Movie Review: Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel

If you follow the age-old tale, the children, Hansel & Gretel are taken in to the dark of the woods by their father after their stepmother orders them to be kicked out in order to leave enough food for the other children, hers. After their survival trail of breadcrumbs is lost they are left to survive in the deepest part of the terrifying night and all seems lost. However all doesn’t seem so bad when they stumble upon a house made of candy and chocolate and all seems to be right with the world. Enter the evil witch, kids kill the witch all ends happily ever after. Now isn’t that how fairy tales are meant to end so we can all go back to sleep!?

With the release of the 3D Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters to bring a ‘classic tale with a new twist’ the ‘kids’ will survive only to take up a career from that early workplace experience in witch killing. The twins head out into the world becoming witch hunting mercenaries. As our story will start we are in Augsburg where worried parents are wanting any sign of a witch expunged from their community. Hansel and Gretel enter to save the day but with the Blood Moon about to rise on the community we are one more child kidnapping away from a witch frenzy.

While the story could have some premise it never creates the tension to make you feel it could all end badly and set the platform for disaster or deliverance. This fairy tale really just becomes a nightmare on so many levels. The script is occasionally funny but not enough to be a comedy. Dropping in an occasional ‘F’ bomb is meant to make us laugh at the out of place culture shock from the medieval setting. Hansel’s constant injections to deal with the sweet tooth he got as a kid munching on the witch’s candy and gingerbread should be an infomercial for a diabetic’s organisation but that would be too interesting.

Jeremy, Jeremy, Jeremy! I like Jeremy Renner – a lot; but this was painful. Part of the buzz prior to release was because of Mr Renner’s involvement in the production but seriously Jeremy, what were you thinking. I hope someone sat his agent down and had a really good talk about any future productions involving fairy tales, witches or 3D. Yes, I want Jeremy Renner’s black leather jacket costume but the role can go to someone else.

This revamp, steampunk, gorefest version of the story just isn’t for kids and probably not for tasteful adults either. Norwegian director, Tommy Wirkola has brought together the acting talent and what could have been a unique telling of the old story and left it somewhere in the bad video game basket. It’s the kind of movie that gives 3D technology a bad name. The idea of having an immersive aspect to the movie theatre doesn’t mean keep throwing things out of the screen until the audience stop screaming. Sure, it’s meant to be ‘fantasy’ but the death by ogre routines were left over from Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained cutting room floor.

Gemma Arterton arms up as Gretel and sure she and Renner kick some witch butt, BUT it doesn’t help the movie. Arterton took Jennifer Lawrence’s bow and arrow routine up a level with a cross-bow on steroids while wearing leather pants that you should not be able to run in but it wasn’t enough. Famke Janssen put in a Phoenix style performance that actually works better when the special effects makeup isn’t in place. With Peter Stormare making an appearance I hoped for more high calibre bad guy but his character was stepped on reasonably early. We also have a small witchy poo role for kiwi actress Zoe Bell who has previously been a stunt double for Lucy Lawless as Xena and Urma Thurman in the Kill Bill series. Watch for her also in Django Unchained.

I wanted to like Hansel & Gretel, I really did. We’ll see in the rear view mirror what the public thinks, but I think the only money the studios may make out of this is by suing the other two 2013 releases that are also out under the name Hansel & Gretel. Sad, but not the fantasy action fare we had hoped for when the posters and trailer looked oh so good.

R16 – Violence, offensive language & horror.

2 out of 5 popcorns

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Movie Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

If you loved The Hurt Locker you will be champing at the bit to find a seat and have everyone quiet down so you can immerse yourself in the movie Zero Dark Thirty. Director Kathryn Bigelow has taken the Hurt Locker experience to a new level as you won’t be sure whether you’re watching the six o’clock news or waiting with President Obama in a locked down situation room waiting for reports from the field. The movie opens brilliantly in pitch black with only the audio of armed forces radio as well as snippets of iconic media reports on the terrorist events we have heard and seen over the last twelve years. Don’t be late for the opening ten minutes.

Bigelow has again collaborated with Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal to craft a story that perfectly tracks through time from the 911 bombings to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The Zero Dark Thirty story is one of a decade long frustration amongst a worn and tired group of operatives. Agents follow up on dead-end leads and try to determine if pre-911 tactics are still in use by al-Qaeda. The desperation builds as they watch time waft away sometimes for lack of evidence and then because of a bureaucracy that stops initiative. As the CIA struggles to deliver UBL (Usama bin Laden) mistakes are made and the agency begins to question its own direction.

To follow the connection points in time we join CIA operative Maya played by Jessica Chastain. Her recent work in dramatic endeavours like The Help and The Debt showcase an immeasurable talent that some would have seen at even deeper level in more art-house productions like The Tree of Life and Coriolanus. Chastain’s character is recorded as coming straight out of high school into the one project that will absorb her life and focus. Her youthful determination is initially idealistic and head strong but as the pain grows through lost colleagues and searching for the needle in the wrong terrorist haystack the quest begins to mount its toll.

