have earned several thousand US dollars over time.) And if you enjoy writing anyway, why not get involved?
If there isn’t a ‘badge’ at the bottom of this post, it’ll be over at the side again. Blogger doesn’t always like me adding bits of html to my posts!


Payperpost

Well, Payperpost, which was earning me quite a nice little bit extra over the last few weeks has gone high-class. Now it’s practically impossible to get an interesting opportunity because all the best ones require blogs that have Google rankings of 2 or 3 or more. As far as I can tell, my blog, which is read by a select few, has a Google ranking of 0. !!
There are still some opportunities: mortgage refinancing, and various other financial posts, but I’ve done several of those already, and I’m not sure that I want to do any more. Still if it makes a couple of dollars it’s possibly worth it.
Payperpost has come under fire from bloggers all over who claim that it undermines their integrity. As the Tui ads say, ‘Yeah, right.’ Bloggers and integrity, for the most part, live in two different worlds. Of course, my integrity is another matter. Perhaps I don’t have any, if I’m prepared to use posts on my blog as pseudo-ads; or do I mean pseudo-ads as posts? (That’s what some bloggers would say, especially the ones who aren’t making any money out of Payperpost). Anyway, I’ve found it quite a challenge to have to write posts on subjects I know very little about, and have to do some research on. Being required to do no more than 100 words in some cases is a breeze. I usually do quite a bit more, because I get carried away and 100 words is nothing to the average writer.
But Payperpost of late has proved that it’s no longer aiming for the low-status blogger, like me. And Blogitive, which was a very reliable source of income for doing the same sorts of things, has dried up completely. As has Bloggingads. In each case, with no explanation. Obviously it’s a difficult market, and maybe Payperpost is hogging all the goodies. There was another crowd starting up, but I wasn’t so sure that their approach was as money-making, as marketing - and I've had enough of marketing.

An Old Captivity

Back in 1940, Nevil Shute, gradually becoming a much-acclaimed writer, published a book called, An Old Captivity. It was republished in 1967, and again in 1969. I have a copy of the 1969 edition, which I picked up at some fair with the intent to sell it off to Trade Me. (The book is again in print, by the way.)
Being short of something to read one day in the couple of months before Christmas I started into it. Full of detail about seaplanes and the flying of them (at least as far as things pertained to that period), the landing of them, the navigating of them, the full-on workload of maintaining them, and the not inconsiderable fact – which no doubt led to the demise of seaplanes commercially – that virtually everything has to be done on the water: refuelling, maintenance, cleaning up, removing bits of engines and so forth. Only occasionally is the thing pulled up on land, and then you get the feeling that this isn’t quite infra dig.
There’s not a mention of the War in spite of the time it was written. It’s strung together with three major characters who remain as bland throughout the book as they mostly are at the beginning; and told in an off-hand way with no suspense and nothing in the way of plot.

It’s a romance for a man who likes seaplanes. Consequently the romance side of it is barely worked on, and is summarily dismissed at the end.

More than three-quarters of the way through the book, after lots of flying time (described in detail – and certainly Shute knew his stuff), the main character, the pilot, has a long dream (he’s unconscious for three days). In it he sees himself in a period more than a thousand years previously, when the Vikings ruled and took slaves (from Scotland, in this case) and sailed the world, and discovered America. In the dream he falls in love with the only female slave of any consequence, and the two of them are about to escape when…he wakes up. The book ends some twenty pages later (!) having introduced a fantasy element into an otherwise very down-to-earth book (if you can describe a book about flying in such a way).

I only stuck with this book because I had read quite a bit of it, always waiting for something to happen, and thought Shute might finally have a surprise up his sleeve. Nope. It’s more like he wanted to describe what it was like to fly a seaplane, in detail, and tacked a story on to it. Somewhere along the line he realised he hadn’t really given his readers much to go on, so he bunged in a dream sequence. Having done that, he polished the thing off.

It runs to nearly 300 pages, and I’ve learnt heaps about flying seaplanes, if ever I should need this information. I’ve learnt nothing about what Shute thought about love and romance, and if I was a beginning writer, I’d know nothing about building a plot, producing suspense, or rounding out characters. Shute had written six novels before An Old Captivity, none of them as well known as later efforts. He was working on military projects for the War when the book was written, which may have distracted him a little.

