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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quarterdeck reviews Eleanor

Catching up with my mail after getting in from the South China Sea, I was delighted and highly complimented to find that Eleanor's Odyssey had been warmly reviewed in Quarterdeck, as one of the two Editor's Choices.

Hong Kong Maritime Museum

 Foggy, smoggy Hong Kong is going through a building boom

However, they have found time to refurbish their maritime museum, wonderfully situated on Hong Kong Island at the terminus of the Star Ferry.

The bottom floor -- D-Deck -- is reserved for the CSSC Maritime Heritage Resource Centre, with classrooms and offices, and accessible only by appointment, so ordinary visitors have to climb up to the reception desk on C-Deck.  There is an elevator, and reception is friendly and helpful.

If you are short of time, devote it all to C-Deck, which has a lot of interest, and is also kid friendly. It opens with an introduction to junks, including details on building a replica.  The system of interior bulkheads, said the text, began because long lengths of timber became hard to find.  Then it was realized that the design had lots of advantages.

You move on to what can only be described as an eclectic mixture of themes.

China and the opium trade runs along one wall, dominated by this fine painting by W. J. Huggins, of opium clippers at Lintin, 1824.

The centre is devoted to pirates, including a constantly updated electronic board of current pirate attacks -- rather unsettling for a person who is booked to sail in the South China Sea.  Interestingly, I noticed, the Somali coast has become very quiet.  When I remarked on this later, I was told by Captain Chris Wells of the Queen Mary 2 that it is largely because of sanctions, triggered by the seizure of the Maersk Alabama, featured in the film "Captain Phillips."

Rather predictably, there was a "cannon" one could try to fire at a pirate fleet.  Popular with children, it seems, because it didn't work.

And further on was a fine display devoted to the voyage of the Keyring to England.

The next floor up -- B-Deck -- is even more of a mishmash, including bits and pieces of lighthouses, a figurehead, a display devoted to underwater life, a foghorn from an America's Club yacht, and a viewing gallery with a fine view of the harbour.

Top floor has an excellent cafe, with good food and drink, well priced.  All the profits from this go to a charity for the intellectually handicapped, and it is partly staffed by these disadvantaged people, who are very attentive and anxious to please.

Well worth a visit, even if just for its junks and its wonderful location.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Ancestors in Taiwan

Maori meet the Aboriginal Formosans

Back in February, at the Taipei International Book Fair, something amazing happened.

Over the last ten or so years, geneticists have confirmed what linguists and archaeologists have been guessing for more than fifty -- that there is a clear link between modern day Polynesians, including New Zealand Maori, and the people who lived on the east coast of Taiwan five thousand years ago.

Taiwan is where the great migration that discovered and settled every island of the Pacific began.

Their aboriginal people -- the original Formosans -- are the ultimate ancestors of the people of the Pacific. As Dr Geoff Chambers, biologist at Victoria University and an expert on the great migration, says, it started 5,000 years ago, when people now known as the Austronesians set out from their homeland, spreading first into the area about Mindanao in modern Indonesia, then to the Philippines, and beyond.

After about 2,000 years of exploring, island-hopping, and settling, they moved into another major area, now known as Papua-New Guinea, where they settled and intermarried with the locals.  this genetic mix produced the ancestors of the modern Polynesians,  These were the people who ventured out in their outrigger canoes, and gradually explored the entire Pacific, from Samoa and Tonga to Tahiti and the Marquesas, and as far as Rapanui (Easter Island), Hawaii, and Aotearoa (New Zealand).

And, at the book fair, a New Zealand Maori party and indigenous Taiwanese, like the delightful girls at the Council of Indigenous People pavilion, right next-door to the New Zealand pavilion, met and interacted.

Most modern Taiwanese are of Han Chinese origin (like the youngsters with the Maori performers, at the top of this post), but about half a million Taiwan people (like the girls in their colorful dress) belong to one of the two dozen indigenous tribes.  And, when they got together with the Polynesian party, they called each other cousins.

"I feel at home here," quipped iconic Maori writer Witi Ihimaera (Whale Rider), "because someone asked me for directions in Mandarin."