While the movie primarily concentrates on a nation’s search for its hidden oppressor, it has a side benefit of showing the danger a nation and its citizens can fall into in their desire for justice. One of the strong outcomes of the movie is to show how terrorist suspects and collaborators were caught, caged and interrogated. Some very strong scenes in the early part of the movie will be difficult for many to watch. While the justification for dealing with one’s enemy is clear, the means through which justice is carried out is not.

By watching the torture to find answers we ask ourselves whether we are complicit and whether we would prefer this work was done by other members of our society. In fact we wish this was done in secret to allow us the peace of ignorance. Another interesting question asked through the eyes of the CIA agents is whether too much time at the front line of investigation and torturous interrogation is a step towards a tipping point where the despised tactics becomes the desired power.

The nature of the script calls for a strong supporting cast and with performances from Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and Jeremy Strong the movie is held in firm hands within every scene. While the movie is over two and a half hours long it’s the cast that carries it well from scene to scene. Joel Edgerton finally brings together the ground forces that will ultimately bring the prize home near the end of the story but not before James Gandolfini authorises the strike through the President in his role as CIA Director. I love seeing the occasional cameo from favourite actors given screen time on big event movies and seeing John Barrowman and a glimpse of Mark Valley in this outing was perfect.

One thing you won’t find in this review is the meaning behind the movie’s title. If you’re smart enough to know then don’t share and allow others to find it in the script. If you don’t know yourself then don’t look it up. See the movie and join the treasure hunt for the answers. For Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow and Boal have worked extremely well together as Director and Writer but also in the role of producers. Already the film is picking up awards for directing, writing, editing and as best film at critics and film festival events. Now we can watch for talk of Oscars for Zero Dark Thirty it’s really that good.

4 out of 5 popcorns.

Movie Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

The tragic love story of Anna Karenina is a classic piece of literature from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. The promotion of the period drama had been tempting me for some time. Aside from the trailers and incredible imagery the involvement of Joe Wright as director and a powerful ensemble cast meant the ingredients were all in place. All we needed to do was start the orchestra and see where this Russian rail journey would take us.

Our story finds a young woman in 19th century Russian aristocracy dealing with the dilemma of romance over commitment, the morality of passion and the value of consequences. It is quite a tail where several characters are faced with life changing decisions around events that may have seemed inconsequential at the time. Some will act with honour even if for a fleeting moment they wary in the face of assault on their values. Others take heed that their selfishness has caused them loss and so seek to pay penance by a life changed.

I’m not sure whether Tolstoy intended to challenge our judgements but this is superb story that juxtaposes our position with those on the receiving end of our intentions. Tolstoy was known for being a spiritual person with interests across the religious spectrum. One of the best lessons that Anna Karenina teaches us is that empathy and perspective should be the two guardians of passion.

While Joe Wright has previously steered romantic period pieces involving Keira Knightley like Atonement and Pride and Prejudice this new venture has a more unique visual style. In fact it is one of the most endearing characteristics of the movie. Without giving too much away, the creative scene transitions appear to merge reality with the changing backdrop of a stage performance. The beauty of the sets along with rich velvet and gold colourings give Anna Karenina a majestic visual palette.

The cast is without fault and Keira Knighlty continues to be at home in Haute couture and bustled dresses. Jude Law comes into a sense of royalty with a statesman like performance as Karenina’s husband Karenin. The screen stealing role however goes to Matthew Macfadyen as Anna’s brother Oblonsky. Macfadyen has straddled the void between television and film but roles like Athos in the Three Musketeers, the Sheriff in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood and now this role, he must be up for some significant offers in the near future.

Anna Karenina is a beautiful piece of theatre but my feeling is it didn’t connect at a screenplay level. Tolstoy is renowned as detailed writer. A typical edition of Anna Karenina would go to over 1100 pages and his most famous work of War and Peace would be over 1200 pages. So when you consider that Peter Jackson can make three movies from a 300page work it was always going to be a challenge for screenplay writer Tom Stoppard to compile this drama into the two hour movie script it became. Rated R in its US release for sex and violence it may be a classic literature but it has a target audience of the young and romantically focussed.

Anna Karenina is a visual pleasure and for anyone who already knows the story it will connect all the dots. Sadly it is a difficult movie to follow for anyone not familiar with the full story. I’m giving Anna Karenina 3 out of 5 popcorns.

Movie Review: Lincoln

Lincoln is the highly anticipated movie from Steven Spielberg that has had critics and fans watering at the mouth to see inside the life of the 16th President of the United States. Standing in office from 1861 till his assassination in 1865 Lincoln was set to leave his mark on American history as he chartered the waters of both the Civil War and his penultimate mark left with the abolition of slavery.

