Minto and the trip to South Africa

So I think it would have been nice if John Minto had been included in the trip to South Africa, he is a key figure in our history regarding that country. However, it is right that John Key attends as a mark of respect from NZ. What I do have an issue with is John Key not having the guts to say what his views on the 81 Springbok tour were at the time. We need to move on but we need to be honest. I want a PM who has views and the balls to state them!

Paris Pt 2

So it's my last night in Paris and I thought I would jot down some more thoughts after another two days in the place. Tomorrow I head to London and no doubt that will again swamp me with a different experience, so I want to get this down. I always knew 5 days in Paris would not be enough to really do the place justice and this evening I am definitely feeling that is so. However, I feel I have made the best of my time here and given it a jolly good go.

Since my last post I have visited the Musee D'Orsay, the Galeries Lafayette, Bastille, the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery. I have been busy,

Musee D'Orsay is far more manageable than the Louvre and can be done in a day. I also found the atmosphere in the place very relaxing and a great environment for viewing art. The collections are stunning, with the Rodin sculptures and the impressive Impressionist collection of particular note. The also have a very impressive Van Gogh collection and I was stunned to view this up close. Van Gogh is probably my favourite artist. I find the raw emotion in this brush and palette work impressive and I get a real kick out of seeing his up close. Also, they had a very interesting exhibition called Masculin which was dedicated to the male nude through history. It took in painting, sculpture and photography. It was interesting, at times confronting and often amusing. There were a lot of cocks in that place.

If you have been to Paris and not been to the Galeries Lafayette, you are definitely missing something. This is a serious shopping precinct. It takes in 3 buildings (as far as I could work out) and the most impressive of these has an amazing dome in it. Every label in fashion, perfume and anything else you can think of is there. The place was bloody humming on a Saturday too. It was almost too much, but I enjoyed wandering around taking it all in. A small but of shopping was done and then I had lunch at a cool little wonton place on the roof where you could also look out over Paris.

I finally made it up the Eiffel Tower this morning. This was my only tour of the trip. It seemed the easiest way to get in quickly and it certainly was that. The passage up to the first level was very quick as we bypassed the throngs of people waiting. Jesus it was bitterly cold up there though. Outside, in the wind was just miserable, yet hundreds of people were clambering to get up the tower come hell or high water. The guide was interesting, funny, a bit of a raconteur and he has plenty of interesting stuff about the tower of the city of Paris. I will admit though, it was so cold at height, that I was actually glad to get out of it all and down. Still what a view, what an amazing piece of architecture and what a city.

I don't really have words to describe Montmartre, it's a really interesting, vibrant and weird place. Probably also one of the coolest I have been. I emerged from the Metro, to see a squabble between a woman and one of the gypsy men who were doing the gambling games in the alleys. I moved with the throngs past the stores, gambling, food and general craziness and made my way up towards Sacre Ceour.

At this point I would like to thank all the people who briefed me about Paris and what to watch out for. I had a great technique in place for moving about Paris unhassled and it has worked perfectly. It certainly was useful at Montmartre.

I have good and bad to say about Sacre Ceour, and more really how it is. Let's start with the good. Oh what a church. Boy it is a stunning building, full of lovely atmosphere. It's very similar to Notre Dame in the mix of sightseers with little regard for sanctity and the devoted having deep religious experiences. I actually think it is a better church to be inside than Notre Dame. It felt more personal. The dome is beautiful.

After being inside I went up the Dome. This was an amazing experience, because hardly anyone goes up the 300 steps and so for the first time in Montmartre and Sacre Ceour I was not surrounded by people. I found myself picking my way across steps on the open roof of the church and then up into the dome. Boy what a view! Stunning and every bit as moving as inside. The views over Paris were amazing. After that I went down into the Crypt. Again, hardly anyone was there. There is basically another whole church underneath with numerous chapels and alters. Again, a moving testament to religion and how people are affected by it.

Now the bad, it's not Sacre Ceour itself, but they way people treat it. There are many steps up to Scare Ceour and all along the way people are trying to plait bracelets onto your arm. I used my patented, frown, hands in the pockets, French sounding "Non" to great effect. Then there is the bad souvenirs, topped by the guy playing very loud covers of Tracey Chapman and the like on the steps while the masses sit around the listen. This to me removes some of the sacred nature of the place. Yes it's all very Montmartre, but I think it's a bit distasteful in this place. A whole industry as risen around the masses going to see the church and it kind of detracts from the journey up to the church. I am conscious that I am sounding like an old fuddy duddy and I am not even religious, so I am going to move on.

