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Thursday, April 28, 2011

the royal wedding

A friend on facebook - only 20 minutes ago, approximately - told me that he was going to "judge" me because I look forward to watching the royal wedding with a bunch of friends as we drink tea and eat scones and cucumber sandwiches.

Apparently, women have an "innate cultural interest" in watching weddings and in fairytale prince and princess stories.

BAD innate cultural interest! NAUGHTY innate cultural interest!

Bah! It makes me want to throw things. Who is he to tell me what I should or should not be interested in? Who is he to interpret my reasons for wanting to watch the royal wedding?

And here they are:

(1) It's a chance to see a spectacle that I absolutely agree is outdated. It's none of my business what the UK decides to do about the monarchy. If I were in the UK I may feel a little more personally aggrieved that my tax pounds were going to this family. But since I'm not, and since I rather enjoy relics of the past, I am looking forward to seeing something grand and interesting and over-the-top.

(2) It also happens to be a rather cheerful event. No doubt my friend would prefer me to be holding parties discussing events in Libya or Afghanistan like a serious person, or moping around feeling depressed about the state of the world, but I for one have had enough gloom and am going to take this opportunity to celebrate love/marriage and run wild with it. I've had a crappy few months and I want to do something frivolous and ridiculous, dammit!

(3) The royal wedding is a historical event which is going to be watched by a huge number of people all over the world. Firstly, as an historian-in-training, I feel I should be interested in things that people will look back on in the future. The debate stirred up by this may lead to much more debate, with huge effects on the political structure of the UK and the Commonwealth. I want to be able to say that I saw the event that started it. Secondly, I've always felt a slight jealousy of people who can say that they took part in events of huge popular consciousness. My father saw the first landing on the moon. My sister saw Charles and Diana's wedding. Both events they witnessed with millions of people all over the globe. They can say they were a part of it.

(4) I like William. He came and spoke at the memorial service for the earthquake victims on March 18 and he seemed genuinely moved by what has happened here. In his speech, he only said things that were empathetic, encouraging and kind. It meant a lot to many people that he would come so far, so close to his wedding. It created a huge amount of goodwill that no video message from the British Prime Minister could have hoped to equal. As an ambassador for Britain, William was very successful. I think it's great that the links between countries can be deepened by these kinds of exchanges. So yeah - I like him. He seems nice, unaffected, and in love with a nice-looking woman. I think he earns his keep. I wish him well.

So there.

(Sorry about the rantyness. I'm tired of being told how I should feel about things.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

random display of leaves

Last autumn, I became a little bit obsessive-compulsive about collecting beautiful leaves and pressing them in the pages of large books. I've left them for about a year now, and the other day I got them all out to have a look at the fruits of my labour.

They're pretty! I'm not completely sure what I'll do with them! Greeting cards, bookmarks, photo frames? Who knows?!

The leaves that were pressed in my Penguin English dictionary came out the best, and the Georgette Heyer Omnibus and Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words also worked pretty well. I warn you against using Khrushchev Remembers, however. The leaves pressed within its pages were of a very inferior quality. :)

Saturday, April 23, 2011


I'm staying with my grandmother at the moment, while my aunt and uncle are away on holiday. She lives close to my old home where my father still lives and where I lived for about four years. One of my favourite spots in the area was the old church cemetery on the other side of the park. You may remember, if you followed my old blog, that I used to photograph one particular angel rather often:

I really loved that angel. She even inspired a story I wrote and published on Halfway Down the Stairs, a rather overwrought story in which I wish I had been slightly less melodramatic, but which still has a few elements I really like.

I went out for a walk this afternoon - it's a beautiful, beautiful autumn day - and found myself approaching my old haunt, the cemetery (gosh, I really did intend no pun there). Imagine my shock and feeling of sadness to be greeted by this:

Silt that has seeped up through the ground during the quakes in the process of liquefaction

It's a bit of a shock, actually. I had heard that a few cemeteries around the city looked quite different, since the September and February earthquakes. But it's always a surprise to actually see these spots for yourself.

Monday, April 18, 2011

30 days of song

Some muso friends are doing this meme on facebook. What can I say, I can't resist making lists! However, my music taste is totally uncool in comparison with theirs. Blogging feels strangely, comfortably anonymous - so I've transferred the 30 day song challenge over. Who knows, I may pluck up the courage to actually share on fb also.

day 01: your favourite song (at the moment? hmm)
C'est Moi, by Rupa and the April Fishes

day 02: your least favourite song
Low, by Flo Rida
No link, because it's a DEGRADING song and it makes me want to throw up.

day 03: a song that makes you happy
Something in the Water, by Brooke Fraser

day 04: a song that makes you sad
The Scientist, by Coldplay

day 05: a song that reminds you of someone
Contrapunctus 1, from Art of the Fugue, by Bach
Reminds me of my father.

