Search This Blog

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Intrigued by the rush of adverts. for "Black Friday" which have crammed the online US new papers the last couple of days, I wondered why the term was used. I have always believed that Black Friday fell on the 13th day of the month. My mother used to warn me to beware of accidents and mishaps on that day, and I wore clean underwear in case I had to go to hospital. She didn't suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia (obsessive fear of the number thirteen), thank God, or I would not have been allowed out at all.

Friday has been considered unlucky since time (written time, that is) began. Chaucer mentioned it in The Canterbury Tales. Seamen refused to sail from port on a Friday, and their captains agreed with them, though the owners of the ships might have griped. Thirteen is equally unlucky, so the combination is particularly dire.

And "black" is the color of mourning. Friday, September 24, 1869, was certainly a day for mourning on Wall Street. A bunch of hotshot financiers tried to corner the gold market, and their abject failure led to a total collapse of the stock market, followed by a depression. The Panic of 1873 also began on a Friday, but apparently it was the 1869 debacle that added the word "black" to the economic lexicon of misfortune. From there, it was just a step to "Black Friday 13."

So why all these ads. for "Black Friday," when it isn't even Friday-the-thirteenth this week, Friday's date being November 28? And why advertise something that is supposed to be unlucky?

Apparently, in the shopping lexicon, Black Friday is the shopping day after Turkey Day. Everyone who is currently employed is off work, there are no games on TV, so everyone goes out shopping. BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR, the adverts. blare. It's a lucky day for the owners of the stores, because that their account books finally get into the black, and an unlucky day for the staff behind the counters, because those hungover crowds are grumpy. And, according to the entry for "Black Friday" on it isn't really the biggest shopping day, as people go to see the bargains before they start thinking about Christmas.

Happy Window Shopping.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Let Us Give Thanks for a Bounty of People

For children who are our second planting, and though they grow like weeds, and the wind soon blows them away, may they forgive us our cultivation, and fondly remember where their roots are.

Let us give thanks for generous friends, with hearts and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

for feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us that we've had them;

for crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;

For handsome friends who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn;

and for the others, as plain as potatoes and as good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes;

and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash;

as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill;

As endless as zucchini, and who, like parsnips, can be counted on to see you through the winter;

For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening time, and young friends coming on fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;

And finally, for those friends, now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, and who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter.

For all these we give thanks.

--by Max Coots

Saturday, November 22, 2008

European online library crashes on Mona Lisa mania

A new digital library launched by the European Union has crashed within hours of opening - forcing its closure -- according to a BBC story.

The Europeana website was attracting more than 10 million hits an hour - more than double the anticipated number.

The site includes paintings, photos, films, books, maps and manuscripts from 1,000 museums, national libraries and archives across Europe. It is expected to reopen in December after technological improvements. Users currently find a message saying the site is"temporarily not accessible due to overwhelming interest after its launch". It adds: "We're doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible. We'll be back by mid-December."

"Thousands of users were searching for the words 'Mona Lisa' at the same time", explained a spokesman for the European Commission." It confirms it's worth doing, European culture is more popular than we had anticipated in our wildest dreams," he said. After a massive surge just before Europeana's launch, the system's creators doubled the number of servers from three to six and got it working again for a short time. However they will now perform more tests to ensure the digital library can stay open at peak times.

On Thursday, most hits came from Germany, followed by France and Spain. Four per cent of online requests about Europe's cultural heritage came from the United States.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Service From The Sea– The New Zealand Navy Story

Penguin Group (NZ), with support from the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Naval Museum, has produced a new navy history, Service from the Sea – Ngā Mahi Nō Te Moana” -- and the launch is going to be quite an event, on a uniquely Navy venue.

The Chief of Navy (RNZN), Rear Admiral David Ledson, will host the event on board the Amphibious Sea Support Vessel, HMNZS Canterbury, berthed at the Devonport Naval Base.

The sea and seafarers have been an important and enduring element of the New Zealand story. However, it is often taken for granted that what happens at sea often occurs out of the sight of land Unsurprisingly, therefore, our ‘sea’ history is not as well known among most New Zealanders as the stories of farmland and forest. This book should go a long way to fill that gap.

