Five Classics of European Literature

Old booksAs I said at the very beginning, there’s a shameless bias in this blog towards English Culture, but the rest of the world is hardly a cultural void, so here is my pick of five of the very best works of European classic literature. I’ll be honest, I’ve only read three of the books on this list, but I have grand plans to tackle the remaining two in 2017 (mind you, I also have grand plans to read at least twenty other books, some of them quite weighty, in 2017, so we’ll see how that works out for me). These are books which not only spoke deeply to their own time and place but have continued to speak to people throughout the years. They’ve become ballets, operas, and popular musicals, and served as sources of wisdom and inspiration for readers all over the world. Continue reading “Five Classics of European Literature”

Philosopher Profile: Socrates (470-399 BC)

Bust of Socrates

While to date I’ve read very little actual philosophy – I’m up to Book 5 (‘chapter’. They’re chapters) of Plato’s Republic, and that’s about it – I’ve already read enough about the history of philosophy to know that while there have been many distinguished philosophers in both the Eastern and Western tradition only a small handful of these have been the true giants, the people who shaped the thinking not only of their time but of subsequent generations up to the present day.

These guys, then, deserve special attention, and first on the list is Socrates who, as one book I read on the history of philosophy said, influenced ‘everyone who came after him’. Continue reading “Philosopher Profile: Socrates (470-399 BC)”

Ballet on the Sofa: The Nutcracker

The_Nutcracker_(1993_film)_poster.jpgWith Christmas fast approaching I decided it was high time I watched the quintessential Christmas ballet: Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’, which was first performed in St. Petersburg in December 1892.

I elected to watch the 1993 Warner Brothers film version, and I rather suspect that this was a mistake. Continue reading “Ballet on the Sofa: The Nutcracker”

Local Culture: Pantomime at the Rep

pantomime-poster**Please note that all pictures in this post have been ‘borrowed’ from the Wanganui Repertory Theatre Facebook page, with the exception of the final shot which comes from local paper the Midweek**

When I was a child in England a trip to the pantomime was a Christmas tradition. Mum would take us to buy a big bag of pick and mix sweets, and we’d spend two blissful hours lost in the world of a fairy-tale gone slightly nuts, booing the villain and informing the hero/ine that “he’s behiiiiind you!” before all ended happily and we went home, hyped up on drama and sugar in roughly equal proportions.

This year this wonderful Christmas tradition made its way to Whanganui with the local Repertory Theatre’s production of Little Red Riding Hood. Keen to get my Christmas comedy fix I headed along and was not disappointed. Continue reading “Local Culture: Pantomime at the Rep”

Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow

I first came across this poem as a Christmas carol adaptation by one of my favourite contemporary Christian bands, Casting Crowns (you can listen to their version here). Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote the original in 1863, in response to the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was an intensely personal poem: Longfellow’s eldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, had joined the War in the Union cause without his father’s blessing, and had later been seriously wounded in Virginia.

Sidney E King, ‘The Capture of Rickett’s Battery’

Although it has subsequently been adapted several times, with the more specific references to the War altered or omitted, the original runs as follows:




Continue reading “Treasure Trove: ‘Christmas Bells’ by Henry Wandsworth Longfellow”

Paintings You Should Know: ‘The Skating Minister’ by Henry Raeburn (1784)

This is one of those paintings that you really should know about just because it’s fun. What’s not to love about The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch? The Minister so solemn and intent in his serious black coat, hat, and hose, arms folded in what one might imagine is a gesture of restraint – and yet gliding in joyful frivolity over the ice of the Loch, one leg upraised behind him.

The skating Minister, by Henry Raeburn
Henry Raeburn, The Rev. Robert Walker Skating, mid-1790s

Continue reading “Paintings You Should Know: ‘The Skating Minister’ by Henry Raeburn (1784)”

Local Culture: Richard Wootton’s ‘Marking Time: Portraits of the Inked’ at the Sarjeant Gallery

I’m pleased to report that I’m safely home from Kaikoura, and diving back into my local art scene.

Richard Wootton, ‘Morgan Tompsett’, Wellington 2016

Back in 2009, the New Zealand media reported that one in five adult New Zealanders was tattooed, with the rate rising to just over one in three for people aged 18 to 30. Tattoo, (or ‘moko’ in te reo Maori) played a significant role in traditional Maori and Polynesian culture, and although it went into decline during the early to mid- twentieth century, the Maori cultural renaissance of the late 20th century brought the art form back into the New Zealand mainstream. In addition to, or possibly coat-tailing on, this change, tattoo has also gained a significant place in contemporary European (‘White’) New Zealand culture. Continue reading “Local Culture: Richard Wootton’s ‘Marking Time: Portraits of the Inked’ at the Sarjeant Gallery”

Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

maya-angelouBest known for her 1969 autobiography ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, which detailed the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life as a Black woman in 20th-century America, Maya Angelou was deeply steeped in both the Anglo-Saxon literary tradition of the likes of John Donne and Shakespeare and the contemporary work of African-American women poets like Anne Spencer and Jessie Fauset, who are largely unknown today. Perhaps as a result of this, a woman who was an ‘outsider’ by race, sex, and class was able to speak in a way that could reach those who might otherwise have overlooked her, and those like her. In 1993 she recited one of her poems, ‘On The Pulse of Morning’ at the inauguration of US President Bill Clinton. Continue reading “Poet Profile: Maya Angelou (1928-2014)”

On My Reading List: November 2016

Having confidently stated just a couple of weeks ago that I would be back into the swing of blogging from now on, the northern part of the South Island was hit by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake just after midnight on November 13th. Here in Whanganui I was woken from a sound sleep and sent scurrying for cover as the ground rocked and swayed for what felt like forever (at 90 seconds it was a good long shake). In Kaikoura, on the north-east coast of the South Island, things are much worse. Continue reading “On My Reading List: November 2016”