Ain’t no cure for the summertime muse

This ‘relaxation’ thing…its quite neat, isn’t it? Must remember to try it again sometime.

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Sustenance and reward for writing words and things. Then deleting them and swearing a lot.
Napier has an establishment called the ‘Allergy Free Cafe’ – don’t get me wrong, it does good coffee, but I can’t help but think ‘surely, that depends what you’re allergic to’

Next door is the ‘Fat Latte Cafe’ which has to be a deliberate, firm, extended digit, to its neighbour. It’s also a lot more relaxed. The bods in the allergy free cafe all look uptight and very ill.

Oh, and the Fat Latte has a fantastic lambs fry and bacon.

Strongly recommend ‘The Ottoman Endgame’ (Sean McMeekin, Penguin, 2015)  for a host of reasons.

One – or rather, two, ‘cos they’re separate and they’re both important – is the historical context it lends to today. One of those contexts is the strategic one provided to New Zealand’s enduring Anzac legacy.

McMeekin provides a detailed and thoughtful analysis of just what the hell they were doing there, and also sets out what he sees as the biggest strategic blunder of the campaign – the option of landing in the part of the Ottoman Empire then called Alexandretta, now called İskenderun, was considered and rejected.

What attracted me to this book – apart from a few highly appreciative reviews from elsewhere – was a doco I saw last year on the Ottoman-Turkish winter battle in December 1914, which saw the Turks send an army over the mountains at the start of the winter, with most of the casualties coming from frostbite (a lot of the troops didn’t even have boots). They still gave the Russians a fright: a plan for a much more ambitious, and never attempted, invasion caused a Russian panic which led them to ask the Brits and the French for some sort of attack on the southern Turkish side.

Hence,  Gallipoli. The Russians were supposed to coordinate with the Gallipoli campaign, but they didn’t: they were more than happy to see the British, especially, batter themselves senseless in a stalemate and in any case the last thing they wanted was a British army in Constantinople, given the historic rivalry between the two powers in the entire region from Greece across to India.

The other insight is of course into today’s wars in the Middle East. McMeekin lays to rest a few myths around the “Sykes-Picot Agreement”, the perpetuation of which has a lot to do with the popularity of the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. It was really the Sakarov-Sykes-Picot agreement and was reached in 1916 with Russia calling the shots because Britain and France had had their backsides kicked by the Ottomans at Gallipoli and Basra.

The Ottomans were supposed to be backward and useless – “the sick man of Europe” and all that, but here they were beating the crap out of the Allies.

So Russia got the lion’s – or the bear’s – share of the Sakharov-Sykes-Picot agreement which carved up the Ottoman Empire. Trouble was, in 1917 the Russians had a revolution, then another one, and it was all off. The Brits and the French redrew the agreement.

There was quite a bit of squabbling with the new Turkish regime, post-war – well, one of McMeekin’s points is it might have been “post-war” the way we usually think of it but it wasn’t post war for the Turks and nor was it, really for the Brits and the French, at least in the Middle East.

But then, I suppose, since when has it ever been “post-war” in the Middle East? Not for a wee while, anyway.

Anyway, highly recommended. It’s an excellent, clear and readable history, as clear as any history can be of this fractured and fissiparous region.

I pitched camp..well, when I say ‘camp’ I mean I rented a farmhouse..in a valley in the Hawkes Bay, all the better to write a lot. It didn’t have decent internet connection, which for about 30 seconds I was worried about before concluding it was exactly what was needed. Wrote in the mornings, when I’m brighter anyway and before the sun got over the hills and turned the cottage into a broiler house. Then went walking in the afternoon.

Got a little more than 14,000 words done, probaimg_2175bly at least a third of which I’ll dump as being not up to scratch, but its certainly a base to work off.

Thought for the day – on political unintended consequences

‘It was, after all, Greeks who pioneered the writing of history as what it has so largely remained, an exercise in political ironics—an intelligible story of how men’s actions produce results other than those they intended.’ – J G A Pocock

Pocock was a New Zealander. Not born here, but brought up here and the first ever head of the Canterbury University political science department.

I don’t normally link to Wikipedia, but just this once: there’s more on him here.

I came across this line in a book on the Kennedys, but it seems apt right now. Sadly and worryingly apt.