Rear Admiral David Ledson says, “Service from the Sea tells the Navy’s story and highlights the important role the Royal New Zealand Navy Museum plays in enabling the story to be told. But the Navy Museum is far more than just a backdrop to the story; it provides those essential elements that bring those stories to life, make it interesting and relevant, and illustrate that theNavy is about more than ships – that people lie at the heart of the story.”

Rear Admiral Ledson will sign copies of the book. Quite a change from the normal book launch, where the author does the signing! The end of the event will be memorable, too, with a formal Beat Retreat Ceremonial Sunset, featuring an Armed Guard and the Navy Band, will be performed at 8:00 pm to mark the end of the book launch. The evening gun will be fired from HMNZS Philomel saluting guns, which are situated on The Promenade, Devonport Naval Base.

The Service from the Sea Book Launch will be held on Friday 28 November 2008 from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm. All media are invited. Is the author, Kelly-Ana Morey, to be invited too, I wonder? It would be interesting to meet the writer of such unusual and strangely gripping novels as Bloom, which I read just a few weeks ago, and think about quite often.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sarah Palin to author a book

According to the ever-knowing GalleyCat, last week's defeat and resultant backlash might be stinging still, but former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin can look forward to a sweet book deal. (Though for some reason I thought the book had been written already, by avid fan Kaylene Johnson.)

Page Six avers that Random House is "eager" to talk with her, and an unnamed publishing insider predicted Palin would score a deal with somebody by the end of the month. Because she will have words of her own to say about the campaign?
Linda Mann, the president of Mann Media, who regularly books celebrities for television, was upbeat about this, saying "Her buzz is incredible. She has car-wreck appeal. you're compelled to watch, hoping she'll say the dumbest things possible. I'd propose a show combining her love of fashion and lack of brainpower."
Miaou! -- though I have to agree that Sarah P. has a certain hypnotic pulling power. But one does have to feel sorry for the author who ghosts her book, once the big deal is made. Trying to turn her convoluted sentences into readable prose will be quite a challenge, as for instance her meditations about whether God will call her to the presidency, which hit the headlines today.
"I can't predict what's going to happen a day from now, much less four years from now," she said, according to excerpts released by her friend (and who needs enemies when they have friends like this), Fox News. "You know, I have -- faith is a very big part of my life ... I'm like, OK God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door ... even if it is cracked up a little bit, maybe I'll plough right on this that and maybe prematurely plough through it, but don't let me miss an open door."

The challenge reminds me of a page-turner I picked up by mistake and couldn't put down -- a book called Ghost by the chronicler of the Roman Empire, Robert Harris, who suddenly abandoned the caesars to do a number on Tony Blair. The mystery was great, but what chiefly intrigued and enthralled me was the main character, who was a ghost writer for written-word-challenged public figures. Until I read it, I had never thought about the immensity and intensity of the tact, diplomacy, and sheer self-control necessary to get the job done.

Boy, do they earn their money.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Galleances and guinea fowl


Well, old ships' logbooks can be fascinating, because of the mysteries they hold, as well as the strange events and observations they reveal.

As part of my research into the story of Tupaia, the Polynesian priestly navigator who sailed from Tahiti on the Endeavour with Captain James Cook and rich young botanist Joseph Banks, I'm transcribing the log kept by Captain Samuel Wallis on the Dolphin, June-July 1767, when Tupaia and his fellow Tahitians were enduring (or enjoying) their first encounter with British seamen.

