Friday, 31 August 2007

The measurer of the land

My great grand father was a surveyor and explorer in New Zealand. During his survey work he named hundreds of features throughout today's Otago, Southland and Fiordland. Here is an extract about places he named.
James McKerrow was a prolific namer of features he surveyed. Here is a extract from a History Honours thesis to University of New Zealand, 1948, by David G. Herron entitled James McKerrow - Surveyor, Explorer and Civil Servant. With main reference to exploration, 1861-63.
Since much of the country over which he passed was virgin, McKerrow took on himself the task of naming prominent features of the landscape. The policy employed in this work he described thus:“ In naming of objects, those already in use in the district were always adopted, they are generally defined to a few creeks or perhaps a hill or two in the vicinity of the respective stations. The other names I either endeavoured to make descriptive or suggestive: this, in the case of the more prominent peaks, appears to me to be of much consequence to the traveller, for they become so many finger posts pointing the way. The great landmarks, Leaning Rock, Double Cone, and Black Peak, I found of much service in determining my whereabouts at the beginning of the survey; their names are legible in characters not to be mistaken”(1).“ A great number of descriptive names were given thus: Cathedral Peaks, The Monument, the Beehive, the Crown, the Coronet, Tooth Peaks, Twin Peaks, the Minarets, Mt. Sentinel, Titan Rocks, Spire Peak, and so on and so on……The mountain ranges were named after distinguished men in science, literature, travel and position, such as Kepler, Humbolt, Murchison,. Livingstone,, Forbes ( Professor of Natural Philosophy 60 years ago at Edinburgh, an authority on glaciers), Hunter (John, Anatomist) Sturt (Australian Explorer), Albert ( late Prince Consort)) Eglinton (Lord Lieutentant of Ireland and Lord Rector Glasgow University), Richardson (Sir John),Thomson, Hector, Garvie, Buchanan (local and well known), Goldie Hill and Bryce Burn were after my two men who were true and faithful throughout.” (2)“ An island in Lake Manawa-pori is Poman, named in 1862 by James McKerrow, after the principal Island or “mainland” of Orkney Islands in Scotland.,” with a view to help the rhythm of the future poets, who will describe in flowing numbers the charms of beautiful Manapouri, as McKerrow prophesises…….The Freeman was named by Mr. McKerrow in honour of Mr. Freeman Jackson, a very early runholder (3)….When Mr. James McKerrow was engaged with reconnoitring surveys during the years 1861-63, he named a number of places.” A few of these he named in the Wakatipu and Te Anau districts as follows: He gave the name Caples to one of the branches of the Greenstone, rivers….McKerrow named the Lingstone Mountains after Mr. D. Livingstine, the celebrated African explorer. David Peak(6802 ft/)in memory of Dr. Livingston’s christian name, Moffat Peak (5848 ft) , an African missionary and father-in-law of Livingstone. Eglinton River and Mountain after the Earl of Eglinton and Winton at that time Lord Lieutenanr of Ireland. Skelmorlie Peak (5933 ft.) and Larg Peak (5555 ft.)are both Ayrshire names. Mount Christina (8675 ft.) after a girl who was companion to Mrs. McKerrow in his absence. Clinton River, Te Anau, after one of the family names of the Duke of Newcastle, who was Colonial Secretary in 1863. Worsely Creek, North Fiord, Te Anau, named after the sheep farmer who drayed the boar for the surveyors from Manapouri Lake to Re Anau. Nurse Creek, after another sheep farmer, Lakes McKellar and Gunn after David McKellar and George Gunn….. Lake Fergus was named after Hon. T. Fergus in 1863. Bob’s cove was named after Bob Fortune, Mr. Rees’s boatman” (4)“ In the Doon, Dean Hill, Bean Forrest, Afton and other Scottish names Mr. McKerrow honoured the land of his birth,(5) Mt. Pisgah was taken from the bible. It was the vantage point from which the promised land was seen.(6).In his book, Otago Placenames (7), Mr. H. Beattie gives an exhaustive list of Mcerrow’s placenames. “ Besides J.T. Thomson, the most popular name giver in our history was probably James McKerrow”, he states. Mr. Beattie goes on to list more than 220 place names which are associated with McKerrow’s labours.(1) Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. V, July 23,1862. P 16.(2) Letter to Hocken.(3) Roberts, W.H.S. Place Names and Early of Otago and Southland, P.32. " " Maori nomenclature, Early History of Otago. P.47(4) Roberts. P.48. Roberts does not make it absolutely clear whether or not McKerrow gives the last two names.(5) Kilmarnock Standard, 22nd August, 1903/(6) McKerrow’s Reminiscences.(7) Beattie, H. Otago Place Names, Pp. 78-86.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

My favourite mountain

This picture shows Khan Tengri, the highest peak in the Tienshan mountain range in the east of Kazakhstan, on the border with China. It is approximately 7000 metres high.The view is from the summit of Marble Peak (6400 meters high). The glacier on the right is the Inilchek glacier which is more than 60 kilometers long.

Mountains inspire many people. Most have their favourite mountain or mountain ranges. I have been fortunate in seeing many of world’s most spectacular mountains, and my favourite range is the majestic Teinshan in Kazakhstan. Khan Tengri is the mountain I adore: so beautifully sculptered and imposing.