There’s a very good summary of his life and work on Wikipedia, as there so often is these days!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Coroner's Lunch

I read The Coroner’s Lunch with little expectation that I’d enjoy it. So many novels don’t even start off well: there’s no style, little character or interaction, or else the characters are stereotypes found in dozens of other novels, and before you’ve read a chapter you’re yawning with boredom.
But Cotterill has style, he offers a plot, he has oddball characters - as well as ones that might or might not be on the level – and he goes off on some intriguing tangents that don’t necessarily seem connected with the main story.
His gumshoe detective (as someone on Amazon described him) is a 72-year old doctor who’s been thrown into the role of coroner at the end of the Laos war in 1975. He has to learn as he goes, he has as one assistant a smart nurse who turns out to be even smarter than she seems, and as the other, a Downs Syndrome man with a penchant for remembering detail. He has to battle with a mindset that isn’t entirely clued up to the joys of Marxism and still has hangovers from a more primitive time, with lack of facilities and funding, and with bureaucracy of the communist kind that never makes clear whether it’s sinister or sincere.
And then there’s the curious fact that in his dreams he meets up with people he’s known who have died – and they seem alive again. Not just alive as we might remember people in dreams, but literally alive. He finds it all very odd – and even odder is the insistence of a certain tribe of people that he’s actually some incarnation of a 2000-year-old spirit. If it sounds a little crazy it is, but the good thing about it is that in the midst of it all there are friends amongst those who surround Dr Siri, and some of them are very good friends.
The Laos background to the story is related with assurance and the feel of someone who actually knows the place – Cotterill lives in Asia. And the Asian mind, rather like that in Nury Vittachi’s Feng Shui detective series, is played with, and seen not just as mystical, but whimsical.
Lots of fun!

The Skin Game

After the effectiveness of 1946’s Hue and Cry, which I wrote about the other day, coming to Hitchcock’s 1931 movie, The Skin Game is a bit of a shock. Firstly it’s hardly vintage Hitchcock, and appears to have been made not only on a shoestring, but in a hurry. In one scene Jill Esmond jumps another character’s line and then has to repeat her own, and not long after she stumbles over another line. There’s little Hitchcock class here, and if it wasn’t for the intense performance from Edmund Gwenn, one of the few actors who doesn’t look as though he’s just come out of the silent movies, the film would hardly be worth watching at all.
Certainly there are Hitchcock touches: the face of the stranger repeatedly looming as it’s superimposed over a shot of a crowd, or the auctioneer’s persistent cough, or Gwenn and Edward Chapman seen struggling with each other in the background through a window as the other characters lift the lifeless Phyllis Konstam out of the pool. Impersonal things like doors take on significance when seen in shots by themselves, and the camera swings wildly throughout the auction scene, as though it was attempting to grasp every tiny move on the bidders’ faces.
It didn’t help that the DVD version I’ve got has been made on the cheap: the sound quality is appalling, and the film itself appears badly edited – in one shot Konstam comes out of a room, and then because of the angle of the next shot, it appears that the maid comes out of the same room – but in fact she doesn’t. Worst of all the ‘filming’ of the film has been done in such a way that in several medium shots the top of the characters’ heads are cut off.
Still, a Hitchcock is always worth watching: he usually comes up with some surprise. Sometimes the surprise is how awful he can be – in his last movie, Family Plot, at a time when he was considered the master, the ride down the hill in a car without brakes is appallingly done. Well, well, even geniuses have their off days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A little more on Steve Reich's music

Is it possible that Steve Reich’s music has been covertly used by the CIA in their torture-which-isn’t-torture proceedings? My wife remarked tonight, when a program on Reich was being broadcast, that his music gave her a headache, and was rather like torture. Torture akin to Chinese water torture, I think.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

By Corporal ‘G’ – American Expeditionary Force

There’s a certain type of fighter, he’s
A daring, dashing blighter:
He never seems to know the word ‘retreat’;
With a bayonet on his rifle, you can
Bet he’ll never trifle,
As a fighting man he’s got old Jerry beat.

When the British go to battle, with
Their usual flash and rattle,
The man I speak of often does the most.
He’s a great offensive scrapper,
As a soldier, very dapper,
And altho’ he’s talkative you’ll
Seldom hear him boast.