After I left Montmartre I made my way by Metro to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. This place is famous for being the resting place of many great figures like Chopin, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. But actually, it's just a bloody stunning cemetery full of amazing tombs and crypts. It's also huge. I loved wandering around in this history, these amazing tombs and crypts. Of course I visited Jim Morrison (quite a small and unassuming grave) and Oscar Wilde's (anything but small and unassuming grave). WIlde's grave had been so graffitied by people that it had to be restored and is now protected by glass. There are still some actually quite lovely kiss marks on it from some adoring fans)

So, as my time comes to an end in Paris, I am feeling satisfied, in awe and quite fond of the place. I will definitely come back as I need to give this place more time. As a non French speaking person I have in the end found the place ok. Most French I encountered when you said 'Anglaise' will happily work with you in some form of English. In fact, most of them are just a bit worried about the fact that they won't know the words. It's hard speaking in someone else's language, I think they have a right to want you to speak at least a little of there's. I have had enough to get by and at least get going. The ability to say hello, please, thank you and goodbye gets you a long way.

And with that Au revior ...

Paris Pt 1

After two full days in Paris, I thought I would jot down some thoughts. The problem is really, where to begin... I will admit, that when I arrived into Paris on the Thalys from Brussels, I hit a bit of culture shock. I had emerged from the train having left a culture that spoke pretty good English on the whole and well Brugge was a smallish place. Paris, is anything but small and certainly not an English speaking city.

I wandered around the station a bit for a while just trying to work out what the hell to do. Finally, I found an information booth, resolved I needed a taxi, and decided to sit down, have some food and catch my breath.

Now if I needed some reinforcement that I was in Paris, this was a great reminder. I sat down and waited, and waited, and waited... Wait staff passing by not paying me any notice. Finally I reached across to another table and grabbed a menu from it and decided what I wanted to eat and drink. I waited... and waited.... excusez-moi I said loudly and one of the staff immediately acknowledged my presence. I indicated I would have the Cheese Burger (the place outside indicated they did good burgers) and was immediately told they were not doing burgers before the waiter gestured at another part of the menu and walked off. I was flummoxed, I will admit. I pulled myself together and decided on the Croque Monsieur and and Orangina. I of course waited and he never came back, I ended up calling out excusez-moi and getting my food. It was actually nice and well a good reminder that I was in Paris. "You gotta be bold boy"

The culture shock did not stop for me there either. The line for the taxi was enormous, it was raining, but the line was covered, the taxi driver spoke basically no English and the traffic was horrid. However, I had some good moments. Like when he talked to me in French about how the person he had just been talking to out the window was his brother-in-law and I actually understood him. They had pulled up beside each other at the lights. Coincidence I said, "Oui, coincidence" he replied.

The story gets better however, he drops me off and I realise the B and B I am staying in is in an apartment block, with 3 towers. But which one do I go into and how? I rummaged through my papers and found the sheet from the booking. Tower 1, Gonse. I found that name pushed the bell, something inaudible came through the intercom and I heard the door unlock. I knew I was headed for the 4th floor, so I hoped into the strangest old lift ever and up I went. An old lady greeted me at the door and indicated immediately that she spoke no English. Hmmmm.... However, we got by, she showed me the place, indicated this and that and proceeded to give me some instructions on how to get to this and that. All done in French at a million miles an hour mind you. I did however get the gist and well save to say I have been functioning in Paris ever since. In truth after my initial internal panic, I am loving living with an old French couple for 5 days. I have had the best view into life in an apartment in Paris.

With all that said and done, I am here. What about Paris? What about Paris indeed. What a city. It's big and its busy. It's steeped in its' history and its' history is all around you. You cannot help but be wowed by the history in those palaces and grand buildings which are just everywhere. I have never been to or seen a place quite like this. A drive through central Paris (and why anyone would by choice drive through central Paris is beyond me) leaves you with your mouth open. So much opulence, so much gold, so big, so much history.

I also get the feeling that while the average Parisian is rather blasé about the history around them, Paris itself does not take this stuff for granted. It's history is part of the blood that flows through the veins of Paris and I suspect keeps it alive. Remove the history from Paris and you would be left with a large, dirty and a bit unfriendly town. However, instead you have a magnificent testimony to imperial France and the many centuries of opulence and struggle it has experienced.

