JENNI'S OFF-GRID NEWSLETTER, NO. 22 (MARCH, 2017)
April 4, 2017
March newsletter at the beginning of April, sorry. We returned from a two week jaunt late on the 31st March, and as I didn’t take my computer away with me (applause) I couldn’t write it on the hoof.
Music, I think, is like creative writing. We began our away time in New Plymouth at the always stimulating and cathartic three-day WOMAD (World Music and Dance Festival), which is a double pleasure for us as we have time to get to know Joachim, our youngest, again, as well as staying in his house which is in walking distance of the venue, the beautiful Bowl of Brooklands and the park surrounding it. The weather was perfect (not always the case; sometimes gumboots are standard attire), and 16,000 people crowded through the gates every day (there are five outdoor stages and also a large marquee where the musicians peform and cook the food of their country). According to Tetsu, a dear friend and one of the organisers, there are also 5000 volunteers making sure everyone has a fantabulous time. Joachim is a well-known person in New Plymouth (well-loved would be an even better tag) and tends to get his parents invites to extra things like the breakfast with the musicians on Friday morning put on by the local radio station (seriously yummy bacon and egg burgers), and VIP passes so one can go behind the scenes and get away from the crowds while drinking, eating and still watching the musicians perform. Didn’t do that too much as it was more cathartic to be in the heart of the crowds (even for us, lovers of solitary beaches and off-grid islands). The other great thing about WOMAD is all the hugs we got; Joachim’s numerous lovely friends inevitably hug us when we meet even if it is the first time they have set eyes on us. They must have learned from Joachim; he is THE best hugger.
The crowds were wonderful; happy, ultra-relaxed, friendly, and dressed and dancing in every crazy way possible. From new-borns to people close to 100, they are all dancing to the music (Note from neuropsychologist: there is NOTHING better for the brain). The baby-boomers, who seem to be getting a bad rap these days because they were born into such an easy slice of time (other than those involved in the Vietnam War and the like of course), were there in their thousands. As a baby boomer myself, I know I was lucky, indeed am still lucky, but I didn’t ask to be a baby boomer (although I’m glad I was) and like most baby boomers I know, I did work pretty hard for all that apparently easy-come advantage… However, I can see why so many of those baby boomers who now rule the world are so disliked… I think Trump is possibly not a baby boomer? He looks too old, but perhaps he just squeaks in? Shudder.
It is impossible to say which group at WOMAD was the best; they were all fabulous, but I will give you one name anyway. My absolute favourites, The East Pointers from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Check them out on Facebook. Three gorgeous young men cousins. They play celtic music—fiddle, banjo and guitar—and it is impossible not to dance. They often go to Australia, but this was their first trip to NZ, and I do believe they got the message that they were loved by Kiwis. We went to all three of their shows, and by the last the grass was packed as far as the eye could see, every last person up and dancing (if on a very small dollar-sized circle of grass). The stars twinkled above as only Kiwi stars can do, and the night was balmy. They are returning to NZ in January, so check them out and see if they will be anywhere near you. Then go. They are currently in Australia, and they run a celtic music festival on Prince Edward Island on the third weekend in July. Oh, how amazing it would be to go to that.
So to get back to music being akin to creative writing. If one is a musician or a creative writer, I suspect that old saying that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert is about right for both. (That’s 9.61 years if you practice/play/write for 20 hours a week every week including New Year and your birthday!) I think that while many aspects of both musical and creative writing skills can be learned, some people have an inbuilt (genetic) potential for one or the other (or if they are lucky, both). They are naturally musical, or are naturally good with words. Musicians and writers are often said to find it impossible NOT to make music or write; it is a passion, a vocation (as well, of course, in many cases a career). On the down side both musicians and writers are expected to work for peanuts (or for free) if they make it their career, with a few very rare exceptions who make millions. Of course those who make millions often seem to die young (if they are musicians at least), so be careful what you wish for.
And on the ‘consumer’ side, listening (or dancing or singing) to music, and reading a good book (neither of which take 10,000 hours to perfect) can result in an emotional and deeply involving experience, which has to be good for the soul and the brain.
After WOMAD we had five days with our daughter and three funny and fun grandchildren, then a week in stunning Queenstown with three ‘old’ and dear friends, all baby boomers or slightly older. Queenstown is too busy these days, but the countryside around is still spectacular and day hikes with few or no people within coo-ee distance can still be easily found. Baby boomers holidaying together revert to the sixties and seventies. My friend Frances and I, brought up on different sides of the world, discovered that not only could we sing all manner of silly songs from back then, like Bernard Cribbins’s “Right Said Fred,” (sung while in car) and “I love to go a wandering” (as we hiked along the Matukituki track), not only in perfect harmony but with the exact same intonations and phrasing as per the original recordings. “Valderee (valderee) Valderah (valderah)” magically falling into echoes and parts. Admittedly with respect to Fred, we didn’t know all the words, so here they are! (And here’s the YouTube of the original if you ain’t a baby boomer (or a Brit accent lover)! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge_4SlJWfl0)
Right Said Fred
by Bernard Cribbins
"Right, " said Fred, "Both of us together
One each end and steady as we go."