He showed his blooming starch when
He stopped the Huns in March -
They were headed for the port of old Calais.
With shouts of bold defiance, and
Artillery reliance,
He stopped them in his own aggressive way.

When you look back through the ages,
Turning over history’s pages,
You’ll find brave deeds of men in every war.
But no breed of man looms bigger
Than the rough-and-ready Digger –
My hat’s off to the Anzacs – it’s those
Sons I’m speaking for.

Another oddity from my mother's papers

I pray when risen from the dead,
I may in glory stand
Perhaps a crown upon my head -
Four needles in my hand.

I never learnt to sing or play,
So let no harp be mine;
From childhood to my dying day
Knitting’s been my line.

And so, accustomed to the end
In plying useful stitches,
I’ll be content if given to knit
The little angels’ britches.

So You Want To Be An Executive?

I have no idea where this comes from, but I found two copies of it in my mother’s papers. It obviously appealed to her.

As everyone knows, an executive has practically nothing to do except to decide what is to be done; to tell somebody to do it; to listen to reasons why it should not be done; why it should be done by someone else or why it should be done in a different way; to follow up to see if everything has been done; to discover that it has not; to enquire why; to listen to excuses from the person who should have done it; to follow up again to see if the thing has been done; to discover that it has been done incorrectly; to point out how it should have been done; to conclude that as long as it has been done it may as well be left where it is; to wonder if it is not time to get rid of a person who cannot do a thing right; to reflect that he probably has a wife and a large family; and that any successor would be just as bad, and may be worse; to consider how much simpler and better the thing would have been if one had done it oneself in the first place; to reflect sadly that one would have done it right in twenty minutes; and as things turned out one has had to spend two days to find why it has taken so long, and three weeks for somebody else to do it wrong.

Well-used war poem

I came across the following poem written out in my mother’s hand when we were clearing out some of her old papers. I don’t know where she got it from but it turns out to have an interesting history, which was written about in an essay by Les Cleveland in 1986, and is recorded on the Buffalo State University site.
(Incidentally, this isn’t the Les Cleveland who’s well-known to Dunedinites as the man who provides many of the daffodils on Daffodil Day, each year, or as a bass singer who appeared in many of the Dunedin Opera Company’s productions.)

I’m a lonely Kiwi digger and I’m stationed at Matruh;
I’ve got my little dug-out in the sand
Where the fleas play tag around me as they circle round at night,
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

Oh the walls are made of hessian and the windows four by two,
And the doorway lets the howling sandstorm thru’.
You can hear those blinkin’ Ities as they circle round at night,
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

Now the place is strewn all round with bully and meat loaf –
Of bread and marmalade there’s blinkin’ few.
I’m as happy as a clown in his land of heat and sand
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

Oh take me back, oh take me back
To my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.
Where you can hear those blinkin’ Ities as they circle round at night,
In my flea-bound bug-bound dug-out in Matruh.

According to Cleveland, ‘Matruh is an attenuation of Mersah Matruh, a seaside village near the border of Egypt and Libya. It was used as supply base for desert operations by the Allied Eighth Army in the North African theatre in World War 2. To most soldiers who were involved in these operations, Mersah Matruh is synonymous with heat, monotony, thirst, flies, confusion, military incompetence and bombing raids.’


This picture was probably taken at Mersah Matruh during World War II. It comes from the oswild.org site and has a number of photos of the place, as well as quite a bit of info.

Hue and Cry


When I was young I used to get given books on the latest films – annuals, mostly. I can remember one of these having Hue and Cry in it, though the book isn’t amongst those I’ve still got. So I was delighted to find the DVD of the film in a bargain bin at The Warehouse recently.
It was made way back in 1946, the first comedy produced by Ealing Studios - and it’s a zinger. Yes, it’s dated; yes, the plot’s a little thin; yes, it’s not a film that has made a big impact, even within the range of Ealing comedies, but it’s still worth watching.
Firstly, there are the performances. Alistair Sim has two or three brief scenes in which he does his usual dithery Sim performance with great style; Harry Fowler, who was twenty when the film was made, but is playing someone a bit younger, is excellent: full of energy and zest, and a natural actor. He’d already played a few parts in movies before this, and went on to play big and little parts for the rest of his long career. IMDB lists his latest performance as being in 2004, when he was a mere 78. His parts range from the notable Sam Weller in Pickwick Papers to a host of little parts in films and on tv - including a stint in Doctor Who. Never a star, but always a reliable player.
The remainder of the boys throw equal enjoyment into their roles; there isn’t a dud amongst them. Not many of them went on to have long careers, but that doesn’t change anything about their performances here.
The second great feature about the movie is that a huge amount of it is filmed on location in London, a very war-torn London, with bombed and broken-down buildings on every hand standing alongside parts of the city that haven’t been touched. The movie stands as a record of a city in recovery.
The third aspect of the movie is the subtle humour: Charles Crichton is the director, and T E B Clarke the scriptwriter. They were a winning combination: Crichton directed several more Ealing comedies, including The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt, while Clarke was also responsible for Passport to Pimlico, another film set in post-war London.
And one last point of interest: the score was written by Georges Auric, one of the original Les Six, if memory serves me right. Apparently he wrote some 130 film scores, something that probably gives him greater fame than his association with the short-lived Les Six ever did.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More on words - and hotels