day 06: a song that reminds you of somewhere
Fish, by Goldenhorse
New Zealand, on a perfect summer's day by the sea.

day 07: a song that reminds you of a certain event
In Christ Alone
After the earthquake on February 22, my flatmates and I were sitting around feeling absolutely miserable. Completely unable to do anything, until we got out our guitars and started singing this.

day 08: a song that you know all the words to
Stuff and Nonsense, by Split Enz

day 09: a song that you can dance to
I Want to Be Your Mother's Son-in-Law, with Macy Gray (from Divine Secrets... soundtrack)

day 10: a song that makes you fall asleep (in a good way!)
No Longer There, by the Cat Empire

day 11: a song from your favourite band
Love is Blindness, by U2
Started to really love this one after I saw the DVD of the Zoo TV concert in Sydney.

day 12: a song from a band you hate
Why would I want to inflict that upon you?

day 13: a song that is your guilty pleasure
Glee Cast, Marry You
Something about this song makes me happy and excited!!

day 14: a song that no one would expect you to love
Single Ladies, by Beyonce
I (also) really love that her live band is all women. So good to see!

day 15: a song that describes you
You Are So Beautiful, by Joe Cocker
:D just kidding. I don't have a clue and can't be bothered thinking existentially right now.

day 16: a song that you used to love but now hate
Miami, by Will Smith
12 years old. Don't judge. (Still have a soft spot for Getting Jiggy Wit It)

day 17: a song that you hear often on the radio
Rolling in the Deep, by Adele
And I don't mind at all!

day 18: a song that you wish you heard on the radio
Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #3

day 19: a song from your favourite album (at the moment)
Dance Anthem of the 80s, from Regina Spektor's Far

day 20: a song that you listen to when you're angry
Nothing Ever Happens, by Del Amitri

day 21: a song that you listen to when you're happy
I'm Into Something Good, interpreted by The Bird and the Bee

day 22: a song that you listen to when you're sad
One for my Baby, by Frank Sinatra

day 23: a song that you want to play at your wedding
Hawkmoon 269, by U2

day 24: a song that you want to play at your funeral
In a Little While, by U2
Gosh, I really seem to be into U2 for momentous occasions, don't I? I particularly love the version I have linked to - recommended viewing!

day 25: a song that makes you laugh
Northcote (So Hungover), by the Bedroom Philosopher

day 26: a song that you can play on an instrument
Gershwin, I Got Rhythm
OK, so not quite as perfectly as Gershwin himself did in that video...

day 27: a song that you wish you could play
Wanderer-Fantasie, by Schubert
... for starters! First one that popped into my mind, but trust me, there are many more.

day 28: a song that makes you feel guilty
Er... that is one emotion that I have never felt in music.

day 29: a song from your childhood
Phantom of the Opera, from the musical

day 30: your favourite song this time last year
These Roses, by Gin Wigmore
... well, roughly this time last year, anyway.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

cookbook challenge #8

[About the New Year's resolution behind this]

In a never-seen-before twist, I have used TWO cookbooks for ONE meal. (Okay, so it's not quite as exciting as I make it sound. Still, I feel pretty Martha Stewart-esque.)

From Meena Pathak's Flavours of India, I made murgh lababdar (chicken in a creamy tomato and onion sauce), and from my mother's clearfile of Indian recipes, I made dahl. Nine down, eight to go.

Something about today... I was flicking through the Meena Pathak cookbook salivating at all the beautiful recipes, and this chicken one just caught my eye. I couldn't bear not to make it. And then I remembered my vegetarian flatmate. So, dahl was added to the mix, because it goes well with other Indian dishes and it can stand alone too.

I cannot emphasise enough how FANTASTIC this meal was. I loved it. You should try it.

Here are the recipes I used:

1) Dahl. I assure you, it's better than it looks:

This dish serves four as a main course.
You will need:

1 cup red or brown lentils, or moong dahl (I used red lentils)
4 cups of water
2T oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp grated fresh root ginger
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt

Boil the lentils in the water until tender and mushy. (About 20 minutes for moong dahl, 30 for red lentils, 40 for brown lentils.)

In another pan, heat the oil and cook the next five ingredients over a moderate heat until the onion is tender. Stir in the garam masala and salt and remove from heat.

Add the onion mixture to the soft lentils in their cooking liquid, and simmer for 5 minutes. (Boil fast if mixture needs thickening, or add more liquid if it is too thick.)
Serve immediately or reheat.

