Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 March 2012

There's a Lot Missing From a Kindle e-book

There's a lot to be said for Amazon's Kindle e-books. They're cheap and immediately available with tremendous range of titles. The Kindle or iPad reader is convenient to handle and can store books that used to require bookshelves. I have over 5000 real books in my house, I could probably store that many on my iPad - I don't know, I haven't had it long enough.

But having been reading e-books for a little while now, and having had three of my own books published, I am beginning to see some things missing.

For a start, although you can increase or decrease the type size, you're stuck with Georgia, a typeface designed specifically for Microsoft for use on computer screens. It's very legible but, being a typographer from hot metal days, I crave variety. I would so much like to have choice to go with my mood and mood of the book I'm reading. Garamond, Baskerville, Bell, Perpetua, Times...

Next you're stuck with page size. It's the size of the screen you're reading the book on.

Then, there's no 'feel'. Every printed book has its own feel: there's the dust wrapper to start with, or the paper-back cover; then the binding -  leather, buckram, glazed card, fabric; the paper of varying thickness - glossy, art, antique or laid with cut or uncut edges. There's little opportunity to fiddle with 'apparent' paper on an e-book - you can go sepia or white on black (shudder) but not much else.

And the weight, how a book bulks up in the hand. With an e-book it'll weigh the same whether there are 1000 pages or 100.

Having said all that, I've noticed that with the Gutenberg Project books you can choose from a range of typefaces and that's great if you're reading old classics but you won't find John Grisham in Gutenberg.

Lastly, what if you want to give an e-book as a gift? Have you found a way to write a personalized presentation message in it yet?

Not everything changes for the better.


24 March 2012

Roman Catholics Have Long Memories

My late father-in-law lived in this circa 1740 house in a village in Kent. It was next to St. Mary's, a 13th century church that, at the time I took this photograph, was shared by both Anglicans and Roman Catholics, each having their separate services.

To make ends meet (it was an expensive house to run) father-in-law took in paying guests, typically old gentlefolk. One such was a retired Roman Catholic canon who was both unsteady in his mind and his body (but he still drove a Volkswagen beetle whose mudguards were so smashed up that they looked like moulded papier maché).

I asked him if he still performed any duties as a cleric and he told me that he heard the confessions of the nuns in a nearby convent. He confided in me that hearing their confessions was like being pecked to death by penguins.

My most memorable of his bon mots was when an ecumenical garden fête was held in the churchyard. I came across the canon chatting with the C. of E. sexton by a pillar upon which was posted a list of incumbent priests dating back to the early 14th century. Coming from a young New Zealand I said I was impressed that such a long historical record had been preserved, at which point the canon jabbed a bony finger at a name somewhere about 1530 and said, rather angrily, I thought, 'Yes, and what's more this church was ours until then!'

Long memory; Henry the Eighth's theft of St. Mary's from its Roman owners was still fresh in the canon's mind four and a half centuries after the event!


18 March 2012

Wilkie Collins's Prediction Was Spot On

Instead of reading the sausage machine thrillers (two of which I wrote!) that come readily on Amazon's Kindle offerings, I decided to read something serious for a change and so found Wilkie Collins's 'The Woman In White', written in 1859, on the Gutenberg Project.

My God, it's a long book; but extremely well written with meticulously correct grammar and syntax. If it was couched in today's vernacular it would be every bit as good as Amazon's best mysteries and thrillers.

I wondered about the author and so Wikipaediaed him.

Among many interesting biographical notes this one stood out: 'Collins predicted the deterrence concept of mutually assured destruction that defined the Cold War nuclear era. Writing at the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 he stated, "I begin to believe in only one civilising influence – the discovery one of these days of a destructive agent so terrible that War shall mean annihilation and men's fears will force them to keep the peace." '

I was born in 1933 and lived through the bombing blitz of London. Subsequently I did National Service in the RAF when the Korean War was on (I didn't go there). Since then we've had Vietnam, Iraq (twice) and many, many other spats but not one world war - that's because of the atomic bomb and the threat of mutually assured destruction.

Wilkie Collins was spot on. What a visionary!