Our story starts as Lincoln is in the field of war addressing a number of young soldiers both black and white at the front of the Civil war amongst the dark, the rain and the mud. As the young soldiers gush forth with admiration they then prove their calibre by breaking forth into reciting Lincoln’s most famous speech, The Gettysburg Address. It paints a beautiful backdrop for the movie as President Lincoln is freshly elected for a second term and has an agenda item that history will remember him for. This is where the heart of our story is anchored as the movie tells the political strategy that Lincoln employed to land the 13th amendment through the American political system in such a way that the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished.

The movie has pulled together some of the biggest names in the industry who were more than happy to pick up a few minor lines in order to share the stage with Spielberg’s epic drama. When the starring role was awarded to mercurial Daniel Day-Lewis the anticipation grew to another level. Day-Lewis not only brings a couple of Oscars in his back pocket but the London based actor brought his 1.87cm stature to the role as well. While normally an actor can have their physical presence worked around there was no doubt that the historically tall Lincoln needed someone to match his 1.93cm (6’ 4”) presence. Add the superb make-up and hair and we found Lincoln had left his log cabin and was dramatic on screen with a wary swagger and an almost care-free approach to the mantle of being President.
The moody lighting and often confined sets speak of a dark time in American History but through it Daniel Day-Lewis charts a course with a performance that is full of care and levity. He portrays an astute strategist and a man of principle and depth of character.

“The minute you begin to approach him – and there are vast corridors that have been carved that lead you to an understanding of that man’s life, both through the great riches of his own writing and all the contemporary accounts and biographies – he feels immediately and surprisingly accessible. He draws you closer to him.” – Daniel Day-Lewis on playing Abraham Lincoln

The script for this drama is of such a high calibre that it isn’t hard to see that the authors must have a fine pedigree. The basis of the screenplay was taken from the book “Team of Rivals” by Pulitzer Prize winning prolific America History writer Doris Kearns Goodwin. It was then adapted into a screenplay by Spielberg’s Munich collaborator, another Pulitzer Prize winning author, Tony Kushner. While bringing the depth of history into the 150min of onscreen time was a masterpiece, the scripting that allowed us to meet a wide range of the personalities of the day was also exceptional. Across the political divide as well as the gap between races and generations, we have a snapshot of American Civil War History.

We see Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris) as he waits pensively with Lincoln’s son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the field for news of the 13th amendment vote. Lincoln aligns heavily with Secretary of State, William H. Seward (David Strathairn) but it’s the role of Republican power broker Thaddeus Stevens played by Tommy Lee-Jones that proves to be a pivot point for the story. Jones draws us deep into the character when at times we wonder which way the state of affairs will roll. This parallel storyline in the movie shows us the tactics based on political savvy and harnessed alliances that were necessary but the end result seen through Thaddeus Steven’s eyes reveals a very personal reward.

The supporting role of most significance however goes to Sally Field’s portrayal of Mary Todd Lincoln. The First Lady to Lincoln walked a difficult path losing two children young in life, dealing with depression and migraines as well as the political pressure of living alongside a Republican President set on abolishing slavery while dealing with her family background from wealthy slave holders. Field is all encompassing from her ability to play the in control political strategist with cheek and power through to the weak minded wife suffering to support her husband. It’s a performance that critics will applaud for her ability to capture the heart while not stealing the show.

America will be proud to see Lincoln portrayed for his strength of determination. The rights that were wronged, the costs that were borne have given America a different future than the path they were on before Lincoln arrived. For pure class and a story worth following this is a 4 out of 5 popcorn historical event.

Movie Review: ParaNorman


ParaNorman follows a young man, Norman Babcock in the town of Blithe Hollow (a town name made up as an amalgam of two other witch story towns) who grows up wondering why he is the only one who can see dead people. Call it 6th Sense for 12 year-olds but the floating dead folk are more humorous than scary. ParaNorman opens with our soon to be hero talking to his dead Grandmother on the couch at home which only infuriates his family, isolating him and giving us a sense of the loneliness he feels. Grandma, who is beautifully voiced by veteran Actress Elaine Stritch, tells Norman she feels she is hanging around to look after him.

ParaNorman just isn’t your normal Pixar style animation. In fact it comes from the stop-motion genius of the people at Laika who created Coraline. This is where Writer/Director Chris Butler received some of his experience working on the Coraline project. It’s in the art department of other darker animations like Corpse Bride that Butler was able to craft the quirky morbid humour that would be needed for ParaNorman however quirky needed a dash more humour for this outing. To get the recipe right it’s clear that this co-directed movie needed a lighter input and this came from fellow director Sam Fell. His resume included a more cheesy set of children’s animations with great mouse tales like The Tale of Despereaux and Flushed Away.

ParaNorman has its own distinctive animation style as the stop-motion design of the characters mixes with sets that have a reach out and touch feel about them while being in cartoonish dimensions. Blend this with ghostly stop-motion floating apparitions and you start to get the idea. The quality of the on screen result is superb after the team took a unique approach of designing 3D stop-animation by filming each set-up on a Canon DSLR by first taking a shot and then moving the camera on a slide to take a second shot to give the 3D perspective. A tireless endeavour rewarded with a great onscreen result.