I started the next dish about halfway through the dahl process. How to make murgh lababdar. Note: I did not use the chilli, and I used only a small amount of chilli powder, because one of my flatmates is heat-intolerant. The meal was still lovely without it:

Serves 4-6.
You will need:
2 T vegetable oil
400g / 14 oz onions, chopped
25g / 1 oz fresh root ginger, chopped
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 small green chilli, chopped
600g / 1 and a quarter oz tomatoes, chopped
60g / 3 oz butter
3/4 tsp red chilli powder
1 kg / 2 lb chicken breast, cut into cubes (I only used 500g/1 lb, and this was perfectly adequate)
300 mL / 1/2 pint cream (I used milk and this also was fine)
2 tsp garam masala
large pinch of dried fenugreek leaves (what the heck? I don't know what this is, and neither did my supermarket! It was fine without them)
3 T chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add chopped onions, ginger, garlic and green chilli, and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onions are a light golden brown colour.

Add the chopped tomatoes, butter and red chilli powder and cook over a low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring at regular intervals until the butter separates from the gravy.

Add the chicken pieces and continue to cook for about 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the salt and cream and cook for another 10 minutes. Finally, stir in the garam masala and dried fenugreek leaves. Sprinkle with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with rice.

The final product, as put away in a plastic container for the flatmate who wasn't home tonight:
This was SO GOOD. Definitely the best meal of my entire cooking challenge! The only slight drawback is that it takes quite a while to get ready, so it's definitely not a get home from work, throw something together kind of meal. All the same, it's not labour-intensive. There's definitely room to sit down and read a book, getting up every now and then to stir it.

Altogether, it easily served five, and then there were leftovers for two lunches.

Very, very good. Thank you, Meena Pathak. Thank you, Mum.

party food

As part of my series on ideas for throwing a sing-along Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party... I give you... CCBB-themed PARTY FOOD.

These are just initial ideas. It's very unlikely we'll get around to serving every single one of these things - however, there's nothing wrong with providing future party-goers with ideas.

1. Vulgaria, the fictional location for the wicked Baron Bomburst's castle, filmed at Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria.

Obviously, there is no such place as Vulgaria - but I figured it sounds fairly similar to Bavaria and Bulgaria, besides having been filmed in Bavaria. And so I found some promising sounding recipes with the help of google:

From Bavaria:
This website has recipes for Bavarian cream puffs, rum balls, apple strudel, marble cake, etc.
Bavarian pretzels
Spitzbuben (Christmas cookies)

From Bulgaria:
Decadent chocolate cake (this is supposed to made several days before it is eaten, which is ideal)
Cinnamon puffs
Apple cake
Cheese bread

2. Apple strudel. As the song from the scene pictured above says, 'You're my little teddy bear, my lovey lovey dovey little teddy bear, you're the apfel strudel of mine eye...'
(We will probably be leaving this out, because we served crisp apple strudel for our Singalong Sound of Music and it would seem a bit too similar!)

3. The sweets of the child-catcher. 'Here we are, children! Come and get your lollipops! Come along, my little ones!' As wicked (and downright terrifying) as this horrid man is, even for adults, you have to admit that the sweets he offers sound pretty good.
Treacle tarts, ice cream, cherry pie, cream puffs, and, of course, lollipops. All free today!

4. Tea with the Maharajah. Everyone loves Grandpa, ex-army bootcleaner who spends a lot of time exploring the world in his 'laboratory'. And I know this is a tenuous link to food, but he does, after all, announce that today he is off to India, to have tea with the Maharajah. Easily incorporated!

5. Toot sweets - cunning little tubes of deliciousness with conveniently-placed holes that produce a high-piched whistle adored by dogs. As demonstrated in the scene pictured above. 'A mouthful of cheer, a sweet without peer, that musical morsel supreme,' as Caractacus Potts would say.

6. Car cookies, somewhat like those above. [photo via] They'll probably be much less perfect to look at, but they have an obvious thematic link and are reasonably easy.

Besides all this, we will have popcorn, of course. Mini pretzels could be a good way to add something savoury, munchable and thematic to the mix. I will keep you updated after the event with how the food situation panned out.

Any ideas to add?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

unfortunate advertisements

Here are some examples I found of slightly unfortunate advertising in British newspapers in the 1930s.

This is an ad from mid-1939.

I hope these people didn't invest very much money in British tourism in Germany.

Mmm, magnesium! I am salivating at the very thought of its glorious, poisonous taste.

I think I'd probably be cured of quite a lot of things if I took radioactive baths, too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

ten of the mostest

About three years ago, on my old blog, I made a list of ten of the mostest. And here are ten more of them.

1. Most uncomfortable, crazy honeymoon ever?
This one would be it. Or at least it would be in the top five.

2. Most fun I will never have?

Sigh... if only I could dance.

