Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Close-up of glacier.
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
What a day! The pic tells it all, I think - a cloudless, brilliant day spent in the Alpine surroundings of the Mount Aspiring National Park. From the moment we drove past the sign warning that this was a back country road of variable conditions it was a terrific adventure - the six fords on the road, the suspension bridge over the West Matukituki river, the 3oo metre climb through dense birch forest with the glacier-green river pounding below ... and then we came out into a clear alpine meadow and saw this!

We had just taken off our packs when a great thundering sound from above us announced an avalanche, which we were able to watch as it gathered momentum and swept down the face opposite us in the bright sun. All the time the roar of the tens of waterfalls from the ice was like a bizarre traffic sound in the wilderness, overlaid by the raucus squawks of the skeas flying overhead. It was hypnotic, sitting staring at the ice above, the tumbled seracs a sort of greenish colour with grey moraine material at their base - and hard to stop taking photos, despite the sun's position above the mountain. This was Rob Roy Peak (2606m) and the glacier is Rob Roy Glacier.

As we drove home - harrying car and caravan drivers as we bashed along in the 4x4 - there was still not a cloud. The forecast is for much colder weather, but today was perfect. If we do nothing else on this holiday, I'll be content.

And my feet are killing me!

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Gathering Storm ...

There. Isn't that a dramatic title for a day which took us to the site of the Tower of Orthanc? And for all my gentle readers who have been consumed with envy at the thought of us walking through sunlit desert, the news that today we were well and truly soaked, in the middle of a huge beech wood near the place which was Lothlorien. As I write, the rain is pelting down outside, and a short time ago we had lightening and loud thunder - and I have to tell you that Cromwell on a dreich evening looks much like Dunoon!

And as for feeling at home - the site of Orthanc (see my flickr photos for a shot)is near a town called Glenorchy, where we had the best sandwiches ever and where the streets have names like Mull Road, Oban Road and - yes - Argyll Street. Miles from anywhere too.

In the course of the day we crossed another very swingy suspension bridge - the ground bounced about for some time after that - herded sheep with our car, and saw helicopters fighting a large bush fire in the Kawaru gorge. I've learned, by the way, that the Kawaru River - see Friday's blog - was the River Anduin in the first LotR movie.

One last thing. The roadkill here is quite upsetting. Possums are quite large and fat and very furry looking. They make a mess on the road. I wish they'd learn some road sense. That's all.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Dam spectacular

The Dam at night.
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Caught this view of the Clyde dam this evening after a great meal out at the Post Office in Clyde - pic on Flickr. It's such a brilliantly clear evening - and growing deliciously cool - that the sky was still quite light when I took this (no flash) After blogging this, I'm going outside with a southern hemisphere star chart to identify a few constellations - I've been marvelling at the Milky Way ever since the moon diminished and stopped lighting up the whole sky. I've never seen so many stars - the sky looks somehow jagged with them.

Interesting sermon in St Andrew's this morning - the priest talked about epiphanies such as when you suddenly hear a Bell Bird - and of course we heard our fist Bell bird on Friday and so her point was well made for us. I think the chance of epiphany is considerable here - though it could just be that such a change from our normality would tend to create a certain receptivity in us. Certainly I feel a great deal more alive than I did a month ago!

There seemed to be a conspiracy this morning to persuade us to return - among the farewells after our last Sunday service were several suggestions that we should make this a regular visit. It's very tempting: this is a wonderful place to spend our winter and we already feel very much at home.

They'd need to do something about the telly, though!

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Old rail bridge
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Today we got a bit lost. Well no - the trail got lost. We're using a wee book of local walks by someone who reputedly has lived here for 30 years, but we have a sneaking suspicion that he is now living out his twilight years in a rest home far away and has concocted the walks from memory. (He does say in his intro "the publisher and author hold no responsibility for any accident or misfortune that may occur during [the book's] use".)

