Thanks, TracyMac. I’ve bound your extra info into the bigger copy. Much appreciated.
Thanks, Simon. I recall it very fondly as well, from the burning clothing on the clothes-line to the party that Chris Knox invited the whole Windsor Castle to...and, let's face it, you and I had the two best rooms in the house...
I think of Backstage quite a bit when in the vicinity too. I'm still extraordinarily impressed with the music we danced to, which was odd given NZ was so far down the music supply-line in the late 1970s - and currency-restrictions on how much could be imported...
The Backstage set-up with the $7 covercharge paying for a whole night of drinks was also fun. When I worked there we carried buckets around when we ran out of glasses because there was no impetus for people to keep track of their drinks and they'd just get another... So I know exactly the colour fifty barely-touched glasses of alcohol makes when poured in a bucket. And one of the enduring memories I have (besides trying to sweep the floors at 5am while tripping once) is the fashion for 'Brown Cows' (kahlua and milk) amongst young gay men then and Stan having to unpack pints and pints of milk to satisfy demand.. "Fucking milk!" ...
I have tried to source pics of Backstage for everything from Queer Nation to express to JACK magazine, and they don't seem to exist. Stan lost his photos in a fire and I've never heard of anyone who has one...
It was fun seeking out the Auckland locations – it made an interesting under-history of the city. I was surprised just how fluid the names of streets were – two of the three had been renamed, and I am fairly sure K Rd has been renumbered, but I couldn’t satisfy myself about this by the essay’s deadline. K Rd (always a venue in my own mind) was made a richer place by her references.
You are right about the appeal of Alice’s letters. The Museum of Jurassic Tech has them as a centerpiece of a collection for some time – and has valued them accordingly. The very mention of Alice May Williams to them received a lots of ‘Yes!’ responses, just as if they were waiting for someone to notice… I also found two Americans who had took time out on tours to visit the Auckland addresses they could find. I loved the opera, especially the fact that Alice was played by a black American woman. There was something nice about the fact that she was valued, fifty years on, especially in the USA which had formed such a part of her intellectual life as indicated in the letters.
I only quoted a small part of Alice’s astronomical speculations. Her Martians and the scheme of her heavens were both far more complex constructions than I had space to cover. In an ideal world I would have liked to trace the sources of some of her other thoughts about them.
I’m with you on Percival Lowell and the Japanese connection, which I didn’t know. I’ve just been reading ’China Under The Empress Dowager' by Bland & Backhouse (1910) which is this odd history, from a European point of view, that makes this component of Asiatic History alien and erotic for the Edwardian Gentleman. I actually said to someone that it was nearly Edwardian sci-fi. I could see how it had affected everyone from C.J. Cherryh to Frank Herbert.
And, yes, I do wonder about Alice’s after-life. I hope happiness and ease eventually came her way.
Hi Sacha, I probably wasn't clear. Alice was married and she stated 'we' lived at the lighthouse five years before Letter #2 (written Jan 29th 1933). I presume this 'we' meant her husband and herself. She says she has photographs of her and 'the other keeper's wife' which again I presume means that she was married to a keeper. I cannot prove this. Hugh Williams was the only Williams I could trace in the appropriate time-period to a South Island lighthouse. As you suggest there was some amount of deduction involved... and at times I went down a number of wrong tracks. I also admit to listening to the Clockwork Orange track 'I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper' during the writing:
Agreed, Robyn. I worked for a national AIDS organisation in Australia for a number of years and our letters were sometimes particularly interesting – ranging from red ballpoint bible verses decorating envelopes to an inventor in Taranaki who had constructed an electrical cure for HIV/AIDS. I liked Alice May Williams a lot – in her odd nobility and desire to communicate with well-regarded scientists as an equal. The Mt Wilson astronomers replied to her at least once, but I could not locate the letter. I also liked her self-belief while her life was unravelling around her… I really would like to know how her story developed and ended.
1) What are you reading at the moment
I am three quarters of a very enjoyable way through Peter Wells' new book 'The Hungry Heart: Journeys With William Colenso' which I'm betting will make a lit award winner next year. It is very good and a lovely production to boot with heft, weight, and texture. My late night long poem is James Merrill's 'The Changing Light At Sandover' strange book-length poem featuring seances where the great and near-great speak via ouija board. My current Simenon novel ( I am working my way through his 200 plus books) is 'The Little Man From Archangel'.
2) As a child, what did you read under the covers?
I was an insomniac child. I just waited until every one else was asleep and had free-range over the house and kitchen cupboards and could turn the lights on without fear. As a ten year old I remember reading James Bond with erotic frisson.
3) Has a book ever made you cry, and if so which one?
Don't really tear up reading, but I loathe animal cruelty so much that I will stop reading if any animals are harmed in the course.
4) You are about to be put into solitary confinement for a year and allowed to take three books. What would you choose?
Lots for the length. 1] I'm presuming multivolume sets are permitted. Proust. I've only ever made it to vol 3 before. 2] Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. 3] Ezra Pound The Cantos.
5) Which literary character would you most like to sleep with?
Gay depends if I'm topping or bottoming. Topping: I'd probably choose the Jack Kerouac character in On The Road or Jean D. from Genet's Funeral Rites. Bottoming: The Emperor Hadrian in Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian. Lesbian: I'd probably go for the Gertrude Stein character in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Straight. I'd probably go for Molly Bloom from Ulysses.
6) If you could write a self-help book, what would you call it?
A User's Guide To Illicit Drugs.
7) Which book, which play, and which poem would you make compulsory reading in high school English classes?