3. Silliest, most pointless new law?

France's decision to ban the burqa/niqab/etc. As appalled as I am at the idea of wearing full body covering in this way, and as much as I feel that it's probably quite a repressive thing to make someone do, I am even more appalled at a society that thinks it can decide who can and cannot wear what is essentially just another item of clothing. The only effect such a law can have is to make wearing a burqa seem rebellious and therefore attractive.

Go Kenza Drider and a whole bunch of other Muslim women in France for sticking it to the French authorities.

4. Quickest homemade chocolate fix?

Three minute chocolate mug cake. Highly recommended if you are lazy and hungry. Make sure you include the chocolate chips.

Also, on a food- and chocolate-related theme, the recipe I am MOST tempted to use for our Singalong Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party?

Bavarian Decadent Chocolate Cake. [I did some internet research on Bavarian and Bulgarian food - figuring these are close enough to Vulgaria to be acceptable. More on this on some other occasion.]

5. The thing I am most looking forward to about having a job/career?

Money. Even a job that is not paid particularly well could more than double my current income! It sounds incredibly materialistic of me, and partly it is - it will be nice to buy new clothes etc. again - but I am trying to plan for this change wisely, budget well, keep a modest lifestyle and put a sizeable portion aside for savings and charity. Start well, so that I don't get used to squandering too much, and yet buy myself some nice things and enjoy them.

6. Most dreaded sentence?

"Hey Allie - it's Friday." (In a significant tone. Followed shortly by "And Saturday comes afterwards." Followed by mental anguish.)

7. Movie most recently seen?

Never Let Me Go, starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and some guy whose name I forget. I don't regret seeing it - it was good - but I wish I had read the book first, and as films go, it was very intense. Any one read the book, or anything else by Kazuo Ishiguro?

As for DVDs, my flatmates and I watched 27 Dresses last night. It was pretty funny. I was pleasantly surprised.

8. Most enthusiastic musicians?

9. Three things I am most looking forward to over the next month?

(a) Perfecting all the little details of my thesis. Printing it off and getting it bound. Handing it in, getting the photo of this crucial moment, and releasing it into the unknown.

(b) The royal wedding. I feel silly to admit this. I feel like I should be an anti-royalist. But I remember my sister telling me about how exciting it was to watch Charles and Diana's wedding back in 1981, and feeling jealous that she got to see something like that. (I also felt jealous of my dad, that he got to watch the first man landing on the moon, but this isn't in quite the same league.) Now I get a chance to see a royal wedding - it should be fun! I think it would be even more fun to have friends over with whom to watch it, to serve tea and scones, and to ooh and aah over the clothes and to judge every single last detail. Sounds like a plan, Stan.

(b) Our singalong Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party. Of course.

10. The place I would most like to visit, currently?

Israel. I know it seems like a dangerous place to go, but when is Israel ever going to be safe? I want to wander the streets of a place sooooo oooooold. I want to imagine. I want to do my own little pilgrimage. (I want to visit some of the places nearby, too. Damascus. Petra. Tripoli. Cyprus. Et cetera.)

Friday, April 8, 2011


The boil-water order has finally been lifted! A month and a half after the earthquake. We have been industriously boiling our water for weeks now. It's not so bad. But it's going to be very, very nice to return to normal habits of tooth-brushing and face-washing and dish-washing and water-drinking and so on.

In the spirit of celebration, which I feel has come upon me, I would like to mention some of the things that have cheered me up or helped me relax in the wake of the quake. There's quite a lot of things to pay tribute to. It will be a long list. In no particular order:

1. Thanks to the woman in the Otago Museum shop, when I visited with my two small nieces about a week after the earthquake. I was having a day of feeling particularly bad, feeling useless, and wishing I was back in Christchurch. When she found out that I was from Christchurch, and had brought my nieces down so my sister could work, she said: "I just think that what you are doing is wonderful. You're doing something so very helpful and practical when the rest of us just feel so helpless!" It really, really helped me! Thanks very much!

2. Thanks to Oscar, pictured below:

Oscar is a bichon frise-Jack Russell cross. He is happy and excitable and loves to be cuddled. When I was staying with my sister in Dunedin, I took him for a lot of walks and I found it very healing to be around such a simple, happy, faithful creature who took such pleasure in Life. Dogs are good for the soul, I think.

3. Thanks to a facebook page, You Know You're From Christchurch When... The idea is: light relief makes everybody feel better. It certainly made me feel better. Here are some of the best contributions. Here, also, is a photo added to the site which I thought was really cute.

