Cycling for beginners

The bicycle band, 1898
Cycling while playing music is not recommended for beginners. A cycling novelty [1898], Christchurch City Libraries PhotoCD 5, IMG0053
A friend of mine has just started riding a bike around Christchurch. She is a very tentative cyclist but I’m so proud of her for getting on her new bike and giving it a go. So far her forays along bike paths have been positive ones and I hope she comes to love cycling as much as I do.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to share what I know about cycle commuting in Christchurch with her, but also with other wannabe cyclists who are thinking about trying to rack up some kilometres this month in the friendly competition that is the Aotearoa Bike Challenge. (Registering on the website is quick and easy and if you download one of the recommended apps to your phone it’ll record your cycle journeys automagically! Also there are prizes!)

Tips for newbie Christchurch cyclists

If you’ve never done it before, riding a bike can be a bit intimidating but the more you do it, and the more you learn, the more confident you’ll be. Here are some things it might help you to know:

  • Cyclists are friendly folk – We love encouraging new cyclists and there are numerous clubs and groups that would love nothing better than to encourage you towards freewheeling greatness. Try:
  • Plan your route – If you’re nervous about busy roads and intersections plan your route so you can avoid them. And if you feel like a particular intersection or bit of road is dicey, there’s no shame in pulling over and being a pedestrian for a bit. I do it all the time!
  • Cycle lane etiquette – If you’re a slowpoke like me you’ll want to keep to the left of a cycle lane so it’s easier for faster cyclists to overtake you on the right. If you’re speedy calling out a cheery “coming up/overtaking on your right” as you approach is helpful for avoiding any collisions. A bell is a useful piece of kit for cyclists of all speeds as it’s great for getting the attention of pedestrians on shared pathways (or those who absentmindedly wander into a cycle lane). To me a bell always sounds more friendly than “OI!”.
  • Do wear a helmet – Because them’s the rules. And if you’re in an accident you’ll appreciate not being concussed (I speak from experience). And yes, it’s still the rules if you’re cycling on the footpath (but don’t cycle on the footpath unless it’s designated a shared pathway). Correct deployment of your helmet is firmly strapped on your head… not dangling off your handlebars.
  • Do wear whatever else you want though – There is no cycling uniform and I have successfully biked in everything from heels to jelly shoes (and even a veil once – it was Halloween). Short or floaty skirts can be problematic (especially when windy) but a snug pair of shorts underneath or the coin and a rubber band trick (or a peg) can successfully keep things “under wraps”.

Things to know about cycling infrastructure

There are a lot of cycling initiatives and changes to infrastructure happening in Christchurch and some of these can be a bit confusing or mysterious if you’ve never come across them before. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Sharrows – If you’ve seen road markings that incorporate a bicycle icon and a chevron shape then you’ve seen a “sharrow” (share arrow). These are used on slow or quiet streets and indicate that cyclists should bike towards the middle of the road. But do move across to the left if a motorist wants to come through.
  • How to make lights go – You may notice at or on the approach to an intersection a section of road that looks like the surface has been sliced into, often in the form of a box or rectangle. Underneath the road surface is a sensor that can detect bicycles and in some instances this may be the only way to trigger the lights. If you feel like you’ve been waiting an age for the lights to change, look down or around you. You may be a little too far ahead, behind or to the side to be registering as a cyclist.
  • Extra lights just for you – In the central city there are now some intersections that operate on a different system to work in with the new separated cycle lanes. Instead of following what the main traffic lights indicate, you’ll need to pay attention to the special lights just for cyclists (you’ll know they’re for you because they’ll have a bike symbol). Keep your eyes out for these at spots like the Tuam/Colombo intersection, and by the bus exit of the Bus Interchange.
  • Hook turn boxes – A hook turn is a handy option at really busy intersections where making a right hand turn in heavy traffic might not be the safest option. If you see a painted box featuring a hooked arrow and a bicycle icon at an intersection this is a good place for cyclists to perform a “hook turn” (although hook turns are allowed at most intersections). A hook turn is when you take a two step approach to a right turn. Staying to the left, a cyclist can go with traffic through a green light then stop in the hook turn box, and then go with traffic through a second green light (or even ahead of it if the road is clear), effectively making a right hand turn in two stages. The NZTA has official instructions on performing hook turns (with pictures) that explain this really well.

