Monday, 30 June 2008

The Post-birthday World
The Post-Birthday World

Many people have compared this novel with the film Sliding Doors, where two possible futures are played out. However Sliding Doors is all about chance: whether the heroine catches her train just in time and gets home and catches her partner cheating; or whether the doors of the train close just before she reaches them, and she doesn't catch him out. The Post-Birthday World is much less about chance, and more about choice.
It is the story, or stories, of Irina, a book illustrator in a happy but mundane relationship, who is tempted to begin an affair with another man.

Irina and her partner Lawrence have an annual tradition to have dinner with Irina's colleague, Jude, and her professional-snooker-player husband Ramsey Acton, on Ramsey's birthday. This year Jude and Ramsey have divorced, and Lawrence is away on business, but Lawrence urges Irina to keep the tradition, and make a fuss of Ramsey on his birthday. Dining alone with the enigmatic and mercurial Ramsey, Irina finds herself unexpectedly drawn to him, and is tempted to begin an affair.

At this point the story splits, with one Irina saying goodnight and going home, and looking forward to Lawrence's return; and the other Irina choosing to kiss Ramsey and see where it leads. These are the post-birthday worlds: one in which Irina continues her pleasant and orderly life with Lawrence, and one in which she embarks on a steamy affair with Ramsey which will turn her life upside down.

The wonderful thing about The Post-Birthday World is that the two stories really are parallel: Irina is the same person regardless of her choice, she has the same strengths and weaknesses; in the parallel storylines she has to deal with many of the same challenges. In both stories she struggles to assert herself with her partner and to find her own professional identity. And Lawrence and Ramsey, while being very different to each other, also have a good deal in common. In neither story does Irina have an easy time with her chosen mate, but in both she learns a great deal.

It's a brilliant book, vividly-written and full of humour and irony. And there's a very satisfying twist at the end.

You can buy it from Fishpond here.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Tiny vegetable gardens

A lot of food can come from a small garden; in Lesotho, farmers are proving just how much can be done:

[Mahaha Mphou] and the rest of her family of 10 have become some of the most enthusiastic evangelists for a home-grown idea that has almost certainly saved them from starvation.
They are now thriving on what have become known as "keyhole gardens". They are round gardens of about two metres in diameter and raised to waist-height to make them easy for the sick and elderly to work.

"As you can see, (Mahaha's family) has three keyhole gardens and that's more than enough to supply all 10 of them with all the vegetables they need, and with some left over to sell. It's changed their lives."

Read the full, fascinating story on the BBC.

That's the spirit!

'When the Times of London reported in 1837 on two University of Paris law profs dueling with swords, the dispute wasn't over the fine points of the Napoleonic Code. It was over the point-virgule: the semicolon. "The one who contended that the passage in question ought to be concluded by a semicolon was wounded in the arm," noted the Times. "His adversary maintained that it should be a colon."'

Read more about these dangerous semicolons in this great story on Slate. Thanks to Jana for the link.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

More than just groceries

An enterprising young Palmerston North mechanic has motorised a shopping trolley for riding around in. Apparently it can do 45km/h! And it's legal to ride on the road. The full story here.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Graham Bennett exhibition - Converse

If you're in Christchurch be sure to catch this amazing show of Graham Bennett sculptures at The Art House in Gloucester St, until 15 June.
Bennett's subject matter in the show deals with New Zealand's antipodean location, mapping, navigation, and the migration of peoples by sea. His beautiful, immaculate forms also suggest sentinels, lookouts, and alien peoples.
The show's centerpiece, the monumental PoDs, features a crowd of 60 forms of various heights, the tallest up to 4 metres high.
Apparently Graham Bennett has just turned 60 himself. Many happy returns, Graham. :-)

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Atmospheric optics - what an amazing site

Anyone interested in clouds, rainbows, ice halos, the aurora, green flashes, or any other crazy optical effects happening in the atmosphere will love this site.

Honestly, it has so many pages full of information and stunning photographs that I have only looked at a small portion! Which means I have a lot more to look forward to. :-D

The page that I first looked at is of rare ice halos photographed over Antarctica in 1999. Truly staggering images! And the site explains the more common halos to look out for, as well as fascinating speculation on the ice halos that might be seen on other planets, where the airborne ice crystals are made of methane, ammonia, or carbon dioxide!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Megan Lewis

Photographer Megan Lewis, originally from New Zealand, spent 5 years living with the Martu people in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia.
Her amazing photographs are the subject of her book, Conversations with the Mob. You can read more about it here. And there are some sample images on this page.

Dance dialects

Bees dance to tell each other where to find nectar. The dance is a coded representation of distance and direction, but not all bees do it in the same way: geographically separated populations of bees have slightly different dances.

Reasearchers in China have found that with practice, bees can learn to interpret the dances of foreign bees. Read the full story here.

Clothing travels

This fascinating photo essay in the Guardian shows how used clothing from the UK is recycled into new clothing and textiles in India, and how Indian saris are recycled into new clothing for sale in the UK.