4. A poem written about the earthquake. I thought this was amazing.

5. The memorial service on March 18 at Hagley Park in Christchurch, which I attended, had moments of sheer tediousness but also moments of loveliness. These were some of my favourites:
The unanimous, spontaneous standing ovations of the crowd for the search and rescue teams and the fire service.
The video montage they showed at the end of the service of people helping people, rising above the disaster. This is one of my favourite things of all.
Prince William's speech was unexpectedly touching. That is one promising prince.
A beautiful performance of Pie Jesu by Dame Malvina Major and a choir boy called Patrick Manning.
The haka at the start.
Hayley Westenra's performance of Amazing Grace.
It was also quite amazing singing the national anthem towards the end of the service. I felt just about as patriotic as I will ever feel. It was also amazing feeling the extreme appropriateness of our anthem's wonderful lyrics.

6. The song written by a band in Wellington as a tribute, all proceeds to the Red Cross fund. It's called Morning Light and I think it's rather beautiful.

7. The funny song written by a Christchurch resident. Rewritten from Tim Finn's "There's a Fraction Too Much Friction", it is called "There's a Fraction Liquefaction". (Liquefaction is the process by which hundreds of thousands of silt and mud appeared on the streets of Christchurch.) I love it when people manage to find humour in situations like this.

8. Another example of this is the website Show Us Your Long Drop. This was a competition for the most creative outdoor loos. Creativity out of necessity.

9. The skaters who have found opportunity in the twisted streets of eastern Christchurch.

10. Some of the cool ideas for rebuilding Christchurch. Creative and exciting! They make the whole horrid experience seem like an opportunity in disguise.

11. Feeling proud of my city, proud of my nation, for the way most of us have handled this experience. As this writer says.

12. No thanks to Ken Ring, the conspiracy theorist/weather presenter/author of "Pawmistry: How to Read Your Cat's Paws", who decided it was a good idea to predict a huge earthquake, even bigger than the ones before, on March 20. His prediction was based entirely on pseudo-science, but he managed to terrify a rather large percentage of Christchurch's population. A lot of us felt very, very angry at him and were jubilant when, of course, no major earthquake struck on March 20. We were even more jubilant when this video appeared, mocking Ken Ring, very successfully.

13. Thank you to Bruce Springsteen for his "My City of Ruins". Handel's "Comfort Ye, My People". U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Brooke Fraser's "Shadowfeet". Coldplay's "Everything's Not Lost". And many more. Music in general, really. On the day of the earthquake, soon after I got home, we were sitting around feeling absolutely miserable. We thought about praying but didn't know what to pray other than the simplest calls for help, and then we suddenly decided to get out our guitars and sing. We sang songs to God and they expressed everything we wanted to say, and it was a really powerful thing to be able to do. I don't think I'll ever forget that experience. So thanks to music. Thanks to my wonderful flatmates that I could do something like that with them. And thanks to God for getting us through this time.

14. And thanks to you guys who have borne with my slightly dark blogging style since February. It's hard to express how wonderful it has been to have support and prayers from all over the world in a time like this. I've heard an idea being tossed around over and over since the quake, since the nations of the world turned up to help us in little New Zealand, and since the quake and tsunami in Japan, and it is this: Why on earth do we bother with war, when working together is so utterly wonderful?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

cookbook challenge #7

[About the New Years' resolution behind this]

From The Really Useful Ultimate Student Cookbook, by Silvana Franco, I made calazone. To be precise, I made two kinds of calazone - one with courgettes (zucchini), and one with cheesy potatoes. MmmmMMMM! Seven down, ten to go.

Franco has a way, throughout this recipe book, of taking a basic idea - like a baked potato, for example - and suggesting a number of ways to make this more interesting. It's fantastic, and really useful, just as the title promises. In this case, she suggests making calzone or pizza, gives you a recipe for pizza dough, and then has suggestions for toppings or fillings. I couldn't decide. So I made a sample of both, rationalising that we could use the leftovers for lunches.

I simply made the pizza dough in the breadmaker, using the breadmaker manual's instructions for this - multiplying the recipe by 1.5. Nice and easy, it smells gorgeous, and tastes beautiful, without all the hard work. You do need to allow about 45 minutes for the dough to be ready, however.

Preheat the oven to 220*C or 450*F.

Here are the instructions for these particular fillings.

For the courgettes, you will need:
About 3 small courgettes or 1 large one
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 tablespoons olive oil

Quarter the courgettes lengthways and then slice very thinly to make little wedges. Toss with the onion, garlic, parsley and plenty of salt/pepper.

For the cheesy potatoes, you will need:
500g potatoes, diced (I used a bit more to make it go further)
2 tablespoons milk
125g cheese, grated
1 small onion, finely chopped
a few leaves fresh basil, roughly torn

Cook the potatoes in plenty of boiling salted water for 10-15 minutes, until tender. Drain well and mash with the milk until smooth and fluffy. Stir in the cheese, onion, basil and plenty of seasoning.

