Monday, December 29, 2008

A weather contrast

Sunday dawned a glorious blue sky. Unfortunately neither of us had slept well. I'd been awake from 2 until 5 am and read for an hour before drifting off in the spare room as dawn was arriving. Lack of sleep makes me grumpy so we didn't do much. In the afternoon we packed up some salad and fruit and let Jaz & Mark drive us to Long Bay park for a picnic and a walk over the coast path. The tide was way out so we avoided the steepest hill by picking our way around on the rocks. The nudist beach was well populated. Lots of sunscreen was slathered on as the day was hot.

Today is humid, warm and raining. Perfect weather to spend the day painting an empty rental property. The agents are convinced the colours of the walls are putting people off renting it. Oh joy.

In contrast, Mari sent this shot from her phone to my email. She is skiing in Poland's Zakopane district.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hazy Lazy Days of Summer

Such a lazy day, even more so than Christmas Day. The furthest I ventured was next door to Kim's to feed their cats and to the letter box to collect today's and yesterday's paper. Unlike England, our letter box is further away than our neighbours house, as we live down a ROW ("Right of Way") or private road. The letter boxes are at the top where the public road ends.

Basil and Micky are providing entertainment on tap, there's no need to visit cinemas and so on, and we have a multitude of turkey, ham and chocolates in the fridge. Reclining on the window seat I finally finished reading Barack Obama's 'Dreams of my Father'.

Most of the day was spent monitoring the transfer of 60GB of music from my laptop to desktop PC. This was triggered by the sudden realisation that the laptop had hardly any disk space left. I was loading a CD and a "low disk space" warning appeared. I carefully backed everything up to an external drive then down loaded up to date iTunes and copied them all in. All went well.

Not everyone knows that The Great White Wonder was the first semi-commercial scale bootleg album, and that Dylan is probably the most bootlegged of all artists.

Here's Neil covering Bob's 'All Along the Watchtower'

and 'Helpless' from the Last Waltz

Friday, December 26, 2008

Young decoyed by Cisco

So, after four weeks of religiously keeping all our doors and windows shut to contain the feline wanderings, apart from a few supervised outings, we decided today was the start of their freedom. They quickly disappeared into the thick bush clad slopes surrounding our decking as we tried not to act like worried parents. Micky came back after ten minutes with a sore paw and wailed at me when I went near him. He was alright again after half an hour of solid licking. They are on a steep learning curve about the delights and dangers of the non-carpeted world.

My best Christmas present came disguised in a large Cisco router box from John. I really thought I was being given some piece of internal gubbins to speed up my PC, but no, it was a decoy box containing tickets to see Neil Young. In Brisbane. Flights and hotel included. Woo Hoo. I'd been wanting to see him play here but he's only scheduled to do the 'Big Day Out' which is a notoriously hot, crowded and leery festival. This is a much better way to see Neil, in his own gig and on a mini-break.

Yesterday we just lazed around reading and went for a picnic near the beach. Today Jaz & Mark, Paul and his new girlfriend (Kylie) are coming for the whole turkey nine yards lunch. It has not yet made it to the oven so that's my next job.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Michaelmas and Basilicus

Sunday evening we saw 'In Bruges' which we'd missed during the Film Festival. Bone tickling black humour with a few pints of blood splattered. Not for the feint hearted.
Monday was a working day, but my last for the year.

Basil escaped, he must have leaped over the lower half (barn style) kitchen door to his freedom. Luckily I noticed his absence soon after and a search outside revealed the sound of his collar bell tinkling underneath the carport deck.

They are currently being called their 'official' names: Michaelmas and Basilicus. Hunting & gathering is in full practice mode as they take it in turns to race through the house proudly carrying some new 'find' in their teeth, usually a leaf or a piece of tinsel scavenged from the tree.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

2008 - Top Ten CDs

This Top Ten was inspired by Nik at Spatula Forum whose tastes overlap a little with mine.

My Top Ten is not limited to albums released this year but are CDs that made it to my ears in 2008. Notably three of the artists, Cat Power, Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, I explored after hearing them each cover Dylan on the soundtrack album of the movie "I'm Not There". That CD escaped this list by being added in 2007.

Most of the Amazon links have samples for listening.