In the course of writing the previous post I came across the delightful Dr Grammar site – or rather, I should say, the FAQ section of it, which focuses on the mistakes people use in everyday writing, and aims to clarify the problems and assist those who need assistance to get things right. Dr Grammar died in 2003, but his site lives on (only the ‘Ask a Question’ section, not surprisingly, is no longer available). Dr Grammar’s real name was Jim HiDuke (yup) and he took a rather less than obvious course towards a love of language, having grown up in street gangs.
His concern was for the increasing illiteracy of modern students, and he’s quoted as saying: "More and more students arrive at colleges and universities less-than-prepared for the amount and type of writing required, regardless of the courses they take. This led to many questions about language, usage, and proper attribution of sources from the World Wide Web."
There are a heap of resources on the site, and links to all sorts of other word-interest places. You could spend several days exploring this one, and you can even hear the redoubtable Dr Grammar introduce himself, albeit briefly.
The Bill Walsh he quotes is the author of Lapsing into a Comma, a curmudgeon’s guide to the many things that can go wrong in print – and how to avoid them. Bill has his own blog, of course – who of any importance doesn’t? – and it focuses on copy editors and their needs.
BTW, I mentioned two hotels in my last post. You can find more information on them, too. Corstorphine House, and Claremont House.

Going Places?


The criteria for any site on the Net these days, I feel, is that it should be inclusive. I don’t mean by that, that it should have anything to do with including minorities, or women, or all those people who feel hard done by because they haven’t been included in the past (sorry to be so un-PC), but inclusive in the sense that the site goes beyond the coastline of the US of A.

So when I came across the Hotel Reservations site, I immediately checked to see if it included anything from Dunedin. It first gave me a choice of two places called Dunedin, the one I live in, and Dunedin in Florida, a place which I’ve come across before in my Net travels (see more about that in the next post). I clicked on Dunedin, NZ, (obviously) and found that it has two choices of places to stay: Corstorphine House, and Claremont House. Corstorphine House, rather curiously, has University of Otago printed alongside it, although to my understanding, Corstorphine House is quite some way from the University. But once you click on CH you find a considerable amount of detail – far more than you’d expect really. And excellent photographs.

Slightly annoyingly, you don’t always seem to be able to use your back and forwards buttons in relation to this site, which is why I had to start all over again to check out Claremont House. (A message keeps coming up that the page has expired.). Nevertheless when you do access Claremont House, the photography is good (lots of pictures in fact) and the information is more than adequate. Both pages included information about tourist spots, although a local might puzzle as to why Baldwin St is linked to Claremont House, when they’re not exactly in close proximity.

Irritatingly the Claremont House ad has the overused grammatical error: "comprises of." As Dr Grammar notes (more about him in another post): "Bill Walsh, author of Lapsing Into a Comma, says, "Nothing is ever 'comprised of' something.' To comprise means to 'contain or to embrace': The jury comprises seven women and five men.... Even when used correctly, in my humble opinion, comprise and constitute tend to sound stilted. Some form of is made up of sounds better in most cases" (123)

Apart from my grizzles – which aren’t really about the site itself – there are plenty of good answers to typical questions included, information about Road Trips, Cruises, ways to plan a trip, and the ability to read it all in Spanish (now one of the top languages of the world, apparently). Not everything translates, and strangely, in the Spanish version, Dunedin, NZ, throws up seven different hotels altogether to the English edition!