At this point, I divided the dough into five portions. I rolled each on a floury board into a large-ish rectangle. (For the cheesy potato calzone, Franco suggests grating some Parmesan and rolling the dough on this as well as on the flour. This tasted good.)

I piled the courgette mixture onto two of the rectangles, only on one half of each, leaving a small gap around the edges. I dampened the edges, and then folded the other half of the dough over, pressing with my fingers to seal. Onto a lightly oiled baking tray, and into the oven to cook for 15 minutes.

I piled the potato mixture onto three of the rectangles, on one half of each, leaving a small gap around the edges (as above), and folded over (as above). This also went into the oven for 15 minutes, until crusty and golden!

I sliced it, and served it with a green salad.

This was a meal that went down really, really well. We had an extra unexpected guest, but it served all six of us easily, with leftovers for our lunches the next day. It was tasty, the dough was a really nice change from pastry-type savouries, it was filling. It was a super-cheap meal, but didn't seem cheap, if that makes sense.

Next time, I would be a little more wanton with the amount of seasoning, and I would probably add garlic to the potato mixture too. And yet I feel very satisfied with this fantastic meal. I am sure I will come back to it in the future, to experiment and to reproduce.


Oh my word, I have just discovered the coolest shopping website ever, and had to share!! Warning: gushing ahead. For all I know, you've all known about this website forever, but I didn't, and I feel like I'm uncovering Tutankhamen's tomb.

Zenni Optical. An online spectacles company. Cheap glasses, anyone?

I wish I had known about it last year, when I bought my first pair of glasses, shelling out over NZ $500 for frames, lenses and an eye exam.

ALL the frames on this website are between US $9.99 and $46 (or NZ $12 and $60). Even its most expensive glasses are ONE TENTH of the price of my fancy Converse glasses from the local optometrist. (Don't get me wrong, I love my Converse frames, but I don't particularly love the effect they had on my savings account.)

And that's not all.

Because it sucks to buy something like glasses without trying them on first, you can upload a photo of yourself to Zenni and try the frames on virtually! Just imagine all the hours you could spend on this site playing with this fun wee toy.

Reading this through, I can see that you may be suspicious that someone from Zenni Optical has hacked into my account. I can assure you now that this is not spam. I am simply a little over-excited that I may be able to afford more than one pair of glasses, or that if I break or lose my current glasses it's not the end of the world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


In about a month's time, my flatmate and I are throwing a Sing-along Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party! We are very, very excited.

You may remember that last year we hosted a sing-along Sound of Music at our flat. It was a pretty amazing experience - so much fun! I had been to a public version of this event once before, so I already had heaps of ideas from that for ways to encourage audience participation (e.g. party poppers to let off when they kiss, edelweiss to wave in the air, whistles to blow, etc etc). There are also heaps of ideas online for costumes, activities, party food and so on.

And there's something about The Sound of Music that is very easy to work with - all those songs full of random lists. Brown paper packages tied up with string; do, a deer, a female deer; a flibbertigibbet, a will o' the wisp, a clown; cream coloured ponies and crisp apple strudel... and so on.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is rather different. My attempts to find anything online have been woeful. It is hard to believe we are the first people to do something like this who thought to chronicle the experience online, but nevertheless we are going to have to come up with most of the ideas ourselves. It's a fantastic, imaginative movie (did you know Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay?), and so there's plenty of material to work with. I am sure we'll do just fine.

But in the interests of future singalong-holders, I would like to announce my plan to provide the internet with a blog series about holding a sing-along Chitty Chitty Bang Bang party. Over the next couple of months, I will pass on to you the many ideas I am sure we will come up with, on:

1. Decorations
2. Party food and drink
3. Costumes
4. Audience participation: ideas and props
And more!

To see the progress of this idea, see all my blog posts under the label sing-alongs.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I have been applying for lots and lots and lots of jobs. About fifty so far, and I have many more on the to-do list. My policy is to apply for anything and everything that could conceivably accept me. Now is not the time to be fussy. I know that I'm on the shortlist for one, currently, but I've got fairly used to receiving rejections. I've developed a philosophical attitude towards them - after all, the earthquake has delayed my thesis by at least a month, so it's quite lucky I am not currently expected to be working full-time as well as finishing my thesis.

The problem with my policy is that I feel like I'm getting a little blasé about the whole application process. I spent yesterday afternoon applying for about fifteen jobs. Writing cover letters, rewriting cover letters, making small alterations to my CV, firing through online applications, filing away the job descriptions and the date I applied for them. Quickly quickly quickly, so I can get back to work.

Turns out that in my speed I was not very careful with one of them. I received an email this morning from the HR person in charge of a copywriter/freelance writing vacancy saying "Hello, we received your application, but we are not [Insert Company here] nor do we need a [Insert vacancy here]." Obviously I had managed to forget to alter those crucial words in my cover letter, even though I had changed everything else to suit the position.