The Eiffel Tower deserves a paragraph to itself. This really is a stunning thing. By day, the size and intricacy of the metal work are beautiful and astounding. By night, it shines beautifully like a beacon. A symbol of Paris and of France, over what they do so rightly call, the city of lights. I did fall in love when I saw it lit up at night. Part of that is it is so famous and a symbol, but it also is just so beautiful. I'm in Paris was all I could think.

So, while I definitely had some culture shock on arrival, I can confidently say I am loving Paris. It's a lovely city with little surprises around every corner. On my way to Shakespeare and Company (the quaint long lasting English language bookstore at Paris's heart) I stumbled upon a medieval church which just left me humbled. Grand, but not like Notre Dame, ancient, with so much devotion and peace within its' walls. I could have passed it by, but instead I walked in and was immediately touched by it.

The Louvre is enormous. Truly enormous and really too much to take in in one go. I spent around 4 hours there and had gallery burnout. I saw the "big" stuff like the Venus de Milo, the Raft of the Medusa and of course the Mona Lisa. What strikes me as such a shame about the Mona Lisa, is that it is a famous piece and so protected that I think its magic is lost. You cannot get close enough to it to really understand its significance, the atmosphere is not conducive to it anyway. Also, do people ever understand why it is so important. I would suspect not.

The Metro is fun and I don't find it confusing. The carriages on the #6 line to The Arc de Triomphe are quaint and feel like they have been the same since the 70's. Maybe they have. I always admire a city with a good mass transport system and Paris has it. But you need people for that and population density. Hint, hint Auckland.

Lastly for now, I have been having such fun in restaurants in the evening. Just going on, ordering some food, and watching Parisians. Last night I found myself sitting beside two French women who were having a conversation about boyfriend troubles. I was listening in, fighting the urge to give advice, when I realised I could understand them. I could understand them because they were speaking in English with beautiful French accents. The accents had made me miss the fact that they were not speaking French. Gotta love the French.

I could go on, but really I will just be saying the same thing in different ways. Two days in and with two days to go, Paris is an amazing, interesting and captivating city which is steeped in its history and that is what makes it such an amazing place to visit.

Brugge

It's early morning and I am awake, Brugge is not. So I thought I would jot down some thoughts on this place since I am off to Paris today and I will soon be overtaken with thoughts and emotions of that place. Brugge marked the real start of my holiday and it has been an amazing experience. I could not have asked for a better first place to begin. Gentle and quite slow, but still with a firm tourism focus so I was not like a fish out of water.

When I first arrived I was a bit shocked by how many tourists there were here and how many tourist shops there were. I have no idea why on reflection, but I guess in my head I had imagined I was going to a place not that many people go to. Let me say, lots of tourists come here, yet, the place is not a Queenstown where the only discernible identity is tourism. Rather this is a place in touch with its identity and history and making a living from it.

The history here is amazing. The old city is still in existence and you can walk its cobbled streets past old old houses still full of life and no doubt modernised inside. The centre is full of amazing and very grand buildings. These were the first of this type I had seen and seeing them and indeed going inside them bought more than one tear to my eye. Between here and Amsterdam I have walked into some amazing old churches. However, here, was the first time I walked into a still functional and still very operational Cathedral. OMG the vastness and ornate nature of these buildings was something I was not prepared for. I can understand for the first time how people can be religious in a place like these. They are truly monuments and testimonies to human kinds relationship to the divine. The awe of organised religion and God was never more real or understandable than in these places.

Walk outside the Centrum and down the streets of the old city and you have a completely different experience. The tourists throng around the Markt Square and surrounding areas. Two streets across and you are in quiet cobbled streets with people going about their lives. This is one of the things I most value about a visit to a city or town. To get the feel for what life is like. It must be an amazing experience to live your life in these ancient streets. The cobbles and houses mean you are surrounded by history. Yet, I am sure you forget all that when it is your daily reality. The children going to school, the old lady washing her windows, the delivery truck, the oh so elegant woman biking to work.

At night the city is even more quiet outside of the main square and I love this. I have spent two nights here and both nights just wandered empty cobbled streets enjoying my time alone in this remarkably special place. Not once did i feel scared or frightened on these streets even though I was very alone and sometimes a little confused as to where I was.

