Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Taking the dog for a walk

A walk, for the dog, consists first of noticing that you're donning outside gear. He may have been asleep (or pretending to be asleep) up until that point, but suddenly he's wide awake, desperate to go out, racing round in mad circles, scrabbling at the door.

The next stage is seeing how soon it will be, after we get out of our gate, before he suddenly feels the need to evacuate his bowels. Sometimes it's so soon I simply march back inside the property and dispose of the little bag of goodies before we go any further. (Why he can sit inside all day holding on, I don't know. It's not as if he's incapable of getting himself out through the dog door.)

Anyway, at any point after that we're actually heading home. I may not know it, but every step we take away from the house, is, for the dog, part of the return trip. And by the time we get to the gate again, whether it be twenty minutes or sixty, he will be desperate to get inside the door.

And yet, no sooner have I removed his lead, than he takes one look at it and assumes I'm taking him out for a walk again.

The audience will never notice

There's a lovely baritone solo in the delightful movie, Calamity Jane, and its stage version: Higher than a Hawk. The music is by Sammy Fain, and the words by Paul Francis Webster, both men much respected in their line. Howard Keel sang the song with all his usual charm and conviction in the movie version. And it was just as well he brought conviction to the song because it has a strange metaphorical error in it, one that, when you notice it, won't let itself be unnoticed.

The song starts: My love is higher than a hawk, my love is deeper than a well. All good so far, in a loose metaphorical sense. But you get the picture without problem. And the chorus goes on quite happily for a few more lines before there's a little verse that, on returning to the end of the chorus again, ends with the same words I've quoted above.

The only problem is that when they return they follow these lines: I said that I would never fall; I laughed at others when they fell, and here I'm fallin' - higher than a hawk, and deeper than a well. 

If you're not listening, it rounds out the song very nicely before it goes off onto another verse. But the problem is, how do you fall higher than something? And why is the hawk fallin' - or falling, as the case may be?

It's a kind of 'it doesn't really matter' situation. Plainly Cain, Webster and Keel, and the rest of the Calamity Jane participants didn't get bothered by it. They probably said, the audience will never notice, because audiences don't. And I agree: there is story after story about movies where the audience doesn't notice things that are wrong, and didn't get put right, or where something's gone wrong on a particular night in the theatre and the audience has gone home just as happy as the audience to whom the same thing didn't happen. If you're still with me. I could tell a few of my own, things I've been involved in. But I won't, because I've probably already told you before.

At the end of the day, the baritone will go on stage and sing about a love that's fallin' higher than a hawk, and the movie will carry on showing Howard Keel singin' the song without blinkin' an eyelid, and 99.9% of people won't notice.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Das Boot

We caught up with the 1981 movie, Das Boot (The Boat) last night, on Maori Television - the channel that actually shows good movies, and not just re-run 'blockbuster premieres.' When I say we caught up with it, we actually missed the first twenty minutes or half an hour; I don't know exactly how long it was. But that didn't cause too much problem in following who was who and how it all fitted together. It probably would have helped to know a bit more about the characters, but ce la vie. 

This was one of Wolfgang Petersen's big hits: even though it was German-made, and shown with subtitles, it was seen worldwide. After The Neverending Story, and a TV series based on Das Boot, he went onto work in Hollywood, producing In the Line of Fire, Air Force One, The Perfect Storm and other well-known titles.

Das Boot has a somewhat meandering storyline, and a host of characters, and yet is full of tension. The big set pieces are very well done: the torpedoing of a group of freighters and being chased by a destroyer; the unexpected dive to the bottom of the sea in the Gibraltar Strait; the ending which pulls the rug from underneath our expectations. But in the midst of all these is the quiet interplay between the Captain and the various officers and sailors, the warmth and humour, the generosity and courage, the creative thinking, the strength of working together for a common cause.

It's hard to think how men in one of these U-boats could have survived the continual stress of months at sea - when two of them are due to be off-loaded for leave, the leave is abruptly cancelled. One character, Johann, who's seen nine voyages on the submarine, has a mental breakdown during one of the crises; it's surprising more of the men don't go off the deep end. The confined space is brilliantly captured: there's hardly room to turn around in some of the areas, and the ordinary sailors live and sleep in a narrow bunk room with hardly space enough for them to sit down. In a couple of scenes they're all seen lying asleep, exhausted, on the floor, curled and entwined around each other, none of them able to sleep with their legs out straight. Several times absolute quiet is required: only the Captain can see through the periscope, and even that view is limited; the rest have to wait and listen, unsure of what's going on outside their metal walls.

The cast is uniformly good, though thirty years down the track one or two of the performances seem a little too large for the cinema (maybe more so for the TV screen). And the detail in the direction is superb, quite apart from the hugely exciting moments when the camera races through the sub following one or other character desperate to fix yet another part of the sub that's come apart.