© DON DONOVAN (Text. Images and quote from Internet and Wikipaedia)

12 March 2012

As Oscar Would Have Said - Chris Cairns Must Be Squeaky Clean

It's always a dangerous course to sue for libel because, in doing so, one leaves one's self open to penetrating attacks from the defence. They will be so deeply searching that any hint of a stain in the plaintiff's past will be brought into the light of day and will both weaken him and strengthen the defendant. Indeed it's possible that the plaintiff might himself end up as a defendant.

Take the case of Oscar Wilde, he had little choice but to defend himself if he was to have any hope of preserving his reputation and career. We recall that he was certainly not a cricket match fixer, but despite having a wife and children, he was an active homosexual, a condition which, because it merited obloquy and certain imprisonment in the late nineteenth century, was carefully ignored by the establishment unless revealed in public to be so scandalous that arrest and charge were unavoidable.

Oscar’s favourite boyish bed friend was a certain Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas whom he first met in 1891. So in love with ‘Bosie’ was Oscar that he described him, typically indiscreetly, as ‘... quite like a narcissus - so white and gold... he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa and I worship him.’

The young man’s father was none other than the Marquess of Queensberry, a domineering control-freak whose lasting claim to fame is his authorship of the Queensberry rules for boxing. Pugilistic and disputatious by nature he was incensed by what he saw as Oscar’s homosexual manipulation of his ‘innocent’ son, and being a true eccentric he constantly threw out slanderous and libellous taunts against Wilde with the objective of goading the playwright into a reaction.

Following a confrontation with Queensberry, Wilde wrote to Bosie: ‘... your father... had stood uttering every foul word his mind could think of... and afterwards he went from restaurant to restaurant looking for me... to insult me before the whole world, and in such a manner that if I retaliated I would be ruined, and if I did not retaliate I would be ruined also.’

Oscar took his first fatal steps on the road to ruin when in February 1895 Queensberry left a card with the porter of Wilde’s club, the Albemarle, upon which was written ‘To Oscar Wilde posing somdomite.’ [sic] The fact that the Marquess appeared semi-literate did nothing to stop Wilde from retaliating. His lawyer ominously advised him that his suit would succeed ‘if you are innocent’; but his friends, the gay and straight literati who surrounded him at the peak of his career, were not so sanguine. Indeed, the notorious Frank Harris counselled Wilde to ‘...drop it at once... go abroad... and take your wife with you.’ (No doubt she was expected to stand by her man.)

The trial of the Marquess of Queensberry for libelling Oscar Wilde commenced on 3 April but it was not long before the tables were turned and the proceedings deteriorated into what was effectively the first trial of Oscar Wilde; Queensberry’s lawyers had uncovered a string of homosexual encounters and when it became clear that a number of rent-boys and others were standing by to confirm the truth of Queensberry’s ‘libel’ Wilde’s case collapsed.

Within three days the jury at the Old Bailey found Queensberry ‘not guilty’. Thus Wilde, espousing a strategy of attack being the best form of defence, had lost mightily. There was more to come, the knives were out; at 6.10pm that same day, at the Cadogan Hotel, whence he had taken himself after the trial, he was arrested by two detectives on a charge of committing ‘indecent acts’.

Wilde was tried in a court whose proceedings swung between his haughty wit and his intolerable humiliation. He was eventually sentenced to two years hard labour and imprisoned in Pentonville, then Wandsworth, and finally Reading where, as occupant of cell No. C.3.3., he wrote his deeply touching ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’. Released in 1897, his health was ruined; he died ‘beyond my means’ in a sleazy Paris hotel apartment three-and-a-half years later aged 47.

Poor Oscar, his downfall was ultimately triggered when, fatefully, he sued Lord Queensberry for a libel he knew to be true. In that case the disastrous reversal of events was immediate and devastating. Oscar's case proves that if you’re going to sue it’s as well to be unassailably innocent of the libel.

Remember, Oscar's lawyer advised him that his suit would succeed ‘if you are innocent’; I imagine Chris Cairns's lawyers have advised him similarly and, if he is unassailably innocent (and I sincerely hope he will be proved so) he will succeed in London's rigorous courts.