The 16yo Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee brings experience from working with Viggo Mortensen on The Road and Eric Bana in the drama Romulus, My Father to voice the key character of Norman. He has a few friends, but only best mate Neil the red-head, played by Tucker Albrizzi, reaches out to truly understand Norman. Together they become inseparable like Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee.

The pretext of our story finds Norman living in a town which has based its history and tourism sector around the century old story of a witch killed by the town’s folk. While no one believes Norman’s tales it’s the weird Uncle played by John Goodman who trusts Norman with information that will change the town’s history and Norman for ever. Without giving the game away let’s say that things always have to get worse before they get better. With just the wrong spin on a perfect plan we see cursed zombies let loose on the town.

It’s fair to say that most of these characters are more funny than furious and most children probably from 8-10 and over should deal with the plastercine like characters dropping body parts along the way. Most of the zombies simply moan across the screen like docile children who’ve just woken up but the lead is voiced by a long-dead Judge played by Lord of the Rings actor, Bernard Hill. However there is another character in the movie that throws a supernatural temper tantrum that can be quite dramatic. I watched the movie with two 12yo boys and their recommendation was that the film was suited to 10-12 and over which I thought was right in the zone.

Parents who have a concern with supernatural themes like Witchcraft, the Afterlife and Zombies will probably want to preview the movie first or be prepared to talk through the empathy given to the supernatural characters as well as the visual imagery that is brought to screen. The movie also deals with some great themes from death of a loved one and loneliness through to character issues like believing in yourself and others. Norman shows the depth of character in the story making some wise decisions, digging deep against the bullies and finally has the adults having to catch up with his sensibilities.

The chase to solve the towns riddle looks a little like a Scooby Doo mystery at times with Casey Affleck playing Neil’s buff but dim older brother Mitch. Norman’s unusually hour-glass shaped sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) tries her wiles on Mitch only to be rebuffed at the end in a joke that seemed out of place in a kids flick as Mitch announces he’s gay in the closing minutes. Throw all the characters in a van and head off in search of adventure and you’d swear all we’re missing is a Great Dane and Shagggy. In fact if your kids aren’t took spooked by a Scooby Doo mystery with the added environment of 3D in a dark room you’re probably on to an exciting holiday movie.

With a few parental warnings that make this recommendation a little different from a typical cartoon kids movie ParaNorman is a great story and a movie worthy of 3.5 popcorns out of 5.

Poem: God’s Own Country

God's Own Country

Thomas Bracken (1843-1898)
Thomas Bracken (1843-1898) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1869 a young 25 year-old Irish man from County Monaghan by the name of Thomas Bracken moved to New Zealand where he took up residence in Dunedin. Bracken had been sent to Australia at the age of 10 after his mother died and spent much of his time around the Geelong area. It was his time in New Zealand that inspired a skill in writing and he went from pharmacist apprentice and drover come shop keeper to a winner of literary awards and poet. He went on to acquire himself a position at the Otago Guardian and a career in journalism was born. Most famously it was Thomas Bracken who penned the New Zealand National Anthem called God Defend New Zealand.

If you enjoy the poem below then please accept this special invitation to visit God’s Own Country.


God’s Own Country


Give me, give me God’s own country! there to live and there to die,
God’s own country! fairest region resting ‘neath the southern sky,
God’s own country! framed by Nature in her grandest, noblest mould;
Land of peace and land of plenty, land of wool and corn and gold!
Where the forests are the greenest and the rugged mountains rear
Noble turrets, towers, and spires, piercing through the ambient air;
Rising to the gates supernal, pointing Godwards through the blue,
When the summer’s sunny splendours tip them with a nameless hue,
And the gusts of winter gather snow and sleet and mist and cloud,
Weaving many a curious mantle, many a quaint fantastic shroud.
Oh! the mountains of New Zealand! wild and rugged though they be,
They are types of highest manhood, landmarks of a nation free.
Pleasure-ground of the Pacific! brightest region on the main!
Land of many a rushing river, verdant valley, fertile plain!

I revisit thee in fancy, all thy wonders rise once more,
Once again, enthrall’d, I listen to old Tongariro’s roar;
Tarawera roused to fury, belches forth his molten wrath,
And a host of fiery demons dance along his flaming path,
Boiling cauldrons, foaming geysers, lakes whose bosoms leap with fear;
Well and truly it is written – “wonderland is really here!”
Shift the scene! Night grows to morning, morn soon ripens into day.
Lovely islands crowd and cluster in a bright and placid bay,
Silver ripples shimmer softly on the bosom of the deep;
And the mountains see their faces, for the wind is fast asleep.
Bay of Island! bay of beauty! who would dream that such a place
Should have been a scene of slaughter, man ‘gainst man, and race ‘gainst race;

Yonder, in the little churchyard, mouldering tombstones sadly tell
Tales of valour and of honour, records of how brave men fell
In the sacred cause of duty; thanks to God, those days are o’er,
And the old race and the new race now are enemies no more.
Sweep we round by Rangitoto, with his rough and rocky crest,
Grim old guardian of the gateway leading out to ocean’s breast;
Takapuna slumbers, deeply Waitemata opens its arms,
All its loveliness unfolding, circled by a hundred charms;
Fly we on to Taranaki, and ‘neath Taranaki’s shade we stand—
Taranaki, monarch of the mountains! bold, majestic, solemn, grand;
Rising from the pleasant pastures, climbing to the clouds alone
Peerless, and without a rival, proudly sits he on his throne.