1. Bob Dylan - "The Bootleg Series Vol.8: Tell Tale Signs" (2008)
I succumbed and shelled out a pile of Kiwi dollars for the 3CD boxed set but it was worth it. Disc 1 has been on almost continuous play in my car since Ocotber. It's great driving music. The combination of Bob's grisly voice, ambiguous lyrics and bluesy sound make this my number 1 of the year. The alternate versions are welcome, especially 'Mississippi', 'Can't Wait' and 'Ring Them Bells' and the new tracks are delightful: 'Red River Shore' and 'Huck's Tune' make the project worthwhile. Every time I hear Bob sing "All the merry little elves can go hang themselves" it makes me chuckle.
After many years singing in The Wallflowers, Jakob released his first solo album and I hope there will be many more to come. He's managed to write and sing a beautiful collection here without being typecast as "Son of Bob". The only album this year where all tracks have a 4 or 5 * rating; my faves being 'Valley of the Low Sun', 'This End of the Telescope' and 'Evil is Alive and Well'.

I got into this after seeing Australian Xavier perform at the Whitianga Blues festival in March. Its not really blues though (it was a very broad festival). It's more like New wave/Aboriginal/Blues/Folk with touches of Reggae and Dub thrown in. I read he learnt to play the didgeridoo by practising on a vacuum cleaner hose. Top tracks, 'Better People', 'White Moth'.

Cat, real name Chan Marshall, does mostly covers here, except for 2 originals one of which is "Song to Bobby" for Dylan. 'I Believe in You' is also here, and she has a superb version of 'Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again' on 'I'm Not There'. Something tells me she's a bit of a Bob cat. Her version of 'New York New York' is very slow, bluesy, perfect for her soulful vocals.

This is poetry set to music. His voice is so close you can almost feel his breath on you as he whispers in your ear. Perfect for nighttime listening. I was never a fan and this is the first Cohen album I've tried. Some people say he does music to slit your wrists to, but this is joyful music. I'm loving it. There are touches of humour too: "Took my diamond to the pawn shop but that don't make it junk". He's in his 70's and still touring.

A return to great form. David still sounds like Talking Heads on some tracks. The title song he croons slowly...

"I ride on a perfect freeway
Many people on that road
I heard the sound of someone laughing
I saw my neighbors car explode".
I am going to see him perform in February.

7. Sufjan Stevens - "Illinoise" (2005)
This is the second in a planned series of fifty albums referencing US States, on the "Asthmatic Kitty" label. I was tempted to explore Sufjan after hearing the beautiful version of 'Ring them Bells' on 'I'm Not There'. Some tracks have long and curious names (that annoyingly don't appear in full on iTunes or iPod display) - such as "To The Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves Tube Socks, a Paper Airplane, and Twenty-Two Able-Bodied Men." and "A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze" . The songs are dream-like, delicate and thoughtful/provoking.

We saw the Parisian based trio at WOMAD 2005 and they soon had the crowd up and dancing. A mix of French, Argentine and Swiss, the sound is tango mixed with electronica and dub punctuated with vocal interjections. It's catching.

Named after a town on the border of Arizona/California, this is another band I found on 'I'm Not There' where they had a hand in five of the Dylan tracks. They produce a unique sound that conjures up arid deserts, Mexican gringos and spaghetti westerns but with modern lyrics. Best track, 'Sunken Waltz'

I was a late starter and am slowly exploring Bjork's catalogue. This is the best I've found so far. She uses an array of sampled objects to create beats and soundscapes, including shuffling cards on "Cocoon" and "Hidden Place"; snow being walked upon on "Frosti", and ice being cracked and smashed on "Aurora". Top Tracks, "Hidden Place", "It's Not Up to You". Fragile, hypnotic and intimate.

An honourable mention goes to Nick Drake who I wrote about in July. I've discovered all three of his albums this year, with 'Bryter Layter' just pipping the others for enjoyment.

A merry and musical Christmas to one and all.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Everything including the kitten sink

Why does work always get busier and busier to the end of the year when you feel the need to wind down? Particularly seems to be the case here in NZ where Christmas marks the start of the Summer Holidays. Happy to say though that I have only 1 working day left in the year; after Monday I am on holiday until Jan 5th.

The boys are into everything and have to be periodically banished to their nursery for some quiet time. They've just discovered they can get onto the dining chairs which lead to the table where its a short hop onto the kitchen bench. They seem fascinated by the sink. Despite regular dousing from my water pistol they keep going back. I found Basil dragging an overripe strawberry across the carpet earlier. It was one I had rejected for my muesli this morning and had dropped into the waste disposal sink.

One of my favourite aspects of summer, apart from the warmth and long evenings, is the abundance of cheap and delicious berry fruit. I'm having blueberries with everything at the moment.

A package arrived today containing a CD collection of chilled out contemporary music from Denmark. It was a present from my hairdresser! Very strange. But it sounds quite nice.

