Thursday, January 26, 2012


I wonder what the passengers in the sailing ship Euterpe would have thought had they known that their voyage of 1879, London to New Zealand, had been so extensively recorded, and that the records survived for over 130 years. There were three diaries written by passengers and a couple of short accounts written from memory long afterwards. And there was "The Euterpe Times" – all fourteen issues of the ship's newspaper.

On 4th September a meeting was held on the quarter deck where it was decided to publish a weekly newspaper in order to relieve the monotony of the long voyage ahead. It was unanimously resolved that Mr Stead Ellis take the chair (an empty tub) and he was also elected as editor, with Mr W. Young as sub-editor. Five or six copies of each edition would be published (it was of course to be in manuscript form) so Messrs Charlesworth, Rayson, Waite, Bargh and Owen volunteered to be clerks. Messrs Peck, Skinner and Chapman were appointed correspondents for steerage, the third cabin and the saloon.

A committee of ten, then, set about obtaining news, writing poems and letters, puzzles and conundrums and jokes, describing sports events, reviewing concerts, and soliciting letters to the editor. The first issue of The Euterpe Times appeared on Saturday 13th September with the big news of the day – the series of accidents that befell the ship before she even left Gravesend. The steamship Talford rammed her bow and sent her backwards into the Hahneman (the spelling throughout is quirky and may not be accurate) and Euterpe was towed back into the East India dock for repairs.

When she finally got underway the enthusiastic reporters recorded sightings of interesting sea creatures and birds – "a fine Benito was caught off the forecastle on Sunday morning by Mr. J. Middleton". The "speakings" were described – the ships that passed by and engaged in flag-conversation, dipping their flags in salute, and sometimes even close enough for the crew to row across and exchange mail and supplies. No doubt readers welcomed the news that it was Captain Phillips's intention to "erect a temporary bath on the main deck during the course of the coming week so that those who wish may avail themselves of this boon." There were lost and found notices – a grey blanket, a white handled pocket-knife with two blades and corkscrew, a pair of scissors left on the after hatch, finders please bring the items to the editor.

The staff was kept busy taking notes, even at Sunday services. The first issue of The Euterpe Times reported on an evening prayer meeting at which Mr Martin delivered an "interesting discourse" which he helpfully divided into three heads, each being treated "very lucidly and at considerable length". You can almost see the suppressed yawn here as the scribe noted that darkness intervened before the conclusion.

And the concerts, oh the concerts. Such riches. The programmes were published, and we learn that the First Mate, Mr Algernon Back, and Mr Chapman performed a violin duet in the third musical entertainment held on 5th September, and that Mr Tichbon sang a comic song called "Alonzo the Brave".

And that was just the first edition of "The Euterpe Times".

Photograph: Euterpe's second class cabin (c) Mike Wood Photography, with grateful thanks

Sunday, January 22, 2012


People who pinch what other people make and do for a living should stop and think about how those other people get to eat.

If the florist creates a display for a wedding would he be entitled to be paid for it? If the carpenter makes a table would you expect her to let you just take it away? Would the plumber fix your leaking pipes for nothing? Would a barrister defend you in court without sending a bill?

Why then should people who make music, or write stories, or paint pictures, be expected not to complain when other people steal their livelihood?

People who do these things, who create original works for other people to enjoy, do so because they want to, and because it is their profession. They fill in that box on forms marked occupation with “writer” or “musician” or “artist" or "photographer". Just like the carpenter, the florist, the plumber and the lawyer.

And when those works have been created, the rights of those works belong, as of right, to the people who created them. That is their copyright. That is how they make a living. They allow other people to enjoy their music by buying the CDs. They encourage other people to read their stories by buying the books. They want people to go to the movies to see their films by buying tickets.

That is how they get to eat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

QUAKE # 9494

Quake #9494 hit Christchurch this morning at 2.47am – mag 5.08, 5.9 km deep ("deep" is not the right word actually, that's too shallow for comfort) and it was centred in the ocean more or less opposite my place. That's where too many of the recent, smallish quakes have been located, and I really, really want to know what Them-Up-There have got against moi.