Where to go for more information

Library resources for beginner cyclists


And the nominees are…

The nominees for the Academy awards have been announced for this year. For me the most notable inclusions are “genre” films in the Best Picture category. It’s unusual for genre films to get much love from the Academy in this category (Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King is so far the only fantasy film to ever win Best Picture) so it will be interesting to see if either Guillermo Del Toro‘s fairy tale fantasy (The shape of water) or Jordan Peele‘s modern gothic horror (Get out) will take the out the Oscar. They’re both up against more traditionally “Oscar-worthy” films in this category so it seems unlikely, in my opinion ( but if you’re interested in knowing more, may I direct you to this graph showing how the genre preferences of the Academy for Best Picture stack up)

Oscar nominated movies must have opened in the previous calendar year, which means that some (but not all) of these films are now available in New Zealand. Flicks has a useful list of where and how you can watch the 2018 Oscar-nominated movies locally.

As for the library collection, below are the 2018 Oscar-nominated films available for loan on DVD or with tie-in reading material. See how many you can watch/read ahead of the awards ceremony on Sunday, 4 March (Monday, 5 March here if you’re planning on watching live).

2018 Oscar nominated films available on DVD

Related books and soundtracks

A number of  this year’s nominated films are either based on books or have tie-in titles or soundtracks, so you might want also want to check out:

  Cover of The breadwinner by Deborah Ellis Cover of Call me by your name by Andre Aciman Cover of The disaster artist by Greg Sistero and Tom Bissell Cover of Dunkirk: The history behind the major motion picture by Josh Levine Cover of Molly's game by Molly Bloom Cover of Mudbound by Hillary Jordan Cover of Star Wars the last jedi, the visual dictionary Cover of Victoria and Abdul by Shrabani Basu Cover of Wonder by R. J. Palacio Cover of The world of Kong: A natural history of Skull Island

Find out more:

Christmas movies for everybody

Whether you’re a massive Christmas fan or something of a grinch, there should be something in the list below to keep you entertained for at least one and a half hours out of the festive season.

How you make it through the rest of the hours is up to you. Maybe a nice book?

Anyway, take your pick from the below and Meri Kirihimete!

For the Romantic

Two thirds of this list features Colin Firth and that can’t be an accident.

For the Traditionalist

Family friendly and comfortingly familiar.

For Kids

Watchable for kids (and not so terrible as to be unwatchable for everyone else)

For Fans of sex and violence

Movies for people who enjoy “adult themes”.

Books on screen: Murder most foul, sci-fi classics and more

Read the book before you see the film/TV series, or read the source material afterwards for all the added backstories and characters (that you can absorb at your own pace)?

It’s a tricky one and the answer really depends on your own personal tastes and inclinations. Either way, here is the latest crop of works of literature that are getting a makeover for the screen.

Out now

If you’re a “read the book first” sort, you’d better get cracking before you miss –

  • Alias Grace – Canadian 6 part series directed by Sarah Polley, featuring Anna Paquin and a cameo from author Margaret Atwood. Based on the true story of a young housemaid, Grace Marks, who became embroiled in a double-murder, this series is only available on Netflix and is a rivetting watch.
  • IT – I was terrified by this book in the nineties (and the subsequent mini-series adaptation). The current film splits the tale of a group of kids fighting a malevolent entity that often takes the form of an evil clown into two films – the sequel is due in 2019.
  • Murder on the Orient Express – The Agatha Christie classic gets another film outing (the 1974 version earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar) and with a fairly impressive cast including the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer, with Kenneth Brannagh (who also directs) as the moustachioed Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. The original novel was published in 1934, so avoiding spoilers might prove difficult.
  • The Mountain Between Us – Kate Winslet and Idris Elba’s charter plane crashes into a mountain and that’s not the end of the drama. Based on the novel by Charles Martin.
  • The Lost City of Z – Author David Grann’s hunt for famed explorer Percy Fawcett’s expedition in the Amazon has Charlie Hunnam as the missing Fawcett, with Sienna Miller as his wife and Robert Pattinson as another member of the expedition.
  • Thank You for your Service – Biographical war drama based on the book by Washington Post journalist David Finkel. The film follows several soldiers after their return from deployment in Iraq and their struggles with PTSD and the psychological trauma of war.