One thousand two hundred years ago Khan Tengri (Lord of the Spirits) was first mentioned in Chinese chronicles. Many famous explorers and mountaineers such as Semionov and Merzbacher tried to reach it. The Ukranian alpinist M. Pogrebetskiy was the first person who succeeded in climbing it (1931). Passing from the south, he managed to solve the difficult problem of getting enough provisions for his long-term expedition in such a wild area by taking a caravan of horses to the foot of the mountain. He then found the most logical way up to the top, which is now considered the classical route. In 1964 B. Romanov and K. Kuzmin opened the northern rib on the side of Northern Engilchek, on what is called the Marble Rib, along a series of marble chimneys from 6,000 to 7,000 meters altitude. The eastern face was first climbed only in 1988. The most difficult routes from a technical standpoint are on the northern face, which rises up for 2,000 meters. They were opened in 1974 by E. Mislovskiy and B. Studetin. The climb up Khan-Tengri is difficult indeed because of the extreme conditions: the frequent bad weather, the hurricane-like winds and the extremely low temperature. On an average the ascent up the normal route takes twelve days. The record for the base camp-summit-base camp course is fourteen and-a-half hours, set by Gleb Sokolov, who won the contest held at Khan Tengri in August 1992.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

A new perspective on climate change and flooding

People swim to survive the Jakarta floods in February 2007
I was fascinated by this article I found this morning as I have been working with flood preparedness and relief for around 30 years in Asia. Each year it seems to get worse. In February this year I was quite involved in the flood relief operation in Jakarta. This time my family was affected too. Our house is in a flood-prone area called Bangka. On the first day of the floods it took me almost 4 hours to get to work. We were without water and electricity for 8 days and I felt could identify with the affected people more than normal. This article helps to explain why the flooding is getting worse year by year.
Climate flooding risk 'misjudged
Climate change may carry a higher risk of flooding than was previously thought, the journal Nature reports.
Researchers say efforts to calculate flooding risk from climate change do not take into account the effect carbon dioxide (CO2) has on vegetation.
Higher atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas reduce the ability of plants to suck water out of the ground and "breathe" out the excess.
Plants expel excess water through tiny pores, or stomata, in their leaves.
Their reduced ability to release water back into the atmosphere will result in the ground becoming saturated.
Areas with higher predicted rainfall have a greater risk of flooding. But this effect also reduces the severity of droughts.
The findings suggest computer models of future climate change may need to be revised in order to plan for coming decades.
Soil saturation
Plants perform two functions that are of key importance in climate change.
They absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it to oxygen as a by-product of their energy generation process.
Plants also absorb water through their roots, and release it back into the atmosphere through their stomata.
CO2 enters plants through the stomata; water evaporates through the same holes.
The higher the level of atmospheric CO2, the more the pores tighten up or open for short periods.
As a result, less water passes through the plant and into the air in the form of evaporation. In turn, this means that more water stays on the land, eventually running off into rivers when the soil becomes saturated.
A team led by Dr Richard Betts from the Met Office has modelled how this will affect climate change predictions.
"It's a double-edged sword," said Dr Betts, "it means that increases in drought due to climate change could be less severe as plants lose less water.
"On the other hand, if the land is saturated more often, you might expect that intense rainfall events are more likely to cause flooding."

Monday, 27 August 2007

Feedback on the climate change article

John.LaPointe said...
Oh, Bob... If you could see the Arctic now, you'd weep. During my last trip there in 1998, the permafrost was permanently melting. Inuit homes throughout the western portion were sinking into bottomless bog and getting around in the summer meant slogging through hip-deep bog in many places. You know, I frankly couldn't give a damn about the "debate" over whether this is a natural or a man-made phenomenon. It's happening, and whatever the cause we bear a collective responsibility to minimize humankind's impact (or contribution) to the process as fast as humanly possible. We're quick to wage war and can always find gazillions for that... but climate change? "Oh, so expensive! Let's talk!" John L

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Global warming-climate change

L to R Bob Mckerrow, Will Steger, Paul Schurke, Bob Mantell and Richard Weber.
This image was taken in May of 1985 on the Steger International Polar expedition . The dog with the sunglasses is Slidre, he went to the pole and Greeenland. Slidre was born at the Eureka weather station on Ellesmere Island.

On Monday I went out to a village in Jakarta to be interviewed by a movie director on the Global Warming-Climate change programme we are working on with the Indonesian Red Cross. It is interesting that most of us who were with Will Steger on his 1985-86 unsupported dog sled expedition to the North Pole, have become strong advocates for cutting green house gas emissions.