It is morning in the summer, and the monarch is arrayed
In his pure white cap and mantle, which were never known to fade.
All the blue above is speckless, only one small cloud is seen
Sleeping on the mountain’s bosom, nestling ‘twixt the gold and green;
Now it seems as if awakening, slowly it begins to creep
Upwards in a spiral column, making for the summit steep,
But it fails to reach the apex, so it curls itself away
Round about the monarch’s shoulders, like a silken scarf of grey;
And the East flings out its glories on the monarch as he stands,
Crowning him with sparkling jewels, richly set in golden bands,

On we go by happy homesteads, on to Wanganui’s flood–
Oft where Wanganui’s waters, in the old time, stained with blood;
Now along the stately river flocks and herds o’er uplands graze,
Peace has swept away for ever traces of the warlike days.
Leap we o’er the hills and valleys to Poneke’s noble tide,
On whose swelling breast the navies of the Universe might ride,
Safely ride beneath the shadows of the mighty hills that keep
Watchful and ward against the tempests, born upon the outer deep.
Soar from island unto island, for were we to tarry here,
Tracing all the North-land’s beauties, we might linger for a year.
Fancy’s wings are swift and silent, o’er the sea and o’er the Strait–
Canterbury smiles before us, Ah! we have not time to wait;
Fly we o’er green pictures shining in their frames of spring’s new gold,
Fly we past the smiling homesteads, fly we over the field and fold–

Onward o’er the pass of Arthur! Magicland is drawing near–
Halt! the Gorge of wildest grandeur opens up its wonders here;
Look below; and gaze above us! was there ever grander sight?
Here is every shade of darkness; here is every tint of light;
Listen to the torrent roaring in the deep ravine below,
See the cataracts descending from their home among the snow,
See the pine and larch and rata climbing up the mountain walls,
Hearken to the tumbling torrents answering the distant falls.
Weird Otira! grand Otira; is there any other clime
That can show us such a picture, so entrancing so sublime?
Down the Gorge and through the valley, over floods that fret and foam,
As the rush among the boulders, hast’ning to their Ocean home;

Now the matchless forests open all their brightness on the scene,
And the gladdened eye is feasting on a hundred tints of green.
We must leave the lordly forest– “Stay, oh, stay,” the wood-nymphs sing;
“Stay, oh, stay,” the fairies whisper; “Stay, oh, stay,” the bell-birds ring.
Fancy will not fold her pinions; onward, onward we must go
Where Mount Cook in icy armour guards his pyramids of snow.
Fancy can outwing the lightning, fancy can outwing the wind–
Hill and plain and glen and valley soon are left far, far behind.
We are resting on the high land over New Edina’s town,
Wrapt in perfect admiration, looking up, and looking down—
Upwards at the wooded mountains, tinted now by opening day,

Downwards at the noble city, stretching round the lovely bay.
One short flight and we are sailing over Taieri’s plains of corn,
Now we cross the lonely ranges, painted by the brush of morn;
Wanaka and Manapouri pass before our wondering sight;
Hawea, in sylvan softness, fills us with a calm delight;
Wakatipu’s deep dark waters, walled by mighty mountains, raise
All our highest aspirations, till the soul is filled with praise.
Here the poet soon might gather subject for a thousand lays,
Here the artist might discover rich employment all his days.

God’s own country! God’s own country! we must hasten o’er the sea,
Filled with sweetest recollections of thy beauty; blessing thee,
Wishing thee all future greatness, bidding thee “Advance! advance!”
Fruitful land, and land of wonder, richest region of romance!
Mitre Peak, erect, majestic, slowly vanishes from view,
And the distant waves are moaning, as we cry “Adieu! adieu!”

 – by Thomas Bracken

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My Quest

Willowtree - QuestHave you looked into the mirror recently and asked yourself “Who am I?” and “What am I here for?” Come on, you have to admit its a change from checking out the love handles and those buns of steel and wondering if you should detour your life to the gym. Let me tell you about my own journey to find out what I’m here for.

Its more than a journey actually, its My Quest! That subtle difference tells me I’m in search of something rather than just going out for a walk and its a word I wouldn’t ordinarily have used except for the gift I’m about to tell you about.

I’ve just completed my first week of a fresh year and I can see that there is still 357 days in front of me but how shall I spend these opportunity vouchers. This afternoon I was asking myself what should I do next. My mind is buzzing with ideas but it seems like I’m sitting in either a waiting room or the transit lounge of an airport. We’ve departed but we haven’t arrived and I want to ‘get there’.

Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103 v 5

My wonderful, adorable, beautiful and most importantly thoughtful wife has again used Christmas as an event to bring clarity to purpose. In the past she has bought me some poignant gifts like an awesome eagle that stands just over two feet tall and reminds me that we should look at things from on high not the eye to eye level of a turkey. It came with Psalm 103 v 5 in a frame. One year she gave me a pen holder for my desk that featured a globe and plane. It was there to remind me that God appoints and sends with a photo frame and John 3 v 27 John 17 v 18 printed out for me.

God in heaven appoints each man’s work
John 3 v 27

This year Cheryl has reached into my heart and summed up my situation with a simple gift. To the untrained eye this is simply an ornament of insignificant proportions. To me it was a golden link in a chain of understanding. In this gift were entrenched the thoughts of a shared life. She understood my dreams, my tiredness, the sorrow at loss and the hunger for a future still gestating in a limbo of preparation.

It’s a little bit funny that this piece is from the Willow Tree collection by artist Susan Lordi. Over 2012 I had acknowledged Cheryl’s love for the collection by buying her a piece for Christmas, her birthday and our Wedding Anniversary.  It seems that the seed has born fruit and she has now picked an item for me. This piece is a picture of stability, an intensity of dreams and thought and a launching pad for the future. It is called ‘Quest’. Susan says it was inspired by her son and the deepness of a person in study gives me a sense of preparation. Once you’ve read the rest of the blog watch the video of Susan’s work. You will see the makings of my Quest piece in Susan Lordi’s photo.

As you sent me into the world,
I am sending them into the world
John 17 v 18

Quest: Seek, Explore, Discover

On Susan Lordi’s Willow Tree website they give some background to the Quest piece that I have included below. The essence is to look ‘out’ to the future. Anyone who sets out on a Quest will have studied the road ahead or dipped their proverbial toe in the water by reading books, travel guides or exploring websites, photos and videos to create a taste for the adventure. For me there is so much more to discover and I sense the time for departure is drawing closer. So what do I do from here on.

Keep the dream alive

First and most important is that you don’t shelve the quest. I watched ‘UP’ with my kids last night and it was a gentle reminder to keep the dream alive. Mr Fredrickson had a deep love to support his wife Ellie’s desire to go to Paradise Falls in South America. Although the tragedy of the animated story was that Ellie died before they could make the trip. The beauty of the story was a long held dream realised. The depth of satisfaction in getting to a goal is unsurpassable and a rich reward.

Soak up the preparation

While you may feel the time in the ‘waiting room’ or ‘transit lounge’ is wasted remember its only lost if you put your feet up and fall asleep. There are two things you can do in a these times. There is always plenty of reading to be done and that can include websites, audio and video. Absorbing the expertise and experience of others is vital. By talking to fellow travellers either in person or through their recollections, you develop a greater sense of the journey ahead and the path you wish to take. Find someone who can mentor your experience.

Pack the backpack

Now is the time to see what you have and what you will need to pursue this Quest. In the packing you find what you’re missing so that the you will be ready to jump on board the plane, the bus or camel. As you make your packing list, keep the inventory fresh and ask for advice from previous travellers. Remove anything that will weigh you down and look for ideas that can be folded down to save space. All of this virtual packing makes you more efficient for the road ahead.

For me my ‘Quest’ Willow Tree piece is a daily reminder of the road ahead. For you it maybe that you should put a ‘map’ on the wall or an enlarged photo of the dream destination. Whatever the dream, pursue your Quest and I will follow after mine.

I would love to hear of your Quest. Can you leave a comment on it below? Enjoy the video from Susan Lordi as well.


Quest was inspired by my son, who is currently immersed in the research and documentation of other cultures. The idea of the figure is to portray that time in someone’s life when he finds something that he is passionately interested in — and begins to pursue it, independently, with no parental prodding. He’s ‘into it’. It’s the love of learning for learning’s sake.  Quest represents when a young person (or really, any age person) is motivated by his own interests and goals.

Quest could be a birthday gift or graduation gift, or a thank you gift to a teacher/mentor who may have sparked an interest in a young mind.


God’s Own Country – 100% New Zealand

God's Own Country

God’s Own Country

Leave aside the fight for who invented the Pavlova. If that’s what the Aussies want then let them have the meringue. It doesn’t taste the same without some fresh Kiwi dairy cream whipped into a frenzy like Martin Crowe at the wicket in an 80’s one-dayer and layered over the top like Ian Jones reaching over those short French rugby players in an All Black line-out. And you can be sure that an Aussie pav won’t have that pièce de résistance of a few slices of kiwifruit to give the sweet some bite. You know some dessert eaters are a bunch of namby pamby wannabes. The real discussion is about where is God’s Own Country.