Ok - we didn't have an accident or even a misfortune. The trail simply vanished in a sea of dust where apparently the local yoof go to wreck their (or someone else's) old cars. But we did see some lovely sights along the way - not the least this old rail bridge, now the start of a rail trail for walkers and cyclists. There was another wonderful bridge over the Manuherikia River - made me feel a bit Harrison Fordish as I swayed my way over it. We crossed a bit of open ground called "Linger and Die" - apparently and aborted deep lead mining venture which filled with water at a depth of 10 metres. We never made it up to the clock on the hill above Alexandra, but took some pix of the town as we staggered back to the car.

Actually it was in Alex that we suddenly felt very far from home. It's about 33k from Cromwell, where we now feel quite settled. But this silent town under the bright sun .. the signs were creaking in the breeze like a Western, so that we expected some gunslinger to step out into the street at any moment. You'll see the pix on Flickr, and I may post some more tomorrow.

Today was a day of startling brilliance. The sky had barely a cloud throughout and the sun was fierce. Any movement along the trail raised a puff of dust. I find it hard to thing that in just over a week we'll be in the green-ness of home.

To say nothing of the rain.....

Friday, February 24, 2006

Roaring Meg

Roaring Meg
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
According to legend, Roaring Meg was named after a red-haired barmaid who kept a hotel on the creek at this point, but it's more likely just the turbulent water flow which inspired the name of this torrent in the Kawarau River. We climbed up into the hills on the right of the gorge today - if you live in Dunoon, think Holy Trinity drive for almost two hours. This took us to a height of about 3,000', through forest and then above the treeline among thorn bushes and tiny briar roses, which were apparently introduced by the miners for a bit of colour and then spread wildly, rather like the rabbits they brought in for cheap food!

There are more pix of the dramatic road on Flickr, but what we couldn't reproduce was the wonderful birdsong we heard as we approached the upper limit of the trees. Friends later identified what we described as the Bell bird. Whatever it was, it had a glorious alto voice and sang a sixth, a third and then a perfect fourth - a bit Mahlerian, we thought. It was accompanied by a chorus of more ordinary, higher birdsong, and was sheer joy. We stood listening for ages till growing hunger pushed us on to find a good place to sit.

We finished the day welcomed once more into a New Zealand home for a meal and wide-ranging conversation with two local Cursillistas. It makes the difference between being a tourist and being a visitor, and we love it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Visited Arrowtown today - a deliberately preserved mining town which still manages to look old despite the proliferation of tourist shops and tearooms (both kinda nice, actually). The town is noteworthy for the remains of the buildings used by the Chinese miners who were encouraged to come to New Zealand to work the goldmines and who tended to keep themselves apart from the other miners for reasons which today became very apparent.

On one of the information boards in the Chinese quarter we saw a facsimile of a local newspaper from the 1870s which referred to the Chinese in terms which (a)I cannot bring myself to reproduce here and (b)showed that at the time the Chinese were regarded as being a subhuman species whose habits were a source of disgust and fear. I don't know what habits the writer referred to, but I was interested in the shock I felt reading this in the bright sunlight beneath the trees. I couldn't help wondering what the group of Chinese tourists just behind of us thought of it - if indeed they could read it. I hoped they couldn't.

In fairness to 21st century Kiwis, I have to point out that the New Zealand Government has in recent years apologised for the treatment of Chinese migrant workers, many of whom had faced incredible hardship to make the journey here - hardship made bearable only by the hardship of the lives they were already living as peasant farmers in China.

Clicking on this photo will take you to other pics of the tiny huts they lived in - one of them seemed to have been wallpapered in old copies of newspapers. Now THERE'S an idea for all the old copies of TheGuardian piled up at The Blethers .....

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Looking on the grape ...

Red Tractor vineyard
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
...and they were indeed red: Pinot Noir grapes growing in the Red Tractor vineyard on the road between Cromwell and Wanaka. Grant took us for a wander down the rows of vines, pruning, removing burned fruit which looked like raisins - what happens when the temperatures hit 40 degrees - and reconnecting an irrigation hose which had come adrift.

Viniculture is relatively new to this area - the last ten years have seen a huge growth in the number of vineyards. The process is more or less hydroponic, using water pumped from boreholes to a water table which rose when Lake Dunstan was created. Sometimes nutrients are added to the water by a pump, and we saw how important the supply of water is - where a trickle hole had become blocked, there would be a withered vine with shrivelled fruit. We learned that some growers will give fruit which has dried out "the JC treatment" which involves soaking the fruit overnight in water till it regains its size. You can work out the "JC" connection.

