Thought for the Day – a rather rambling one, starting with Churchill on libraries

Nothing makes a man more reverent than a library’

– Winston Churchill

Not going to quite agree with this comment, which comes from an aside in a famous essay ol’ WSC wrote about his discovery of painting as a hobby.

I’ve loved libraries, certainly, ever since I ever discovered them when I was aged five (my first ever library book was Dr Seuss’s ‘Horton the Elephant Hatches an Egg’ from the Waiuku Public Library). (one further aside: you don’t want to see me at the business end of any sort of a paint brush. Not at least unless you’ve had a safe distance installed first).

But I can certainly think of plenty of things that have made me more reverent than libraries.

Pegasus Books off Cuba Mall, one recent summer...

Mostly nature, the outdoors, and so forth (see some of the pictures which adorn this publication)… there’s reverence, awe, and a sense of ineffable wonder.

But on libraries themselves…my main emotion I think has been hunger, a ravenous, at times slightly desperate intellectual appetite.

Tinged with a touch of awe, certainly, but that awe is secondary.

Besides, to me ‘reverence’ makes you hang back a bit. You don’t want to approach the alter with too much enthusiasm in church. You can never be too sure what the Divine Ironist has in mind – except it’s bound to be something you haven’t expected and that it’s bound to be a bit of a doozie.

In the case of libraries, I just want to get at ’em. Reverence is there but it skips, hand In hand, with a wide eyed, gleeful and – let’s be honest about it –a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm.

And yes, I suppose, the ultimate ‘kids skipping hand-in-hand with a wee bit too innocent enthusiasm’ were found in the first book of the Bible, where they fairly notoriously came a bit of a cropper.

After I left the home town as a teenager – especially when I moved to big places like Wellington- about the first thing I did was join any libraries going. In the case of Wellington, two whole, massive libraries – the Polytechnic library as well as the public libraries – were on tap.

Like the beer, only much much much better. And I didn’t actually need to deepen my voice to order books at the library, somehow it just felt as though ‘The Ginger Man required a deeper voice. And perhaps some facial fair.

These city libraries were places of awe, certainly. But more, they were places of a kind of desperate and slightly bewildered, unfocused hunger than of reverence.

There was so much there: so much to discover. And they were run by these helpful, but often daunting, highly educated and sophisticated people called librarians.

I has reverence and respect for librarians, certainly. Likethat started with the librarian who, back home, introduced me to this wondrous system called Interloan.

Being able to order up books from any library in the country was a breathtaking discovery. Used to go into the Waiuku library every second Friday after school: order up some book or books I’d discovered in a footnote or bibliography I’d found recently.

Let me at ’em!

Then as the year wore on, discovering second hand books stores, these inspired awe and reverence, joy and discovery.

Stairway in the magnificent old Hard To Find Books in Onehunga, a few years before the recent move.

Cheap books you could actually own!  Repositories of the worlds’ wisdoms and follies you could return to and scrawl disagreement in the margins!I actually dream about second hand bookshops. No exaggeration. Sometimes they are stores I have known: more frequently my dreams are some sort of combination of every second hand book shop I have ever known, plus an unconscious idealisation of what a perfectly arranged (and here I use the term ‘arranged’ loosely, if not wildly inaccurately) shop would be like.

I like to think of this as a kind of premonition of a heavenly afterlife – especially one which also comes with a well-stocked shelf of single malts. A a heavenly second hand bookshop should possess, as well as an endless stock of fine whiskies a proprietor who plays a genial, intelligent wry and witty guide and host ,with a gift for intelligent conversations.
It certainly beats bell out of other theories of the afterlife I’ve heard about. 
The best second hand bookstores I’ve known are organised, so you can find what you are after – but not too organised. An air of amiable, intelligent dishevelment should always be part of the mix.
The key thing – and I’m sure this is something second hand bookshop owners are often immensely frustrated about – is that such stores are only partly about selling.
Such establishments are more about the atmosphere- the ‘vibe’ if you like.
Like the quote from Churchill hints, they are about serving as a repository of knowledge, of wisdom and of folly, frequently at the same time.
Ok – to get back to Churchill- that it ties back to reverence,of a kind.
I think it shows an irreverent form of reverence.
The best kind, I feel.
Nothing should be too formal.
So, cheers, all. Here’s a glass of Glenmorangie, raised while reading Andrew Roberts’ recent biography of Churchill.
That should serve as a chaser to WSC’s own favourite, a flute of Pol Roger.

Take me to the January Sun in Cuba…. Maw-hawll-aul….

Pegasus
Vellichor: the Second Hand Book Store vibe, this one from Pegasus Books.

There is a thing I call the Cuban Meander: start anywhere in Wellington’s Cuba St quarter and wander around, dropping into any shops or cafes which take your fancy.

Or stare at the Bucket Fountain and wonder if it is taking kitsch a bit too far.

The Cuban Meander was something I started doing, in true exploratory and unfocussed form, in 1982: The Southern Cross, just off the top of Cuba in Abel Smith St, was the unofficial Wellington Polytech pub and it used to be the place to meet in the evenings for the journalism course I was on.

Technically I shouldn’t have been there at all: the drinking age was still 20 and I was, at the start of the year, a very green and young looking 17.

The pub owner was blessed with some admirable and commercially astute powers of tactical myopia when it came to pouring beers for people whose faces were apparently held together by acne. The age issue only came up when his hand was forced or when he simply wanted to get rid of someone.