New Zealand has always been 100% God’s Own Country as even the researchers have proven and its a title many would fear to compete for. While Aussie has a reef and the Yanks some hole in the ground they call a canyon, the Poms may have a Lake District and the Europeans rave about their mountains but which of them can say they’ve been able to bring all that natural majesty into a country the size of George Bush’s backyard? This is more than a Shire in Middle Earth or a playground for the extreme adventurer. New Zealand is a paradise that angels won’t leave and demons won’t visit.The green undulating hills mesh with crystal clear waters while man and beast walk amongst the creation that God is still rolling out years after the first seven day first edition. Some joker called Thomas Bracken back in the 1800s wrote a stanza or two on the subject and he really caught what God’s Own Country is all about. He must of known what he was talking about because he came from Ireland, checked out Australia and then decided New Zealand was the place to be. Now some of those young whipper snappers who do the marketing have tended to shorten God’s Own Country to save on thumb rsi on their mobiles but whether you’re shouting Godzone or Godsown it really is just a country that’s a sparkle in His eye.

Coming to the 100% New Zealand experience will always be hard on the senses so preparation is important. If you’ve coming from somewhere droll like an inner city apartment block or the terrace housing of Coronation Street then you should take the time to prepare. Acclimatizing prior to your trip is important. We recommend two ways to adjust to your holiday in God’s Own Country.The preferable way would be by visualisation as you watch several All Black matches to pick up on the warrior culture of the nation. Follow this up with a twelve hour marathon of Lord of the Rings to ensure the scenery won’t overwhelm you on your first introduction. To encompass the full sensory experience you should visit your local florist once a day for a month prior to travelling to New Zealand. Shoving your head into a floral bouquet should prepare both eyes for the visual assault of colour as well as your nasal cavities for the fragrance of the New Zealand bush. Language may be an issue in travelling to a foreign land for some travellers so to pick up on the Kiwi accent we would advise that you start to watch less of Neighbours and more of Flight of the Conchords.

So visiting New Zealand might be a wee trip for you but I can tell you its the shortest distance to Heaven theologically known. The folk at Air New Zealand will get you here and their safety is world renowned so you’ll be in good hands. Now if you think we’re concerned about this rugged wilderness and whether we have internetness or the electricity thingamajig then do not fear. We all visit the local McDonald’s carpark to use their free Wifi but its a good place to catchup with the whanau (family) over a New Zealand lamb burger. The pristine waters of our rivers drive our national hydro-electricity so the only Nuclear power plant you’ll see is on the hotel television with Homer kicking back a donut on the Simpsons.

Truth be told when God created this place he kicked the snake out of Eden and they’ve been populating Australia ever since. That’s the reason we love to sing our National Anthem. It was that same young Irishman, Thomas Bracken, who wrote the poem ‘God’s Own Country’, who then caught the heart of our nation when he wrote our national anthem. Its the deep lyrics that resonate when we sing and they put awe in the heart of the admirer and fear in the eyes of our adversaries. It stirs the heart, reminds you why you’re thankful to live in God’s Own Country and then gives you a sense you’re in a good place where God is looking after the place. Why don’t you come on down. I’ll tell St. Peter to meet you at the airport’s pearly gates.

Do we have Empathy with Suicide?

A while back I mentioned “The Box”, a cardboard filing box full of old writings, poetry and creative work I had worked on particularly when I was involved in youth work at our local church. During that time I had a job working as car salesman at a local Toyota car yard and from a tragic situation I wrote the poem on this page called “My Friend of Eight Months”. Attached to the car sales was a mechanical workshop, a parts division and a Shell petrol station. While everyone worked different hours and the business embodied a wide range of personalities including mine, the focal point was a social room where people would gather for drinks and a game of pool after work.

It was here that I met a young man who started work at the petrol station. He was a great guy, always encouraging and seemed to constantly have a smile on his face and a spring in his step. Sadly it was this same young man who didn’t seem to have a care in the world who didn’t turn up for work one Saturday morning. He had committed suicide the night before after his shift. I don’t know what was the tipping point. I have no idea whether his burden was one he had carried for so long that he had found a way to make it look like he had it sorted out. Maybe something hit him that night or week that he felt unprepared to deal with.

Suicide is the hardest level of empathy. I know he deserves my understanding. He had my respect as a friend and a colleague. Sadly now there is no way to empart the empathy or listening ear that might have heard a clue or connected two dots to help him avoid this fate. We wish that there had been a way to connect him to counselling that may have seen him through the mire he was in. It may have come to pass, but for him counsel was either unavailable or in a place he could connect. I’ve tried now to listen better and be a better friend to others. I know I still get busy but I grew in a small way to think that a smile doesn’t always reveal a heart. As I dealt with his death I wrote this poem a little while after his funeral.

If you have known or have walked alongside someone who has committed suicide I’d love your thoughts in the comments below the post. Many thanks for being willing to share.