Coming soon

  • Chaos walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go – Another young adult sci-fi series adaptation, this time of Patrick Ness’s widely acclaimed dystopian novel. Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are set to star.
  • Dune –  Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi saga gets another go-around (after the 1984 film directed by David Lynch, and two miniseries’ in the early 2000s) this time with Arrival director Denis Villeneuve at the helm.
  • Break My Heart 1,000 Times – Bella Thorne will star in this “supernatural romantic thriller” based on Daniel Water’s young adult novel set in world where people can see ghosts.
  • Guernsey (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) – Mary Ann Shaffer’s 2008 bestseller set on the island of Guernsey during WWII was filmed earlier this year, with Downton Abbey stars Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay in the cast and Mike Newell directing.
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline’s dystopian future/Virtual Reality/geek nostalgia-fest novel follows Wade Watts as he attempts to find an ‘easter egg’ that will bestow on him a fortune. Directed by Steven Spielberg, expect to see this everywhere in March 2018.
  • Peter Rabbit – A new animated version of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of an adventurous bunny is due in early 2018, with voices provided by the likes of Rose Byrne, James Corden and Sam Neill.

On the radar

With the end of the Game of Thrones TV series on the distant horizon, Patrick Rothfuss is being mentioned as the next George R. R. Martin. Probably because they both have beards and neither have actually finished writing all the books in their respective series’. Lin-Manuel Miranda of super-musical, Hamilton, is producing the series for Showtime based on the first 2 novels of the as yet unfinished Kingkiller Chronicles fantasy trilogy.

Fight like a girl: Clementine Ford

As is often the case when I attend a literary event, I have not read the book of the person speaking (I have good intentions leading up to the event but life generally gets in the way). So I know Clementine Ford only by her reputation as an outspoken feminist and the target of online trolls (it seems, in the modern world, that the first of these things almost always leads to the second). Possibly that’s all you know about her too.

I warm to her immediately. She’s just so cheerful in the face of the abuse that gets flung at her, so “can you believe someone said that?!” about language that is filled with hate, ignorance (and yes, bad grammar). I admire her ability to take rancid, toxic lemons and make mocking, humorous lemonade from them.

Clementine Ford with some of the tamer reader feedback she’s had, WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 3 September.

Clementine Ford comes across like your best friend who is much smarter and more perceptive than you, and who is prone to dropping hilarious truth-bombs into the conversation while you’re chatting over wine. Except in the auditorium at Christchurch Art Gallery. With 150 other people there. And no wine.

This was obviously a flawed analogy but you get the drift.

She’s also very respectful (not of the trolls) of her audience, warning everyone that there will be some very strong, very unpleasant language shared in the presentation, most of it via screenshots of the “missives” she’s received from various men who feel the need to tell her that she’s wrong, stupid, evil, sexist, fat, sexually unattractive, a professional sex worker, as well as various terrible things that should happen or be done to her. The warning is needed. It’s cumulatively rather overwhelming and makes you feel sick for humanity, even as each one is dissected, commented on and ruthlessly pilloried.

Slide from Clementine Ford’s talk at WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View at the Christchurch Arts Festival. Sunday 3 September 2017.

On the upside I’m surprised and delighted to hear Ford, an Australian, acknowledge not only Ngāi Tahu but also Ngāi Tūāhuriri (Christchurch sits in the traditional rohe/territory of this Ngāi Tahu hapu) and to use “Aotearoa” in preference to “New Zealand” because a friend of hers has challenged her to use indigenous names as a statement against colonialism. Also, her pronunciation was better than average.

But back to the trolls. Reading the messages Ford has received from various men makes you wish that they really were misshapen goblins living under bridges and not actual humans walking around with a cellphone in their pocket and the notion that they can say whatever they want to another person, if that person is a woman, with a complete lack of consequences. This is a situation that Ford has tried to turn around as she frequently adopts a “name and shame” approach. This may seem harsh but when you read the things that men have said to her it seems more like a public service than anything. The irony is, though Facebook is happy enough to be the medium of choice for threats of sexual violence and abuse by these trolls, the sharing of such by Ford often violates their “community standards” and has sometimes resulted in her account being blocked. But not those of the people doing the abusing.

