Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

30 April 2012

Sunrise: The Easiest Shot In the World

I awoke early in a hotel in Hanmer Springs, North Canterbury, pulled the curtains and there this was!

Stunning, isn't it? Yet it's one of the easiest impressive pictures anybody could ever take with any sort of camera. Provided, of course, that the conjunction of cloud and sunrise are favourable.

Photo libraries are full of shots like these; so are calendars and picture postcards. They are always a pleasure to see but if you're a professional photographer, they're the hardest to sell. Too many of 'em!

But as this is my private and personal blog I'm going to post it even if nobody else will.



25 April 2012

The Tragic Death of the British Automotive Industry

I came across these rusting relics of the 1950s and 60s in a wreckers' yard. They, with many others, had been left to rot like forgotten warriors in some remote military hospice. The top illustration is a line of Austins, probably A50s; the larger is of a Morris 1000. Neither was glamorous yet they were the backbone of a motor industry whose brands were much loved by ordinary families all over England and the British world.

None of those old manufacturers survived and, despite Britain having been one of the world's major producers of cars, there are, to my understanding, no mass market English brands left.

What killed Britain's motor industry? Lemming-like unions and incompetent managements who squabbled endlessly while the Japanese and other Asiatic manufacturers watched and then acted skilfully from the sidelines.

I had English Austins, Morrises and Vauxhalls. Today I drive a Toyota, my wife a Hyundai.

The choice was obvious.


21 April 2012

Norfolk Pines

This is an old photograph from my archive. It was taken before 3 August 2001 because that was the date when those two Norfolk pines (one behind the other) were felled; they were diseased.

But I have to say that they complemented the handsome church beautifully; it's nowhere near as visually satisfying today.

Funny trees, Norfolk pines; I'm not sure that I like them much as flora, but as designs they are unique. Simon Broadbent, a PhD (engineering and statistics) friend of mine - all left brain - visiting from London, eyeing a perfectly symmetrical one said to me: 'If an engineer were design a tree, that's what it would look like'.


20 April 2012

Fazzoletti - Special Kinds of Handkerchiefs from Italy

These are a few of the colourful handkerchiefs I bought in Italy some years ago. They're almost worn out and as it's impossible to buy such magnificent fazzoletti in New Zealand I thought I should never get the opportunity to replace them.

I chanced to mention them to a friend who is going to Italy and he kindly said that he will try to buy some for me in May 2012. My old ones came from either Florence (a shop near the Ponte Vecchio) or Lucca.

He's not going to Florence but he is to visit Lucca where, I suggested, he might come across some fazzoletti in that serpentine street the Via Fillungo. I sent him a 100 Euro banknote.

Here's hoping he comes home with a pile of hankies that might see me out. I hope he doesn't shop too hard, though, I wouldn't want to erode his holiday.


12 April 2012

Wimbledon Re-visited

More pictures from the archive: It was a memorable day a long time ago. We'd been invited by British American Tobacco (can't think why) to Wimbledon tennis, the Number One Court, to watch McEnroe play Guy Forget. Everything Wimbledonian that one could possibly experience happened that day.

It started off with cucumber sandwiches, strawberries and cream, and champers and then we left the VIP tent to go to the court where I shot this picture of John McEnroe serving to Forget - nice one eh?

Then - we were not to be disappointed - McEnroe had a slanging match with the umpire. Here he is knowing more than anybody else about what happened and what should happen next. The crowd cheered him on but in the end they got fed up with him and told him to get on with it.

Then, glory be, it rained and the last thing we saw was the ancient ritual of pulling the covers over the grass court.

Then we went back for more champers and goodies. Then we went home. Wouldn't have missed it for the worlds, great fun.


10 April 2012

Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Special Edition

 The title page of the limited edition of 1935

If you owned a copy of the 1926 edition of T.E.Lawrence's 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom' you would be sitting on, possibly, $US50 000 worth. Much as I'd love one I can't stump up that kind of cash.

The next edition was in 1935 and a first edition of that is reasonably valuable. Unlike the 1926 one, all of its illustrations are in black and white BUT a special limited edition was also brought out which contained four colour illustrations from the original; beautiful chromo-lithographs of portraits done by Eric Kennington.

 One of the four colour plates by Eric Kennington

This edition was limited to 750 numbered copies of which I have number 125.