Mind you, one member of the journalism course did rather force the issue when he applied for a part time job behind the bar there: you had to be 20 to work in a pub as well and he assured the owner he was of age despite looking about 15.
All went well for a week or so until they were discussing rugby: the lad was discussing his own abilities on the pitch and the owner asked him what level he played at.

“Oh, the under-19s…” began the soon-to-be ex-barman.

Anyway, it used to be my practice to have a beer or two on Thursday or Friday nights and then weave down Cuba St, popping in to the second hand book and rekkid stores as I went.

Few are still there: Slow Boat was, from memory, about two doors up from where it is now but it was much more gloomy and crammed, and certainly far less well organised. Pretty sure it had had different owners then.

The Ferrit Book store was – again, from memory – about where Olive Cafe now is.

I don’t know if Pegasus Books was in Cuba St then or not. I have an idea it may have been way down the bottom, over the road from James Smiths.

Anyway, they have survived.

Cuba Street is the place for things that survive, often against the odds and certainly against whatever the current trend is doing.

I’m hardly an ‘alternative’ type of character but I love these places: they are needed because any society needs its diversity, not as a slogan or a badge of moral superiority as that term tends to be used these days, but as a simple unaffected reality.

And as for my favourite type of shop – the secondhand book shop – they are havens and laid back, non-authoritarian schools. Second hand book shops will, I believe, be the last repositories of civilisation.

Anyway. Here’s Dragon. Cuba St

Rugby, New Zealand, and a civilised sense of perspective

A bunch of blokes tossing around a ball in an impromptu game of touch; a few people resting on the edges of Chaffers Park, reading and picnicking, while behind a jazz band played in the produce market. Over towards Te Papa, the fruit & veggie market was in full swing, albeit a bit quieter than it is usually at this point on a Sunday.

A long weekend, with some folChaffers Civiisationk away; plus a few more regulars grabbing some extra zeds after getting up early to watch the All Black vs. Springbok semi, all played their part, I suspect.

The general atmosphere is one of a chilled out, civilised and relaxed Kiwi Sunday.

I’d like to think the scene this morning – and, more importantly, the general mood around it – would have been the same if the ABs had lost.

Perspective is all.

Edge of the seat stuff while the game is on – and today’s game was a traditional All Black-South Africa match in that it was incredibly intense, quite scraggly in bits, and not all that pretty at times.

Oh, and we’re bitching about the reffing.

The more the ruck ball rules changes, the more things stay the same.

The French should come up with a saying about that, though perhaps it should be rendered partly in Afrikaan & partly in Welsh.

New Zealand is into the final, against the Pumas or – more likely – the Wallabies – but I hope that whatever the result next weekend, we’ll take it in our stride.

British author Kingsley Amis used to rekkin a bad book review might ruin hs breakfast but he wouldn’t allow it to ruin his lunch.

It’s a good rule which I think we should apply to All Black losses – even if I don’t quite believe Amis took his own advice (oh, and one of the reasons he might not have allowed it to upset his midday meal was his lunch was generally of the alcoholic variety).

But it’s the principle of the thing.

Win or lose next week, New Zealand will still be the relaxed, civilised country we can, at our best, be.

 

 

 

 

Ferry from Massey Memorial

A note on Beer and Beervana

‘Find yourself at Beervana’ the banner stretched near Wellington’s Cake-tin Stadium recommends those who draw near.

It is a strangely new-agey slogan for Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.42.10 amsomething associated with beer. Self actualisation amid the hops seems a stretch, somehow, although I suppose beer has been associated with rites of passage in New Zealand since time immemorial* so there is some sort of link to matters of meaning there.

Beer has changed. It isn’t flavourless, oversugared swill any more.

Wellington has become, for reasons which may not be totally clear, the craft beer capital of the country as well as being, you know, the real capital.

It is great for Wellers to be associated with something which didn’t have its origin in politics or government or those bloody hobbit movies.

Or does it?

OK, we can, thankfully, skip the political angle.

But I rekkin the emergence of craft beer as Wellington thing is linked closely to the Peter Jackson movies.

Firstly, something was needed to replace coffee for my fellow Wellingtonians to get precious about. Peak coffee snobbery in fact was reached sometime in the mid-late ‘90s – (for Auckland this happened around a decade later) and a replacement was a long time coming.

But the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings brought a new wave of people to the capital.

Extras.

In this case, extras who played hobbits. Who, in the way of fillum extras everywhere, had to spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for the film technical folk to get film technical things just right.

You can see what happened.

Someone, one day, surveyed this bunch of intense, nerdy, short, bearded blokes hanging around listlessly with nothing to do, and had an idea.

“[click of fingers, lightbulb going off above head] BEER!

Not just any beer, but crafty, fussy beer these fillum types can make a big deal about. Beer which, it is claimed, is “hand crafted” – a term which always triggers a mental image of someone kneading the stuff.

And thus an industry was born.

Do not get me wrong. There are a couple of brew in this lot which I love. Tuatara comes tops – their Helles is a fantastic lager, and I’m a recent convert to their Copper-top.

Hallertau also has a couple of very good products – again, the red brew, ‘Copper Tart’ has a fine flavour which goes well with curries.

A darker brew is the Hallertau Deception. I’m quite a fan of dark lagers – I really miss Christchurch Dux de Lux brewer’s Hereford Dark Lager.

Anyway, enough of this.

Beer is for drinking, for talking over – not about.

*when Wilson Whineray retired from the All Blacks