Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 21 (bonus Christmas lines)

There would be no Christmas stories without Christmas, and there would be no Christmas without Christ.  So for this last and bonus post about middle lines, I’ve enjoyed searching for the turning point in the story of Christ’s birth.

We know how the story begins:  an angel announces a virgin birth to come.  But what happens in the middle?

For my journey to the centre of the story in search of great lines that draw me on into the second half, or that throw up a problem that seems unresolvable, I’d have to choose Matthew, chapter 2, verse 8, the King James version for the poetry of it.  Here, Herod is speaking to the wise men, the Magi, telling them to go to Bethlehem.  We know his intentions can’t be good because of all his earlier expressed fear of being dethroned.

Go and search diligently for the young child;  and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

Such a liar!  Fortunately, the wise men were ‘warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod’.  And fortunately, an angel warned Joseph to take Jesus and Mary and flee into Egypt.  And so the Christmas story ends well for Jesus (and badly for other boys, but that’s another story).

Merry Christmas to all of you out there who’ve read my writing this year.  I wish you many literary surprises in 2014!


Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 20

It’s Christmas, a time of year when half the world is not covered in snow.  Half the world is not even chilly.  Many of us are melting in mid-summer heat.  I had to find a Christmas story that Australians would ‘get’, where the characters were not wearing long sleeves!

Christmas in the Floods by Olaf Ruhen sounds like a true story, if only because it tells of a disaster that could typically happen here at Christmas.  It’s written from the point of view of a fourteen-year-old boy who has been watching the river rise.  It’s not long before dawn and the flood has chased him and his family into the attic.  So at the turning point of the story they are on the roof, the characters not being able to go any higher.  It’s a great movement from ground level upwards.

I went to sleep, but Ralph wakened me.  It was still dark, but there was a little light coming, and I knew there was only one more day to Christmas Eve.
There was water on the attic floor now, and Dad and Ralph wanted us to shift on to the roof.  It didn’t seem as if the flood could come any higher but if it did, they said we mustn’t be trapped inside the attic.  They had rigged up the trestle-table so it was half out of the attic window, and you could climb on it and step back on the roof at the gully between the two gables.

Illustration for "Christmas in the Floods" in The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories
Illustration for “Christmas in the Floods” in The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories



Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 19

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry is a Christmas Story with a good example of the opening line reappearing in the middle of the story.  It’s a good story, with a twist in the tail.  Its first line is ‘One dollar and eighty-seven cents.’  Half-way through, the reader is again reminded that this was the total of Della’s savings.  Yet, she still wanted to buy her husband a Christmas present, so she sold something precious.  Later, in a more cool-headed moment, she thought about it:

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do – oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”


Journey to the centre: great middle lines – 18

On an evening not long before Christmas, say the Brothers Grimm, something curious happened to a shoemaker and his wife. In “Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm”, in a short, short story, The Elves, two pretty little naked men arrive to make Christmas joyous for a hardworking yet poor couple.  The Grimms describe in one sentence a scene that tickles my fancy, and must surely tempt any reader to continue to the end:

When it was midnight, two pretty little naked men came, sat down by the shoemaker’s table, took all the work which was cut out before them and began to stitch, and sew, and hammer so skilfully and so quickly with their little fingers that the shoemaker could not turn away his eyes for astonishment.

The Elves and the Shoemaker, illustration from the Girls and Boys Bookshelf, 1920


Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 17

A few months ago I became interested in the middle lines of a story, which are usually, but not always, the turning point.  I posted on this blog 16 examples of great middle lines, then I went to New Zealand and lost my momentum with novels, not only because I had gone away and come back, but because the novels I read after blog post no. 16 didn’t have great middle lines, or because they were meaningless without adding a substantial whack of the story before and after.

Now, I’ve been reading some short stories about Christmas and have seen some pretty good turning points in their middles.  Four of them are worth blogging about, so between today and Christmas Day I’ll share them with you.  In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, for example, the middle lines of the middle chapter are meaningful.  Perhaps even great.  Here, Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Present, and from this page on he will never be the same:

“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before, “tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
“I see a vacant seat,” replied the Ghost, “in the poor chimney-corner, and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved.  If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.”
“No, no,” said Scrooge.  “Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared.”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race,” returned the Ghost, “will find him here.  What then?  If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, John Leech, 1843
The Ghost of Christmas Present, John Leech, 1843.  Courtesy Wikimedia.



Grand symbol

Two photo challenges this week have prompted me to think of one family’s Christmas effort.  The WP challenge was ‘Grand’, and Ailsa’s challenge was ‘Symbol’, in honour of Nelson Mandela.  Well, last night, here in Canberra, I found a ‘Grand Symbol’!

