Cover for The day of the Jack RussellIt sometimes seems like St Patrick’s Day in New Zealand is yet another excuse to overindulge in beer – and green beer at that. Not a good idea as far as I’m concerned. Do you celebrate St Patrick’s Day? Do you know if you have Irish ancestry?

Before you join the ranks of the green beer drinkers you can find out if you have Irish in your family tree by visiting our great online resources like Find my past Ireland and the British Newspaper Archive.

For a small country, Ireland has had a great influence across the world as the Irish diaspora has spread through many countries. Music and language are the great passions of Ireland and from this has come a great stream of writers, lawyers, politicians and musicians both traditional and popular.

Though I claim no Irish roots, I’ve always loved the traditional music that has been popularized by such great groups as the Chieftains. So perhaps instead of green beer I’ll celebrate St Patrick’s Day by listening to the Chieftains, reading a poem by Yeats and having a laugh with the black humour of Colin Bateman.

UPDATE: Culture Galore has been cancelled. A Community Recreation Advisor reports the park is too sodden to allow vehicle access and vehicles could also cause major damage to the fields which are used for soccer over the winter.photo of Culture Galore

Culture Galore is almost here again, with the annual festival being held on Saturday March 8, 12-4pm. I love this free Christchurch City Council event. It has grown over the years from a few food stalls to a great afternoon out for the family.

It’s a wonderful bringing together of the large variety of cultural groups in our fair city, and you can listen to music, watch dances from over twenty groups and eat tasty food from around the world. There are also crafts and other items to buy from around the globe.

There are also workshops throughout the afternoon, where you can learn anything from dancing from Macedonia, TaiChi and Morris Dancing – bells and hankies  included. These photographs of past Culture Galore events from our Flickr will give you more than a taste of what could be on offer.

I also love that is a suburban event, nestled in Ray Blank Park, the well ‘treed’ Ilam park on Maidstone Road. Most of the year it’s home to dog walkers, soccer teams and a good many cricket games (I know, I’ve watched a few), but for an afternoon in March it explodes with the colours, sights and sounds and smells of the United Nations.

As an aside, and shameless plug, be there before 12.40pm, and you’ll also get to see a great world music choir, Women in Harmony perform some songs on the stage, and there will be at least two Christchurch City Librarians in amongst the group – I wonder if you will be able to pick them? No, we won’t be wearing a twinset and pearls!

After the summer’s trials of cool weather and lack of rain, my tomatoes are still not ripe and I have had to rescue the wilting hydrangeas on more than one occasion. So where else after this indifferent summer in the garden should I go but to the delights of the Ellerslie Flower Show to refresh my spirit.

Cover of the Ornamental Edible GardenNow is the time to remind ourselves that gardening is not all work and no play, but rather a chance to create a place for our own enjoyment. As the summer draws closer to its end we can sit back and take time to enjoy the spoils of our labour.

All that work weeding, staking and deadheading is to create a place of beauty where we can take time to rest and recuperate at the end of a busy week. The Ellerslie garden designers have created plenty of those places that make the spirit soar and imagination take flight.

Every small patch of ground can become an urban utopia for your sensual delight and a little knowledge can go a long way, so I have taken to browsing the library shelves for inspiration for my own little plot. Could my vegetable and herb garden be a visual delight like the potager at the Curator’s House in the Botanic Gardens?

Or my deck showcase hypertufa pots decorated with rescued broken china? Ideas for creative planters, pots and bird baths abound in the landscaping and DIY sections of the library, and give you the practical nous to fulfill your dreams of what might be. Never mind that my herb garden has already had two attempts at redevelopment and the ingredients for hypertufa have been languishing in the garage for several years!

I have found more inspiration in our Zinio online gardening magazines.

Cover of Gardening AustraliaCover of Homes & GardensCover of The Kitchen Garden

Do you have any garden projects planned this autumn? What projects are languishing in your garden shed? Have you tried Zinio magazines yet?