It's in beautiful condition, its uncut pages quarter bound within brown buckram boards and its spine of gold-blocked pigskin. The front cover carries the gold-embossed crossed swords device with its cryptic message 'the sword also means clean-ness and death'

 My copy of the limited edition of 1935

The thing is: I have no idea what this book is worth. Because it is limited and because, since 1935, there are unlikely still to be 750 numbered copies, it rarely appears in sales catalogues.

I treasure it and, along with other treasured books in my library, I am comforted in the knowledge that e-books will never entirely supersede paper, ink and boards.


08 April 2012

A Rooftop Garden In Lucca, Italy

I was uploading some new pictures for my Photographers Direct international portfolio today when I came across this one which I took from the Guinigi Tower in Lucca, Italy.

Earlier in the day my wife and our landscaping 'helper', Richard, had been working on her scheme for turning our ten acre hilly property into a park. We've already cleared most of the hillside of bracken, blackberry and gorse and have planted over 800 New Zealand native trees, which thrive.

I couldn't help contrasting our large scale Capability Brown project with the micro garden on the Lucchese rooftop. It's exquisite and one imagines sitting there in the calm of a velvet twilight sipping prosecco, but it must be like living in a window box.

It's all a matter of scale, of course, but I wonder whether microbes that are so small they cannot be seen with a microscope, have gardens? We wouldn't know, would we?


06 April 2012

A Book Jacket for Pegasus Press: Enter Without Knocking

Denis Glover and I worked for the same advertising agency, Carlton-Carruthers du Chateau, but at different times. I never met him. But, coincidentally, Albion Wright, the managing director of Pegasus Press - with whom I was well acquainted - asked me to design a dust wrapper for Glover's new book of poems: 'Enter Without Knocking'.

I could see no immediate graphic symbolism so I decided simply to hand-letter the title and to add a pair of drawn swelled rules.

Now, aged 79, I look back at the work, published in 1964, and boggle that I not only hand-lettered the characters but did so at the actual size that they were reproduced. I must have had steady eyes and hands in those days; I certainly don't have them now!

Denis, Albion told me, was delighted, and that was great praise from a typographer of his eminence.


02 April 2012

Stealing From Pegasus Press

This is a drawing I made of Pegasus Press in about 1987. It was a charming old house converted to offices with a printing works at the rear on Oxford Terrace, Christchurch. Its managing director was Albion Wright, whom I got to know well.

When I wrote my novel 'Second Bite' I unashamedly stole both Pegasus and Albion (and his slightly eccentric receptionist) and fictionalized them.

This is how I used them:

...One step inside the front door was like a journey into Victorian colonial history, the bare, creaking floorboards and low wooden ceiling and walls of the entrance hall torn from a page of Dickens. Immediately to [Perry's] left and right, closed doors concealed the front rooms either side of the gabled doorway. The sound of passing traffic, and the dappled sunlight filtered through old trees, barely penetrated the musty gloom. As his eyes adjusted to the abrupt change of light he saw that a narrow stairway, perhaps little wider than his shoulders, climbed from the right hand side of the hall. Its lower steps were blocked by brown paper parcels carrying 'Augustus Press' address labels. From in front of him, beyond another closed door, came the rhythmic hiss and wheeze of printing machinery.

A second door, opposite the stairs, halved like a stable door, had its top half partially open and through the narrow gap Perry could see weak daylight and hear the barely audible sounds of a female voice muttering.

He pressed a bell push on the architrave. The voice continued. He rang again, this time longer, then pushed the door farther open. Sitting behind a desk piled high with papers and comprehensively cluttered with books, dockets on a spike, a rubber stamp carousel, paper punch, calculator, stapling machine and a bulging black leather handbag from which spilled cigarettes, lipstick, a packet of tampons and a crumpled, lace-edged handkerchief, a small woman with tousled mousy hair was counting coins into a battered green cash box. He watched her lips moving as she shook her head to stop his interruption. She scribbled a figure on a slip of paper and threw it with the final coins into the box, slammed the lid, shoved it under her desk and looked up.

‘Yes?’ she asked, imperiously, her not unattractive, forty-ish face marred by an irritated frown.

‘Good morning,’ beamed Perry wearing a false smile and affecting charm, ‘I wonder whether I might speak to your manager, or whoever’s in charge?’

‘What’s it about?’ her accent was English ‘upper class’, her clipped words suggested that she was either inherently rude or a little eccentric.

Perry gave her the benefit of the doubt, opting for eccentricity, and patiently, but firmly - not wanting to be interrogated by the office helper - replied, ‘Well, with all due respect, I would rather discuss that with him... or her.’

‘Oh, I’m not prying;’ she said dismissively, ‘it’s just a question of whether you want somebody on the printing side or the publishing side.’

