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Monday, March 2, 2015

Writer's cramp

Everyone knows the agony when a muscle abruptly cramps and goes iron hard.  It really is agony.  Worse still when you wake up in the night with your leg cramped when you have stretched your toes in your sleep.  Or that over-use of the mouse-holding hand that seizes up your wrist and lower arm just as you are falling asleep.  With your hand and wrist all you can do is sit up, massage like mad, and wait, while with your leg you are best to stand up and stamp down hard on the affected foot. Warm towels or rubbing with a lump of ice are also often effective.  Too often, however, you fix one leg, and the other one promptly cramps.

I thought of this because a friend said to me, "Have you noticed I haven't been drinking coffee? Well," she went on, "I was so dead tired after trying to fix leg cramps all night that I was desperate enough to try anything.  So I gave up coffee, and the relief was immediate.  I haven't had leg cramps since."

Well, that is unusual.  Though maybe not as unusual as my dear stepfather's remedy of a cork in his pyjama pocket, or under his pillow.  My husband, Ron, swears by a cork, too. He keeps one in his pocket if we are going to a movie or a concert, to stave off cramps caused by lack of leg room.

What other home remedies are there?  A simple google search yielded interesting results.

Vinegar is popular.  Sip a tablespoon of bread and butter pickle juice, says one correspondent. Organic cider vinegar at the ratio of two tablespoons to a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, says another.  But how about keeping a bar of soap at the bottom of the bed? That's definitely unusual!

Low thyroid levels could be the problem.  If you get frequent cramps in the legs at night, you should definitely consult your physician.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Great review of Eleanor's seafaring story

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Popular historical fiction features female protagonists in exotic settings. Eleanor’s Odyssey delivers both these elements in a real life narrative. In 1799 young and newly married Eleanor Reid sets sail with her merchant captain husband, who is transporting a ship’s hold full of Irish convicts to a penal colony in New South Wales (Australia). Author and maritime historian Joan Druett rescued Eleanor Reid’s narrative, first published in serial format in a nineteenth century journal, and presents each fascinating leg of the journey, giving historical, political, and socio-economic background on the places Eleanor and the ship Friendship called upon.

Part primary source travelogue, part narrative non-fiction, Eleanor’s Odyssey presents a deeply researched panorama of culture and maritime commerce during the time of Napoleon. This is a fascinating book on many levels, including over one hundred illustrations - from ladies’ fashion to maps to natural history - and many original drawings by Ron Druett. Eleanor’s Odyssey is a great value.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Captain Phillips

This is the true story of the attack on the Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates, and the hostage-taking of the shipmaster, Captain Richard Phillips.  It doesn't view like a docudrama, however -- it has all the suspense of a firstclass thriller, and the thrill of being reality.  It is so well done that you feel as if you are viewing the actual events as they unfold.

Tom Hanks, as Phillips, is outstanding, projecting as well as he did in the blockbuster Castaway, where he successfully carried off a virtually solo part.  Equally impressive though, is the man who plays the hostage-taker, Musa.  This is Barkad Abdi, who (like Hanks and the production team) received many Academy nominations for the film, and won the award for best supporting actor.

All four Somalis in the film play their parts brilliantly.  They look as mad and as panicked as the pirates they were playing must have seemed.  But Barkad Abdi is the one who projects the best. A high point of the film is when he is tricked on board the USS Bainbridge, and looks about, his demeanor as confused and intimated -- though trying not to betray it -- as Musa's must have been as he was led through the commotion on deck, while helicopters revolved and buzzed in the dark overhead.

Was the film true to the actual events?  Some of the Maersk Alabama crew assert that the captain was not quite as heroic as he pretended to be, but that kind of carping is easily dismissed in the face of the sheer quality of this film.  And don't forget to pay attention to the particularly excellent score.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Guinea Boat


While it features different characters and craft, The Guinea Boat can be regarded as a very satisfying sequel to Bond’s first foray into the world of freebooting during the Age of Nelson, Turn a Blind Eye. This time, his story features two likely lads who are struggling to survive in the shore-side village of Hastings, England, one firmly on the right side of the law (and bullied because of it), and the other an opportunist with his eye on profit and fortune.  The focus is a smart little fishing lugger, mortaged to a pair of roughs who demand the impossible sum of guinea a week.

In the first of several edge-of-the-seat thrills, the boys are snatched by a press gang, to be rescued by a flamboyand free-trader, whose real name is Prettyman but is known as Ugly Joe—and a rotten scoundrel of a pirate he is, indeed. And, from then on, life gets even more complicated, as he involves the boys in his nefarious doings. Excitement piles on excitement as Nat and Alex follow their different, but often converging, paths, leading up to about the best climax to a seafaring tale I have ever read. Alaric Bond is an experienced writer, and this shows, as does the deep love of the sea and sail that runs in his veins. The Guinea Boat is recommended to all lovers of tales of adventure at sea, as teenagers will enjoy it just as much as their parents and grandparents, if not even more. 