Find out more about the Ellerslie Flower Show and garden resources here and view our flickr photos of previous Ellerslie shows.

Throughout the first weekend of March, central Christchurch will resonate with an exciting programme of sonic art installations, workshops, sound walks and performances at Audacious, Canterbury’s first ever Festival of Sonic Art.

As both a festival artist and organiser I am very excited about this event and the fantastic range of artworks, activities and experiences Audacious will bring to the city. My own work, Sunburners will be installed on the bank of the Avon River on Oxford Terrace between Hereford and Cashel Streets. It utilizes simple solarbots to tap out minimal but constantly shifting rhythmic patterns as the solarbots speed up and slow down relative to the amount of sunlight shining on them.

This gives the work both an uncanny life of its own and some fun interactive potential as the audience can slow down the solarbots individually by casting shadows on them. The sonic characteristics of the work are very different depending on the levels of sunlight so that in dim weather it is quite subdued and delicate while in full, bright sunshine it becomes rather loud and very fast and furious. I’m crossing my fingers for mostly good weather with a bit of variety in cloud cover for best results.

Sunburners Study by Adam Willetts

Sunburners Study by Adam Willetts

Information from Audacious:

Highlights include A Folded Path the pedestrian symphony created specifically for the streets of Christchurch by UK artists, Circumstance; a water sound sculpture created by Chris Reddington and Tom Phillpotts (Christchurch); solar powered sonic sculptures on the banks of the River Avon by Adam Willetts (Christchurch); sonic glass rods made by Alastair Galbraith (Dunedin) that can be played by passersby and the lost sounds of the city returned, such as the Cathedral Bells, by Stanier Black-Five (Christchurch).

There’s also a chance to get hand/ears-on at the series of sonic workshops over the weekend: from building and playing Taonga Puoro/Traditional Maori instruments, with local experts Tony Smith (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu – Kāti Irakehu) and Geoff Low (Christchurch) to building your own synthesizer with Nicolas Woollaston (Christchurch). There are also a number of sessions specifically designed for children, such as those led by sound artist and science educator, Dr Claire Pannell (Australia) who will be exploring how we hear and helping children build sound making instruments to take home, and sound based story sessions with experimental guitarist and former Christchurch City Libraries Storytimes star, Greg Malcolm (Christchurch).

For full festival details and booking information visit audacious.org.nz


dragonIn the weekend, we took the kids along to the Lantern Festival in Hagley Park. This was a first for me, even though the festival has been going for several years now.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting…something a bit more than a few lanterns strung between the trees I guess, but not the beautiful, elaborate lanterns in the shape of animals, dragons and Ming vases. They were (in the words of the Young Lad) “very awesome!” even in the early evening light.

The lion and dragon dancers were wonderful, it was great to see them dancing through the crowd. The kids especially enjoyed the fireworks and their helium balloons. Although my family of gastronomic neophobes didn’t try the Asian cuisine, if the queues were anything to go by the food was great too. I’d say it was definitely worth the fight for a carpark!

cover of Norwegian by nighTraditionally Christmas is about friends and family, but spare a thought for those who are alone on Christmas day. For them the whole season can be laced with sadness. For the elderly whose friends and family have all gone, the bereaved , solo travellers, or people away from home, Christmas is a reminder of what is not there.

Surprisingly though some have mastered the art of being alone on Christmas day and see it as time out in a busy life, perhaps spending it catching up on rest, eating good food and reading. If you think this might be you, then here’s some reading and viewing suggestions.