The similarities were indeed striking. Not only do they look much the same as the girls, boys, men and women -- Samoan, Tahitian, Tokelauan, Cook Island and Tongan, as well as Maori -- that we encounter every day, but they share a lot of words. In New Zealand, we say, "Tahi, rua, toru, wha, rima" (one, two, three, four, five), while in Taiwan, they say, "Cecay, toso, tolo, sepal, lima."

And they have the same challenges in preserving their culture.

Two people allied by their genes and their ancient past.  No wonder this was such a deeply significant occasion.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Lan Yu "canoes" -- my guest post at Old Salt Blog

Today, I had the privilege of being invited to write a guest post for OLD SALT BLOG.

It is about the Lanyu canoes I studied at museums in Taipei, and the local experts I interviewed.

Here I am with one of those experts, the charming Liao Hong-ji, a fisherman, author, conservationist and adventurer.

The whole conversation was in Chinese (except for my answers to translated questions, and my questions, also translated) -- and we were talking about the Great Migration, and Tupaia's canoes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gunboats at the Evergreen Maritime Museum

Since there has been such intense interest in Taipei's Evergreen Maritime Museum, I have decided to tell you more over two or three more posts.  This one focuses on three fascinating models of steam-powered boats that plied Chinese waters in the nineteenth century.

Ping Yuan -- cruiser.  Launched on January 29, 1888, and originally named Long Wei, this was the first steel-armored cruiser built in China, her design based on the French Acheron-class gunboat. In 1890 she was transferred to the Beiyang Fleet, and renamed Ping Yuan.  The Ping Yuan fought in the Battle of the Yalu River, damaging the Japanese flagship Matsushima (of which there is a model upstairs). Captured in the siege of Weihaiwei in 1895, she became part of the Japanese Imperial Navy.  In 1904 she met her doom, hitting a mine in Pigeon Bay, west of Port Arthur.

This lovely model is is of the Jing Qing, another cruiser.  She was a composite (wooden planking over an iron frame), and fitted with a ram bow. Built in the Foochow Naval Yard, she was launched on December 23, 1885, and joined the Nanyang Fleet, based in Shanghai. At the end of the Qing Dynasty she was transferred to the Yangtze river fleet, and in 1918 she was decommissioned and converted into a commercial vessel.

And here is the steamship Wan Nian Qing, China's first wooden-hulled, steam-driven vessel to exceed 1,000 tons. Launched on June 10, 1869, she was not a gunboat, per se, but served as a transport between Taiwan and Fujian,  She sank after a collision with a British steamboat in the East China Sea (near Shanghai) on January 20, 1887.  Since then, her name has been given to a chemicals tanker .... 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Evergreen Maritime Museum

Finding an entry ticket for Taipei's maritime museum as a bookmark reminded me that I haven't written a post about this amazing, little-known maritime museum, tucked away in a city suburb well away from the sea.  There was a great deal that was marvelous about this find, and a few things that were mysterious.

First was the entrance gate.

"Evergreen" seemed such an odd name for a maritime museum, but then I forgot this for the moment, as we went into the truly amazing ground floor.

This is looking down on it from above.  Though it is dominated by an enormous model of a dhow, the vessels around it grab the attention.  First, there is a Lanya canoe (indigenous Formosan), complete with equipment

Based on a dugout keel, this carvel-built canoe was made on Orchid Island (Lan Yu), off the southeast coast of Taiwan. The natives who build in this style are Taos, an aboriginal tribe predating the Han Chinese who mostly populate Taiwan now.  This specimen consists of 27 pieces of wood, with four tiers of strakes surmounting the keel -- according to what I learned at the Aboriginal Museum (near the famous National Palace Museum), this means that it is crewed by four paddlers. Both bow and stern are raised, but appeared to me to be identical, though there were eyes painted at one end. The decorations are most impressive, representing waves, and -- I was told -- ancestral images.  No outrigger -- which I find fascinating, when it is considered that the Austronesian migration that populated the Pacific came from Taiwan, 5000 years ago.