I have visited quite a few places, but if someone was coming here I would recommend the following. Groeningemuseum (amazing examples of Flemish art), Sint-Janshospitaal (former place for the sick, infirm and needy with an amazing medical history), O.L.V.-ter-Potterie (another former hospital with an amazing chapel inside), Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (an amazing church with huge vastness and a stunning Michelangelo over the alter, and of course the Belfry (well worth the climb!) Also, if I have not made it clear, just walk those streets!

Brugge is also a brilliant place for an monolingual English speaker like myself. Everyone pretty much understands English and most will happily converse with you in it. Only the old ladies on the back streets will not reply in English and really that is part of their charm. I even managed to post a parcel home at the postoffice which was a remarkable achievement when all the signs were in Flemish.

So in closing, Brugge has left an impression on me and i would happily return here and live in an apartment for a few weeks to really experience the place. Without Flemish/Dutch it will always be difficult to get really inside the place, but this is a place where you can just be.

Brugge

It's early morning and I am awake, Brugge is not. So I thought I would jot down some thoughts on this place since I am off to Paris today and I will soon be overtaken with thoughts and emotions of that place. Brugge marked the real start of my holiday and it has been an amazing experience. I could not have asked for a better first place to begin. Gentle and quite slow, but still with a firm tourism focus so I was not like a fish out of water.

When I first arrived I was a bit shocked by how many tourists there were here and how many tourist shops there were. I have no idea why on reflection, but I guess in my head I had imagined I was going to a place not that many people go to. Let me say, lots of tourists come here, yet, the place is not a Queenstown where the only discernible identity is tourism. Rather this is a place in touch with its identity and history and making a living from it.

The history here is amazing. The old city is still in existence and you can walk its cobbled streets past old old houses still full of life and no doubt modernised inside. The centre is full of amazing and very grand buildings. These were the first of this type I had seen and seeing them and indeed going inside them bought more than one tear to my eye. Between here and Amsterdam I have walked into some amazing old churches. However, here, was the first time I walked into a still functional and still very operational Cathedral. OMG the vastness and ornate nature of these buildings was something I was not prepared for. I can understand for the first time how people can be religious in a place like these. They are truly monuments and testimonies to human kinds relationship to the divine. The awe of organised religion and God was never more real or understandable than in these places.

Walk outside the Centrum and down the streets of the old city and you have a completely different experience. The tourists throng around the Markt Square and surrounding areas. Two streets across and you are in quiet cobbled streets with people going about their lives. This is one of the things I most value about a visit to a city or town. To get the feel for what life is like. It must be an amazing experience to live your life in these ancient streets. The cobbles and houses mean you are surrounded by history. Yet, I am sure you forget all that when it is your daily reality. The children going to school, the old lady washing her windows, the delivery truck, the oh so elegant woman biking to work.

At night the city is even more quiet outside of the main square and I love this. I have spent two nights here and both nights just wandered empty cobbled streets enjoying my time alone in this remarkably special place. Not once did i feel scared or frightened on these streets even though I was very alone and sometimes a little confused as to where I was.

I have visited quite a few places, but if someone was coming here I would recommend the following. Groeningemuseum (amazing examples of Flemish art), Sint-Janshospitaal (former place for the sick, infirm and needy with an amazing medical history), O.L.V.-ter-Potterie (another former hospital with an amazing chapel inside), Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (an amazing church with huge vastness and a stunning Michelangelo over the alter, and of course the Belfry (well worth the climb!) Also, if I have not made it clear, just walk those streets!

Brugge is also a brilliant place for an monolingual English speaker like myself. Everyone pretty much understands English and most will happily converse with you in it. Only the old ladies on the back streets will not reply in English and really that is part of their charm. I even managed to post a parcel home at the postoffice which was a remarkable achievement when all the signs were in Flemish.

So in closing, Brugge has left an impression on me and i would happily return here and live in an apartment for a few weeks to really experience the place. Without Flemish/Dutch it will always be difficult to get really inside the place, but this is a place where you can just be.

The Battle of Hastings by Marriott Edgar

I have always loved this poem since my Classics lecturer (Charles Manning) recited it at a Classics evening

The Battle of Hastings

I'll tell of the Battle of Hastings, As happened in days long gone by, When Duke William became King of England, And 'Arold got shot in the eye.