Book: Either Song Of The Lark or My Antonia by Willa Cather
Play:The Balcony by Jean Genet
Poem: The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower by Dylan Thomas
8) Which party from literature would you most like to have attended?
The Banana Breakfast party from Gravity's Rainbow
9) What would you title your memoirs?
Words From The After-Life
10) If you were an actor, which literary character do you dream of playing?
11) What book would you give to a lover?
Francoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse
12) Spying Mein Kampf or Dan Brown on someone’s bookshelf can spell havoc for a friendship. What’s your literary deal breaker?
You've got it. I think a complete set of Dan Brown would probably do it for me.
May I add my iota of applause.... With the additional proviso that united we stand, divided we fall.
I have long contemplated instigating a rolling boycott of TVNZ, where one by one, through inventive means of propagation, a popular campaign begins which results in the fact that, we, the NZ audience, stops watching TVNZ until things change... I'd love the lights to go out on the ratings, one monitored set by another.
I'd put in a proposal for a series involving cams on the 7th Floor of the Death Star for THAT one...
But this is really just a fantasy of the apparently powerless (and some experience of making programming for that particular network).
The malaise, however, is wider than TVNZ. I personally cannot believe how quite consistently it is demonstrated that our networks are losing numbers of viewers. There is all the crap about the competition from other platforms, but free-to-air is one of the great human dreams - with access to everyone, without payment... I mean, honestly, how can you screw that one up?
Probably the first thing to do in the screw-up routine to is rely on ratings, those 1,000 monitored TV sets placed 'strategically' (no renters) and presume those figures mean something useful. I've always thought they mainly measure people who use the TV as a sort of visual room-warmer, flickering away brightly in the corner. Which is a different audience than you'd want for your commercial, I would have thought, although I guess the dull hammer thud of repetition must ultimately work, though not cheaply... and not appropriately targeted.
Second thing is to provide enablers, like NZOA. NZOA funding is, from a taxpayers and a cultural perspective, but it has failed us as an investment. The facts provided above on NHNZ provide the exposure of this particular loss. NZOA's quasi commercial funding benefits no-one really except a commercial bottomline on programs that I suggest are practically unsalable anywhere else in the world. They don't really give us much as a people and they do not give us much as a nation. It is frequently a prop for bad decision-making.
Thirdly, the TVNZ mode of operation, whatever it is now... It is a bodged-together organisation run by incompetents who are simply there because no one overseas will take them. It has no company-backbone, mission, or philosophy. It is a parasitic growth. I refuse to watch One or Two now. On principle.
But, yep, we screwed it up. And I suggest we as a nation and as viewers have as much fault in the affair as TVNZ or NZOA. We are the audience. We've accepted the Bottom-line. We've accepted being treated like munters, like fodder. In some ways we've got what we deserve.
The only good thing is that we are measured and we vote. Turn off and tell them you are turning off. Choose your vote in the election appropriately.
I found the whole thing quite fascinating. You've covered most of the points. I was really interested in the knee-jerk and idiotic underbelly of Aotearoa/New Zealand that it exposed. Robyn Malcolm delivered a number of cogent points and I'd easily nominate her for the best sound-bytes of the election thus far. She made John Key's 'Show me the money' line look like the braying of ass. I loved the fact that a lot of reaction was focused on the way she looked. FFS! A photo, chosen by the Herald, to lead, with - I would suggest, some agenda - is the basis of public reaction? And the line thrown out that she is 'just an actor'? The All Blacks are just the All Blacks but it hasn't stopped them from being used and abused by every photo-opping politician possible.
I'd love a long opinion piece from someone on the subject 'Robyn Malcolm and What Passes For Political Opinion In A/NZ' because she is that unlikely touchstone whose involvement tends to point to truths. The fairly despicable rounding on her for our government hocking off our employment law to the Warner Bros/Peter Jackson blackmail was, it seems, just the beginning. This stouch is Let's Kill The Messenger Round Two.
And then Cameron Brewer... Yet another unpleasant personality in the too-long roster of contemporary vileness. Looking around the near abandoned shopping precinct in Newmarket shows how effective he was as a paid spruiker. I am bewildered by his apparent support. Doesn't work well with others, I would suggest. If we applied his 'too partisan' logic on Robyn Malcolm's opinion, Brewer shouldn't be allowed to speak or receive a public wage.
But, yes, an interesting affair which is too unpleasantly revealing of a New Zealand contemporary mindset to be entirely comfortable...
I used to have a dub of an NZBC 1960s documentary from the TVNZ Archives on New Zealand country schools that I used to run for people to just watch their dawning reactions. The interviewees were primarily Maori children around 8 to 10 BUT invariabably they were speaking a very crisp BBC English... It was quite startling. And they were also expressing some fairly complex thoughts in grammatically-correct sentences.
There are many influences at work, I figure, in the change since.
Technically, in our egalitarian society, accent matters not a jot, so there is no-one working to 'upskill' either themselves or others, as formerly and evidenced in the comments above involving elocution lessons. British English is also not something that people now would wish to 'upskill' to...
There is also the incredible influence of American television programming - listening to NZ adolescents now, it is definitely more American Standard accent. In 2008 had to spend some research time chatting to around 50 teenagers on the phone to find talent for a music doco, and the change was extremely obvious. I was always having to suppress the desire to ask them if they were of US heritage.
Personally, I'm fascinated by the rhythms of speech. Speaking generally, the Maori and Pacific lilt has really sung its way into our speech as a nation. Our contemporary NZE is infinitely more Polynesian than ever before in its lilt and beats.
Lovely piece, Emma. Sorry I'm breaking the rules around here by simple compliment with no added extra opinion, but hey, I figure I'm allowed.