This afternoon I returned to the mineworkings at Bendigo - with my camera. You can see the results by clicking through to Flickr on today's pic. We walked from Welshtown to Logantown via the Aurora battery site - a wonderful walk through Manuka shrubs and thorn bushes, several of which were concealing lethal mineshafts. Rabbits were everywhere, skittering over the dry earth as we approached. The wind was strong enough to be cooling and the views were to die for. A great hike.

Tonight it is chilly - the wind has moved to the South and the forecast is for showers - and temperatures tonight of 5 degrees. Just like summer hols in Scotland!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I've deliberately chosen this striking picture to illustrate what occurred to me today. When I came upon it in the hills yesterday it took me a long moment to realise that what I saw as a life-size crown of thorns was in fact the stem of the flower, dead and curled round on itself. But the fact that I saw it as I did perhaps reflects some of the wilderness experience which has set me thinking properly again.

Since I retired in June I've read nothing at all serious, and have been so busy-busy that I feel I've neglected thought and meditation in favour of action. Here, I've rediscovered space - mental space and physical space. The TV is so poor and so broken by advertising that I have not the slightest desire to watch it. There is time to go to bed early - and there is time to read. I've been reading Ivan Mann's thoughtful book "A Double Thirst" on our response to suffering, and I've been allowing the silence to soak into me and still all surface thought. The results are exciting and challenging.

However, at the same time I'm aware of the woman in the next-door house. She plays loud pop music all the time she's at home. The endless repetition of the pounding beat is maddening. Her dog barks a lot. It's as if the silent hills and the noise of crickets in the long dead grass beyond the garden are perhaps too much for her. I'm very aware of this essentially northern European culture sitting in the middle of this sparsely-populated land, where the buzzards swoop over the empty hills and the thorn bushes tear at the intruder. This neighbour shuts out the silence with electronic rhythm.

We've lost much of this silence. True, you can walk all afternoon in Argyll and see no-one, just as you can here. But the sense of being alone in the desert takes me back to a time and a place I never knew - and yet a place which is familiar and necessary.

There are more usual photos on Flickr - you can see them be clicking on the one shown here. But this one is special.

Monday, February 20, 2006

A wilderness walk

Today we were all too aware of why a 4x4 is a good idea here. We drove up the Nevis Road - a grit road, one of the highest vehicle roads in NZ at 3,000' - and then walked through the high wilderness of the hills behind Bannockburn to a place called Duffer's Saddle, where the Carrick Race begins its downward journey to the fields far below.

The first thing we noticed was the drop in temperature. At 10.30am it was already warm in Cromwell, but at 3,000' a chill wind had us in our cagoules as soon as we left the vehicle. But the landscape was immense - literally and figuratively speaking. The grit road and the dusty tracks were lonely ribbons over featureless scrub for mile after folded mile, punctuated erratically by massive tors any of which could have stood in for Weathertop in the LotR movie. We scrambled up to one and found our legs bleeding from the attentions of the lethal jaggy plants I've already photographed - they were ubiquitous.

The views all around were tremendous; I've chosen to blog this one of a distant view of Mount Difficulty (1285m) because it sounds like something out of Pilgrim's Progress. We were the pilgrims today - and we made it home just ahead of the rain!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lazy summer Sunday

BBQ at Eva's
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
No pounding round goldmines today, but a very peaceful, civilised day which began with church at 9am (actually that's not really civilised: why do we need to be at church quite so early?) We met a lady who had actually visited Dunoon - her antecedents were in Greenock.

Later - and you can see the pix by clicking on this one and going to Flickr - we visited the fantastic house which Hilary and Alan are building nearby - concrete blocks and huge logs of wood holding up the roof instead of the more usual squared-off joists. As John said, a bungalow - but now as we know it! This huge one-level house is curved in such a way as to present interesting vistas from one room to the next - I'm looking forward to seeing the photos of the finished article.

