When the Spirit’s on the Sea

Sailing with the Spirit of Adventure Trust

I went sailing for the first time in about 30 years this time last year when I signed on for an “Adult Coastal” with the Spirit of Adventure Trust. This is different to a Spirit of Adventure experience for youth trainees, with its programme of empowering activities and challenges. On an Adult Coastal the ship needs to be moved to a new location, and berths are offered to adults keen to help, learn and experience life at sea.

I did all three of these things and it was wonderful. We sailed from Dunedin to Nelson and I sweat-and-tailed, learnt the difference between bunts and clews and stood watch off the coast of Kaikoura under the stars, listening to the night wind blowing over a dark sea. Continue reading “When the Spirit’s on the Sea”

Spearo – book review

Spearo, by Mary-anne Scott

If you’re a kiwi and you go to the beach, here’s a tip: read this story and learn about spear fishing. I had no idea it was a thing. I thought fishing at sea involved sitting passively for hours on a boat until a tug on the line left you dealing with whatever Neptune sent you. But a “spearo” goes beneath the surface, free diving, and gets to know the fish in their own environment. This is not someone sitting comfortably on a boat having a random tug of war with some poor fish they may not even want. A spearo goes out to get dinner. Continue reading “Spearo – book review”

The Dutch House – book review

The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett

The portrait of the girl in the red coat is of Maeve, and this is her story.

We come at this fact obliquely, as the narrator is Danny, her much younger brother.

I love this painting, presented on the cover of the book. I referred back to it many times as I read to bring Maeve into the room with me. She looks a damn good kid, but with a bit of spirit. Sharp. Initially, the painter is brought to the Dutch House to paint Maeve’s mother, who decides she is having none of it. So Maeve stares out at the painter throughout several long sittings, a little bit in love with him, but she keeps to her seat, steady and calm, the still focus of the house while things go on around her.

Continue reading “The Dutch House – book review”

Books that don't make the cut

Probably not for book club

Here are some books that I have recently read and enjoyed to some degree. Others will have loved them. They miss the cut of my recommended books because something is lacking: elegant writing, spirit, a character to love or simply they don’t add up. Or they may be just too weird for your regular group of bookies. If you see a book you love here, please tell me what I missed.


Lost Roses, by Martha Jane Kelly

Once again, I fine myself applauding Martha Jane Kelly for her research and her passion and railing against a poorly edited book (can’t believe I just said that. Who am I to criticise Penguin? And yet, here I go.) This could have been a great read. It has all the elements: a fascinating period in history with the Bolsheviks being bolshy and the White Russians fleeing their palaces. A cliffhanger at every chapter end. There are interesting characters with some power to change their lives and a workable plot line. But there are easily fixed flaws that spoilt the read for me. Just me, perhaps, so don’t worry, Penguin. You’ve got a million other readers for this. Continue reading “Books that don't make the cut”

Wellington’s 180th anniversary

Wellington turned 180 years old this week. Here are twelve facts about the foundation of the settlement.

  1. 22 January 1840 marks the arrival of the Aurora, the first ship carrying colonial settlers to the colony.
  2. The immigrants initially camped at Petone, a town they called Britannia. The proposed town plan was drawn by men with no local knowledge and looked very similar to London (pictured above). The Hutt River flooded. Continue reading “Wellington’s 180th anniversary”

Damascus. Sex, violence & empathy

Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas

This isn’t a book review as such because, a) I only review books I love, and, b) it is full of gratuitous violence which I abhor. The gratuitous violence, however, is the point of this post. And on a more positive note, in the real world we have progressed from the days when such violence was accepted without heed. Time to move on with our books?

Continue reading “Damascus. Sex, violence & empathy”

Singing the Trail – book review

The Story of Mapping Aotearoa New Zealand, by John McCrystal

I think this is the nicest book anyone has ever given me. Thanks Davie. GOD! I love old maps and here, for the first time, is a whole, beautiful book of them. They’re not of the ancient European world, either. These are New Zealand maps and they tell our (mostly colonial) history through the contemporaneous pens of the early cartographers. I love all the cartographers, too. Continue reading “Singing the Trail – book review”