I groaned, swallowed my pride, apologised profusely and offered a corrected version. Response: "Well, if you seriously want to work as a copywriter, I'd advise you edit your own cover letter properly. Obviously, I can't accept your application. Sorry. You seem like a nice person."

Ouch. And touché, good point, and all the rest of it.

The pity of it is that I was actually quite excited about that application. That job sounded much more intriguing than the majority of the other things I have been applying for. It would also have allowed me to work from Christchurch, unlike most available jobs at the moment.

I have had other moments of embarrassment. I applied for a job as a proofreader for a magazine publishing company. Not particularly exciting so I haven't lost much sleep over that one. However, only a few hours after applying, I got a phone call from HR, who wanted to talk to me about it. Unfortunately, when they got to the inevitable question - "And what do you think of [Insert name here] magazine?" - I had to admit that I had never laid eyes on this magazine before, and didn't even have a clue what type of magazine it was. Cringe! Not a good look! (It was a lifestyle/home decorating magazine, as it turns out.)

Another experience: I had a phone interview for a local job in a library. I do feel I was slightly unfairly treated here, because they told me beforehand it was just a phone call to check things like the date I would be available, and then they proceeded to ask all the standard interview questions. Including: "Can you tell me about a time when you had a difficult experience with a customer?" I was flummoxed. I have NEVER had a bad experience with a customer. And I have worked several customer service jobs. I didn't know what to say, and it showed. (I've come to the conclusion now that I should simply have been honest. I haven't had bad customer service experiences, and that probably shows that I am good at dealing with customers. I shouldn't have to feel like it doesn't.)

I think the problem is that because I am already doing what is basically a full-time job (writing a thesis), a job that is by necessity absolutely consuming, I don't feel like I have time to take job applications seriously. I am also coming from a background of studenthood, in which I have paid people to accept me into their organisation! People in the real world, however, don't have to be fair, or consider everything about your application, or account for your mistakes. They can ring you entirely out of the blue and expect you to know everything about their organisation. They only need to see one single unfavourable thing about you and it will sour your entire application. I'm not complaining - but it's a mental adjustment for me to make. And it's scary!

cookbook challenge #6

[About the New Years' resolution behind this]

From a Foodtown magazine, I made broccoli and cauliflower curry with cumin seeds. Six down, eleven to go.

This recipe is vegetarian and also gluten free, which is great, considering I served it to a friend who needed the latter and a flatmate who needed the former. Unfortunately, it wasn't so good for another flatmate, who has a very very very low tolerance for hot food. I didn't even feel like it was hot, but even the tiny amount of heat in it was too much for her. Sigh. Someday I'll get it right for everyone!

You will need:
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
375 g /13 oz can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed, diced and cooked
500g / 1 lb & 1 oz bag frozen cauliflower and broccoli
1 can (drained) chickpeas
1 tablespoon cornflour, mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water

Heat the oil in a large frying pan, add the mustard and cumin seeds and cover with a lid of some kind. When the seeds have finished popping, remove the cover.

Toss in the onion, garlic, ginger, coriander and spices and cook gently until the onion is soft. Add the evaporated milk and bring to a simmer. Stir frequently.

When the sauce is simmering, add the salt, cooked diced potato, frozen vegetables and chickpeas. Simmer until the vegetables are piping hot, then mix in the cornflour/water.

This should be served with rice. It serves four or five.

Verdict: Yeah, this is okay. It's a pretty good way to serve a big, filling meal without meat. It didn't seem particularly special to me, though. Maybe it was just that I had dined off the aroma of all the spices cooking, and so wasn't able to taste them as easily when I actually ate the meal.

All the same, it wasn't a bad meal at all. Even if not particularly exciting.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

why the rules against split infinitives and final prepositions are silly

I have a bone to pick, so to speak. A grammatical bone. I have endured in silence - well, not exactly silence - but I have endured in blogging silence for some time, and cannot hold back my blog-rant any more. [Sorry about the probable boringness of what will follow.]

I do not believe that the rules against splitting infinitives or putting prepositions at the end of a clause have any kind of justification whatsoever.

Take that, eighteenth and nineteenth century grammaticians who had nothing better to do than make up rules that were completely inappropriate to the English language.

This breaking-point comes as I have received more comments from my supervisors on the chapters of my thesis. I am willing to admit that in some cases moving the adjectives or prepositions around may make for more elegant writing. However, the majority of the 'corrections' they have made sound unnatural, and much worse than the original sentences, even if they are correct according to the rules against splitting infinitives or placing prepositions at the end of a clause. And so, I bring to you an angry rant against two very stupid grammatical rules:

- These rules are utterly inappropriate to English. English is not like French; it does not have 'infinitives' in the same way. English is not like Latin, which does proscribe prepositions at the end of clauses.