10 March 2012

Mending Fences

Since I finished publishing my log book of our trip from England to New Zealand in 1960 I have been busy repairing a lot of my blog posts. I discovered that many of them had had their illustrations removed - I don't know why but it's very irritating when one considers how much work had gone into writing and imaging well over 600 posts over the last few years.

It points up to me the impermanence of the computer and of the so-called services that are offered by faceless people like Google. (Although I now read books on my iPad2 I still have more faith in my old paper-and-cardboard books!).

I have pretty well completed my restorations and hope that they will not be tinkered with by goblins or gremlins in future.


02 March 2012

Our 1960 Journey to A New Life in New Zealand. 17. The Last Page.

This is a diary from 1960. The actual entries are in typewriter font. Added comments are in red. 
The photographs are from that date, some in colour (expensive in those days).

23rd February 1960

The crossing from Sydney was the roughest we have had since we left the Mediterranean and the ship pitched quite violently straight into the waves. We spent our time packing and sleeping.

This morning we were up at 0530 to see Wellington come into view. It is a most beautiful harbour surrounded by hills and looks rather like a Cornish fishing village only on a much larger scale. We seem to have docked at the quay farthest from the city. [Aotea Quay] After having our passports and other documents scrutinized we passed through the customs and were met by Bob James, the Christchurch office man who has come to Wellington to meet us and see us to Christchurch.

After introductions he ‘phoned Mr Dobbs the managing director who came along in his car and took us for a run up the hills to the highest part overlooking the city. After taking some photographs we returned to the city where we left Mr. Dobbs and went for a short walk and some coffee with Mr. James. We have been booked in at the Royal Oak Hotel for one night by the firm and we are travelling down to Christchurch tomorrow on the evening ferry - also on the firm.

[The diary ends abruptly at this point. In retrospect the formality of ‘Mr. Dobbs’ and ‘Mr James’ is amusing. They must have found us both a bit of a laugh with our English stiffness. Over the succeeding years they became ‘Freddie', or Fred  Dobbs and Bob James.

I am also touched at how grateful we were that Goldbergs paid for our night at the Royal Oak and our overnight ferry fare to Christchurch; especially in view of what was said at our first interview with Fred Dobbs. He asked me if I had any colleagues in London who might also like to come to New Zealand ‘Of course we’d pay their fares and all expenses.’ he added. We had paid one fare, and taken a loan from Goldbergs to be repayed over two years for the other! Fred’s  lack of tact dismayed me to say the least but we were young and not much good at standing up for ourselves then. I would have given him a real ear-bashing now!

Bob James and I worked together in Christchurch until 1964, he was manager and I started the creative side of the branch which grew reasonably well before I was invited to go to Wellington to become chief copywriter. Pat and I were not happy in Wellington and seriously contemplated returning to England but I was offered another job in 1964 with Carlton-Carruthers du Chateau Limited, returned with them to run their Christchurch branch, and later returned again  to Wellington to become a director, and later a substantial shareholder. Our last move (by which time we had daughters Philippa and Susannah aged  4 and 2) was to Auckland in 1972 where I became Managing Director of Carlton-Carruthers du Chateau.

The final move with that company came when, it having merged with Charles Haines Limited under the aegis of Fancourt Holdings of which I was a director and substantial shareholder, we - rather elegantly as far as I was concerned - sold the whole company in 1990 to FCB Chicago - the company I’d last worked for in England .

From 1990 to this day I’ve worked at home as a writer/illustrator while Pat has continued to do voice work for media.

One odd twist of history was that among a number of companies that our Fancourt Holdings owned was one called ‘James-Kirk Advertising’. Its principal was Bob James. Bob died in about 1999.

Freddie Dobbs is comfortably retired; I occasionally see him - at the odd funeral! We became good friends over the years.

Fifty-two years, in fact, as at 2012, during which Pat and I became New Zealand citizens (very early on) learned to speak ‘the language’, learned to become New Zealanders, came to view England as a place which, since 1960, became increasingly a foreign land to us. Looking back, as we occasionally do, we always agree that coming to New Zealand on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt to make a new life was the best thing we ever did.]


01 March 2012

Our 1960 Journey to A New Life in New Zealand. 16.