I finalised my gift shopping today and there's quite a decent sized pile under the tree. I tallied up I had bought & wrapped presents for 26 people (if you count small children). John on the other hand has 4 people to shop for. We joke that he has no friends, but its not true, its that I am better at shopping!

Ring them bells for Christmas (The alternate version from Bootleg Series 8 Disc 3)...a beautiful song.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Damage control = a water pistol

The pot plant that Micky tipped over on the weekend is looking a bit healthier today. The cleanup was quite extensive as the plant had been recently watered and fell from a height, spreading wet earth across a swathe of beige carpet.

Now I have 2 plastic water pistols strategically placed so they can be easily grabbed. The aversion therapy seems to be working well so far. On being hit the offending kitten immediately backs away from whatever he was interfering with and stops to lick himself dry by which time he's forgotten what he was doing and runs off to find drier activities. Great invention.

Kim, who photographs houses amongst other things told us she had to make a house look saleable that had been ransacked, the doors etc removed. There were even holes cut in the floorboards so the (presume) tenants could sit down without bothering with frivolities like furniture, their legs hanging below the boards. That'd be a great house to lose a kitten in!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Floored Salmon, Christmas in Fallujah

I wrapped and posted a boot-load of presents for overseas as well as doing quite a bit of work at home on the Pharmacists survey database on Friday.

On Saturday we caught up with Jaz & Mark back from their Vanuatu honeymoon. Then our card playing neighbours Kim & Shayne came over for dinner, which had to be rescued from the floor after the oven tray complete with beautifully cooked salmon slipped from my hands. They were both very brave, saying "It's OK, we don't mind eating off the floor!" But we didn't have to let them sink to that. There was enough un-floored salmon to go round with the prawns, potatoes & salad. The rest was fed to cats. We tried a variation of Canasta called Samba which was quite different, involving three packs and a lot more melding along with a bit of meddling with the rules.

Despite a hangover, John had to deal with a server crisis at the data centre this morning to rebuild a machine so I took the opportunity to do some Xmas shopping on my own.

Tonight we went to Blitza to scoff pizza then into town to watch Billy Joel. I'm not all that keen on his music (to me he's ranked along with Rod Stewart) but both John & Paul are fans from way back. I blame it on those years they lived in an out-post of the USA called Nassau where culture was in short supply. However, I enjoyed the concert, especially the Young-esque song "Christmas in Fallujah" - that would be at home on Neils "Living With War" album. He also did a very bluesy "New York State of Mind" and crackedsome half decent jokes while sitting at his piano which rotated a few times to give both sides of the venue a look at his well-worn face. I was surprised the audience was less grey and cardiganed than I was expecting.

This is the song I liked performed by someone I've never heard of...

Below - Basil and Micky up to mischief....

We'll be putting the Christmas tree up tomorrow but not sure how long it will last with these two.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Skydiving kitten

The effect of working for 9 hours yesterday instead of having my usual relaxing Tuesday to myself means I feel a bit cheated this week. Am also suffering from an aching shoulder, probably the result of too much mouse work.

On the feline front, Basil and Micky are settling nicely into their names and racing around the house like crazed derby horses whenever we let them out of the 'nursery'. After the vaccination on 15th we can start to introduce them to the outside world.

We were all sitting in the upstairs TV room last night when Basil had a lucky escape. He took a flying leap onto a box of tissues on the wooden top rail, skidded on the lightweight box whence both he and the tissue box plunged two floors to the dining room. As I looked over the edge I saw him bounce cheekily onto a chair and run off. A close inspection showed him to be shaken but not broken. He was quickly off again wreaking more havoc elsewhere.

My draft tax return arrived and a quick glance through looks like I may be owed a couple of thousand in tax refunds. Hooray for loss making property investments.

I've been listening to and really liking Leonard Cohen's CD "Ten New Songs". Its not new - I think its a couple of years old but the songs are great. His voice is just right to listen to at the sleepy end of the day. This is one of the tracks.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Basil and Mikky take a bow

At last we reckon we have names that suit the two boys. Don't know how we got to Mikky (or Micky) with the ginger one except to say 'he looks like one' !

They are growing fast - three feeds of super kitten food a day is having a noticeable effect. Noodle is tolerating them from a distance. They love playing in the bath and running and sliding across the wooden kitchen floor. Great fun to watch.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

James Bond and a brazil nut dream

What a glorious weekend. The stick-on plastic thermometer on the front door showed over 30C, but that was with direct sun.