And, in the course of this, I have come across what may be a strange animal. Well, it could be an artifact, but it is included in a list of shipboard livestock. Wrote Wallis on July 8, 1767, "Employed as before. Served Pork & fruit to the ship's company, gave the Old Man a Goose & Gander, a Turkey Cock & Hen & Three Galleances, an Iron Pot many sorts of Garden Seeds & shewd him how to Plant them, sot in different places Plumb, Peach Cherry Apples, Mellon and Pumpkin, Lime, Lemon & Orange Seeds. ―I was taken very ill again ―"

Galleances were new to me -- what are (or were) they? I thought of hens and roosters, but Tahiti had plenty of hen and roosters already. (Wallis called them "fowles.") Then again, he could have been playing with a Latin word. Galliformes, I found, are game birds, terrestrial, grain-eating, and ground-nesting. They include the common fowl -- also pheasants, partridges, grouses (grice?), turkeys, guinea fowl, and peacocks.
Peacocks? I love the idea! However, John Hawkesworth, in his 1773 book about important eighteenth century voyages (An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the Order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere), claims that on Friday 14 July 1767, Captain Wallis sent "the queen" of Tahiti (Purea) "two turkies, two geese, three Guinea hens, a cat big with kitten, some china, looking-glasses, glass bottles, shirts, needles, thread, cloth, ribands, peas, some small white kidney beans, called callivances, and about sixteen sorts of garden seeds, and a shovel, besides a considerable quantity of cutlery wares, consisting of knives, scissars, bill-hooks, and other things."
Well, those callivances were new to me, too, but obviously there were lots of those small white kidney beans, while there were only three Guinea hens, exactly the same number as the mysterious galleances -- so could they be one and the same? It's possible, because Hawkesworth took liberties with his material, and it would have sounded a lot more important if the "queen" had been given all those fancy presents, instead of a helpful but ordinary old man -- who probably had to pass them on to Purea, anyway, for she was a chief, and chiefs tended to appropriate such things.
So, having plumped for poultry, I went to the library and looked up books on chooks, and though I found not a single galleance, I learned a lot about guinea fowl. They were called that because they came from Africa. The word "guinea" originally meant "foreign" but was then adapted to mean "African." Fascinatingly, the people of Bristol were very familiar with guinea fowl in the 18th century, because ships came in with flocks of guinea fowl perched in the rigging.

They were exceptional at foraging for themselves in open country, so were presumably a good bet for acclimatisation, too. They were also very good watch dogs (watch birds?), being even better at the job than geese. One book assured me they make excellent pets, being very affectionate -- but I leave that to someone else to prove.
Meantime, the galleances remain a mystery -- which might or might not be solved. Perhaps there are international guinea fowl fanciers out there who know the answer?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Barack Obama and the libraries of America

President-Elect Barack Obama keynoted the opening general session at the American Libraries Association Annual Conference in Chicago, June 23-29, 2005. The following August his speech -- which drew record crowds, and a standing ovation -- was keynoted itself, being adapted for the cover story of the August 2005 issue of American Libraries.

The message, headlined, Bound to the Word, is inspirational.

It begins: "If you open up Scripture, the Gospel according to John, it starts: 'in the beginning was the Word.' Although this has a very particular meaning in Scripture, more broadly what it speaks to is the critical importance of language, of writing, of reading, of communication, of books as a means of transmitting culture and binding us together as a people."

Read it all on American Libraries Online.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Female Shipwright

As part of its “Caird Library Reprints” series, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has reprinted two works describing the very different maritime historical experiences of two women.

A Lady’s Captivity Among Chinese Pirates by Fanny Loviot was written by a woman who set sail for California in 1855, only to be overtaken and kidnapped by a band of Chinese pirates; the book describes her experience of capture and rescue.

The second book is the 1773 autobiography, The Female Shipwright, by Mary Lacy. Both works are provided with a brief introduction by Margarette Lincoln.

A strange juxtaposition, but both stories are absolutely fascinating. Mary Lacy, at the age of 19, ran away from her nursemaid's job and signed up as the boy servant of the carpenter of the 90-gun ship of the line Sandwich, under the alias, William Chandler. The following year she moved to the guardship Royal Sovereign, then decided to serve an apprenticeship as a shipwright, which she managed despite hard work and awful difficulties, with the help of her multitude of friends (many of whom were girlfriends, with whom she had lighthearted and probably lesbian relationships). I sketched out Mary Lacy's career in my own She Captains, and there is a more detailed study in Suzanne J. Stark's Female Tars.

However, it is an excellent idea to read Mary's strange tale in her very own words.