By the way, shouldn’t it be ‘Advanced Search’ throughout, rather than ‘Advance Search?’
Disclosure statement

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A little out of kilter

I keep meaning to make a note in here about my theory that the world has shifted its axis just a fraction, or maybe changed its orbit round the Sun infinitesimally, and that that’s the real reason behind all our weather peculiarities. There’s no doubt, in my mind, that the seasons are a good month behind their normal selves. We’ve had two brilliant sunny days over the last three, the sort of weather you get in normal summer. But it’s part way through February. And this has been happening increasingly over the last few years. If I recall, we were still getting very hot weather through to May last year. I doubt if it’s a real explanation, or a particularly scientific one, but I have a sense that it’s more than just our ‘global warming’ theory that seems attractive in some respects but insufficient in others.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Go sing Gao Ping

After my complaints about gutteralising tennis players yesterday, now we have classical (fine/modern/serious) pianists who sing along with their own compositions - intentionally.
I've just been listening - half-heartedly - to Gao Ping, who writes his own music, and writes it for a 'vocalising pianist.' Oh, dear. Of course the audience raved at him (well, there was one bloke going 'Yahoo' above the polite clapping), and of course the man can actually play. But his idea that it's not unusual for pianists to sing along to their playing is okay, except where it detracts from the composer's music. I suppose you could say it isn't detracting in this case, but that's a moot point. I kept thinking my wife was calling me from upstairs.

For the record, he was playing: Concealed Kisses; Lightspeed Worlds; Prayers Mask; Two Soviet Love Songs for Vocalizing Pianist. There were bits of Shostakovich thrown into the last one, and some popular melody by Gershwin, or Irving Berlin, or Cole Porter, or somesuch. And then it ended with a great crash, and a fall down the keyboard...and surprise! that was it. (The yahooer then yahooed.)

Ping's site tells us: "A New Zealand critic described Gao Ping's performances as "spellbinding" and "magical." Jack Body has said that Gao Ping is a "total musician, a pianist of great intelligence and sensitivity, an astounding improviser, and a composer whose effortless fluency I envy deeply." The People's Music has called Gao's recitals "sensational" and the Cincinnati Enquirer praised Gao's technique as "fleet and facile".

I'm afraid Jack Body's opinion of what is new and what is worthwhile - and mine - don't often coincide. Occasionally Body will produce something that could conceivably be called music, but in general he's made his name doing things that nobody calls music except those who want to be on the bandwagon looking for the Emperor's new clothes.

Mrs Malaprop Reigns

With some people you're never quite sure whether they're making an intentional pun or whether the malapropisms that spring from their mouths are unconsciously loosed.

Here's a couple, from two different women in the office I'm temporarily working in:
one, when she was talking about something medical, said, 'It would probably be scourged from my system.' Ouch.

The other, when knowing something she wouldn't normally be expected to know, has said, more than once, 'I must be psychiatric.'

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Tennis Player's Grunt

Does anyone else wonder at the sound top tennis players make when they're hitting the ball these days? My wife says it's always happened and we can only hear it now because the players are miked, but I have my doubts. I think it's become a faddy thing to make a great grunt that sounds like a diaphragmic expletive every time you hit the ball. To me, adding that extra noise must add to the energy involved in hitting the thing. Why not just shut up and get on with the job?
I also wonder if there isn't a sexual element in this: tennis stars are so full of their own status and glory that many fans 'adore' them. You wonder if the noise isn't a hint of the sound the fans would hear in the bedroom if they were lucky enough to be there. Or am I going over the top here?
It might be something you'd accept from men - a great heaving grunt. But when the women do it as well, it makes me want to switch off the sound and watch them hit the ball in silence.

