Heading south

Phew, what a scorcher.
Since it was bright, blue and sunny, I thought I’d go on an official adventure rather than a shopping trip by bike. That took me down Papanui Road through Merivale and into the centre of the city where, after a brief sojourn in the Square, I continued down Columbo Steet until I reached the foot of the Port Hills. I stopped now and then to take pictures or, with my Dad’s camcorder, panoramas.
I’d turned left at the end of Columbo Street and hadn’t gone very far when I decided to take another panoramic view of the hillside. When I went to resume my journey, I found that the rear tyre of the bike had suffered a puncture, which I duly repaired, and via a roundabout route, I went to the hire shop to see whether they could replace it because it is, in fact, rather worn. To my irritation, I found the place was shut, which seems stupid at the weekend when they might have so many customers. Actually, more irritating is the amount of broken glass on the streets. It’s hard not to ride over it and impossible, I think, to avoid small shards getting embedded in your tyres which will eventually slice their way through the rubber and puncture the inner tube.
I went back into town and passed through the Arts Centre again where some fat guy seemed to be preparing to throw himself onto a pile of broken glass. I did start taping him, but he dithered too much and I moved on. There’s a busker festival on in town at the moment.
I note that you can buy Giant bikes here. The utterly hopeless cycle clips which I bought in Chengdu were Giant ones. (I also note that the metal ones tend to pinch at the back, but unlike the pathetic velcro of the ones I’ve been using, these won’t pop off at an inauspicious moment.)
I went to Northlands for lunch and then to a former residence (“former” meaning 32 years ago). I’d say that it’s no longer possible to navigate your way along the line of poplar trees growing next to it. I used to climb up on the first and, probably because they’d had the tops cut off them at some time in the past, I was able to step from one to the next.
The land next to the house still remains unused. I suppose local kids might play there. The gap between the poplars and the next tree along is now too small for a gate (not that that was a barrier in my day) because of the growth of the trees, and there’s no sign of access to the area being barred. Perhaps local parents tell their children that the wife of the owner murdered her husband, hanged herself from one of the trees, and can now be seen riding around on a headless horse which she spurs on the moment she sees any children encroaching on her land.
Finished off the book on John Hawkwood this afternoon or snoozed in a lazy fashion. It was too hot to do anything energetic.

Hawkwood Diabolical Englishman

By Frances Stonor Saunders.
I thought the title of this book was a little inaccurate because although Sir John Hawkwood was the nominal subject of the work, it was clear that there isn’t really that much material about him so that the book is dominated, in fact, by the convoluted politics of northern Italy during the late 14th century and the role played by the condottiere during that period. Hawkwood gets mentioned now and then, but it’s hard not to sense that the historical records furnish the modern world with few details about him.
The book is a piece of amateur historiography. I’m not sure whether a university history department would award a PhD on the basis of this work; I doubt it. In places, I got the feeling that Saunders was letting her sources do the talking. It’s readable enough stuff, I suppose, although the author should stay away from linguistics, being one of those people prone to making subjective pronouncements about the field in some instances or failing to check her facts in others (“antipodes” is not Latin but Greek, for example).
Overall, I’d say this is a book for interested amateurs rather than pro historians.

Out for 69

c. Death b. Legionnaire’s Disease.
I see from the news this morning that Bill Frindal (aka the Bearded Wonder) has died (Cricket mourns death of Frindall). Frindall was the TMS scorer, who would occasionally interject comments and answer queries from the TMS commentators and others. If I remember rightly, he was awarded an honorary PhD for his work with stats. I could never quite work out how he managed to keep track of all the information he’d accumulated without a computer (although I think he eventually added one to his arsenal).

Humidity and the cost of texting

Unrelated subjects.
It was humid and rainy today, although the latter was half-hearted at best. The humidity made it feel warmer than it was, although the temperature rose as the sun dipped below the level of the clouds.
Went in search of shoes this morning. Couple of possibilities, but nothing quite right. I did end up buying a couple of CDs – ABC’s Lexicon of Love and Afro-Celt Sound System’s first volume, which isn’t the one Johnny lent me all those years ago, but good nonetheless.
I went to the Arts Centre with Mum this afternoon to look around for souvenirs, and ended up with cheese, beer and fudge. I also saw the inside of Rutherford’s den because that’s where Ern started his academic career, the Arts Centre being the university once upon a time.
I returned home to continue sorting out my CDs because they’d been made unruly by WMP during the rip. I found a whole bunch of empty directories on my HD and, wondering whether I’d lost some of the music in the process of copying it, checked everything I had against the CDs themselves. That revealed some other problems, including the odd case of the contents of disc 1 of Vivaldi’s L’Estro Armonico being listed as the contents of L’Amoroso. It seems that WMP will rip new tracks straight over old ones as I found in another case.
This reminds me that I need to track down the one album which is still listed as unknown. It’s something choral and Baroque. And I have an answer. It’s Missa Scala Aretina by Francisco Valls, and the other piece on the album is a requiem by HIF Biber. I’ve heard of the latter, but not the former.
I ran out of jelly babies on my mobile this afternoon, went to try and top them up via an ATM, and arrived at my destination only to find that I’d left my wallet at home. Doh!