Tried to shift it, couldn't even lift it
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea and
"Right, " said Fred, "Give a shout for Charlie."
Up comes Charlie from the floor below.
After strainin', heavin' and complainin'
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea.
And Charlie had a think, and he thought we ought to take off all the handles
And the things wot held the candles.
But it did no good, well I never thought it would
"All right, " said Fred, "Have to take the feet off
To get them feet off wouldn't take a mo."
Took its feet off, even took the seat off
Should have got us somewhere but no!
So Fred said, "Let's have another cuppa tea."
And we said, "right-o."
"Right, " said Fred, "Have to take the door off
Need more space to shift the so-and-so."
Had bad twinges taking off the hinges
And it got us nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea and
"Right, " said Fred, "Have to take the wall down,
That there wall is gonna have to go."
Took the wall down, even with it all down
We was getting nowhere
And so we had a cuppa tea.
And Charlie had a think, and he said, "Look, Fred,
I got a sort of feelin'
If we remove the ceiling
With a rope or two we could drop the blighter through."
"All right, " said Fred, climbing up a ladder
With his crowbar gave a mighty blow.
Was he in trouble, half a ton of rubble landed on the top of his dome.
So Charlie and me had another cuppa tea
And then we went home.
(I said to Charlie, "We'll just have to leave it
Standing on the landing, that's all
You see the trouble with Fred is, he's too hasty
You'll never get nowhere if you're too hasty.")
And then there was
“Keep yer eyes on the driving,
Keep yer hands on the wheel,
Keep yer snoopy eyes on the road ahead.
We’re having fun, sittin’ in the back seat
Kissin’ and a-hugging with Fred.’(sung while in the back seat of the car, duh).
What is it about Fred??
Music and creative Bernard Cribbins writing all together. And scenery. And good friends. What could be more perfect?
Finished Part One (65,000 wds) of new novel (2/3rds of entire novel).
Am giving a 10-minute reading from “A Drop in the Ocean” at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in May in a free “Four-for-Fifty” session titled “Taking Refuge” where four writers each read for 10 minutes. The other three readers are all fantastic and I am honoured to be bracketed with them. The session is in the Limelight Theatre at the Aotea Centre in Auckland on Friday 19th May at 4pm. Come along. But more importantly book for as many of the other sessions as you can find time for and afford! (And there are lots of free sessions). It is a stunning program as always and I suspect the 65,000 seats sold in each of the past two years will go even higher.
Here is the url for the program: http://www.writersfestival.co.nz/programmes/main-programme/
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is a multiple-prize-winning New York author, and this, his latest novel The Underground Railroad , published in August, 2016, was an Oprah's Book Club pick. Goodreads classifies it as Historical Fiction, but it is also a fable, a metaphor for the harrowing stories of slavery and escape. It is centred around 15-year-old Cora, a slave born in a Georgia plantation, who runs away and escapes via many adventures through South and North Carolina (all based on true stories of many different actual slaves) on the Underground Railroad.
According to Wikipedia and other sources, the real Underground Railroad “was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early-to-mid 19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.”
The metaphor Whitehead utilises is to turn the ‘Underground Railroad' into actual underground tunnels and trains that carry the slaves to hopefully safer States or to Canada. Nowhere does he let on that there was in fact no actual underground railroad, and many readers will finish the book believing that this series of underground tunnels and trains that ran deep beneath the soil actually existed. It is an exceptionally clever and elegant metaphor and he makes it totally believable.
The book can be read as a straight-forward and very gripping and horrifying story of slavery, and indeed I assume that was Whitehead’s intention: It is a wonderful way to teach us history, and the underlying meaning and mind-bending complexity, ingenuity, courage, desperation and passion of the people (black and white) who built and ran his symbolic railway system is symbolic of those same values and characteristics and actions of the actual ‘Underground Railway’ as defined by Wikipedia.
Whitehead’s writing is superb and Cora and the many other characters are very real (not real in the actual sense, but real in our hearts).
This is a page-turner as well as a literary masterpiece, and one of the best novels I have read in a while. Having spent a few weeks in the Southern States last year ‘exploring’ the history of slavery, reading this novel was an especially powerful experience for me, and consolidated and put a human face (many human faces) to the stories I read about in museums (including those ads for runaway slaves) and ‘discovered’ when visiting slavery quarters on plantations.
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