General Hospital

I'd thought David Hasselhoff started life as Knight Rider, but of course, I should have known better. Nobody starts at the ‘top’ not even if you class Knight Rider as the top. Go back further in time and you find he was in the soap opera, The Young and the Restless – for several years - before Knight Rider came along. I’d thought it was General Hospital, but nope.
It was, to my surprise, Richard Dean Anderson, later known best for MacGyver, who appeared in General Hospital, from 1976 to 1981. Strange the things you find out when you go looking for something else. It’s hard to imagine Anderson in a soap, but everyone’s got to start somewhere. Sometimes I think Anderson feels he’s back in a soap, when you see him in Stargate, a series he’s looked infinitely bored with since the beginning. Bring back MacGyer, I say, even if he’s aged twenty years. He must still have a few tricks up his sleeve.
Curiously, when you look up Richard Dean Anderson on the General Hospital site, there’s nothing showing up about him. Maybe he was in it too long ago – and of course, so many things happen in soaps, and so many people come and go. Soaps never stand still, not for a moment. I remember Adrian Plass writing a wonderful piece about the sorts of things that happen to characters in soaps, how they can change from being heterosexual to homosexual overnight (it’s happened more than once on Shortland St, for starters), and how even the dead return to life – that’s happened on Shortland St as well! It’s a world where anything goes. If you want to find out the extent of how much anything goes, everything you ever wanted to know – practically – is on the General Hospital page, part of the soaps.com group of pages.

One last thing: I found this quote from General Hospital while I was checking out some of the above:
Skye Quartermaine Jacks: Since I have known you, I have been trapped in a burning building, stalked, kidnapped, and left to die in Wyndemere. I woke up next to a dead man, been convicted of murder, and spent time in a state penitentiary! But I will not have cockroaches crawling on me! That is where I draw the line!

Luke Spencer: They won't, no more. I promise you. Trust me. I'll just fumigate the cardboard condo and you can get back to your beauty sleep.

Say no more!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cold, calculating and confusing

This post contains some spoilers.
The latest James Bond - Casino Royale - is a superbly made movie in every respect: extreme stunts, exhausting chases (the one on foot near the opening is phenomenal and then is followed not long after by one that demolishes vehicles left right and centre), excellent photography with depth and colour and style, great art design and detail, fabulous locations – what more could you want?
Yet, it’s cold at heart. Okay, this suits the plot which is about a man who is emotionally detached and must remain cold in order to do his job. For a brief time he melts, but it’s only to lose the warmth he’s gained a few scenes later. Daniel Craig does a superb job as a cold-hearted character, but the problem is it’s hard to warm to him in any way. And his lady friend, Eva Green, though she’s beautiful, is seldom without suspicion about Bond. M is tougher than ever, and frustrated by her newest 007.
Which is another point: this is supposed to be when Bond earns his 007 status, but it’s rather confusing: here is an M who is older than ever, and of a different sex to the M of the early movies; here is a Bond who isn’t any chicken – he’s nearly 40 – and yet he’s playing a man who’s at the beginning of his career. Of course such niceties don’t concern us in general – we’re now used to having a different face for Bond on different occasions (he’s rather like Dr Who in this respect) – but it makes for an odd storyline somehow.
There’s virtually no humour in it – Bond makes a rather weak joke while being tortured, but the expression on the villain’s face is rather the same as that on the audience’s: how strange to make such a joke at such a time, particularly when this Bond doesn’t seem to be into humour at all. And he himself laughs at it. Hmm.
There’s an intriguing take-off scene towards the end when Eva Green, dressed thoroughly in bright red, flits through dark corridors on the edges of the canals in Venice. It’s intended, I suspect, to be reminiscent of Don’t Look Now, where a small woman in red kept turning up in a similar fashion and was pursued by Donald Sutherland as a distraught father.
I said this film was confusing: I must be getting old, but I found the last stages of the movie very odd. By the time it had finished, some ten minutes after it seemed about to finish, I wasn’t sure whether the woman was true or false, I hadn’t realised that the guy with the patch over his eye was the same one who’d been shot in the head in an earlier scene, nor that Mr White was the man who’d supposedly shot him. Quite honestly, in spite of M’s carefully enunciated explanation, I wasn’t any the wiser. Oh, well.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Thus Saith The Queen