The other Joan and the sailing ship Euterpe

A nostalgia post from Joan Curry


In the old days of sailing ships there was a great to-do when crossing the equator. King Neptune, the lord of the sea, had to be appeased by anyone, passengers or crew, who had not trespassed on his domain before. The ceremony of crossing the line was a rite of passage, and could involve anything from a splashing of water to no-holds-barred. In the sailing ship Euterpe, on the voyage of 1879, almost no one escaped.

The ship’s newspaper, The Euterpe Times, stuck its tongue firmly in its cheek and declared that several of the passengers were anxious about crossing the line, not on account of any shaving by Neptune or other pranks by the sailors but the consequences to the ship and themselves. Would it, for example, cause the Euterpe to bump violently? Some expressed their determination not to sleep until the line was safely passed, for fear it should be crossed in the night and they should be pitched out of bed. Others expected to actually see the line, “something of the nature of a clothesline we presume”.

At about 9pm on 30 September Neptune was heard bellowing from under the bowsprit, demanding to come aboard. He was dressed in an old coat and long whiskers made of towed flax, and his arrival triggered “a jolly spree at water throwing.” The lifeboats had been secretly filled with water beforehand and everyone on deck, including the captain, got a soaking. “Even the ladies joined in the water fight” wrote one passenger, and only the women who were below decks escaped. A few men who tried to hide in their cabin were hauled on deck for a good wetting.

In the climax of the entertainment the sailors “shaved” three of their comrades who had not crossed the line before, by lathering their faces with tar and dirt and then scraping it off with a large wooden “razor”. If the victim opened his mouth to yell or protest (and who could help it?) he got a mouthful of tar and dirt, and buckets of water were thrown over him. All but one of the passengers were spared this treatment – Captain Phillips would not allow it – but “as for water, we were all thoroughly drenched” wrote one.

The unlucky passenger was a young man called Peck who had rashly declared that he would “fell the first one who touched him”. A diarist described how three figures emerged from behind the after hatch, seized him and threw him violently on his back, and “in less [time] than it takes to write these words he was bedaubed with a compound of molasses and dirt and dowsed with a few buckets of water.” It didn’t end there. “He had returned to the forward part of the ship and was busy cleaning the dirt off his face and neck when someone threw a pailful of tar from one of the boats right on to his head, nearly suffocating him and covering his hair with the nastiness.”

At the end of the festivities there was dancing on deck and “altogether a night of a queer sort was enjoyed very much” by crew and passengers – except possibly young Peck.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thunderbird mail

Is there anyone out there who loathes Thunderbird with the same passion that I do?

I found it incredibly slow.  Following advice on the internet, I disabled McAfee scanning -- which I didn't need, anyway, as I already had a McAfee subscription on all devices necessary.  Did it make a jot of difference?  No, it did not.  Many hours of frustration later, I got in touch with the tech guys at McAfee and a kind gentleman who probably lives in India took charge of my computer and did some tweaking.  The program was still scanning attachments, he explained.  And so the mail program was speeded up to something like normal.

But, my mail arrives with no hint of the name or address of the sender.  I find this very uncomfortable.  I like to check the sender before opening mail.  Indeed, it seems the sensible thing to do.

There have been many frustrating hours of trying to fix this.  What I am supposed to do is download an app that tacks the address or name of the sender to the mail to my hard drive, then go to tools/settings/apps and hit "the option button next to the search bar."  But is there an option button next to the search bar?

No, there is not. But there is windows mail on my old laptop. And oh dear me, when I boot up the machine and open windows mail, down the mail comes just as it should, complete with the name or address of the sender.  The relief is indescribable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Middle-earth comes to town

Last year, Wellington mourned the closing of the indie Parson's Books, which was the best place in town for buying classical disks and DVDs.  At the same time that Parson's went, the cafe on the mezzanine went too, something else for all of us to rue.

But now that cafe has reopened, with the nostalgic name Parsonage Cafe, and with a LORD OF THE RINGS theme that was created by business owner Phil Saxby (known to cruisers as the proprietor of Sommerfields, purveyor of quality New Zealand souvenirs) and Wellington designer Karen Cubis Smith (both pictured above).

Cubis Smith calculates that she devoted one thousand hours to the project, not just designing but making artifacts as well.  She says she is particularly pleased with a model of the dragon Smaug, which veils a long pipe along the wall of the Hobbit Room.