Will Steger the leader is currently leading the Global Warming 101 Expedition to Baffin Island which gives people an opportunity to learn first-hand how the Inuit culture is coping with global warming. The Will Steger Foundation is a nonprofit organization You can check it out on Will's site:

The five of us pictured above spent considerable time in 1985 with Inuit communities living in the MacKenzie River Delta, Canada and along the coastline of the Arctic Ocean as we travelled by dog sled to Point Barrow, Alaska. We could see that the changing weather patterns were affecting their survival as traditional sources of food were reduced by the shrinking thickness and area of ice on the Arctic Ocean. The next year when we travelled to Baffin Island, we saw and heard the same story. I am delighted my old friend Will Steger is up there is Baffin Island bringing the reality of global warming to our computer screens. I will update you on the work we are doing here in Jakarta in the next few days when I get a spare minute

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

15 days to go - The pressure comes on Richie

With 15 days to go to the Rugby World Cup, a lot of attention is being focussed on this man: Richie McCaw the captain of the New Zealand All Blacks. Will Richie be holding the World Cup aloft on 20 October in Paris ?
Richard McCaw, or ‘Richie’ as he is widely known, is a key figure for the All Blacks and is generally recognised as the world’s best openside flanker. McCaw has the size and strength to be a punishing defender, the cool head and quick hands required to master the breakdown area, and the speed and handling skills to play a traditional tearaway’s linking role to superb effect. McCaw was named as All Blacks captain for the first time for the Test against Wales in 2004 aged just 23. He led the side in 12 Tests in 2006.He was sidelined for the middle part of 2004 with a head injury, but came back mid-way through the Air New Zealand NPC to captain the Canterbury side to a stunning final victory over Wellington. He earned the Air New Zealand NPC Division One Player of the Year for his effort.A tireless worker who reads the game well, McCaw was voted as Newcomer of the Year by the International Rugby Players Association in 2002. He was brought up in North Otago and educated at Otago Boys High, where he played his rugby at No 8. Had an outstanding 2003 Rugby World Cup and won the New Zealand player of the year award at the 2006 and 2003 Steinlager Rugby Awards. He was awarded the IRB Player of the Year award in 2006 after being a finalist in both the International Rugby Players Association and IRB awards in 2003 and again for the IRB in 2005.McCaw led Canterbury to the NPC title in 2004 and then took the Crusaders to back-to-back Super 14 titles in 2005 and 2006 before assuming command of the national team.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Ebenezer and Mary Teichelmann

Ebenezer Teichelmann was the subject of my last book and I devote considerable space to the tender relationship he had with his wife Mary, both pictured above.
Ebenezer Teichelmann Pioneer New Zealand mountaineer, photographer, surgeon and conservationist.
Cutting Across Continents
by Bob McKerrow
The 274 page book is richly illustrated with 106 photographs, 4 maps list of ascents, glossary of terms and a comprehensive index, has a Foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary. Published by Tara Press New Delhi, India and available from http://www.indiaresearhcpress/
and distributed in New Zealand by Craig Potton Publishing.
Born in South Australia in 1859 to German and Scottish parents, Teichelmann trained as a doctor and surgeon in Australia, England, Ireland, (1880-90) and later updated his surgery skills in England, Germany and Austria. (1912). He emigrated to New Zealand in 1987.
Author Bob McKerrow describes his struggle to piece together the life of Ebenezer Teichelmann:“At times I struggled to find what made this remarkable man tick, but the more I talked to people who knew him, I slowly brought together his many faces; Doctor, surgeon, public health promoter, mountaineer, explorer, photographer, conservationist, world traveler, philanthropist, philosopher, humanitarian, gardener, soldier, promoter of free-public libraries and tourism, tennis player, swimming, golf and cricket club president, newspaper director, Trustee Savings Bank pioneer, admirer of abattoirs, harbour board chairman, and a rationalist by faith. A canvas as wide as the world.”
Friend of……..Friend of ferrymen, gold-miners, publicans, prostitutes, farmers, explorers, speculators, rock-solid working women, fishermen, sailors, shepherds, saw-millers, tunnelers, blacksmiths and shop-keepers who lived on the edge of life, at the end of the world. Teichelmann lived on the periphery of the mountains and he felt their pulse and moods in his daily work, travels and life. The watery arteries of the snow, ice and mountains often blocked his passage as he tried to reach patients needing urgent medical treatment. He fell in love with their shape, light and curves and sensitively captured their moods on his large plate camera. There was a sense of intimacy in his photographs and writing, and when he was moved by the beauty around him, would often quote from Longfellow, Stevenson or other romantic poets. He was in love with Mary, a beautiful and unconventional women.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Kalibata village - Jakarta

I have a movie director here at the moment making a small documentary on global warming.
I went out with her this morning to Kalibata in Jakarta, which is situated on the Ciliwung River, 3 metres below the main road bridge.

Kalibata is typical of slum areas in mega cities throughout Asia. Situated on the true left of a garbage choked river, the people are subject to flooding every year. On the opposite side of the river is a garbage dump where 20 trucks were unloading their contents. This year in February, all the people in Kalibati were evacuated and the village was covered with 6 metres of water. The bridge above had its iron railings twisted and broken by the sheer force of the river.

I spoke to Sulieman, who makes a living from retrieving water battles thrown into the river.
“ It’s hard work catching the bottles, cleaning them, and crushing them into blocks,” he said. For all this work he makes $ 0.45 a kg. The life of garbage collectors, recyclers and slum dwellers in Jakarta is very difficult, and worsening year by year with climate changes.
The Indonesian Red Cross has started a programme, community based risk reduction, to train and empower villages like this to be able to protect their lives and communities.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Michael Jones with a big heart in South Africa

Feedback from John Tulloch

John said...
I was lucky enough to encounter Michael Jones numerous times during my time as a sports journalist. As a player he was artistry in motion and as you've outlined he was a prince off the field as well.