Well, that seems a bit screwed up, Facebook. But Ford acknowledges that Facebook has its claws in us and a boycott simply wouldn’t work. Possibly advocating for a change to the laws around online abuse might help.

Ford has other helpful suggestions for dealing with sexism and sexist behaviour such as forcing someone to explain their sexist joke, with “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” or pretending not to hear the sexist/offensive thing and forcing them to repeat it once or even twice. This subtly shifts the power dynamic in the interaction.

In the online world she is in favour of out and out mockery (with reference to Harry Potter and the boggart – your greatest fear that can only be vanquished by laughing at it). Ford advised deploying a series of gifs, the following of which is my favourite.

Inspirational little girl gif


This was a really illuminating, funny, and challenging session but one which only a handful of men attended and relatively few young women, two groups I really feel would have benefitted a lot from the realness of Ford’s feminist experiences (and rude jokes about her genitalia).

The crowd at Clementine Ford’s Fight like a girl session, WORD Christchurch Shifting Points of View, Christchurch Arts Festival, Sunday 3 September 2017.

As it was it ran overtime and nobody wanted to stop, least of all Ford herself. But the talk was being recorded so I’d recommend giving it a listen when it becomes available or –

He’ll be back: The Terminator returns… again

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

This is how Michael Biehn’s Kyle Reese describes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in the 1984 film The Terminator. He didn’t know how right he was. The Terminator just keeps coming back. The perfect pop culture metaphor for a franchise that can’t be killed.

In 1991 a sequel followed. At that time the $100 milion budget of Terminator 2: Judgment Day made it the most expensive film ever produced and it was a cinematic juggernaut (I did my bit by spending my pocket money to go and see it two weekends in a row).

And from there the Terminator just kept rising from the ashes (or still burning wreckage of crashed truck/plane/HK). A trilogy of novels set after the events of T2 follows Sarah and John Connor who have fled to South America.

A television series followed. Before Lena Headey was the ruthless Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones she was the equally determined Sarah Connor in the The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

There were a further three movie sequels (with varying degrees of coherence), the most recent being an alternate timeline Terminator: Genisys which brought back a lot of the attitude of the first film (but positively tied itself in time-travel knots).

Cover of Total recall: My unbelievably true life storyJames Cameron announced earlier this that he will produce the sixth installment of the Terminator franchise, with shooting due to start next year. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the 90s action star who never really went away, will reprise his role.

Last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of T2 a 3D version was released and this will hit New Zealand screens briefly next week. I’d say get your tickets booked lest you miss out but… he’ll be back.

The tale of a murderous governess

Cover of Jane Steele: A confessionIf you loved the Brontë classic Jane Eyre but always wished Jane had been a bit more… murderous then Lyndsay Faye’s novel, Jane Steele: A confession may be just your glass of arsenic-laden brandy.

The novel follows another unfortunate 19th century orphan girl looking for her place in the world, but she’s a good deal “spunkier” and prone to violence than Miss Eyre. In fact, she’s rather more modern than Jane Eyre in a number of ways (sex, swearing, self-defense etc.)

Jane Steele’s life is a mirror to Eyre’s in many ways from attendance at an abominable boarding school to securing a place as governess in a home that harbours secrets. Although the deaths are always justified after a fashion, the bodies do start to pile up and a worryingly perceptive policeman may just be onto her.

Author Lyndsay Faye is a fan of Charlotte Brontë’s novel and in the historical afterword reveals that it was the author’s scathing rebuff to her critics in the preface to the second edition of Jane Eyre that partly inspired her to write the novel, in particular the quote, “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion”.

And so she’s succeeded in creating an unconventional heroine imbued with more than a little “self-wrongedness”. Jane (Steele, that is), doubts herself, her worth and her goodness constantly but loves fiercely and loyally… much like that other Jane.

