Ukulele Orchestras

Petra and I got Travis a ukulele for his birthday a couple of months ago. They’re great little instruments – so versatile and easy to play. You can be strumming recognisable tunes in very short order, and if you’re musically gifted you can display impressive virtuosity. We’ve been listening to ukulele covers and thanks to the wonders of youtube we’ve stumbled on a few really wonderful ukulele orchestras. Yes, ukulele orchestras are a thing. Who knew.

There’s one right here in Wellington, that includes Brett Mackenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame. They’re a good time band – a bit shaggy round the edges. They obviously enjoy themselves together and they’re fun to watch. My favourites of theirs – It’s a Heartache, which comes complete with a very Wellington video, filmed just round the corner from Travis’s office, and The Bucket, a cover of a song I’d not heard before by Kings of Leon.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is a whole other thing. They bring highly-trained musicianship to bear on all sorts of songs, from Anarchy in the UK arranged as a folk song and a jazzed up Wuthering Heights, to really fabulous covers that aren’t just funny novelty songs but excellent versions in their own right. My favourites – their cover of Wheatus’s Teenage Dirtbag and a suitably paranoid version of Psycho Killer.

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Dog Walking

Going out with Pip is like trying to go for a walk with a small child. He meanders all over the place, dragging me to posts and bushes and yummy smells, then dawdling as he sniffs and snuffles around. We have to stop to meet every dog we pass. Nose to nose, then nose to tail. If it’s a small dog, they whirl about together. If it’s an older dog, Pip tries to get a wee bounce out of them and sometimes succeeds. If it’s a big dog, he’s wary. But they all have to be greeted. Anyone who’s at all interested in dogs will also stop to chat to Pip and the really keen ones will get down on their haunches to pat him.

We’ve just come home from a walk around the block, on which we talked to a family with a small fluffy dog, a couple of random walkers who thought Pip was cute, a woman with two wire-haired terriers who crossed the road so that her dogs could socialise with Pip, and a couple of guys who got out of their work truck to say hi. If I’d been on my own, I would have nodded hello to the family and no one else would have interacted with me. My walk would have been quicker and much more direct, but not nearly so communal.

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They Get You Coming and Going

Alas, this is all too true…

Woman: I’m smart
Patriarchy: Well you’re probably ugly then
Woman: I’m creative
Patriarchy: You mean unattractive right?
Woman: I have all these incredible accomplishments
Patriarchy: Yeah but look how ugly you looked doing them
Woman: I have value
Patriarchy: Not if you’re ugly lol
Woman: I’m conventionally-attractive & posted selfies on my blog
Patriarchy: I’m so sick of these empty-headed chicks only caring about their looks. Just because you are attractive and get attention from men doesn’t mean you are special or deserve respect. Why don’t you read a book or do something productive with your life you dumb slut

Reblogged from blog of various fandoms

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From the Mists of Time: When Marnie was There by Joan Robinson

I’ve been looking out for a book called When Marnie was There for many many years. I read it as a child and remember being simultaneously frightened and delighted by its strangeness. It featured a lonely little girl and a ghost and the sea and that was about all that remained to me 30 years down the track. Jo Walton mentioned it once in her column (she liked it too), so I knew that it actually existed and that I had the name right. But I never could find a copy anywhere. Not in any of the libraries I’ve frequented over the years, not in any bookshops, not online.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when I spotted an announcement somewhere (who knows where) online that Studio Ghibli has made a movie of the book. News that filled me with glee. Not only because Studio Ghibli make gorgeous hand-drawn animated movies and just might be able to do the story justice, but because a movie means publicity and publicity means a long-overdue re-issue of the book. I searched all my online sources and kobobooks had the ebook available. I downloaded it at once and managed to read it in a day, even though the day was filled with flying to Dunedin and visiting with family and friends.

To my relief and pleasure, it’s a wonderful book. It begins with about as accurate a depiction of depression as you’re ever likely to encounter in a child’s book (I imagine that the girl’s loneliness and sense of being apart, of not quite fitting, resonated with my pre-teen self), moves to elegiac descriptions of sea and coast, encompasses a ghost which may or may not have good intentions, and opens out into an ending that reassured and consoled, as well as surprising me.

No wonder it stayed with me all those years as something rich and strange and unusual. Something worth tracking down.

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Bad Mood Busters

Today has been one of those days. A bad mood kind of day. Nothing in particular happened – the dog smelled bad and had to be bathed, Petra was home sick and dropped berry juice on the carpet, the cleaner Travis’s work so kindly provides spent three hours cleaning around us – nothing major. And yet, I felt like everything was on my last nerve and I wanted to yell or cry or just tell the whole world to piss off.

And all for no particular reason that I can discern. Cross fingers that tomorrow will be a better day.

In the meantime, I’m listening to Kid Cudi’s Pursuit of Happiness, drinking Darjeeling tea, and breathing in and out (as recommended by Petra).

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A Sunday Snippet

A beautiful image of death and rebirth from The Tempest by William Shakespeare:

Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell

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A Friday Poem: Running Orders

Another round of violence in the Middle East broke out while I was on holiday. The death toll in the Gaza Strip has topped 700, last I read. Yesterday, the Israeli army bombed a UN school, killing 15. The wildly asymmetric nature of the conflict makes the Israeli government’s contention that it’s acting in self-defence difficult to accept. Gaza is a large open-air prison camp, surrounded on all sides. Even the sky and the sea are blockaded. The people have no control over their environment – they are subject to the Israeli army at all times. And when anyone resists, it’s a terrible dreadful thing and Israel claims to be under existential threat. The army lashes out indiscriminately, punishing everyone for the actions of a few (in contravention of the Geneva Convention), and hundreds of Palestinians die.

I don’t know what the answer is, but maintaining a prison state right outside its borders doesn’t do Israel itself any good, let alone the Palestinians. It undercuts the notion of Israel as a modern democratic state, and it ensures an endless supply of angry, despairing people who have every reason to hate and fear Israel. I don’t think the conflict will end until the Israeli government and people can find some way to release their death grip on the region and stop holding the Palestinian territories in subjugation. As the controlling power, the solution has to come from them.

Here is today’s poem, Running Orders by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha:

“They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.

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