Thursday, April 17, 2014

Getting the birders in a flap


They're a touchy lot, birders. Look at Aaron here, frothing at the mouth, randomly capitalising, spraying quote-marks, and delivering a classic telling-off, the like of which I haven't been on the receiving end of since I was in the fourth form and involved in a bit of lunch-time out-of-bounds mischief. He's upset because of an - admittedly - inaccurate introduction written by the editor to my story about Stewart Island, which describes the island as "predator-free". It's not, of course, as I make quite clear in a paragraph halfway through: "... cats, rats and possums require constant vigilance".

But let's give Aaron a bit of leeway here - he's a biology teacher, after all, not English (like me) and reading comprehension skills are clearly not his forte. (In a follow-up email, he misses the point again.) He's anxious about the birds and, even if he's somewhat irrational in his belief that the erroneous use of the phrase in question "will mean more birds die", I can sympathise with that. I'm quite fond of birds myself, as regular readers (!) well know, and am happy to have spotted plenty of them in my travels.

I have, though, been effectively black-listed by the NZ Parks and Conservation Foundation, thanks to a frivolous column I wrote long ago for the Herald during the summer silly season:
There is a standard joke in the UK that when you visit New Zealand you have to set your watch back 30 years. That would still put you 100 years ahead of Pamela Wade though, judging from the views expressed in her article in Wednesday's Herald. Ms Wade bemoans the poor quality of the native songbirds, which she compares unfavourably to the "heart-lifting glory" of the exotic species introduced by the "pioneers in the 19th century - people who have since been vilified for their insensitivity to biological purity". When gardeners can augment their beds with the best that other countries have to offer, why, she asks, should we not be able similarly to enhance our parks and gardens with pretty and tuneful birds from around the world? 

What does all this prove? That apparently people who officially care about birds have no sense of humour or irony, and are so hot-headed about their beliefs that they can't actually read properly. It's a bit sad, really. So here's one of my (many, many) nice pictures of birds to make us all feel better:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spoiled for choice

Phew! So many riches today, in just one small part of one pretty much overlooked state - and no time to do them all justice before I must put out the light. You'll have to call back in here later for the detail; but the day began with sunshine and loons on the lake and a squirrel on the porch. Then there was home-made quiche at 1920s-themed Baker House in Lake Geneva, where the server wore black lacy pantaloons and I wore a feathered hat.

At Madison, Wisconsin's capital, there was the Capitol, and a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright building beside the lake and an Otis Redding memorial on its roof (his plane crashed into Lake Monona). There was more FLW later, at his own house, but before that we went to The House on the Rock, which will have to have a post on its own because it is INCREDIBLE and ASTONISHING and enormous FUN. Truly.

And finally there were cheese curds at Captain Bill's back in Middleton, so sinfully delicious it's a relief we don't have them at home; and pie at the Hubbard Avenue Diner, a classic 1950s chrome and red vinyl affair with a great line in pie/pi puns, some of them in Spanish. An excellent day.
Geddit? Spanish for "I have pie"!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

No honour amongst fishermen

This is Rich, who was beaming with the double delight of a warm, sunny afternoon and the triumph of having caught two fine brown trout. Or so he claimed, at least. I was impressed, not just with the size of the fish, but the fact that he caught them right in the city, within earshot of traffic and against a background of skyscrapers.

Looking the other way, though, the lake looked like the Pacific Ocean, stretching clear and turquoise all the way to the horizon. Beautiful.

Rich was anxious that people here had treated me well, and was pleased to hear that everyone I'd met had been friendly, helpful and sincerely flattering about New Zealand. "They're lightening up again now it's getting warmer," he said, "after the winter we've had." (On the gates of the marina jetties there are signs forbidding both swimming and ice-skating, which strikes me as pretty unique.)

And then we shook hands and he went back to his fishing, me still impressed with his catch - until I met his mate further along the shore, who told me with great indignation that the bigger fish was his. Fishermen, eh? Untrustworthy the world over.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I have only one eye open

Near help me, autocorrect. PRty. Free boozy, caged dancers, thanks vestige, dancing LPOPCOEM THtsd pulp corn popcorn, sncient danced moves resurrected, lots if fun. ThNk you San Francisco!