There’s a good deal of mystery in the story from Jane’s mystery inheritance to the traumatic past of her young charge and the plot gallops along like a runaway horse making it a fairly riveting page-turner, and… Reader, I devoured it.

So if ladies in corsets (who also carry knives in their skirts) sounds your thing then I’d highly recommend Jane Steele for your next wet weekend.

Further reading

Reading brown: Pacific stories and voices

A little while ago I saw Kiwi author Paula Morris ask on Twitter “Why aren’t you reading brown?”

Which prompted me to feel a bit guilty about how few Māori and Pacific New Zealand authors I read… and then I pretty much forgot about it because life is too short to feel guilty about the books you haven’t read. As a librarian I’m exposed to a constant stream of new and interesting looking titles and (spoiler alert) I read hardly any of them.

But, for a couple of reasons the notion that I should expand my reading into more Polynesian fare stuck.

The main one being that I had a one week holiday coming up during which I could get in some solid novel-reading. The second being that the holiday in question was in Rarotonga (of the aforementioned Polynesia). And thirdly, because I had a couple of titles on my For Later Shelf that were available in time to take the trip with me (sometimes the Atua* of the Holds Lists smiles upon thee).

Cover of Stories on the four winds: Ngā hau e whāMy first holiday read was not a novel at all but a collection of short stories. I always think with short stories that they are less of a commitment than a whole novel. Something that you can move easily on from should it not be to your taste. However Stories on the four winds: Ngā hau e whā was by far the more emotionally gripping and in places gruelling of the two books. In the space of relatively few pages I was drawn into murders, deaths and losses as well as tales of joy, love and connection. I started blubbing before the plane had even landed.

Writers, with their writerly tricks can surprise you, and indeed this was the brief for all the stories in the book (from a variety of well-known and perhaps less well-known Māori and Pasifika writers) – to surprise the reader. So every story has a twist or takes you somewhere you don’t expect. Even though the stories are short, they pack a punch and I found with some of them that I had to take a break between them, to get my bearings again. Standouts for me were the contributions from Albert Wendt, Alice Tawhai, Ann French, Jacqui McRae, K-t Harrison, and Reneé.

Cover of How to party with an infantMy second book was a novel and after the emotional rollercoaster of Stories on the four winds it was a nice change of speed. How to party with an infant by Kaui Hart Hemmings was perfect holiday fare. Hemmings is not a New Zealand writer but she is Hawaiian and I very much enjoyed the film of her first novel, The Descendants. I have so far neglected to read the source novel (more book-related guilt) but thought that this story of a single mother raising a small child in San Francisco would suit me.

It certainly did. The book has a sly sense of humour and uses the mechanism of the protagonist, Mele, listening to and writing the stories her parents’ group friends tell her. There are some really great characters in there, full of anxieties and insecurities – worrying about measuring up to other parents, fitting in, being good enough. As well there’s a bit of light romance of a very grown-up kind because everyone in this book has kids. I liked this book for its knowing jabs at the “Mummy Wars” aspects of parenting whilst celebrating the great, affirming friendships that can grow out of that shared experience.

For other recommendations of “brown reading” do check out Paula Morris’s post Why Aren’t You Reading Brown? for 21 titles by Māori and Pacific writers. Get the Holds Lists Atua on your side and you could be reading one before you know it.

* Te Reo Māori for supernatural being or god.

40 years ago in a galaxy not far away…

On a Wednesday in 1977 a phenomenon began. That phenomenon was Star Wars.

Cover of The making of Star WarsReleased in only 32 cinemas in the US on 25 May of that year the sci-fi space opera broke all box-office records and changed the movie making business. Star Wars was one of the first films to generate “round the block queues” for screenings (the literal definition of a “blockbuster”).

George Lucas famously popped out for lunch with his wife on opening day, saw lines of people queuing outside Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles, and only then realised he had a hit on his hands. He’d expected a flop. So much so that he had a bet with friend Steven Spielberg that Close Encounters of the Third Kind would beat Star Wars at the box office. And that’s why Spielberg still receives 2.5% of profits on the film.