The rules were made up by busybody grammarians in the 18th or 19th centuries who decided that English should be more like what they saw as the ideal (though dead) language, Latin. As Tina Blue says,

"Some of the 'rules' of English grammar that you learned in school were devised by pedants who believed that English was inferior to Latin and should be improved by forcing it onto the Procrustean bed of Latin grammar. But English is descended from an ancestral German dialect, not from Latin, and certain of the rules based on Latin grammar simply do not fit the structure of English."
[NB: English does have a relationship to Latin, especially in borrowed words - but Blue is correct in saying that the grammar of our language is descended more directly from German.]

According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, the rule about prepositions seems to have been created in 1672 by John Dryden, and "repeated uncritically thereafter". The same goes for the split infinitive, although that was only debated for the first time in the 19th century.

- Every great author or writer has broken both rules (and many others) on numerous occasions. That is, unless they too subscribe to the ridiculous myth. For example, we can see the following authors splitting their infinitives:

"But I would come back to where it please me to live: to really live." - Ernest Hemingway
"Who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride..." - Robert Burns
"Root pity in thy heart, that when it grows / Thy pity may deserve to pitied be..." - Shakespeare
"And so we proceeded to minutely examine them." - Bram Stoker
And then, of course, there's Star Trek's famous "to boldly go where no man has gone before". Thank goodness the writers of Star Trek were sensible. It sounds so much cooler than the alternative.

And, of course, most of us have heard versions of Winston Churchill's response to an over-zealous editor who wanted him to remove a preposition from the end of a sentence: "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put!"

As A Dictionary of Modern English Usage says,

"Those who lay down the universal principle that final prepositions are 'inelegant' are unconsciously trying to deprive the English language of a valuable idiomatic resource, which has been used freely by all our greatest writers except those whose instinct for English idiom has been overpowered by notions of correctness derived from Latin standards." [quoted here]

- Most people who are actually qualified, intelligent grammarians refuse to accept the need for these rules. For instance, the Oxford University Press decided in 1995 that there is nothing wrong with the split infinitive.
Another expert, Edward D. Johnson, said in 1982 that the idea that a sentence cannot end with a preposition is a "superstition".
Meanwhile, the acknowledged expert in the field, H. W. Fowler, points out the fact that people who say the final preposition is wrong, when used as a phrasal verb, are actually just showing their own ignorance, because the final "preposition" in this context is actually an "adverbial particle"!
[NB: a phrasal verb is a verb that absolutely must have a preposition after it, in order to understand the meaning. For example, the verb "to put" completely changes its meaning when it is becomes "to put up" or "to put up with".]

- Of course there are times when using these principles makes a piece of writing better. But there are other times when the use of these rules simply obscures meaning or unnecessarily complicates a perfectly good sentence. Here is an example:

"The government expected unemployment to more than double in the next three years."

As Karl Craig points out, where else could you put "more than"?

- Because people push rules like this which don't matter, and which have no reflection in the language, it undermines the importance of other rules that do actually have some foundation, that actually affect the meaning of sentences.

- I can understand following these rules in formal settings, such as writing a cover letter for a job - just in case the person reading it is deluded into thinking your final preposition is bad usage and doesn't give you the job. However, I am starting to hate these rules SO MUCH that I feel we should all start making an effort to banish them forever. If the person who marks my thesis has a problem with my prose for these reasons, I'd rather contest his judgment afterward, explaining my reasons, than change something that is perfectly good beforehand.

- I just find it quite sad that children in schools are being taught silly rules, wasting their time, or writers who produce perfectly adequate work are being scorned for their use of these constructions. One of the coolest things about the real English language is its capacity for creative fiddling. I find it very, very sad that creativity is inhibited for no good reason.

Make the world a better place! Eschew these pointless rules! Long live the split infinitive! Long live the final preposition!

Here is something I did because I felt so mad!!!!!
Feel free to make it into a t-shirt or something :)

Sources I looked at:

General articles on grammar myths:
'Grammar Myths', by Karl Craig
Grammar Girl's 'Top Ten Grammar Myths'
Wikipedia on 'hypercorrection'

On prepositions:
The debate over Churchill's famous sarcastic usage of "up with which I will not put".
'Prepositions at the end of sentences: further explanation of why the "rule" is wrong,' by Tina Blue
'It's usually not wrong to end a sentence with a preposition', by Tina Blue
Grammar Girl on final prepositions

On split infinitives:
The Independent, on the OUP's decision to allow split infinitives, and the Queen's English Society's response
Wikipedia on split infinitives
"The so-called split infinitive"
Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, on split infinitives