Saxby is pleased that he was able to coax a chef from the old cafe, Helen Brice, to return.  And will she serve hobbit food?  Who knows -- and who cares, as long as the sandwiches are as absolutely fresh as they were before.  Avocado and crispy bacon was my favorite.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Cruise ship capital volunteers

It's a big season for cruise ships in Wellington this year, but the city has volunteers willing to give all those visiting cruisers help and advice.

One of the volunteers pictured was a big help to us, last year.

Two Americans were arriving for the day, and had clear emailed instructions to take the free shuttle to the shuttle stop in Brandon Street (opposite our flagship department store, the wonderful Kirkaldie and Stains), where we would meet them.  Instead, they arrived, and asked the way to the information booth, so were sent to Queen's Wharf.  We arrived, looked around, were accosted, and yes, said the volunteer, they did mention your name.

Well, great efforts were made, and two confused Americans were rounded up surprisingly fast.

These helpful people are called Wellington City Ambassadors, and have been meeting passengers for over four years.  Usual questions are how to get to the Weta Cave, Te Papa, Mount Victoria (for a panoramic view of the city), Wellington Zoo (that's easy -- the number 10 bus), Old St. Paul's -- a walk to the Beehive, and then a block north -- the Botanic Gardens, and the Cable Car.

Hop-on hop-off buses are popular, though I notice a lot of Australians are canny enough to buy a rover day ticket, and roam the city and suburbs by bus and train.  There have also been questions about how to find the best coffee (the best is a certain outlet at the airport, but never mind), the best bookshop (Unity, of course), and how to get certain broken things mended.  Though I am not one of the volunteers (yet) I have often been asked how to buy souvenir stamps. And my biggest recommendation is a walk about our beautiful waterfront, starting at Queen's Wharf.

And of course everyone comments about the infamous Wellington wind.  If it is a lovely calm day -- which often happens -- they ask what happened to our breezes.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The "Other Joan" introduces herself

I thought it was a good idea for the second "word from the other Joan" to let Joan Curry tell you about herself -- in what, as it happens, was her very first blog post.  Naturally it is an INTRODUCTION.

I'm a writer by profession and a painter for fun. As a writer my work tends to skim along under the radar; only people who read the book page of the Christchurch Press see the reviews I've written, only people who read books and discuss them in groups (in the NZ WEA Book Discussion Scheme) read the notes that I might have provided. Feature articles have appeared here and there over the years, and the occasional short story turns up in magazines. Students I've taught have been at least partly responsible for the manual that eventually arose out of the courses they attended, and many others have bought the book and followed the hints and ideas they found between its covers. I'm not, therefore, a high-profile writer of blockbuster novels but rather a bread-and-butter writer who can sometimes add jam to her toast.

Painting is something else. Sunday painters are timorous creatures, unsure of their talent, usually untrained and easily squashed. People surge back and forth in front of their pictures trying to find something to say, because they too are unsure. They are also possibly afraid that if they enthuse too much they might get given the picture, because hobby painters no longer have enough room in their houses to hang any more. Amateur painters seek the approval of amateur critics (because they are the only ones they know) so they tend to paint pictures that their friends approve of - topographically accurate landscapes (chocolate-box pretties), apples and pears that look like apples and pears, and portraits that as someone once said always have something wrong with the mouth. Bad mistake. Even if it is true that, as Edward de Bono once said, unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations, it is better to paint pictures that you approve of and take the consequences. A friend once described an exhibition of modern art as being full of pictures that looked as though they had been at the bottom of a bird cage. Praise like that has so far eluded me, but I have hopes. I am having my first exhibition in March 2010 at the Christchurch Arts Centre and hope to hang several quite bold pictures as well as a few more conventional ones. Here's a sample - it's called White Water.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


The book's number one review on

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful insight 2 Feb. 2015
Format:Kindle Edition
This is a fascinating book on many levels. Eleanor Reid's journal, compiled during an extensive voyage taken while England was still in the midst of the French Revolutionary war is, in itself, a valuable record of the period. During 1799 the Friendship, an East India Company vessel, set sail from Cork for the penal colony at Port Jackson, before continuing to more exotic calls in the South Seas. Throughout the journey Reid used her privileged position as the captain's wife to comment, not only on places visited and people met, but a vast array of associated matters. These included political changes and social etiquette as well as the more mundane minutiae of meals aboard ship and ashore.

So what we have are the writings of a young, perceptive and recently married woman (Reid was just twenty-one at the outset), that simply ooze charm. Sympathetic editing makes them slightly more acceptable to the twenty-first century reader without losing any of the original spontaneity or detail, while a contemporary commentary has been added that gives background information, explanatory notes and the mature overview we would expect from one of our leading historians. The result is truly absorbing reading; it has certainly captivated me, and I would highly recommend it to anyone with a feel for the period.