Lights are a symbol of hope, always appropriate at Christmas.  And when someone wins the Guinness World Record for the year for the most Christmas lights decorating a property, it’s because they’ve made a grand effort.

Last night we drove to the winning house and I took some photos.  My camera’s not great for night photography and my skills are barely even those of an amateur, but you’ll get an idea of what it must be like to live in the same street with such a winner.  All the surrounding houses were remarkable for their darkness;  perhaps they feel a pointlessness in competing.  This grand display might even be a bit hard to endure night after night through the Christmas period:  there are traffic controls at that end of the street, cars parked up and down all the nearby streets, and of course the multicoloured glow for several hours.

We walked through the garden of lights, entering on the left side of the front yard and exiting at the right.  Strings of LEDs, many of them white, some of them red, blue and green, flashed on and off, not rapidly, but at regular intervals changing the show.  For me, the glaring white was not pleasant and kept me from lingering long amid the display.  It had the effect of mid-summer sunlight on white concrete.  In the past, coloured lightbulbs were warmer and, indeed, more colourful.  But I know, I know, they’re not ‘green’.

Tall pine tree trunk covered in Christmas lights
Christmas lights decorating tall pine tree and hedge, Forrest, ACT, December 2013
Christmas lights decorating pine tree and hedge

However, I appreciate the effort these people have put into their decorations, and it’s important to know that, as each visitor enters, they are asked to donate to the Sids and Kids charity.

Wall of Christmas lights
Christmas star and moon - the natural and the artificial, Forrest, ACT, December 2013
The real and the unreal:  Moon shining down on a Christmas star

The colours of New Zealand – South North Island!

Last week I posted photos from our time in Auckland, and on the volcanic plateau, and in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island of New Zealand.


Our last stop was at a small bay north of the capital, Wellington.  To say it was windy would be an understatement.  It blew cold constant gusts that drew my hair up and out and often over my face at the moment I wanted to click a photo.  Many of my shots were taken blind, like a lucky dip photographer.  Take a look at these trees on the beach;  there’s no way they can grow vertically!

Windblown tree, Titahi Bay, NZ
Windblown trees, Titahi Bay, NZ

But before we got to this little place, Titahi Bay, we drove through an interesting town established by Scandinavian immigrants in the 19th century: Norsewood.


In Norsewood, we went through this little museum which must have had the same architect as the Literary Institute in Gundaroo, NSW!  The museum is painted a rich burgundy red, a contrast to the snow-white houses we saw everywhere in New Zealand.  By the verandah grows a great bunch of deep pink Watsonias, another flower that appeared in all sorts of gardens in NZ, even neglected ones.

Museum, Norsewood, NZ
Museum, Norsewood, NZ


While the iconic blue-green-purple Pāua shells are found on most beaches and are available in all the souvenir shops, I found something else, less common but equally iridescent and resembling the Pāua shells in their colours – this turn-of-the-century wedding dress on display in Norsewood museum.  Clearly, the Scandinavian migrants had to improvise and make do in this strange new land;  both the bodice and skirt are decorated with beetle casings:

Wedding dress, Norsewood museum, NZ
Beetle casings adorning a wedding dress, Norsewood museum, NZ


At each end of the curving beach of Titahi Bay, there are colourful boat sheds sitting on one of the flattest pieces of ground in this region: the beach.  See the hill behind them?  In this area near Wellington every house is built on a hill, all with someone else looking down on them (except those at the very top!).

Boat sheds, Titahi Bay, NZ
Boat sheds, Titahi Bay, NZ

And that’s it for our colourful New Zealand holiday.  There were many other places we visited along the way, but I’ve enjoyed leaving some hints of this country’s beauty here on this blog.  You have to go there!  And I have to go back!

The colours of New Zealand: Hawke’s Bay, North Island

After spending time in Auckland, New Zealand, and driving through the volcanic plateau, we moved on for a great week in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the North Island.  Again, as last week, I found broad strokes of individual colours wherever we went.  There was plenty of:


A matching blue bay and sky:  the view from our accommodation.  Most days.

View from Bluff Hill, Napier, NZ
View from Bluff Hill, Napier, NZ


As in Auckland, there are lots of white houses in Hawke’s Bay, especially the older wooden houses, the type that survive earthquakes.  But there are plenty of creative individuals living here, like the neighbours who built a house with a cylinder attached and painted it with a yellow that says ‘look at me!’.