Boots and books

Twin perils of the modern age.
Today started with a trip to buy a pair of wool-lined boots to replace the ones I’ve had for the past 6½ years. The original ones are still in reasonable condition, but the inner sole has been ground down to pretty much nothing. The new ones seem to have better soles in that they’re a little more solid than the thin rubber of the old. [Fascinating stuff as ever. –ed.]
I had a pie for lunch for the first time in a while. Mind you, I’ve had one or two from Starbucks, but this was the first steak pie I’ve had for a long, long time.
After lunch I took a trip to Borders in Riccarton where I found a much broader selection of books than I’ve seen in any of the other bookshops here so far. I even bought three books and may go back to buy a few more some time. I did come across a rather good pictorial dictionary of Chinese published by DK which was more up-to-date in appearance than my Longman one at home.
I’ve finished going through the boxes a second time and have pulled out one or two things. I’ve tried to restrain myself from extracting too much for reasons of space and weight. My choices have ended up being fairly eclectic, having no rhyme or reason for the most part. The only exception to my unreasonable selection is Camões because I bought the book about seven years ago (eight, perhaps?) and never read it.
I’ve disposed of about three boxes’ worth of books, some willingly, some doubtfully, but I decided that if I was unlikely to read it again or have the time to spend on it, then it may as well go.
The weather today was a little warmer than yesterday, but there was a deal more cloud. I wouldn’t exactly describe it was warm even after the wind changed direction from the south to the north. There was some sunshine, but it was fairly muted compared with last week.
I realised what was nagging at me yesterday when I was on my bike. It was the absence, by and large, of other cyclists. I’m used to seeing so many in Chengdu that the dearth of them here is quite noticeable. But I do note that the cyclists I have seen tend to fall into two categories: either seriously tooled up for cycling or lardies in those idiotic-looking long shorts.

On my bike

So I have to stay on the left, do I?
I’ve hired a bike so that I’ll have a nominal degree of independence while I’m here. I note that the gods, ever mocking me (the bastards), decided that it should rain this morning when I was getting it. However, even although the cold southerly wind hadn’t died down, it did stop raining around lunchtime, and later in the afternoon, the sun did appear.
But I should mention lunch first, which I had at a restaurant called Hinton’s with my parents and a friend of theirs. I had what I can only describe as the best omelette I’ve had in my life. It was a mushroom omelette, a three-egger I’d say.
After that, life seemed meaningless… I mean, I took the bike out for a spin to a Vodaphone shop to find out why I was unable to text my parents. Here, you have to activate the account, although that seems to affect texting only. I then went to the university bookshop, but I was after nothing in particular and just browsed my way through the place.
With access to all my books, I almost don’t need to buy anything new. Besides, I’m in the middle of reading a trilogy of books by a guy called John Birmingham which have the subtitle World War 2.x. The premise is that a fleet from 2021 is pulled through an artificial wormhole to 1941 where the advanced tech falls into the hands of the Allies and the Axis powers and seriously messes up the direction of the war. The first two volumes are brick-like in their thickness. Very much a case of “never mind the quality, feel the width” since I ploughed through the first one in a couple of days and I’m over halfway through the second. Interesting enough idea, but could’ve been handled more succinctly.
Meanwhile, in the world of cycling, I’d forgotten what a bitch head winds can be. Chengdu isn’t wholly wind-free, but I’ve never been affected that much by them. Christchurch, on the other hand, is quite exposed to the winds. Today’s was a bitter breeze blowing in from the south, although it’s claimed that it’s going to be good for the next five days. I’ve heard that one before. I found that even although I’ve been in China for seven years, I had no real problem adapting to riding on the left again, although I must admit that I’m tending to look all directions at intersections. The traffic is a great deal better behaved: a red light means stop whether you’re turning the corner or not; no one tries to turn across the other lane. Nonetheless, I remain wary of motorists here even if they might reasonably be called civilised.
Meanwhile, I see that Red Dwarf is making a comeback. I wonder whether it’ll be any good or whether, like other revivals, it’ll fall flat. I didn’t know Craig Charles played a character in Coronation Street, but I should count myself lucky that I cannot be exposed to the horrors of such witless drivel as soap operas.