At least some of Star Wars’ initial success was as a result of the canny work of marketing director Charles Lippincoat who, ahead of the film’s release, shopped the novelisation (ghost written by sci-fi author Alan Dean Foster) and Marvel tie-in comics at events like San Diego Comic-Con. This generated a buzz amongst sci-fi fans who were already primed by release date. This is now standard practice with genre films and franchises who put a lot of effort into creating hype ahead of release, but back in 1977 it was a “thinking outside the box” strategy.

Cover of The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures 1977-1985Star Wars also invented movie merchandising. As you walk the aisles of your local toy store, the proliferation of movie tie-in toys and action figures is down to the phenomenal success of Star Wars in this area.

Merchandising was such a small part of the movie industry prior to Star Wars that, in 1973, before the film was made George Lucas exchanged $350,000 worth of directing salary for the merchandising rights and the rights to the sequels. Conventional wisdom at the time was that this was a good deal for 20th Century Fox. It eventually cost them billions.

Star Wars display - X-wing fighter
Just some of the sweet merchandising $$$ that Fox never got. Star Wars display at South Library, 15 May 2017. File reference: 2017-05-15-IMG_5174

And of the movie itself? Well, I’m a fan and have been for as long as I can remember. I cannot recall the first time I saw the film. In the late 70s and early 80s you simply absorbed Star Wars from the atmosphere. You fenced with lightsabers of rolled up Christmas gift wrap, you hummed the theme music, you played with your cousin’s X-wing fighter toy.

I love the film, even despite its many flaws – a not exactly diverse cast, sometimes creaky acting, the occasional alien proboscis that looked like it was made out of cardboard, plot holes that you could fly a Corellian freighter through – but to me it’s still a vastly enjoyable tale.

Cover of Flash GordonGeorge Lucas was inspired by the Flash Gordon type serials of his youth, the films of Akira Kurosawa, the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the “heroes journey” mythology of Frazer’s The golden bough. Star Wars is a cinematic melting pot of references and homages that distills them down to a classic “good vs evil” story. The kind that’s timeless in its appeal. Or at least I hope it is… because I’m planning on watching it for another 40 years.

Further information

James Gleick at WORD Christchurch: No spoilers for Time Travellers

James Gleick does not want to offend anyone.

The author of numerous books of a scientific bent is careful with his words and keen not to ruffle any feathers. It’s speculation on my part, but I wonder if his experience is that, on the topic of Time Travel, passions might sometimes become inflamed?

A curious full house gather at the Piano for this WORD Christchurch session featuring Gleick and fellow New Yorker Daniel Bernardi (erskine fellow, film and media studies scholar, science fiction expert and documentary filmmaker). They discuss the ins and outs, twists, turns and paradoxes of Time Travel. Before long there is, as is the new tradition when two educated Americans speak in the presence of non-Americans… a jocular swipe at the current US president.

James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi
James Gleick and Professor Daniel Bernardi, Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0194

Fortunately this science-loving audience is not in the least offended by the joke.

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickGleick’s book Time Travel: A history is an exploration of the literature, science and zeitgeist of Time Travel. It’s far-ranging, smart and brain-expanding.

But what made him want to write on that topic in the first place?

I discovered this weird fact – that Time Travel is a new idea. That didn’t make any sense to me.

Why did it take until H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine for people to explore that as an idea? It seems a few things came together: photography and cinema were showing people a slice of the past in the present; instantaneous communication was suddenly possible making the lack of temporal alignment in different places more obvious; and time standards became a thing for the first time. As Gleick puts it, “the way people thought about Time was up for grabs”.

Then Einstein came along and things got really interesting.

Though Einstein’s theories allowed for the possibility of a sort of Time Travel, Gleick is quick to point out that it’s not the punching-a-date-on-a-machine or opening-a-portal-to-another-era kind. It’s really just the acknowledgement that there is no universal time. Everyone’s experience of time is personal and given the right set of circumstances (speedlight travel, for instance) your version of time can slow down relative to everyone else’s. This means that the Time Travel stories of the “Rip Van Winkle” (or Futurama) kind become technically possible. But Gleick doesn’t believe the imaginary, sci-fi type Time Travel that continues to excite our imaginations exists, or that it will. Though he seems apologetic about it, as if he’s mindful of deflating the aspirations of wannabe Time Travellers in the audience.