Elsewhere in this grand foyer are the huge model of a dhow, three models of gunboats, and an exhibit dedicated to the great admiral Zheng He, who led an expedition to the Indian Ocean 1405-1433 AD.

As well as a model of his treasure ship, there are warrior-type models of Zheng He flanked by two military officers. 

Cameras were banned in the higher floors, but of course we wanted to explore.  After buying a ticket for 100 New Taiwan Dollars (about $3 US, the whole of which goes to charity), we put away our cameras and took an elevator to the fifth floor, as instructed.  This was dedicated to the History of Ships -- but to our surprise, the wonderful models were all of European ships.  

The fourth floor had another great display of models -- of ocean liners, 20th century war ships -- and modern cargo ships, where I found out why the museum is called "Evergreen."  The cargo ships were all container ships, owned by .. guess what ... the Evergreen Company, the sponsor of this wonderful maritime museum. 

As the brochure told me, the Evergreen Maritime Museum was founded by the Chairman and Founder of the Evergreen group, Dr. Y. F. Chang, who supplied most of the artifacts, and gave it a place in the Chang Yung-Fa Foundation building. So, it is understandable that there should be a generous space devoted to Evergreen container ships.  There were some great interactive displays, where I found out more about loading, sailing, and docking a huge container ship than I ever expected to learn. 

For a historian, the third floor was even more interesting, as it focused on Taiwan and the sea, covering the East India Company, the opium trade, and the story of Taiwan's prominence in modern maritime trade -- from the point of view of Evergreen, of course.

The third floor held another surprise -- an exhibit called The World of Maritime Paintings ... mostly European maritime paintings. There was even one by Geoff Hunt, who created the covers of the Patrick O'Brian series.  Interestingly, though, there were also many pierhead paintings -- ship portraits made to order for clipper ship captains -- or created in the hope that they would buy them. While the artists were not named, they were probably Chinese.

And so down to the mezzanine, overlooking the magnificent display on the ground floor.  Not many exhibits there, except a case that held, rather touchingly, models and wreaths made by crew of the various Evergreen container ships, labelled -- somewhat to my surprise -- as "Sailor Scrimshaw."

Oh well, never mind.  It was a great experience, highly recommended.  Taipei is indeed a city of surprises.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Eleanor's review from Historic Naval Fiction

From Historic Naval Fiction

At the height of the Napoleonic wars East Indiamen faced the perils of a long hazardous voyage and enemy privateers to bring the wealth of the far east back to England. Shortly after the war ended the The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia began a serialisation of the diaries of Eleanor Reid who accompanied her husband Hugh, the captain of the Indiaman Friendship, on one such voyage from Ireland to New South Wales, the South Sea, the Spice Islands, Bengal, and then back to Europe between 1799 and 1801. In her latest book Eleanor’s Odyssey, award winning author Joan Druett has brought to life this long forgotten manuscript.
Eleanor must have been a keen observer as she brings to life not just her time aboard ship at sea and in port but also the flora and fauna and the life of both the European and native populations in the places visited. Druett has enhanced what would have been an interesting read on it’s own by preceding each chapter with a well researched commentary of what is known about the ship, crew, passengers, events and places visited. A wealth of detail that brings the period to life for the reader. The book concludees with a chapter on what happened to Eleanor and her husband in the years following the voyage.
This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in learning more about life both in the far east at the time and aboard an East Indiaman. Highly Recommended

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Books and so forth

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid": Jane Austen

"One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man": Elbert Hubbard

"Not all chemicals are bad.  Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer": Dave Barry

"The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that, in a democracy, you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting": Charles Bukowski

"I honestly think it is better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate": George Burns

"If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience": George Bernard Shaw

Friday, March 20, 2015


Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words.

The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavoured mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand): The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.  

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for a  very long, sometimes indefinite period of time.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

7. Hipatitis (n): Terminal coolness.

8. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

9. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

10. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

11. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

12. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

13. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

14. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

15. Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:
16. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Queen Mary 2 misses Wellington

She is a magnificent ship -- or was, when new.  Actually, the Queen Mary 2 is rather well named, because she is showing her age, and badly needs her upcoming make-over.