#9494 was the first of seven quakes today – so far, and it's only 9am. Counting from the beginning, from 4th September 2010, we have reached #9501. According to the latest predictions we will have to continue counting until 2032 or thereabouts.

All this means that we have been through many stages of responses and reactions. It started with the "OMG what was that?" stage. It was short and sharp, only lasted two or three days, because we found out very quickly what "that" was, and that there would be more to come. Around quake #2647 the "OMG that was a biggie!" stage kicked in, because the biggies kept muscling in amongst the less violent shakes. That period went on and on and on, giving the residents of Christchurch time to become reasonably skilled at guessing the magnitude of the quakes, a skill which we have been honing ever since. It's quite competetive, like the fairground competition – guess how many jellybeans in the jar, and the nearest to getting it right wins the jellybeans. Only there are no jellybeans.

We began to get tired. At about #5908 we drifted into the "Oh no not again" stage as we grabbed babies and ornaments and monitors and pots of simmering soup off the stove for the umpteenth time. I sit at a desk beside a filing cabinet, the drawers of which slide out too readily in a quake. Too far and the cabinet rocks and sways because the cabinet becomes front-heavy and unstable. I have learned not to leave a mug of coffee on the top, and to lock the cabinet when I've finished work for the day.

Then came the angry and impatient roar of the "for heaven's sake, enough is enough!" stage which could be heard throughout the Canterbury region. That was at about #7493. Then, believe it or not, came boredom: the "Was that another one or was it the wind rattling the windows?" stage. This, I feel, is about to morph into the "Really? I didn't feel a thing!" stage, because as the saying goes, you can get used to anything given time. We have had ample time to get used to living with earthquakes – nearly seventeen months – and we hardly notice them now unless they thunder in at magnitude 5 or more, are shallow, and centred within 10km of where we are. Like #9494 at 2.47 this morning. The wretched thing woke me up.

The picture is Landscape (detail)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


The late great Dave Allen once told an outrageous joke. A man flew into Heathrow airport and went through customs towing an elephant. There was a piece of bread stuck to each of the animal's ears. When officials arrested the man for importing an elephant without appropriate papers, he said "that's not an elephant, that's my lunch."

At least that sandwich filling was self-supporting. Important if, like me, you read while eating your lunch. I've just finished mine, and see that there is a messy shred of tomato on the carpet and a squirt of mayonnaise down my front. Par for the course. A simple tomato, lettuce and ham sandwich ended up slippery and unmanageable.

There is hardly any filling that can go between two slices of bread that doesn't leak, or fall out and have to be prodded back into place between each bite. Peanut butter? Sure, but not if you add the banana that makes it delicious. Jam or honey? Always dribble, and anyway they're not for grown-ups. Pate? That's just posh paste, and smells like cat food.

The really satisfying sandwiches have juicy, tasty fillings which end up slippery and limp, unless they're thick and chunky, okay only for riggers with gargantuan appetites and big hands on construction sites. Dainty they are not. Oscar Wilde would have lifted a scornful eyebrow. He said, with less than his usual elegance, "When I ask for a watercress sandwich, I do not mean a loaf with a field in the middle of it."

Cucumber now. It is worse than anything for escaping. Although I remember salmon and cucumber sandwiches from a tiny corner shop in London and munched on the run between the train station and the office. They never leaked or fell apart – I wish I knew how they did it.

Edwardian ladies served tea and cucumber sandwiches at their afternoon parties. The bread, newly baked, would have been sliced thinly downstairs by a kitchen maid with a serrated knife – no easy task. The crusts were trimmed off, and the sandwiches cut into dainty triangles. By that time they were tiny – just right for the ladies upstairs to nibble without worrying about sagging and slithering.

There's no way that those Edwardian ladies would have countenanced slippery sandwiches. Another art lost to us.

The picture is "November 5th"