Another theory blown up

This afternoon, duty done at the convention, I escaped to breathe some fresh air and get some exercise, so I walked from McCormick Place (the flat white building at the top right) all the way to the Willis Tower, which is what you're meant to call the Sears Tower these days, and then back to the Hilton, which is that triple brick building catching the sun in the photo. I didn't actually mean to walk all the way, but my dimness continues and I couldn't find a station to take the El.

Never mind, it was good to be walking on a sunny afternoon, looking at all the fine buildings - very pretty wooden homes all in a line, super-grand Library, the backdrop of skyscrapers that are starting to become familiar - and at the people. Black kids playing basketball on a street corner, cool dudes skimming past on bikes, fat ladies waddling, beggars offering blessings, a friendly young guy promoting Greenpeace.

And then I went up the Tower, 103 floors, tallest in the Western Hemisphere ( ~ ) to have my photo taken standing on the glass ledge with tiny people scuttling along the pavement so very far below. No biggie. What was more disturbing was reading a story board claiming that the atomic age began in 1942 when some scientists at Chicago University set off a chain reaction: "the initial step in building the nuclear bomb".

So, nothing to do with Sir Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom in the basement of Canterbury University in 1917, then?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

This is a long way from relief teaching - or, maybe not.

Route 66 - the Mother Road - begins here in Chicago. You knew that, of course; but did you know that there was never a sign marking its beginning? Well, now there is, and it was unveiled this morning at the IPW media conference here in the overwhelmingly massive McCormick Convention Centre ("The biggest Convention Centre in the Western hemisphere!" I keep hearing, said with great pride - but that just makes me wonder where exactly the western hemisphere begins and ends, and couldn't it start anywhere depending on where you were standing - or floating - so that in fact it could exclude the whole of the USA? Since there's no West Pole, so to speak? And by the time I've stopped thinking all that through, they've generally moved on some distance in what they're saying, and I've lost the thread entirely. Which is the sort of thing that happens a lot when you're as tired as I am.)

The days here are long, and air-conditioned, and artificially lit - remarkably like Las Vegas, but without the chatter of the ubiquitous slot machines - and there's so much talking, much of it repeating the same stuff over and over, that quite quickly my head starts spinning. It doesn't help that there are bizarre things happening like the entertainment after lunch today - in a cavernous room, tables set for six thousand people, and good luck finding your friends in that lot - being a deafening session from a band made up of (possibly the only surviving) members of bands like Steppenwolf and Lynyrd Skynyrd. That might go down well in the small hours of a Saturday night in a stadium, but it's a bit intense for a Monday lunchtime at a business conference.

And now it's almost time for the Reverse Media Marketplace, where I set out my table, literally, and wait for Them To Come. Which they may well not, in which case I might use the technique I have often observed employed by Asian students back home in Period 4, and have a sly zizz.

UPDATE: Four, count them, four visitors. In an hour and a half - though the pair from Tennessee took up a lot of that with their spiel and slideshow... Oh, and because you're thinking how dim and geographically-challenged I clearly am, please read the comments.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Top of the morning

McDonald's began in Chicago (first skyscraper, Ferris wheel and zipper too, amongst a good number of other firsts) so here I am at the Rock 'n Roll Macca's. It's across the road from a Hard Rock Cafe and also Portillo's, where a nice lady who offered me directions, unasked, said I should go for the city's best hot dogs (also invented here).

Eight o'clock on a Sunday morning's a bit early for that sort of thing though - and besides, I'm on my way to the John Hancock building for the big Media Brunch on the 94th floor. I'm really enjoying walking there on this bright, shiny spring morning, with all the glorious buildings crisp and sharp against a clear blue sky.

I was out so early that there was no one else at the Cloud Gate, all the sky scrapers bent around its edges like a fringe; and it doesn't matter to me that all the fancy shops along the Magnificent Mile aren't open yet. Trader Joe's was, though - where they sell New Zealand wine cheaper than we can buy it back home. Tch.

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