We sailed on her from Hong Kong to Sydney.  As we live in Wellington, New Zealand, we did consider the option of sailing all the way home, but time (and money) dictated otherwise.

And now we are so pleased we left the ship in Sydney, as she has had a very strange cruise since then, courtesy of Cyclone Pam.

She did make it to the Milford Sound, but then turned up the west coast, not the east, so missed her scheduled call at historic Akaroa.  Instead, she moored in the Marlborough Sounds, and the passengers were shuttled to the busy little port of Picton.

After that, she was supposed to come to Wellington, but somehow she didn't make it.

As reported, she meandered, instead.

The 345-metre long ship was due into Wellington Harbour on Wednesday morning but, after a circuitous route across Cook Strait, the pilot aborted entry to the harbour at 5.10am because of a heavy swell and bad weather.
The Wellington leg of the cruise was cancelled and the ship is now heading up the North Island west coast to Auckland.
Ship tracking website shows the roundabout route the ship took overnight.
It left the Marlborough Sounds on Tuesday night and sailed as far north as opposite Palmerston North. It then looped back to near the Wellington Harbour entrance before again heading north to the sea off Kapiti Island and then northwards.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Typhoons and Filipino canoes

Some of you might remember Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated coastal villages in the Philippines.

Well, we had some connections here in New Zealand.  Our friend Sarah Gaitanos has a brother who is a local entrepreneur.  And we made many Filipino friends during our four years as lecturers for P&O Australia.

Sarah organized a fund-raising campaign, and a good sum of money was sent over to help communities of fishermen and their wives.  The money was spent on construction materials, a generator, clothes, food, and canoes ....

Money so well spent -- see the happy faces.  Many of the canoes were equipped with motors, as well as fishing and boating gear.

Perhaps most rewarding of all was funding for the crafts that their women create and sell, while their husbands, sons, and fathers are out harvesting the sea.  "Out of everything we have done," said the local organizer, "Bantayan Crafts is the most meaningful – we have given 35 women the chance to help themselves through enterprise. They are all married mums who can’t depend upon their hubbies for a steady income."

Please follow Bantayan Crafts’ progress through its facebook page bantayancrafts

Monday, March 16, 2015

Queen of the Tearling

The book had been left on a table in a sitting area in Sydney Airport.  And it was ten in the morning, while my flight was not scheduled until five-thirty that afternoon.

Seven hours to fill in before boarding time.

I looked at the book.  No one seemed to want it, and looking at the unimpressive cover and unimaginative title, I thought I could see why.  When I finally picked it up, it was to find that it was bookmarked at page 180 before being abandoned.

I put it down again.  No one came rushing over to claim her book, and so it lay there, looking forlorn.  Seven hours to fill.  I picked it up again, and this time I looked at the back.  Bernard Cornwell, one of my favorite authors, had blurbed it. "A gripping read with an enchanting heroine, Erika Johansen has created a wonderful world and I can't wait to read more," he had written.

So I started the book.  And was gripped.  It lasted me throughout the wait and then throughout the flight, and next morning I couldn't wait to read the rest.

And yet, it is surprisingly derivative. Let's look at the plot, for a start.  Nineteen-year-old Kelsea, plump and plain and bookish, has been raised in a remote forest by two rather elderly foster parents.  On her birthday nine horsemen come to collect her, so she can claim her throne.  The trail to the city (called New London) is fraught with danger, as there is a price on the future queen's head.  She is rescued by a bandit named The Fetch who wears a harlequin mask, and it is then that we find that she wears a sapphire with magic qualities. After arriving in New London to supplant a fat and nasty regent, Kelsea takes on board the full challenge of her job -- the place is corrupt, her people are being sold into slavery (following a lottery to fill the quota) as a "tribute" to a really repellent neighboring monarch called -- also unimaginatively -- the Red Queen.  But Kelsea tackles all this with guts and gusto, aided by her Queen's Guard.  She is a female knight in shining armor.

