Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)

aoc-labelI haven’t said anything about wine in a while, so just in case you thought I was on the wagon (yeah, nah), here’s a post about why New Zealand champagne isn’t champagne.

It all comes back to the giant of global winemaking, France. In the early twentieth century the French government began laying the legislative groundwork for what would officially become, by the middle of the century, the Appellation d’origine contrôlée, the ‘Controlled Designation of Origin.’ Here in the New World we identify our wines by the grape varietal or varietals used to make it, which is why most of my wine-related posts concentrate on profiling the varietal wines most commonly found in New Zealand. Back in the Old World (i.e. Europe) wine is identified by its place of origin. Continue reading “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC)”

Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth

willow-treeThis short orchestral work was composed by George Butterworth (1885-1916) in 1913, and has become the best-known and most widely-performed of his small output. It’s a charming little work in the English Romantic tradition which is based on a number of folk songs, most notably a less-than-charming tale of a country lass who falls in love with a sailor, becomes pregnant and runs away to sea with him only to suffer a difficult labour. Dying, she asks her lover to throw her and the baby overboard, where they both perish. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth”

Opera in my Pyjamas: Verdi’s ‘Aida’ (1871)

A wet and windy Saturday morning provided the perfect excuse to curl up in front of an opera, and this time I decided to go with one of the acknowledged masterpieces of the great anti-Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), Aida.

Triumphal March with acrobats. Because acrobats are cool.

Commissioned for the new opera house in Cairo in 1870, Aida was first performed in 1871. Set in Ancient Egypt against the background of ongoing military conflict between Egypt and the rival kingdom of Ethiopia, the story centres on the tragic romance between a captured Ethiopian princess, Aida, and the captain of the Egyptian guard, Radames. To be on the safe side I will at this point state that slavery, and specifically the enslavement of Black (Ethiopian) Africans, is central to the plot, and anyone who finds this distressing should probably avoid this opera and the rest of this post, which will include a plot summary. Continue reading “Opera in my Pyjamas: Verdi’s ‘Aida’ (1871)”

Paintings You Should Know: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ series (1887-89)

Sunflowers (fourth version in second series), Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

I’ve been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately, and when I saw the episode ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ (Series 5) I knew what my next painting post would be about.

In the three years prior to his death in July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh painted multiple studies of sunflowers. Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ series (1887-89)”

Introducing Children to the World of Art

*Please note: all the photographs included in this post are publicly available on my employer’s Facebook page,, and parents have consented to having their children’s images posted online. Also note that I do not actually have any pictures from our visit to the Sarjeant so I’ve used pictures from a different trip.*

As I write this it’s the New Zealand Spring school holidays and I’ve been busy running a school holiday programme for five and six year olds. One of my goals in planning holiday programmes is always to cover a wide variety of interesting activities, so along with trips to the swimming pool and baking and sport and art projects I decided to take the kids along to the local art gallery, the Sarjeant.

Continue reading “Introducing Children to the World of Art”

Treasure Trove: ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, a hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier

1Kings quote

I read an interesting comment online recently which expressed the opinion that Christians who criticise modern worship music must be sad, lonely people who hate all music and live alone in silence with their dog. It’s probably fairly obvious from this blog that I in fact enjoy a wide range of music, including Christian music, but nonetheless I could level a number of criticisms against much (but by no means all) of the modern Christian repertoire. My key complaint, however, is the volume. Modern worship music, performed with modern electronic amplification, is often far too loud for comfort. And it’s not just me saying it…

One of my favourite hymns strikes a very different note, and it’s perhaps no wonder that it was written by a Quaker, as silence forms a key part of Quaker worship practise. The hymn is Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and it was originally written as the climax of a poem by agriculturalist, journalist and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier of Massachusetts in 1872. It is traditionally sung to F. C. Maker’s tune ‘Rest’.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard
Beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word
Rise up and follow Thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!

With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.


Definitely not a dog.

Also, I don’t have a dog. I have a cat. And chickens.



Local Culture: The Whanganui Orchid Society Show

Recently I attended the annual show of the local orchid society. Although in the end I decided against purchasing any orchids I had a fantastic time browsing the displays and taking to some of the growers. I also picked up a booklet on cultivating orchids in New Zealand, which covers the most popular types of orchid in New Zealand.

Continue reading “Local Culture: The Whanganui Orchid Society Show”

Paintings You Should Know: The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1834)

The Arnolfini Portrait, also known as The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, or The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife, is one of those paintings which changed the world of art. During the preceding Gothic period, art had been focussed almost exclusively on religious subjects, but this is a large-scale work depicting two real individuals in a realistic setting.


Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck (1834)”