I was covering the All Black tour of South Africa in 1992 and the team was playing Central Unions in a scruffy dustbowl of a town called Witbank. Following the match and having done my various interviews and filed back to New Zealand, I meandered out into the now empty stadium, bar for a gaggle of laughing, yelling black kids down one end. I investigated further saw amidst the melee of youngsters was Michael Jones conducting an impromptu rugby clinic.

Jones, who hadn't played that day had a look of real joy on his face as the kids relished getting a master class in the game from a true great. In the end, as darkness fell, a gruff Laurie Mains (was he ever anything else?!) barked out from under the main stand for his star flanker to get moving as the team was boarding the bus. Jones left somewhat reluctantly, and the kids gave him a boisterous send-off thanking him profusely. This was just one example of many I witnessed of Jones' kind heartedness and generosity. He was a class act.

August 17, 2007 7:19 AM

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Rugby World Cup-Michael Jones

Was Michael Jones the greatest ever loose forward to play in the Rugby World Cup (RWC)?
Probably. This RWC may see him emerge as the coach of the future. Why do I say this with confidence? In 1989 I saw that crunching tackle that wrecked his knee against Argentina after which he had to take over half a year off to recover. I was working in Auckland at that stage as Editor of the New Zealand Adventure magazine. Michael was told to keep fit, but for some months to keep weight off his knee. I was doing volunteer work with the Waiparera Maori Trust Board at that time and we started a Waka Ama club, (an outrigger canoe club}. Michael joined the club to keep fit and enjoy an upper body sport TO rest his knee. We got close as we practiced most mornings. They elected me a sort of skipper, and I had to say a Karakia (prayer in Maori) every morning before we got on the water and I remember forgetting one morning. "Where is the Karakia, Bob ?", said Michael. I said the prayer for protection. Michael took his sport and spiritual life seriously. We canoed a lot together through the winter and spring, once helping rescure him and his team after a capsize in an open sea event. It was winter and he was frozen to the bone, but he smiled. I have a feeling that England or South Africa will see that chilling Michael Jones smile, as the win flashes on the board.

Today's report

Samoan coach and legendary All Black flank Michael Jones has fired the first verbal salvo in the lead-up to his team's opening match of the World Cup - against South Africa in Paris on September 9.

Jones said he is under no illusions about the task in front of them, when they come up against the mighty Springboks.

However, they are confident they can knock over at least one of the big guns in their pool matches and secure themselves a spot in the play-offs.

They will also face England, in Nantes on September 22, and a potentially tricky match against fellow Pacific Island nation Tonga, with the United States the only likely easy win.

If Samoa wants to progress beyond the pool stages, they can afford only one loss.

Victory over either the Boks or English will see them repeat their giant-killing feats of making the quarter-finals in 1991 and 1995.

"I've always maintained that we're not going there to make up the numbers," Jones said if his team's encounters with South Africa and England.

"From my perspective as coach, we have got a lot of talent in the team and those players have to put their bodies on the line for their country.

"We may not possess the resources and money top teams like England and South Africa have, but we've got a team of players who are ready to die for their country."

Jones was assistant coach to John Boe during the 2003 World Cup, when Samoa nearly upset eventual champions England, leading well into the second half before a late onslaught saw them succumb 35-22.

The team also achieved a famous 16-13 win against Wales at Cardiff Arms Park in 1991 to make the quarter-finals.

Samoa has been the strongest Pacific islands team for the past four years and have proved more consistent than local rivals Fiji and Tonga.

In this year's Pacific Nations Cup, the Samoans predictably lost to the Junior All Blacks and Australia A despite good performances, beat Fiji and Japan in low scoring games and thrashed Tonga.

"A lot of work has gone into our preparations for the World Cup," Jones said.

"The team we've got is a result of years of hard work, monitoring players all over the world."

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The Jakarta rubbish collectors

I went walking through the streets of Jakarta at 5.30 a.m. this morning and saw many of the rubbish collectors pulling their heavy carts through the narrow back streets. Their job is dangerous and dirty as they collect rubbish and soil. I frequently exchange greetings with the collectors and often get a smile in return. At risk from being hit or squashed by cars, trucks or motorbikes in narrow lanes, and exposed to dirt and disease, they do their work with dignity and poise.

As I walked I tried to connect my life to theirs and fathom the hardships they endure. I thought of the poem called the Invitation, which inspired Oriah Mountain Dreamer, native American Elder, May 1994, and it helped me in my thoughts.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for dreams, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it. I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic or to remember the limitations of being a human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore trustworthy. I want to know if you can see beauty even if it’s not pretty every day, and if you can source your life from God’s presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine and still stand on the edge of a lake and shout to the silver moon, ‘Yes!’
It doesn’t interest me where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary, bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you are, how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with who you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you from the inside, when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself; and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

The Invitation, inspired by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, native American Elder, May 1994.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Steve Masty

(Steve in Istanbul)
When you live in interesting places, many odd people drop in to see us. Steve Masty, a larger than life character dropped in to see me last weekend in New Delhi before I left for Geneva and, a week later, Steve is here for lunch before he returns to London.

I first met Steve Masty in a club in Peshawar He was managing the Khyber Club. It was late 1993, Steve was lounging in a wicker chair, wearing white Shalwar Kemeez, looking like a young Hemmingway. I used every drop of charm and decorum I had to try and get club membership as I knew I was going to work some years in Afghanistan and wanted membership badly, as it was the only place in this fundamentalist frontier city one could have a wee dram when visiting.