We went to see The Queen tonight – not herself in person, quite, but a remarkably good imitation of her by Helen Mirren. In fact, without Mirren, the film would have stood little chance of success, I suspect. The script is moderately good, the camerawork okay, but the colour is rather washed out at times and there is little depth to the focus. The other actors, for the most part, look only a little like their counterparts. Sylvia Sims as the Queen Mother has none of the warmth that woman exuded in public, and James Cromwell brings all the nastiness he usually commands in villainous roles to that of the Duke of Edinburgh, turning that mildly unpleasant man into an impatient, single-minded character who has no warmth at all. That may be the some people see him, but it seems a little one-sided.
Michael Sheen makes a good fist of Tony Blair, producing a warm smile with frequency (a smile not often responded to by The Queen, or responded to with frostiness), but seems a little thin for the part or lacking in physical stature. I don’t know how big Blair is, but he comes across as seeming to have more presence and weight than Sheen can give him.
Diana, of course, plays herself, as only she could, through a barrage of news clips and still shots, and dozens of other clips and shots are integrated seamlessly into the movie. Only at the end, when the Royal Family attend the funeral at the Abbey, does there seem a curious distance between the real life arrivals of celebrities, and the actors posed in chairs with seemingly very few extras in the background.
That wonderful actress, Helen McCrory, who brings both a kind of seediness and some underlying grittiness to her roles (she always seems to play people who are rather too selfish for words), here plays Cherie Blair as a warm character, but one with quite a deal of bitchiness about her – especially in regard to the Monarchy. She’s been woefully underused in movies – it always seems as if the editors cut her parts down in preference to others – but she was unforgettable in a tv mini series called, The Fragile Heart, in which she played the daughter of a doctor who was himself all selfishness, and had to unlearn a lifetime of thinking of himself first. She followed in her father’s footsteps, in contrast to her brother, who, also a doctor, had gone along a more generous line. Nigel Hawthorne was the father, in one of his many great roles.
Overall The Queen is entertaining, moving, cringe-making in its presentation of the Royal Family, and a star vehicle for Mirren, who can pretty well never put a foot wrong in whatever she does. She has the Queen down pat, her speech inflections, her tone, her body language…you name it. The film is undeniably worth seeing for this performance alone.
At the same screening the theatre presented a trailer of Judi Dench’s latest movie, Notes on a Scandal. It looks like a marvellous film – anything Dench is in will have at least one great performance in it – but the trailer virtually showed the entire story, leaving out only the ending. You’d go to it now knowing almost everything that was going to happen. Why do they do that?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Peering through the Market

Came across an unusual site called Corporate Gifts. This site presents article length pieces (that is, internet article length) on all sorts of things, mainly with an advertising component built in – rather like this post. But the variety is huge, and the site has been functioning since back in 2002 without ever having come to my attention. (But then, no doubt, two of my sites have been functioning for just as long – one longer – without coming to the attention of a host of people). I’m not quite sure how this site functions: you can submit ‘articles’ but not all of them relate back to a company trying to sell something. Some of them are just articles on a subject, and they have a Wikipedia link, which, when you get there, isn’t the same article – so obviously the anonymous writer has just given Wikipedia as a further site for exploration.
Encylocentral.com is obviously busy: in the last quarter of an hour three or four more pieces have appeared.
I checked out an article on ‘peepers’. I was intrigued by their use of words describing what I’d normally call sunglasses; glares, peepers, goggles. I guess our equivalent word for ‘glares’ is ‘shades.’ You could be quite ambiguously received if you said to someone, ‘I’ve got my glares on.’ They might agree. And goggles are usually associated in this country with the things we wear in water when swimming. Or when you’re going skiing.
The person who wrote the piece for peepers.com has an interesting use of the language: ‘People mostly bothered about sunglasses chiefly, if performance or designer eyewear is what one seeks. One surely gets the level of protection one needs as they feel and at prices that they can afford,’ as an example. It’s English, but not necessarily as she is always writ.
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Les Miserables

Babet was transparent, but impenetrable. You could see the light through his bones, but nothing through his eye. He was an affected man, a great talker, who italicized his smiles, and quoted his gestures. What had become of his wife and children, he did not know. He had lost them as one loses a pocket handkerchief.

Marius, Book 7 chapter 3 of Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.

An Overgrowth of Words

I had a thought to go through this blog and check out how many words are new – or new in their current usage - and wouldn’t have been around three decades ago. Obviously the Internet is one, and email, but how many other words have arrived on the scene recently? Cellphone, the current use of ‘avatar’, the already-acceptable ‘phishing’, as well as vishing, fuzzing and a new use of zombies.
DVD is another, forum in its current use as a place for people to write on the Net. Blogs and bloggers, links, web development, and a host of other web add-ons (and add-ons itself), Wiki and Wikipedia, .com, online, video, download, software, ecommerce, connectivity, handsfree… the list goes on and on. And that’s just from a quick flick through my recent posts.