Sound familiar?  Well, it should.  There is a lot of Hunger Games in there, plus Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter. The author uses her sources openly and without embarrassment.  What saves this -- apart from the wonderful writing and narrative pace -- is another derivation, that of the Grimm brothers' Fairy Tales. All the elements are there -- magical artifacts, looming forests, a wicked queen, greedy nobles, downtrodden peasants -- and Johansen handles them beautifully. There is a certain amount of violence, but she certainly doesn't wallow in it.  The one or two swear words dropped into the dialogue are rather delightfully revealing of the main character's naivete.  There are also clever touches of humor. And, thank the lord, there is no bonking.

It's the first in a series, and, like Cornwell, I can't wait to read more.

Added notes.  I see that a movie has been optioned -- and the heroine is to be as beautiful as Katniss.  What a mistake!  What is particularly appealing about Kelsea is her plainness, with not a hint of a makeover in sight.

On Amazon there are some surprisingly virulent reviews.  Curious to know what the reviewers found so repellent, I had a look at the other books those readers had reviewed.  In the most vicious case the reviewer's five-star ratings were of (a) pregnancy books (b) raising toddler books (c) romances with plenty of graphic sex.

Ha! If Amazon reviewers only knew it, their lists of reviewed books are as revealing as their bookcases would be in their own homes.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Relic of the Revolution

From Stars and Stripes

Historians ponder future of Revolutionary War relic

MONTPELIER, Vt.   When it was built late in 1776 the gunboat Spitfire wasn't meant to be the pride of the American fleet. It was built to fight and fight it did, helping slow down the larger British fleet that sailed south out of Canada onto Lake Champlain as part of an effort to crush the colonial rebellion.
The 54-foot Spitfire sank a day after the critical Oct. 11 Battle of Valcour Island, settling into deep water where it went unseen for more than 200 years.
Now the historian who led the search that found the Spitfire nearly two decades ago is developing a management plan for the future of the boat that today sits on the lake bottom, its mast upright and its bow cannon pointing straight ahead, just as it was when it was abandoned by its crew.
"This is not a sexy boat," said Art Cohn, the emeritus director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum who is now writing a management plan for the Spitfire that he will submit to the U.S. Navy. "It was relatively small, flat-bottomed and quickly built, but that's not its value."
"The principal value, in my opinion, is it connects us to 1776 and the formative years of this country," he said.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hodges painting comes home

From the New Zealand Herald

One of the first oils ever painted in New Zealand has returned here after more than two centuries out of the country.
Angus Fletcher, executive chairman of the Fletcher Trust Collection, said William Hodges' Dusky Bay (April, 1773) which was purchased in England had now arrived and was hanging in the organisation's private Auckland offices.
New Zealanders will get their first chance to see the tiny, precious painting at the Fabulous Fletcher Collection exhibition of more than 80 works which opens at Waikato Museum today and runs until mid-June.
The diminutive 14cm by 17cm work on wood was painted when the artist sailed here with Captain James Cook on HMS Resolution and is thought to have been painted from the ship's deck, because of its vantage point.
It was completed early in Captain Cook's second voyage to the Pacific after the first 1769 HMS Endeavour expedition. Painted 242 years ago, it has never been exhibited in New Zealand.
"It's arguably the first oil painting of New Zealand," Fletcher said, explaining how it had been in a private family collection before the trust discovered it was coming up for sale.
"We only bought it in September from a London private dealer. The one family had owned it since 1773 and it's such a thrill to have it. It bookmarks New Zealand art as we're still buying emerging artists but this is at the very start," Fletcher said.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Huge legacy for Princeton

Wednesday 18 February 2015


Emily Dickinson's chocolate pudding recipe and nine other highlights from
Princeton's $300m book haul

Princeton's record bequest includes Shakespeare's First Folio and the first
six printed editions of the Bible
By Kat Brown5:27PM GMT 18 Feb 2015

Beethoven's autograph, the 1455 Gutenberg Bible and an original printing of
the Declaration of Independence are among the incredible haul that Princeton
University has revealed as its largest-ever bequest.

The 2,500-volume collection belonged to philanthropist William Scheide and
was started in 1865 by his grandfather, then aged 18. It had been housed at
Princeton since 1959, and when Scheide died in November aged 100, he left
the university everything.