“No problem, “ he smiled. This was the start of a friendship that has lasted ever since.

What a talented man: Song writer, movie director, singer, author, artist, poet, development specialist, cartoonist and raconteur. He once was a speech writer for Ronald Reagan, Steve studied for a PhD at St. Andrews in Scotland and his thesis lies there unmarked.

Last year he published a book called The Muslim & Microphone: Miscommunications in the War on Terror (Social Affairs Unit, London, 2006). An astounding book.

Our relationship bonded strongly during the tough winter in Kabul in 1995 when the Taliban were relentlessly bombarding the city. I recall spending many winter evening with Steve discussing literature, history, local savagery and world politics. I would often prompt Steve to get out his guitar and sing one of his songs about Afghanistan. Sadly, he just left for London. I am alone with my thoughts.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Now I look like Keith Murdoch.

McKerrow, your blog is superb. You are a born storyteller. And you look like Murdoch!

You would have loved the story on One News yesterday about the Runanga league player who last weekend must have kinghit a rival player, then kicked the bugger when he was on the ground. Apparently a spectator posted video footage of the incident on Youtube.  Of course there has been a massive outcry with critics saying the eight week ban on the hitter was too soft. The response from locals was understated and wonderful. The West Coast league president reckoned it was all a bit of fuss about nothin, and Runanga's captain just scratched his head and said the hitter was a decent bloke and the whole team was standing behind him. Long live kiwi country cousins!

Okay, so your blog is now on my favourites list. Top stuff.


Friday, 10 August 2007

Traditional Celtic Story Tellers

caption: Storytellers meeting in the Cricket Club in Colombo, Sri Lanka.AGG, is 2nd from the right in a blue shirt. He can tell stories in Arabic, French, Gaelic and a barely understandable English from the highlands of Scotland. Patrick Fuller, left, me in the brown shirt,Steffan Kuhne Hellmessen who can tell tales in 8 languages, on the far right.
Photo Credit: Simon Missiri, a Russian story teller.

I have much enjoyed reading your BLOG since my return from a break with the family in Highlands of Scotland. Great stuff! You are a worthy descendant of the traditional Celtic storyteller, the "seanchaidh", whose eulogies and poetry were such an integral part of the old clan settlements, and fundamental to the mystique, respect and popularity of his Chieftain. I have put your website amongst my "favourites" page, and look forward to logging on with regularity - so keep the posts coming!


Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Six months at sea, 11 and a half hours in the air.

Six Months at Sea

I had an 11 and a half hour flight ahead of me on 7 August. It promised to be a drag. I had left Jakarta 3 hours earlier and boarded the flight from Singapore to Frankfurt last night.

Once on board the 747-400, I realised my seat was hard up against the galley and there was no room to recline the seat. It looked more uninviting each minute. But I hadn’t counted on my two lively companions. I heard bottles clinking in plastic bags as the pair sat down. They introduced themselves as Alex and Mikhael. Alexander Alexanderov, is a 23 year old from Sevastapol, in Ukraine. And Mikhael Mikhaelov, a 50 year old from Sofia in Bulgaria.

“It is time for drinking” said Mikael in Russian. As he drank, Alex told me his story. Born in Ukraine, he was lucky to have a good English teacher at high school. From school he joined the Ukrainian Navy as an able seaman and a few years ago, joined a German shipping company where he is a deck hand. He gets US$ 1200 a month and works for six months at a stretch and then takes a few months off before rejoining one of the company’s ships. His friend Mikhael is the ship’s cook.

“ I don’t like the f---ing Germans,” he said so almost all the Germans on the flight could hear. I tried to shrink. They are still bitter after the wars they fought with Russia and our Ship's Captain treats us badly,“ he added.

At the rate they were drinking it appeared they would exhaust the stocks so I dropped off to sleep for a few minutes.I awoke to see Mikhael making a stop sign with his hands and arms in front of my eyes and he said “stop sleeping and join us for more drinking.” Alex filled my glass with whiskey, it tasted like a single malt.

“ We left our ship after six months today in Singapore and are drinking,” shouted Alex. If I hadn’t noticed. They were speaking so loudly that various flight attendants came up and asked them to be quiet so people can sleep.

Alex told me he was single and supported his Mother and Father, sister and grandparents and was able to save a little. “Money is everything, that is all people think about in my country,” he said.

“I hate nationalists” he said. “We had the orange revolution and everyone wants to be totally independent from Russia, but without Russia we are nothing, “ he fumed passionately.

Mikhael started telling me in Russian and broken English about his wife and two daughters. His eyes were misty as he told me lovingly about his daughter being seriously ill.

“ Money, and looking after your familiy is what life is about,” said Alex as he scoffed another whiskey. Despite his alcoholic haze, Alex continued his story, and told me he wanted to become an officer and go back to school.

I have a great lovee of Russian poetry and opened the subject with Alex. ”Puskin was a great poet” said Alex as he broke into Russian quoting him with gusto Alex was winding up now as an attendant tried to quiet him down. “Then there is, Dostoyevsky, and Anton Checkov, now he’s a joker, and our own Shevchenko,” he puffed proudly.