Thence to a BBQ nearby - if you can call two whole spit-roasted chickens along with sausages, burgers and venison a BBQ. If I had a patio like that - complete with the new bamboo blinds to diffuse the sinking sun - I'd never cook inside the whole summer. Life here seems so much simpler than when you have to take your blackened sausages indoors when the heavens open - a climate made for outdoor eating.

Apparently the evening wind is known locally as "The Dunstan Doctor". It makes the nights bearable - and the early mornings are deliciously cool and fragrant.

Must get up early tomorrow!

Saturday, February 18, 2006


Originally uploaded by goforchris.
I may have seen an ostrich before - in a zoo, perhaps - but to see a whole herd (flock? I shall call them a peck till someone informs me of the correct collective noun) pecking away beside the state highway was something else! Today I also encountered the closest thing to midges outside Scotland - I think they were sandflies, and they were black instead of grey and stripey, but the effect was very similar and we left!

Today became very warm indeed, so I was glad when the six o'clock gusts of wind began. Apparently this is why they grow such excellent Pinot Noir here - the hot days and chilly nights. We walked past a vineyard today and were deeved by the noise coming from - we discovered - small speakers hidden among the vines: the most dreadful cacophony of chirrups, screams and the noise my dial-up modem used to make when trying to connect to the Internet!

We assumed that this was to scare off birds; it certainly drove us away. Think of this over your next glass!

And another thing: Cromwell on a Saturday afternoon makes Dunoon seem like the hub of the universe. Everything closes except for the supermarket. The streets are empty. You can't get a coffee after 4pm. I suppose what I'm comparing it with is a resort somewhere warm like Crete or Spain, where they'd have a siesta and then open up again. Here it's as if the Sabbath descends early. And there are adverts every 7 minutes on the TV -all three channels.

I'm enjoying my book!

Friday, February 17, 2006

The sea, the sea ...

The Pacific!
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
...the Pacific Ocean, to be precise. We were in Dunedin today, and this beach is on the outskirts of this city in which the street names seem all to come from Edinburgh - there's even a Spottiswoode Street! By the time we reached the beach, there was quite a breeze blowing from the South-West, which actually made it feel more like a summer day in Dunbar, and the sea itself was c-o-l-d. The surfers were all in full wetsuits and kept disappearing worryingly from view.

The journey to Dunedin took about two and a half hours and took us through an amazing variety of scenery - including Roxburgh, a township in an area which looked much more familiar than the barren, baked hills of Cromwell. We saw fields which had actually been improved by having open-cast gold mining carried out in them; by the time the mining was over and the land restored the old boggy fields were fertile and green.

I learned the other day that Cromwell is the furthest from the sea of any town in New Zealand. It was good to smell the salt today - but I'm glad we're here in this hot, dry corner. Chilly sea air can wait another two weeks, thanks!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Woe, thrice woe and Bendigo

Good title, eh? The Woe arises because today I went out without my
camera - we had the steam camera with us, but that doesn't let me show where we went. I took this one of the house when we returned.

We visited another gold-mining site, Bendigo, above Lake Dunstan. You might wonder what the attraction is - wandering through arid hills and avoiding falling down mineshafts under a baking sun - and lacking pictorial evidence I feel a thousand-word blog isn't really on. I'll try to convey what we saw.

The hillside is like a desert at this time of year. The only vegetation is Manuka shrub - think a thyme bush, with the same size of leaves and flowers (white), only up to 12 feet tall. Full of bees. There are a few thorn bushes as well. And there's dust, and there are stones, and cushions of dry, pale lichen. And more stones - heaped where the miners stashed them when they dug them from the ground, or built into the walls of their tiny cottages and around their claims. All around this hill are unfenced mineshafts, giving an impression of desperate activity to reach gold at any cost. Some of the shafts are tiny - just wide enough to take a man. The gold was there, right enough - good deposits in some places, just enough to make some money in others. Several mines closed after a few years, leaving the remains of stampers - the buildings where the rock was pulverised before the gold could be retrieved.

But the most extraordinary thing for us was the silence. At times it seemed total - and then a single bird would call and we would realise how alone we were. Among the manuka which still flowered there were hundreds of bees, but where it was dried out, nothing. And we saw not a soul - in this place where a hundred years ago 500 men, women and children lived and toiled.