‘Gonna make it after all…’

Husker Du. Mary Tyler Moore Theme. Thrashed a lot, very ironically, back in 1985. Seems less ironic now.

Rest in piece, Mary. Wasn’t till I got to journalism school in 1982 I realised many of the newsroom types in the MTM Show were everywhere. Not just the Marys, but the Ted Baxters & the Lou Grants.

Thought for the Day – from good ol’ Hunter S.

‘The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.’

– Hunter S Thompson.

Good old fashioned steam powered trains

Happened to come across this item about a place close to the origins.

The railway station featured, the main one for the Glenbrook Vintage Railway, is about 10kms from where I grew up. It’s just down the hill from my grandfather’s farm, and across the road from another relative’s farm.

The branch line closed in the mid-1960s: I have a very vague memory of watching a small engine, without any train, chugging under the bridge by the old electricity board building on Waiuku’s Kitchener Road, probably around the time the line shut. I would have been, though, only about three or so.

Bit of a story with how the railway line came to be built in the first place: in the late 19th century, the locals agitated for a branch line to be put in.

Such decisions were made by cabinet ministers in those days, and the Prime Minister, Richard Seddon, tended to award such infrastructure projects to electorates which had been farsighted enough to elect an MP which supported his government.

As the area was, at the time, part of the electorate held by the then leader of the opposition, William Massey, the locals were told to go whistle.

The government changed in 1912, Massey was PM, and he got them their railway, though not right away – World War One intervened.

I gather it never made a profit and had to be constantly subsidised by the government. According to that story linked to above, the line now manages without any such government support.

When I was a kid, after the line closed, the station premises were used by Karaka Bulk Spreaders as a fertiliser depot.

The vintage railway went in, gradually, from the early 1980s. The bit that extends into my home town, Waiuku, runs through another relative’s farm, where we used to do hay every year.

It was kind of neat – we’d be part of the show, it seemed, as the train came through.

The vintage railway is recommended, for any of you Aucklanders – or anyone in holidaying in Auckland and wanting a day trip out to the country .

I’m biased, of course, but its a great place to visit.

There was even a song about it, albeit written and recorded, oddly in 1977 – during the period between the railway being closed circa 1968; and the vintage railway opening sometime in the mid-1980s.

Warning: contains yodeling. Catchy, though.

As a bonus, here’s the Kinks, singing about trains. It’s off their masterpiece, the low-key, out-of-its-own-time, Village Green Preservation Society album, which, by a coincidence, was being recorded around the time the Waiuku branch line closed.

 

It begins

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There is always something stark, and clean-slate-ish, about that straight 1 on the first of January of any year.

Uncluttered, and full of promise. Or, I suppose, if you are going through a rough patch, full of threat or dread.

It’s generally a time of taking stock, this time of year. That downward slash of the 1 on the first of January can be rough.

It’s worth remembering, I think, that things are seldom as bad, or as good, as they  appear.

And that however good, or bad, things may seem, the old saying of ‘This, too, shall pass’, is always a useful corrective.

Listening to Old Voices with a new year

John Hiatt.  One of his greatest.  A mix of Christian and pagan imagery, and at its core a simple, unspectacular faith in redemption.

‘It’s a new place, but you’ve always been here- you’re just listening to old voices with a new ear’

Listening To Old Voices

They have come to haunt the children
They have come to walk the wind
I can hear them as they rustle through the trees
Looking for the love that killed them
So that they might live again
It’s a simple prayer that brings me to my knees

With drums and bells and rattles
They have caught us in our time
To watch the eagle rise up from the fire
Now is it true we are possessed
By all the ones we leave behind
Or is it by their lives we are inspired?

[Chorus:]
It’s a new light, new day
Listening for new meaning, learning how to say
It’s a new place, but you’ve always been here
You’re just listening to old voices with a new ear

It’s the livin’ and the dyin’
Well it scares the young ones so
They can hardly catch their breath before too long
They see the tears we’re crying
And they watch the river flow
And they follow on the banks until it’s gone

I surrender to the mountains
I surrender to the sea
I surrender to the one who calls my name
I surrender to my lover and to my enemy
I surrender to the face that holds no shame
There’s a spider at my window
And she spins a web of truth
More beautiful than all those memories
And she surely is God’s artist
As she’s caught the morning dew
It’s a simple prayer that brings me to my knees