Meanwhile Mikhael was getting agitated as Alex was ignoring him and talking only to me. They pushed and shoved each then embraced. They had another drink and vowed to their undying friendship.“

“ I love the sunsets at sea and seeing the dolphins and whales playing near to our ship, “Alex slurred to me.

Mikhael and Alex fell asleep after ten hours of flying time. A potentially long and boring trip made the flight pass in a flash.

Story telling is alive in Ukraine and Bulgaria.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Off to Geneva

I am off to Geneva this afternoon. It is a city I lived in for 4 years and know well. I look foward to enjoying the Fete de Geneve. The Lakefront Festival and its boat races, the new Elegance Parade, culinary specialities from 32 countries and the fairground, arts and crafts displays and concerts makes it a fascinating event.

One can enjoy the unique atmosphere at the Scène des Clubs, with its concerts held under the magnificent trees in the Jardin Anglais, and watch one of the biggest fireworks displays in the world. The great attraction is it is free of charge.

Here is a poem I wrote last time I was in Geneva


A lonely chime
Rustles life into
Slumbering insects
In fallow fields
Where Knox and Calvin
Wandered deep in thought

A lazy chime
Rolls over a
Once puritanical city
Drained by the Rhone
And gathering greed
Veiled by a humanitarian face

Bob McKerrow

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Inanga (White Bait)

A small poem I wrote some time ago when I was white baiting in South Westland. The photo above is of the Whataroa River, New Zealand.


Inanga slither into
The dark fold of my net,
As the raging sea crashes
I escape with my life,
But hardly a pattie there.

Too early in the year
But I commune with nature
And talk to good mates
And muse why Brunner
Ate his favourite dog

I wander to the inland creeks
Where high above the Kereru
Struts his camouflaged wings,
Staring into tea-stained
Water I see a shoal.

Weeks tick by
And the first run
Flows by my net and soon
A million bodies lithely
Congeal into a shoal.

Like sex of a distant past,
Or memories of times had
A thrill runs through my
Bones, body and soul,
I lift my net in ecstasy.

O Inanga I worship you
In pan, pattie or net
They call me a killer
But it’s not just that,
As water, we are one

By Bob McKerrow

Friday, 3 August 2007

Mysterious Murdoch found and on stage.

Margot McRae finds Keith Murdoch

A play about the destructive power of the media.

You probably think I have a fixation on Keith Murdoch, but when you've played rugby with an impressive gentle giant, and he ingloriously gets sent home in 1972 from Wales after scoring the All Black's only try, you want to promote the man. Hats off to Margaret McRae for finding him and bringing his story to the stage.

Forget disgraced or notorious, the adjectives usually associated with Keith Murdoch.

In a play being written about his expulsion from the 1972-3 All Black rugby tour of Britain, the former test frontrower will come across as "heroic".

Finding Murdoch is Aucklander Margot McRae's account of the media storm that engulfed the player when he punched a security guard in a Cardiff hotel.

The late-night incident came just hours after the Otago prop had scored the All Blacks' only try in their 19-16 win over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park.

Murdoch was sent home but did not make it back to New Zealand. He got as far as Australia, where he has lived in self-imposed exile.

He hit the headlines again in 2001, when he was cleared of involvement in the death of an Aboriginal man at a remote mine in the Northern Territory.

But that episode apart, he has been able to keep himself largely out of the public spotlight over the past three decades.

The play's storyline ends in 1990, when McRae, then working on the rugby series Mud and Glory, tracked Murdoch down in rural Queensland.

Despite her background as journalist, McRae says the play is as much about the "destructive power" of the media as it is an account of the Murdoch tale.

"If there's a baddie, it would be the media really, and I was part of the media," she said. "I was a reporter, so I'm trying to be honest."

She recalled that Murdoch attracted a "frenzy" of attention when he was ordered home.

"There were terrible cartoons and awful headlines about him."

Murdoch's unyielding reaction had been to maintain his silence, a stance McRae saw as a sign of his dignity.

"That's my impression now," she said. "He was heroic because he didn't talk. He was heroic because he didn't ask for sympathy.

"He didn't seek any media glorification. That's what I mean by heroic. He wasn't going to play a media game. He had his own rules."

McRae contrasted that with present-day reality television "where you ask people to come in and be manipulated and made fools of".

McRae was able to speak to Murdoch for about 45 minutes when she located him in the Queensland town of Tully.

He refused to be interviewed on camera, but allowed himself to be filmed by McRae's crew.

"I tried to get as much information out of him as I could, which was like getting blood from a stone," she said. "But he was absolutely affable and pleasant. He was very happy in himself, it seemed to me.

"He didn't tell me too much because he said, 'Why should I? I don't need to tell my story to anyone'."

The next day, McRae said, she did something she regretted. She went to get more shots of him at the farm where he worked.

When she called out to him as he was working away with a machete, he ran off.

"I was just doing my job, but I didn't like what I had done," she said. "I thought it was unfair on him and I felt guilty about it."

McRae said her meeting with Murdoch remained the incident that she remembered the most from her days as a journalist.

"I worked on a lot of documentaries and other stories, but that one definitely sticks in the mind," she said. "It won't go away."

Finding Murdoch went through an Auckland Theatre Company workshop last month.

McRae, who is making amendments to the script, had her "fingers crossed" that the finished product would find its way on to the stage.