Here are 10 of the highlights:
1) The Gutenberg Bible
Absolutely nothing to do with the Police Academy films and everything to do
with the arrival of the printing press. Only 48 copies remain of the
Gutenberg Bible, which was produced in Mainz, Germany.

It was the first substantial book printed in Europe using movable type, and
the Scheide collection includes not only this, but the next five printed
editions as well.

Eleven copies of the Gutenberg Bible are in the US, and Princeton joins
Harvard and Yale universities in owning one.

2) Beethoven's music sketchbook for 1815-16
This is a big one for Princeton as it is the only one of Beethoven's
notebooks on public display outside Europe.

3) Shakespeare's first, second, third and fourth folios
If it weren't for the First Folio, a 1623 collection that brought together
many of his plays, half of Shakespeare's work may have been lost.

4) Handwritten music manuscripts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and

5) A "lengthy" autograph speech by Abraham Lincoln from 1856 on the problems
of slavery

6) General Ulysses S Grant's letter and telegram copybooks from the last
weeks of the Civil War

7 and 8) The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the bequest also includes a
14th-century copy of the Magna Carta and Emily Dickinson's recipe for
chocolate pudding.

Sadly the library did not offer a scan of the pudding, but the internet
already holds the recipes for Dickinson's coconut cake, black cake, and

9) The Blickling Homilies
What do you mean you've never heard of the Blickling Homilies? They stem
from our own shores! Although admittedly this collection of medieval sermons
has been based overseas for a long time. They are named after Blickling Hall
in Norfolk, which once housed them.

10) A copy of the Koran from around 1700

Princeton's university librarian, Karin Trainer, said that Scheide's
generosity was "legendary" and added: "He was likewise generous with his

Scheide's widow, Judy McCartin Scheide, said her husband had loved to show
the books to young people.

"This collection is the fulfilment of the dreams of three generations of
Scheide book men," she said. "Having it reside permanently at Princeton is a
testament to the joy Bill took in sharing the books, papers, manuscripts,
letters, music and posters with others ­ those were some of his happiest
times. He loved showing people ­ especially young people who had never seen
anything like this before ­ the collection, letting them touch the books and
experience what he called 'the wow factor.'"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

When your iPad is stolen

Remember the "find your iPad" (or iPhone) facility.

Peter Meechan had his iPhone stolen at Auckland Airport, and his wife was able to track it by using the "Find my Phone" feature.  Amusingly, when she found it, it was flying into Queenstown.  Then it went to the Heritage Hotel. Police phoned the hotel, and when the staff contacted the holder, the phone was turned off, and never used again.

A man who works for an Auckland car rental company left his iPad in one of the cars, but it was not there when the car was returned.  He tracked the device to Melbourne, and when the Aussie police arrived at the address, the holder's daughter handed it over.

The Matamata owner of a stolen car was able to track not just his iPad, but the wallet that had been stolen, too.  The offender was arrested.

A Taranaki woman tracked her iPad to an address, phoned police, and the burglars were apprehended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Danish dating - behind bars

Danish people do a lot of things differently, I find.  Not only do they design clean, spare, light furniture, but they design clean, spare, light prisons, part of one facility being pictured above.

Most of Denmark's jails are low-security open prisons, where inmates can use the internet, cook their own food and get weekend leave.  They can also go in for online dating, through an online group called "date an inmate."

Most of the 10,000 members of the group are women -- who are not behind bars.  One prisoner who is one-third of the way through his sentence (for drug dealing) said, "It's a good way to get in touch with women."  Are the women spooked by the fact that they are chatting online with offenders?  Apparently not.  Like ordinary women, they are just looking for romance.

Another prisoner said that for many prisoners the prospect of finding a romantic partner gave a good incentive for good behavior inside, and hope for a good life once outside.  It was something to fight for, he said.

The guards are happy about it. Said a press release officer, "We know that when inmates have served their sentence, if they have a family or a partner that is one of the key elements in not committing new crimes."

Will the idea pay off?  Only time will tell.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Inventor of The Pill

He was the mastermind behind the sexual revolution.