Houses old and new, Napier, NZ
Houses old and new, Napier, NZ


Red Valerian is a beautiful flower that’s not red but rather a couple of shades of pink, and springs up in any crack where a seed has fallen.  In New Zealand I saw it growing in most gardens, jutting out of retaining walls, through rockfall-catching wire on cliff faces, and on the seashore.  Some call it a weed, some call it a colourful filler.  No doubt it needs to be controlled.  I took this photo in drizzle under a grey sky.  The blue days had passed…

Valerian on beachfront, Hawke's Bay, NZ
Red Valerian on beachfront, and kite surfer in the rain, Hawke’s Bay, NZ


There are also flowers around Hawke’s Bay which there should be more of, like Bird of Paradise with its orange crests.

Bird of Paradise, Napier, NZ
Bird of Paradise near the Aquarium, Napier, NZ


When we climbed the moist leaf-littered paths that wound uphill through Tiffen Park, we saw masses of blue and purple flowers growing wild.  I don’t know what they’re called but I hope they’re not invaders.  Here we were about a third of the way up the hill.  When you go to New Zealand, you go up a lot of steps, steep streets and driveways, hills and cliffs.  But going down feels really good!

Tiffen Park, Napier, NZ
Tiffen Park, Napier, NZ


On the walls and in parks in Napier, there are quotations written or sculpted which offer promise and hope.  They are signs that this town has not only revived after a horrendous earthquake back in 1931 but is thriving partly because of it.  The town was rebuilt in Art Deco, the style of the time, and today it is unique as an example of this architecture constructed in the two-year period 1931/32.  The quotation below which I saw painted in an otherwise interest-free alley is a reminder that good things can come from bad.  If you can read backwards, that is.

Thoreau quotation, alley wall, Napier, NZ
Thoreau quotation, alley wall, Napier, NZ


And here’s an example of one of the buildings constructed in the Art Deco style after the earthquake and recently refurbished, attracting masses of tourists each week.  It’s open to the public and just as handsome inside.

Art Deco architecture, Napier NZ
Art Deco architecture, Napier NZ


We went on a two-hour trip with a Maori elder, Robert McDonald, up to a peak, Te Mata, where he recounted the history of Maori in New Zealand.  In the photo below he stands next to his tribe’s pou whenua, or land post.  Its face is carved like that of Robert’s ancestor, one of the Waimārama chiefs who signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1841 with the European settlers. At the bottom of the second photo below, (actually the Waimārama Maori Tours information card), is his mark made on the Treaty and the words he spoke, ‘te tohu o te tangata’ which mean ‘the mark of the man’.  His facial tattoo indicates his status as an important chief of his tribal group.  The portrait was painted by Gottfried Lindauer, an Austrian artist who painted many Maori portraits in the late nineteenth century, some of which I saw in the Auckland Art Gallery and more of which you can see here.  They’re stunning!

Robert Macdonald, Maori elder, with his tribe's pou, Hastings, NZ
Robert MacDonald, Maori elder, with his tribe’s pou, Hastings, NZ.
Harawira Mahikai Te Tatere, Waimārama chief, NZ
Harawira Mahikai Te Tatere, Waimārama chief, NZ, by Gottfried Lindauer (photo courtesy Waimārama Maori tours postcard)

The colours of New Zealand – volcanic plateau, North Island

A couple of days ago I posted about single colours I came across in Auckland, New Zealand, on this, my first trip there.  After leaving Auckland, my husband and I made our way down through the middle of the North Island, stopping for morning tea where the roses on tables were twice the size of those in my Australian garden.  The land on either side of the road was green green green.  And bumpy:  the hills rising from the surface are steep and lush and crowded together.


Green: the colour of the fertile volcanic hills, North Island, NZ

Around lunch time we stopped at Rotorua for a few hours, known by some as Sulphur City.  That was a different experience.  The pools we saw were in a large park where each one was fenced off.  A few odd small eruptions had appeared and were not yet fenced, so we could reach down and feel the water.  It was HOT.


Brown: the colour of boiling sulphur-smelling mud, Rotorua.


Grey: the colour of vegetation surrounding boiling mud pools, Rotorua NZ
Grey: the colour of vegetation surrounding boiling mud pools, Rotorua NZ

The colours of New Zealand – Auckland

New Zealand is a country just three hours’ flight from my home, yet I had never been there till last week.  It’s a gap in my travelling experience I was ashamed of when meeting New Zealanders in Europe!  Well, now I can say I know something about NZ, and I can agree with all those who have told me it’s beautiful.  I enjoyed finding particular scenes where one colour was dominant, and happily snapped a multitude of photos.

I went with my husband, who’s been to NZ a few times before.  Without me.  Auckland was our first port of call, where I was struck by an inviting turquoise sea, streets lined with white houses, and a knockout red wrought iron fence.


Red street lamps, Port of Auckland, NZ
Red street lamps, Port of Auckland, NZ


White weatherboard houses with white fences under white clouds


Boats on a turquoise harbour, Auckland