Feverish anticipation is a must before fully enjoying any event, and counting the sleeps is well under way for 2010 New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Week at the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

I’m going to lots of events, but full fandom is reserved for Neil Gaiman (overseas division), Don McGlashan (domestic) and The Arrival (Australian).

With Gaiman it’s the writer as phenomenon aspect that’s really interesting. Sure he’s written some great books, but so have lots of other writers.

But this is the man the New Yorker called  Kid Goth in one of those hugely long stories you only get if you’re a really big deal; the man who is engaged to Amanda Palmer, the man who smiled proudly on the red carpet at the Golden Globes while she changed her knickers and stayed good natured (“it is a very good thing for a shy author to have a famous and extroverted fiancee”) when captioned as her ‘friend’ even though he was there for Coraline.

Twenty years of The Sandman. Will the Town Hall be full of “twee bisexual Goth Girls with BPD who are drama majors and who are destined to become cat ladies”? I can only hope – they sound like my kind of crowd.

Don McGlashan is above such base concerns; he’ll just be great,  he always is. Strictly speaking he’s not part of Writers and Readers but he wrote most of the wonderful words he’ll be singing and that counts.

The Arrival is also a performance but it’s based on a book, so that counts too.  Four years ago at the Festival Shaun Tan, the narrative artist and “West Australian wunderkind”, spoke about the book he was working on.  It was to be something new, based on archival photographs of immigrants in the twentieth century. That book was The Arrival and it is a masterpiece of graphic art. If the stage adaptation is half as good as the book it should be overwhelming.

As for the rest of them, this year I’m attending as a person rather than a librarian so it’s going to be trivia all the way, none of this worthy stuff about writing methods and how  long they write each day or where they do it or when.

It’ll be what they’re wearing, how old their author photos are, the relative  corkiness and screwiness of their corkscrew curls (Neil Gaiman and Kate de Goldi – curl off. My money’s on de Goldi who outcurled Margaret Atwood).

And that’s just the authors. Equally enjoyable are the insidious comparisons between the Wellington,  Auckland and Christchurch audiences. Best-dressed? Best mannered? Worst mannered? Best male-female ratio? Youngest? Most matching/confounding of stereotypes?

Also the awarding of imaginary awards for the most pompous question, the most nakedly ambitious question, the best “it’s all about me” question and the question that takes longer than the answer.

Will they have a festival T-shirt?

Healthy books

I have read 3 non-fiction books about health in just 2 weeks. Sweet poisonThat’s an amazing feat for me but they were interesting and relevant so I kept going.

The one that’s doing the rounds is Sweet Poison by David Gillespie. It’s about sugar and how it has become the white death of western society. Sweet Poison does a fantastic job of explaining how sugar is involved in the demise of good health and is a classic example of corporate food technology overtaking basic healthy eating.

We have now somehow become lumbered with a health system focused on sickness rather than health and the numbers on waiting lists for major operations just keep growing. There is an old saying that goes something along the lines of, if they didn’t eat it 100 years ago then chances are it might not be good food. Wouldn’t it be cool if supermarkets could try selling more real food and stop saturating their shelves with sugar-flavoured substitutes. Try taking a 4-year old to the supermarket! It’s really hard work having to say no all the time!

But to help remember that we aren’t all subject to corporate food technology schemes and that we can actually make healthy choices for ourselves, try reading New Zealand author and healer Franchelle Ofsoske-Wyber and her book The Sacred Plant Medicine of Aotearoa . It tells of the amazing power of New Zealand native plant healing properties. You don’t have to read it cover to cover, just pick out the most relevant bits.

Try these links, or perhaps even suggest another author you have come across who knows an easy tip to staying healthy:

Who on earth was Ray Blank?

It’s a name that might suit a Bond movie – Blank, Ray Blank. If you’ve ever played football in Christchurch, you’ll probably know that there’s a park named after this fellow – but who was he?

As part of our preparations for the Culture Galore festival in March, we’ve added a profile of Ray Blank to the library website.

Several colleagues have combined their efforts to search out information on the former principal and Waimairi County Councillor. Involved in many sports developments around the city, Ray Blank also designed golf courses, as well as pioneering the open air school concept.

He might not be as well-known as Bond, but he’s a fascinating character who made quite a contribution to Christchurch as we know it.  So on that note, which Christchurch person would you like to see a profile of on the library website? Any suggestions out there?

Culture Shock

Arriving on a cold, gloomy day, after spending four weeks at sea feeling seasick a lot of the time is probably not the best introduction to your new country!

It was the early sixties I was ten years old, and no-one had asked me if I wanted to leave my home, friends and family in Holland to live in New Zealand. One very vivid memory is watching as my cousins visited before our departure and were allowed to make their choice of my toys.

The only person in our family who spoke any English was my Father and we were totally left to our own devices. We eventually moved into rental accommodation, an old villa, huge by our standards, with a garden, something we had never had before.

The landlord, a Yugoslav, suggested I attend the local Catholic School, where he said the nuns would take good care of me. What a shock my first day at school was. Going from a very liberal school environment to one where the nuns ruled with an iron fist, was not easy. The nuns had decided to put me in the new entrants class to help me learn English. There I was, a very self-conscious 10 year old, sitting on a tiny chair, at a tiny table with 5 year olds I couldn’t understand. To make matters worse, I was dressed in my “dutch clothes”, standing out a mile from the other kids who were, of course in school uniform.

Some of my most vivid recollections? The wide, empty streets of Christchurch and the old cars. My Mum trying to communicate with the local butcher and grocer. The children at school and in the neighbourhood who befriended me. Pies in brown paper bags and fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Our early New Zealand camping holidays. The five of us and our camping gear packed into a Ford Anglia, setting up camp in a dry river bed on the West Coast and being washed out of our tent in the middle of the night.

There’s a lot more support around for immigrants to New Zealand today

Anyone else like to comment on their experiences of Culture Shock?