This is a diary from 1960. The actual entries are in typewriter font. Added comments are in red. The photographs are from that date, some in colour (expensive in those days).

[From the roof of newly built  MLC Insurance, the highest building in North Sydney in 1960]

19th February

We have been in Sydney for the last two days and we shall leave tonight at 1700. Somehow Sydney seems to have left a less clear cut impression on me and I think I shall find it harder to describe than Melbourne and Perth. We only took one day and night to get from Melbourne to Sydney and we arrived at the heads outside Sydney Harbour at 0600 on 18th.

I went on deck after being woken by the engines going into reverse to stop the ship. When I looked over the side I saw that we had stopped to pick up the pilot. The sea outside the heads was very rough and the little pilot boat was rolling about quite a lot, however the pilot didn’t seem to have much trouble getting aboard and he probably didn’t consider it a bit rough!

We made our way slowly into Sydney Harbour. It must be one of the most beautiful harbours in the whole world. It is a wide, long stretch of water bounded by a sandstone, rocky coast on top of which grow lush green trees; here and there in the trees one can see little houses and they must command a beautiful view. Between the promontories of rock there are some beaches and they all seem to be protected by anti-shark nets.

We tied up at Woolloomooloo Wharf which is just to the seaward side of the famous bridge. After breakfast we went ashore and took a bus to Martins [sic] Place. Here we called at the NZ tourist office and picked up some material about NZ. We also got hold of a map of Sydney and then set off to explore the place.

We like it better than any other city we have seen in Australia and we both think we should be happy to live here for a time.

[This comment reminds me that our grand plan had been to live in New Zealand for a year or two, then to move to Australia, later to move again to Canada, enter the USA and work in Madison Avenue, New York (then considered to be the Mecca of world advertising) after which, I having developed my advertising career to its highest potential!, we would return to London to become rich and famous, I in advertising and Pat performing in radio and television . It says little for our ambition, and much for the beauty of New Zealand that we never got past the first stage of our plan!].

The shops are interesting and full of goods, the streets are wide and clean and the traffic moves fast and freely.

We bought a koala bear (toy of course) made from kangaroo skin [I didn't know then that koalas are not bears]. After a good look at the shops we walked to the Circular Quay and had a look at the harbour. We bought some sandwiches and walked across the bridge and ate them at the foot of the bridge at the north side.
 [Pat and Sgt. Meyer of the Sydney police. He invited us home for dinner and to meet his wife but we had to leave too soon for that]

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a very fine piece of civil engineering and is one of the finest bridges I’ve ever seen. Later we went to the top of a large insurance building in North Sydney and took photographs of the bridge and the harbour.

[This was from the roof of the newly built  MLC Insurance building, then the tallest structure in North Sydney.]

We took a bus to Willoughby to call on Nick Papalia whom we met on the ship. We stayed a little while at his house and later returned to the city across the bridge in the bus. A visit to the cinema gave our feet a rest and we saw ‘Libel’, a film we had missed in London when we were very broke. We then went and had coffee and walked back to the ship through Hyde Park.

Today we visited Taronga Park Zoo. We went across by ferry from the Circular Quay. Actually we did not find the zoo very inspiring, it is set in very pretty surroundings but the parts that are man-made are very poorly designed. We arrived near the middle of the day and unfortunately we found that most of the animals were asleep. One Koala Bear looked  like a parson who had just fallen asleep after a good meal, he had his claws folded across his tummy and was sitting upright with his head nodding. After leaving the zoo and returning to the other side of the harbour by ferry we walked through the botanical gardens to the quay and boarded the ship.

[I’ve always loathed zoos, and Pat doesn’t like them much, either. Why we went to Taronga Park is a mystery to this day.]

The whole ship was crowded with visitors and new pasengers this afternoon and we could not find a quiet place to be, but finally [when] it was announced that the ship was ready to sail [it] seemed to have far fewer people on board. As we steamed out of Woolloomooloo the HMAS Melbourne, an aircraft carrier dipped its ensign and all the crew lined up along the deck to wave us goodbye. We arrived off the heads at about 1745 and set course for Wellington.



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By Don Donovan