And that's why we enjoyed it so much. When I was a child, if we saw another family within a hundred yards of us on the beach, we said "it's seething", and that attitude must have stuck. Can't bear being a tourist with other tourists. Here in Cromwell we feel we're the only visitors in miles. Great!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Tea and ginger

Tea and ginger
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
A wee domestic moment. At home, we often end a walk with a cup of tea and some crystallised ginger - they go really well together. We managed to buy the ginger yesterday at the fruit stall, so we ended today with tea on the patio, in perfect temperatures. I even wrote postcards for the unblogged - if you're reading this you'll not be getting one!

If you click on this pic, you'll get to see what we did today, visiting Wanaka, an hour's drive away. We climbed a hill (of course) that was actually a roche moutonnee, left a strange shape by the movement of ice. From there we could see the snow-topped mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park - and look down on the growing town of Wanaka. All the houses are *so* different from what we're used to - tin roofs an' that - but everyone seems to have so much space, and houses appear to have everything needed for the life here.

And I've discovered what they call the infamous Cillit Bang here. It's called "Easy-off Bam". Isn't that wonderful? With the usual connotations (in the West of Scotland anyway) of the word "bam" it takes on a wealth of meaninglessness. In fact there are several things where you think you're looking at a familiar label and find it's different - like Marmite, which is My Mate here cos there's already a Marmite with a different label and meat in it.

And that's it for today - except that I drove the Bighorn home from Wanaka today at 100 kph (the speed limit). And we got here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

After the rain ...

Fruit stall
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
It rained today. Real rain, which made you wet if you stood under it. As a result, we decided to go shopping for fruit. Cromwell is THE fruit-growing area in NZ, and there are many roadside fruit stalls selling the products of the orchards around them. This one was amazing - and the cherries I've just eaten were the biggest I've ever seen. The plums were pretty spectacular too - we had a couple to round off dinner. Dinner, incidentally, was Elephant fish. I fried it in a mix of butter and olive oil, with a little garlic. The nice lady in The New World (your LOCAL store - no overseas interests) told me it was "a bit like shark". So there you are. It was jolly good anyway.

And after the rain? Well, we saw this bit of blue sky beyond Bannockburn and pointed our Bighorn in that direction. The road ended in a grit track, so we parked and walked into the sunshine. I don't think anyone ever walks on that road. The cows all stopped what they were doing (ruminating, I suppose)and came to look at us. Some of them commented, quite loudly, on our passing. John said he felt like Jack Nicholson at the Oscars. The strange sheep had a bit of a gander too (they're strange because they are greyish, with stripey-looking fleece, long legs and quite round heads). It grew warm again; there were no cars, it was silent apart from the sound of water in narrow channels running through these amazingly green fields which changed abruptly to brown scrubby desert on the hills above. (I think the water must be doing the limestone thing of draining through the hill ground and emerging at the ends of the rock strata - or something)

As we did this, I reflected how this is my idea of visiting a new country. People will ask if we toured, if we saw the big sights, if we visited North Island. Fancy going all that way just to walk up a country road at the end of a wet day. But to me, this *is* the country. I feel I know the smells, the vegetation, the amazing trees, the dry hills. The birds sound exotic. This is how people live here. It's like going back to '50s Britain in some ways - the friendly girls serving in the shop, the passing farmer waving from his 4x4, the old-fashioned clothes shop in Alexandria - and to me that's strangely reassuring.

And now I feel a nectarine moment coming on ....

Monday, February 13, 2006

Not just round the block!

The photo here shows the kind of terrain we visited today - high above Lake Wakatipu. The mountain is Ben Lomond - 1748m - set back from the lakeside town of Queenstown. I didn't take to the town - far too busy with tourists (like us!) in a way that Cromwell is not. However, once we left the gondola which scooshed us up the first part of the hillside, we found ourselves in just our kind of country - a wee path, wonderful golden grasses, grasshoppers making guiro noises and jumping on our hats, and this mountain. The mountains look so young compared to ours in Scotland - none of the jaggy bits have been weathered off yet: just look at the outlines of these gullies.