He liberated women from the nursery, which triggered social revolution, too.

He was one of the men who created the twenty-first century the way we know it, hugely different from the world our grandmothers knew.

He was Carl Djerassi, the inventor of the contraceptive pill.

Last month, he passed away, but his legacy lives on, and on, and on.

Carl Djerassi, an Austrian born research chemist, was the man who patented the synthetic hormone used in The Pill.  Then, having done that, he crossed disciplines to sociology, to study how the birth-control pill influenced women's health, gender equality, and global population growth.

"By separating the coital act from contraception, the pill started one of the most monumental movements in recent times, the gradual divorce of sex from reproduction," he wrote in the last of his three autobiographies, This Man's Pill: Reflections on the 50th Birthday of the Pill."

Apropos of that, I read something interesting about The Pill recently.  The few that are differently colored are there to trigger a monthly bleed that is not actually menstruation.  It is more of a reassurance to pill-taking women that their womb is still there.  Apparently it causes no harm to discard the sheep among the goats (as it were) and just keep on with the hormones. There may be some spotting to start with (or so said the physician in the column), but it soon settles down.

Life without periods?  Our grandmothers would have been most amazed!

Monday, March 9, 2015


I've decided that I must be quite a storyteller.

I've talked to children, to adults, and to people from other countries.  I have talked on cruise ships, in lecture theaters, in libraries and museums, and in classrooms.  But it is the strange feedback that I get from private conversations that surprises me -- and I suppose is flattering, in a way.

I tell a person a story, and then months or years later (or maybe only weeks) that person tells me the exact same story, but as if it has happened to them.

There was the time when I had just found out that if you have a collectible coin, you must not clean it.  Polishing it so it gleams like new takes its value away.  I imparted this titbit to a man, and not long later, I encountered this same man, and he said, "Did you know that you shouldn't clean collectible coins? I looked it up," he said, "and I found it out."

And then there was the story I told another man about the diner who collapsed in a Chinese restaurant. His life was saved because there was a drug store just across the street, and the pharmacist raced over with a syringe of adrenalin.  It turned out that he was violently allergic to shrimp, and his meal had been cooked in the same pan that had been used for a shrimp meal previously.

About a year later, I was in a restaurant with the fellow I had told this story, and he said, "Did you know I nearly died because the pan used to cook my meal had been used to cook a shrimp meal earlier?  I only survived because there was a chemist shop just across the road."

"Goodness me," I said, and kept the rest of my reaction to myself.

It happened again not so long ago.  I had told a friend about a bus trip where the driver was new to the route, got lost, became panicked, tried to reverse, and hit a parked car.

And guess what experience that she had had she told me about a year later!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

More on the Euterpe

Another popular past post from Joan Curry, the "other Joan"


Nineteenth century voyages could be tedious. Passengers and crew spent long months at sea in a too-small ship with too many people, and any excuse for kicking up their heels was welcomed. The diarists in the sailing ship Euterpe on the voyage of 1879 have left us many anecdotes about what they got up to.

One occasion was Dead Horse day, so-called because sailors were paid a month's wages in advance on signing on for the voyage. They worked that month "for nought" and called it working for the dead horse. When the month was up they celebrated by making a horse out of straw, "about the size of a donkey and very like a goat only it had a long tail" reported diarist George Lister. It was put up for auction, netting about fifteen shillings which was shared among the crew.

Then one of the sailors appeared, dressed like an old man with a long white coat and a long beard made of towed rope. He climbed onto the horse, which was led in procession around the deck, after which a rope was fastened around both man and horse and threaded through a pulley on the end of the lower yard on the main mast. They were then "drawn over the side of the ship and swung about for a while", no doubt to cheers from the onlookers. The rider then loosed the horse from under him and it fell into the sea. Throughout the whole ceremony a blue light was kept burning and the sailors sang the song of the Dead Horse, after which "all sorts of amusements were carried on until very late."