Reading the information on the Wikipedia page for the movie is very informative. Apparently the TV series used additional material that had been cut from the movie. The original release came in at 150 minutes, but the much later director's cut is another half hour longer. There are fascinating details about what the actors endured during the course of making the movie, and the way models and various versions of the sub were used (at one time the mock-up of the sub disappeared overnight; Spielberg had been given permission to use it for Raiders of the Lost Ark). It's also interesting to read that the scene in which one of the characters calls out 'Man overboard!' was unscripted: the actor who went 'overboard' had actually fallen, and broken ribs. He was also concussed, and had to be brought from hospital for some of his later scenes. There's a great deal more, for those interested.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grimhilda takes a flying leap

A couple of days ago I wrote about the new book that I've nearly finished writing: Diary of a Prostate Wimp. Today, however, I uploaded my previous book, Grimhilda! - a fantasy for children and their parents, which has only been available so far on Kindle, onto Smashwords, where it is now available in other ebook formats, and will soon be available on Kobo, iPad and so on.

I've just spent an interesting half hour doing an 'interview' with Smashwords...all by computer, of course. You can find the result here, and you're welcome to pass along the link to anyone else who might be interested.

So Grimhilda! has now expanded herself further, from a musical seen by a fair number of people here in Dunedin, in 2012, to a novel that went on sale on Kindle in January this year, to this latest leap out into the wider world. She's finding it all to her satisfaction, and is keen for more customers! Pretty good for an old girl who started out life in the late 70s...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Diary of a Prostate Wimp

The book I've been writing on my experiences of how the medical world dealt with my prostate is now almost ready. It only lacks a cover, an ISBN and a CIP (the National Library of New Zealand's Cataloguing-in-Publication Data - each country has their own version of these). All these are all in the pipeline in various ways. So I may make my deadline of the end of April after all. 

I've had a brilliant editor who went through my 'final' draft with such a fine toothcomb that he found things I hadn't thought were even there. Though I must add that I also found a couple of tiny things he missed - but then he was working, as usual, on about six other things at the same time. Nevertheless the final text is correct in ways I wouldn't have achieved on my own. 

I've sometimes had some qualms about whether the information in the book is too personal, too in-your-face (especially if you're not a bloke), too intense, and too-a-variety-of-other-things. Time will tell. The book is partly based on a series of blog posts I wrote back at the time the events were happening, and at that time I began to read - but never finished - a book called Please Leave the Seat Up by Brian Turner. Brian was an Englishman who'd gone to the US with his wife to take over a branch of his company. It was going to be a highly successful time, and he would have done very well. Within weeks he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and all his plans fell apart. While I was putting my own book together over the last few months I actually read Brian's book. If I had qualms about anything in my book being too much in your face, then Brian's book showed me that when it comes to talking about health, almost anything is permissible! Not only is it permissible, it's essential to tell the readers the details, because the medical profession doesn't. 

This was one of the big things I learned about having something seriously wrong: the medical profession knows a lot of what can go wrong, but prefers to wait until it goes wrong before they tell you that it's not abnormal, and that thousands of other people have been in the same boat. The only thing is that few of those thousand people have written about their experiences and passed on what they've learned. 

Still, I often got more help and information from friends and colleagues who'd either had the same experience, or something similar. The doctors and nurses would be helpful if you asked (generally) but they tended not to provide information if you didn't ask. And how would you know to ask until you found something strange was happening? I'm not blaming the medical people - some of them were extraordinarily helpful and I thank God for them - but it sometimes feels they think that less information is better than more, even when that little bit more information might have allayed a lot of your concerns. 

I was fortunate to get through the experience; many, as I show in the book, have much worse times than I did. Prostate issues, and prostate cancer, are amongst the most common problems men can have in later life. Hopefully this book will help some men before they find themselves involved in such difficulties. 

By the way, it's called Diary of a Prostate Wimp. You'll have to read it to find out why!

Friday, April 11, 2014


I came across this wonderful extract this morning...delights my heart!

Usually I spare myself from the news, because if it’s not propaganda, then it’s one threat or another exaggerated to the point of absurdity, or it’s the tragedy of storm-quake-tsunami, of bigotry and oppression misnamed justice, of hatred passed off as righteousness and honor called dishonorable, all jammed in around advertisements in which a gecko sells insurance, a bear sells toilet tissue, a dog sells cars, a gorilla sells investment advisers, a tiger sells cereal, and an elephant sells a drug that will improve your lung capacity, as if no human being in America any longer believes any other human being, but trusts only the recommendations of animals.

Odd Thomas
in Dean Koontz' Deeply Odd