On the enduring appeal of Time Travel in literature and popular culture, Gleick feels that it lets people explore many things about families and relationships – it gives you the ability for “a do-over”. Like the movie Groundhog Day. He points out that a lot of Time Travel stories are about fathers and mothers, families and parents.

Take Back to the Future – isn’t this really just a movie about looking at your parents and realising they were once young like me, and wondering “what was that like?”

This is far from the only reference to Time Travel in popular culture, and many in the audience probably come away from this talk with a reading/watching list that includes:

  • A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – indicative of pessimism about the future of “our benighted country”.
  • Doomsday book – H. G. Wells never wrote about going into the past but Connie Willis does.
  • “All you zombies” by Robert Heinlein – An early short story that became the movie Predestination and is an interesting example of The Grandfather Paradox.
  • Looper – Movie that nicely skirts over the paradoxical plot difficulties by having Bruce Willis tell his younger self “If we’re going to talk about Time Travel sh*t we’re gonna be sitting here making diagrams with straws all day”.
  • Interstellar – Bernardi’s pick as the film that best visualises the science of Time Travel.
  • The Planet of the Apes series – Bernardi’s favourite for its use of Time Travel to address issues of gender and race.
  • Arrival – A film that Gleick feels works very well in performing a “subtle trick” on the audience. All Time Travel stories have to do this but in this film you barely notice it happening.
  • Twelve Monkeys – Another Bruce Willis film that deals with a Time Travel loop and deals with a death.
  • “Blink” – Gleick’s favourite episode of Doctor Who, in particular a scene set in a spooky old house, “old houses are great time travel machines”. It’s also the first episode in which the phrase “timey-wimey” is used.
James Gleick
James Gleick: a man in want of some straws. Flickr File Reference: 2017-05-16-IMG_0198

Gleick is at great pains to try and describe these stories in a way that does not reveal any important plot twists. In the case of Planet of the Apes this is… is adorable the right word? The movie came out in 1968. But no spoilers!

Another appealing aspect to Time Travel is that it’s a way of escaping death. After all, (spoiler alert!) Time will kill us all in the end.

When we hear Time’s winged chariot it’s not delivering good news.

But what is Time (other than universally deadly)? Scientists may tell you that Time is the 4th dimension and that it’s similar to the other physical dimensions in that we inhabit one spot and the rest stretches out away from us, both backward and forward. This rather flies in the face of what Gleick says we know “in our guts” about Time i.e. that the past has happened and the future hasn’t.

It seems an oddly obvious statement to have to make, and Gleick says it’s not a scientific one but a religious one.

Some of the audience questions delve into this idea of religious thought versus Time Travel and at this point I get lost, draw a spiral in my notebook and label it “loop of confusion”. Questions like “is God in Time with us?” and “doesn’t an interventionist God imply that the future isn’t set?” do somewhat “screw my noodle”. Given the heady topic, it seems inevitable that I lose the thread of the discussion at some point in proceedings. Perhaps it always has, and always did happen?

Other questions posed include one from my colleague Fee (who wrote her own post about James Gleick) and wonders if the future is set, then what about premonition? Which Gleick says (gently) that he does not believe in, though it’s a powerful idea.

Another question asks how it is that Gleick can explain such scientifically complex stuff in ways that non-scientist folk can understand. He says simply that he’s a journalist so he asks lots of questions and that a big part of it is just getting scientists to talk you as they sometimes “live in their own abstruse world”.

I am lucky enough to get the last mic grab of the night and ask my own question (which if I could have a Time Travel do-over for, I would make slightly less waffley). It’s with reference to the way we think about Time in terms of spatial metaphor. In the Western world we conceive of the past as being behind us and the future in front of us but in Māori culture this is flipped around – the past is known and therefore visible before you and it’s the future that approaches you from behind. In the course of researching had he found any other cultures that view Time this way? Gleick replies that the language we use, the words that we use to describe Time really shape how we think about it and that in some Asian languages Time travels on an “up and down” axis or “right to left”.

And if I thought my noodle was screwed before it definitely is now. As I exit the theatre along with the rest of the audience I concentrate on travelling forward through space and backwards/forwards/vertically through time.

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