Another thing I've noticed: the moon last night was brighter than I've ever seen before - almost enough to dazzle. Presumably something to do with the clarity of the air here - the stars are pretty spectacular too, and the sun is seriously fierce.

And I've just been terrified by a strange insect on the floor of the study ... this is not like blogging in Dunoon!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Gold in them thar hills ...

Gold in them thar hills ...
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Visited my first gold digging today, under a very Lord of the Rings sky (see pic). Bannockburn Sluicings is an extraordinary place where hydraulic sluicing to extract the gold from gravel has left a gorge of fantastic cliffs and gullies. The various races down which the water poured apparently defined the limits of the miners' claims.

We saw a cave where a rabbiter had lived, in among the debris from the sluicing, and the ruined cottage where one David Stewart (no relation!) had lived when he controlled the reservoir which supplied the precious water used in washing out the gold. Apparently a row broke out when it was proposed to recycle the water - the men paying for it thought they paid for the water itself, rather than merely the use of it.

We also walked among the pear trees of a deserted orchard, in the shade of three huge Scots pines. And all the time the warm wind blew the golden, dusty grass in tussocks and dried the sweat on our skin as soon as it formed. The rain, when it came, lasted ten seconds, as if someone had flicked water at us as we passed. A shower, Jim, but not as we know it!

Friday, February 10, 2006

It's a hard life ...

Old Cromwell, S. Island, NZ.
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
These buildings came from the old town of Cromwell, resited when the new dam flooded the town and created Lake Dunstan. Great coffee, by the way! As you can see in the photo, we've made the transition to summer with remarkable ease (even if it is 28 degrees). I've even made the transition to using a PC (thanks, Edgar!) instead of my beloved Mac, and you can blame any typos (I've spotted a few already) on the fact that I don't yet know how to edit them on it.

And for the culturally savvy among you - I keep thinking about R.S.Thomas when I look at Lake Dunstan...

Dubai stopover....

Dubai Airport
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
Dubai, from the little we saw of it, is an extraordinary place. We arrived at midnight - all these Glasgow voices, wee Glasgow types, in among the tall Arabs in white with the red and white headgear, or more ornately-draped affairs looking as if they might be held in place by hair gel. We had about 4 hours' sleep there, in the Millenium Hotel, before being wheeched back to the airport. The photo shows the main concourse past the duty-free shops, quite the biggest I've seen. There are tall palm trees with lights woudn round them, and people from everywhere you could imagine.

Thirteen hours after leaving Dubai, we were in Sydney. We'd had darkness from about 5pm Dubai time, and 6 hours later it was dawn over Eastern Australia.In Sydney I had my hand luggage searched and a nailfile removed - though I'd already flown halfway round the globe with it and hadn't aroused a flicker of interest. In Christchurch, New Zealand - three hours and another Bruce Willis movie later - I had to remove my hiking boots from my case for inspection in case there was any deadly Scottish mud on them. (There wasn't - we'd scrubbed them to such an extent that I was actually complimented on them)Everyone in the whole laborious process of entering NZ was incredibly friendly, however, which made it bearable. Just.

Engine & snowfields

Engine & snowfields
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This was the first pic I took on our New Zealand trip. The engine of this Boeing 777 is as big as the fuselage of the planes we usually go on hols in. Below us stretched miles and miles of frozen Poland/Ukraine/other inhospitable-looking places. Amazing!I've just been Skyped by Ewan, just off to work as I prepare to eat curry - another disorientating incident.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Blogging upside-down

Well that's what I feel like - though it could just be the jet lag! What a lo-o-o-ng flight to get here (here is New Zealand) - over the miles of snow in Poland and Ukraine (I think!), then the incredible sight of Dubai from the air; the almost more incredible sight of Dubai airport the next morning; the enormity of the Indian Ocean and the eternity of Austalia (I was getting tired by then); the strange meal served between Sydney (where I was relieved of a nail file which no-one in Glasgow or Dubai seemed to care about)and Christchurch; the last bouncy flight in a turbo-prop down to Queenstown ....

They are mega fussy in NZ about what you bring with you. Food, seeds, nuts - and mud. Yes, mud. I had to unpack my hiking boots and show the nice man how clean they were. (They were too - John scrubbed the soles for me) He *was* a nice man; I was simply stressed about not missing the connection.