Books and DVDs with a Christmas theme:

  • Merry Christmas Mr Bean – Mr Bean needs no introduction and he’ll make you laugh.
  • Joyeux Noel – The Western Front, December 1914. War is raging and heavy casualties have been sustained to both sides. A bloody battle of one of the most savage wars, but out of the chaos and slaughter, a miracle takes form; on Christmas Day, the soldiers of both sides meet in No Man’s Land and celebrate festivities
  • I’m half sick of shadows -  A cozy mystery set in 1950s England that has some delightful characters and will make you chuckle. It is set over the Christmas period and the young heroine is obsessed with the idea of capturing Father Christmas.
  • A highland Christmas – A Hamish McBeth mystery. In the dark, wintry highlands of Lochdubh, Scotland, where the local Calvinist element resists the secular trimmings of Christmas, the spirit of Old St. Nick is about as welcome as a flat tire on a deserted road. Nor is crime taking a holiday and Constable Hamish Macbeth soon finds himself on the job.
  • The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx  – Biography of Motley Crue singer John Corabi. To be fair this has nothing to do with Christmas and I have no idea what its like, but here’s a quote from it  “There is something about spending Christmas alone, naked, sitting by the Christmas tree gripping a shotgun, that lets you know your life is spinning dangerously outta control.” I don’t know about you but I feel better about my Christmas already.

Books and DVDs that will keep you absorbed all day:

  • The Bridge – A woman is found murdered in the middle of Oresund Bridge, exactly on the border between Sweden and Denmark.
  • The Killing – In the course of 20 gripping days we follow leads and observe the consequences of a heinous crime that seem to ramify throughout Copenhagen. As the investigation unfolds, Copenhagen opens up like a Chinese box, full of secrets and power struggles.
  • The Luminaries – our very own Booker Prize winner. Need I say more?

Some light-hearted and entertaining books from 2013

Cover of HomesickI check in to The Homesick Hotel every Christmas. And I am not alone.

My yearning for family, always subtly present, reaches a crescendo on Christmas Day itself: one red candle in front of my annually diminishing array of Christmas cards, a shtonking great bird in the middle of the table, two Christmas crackers, two paper hats, one nervous looking husband and a glass of champagne. There will be tears.

And you don’t have to be a migrant for homesickness to strike. In Christchurch there are folk homesick for Christmases that took place just down the road in the Red Zone, where they used to live. There are parents longing for Christmases that took place right where they are now, before the kids all left. Then there are those with  no homes and no families at all.

You are all welcome at The Homesick Hotel.

I check in with a full book bag (and if you haven’t yet got one of those, slap it on your Christmas list right now). Here’s what’s in my bag this year:

  • Homesick – a book of linked short stories by Roshi Fernando, an award-winning Sri Lankan writer living in London. The namesake story introduces thirty four characters (most with Sri Lankan names) in the first eighteen pages. I need to read the rest of the book to unravel what is going on.
  • The Goldfinch – I loved Donna Tartt‘s book The Secret History. This new novel is about an abandoned boy, a small painting and the art underworld – that should cheer me up!
  • A House Somewhere – this is an old favourite – a collection of excellent essays on living abroad, written by great writers like Isabelle Allende and William Dalrymple.
  • The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons, because it is about Art, Love, the Sixties and has a great title!

Back in 1977, The Eagles said of Hotel California:

You can check out anytime you like… but you can never leave

It’s the same at The Homesick Hotel, but reading does help. A lot. So, what will you pack in your book bag this festive season?

Like it or loathe it, Halloween is upon us once more. The journey of that old pagan tradition linked to the Northern hemisphere’s autumn festival of Samhain to its current 2 dollar shop plastic kitsch in this country (and others, to be fair) must be a tangled one. If lollies weren’t involved, would children still bother to dress up and go door to door? For a European perspective, you could try Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which will tell you far more than you thought you wanted to know about European pre-Christian mythology.

TCover of The Day of the deadhe idea of a celebration that includes dead family and friends doesn’t have to be morbid or a spooky one, as Halloween pretends to be. My favourite has to be the Mexican Day Of The Dead, which actually covers 3 days , from 31st October to 2nd November, and is celebrated with food, drink and remembering those who have passed away. Has to be better than Christmas Day with the in-laws, surely

Fendalton Library is having a Dia De Los Muertos display, from Friday 1st November, courtesy of Christchurch’s vibrant Mexican community; why not drop and have a look if you’re in the area? The library does have a book dedicated exclusively to El Dia De Los Muertos, if you wanted to find out more.