Not quite more of the same

But almost.
Sunny again today, but not quite as clear as it has been, and there’s been a slightly cool wind blowing. My exciting start to the day was a trip to a dentist for some repairs to one of my teeth. I’m having to go back for some more repairs next week.
I then took the bus to town, where I met my Dad and went home with him before we all headed off to have lunch in Sumner, which is out on the coast. I had fish and chips for lunch. I’m not sure whether I went to 家家乐 the last time I was in Hong Kong so this may have been the first time I’d had fish and chips for about two years; and bloody nice it was, too. Mum and I went for a walk along the promenade from which I seem to have got a little sunburnt. First time that’s happened in ages.
We came home via the port of Lyttelton and the tunnel that runs under the Port Hills and back to the city.
A pleasant, warm evening. The wind seems to have died down for the moment. I need a bike so that I can roam about at will. I like my independence.
Once again, Live Writer acts in peculiar fashion. I downloaded the latest version to install it on my Dad’s laptop, but instead of normal sized-text when I switch the font to 12pt Garamond, it shrinks to a size which is about 8pts on screen, although it’s the correct height when I check the blog. This was the problem LW had under XP and which now seems to affect Vista.

The Moonstone

By Wilkie Collins.
The unscrupulous John Herncastle has not only filched a valuable diamond and religious artefact from this time in India, but he also bequeaths it to his niece, Rachel Verinder, more or less as an act of mischief. On the evening of her birthday, the Moonstone is stolen with more than a few suspects. Sergeant Cuff, a sort of freelance policeman, is called in to solve the case, but although he comes to the conclusion that Rachel herself stole it, he’s unable to secure evidence against her.
When matters result in the return of Franklin Blake, one of Rachel’s suitors, to England, the case is reopened. After some opium-induced sleep walking reveals that Blake really did remove the jewel from the cabinet in Rachel’s room, the trail goes cold until the time comes for the Moonstone to be retrieved from the bank. The Indians who have been trying to recover the gem now achieve their end and vanish, leaving the true thief dead. Sergeant Cuff strips the man of his disguise revealing Rachel’s other suitor – the impecunious Godfrey Ablewhite.
The story is told by several different characters starting with the family’s elderly retainer, Gabrielle Betteredge, who seeks guidance from Robinson Crusoe at every turn. Collins pokes fun at 19th century Christian fundamentalism through the character of Miss Clack. He sets the pattern for literary detectives with Sergeant Cuff whose quirk is an interest in growing roses. Cuff comes to completely the wrong conclusion about who stole the Moonstone during the original investigation, and it’s only at the end of the novel that he correctly identifies the thief. The section narrated by Franklin Blake is a little melodramatic as he tries to resume his relationship with Rachel Verinder and find out why she has treated him so coldly.
I thought the ending was a little weak because the book used a device I’ve seen in other detective stories where everything is explained once the identity of the thief has been revealed. You know who did it and you’re now channel surfing to see what else is on. I’m not sure I’d agree with Eliot’s assessment of The Moonstone that it’s necessarily the “best of modern English detective novels”, but it’s a good read nonetheless.

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox.
One of these days, I’ll somehow work these books into a class. In the latest adventure, Artemis thinks his mother’s dying and seeks help from Holly Short. It turns out that the only cure is to be found eight years in the past, requiring Artemis to recover a lemur from his younger self. Naturally, that proves to be easy said than done, and things are not as they seem when it turns out that fairy criminal mastermind, Opal Koboi, is behind all this. Her plot to become all-powerful is thwarted, but like any good villain, she somehow manages to escape the clutches of the LEP. I think we know who be appearing in the next book in the series.


The end of the first sequel.
Another bright sunny day, a fact which you can’t censure me for dwelling on because of the general lividness of Chengdu.
I more or less started the day by buying a portable HD; 320Gb for NZ$149 (¥540), which is about the same size as the HD on my laptop. It’s much larger than the job I need it for, but it’s more likely to be a more useful means of backing up stuff off my computer. CDs are all very well, but they’re a bloody nuisance to trawl through to find stuff when I need it. Although I might’ve said at the time that burning various files to CD would save me downloading them a second time, downloading them again is often quicker and more convenient than a prolonged search through my collection of CDs.
I finished looking through my boxes, but I need to go through them again, partly to consolidate what I have, partly to decide whether I made the right decision about keeping some things and disposing of others, and partly to decide what I might take home with me, which won’t amount to much. Much of what, I don’t know.
This evening there was a barbecue to celebrate my Dad’s 71st birthday yesterday.

More sunshine and blue sky

There’s the horizon.
I ended up dozing off at about midnight local time, but woke up when it was about 11pm China time, messed about a bit, and went back to bed until just before midday. It was my Dad’s birthday today. Went to a place called Pukeko Junction for lunch (and breakfast) before a brief walk along the beach. The breeze was cooling without being cold. I’ve noticed, though, that the temperature drops quite quickly when the sun goes down, whereas in China during the summer, the range between day and night seems narrower.
For tea we went to a restaurant called Speight’s Alehouse where I had a steak for the first time in, er… Since the last time I had one. Yes, that long ago.
I’ve also found most of my old CDs and have been ripping them so that I can take the music home with me in a more portable format than a large stack of CDs. The amount of music I have with me in China is limited. When I first had the means to rip music, I limited myself to a few favourite tracks because the size of my HD was fairly modest in those days.
Anyway, it’s time I had a shower.