And now we're here. I've seen the sun move across the sky in the wrong direction, and I've just seen Orion upside down. That's why I feel upside down too. But if I manage something with my photos and my host's laptop I'll blog a pic or two. Right now I'm for my bed - and it's lunchtime in the UK. Wow.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

High-flying herons

I think Spring might happen - what a great day! At the moment the sky is the most wonderful pink colour behind our house, though the North-eastern view from the front is grey and misty once more. It's been sunny all afternoon, and for the first time I discovered the heronry in Kilmun Arboretum. Usually we drive past the enormously tall trees, but today the car park area was closed off and we had to leave the car in the road below and walk up.

I thought at first there was a dog yelping on the hillside above us, but a quick phonecall to the more bird-savvy Di established that this raucous noise came from a heron, somewhere high above us among the trees. Sure enough, one appeared, circled lazily, and returned to cover. But later, as we came down again, there was the most hellish din from another stand of conifers as a visiting heron from the left of the path was chased off a treetop by a resident of the right-hand side. It was amazing to see these two huge birds flapping about in such an unlikely fashion - and just as extraodinary to watch the victor return to perch triumphant on the swaying top branches of the disputed tree.

I didn't have my camera - it's sitting with the other NZ-bound gubbins in case I forget it. Damn.

Friday, February 03, 2006

New Blog on the Block

I'm delighted to find that I still have some effect on my former pupils, and to announce the arrival on the blogging scene of Duffy, who put up with me for - I think - 4 years of English classes plus the surpervision of an out-of-school Higher English course. He wasn't exactly one of the disaffected, but you'll see from his response to the previous post that he learned how to stop worrying and love textual analysis! I'm linking here because I ran into trouble trying to add any more links to my sidebar - is there a limit on Blogger to the number of items you can list?

I was also thinking how good it would be - in an anarchic sort of a way - if there was an ongoing open blog by the class I abandoned halfway through Standard Grade (that's what it feels like). I could add my tuppenceworth - and express scepticism, perhaps, at some of the policies currently in favour? Maybe not. After all, we all like to be able to close the door and be Superteacher, don't we?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Teaching of Literature

Been teaching this afternoon - not in school, but my private pupil who comes in at 4pm for tuition. I was reflecting on how easy it is for me still to slip back into Standard Grade Critical Essay mode - and also what a long time it took me to arrive at this stage, where everything seems clear, when I know just what to look for in a piece of literature and - just as important - how to communicate that effectively to a tired adolescent.

I had been teaching for several years before I knew, for example, what to do with a short story. Poems were a bit different, because you could spend more time simply decoding them. But what could you do with a story other than read it? Actually, it was my increasing interest in poetry, brought about, I think, by the introduction of Critical Analysis into the Higher Exam, that sharpened my skills in the study of prose. Certainly over the last 15 years of my career I came to believe that if I could show my pupils how a poem worked, so that they could "do it for themselves" with any poem, then they would be better able to tackle any part of the English syllabus at any level. Even Higher Interp. papers became less mysterious when the pupils saw that all these questions were just another facet of the same process. It was one of the most rewarding aspects of the job to see a class wrangling over what the writer was *actually* meaning when he/she wrote something - especially when the class consisted of mixed ability S3 boys with a reputation for trouble-making.

And of course I can now see that blogging would fit into this sort of activity very well, as I proposed in an earlier post. But part of me would miss the buzz of overhearing the voices and the unmistakable and authentic note of enthusiasm for a subject that too often produces groans or indifference.

And a last thought: when I returned to teaching after 8 years of being a full-time Earth Mother, I found the English Department full of brightly-covered paperback anthologies, and far too many poems and extracts that frankly were not worth spending time on - let along the weeks proposed by the new rage for "units". I still think there is a tendency in some quarters to teach pap instead of "real" literature, especially to younger pupils. I don't know how teachers can be bothered - because I don't see how anyone can work up any enthusiasm for second-rate writing. And if the teacher ain't enthusiastic, there's little hope for the weans!

And now - back to the packing .......