Saturday was a lazy day, a brunch in St Kevin's arcade and a wander around Borders followed by a relaxing afternoon on the garden hammock. I was restrained and only bought one book and a CD. John got an armful of books with his birthday vouchers. In the evening we went to see Quantum of Solace in Takapuna and managed a quick nosh and a stroll on the beach before the film. I wasn't impressed compared to the last 007. Way too many explosions and fast editing. I had trouble keeping up with the plot. I guess they do that to make people watch it again and again, but it just annoys me and makes me determined never to watch it again!

I had a strange dream in the night. I was looking in a mirror and saw a brazil nut sticking out of my ear so I pulled it out followed by several bright orange/brown leaves and some small branches. I looked into the sink and there was an autumnal pile of foresty leaves and nuts. Then I woke up. What can it mean? I had eaten a few brazil nuts earlier but they've never appeared in my dreams before.

We are making progress in the cat integration programme. Today we let the little uns have the run of the house while Noodle kept an eye on them from the sofa without wailing or howling. Things are looking up. But I had to extract Basil from sitting in a up-to-now bushy and healthy pot plant. He got a smack and a growl from me and the plant looks rather battered and bruised. He did this three times and then I moved the plant.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Wedding photos

There is now a website of photos of Jasmine and Mark's wedding. The photographer was Kim assisted by Shayne: they are our friendly neighbours, occasional canasta playing dinner guests and parents of the kitten-loving boys Dylan and Jesse. The newlyweds are sunning themselves in Vanuatu.

I went to the gym this morning but otherwise have spent most of the day working, setting up a database for a survey of pharmacists.

Am going to have to start gift shopping this weekend or it will be too late to post things to all those far flung places....

The kitties are being called Basil & Gerry on a trial basis.


The beautiful voice of Odetta who passed away this week, age 77

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Naming rights

Update: Basil seems to be sticking but we are not sure its right, and we've no idea for the ginger one. Currently under consideration: Barnet and Stockwell (shows our London roots). As you can see we still need help...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kitty heaven

Today was the work Christmas lunch, so not much work was concluded with everyone leaving the office at noon, and I was home by 4.30 in time to catch the neighbours leaving, they had been for a kitty-visit.

I spotted an ad in the paper for a David Byrne gig here in Feb so just booked some tix online. I have a few of his albums including this recent one with Brian Eno. I also entered a draw to win luxury box seats to see Neil Young at the Big Day Out. I'm not sure I can bear to spend a whole day in a crowded hot arena with 20,000 bouncing yoofs just to see Neil headline the show. Must be getting old :-)

I'd forgotten the pleasure of lying on the floor while wee furry paws wander around patting, licking and generally playing with me.

They still have no definite names as nothing has stuck. Some being mulled over: Basil & Pesto, Bob & Dylan, Marx & Lenin, Siesta and Napper, Bobby & Zimmy, Joey & Senor, Mocha & Chino.

Definitely ruled out: Bradford & Bingley, Marks & Spencer, Smith & Caughey, Kirkcaldie & Stains (the latter two are NZ department stores like Debenhams).

Bob sings about a different type of cat:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Eight new legs = pandemonium

I am typing this with a ball of warm fur on my lap and another snuggled behind me on the chair.
Sunday, after the coffee had kicked in and we'd tidied up the house we visited the SPCA in Mangere to view the cats needing adoption. After a few rounds of the residents we chose a pair of 10 week old males.

One is all black, fluffy with a few long white hairs in his ears and under his chin. The other is pale ginger, stripy with gorgeous eyes.

Name ideas so far: Basil and Pesto or Bob and Dylan – any other suggestions welcome...

News travels fast here: our neighbours' 2 boys were on the doorstep when I got home from work, demanding “I wanna see the Kitties!!” in Kiwi accents. Kim had to pry them away but the younger boy came back about 9pm in his PJs to say goodnight to them.

Noodle hasn't exactly embraced her new house mates. Despite being the youngest of three cats she now has to deal with role reversal being the oldest. Our first attempt at introducing them she wailed and hissed so we are taking it gradually.

Mr & Mrs

As you can see from the pic below, it was a stunning day in every way. The weather was superb (it was picked based on Ken Ring's forecast), the bride & groom scrubbed up very nicely and the day went according to all the precision plans apart from a couple of minor niggles.

Saying of the day: Kim the photographer "Oh no! You're in dappled light" :-) I would have thought thunder and rain would be worse but apparently dappled light is a wedding photographers worst enemy. Dappled or not, Kim did an amazing job. The photos are great.

The proud father of the bride is upstairs putting together a website with some of the photos. Watch this space.