It were this way - one day in October The Duke, who were always a toff Having no battles on at the moment, Had given his lads a day off.

They'd all taken boats to go fishing, When some chap in t' Conqueror's ear Said 'Let's go and put breeze up the Saxons;' Said Bill - 'By gum, that's an idea.'

Then turning around to his soldiers, He lifted his big Nonnan voice, Shouting - 'Hands up who's coming to England.' That was swank 'cos they hadn't no choice.

They started away about tea-time - The sea was so calm and so still, And at quarter to ten the next morning They arrived at a place called Bexhill.

King 'Arold came up as they landed - His face full of venom and 'ate - He said 'lf you've come for Regatta You've got here just six weeks too late.'

At this William rose, cool but 'aughty, And said 'Give us none of your cheek; You'd best have your throne re-upholstered, I'll be wanting to use it next week.'

When 'Arold heard this 'ere defiance, With rage he turned purple and blue, And shouted some rude words in Saxon, To which William answered - 'And you.'

'Twere a beautiful day for a battle; The Normans set off with a will, And when both sides was duly assembled, They tossed for the top of the hill.

King 'Arold he won the advantage, On the hill-top he took up his stand, With his knaves and his cads all around him, On his 'orse with his 'awk in his 'and.

The Normans had nowt in their favour, Their chance of a victory seemed small, For the slope of the field were against them, And the wind in their faces an' all.

The kick-off were sharp at two-thirty, And soon as the whistle had went Both sides started banging each other 'Til the swineherds could hear them in Kent.

The Saxons had best line of forwards, Well armed both with buckler and sword - But the Normans had best combination, And when half-time came neither had scored.

So the Duke called his cohorts together And said - 'Let's pretend that we're beat, Once we get Saxons down on the level We'll cut off their means of retreat.'

So they ran - and the Saxons ran after, Just exactly as William had planned, Leaving 'Arold alone on the hill-top On his 'orse with his 'awk in his 'and.

When the Conqueror saw what had happened, A bow and an arrow he drew; He went right up to 'Arold and shot him. He were off-side, but what could they do?

The Normans turned round in a fury, And gave back both parry and thrust, Till the fight were all over bar shouting, And you couldn't see Saxons for dust.

And after the battle were over They found 'Arold so stately and grand, Sitting there with an eye-full of arrow On his 'orse with his 'awk in his 'and.

Marriott Edgar

Reflections on caring for a pet and losing one

It's a strange thing to hold in your arms a cat that has been with you for 11 or 12 years, while someone injects them with a lethal drug which you know will kill them in the next minute or two. To feel the tension in their body, as they know something is being done to them, and tell them calmly it will be ok. To urge them to relax and feel them slowly slump down. Their eyes looking at you for comfort. To place your hand on their chest and feel the breaths get slower and slower as they lay down, and then one final breath before nothing. I faced this this week in the way that all responsible pet carers do. I say pet carers, as I don't believe you ever own an animal, you are just lucky enough to have it your life, give it love, shelter and care and in return receive the blessings they bring. It was and always is a huge moment of conflict for me, to hold an animal that relies on me for protection, as someone takes their life. Yet, in the case of an animal like Grasshopper who had cancer, had stopped eating and was literally wasting away, it really was the lesser of two evils. He could not understand what was going on, instinctively came to me for protection to help him, and in the end I did the only thing could do to help him, and that was not not let him suffer.

None of this, of course makes it any easier to do nor reflect on afterwards. I think watching something die must be one of the worst experiences you can ever have, and yet it is only by facing this, that we get the reality check of what it means to be alive and how special this is. It is only through loving and losing, that we know how truly lucky we are to feel, breathe and be.

I am trying to look on Grasshoppers passing as the beginning of a period of remembrance and a reminder to appreciate what it means to be alive.

Blogging every day of June - Blog 28 - Wine

So, I like wine. Do you like wine? I am a big fan of not only the taste and sensation of drinking it, but also the experience of wine. Wine, good wine, takes over the senses. It titillates the olfactory senses and takes you on a journey. I love the fact that when I drink a good wine, I can taste the environment it grew in and what the wine maker did with the wine. I also love the fact that you can experience so many flavours and aromas. That I can taste the farmyard, the sweaty saddle, pepper, blackberry, petrol, kerosene, butter and vanilla.

Wine descriptors. Wanky or do they work for you?