‘Oh, ah, publishing, please.’

‘Then you want Mr Augustus.’

She looked up at an old Bakelite-cased electric wall clock with Roman numerals; its assegai-shaped black hands showed the time at just after noon. ‘He’ll be in the BBC.’

‘The BBC?’

‘The back bar of the Cavendish. It’s Friday, isn’t it?’...

[Perry waits for Augustus for some time and then re-visits his office]

...There was nobody in the office when Perry rang the bell. So he shouted, ‘Anybody home?’ several times before, from the front room to the right of the street door, a reply came: ‘Come in for Christ’s sake!’

He turned the tarnished brass knob and eased open the door. Despite the room’s windows being unshuttered it was in deep shadow, the screen of trees and shrubs outside excluding virtually all of the sunlight: indeed, the brightest object was a small, ceramic table lamp with a conical parchment shade which stood on the morocco-topped directors’ desk behind which Augustus was sitting, his face illuminated from beneath like an actor’s on stage, by the lamp’s light reflected from papers he had been studying.

Perry began to see more of the room. It was quite large and hung with heavy, flocked Victorian wallcoverings in deep green and gold. Around the walls, in spaces between crowded bookshelves, were hung framed dust-wrappers, illustrative artworks and pictures of groups or individuals, many of them inscribed with signatures. A cocktail cabinet behind Augustus’s desk stood open. Below the windows was a conversation area, two couches on either side of a coffee table whose surface, picked out by the grey rectangle of pale window light, was scarred by the long ago dried ring marks of glasses and tumblers and by the burns of carelessly discarded cigarettes. A large, square ashtray was full. The room smelt musty with stale cigar smoke; Perry found it not unpleasant but wondered how long it had been since the windows had been opened or a vacuum cleaner had passed over the patchy carpet that covered its uneven floor.

Augustus sat back and tilted his wooden swivel chair with a squeak of dry springs. ‘I heard I’d had a visitor. Who are you?’ he asked as he dragged at the small cigar and waved Perry to a chair.

‘Mr Augustus?’ Perry countered.

‘You’re looking at him. What do you want?’ His voice was like a bark, as if he were forcing air through a constricted throat. His esses had a Churchillian slur. His jaundiced eyes were watery. Perry speculated upon the man’s state of health; it appeared threatened; or was this how he usually appeared on his normal Friday afternoon after the pub?

‘My name is Perry, Paul Perry...’

Augustus tapped ash into a waste bin and sat forward so that his face was once again more fully revealed by the table lamp. ‘Do I know you?’

‘I don’t think so. Mr Augustus, I have called on you because I want to speak to one of your authors - Marion Sweetman.’

Augustus did not reply. Instead he rose from his desk and walked past Perry to the door, pulled it open and shouted, ‘Verity!’

He turned to Perry. ‘I want some coffee. Want some coffee?’

‘Thank you, yes.’

‘Verity! Where is that bloody woman.’

The door slammed behind Augustus and Perry could hear his muffled barking again: ‘Verity... where the bloody hell are you, woman?’

He was left in silence. Traffic sounds came dully from the main road. A carriage clock, its anatomy exposed through bevelled glass panels, ticked rapidly on a mantelpiece over an open fireplace at the end of the room. He could feel, rather than hear, the rhythm of the printing presses, like ship’s engines vibrating through the occasionally creaking timbers of the old house. At least, in this mildew-scented gloom, is was cooler than it had been outside.

The door was kicked open by Augustus carrying two mugs. Perry hoped that no ash from the cigar, still clamped between his lips, had fallen into his coffee.

‘Bloody woman’s disappeared,’ muttered Augustus, ‘must be Friday.’...

donovan@ihug.co.nz . 'Second Bite' is available as an e-book from Amazon.com. Kindle.

01 April 2012

The Four Square Man

This grotesque character is one of New Zealand's best known commercial symbols. He represents a chain of eponymous grocery stores whose members are found in just about every town in the country. He first appeared in the 1950s. I don't know who first drew him. The one in my photograph, which I found fading in a small North Island town, looks among the oldest.

In recent years he has been popularized by Dick Frizzell, a remarkably talented and commercially savvy artist, with whom I briefly worked in the early 1970s. Frizzell has a penchant for taking such characters as the Four Square Man, Mickey Mouse and the iconic Maori tiki and turning them into Roy Lichtenstein-like graphics. How he handles copyright questions is a mystery but nobody seems to be complaining...



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By Don Donovan