See article I wrote on Keith Murdoch

Finding Keith Murdoch

Finding Murdoch

A week ago today, I wrote a short article on Keith Murdoch, New Zealand's mystery rugby man. I gave a first hand account of playing rugby with him. A friend alerted me to a women who tracked him down in outback Australia and based on their talks, Downstage Theatre in Wellington staged a play about big Keith Murdoch in June-July this year. This is a man who will be etched in stone, silver, gold and on the screen, for just wanting to be a good Kiwi bloke, a man who liked his space.

I only wish I could have seen big Keith on the stage, with barrel chest, arms folded and legs like tree trunks, biceps bulging, and his trade mark short shorts that showed his manliness. And in his hand the rugby ball was the size of a tennis ball. How did he ever fit in a mini minor ?

Finding Murdoch, Wellington, 16 Jun 2007 - 14 Jul 2007
Tragic Lost Son of NZ Rugby Found

World premiere kicks off at Downstage about the infamous ex-All Black Keith Murdoch and the woman who managed to hunt him down.

Margot McRae's account of the media storm that engulfed the player when he punched a security guard in 1972 sheds new light on the greatest tragedy of NZ rugby.

A rare photo of Keith Murdoch taken in 2001.

The late-night incident happened just hours after the Otago prop scored the All Blacks only try in their 19-16 win over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. Murdoch was ordered home in disgrace - the only All Black ever expelled from the team - but never made it back to his home or to the press waiting for him. He got as far as Australia where he has been living in exile ever since.

Nobody really knows what happened that night but many have tried to find out.

Margot McRae managed to track Murdoch down and Finding Murdoch is her fictional account of the search for the All Black legend, how far the media will go to get a story and how it affects the real people behind the photos and interviews.

Geraldine Brophy

Tony Rabbit

Cohen Holloway
Danielle Mason
Simon Vincent

When: Saturday, 16 Jun 2007 - Saturday, 14 Jul 2007
Times: Various
Where: Downstage Theatre, Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

Alongside Harry Potter

An interesting comment on my blog from John Tulloch in Islamabad

John said...
Hey Bob, you're big in Islamabad. 'Mountains of our Mind' is displayed on the stand at the entry of the Saeed Book Bank (, alongside the latest Harry Potter! Cheers..jt

August 2, 2007 10:39 PM

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Mountains of our Mind

Mountains of our Mind
From the courtyard of our dreams
To the mountains of our mind
We escape the blood and violence
To a white world sublime

Born on the edge of a cloud
I saw snowflakes form
Together we danced a ring of fire
Before the day was born

We travel on a moonship
Where lunacy dictates
Where love is like a mountain
And where there is no hate

We scud along the summit ridge
Where the updrafts push
I am the King of Kabul
And lord the Hindu Kush

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Denis James Matthews Glover

We all have our favourite poets, and mine is Denis Glover. I met Denis in 1973 when he was working at the Correspondance Institute in Lower Hutt. He signed my copy of his wonderful book ENTER WITHOUT KNOCKING.

I love this wonderful sketch of Denis Glover.

Denis James Matthews Glover

Denis James Matthews Glover, one of the most spirited, versatile and influential figures in New Zealand literature, was born at Dunedin on 9 December 1912. He was the third of four children of Irish-born Henry Lawrence Glover, a dentist, and his wife, Lyla Jean Matthews. From his Irish ancestors Denis Glover evidently derived his wit, devilry and frequent bloody-mindedness; while from Lyla's wide reading and ambitions to be a writer he acquired his literary instincts.

A fluent reader from the age of six, Glover attended Dunedin's Arthur Street School. In 1925 Lyla (now divorced from Henry) moved the family to New Plymouth; Glover was dux of the Central School and spent 1926 at New Plymouth Boys' High School. They then shifted to Auckland where he excelled in English at Auckland Grammar School, and finally to Christchurch where he attended Christ's College in 1929--30.

In 1931 Glover enrolled at Canterbury College, where he took Greek, Latin, philosophy and English for his BA. He captained the boxing club, won a blue as a welterweight, played rugby for the Old Collegians, yachted and joined the Canterbury Mountaineering Club and Christchurch Classical Association. From 1936 to 1938 he was an assistant lecturer in English and reported university news for the Press. Other journalistic work included editing Motoring magazine, the Canterbury University College Review and Canta. In 1932 Glover formed the Caxton Club to pursue the study of printing and typography, and the following year he published one issue of a student magazine, Oriflamme. An article advocating trial marriage caused its suppression by the college authorities and ended Glover's brief career as a journalist.

On 8 January 1936 at Christchurch Glover married Mary Granville, the English-born daughter of a retired army officer. In the previous year he had entered into a partnership with John Drew to found the Caxton Press. Commercial printing able to fit the firm's one small press provided a modest income and allowed Glover to pursue his real interest, publishing. Leo Bensemann, artist and typographer, joined the press in 1937 and with his help Glover printed and published the work of many writers who have become established names in New Zealand literature: Ursula Bethell, R. A. K. Mason, Allen Curnow, Charles Brasch, Frank Sargeson and A. R. D. Fairburn. Volumes of his own verse also appeared, one of which included 'The magpies', New Zealand's most widely anthologised poem. The Caxton Press had become the most important publisher of creative writing in New Zealand; its publications were distinguished by the care that Glover gave to typography and printing.