Since we’re heading into the festive season, why not check out the library resources on festivals.

cover for HalloweenI think I’m going to put on my crusty curmudgeon hat and say “I hate Halloween”. I’m the sort of person who when kids come trick or treating says “your costumes look neat but we don’t do Halloween here”.

Why? Well let’s start with:

  • When did we start celebrating Halloween? Only in the last 10 or 15 years when the chain stores realised there was a buck to be made. Then they started promoting it like it had always been a Kiwi thing.
  • Allegedly it’s a time for kids to have fun but really it seems more like a thing for adults. They are either having Halloween parties and dressing up, or they are dressing up their kids.
  • It represents the triumph of American culture – Halloween is very much an American tradition which we have seen in films and television.
  • In many parts of the world All Saints Day is a time to remember the dead – not scary ghouls but real people you loved and who have died. The commercial takeover seems crass.
  • Halloween rituals make sense in the northern hemisphere where bonfires and lanterns are light against the encroaching darkness of the long Northern winter. Not so much in springtime New Zealand where the days are lighter and longer.

How do you feel about Halloween?

cover for Celebrating the southern seasonsAn alternative to Halloween which is green and rooted in Aotearoa’s cycle of seasons and cultural influences is suggested: National Green Day. Perfect for high spring: planting rituals like getting your tomatoes in, planting and enjoying fragrant native plants, harvesting the ti (tea tree), the return of pipiwharauroa (the shining cuckoo), enjoying the song of the riroriro (grey warbler).

Anyway grumps over – if Halloween is your bag we have lots of stuff to help celebrate the day:

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey ChaucerOf weeping and wailing, care and other sorrow

I know enough, at eventide and morrow.
The Merchant, The Canterbury Tales

In a figurative sense, shoulders play an important role in our lives, with most of us at one point or another providing a shoulder on which to cry, or to lean. In more than one instance I have shouldered the blame and the burden, not to mention given out my fair share of cold shoulders and, on rare occasions, I have been known to put my shoulder to the grind.

It is only recently that I have taken on the role of a literal shoulder, which I will be doing this Labour Weekend as part of FESTA, the Festival of Transitional Architecture, which runs from 25th-28th October. FESTA is entering into its second year of making life in earthquake-damaged Christchurch exciting and vibrant by showcasing a wide variety of creative projects, with last year’s launch attracting 30,000 people back into the heart of a broken city still finding its bearings.

2012’s LUXCITY wowed residents and visitors alike with its wondrous light installations, and the centrepiece for 2013 also looks set to set many jaws agape in amazement. In an appropriately-appropriated re-telling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, an epicly-sized representation of The Merchant, who will be controlled by nine puppeteers, flanked by a handful of less-epic-but-still-very-impressive friars, will lead an eye-popping procession through the city, beginning at the Bridge of Remembrance and finishing in the Square. And yours truly will be playing the role of The Merchant’s right shoulder, lest you thought my introduction was mere padding.

The details are far too delicious to divulge, but in my rehearsal with the Free Theatre team I have been getting to grips with the fine art of replicating lust, resignation, and frustration via the medium of a bamboo pole attached to a billowy shoulder, which ranks high in the list of sentences I never imagined I’d type.

Getting FESTA puppets ready Getting FESTA puppets ready Getting FESTA puppets ready

The Canterbury Tales procession will be in full swing on the evenings of Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th October from 8:30pm onwards. We entreat you all to don your best carnival costumes, bring a tambourine or some maracas, and join in the festivities to help us cast off the recent years of weeping, wailing, and other sorrow.

In the meantime, please enjoy the following:

Getting FESTA puppets ready

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