Amusements came in many guises. There was dancing most nights to music provided by the passengers themselves. There were sports and concerts. Practical jokes were popular, if a little juvenile sometimes. One night passengers in the fore-cabin were woken at 3.30am by "someone rolling a large biscuit barrel down the fore hatchway into the cabin below, when they all thought the masts had gone by the board. They turned out in a great hurry but when they saw the trick they went back to their bunks in better spirits." (Better than mine would have been in the circumstances.)

Birthdays were celebrated in cabins or in the saloon, sometimes with too much drink. Joshua Charlesworth wrote that "drinking was carried on to a large extent so that the serving out of beer & spirits had to be stopped by order of the Captain." And James Martin complained that "just after I got in bed, Hartley came in drunk and after a good pulling about got into bed and began lifting the boards of my bunk [with his feet]. Several others were nearly drunk, one with whom I was arguing total abstinence with about a fortnight since, and," James continued virtuously, "he said then that no one ever saw him the worse for drink." A month later James reported that at about midnight he was disturbed by [cabin mates] who were drunk and making a noise which woke Beecroft, and a row ensued. I thought there would be a fight but it quelled."

Photo of Euterpe's wheel courtesy of Mike Wood Photography

Saturday, March 7, 2015

You're going to hate my product ad

Wonderful Pizza Hut Ad Shows People Being Totally Disgusted by Its New Pizza
For these folks, it's an acquired taste 

There's a brave niche approach in advertising where you show your audience just how much people despise your product. Laphroaig scotch has been doing this for while, turning its polarizing taste into a selling point. Now, Pizza Hut Australia is doing something similar.
The chain recently introduced a new pizza with Vegemite filling in the crust. Vegemite, of course, is the dark brown, salty yeast extract paste that Australians love and the rest of the world knows about because of a 1980 pop song.
To promote the pizza, ad agency Host Sydney went to a backpackers' hostel, found a bunch of foreigners and got them to try it. Having clearly never tried Vegemite, their reactions range from curious to, eventually, utterly revolted—making for a hilarious and remarkably patriotic commercial.
Your move, Marmite.
Give me Laphroaig any time ...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sea lions need a new image

Back in 2007, Algonquin published my account of the wrecking of the Grafton and the Invercauld on Auckland Island, and the fate of the two sets of castaways.  It is a fascinating story, because one group did remarkably well, building a cabin that was so staunch that traces of it can still be seen today, while the other group descended into cannibalism and chaos.  Leadership and engineering skills made all the difference.

One of the problems with writing the book was having to describe the killing of sea lions, because in both cases the survivors only made it because they lived on sea lion meat.  And the sea lion in question, the New Zealand sea lion, is now an endangered species.

Now, it seems that they have made a come-back, and their image needs to be tweaked yet again.

Sea lion could be up for image makeover

Updated at 7:02 am today

The endangered New Zealand sea lion could be in line for an image makeover in the same way as the North American grizzly bear.
After being hunted to the brink of extinction, the New Zealand sea lion is now back on the Otago-Southland coast, numbering up to about 200 animals.
But that has raised some problems as people adjust to having them back. Two weeks ago, the swimming pool at Dunedin's St Clair had to be evacuated when a young sea lion wandered into the hot salt-water pool.
Visit of a New Zealand sea lion to Dunedin's St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool in mid-January 2015. The pool had to be evacuated when the sea lion got in!
Dunedin's St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool had a surprise visit from a New Zealand sea lion in mid-January.
Photo: David Agnew / DOC
Now, a group of US students is working with the Department of Conservation to look at whether the species needs to be "rebranded."
The group was starting on surveys of 400 people, from Dunedin down to Stewart Island, to find out what they know about the endangered mammal and how they view them.
Student Jessica Desmond from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, said they were asking whether people had heard of the sea lion, where they got their information, and whether people were willing to support the mammals' conservation.
Ms Desmond said it was clear some people were worried they might get confronted by an angry wild animal and said they did not feel safe.
And rightly so.  As the castaways of Auckland Island found out, bull sea lions are aggressive, and can easily kill even the biggest, strongest man. And sea lions not only move surprisingly fast, but they can climb cliffs.   So, if you happen to come across a sea lion on the beach (or any seal, for that matter), don't treat him as the family dog, and take particular care not to get between him and the sea.