During the Second World War Glover served with the Royal Navy and made four 'suicide' runs to Murmansk with the Russian convoys. On D-Day, with the rank of lieutenant, he had charge of an infantry landing craft at Normandy, earning the DSC. During leave in London, Glover discussed with Charles Brasch the founding of the literary periodical Landfall. John Lehmann, the celebrated editor, introduced him to Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender and other important men of letters.

In 1944 Glover returned reluctantly to New Zealand to resume married life and his work at the Caxton Press, but he found it hard to settle back into former routines and began to drink heavily. He became a lieutenant commander in the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve and from 1945 to 1948 served on the Canterbury University College Council. Glover continued to publish important new work, by Basil Dowling, James K. Baxter, Janet Frame, Ngaio Marsh and others, as well as new poetry of his own. This included his two outstanding verse sequences, Sings Harry (1951) and Arawata Bill (1953).

Glover's drinking, financial mismanagement and erratic attendance now became a major problem at Caxton, and in 1952 Dennis Donovan, the majority shareholder, dismissed him. Glover then got work with his friend Albion Wright at the Pegasus Press, but was dismissed from there also. Despite the birth in 1945 of their son, Rupert, Mary and Denis drifted apart and in 1950 Glover began living with Khura Skelton. In 1954, his Canterbury career in tatters, Glover moved to Wellington with Khura. They lived, unmarried, mostly at Paekakariki, where their hospitality, drinking bouts and high-decibel ructions became legendary.

Glover worked as an advertising copywriter for Carlton-Carruthers du Chateau and King in 1954, as production manager and typographer for Wingfield Press from 1954 to 1962, and as typography tutor for the Technical Correspondence Institute from 1964 to 1973. He helped, during the late 1950s, to develop the Mermaid Press, and in 1971 founded the Cats-paw Press. He was a member of the New Zealand Literary Fund Advisory Committee from 1955 to 1958; from 1963 to 1965 he was president of the Friends of the Turnbull Library.

Glover in 1959 dictated for the New Zealand Listener (where it first appeared) the text of his lively autobiography Hot water sailor (1962). He continued to produce poetry collections such as Enter without knocking (1964), Sharp edge up (1968), Come high water (1977), Or hawk or basilisk (1978) and For whom the cock crows (1978).

Khura died in 1969, and Glover was divorced from Mary in 1970. He then laid siege to several women. In 1971 he met Gladys Evelyn Cameron (née Stevens), a voice and drama teacher, and after a six-week courtship married her at Wellington on 21 September. Lyn did much to monitor Glover's drinking and accompanied him on a trip to Russia, where he was presented with a Soviet Union war veterans' medal. In that same year, 1975, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature from Victoria University of Wellington and elected president of honour of the New Zealand Centre of PEN.

Glover, despite his alcoholic decline, produced 14 publications in his last decade. These included poems on Wellington Harbour, a third poetry sequence called Towards Banks Peninsula (1979), and Landlubber ho! (1981), an addition to Hot water sailor. Glover also published the collected poems of his close friend A. R. D. Fairburn and helped to edit his letters for publication. His last task was to select poems for Denis Glover: selected poems , published posthumously in 1981. On 7 August 1980, while moving belongings to a new home at Breaker Bay, Glover fell down some steps, injured himself and died two days later from bronchopneumonia. He was 67, and was survived by his second wife and his son.

Lehmann has described Glover as 'looking rather like Mr Punch in naval uniform, sturdy, stocky, sanguine of complexion and temperament, a man in a million, imperturbable and with a great sense of humour.' Glover's conversation and letters could be wickedly witty and subversive. He was an indefatigably pugnacious talker with outrageous remarks his trademark. But the mask should not be mistaken for the man. Within the jester was a sensitive poet, a serious craftsman with a passion for excellence. Under Glover's discerning eye, New Zealand typography and poetry both came of age.

Glover had an Elizabethan breadth of talent and fullness of character. He was, among other things, scholar, adventurer, typographer, publisher, poet, author, critic, raconteur, performer, drunkard and lusty lover. A man of sometimes anarchic temperament but warm humanity, Glover was impatient with prudery, shoddiness, pretence, political chicanery, officialdom or anything mean-minded. Faults he admitted to included an unrepentantly monocultural and masculine view of society and of literature, an 'immodest enthusiasm for draught beer' and a tendency to shed 'printing presses, wives and books' as he went.

Denis Glover is probably New Zealand's most quotable poet. His best verse, evincing a timeless simplicity and directness, is built to last - even when Glover declares the opposite: 'Verses, verses, what are they? / The wind will blow them all away.' Glover persistently undervalued his own poetry, and there is certainly much lightweight and facetious verse scattered through his output. None the less, he is New Zealand's best poet of the mountains and the sea, the author of some strikingly original love poems, a superb lyricist and satirist. His style is completely individual: idiomatic, tough, sardonic, flexible and spare, marked by glittering imagery and a deft use of assonance and rhyme. He had the common touch. Harry, Arawata Bill, and Mick Stimpson, with their brooding, lyric, restless souls and crusty self-reliance are now key man-alone figures in our literature. They are also versions of Glover himself.
Thanks to Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and 'gemini' Old Poetry Resercher for biography info.