My Friend of Eight Months

Thinking back is to late and worthless
Except to remember the good
His pleasure of friendship
The wide smile of greeting
His zeal to assist me
The dry sense of humour

I wonder what life was like for him
All that can be done is learn
Urgency meant rush, rush, rush
His music turned to peak
Drive and get around alot
His style was loud to impress

Wish we could turn the clock back one week
But how would we know?
His manner was jovial then
Was he different to you and I?
His personal life quite unknown
Remorse and sorrow mix bitter sweet

Written: 16/3/1991
Author: Andrew Pitchford

Did You Hear that Alarm?

Girl in Blur

How did we lose the meaning of urgency so easily? Are our lives so full of demands and emergencies that even a catastrophe has to schedule it’s crisis on your timetable? I’m asking you this question after three events prompted me to look at my own response to alarm bells. I had to ask myself ‘Did you hear that alarm?’ These three events all took place over a weekend and each surprised me as I looked at how the ‘pack’ nonchalantly ignored the warning signs. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m asking myself some pretty strong questions here. Bottom line – Do I Care?

Every week I have a disaster in my kitchen. The fire alarm goes off repeatedly. But it doesn’t stop me being adventurous. 
– Paul O’Grady

Now the danger of all the ‘alarms’ going off around us is that many, just like the examples below, never actually come to dangerous fruition. So how do we deal with the daily ‘boy who cried wolf’. If you haven’t read the Aesops Fable of a boy who meets his demise from crying false alarms then you should allow yourself this pleasure. What the young boy saw as a prank later led to his desperate need being ignored. So what of our needs? Are we selfish or stupid? Read on and be my judge.

IKEA: Did You Hear that Alarm?

The first alarm occurred when we were walking through one of Australia’s largest IKEA furniture stores. If you’ve ever experienced the IKEA retail manipulation that turns shoppers into maze rats you’ll know what I mean. You go in one end a a four kilometer walk later you should emerge. Now there are a few short-cuts and the obligatory emergency exits but the plan is to funnel you past every buying opportunity.

We were two thirds through our shopping adventure when the fire alarm began. Not only did the alarm sound but we got a package deal with a calm robotic voice at regular intervals telling is to proceed calmly to the nearest exit. Did we run in a panic? Did we trample the children in our rush to escape the foreboding tragedy? Was there a heroic courtesy of ‘women and children first’? No to all of the above. We kept on shopping! This was one of the few hours in our busy week and we planned to make the most of it. I was perplexed by the irony of my own hypocrisy. I looked around at the massive number of shoppers. All, like I, were casually trying out furniture, checking colour schemes, managing their children and generally proceeding oblivious to any impending doom. We walked past a fire-exit door with a clear window to a safe outside world. I looked around and as no one moved I carried on past the escape hatch with my family safely alongside.

Dick Smith Electronics: Did You Hear that Alarm?

A few days later and we were shopping in a Dick Smith Electronics store. This time we weren’t in danger but the same blasé attitude continued. This time the alarm of a cabinet securing high value items was beeping so the whole shop knew it. Had the treasure cabinet been emptied of its bullion or was it simply a faulty switch. The staff obviously have this happening twenty times a day because nobody checked the cabinet and customers walked by with no concern, empathy or alarm.

I hate alarms. If they go off I get really tetchy. I hate them. They just get me going, I’m hyper at the best of times, but they drive me mad.
 – Kirsty Gallacher

This left me wondering on a number of levels. Do the staff care for their employer? Do they feel they have the best interest of the store in mind as they work there. After all losses in any business add up to a smaller bottom line. But if these staff feel so hard done by that they can’t go any lower, are them simply ignoring the best interest of the employer’s stock and business. Maybe that’s being too hard but I didn’t see staff trying to assure the customers and to be fair the customers were happy to ignore a possible robbery as long as it wasn’t an armed hold-up to inconvenience their shopping day out.

Supermarket Car-park: Did You Hear that Alarm?

Our final event happened a few days later but actually happens all the time. The modern car is invested with an alarm device that works inside and out of the vehicle to help eliminate accidents in the driveway or supermarket car-park  They reversing alarm is a beeper that is meant to remind you you’re going backwards and elevate you into a higher level of careful driving. Also it is meant to warn children and pedestrians that you are reversing and they should remove themselves from your path of destruction. As I was backing out of a carpark at the local supermarket, I noticed not one but two lots of people treat the reverse beeping as not a ‘beware’ sound but rather a ‘speed-up’ and zip across the pathway. Of course that meant I have to stop-start as someone will have to give-way today.

It’s the same when we a confronted by the amber traffic light, warning us to slow down, but instead we speed up. Isn’t that the same for everything from Christmas shopping to taking on more jobs to get more status or fund a mortgage. When we see the warning signs to ‘slow down’ we turn the ‘crazy dial’ and speed up. They say that the litigious nature of American culture means people advise their children not to stop for the potentially hurt such as the scene of a traffic accident. Is it because of the fear the incident could be set-up? Is it the potential law suit for hurting someone as you help them? Probably the key reason is the trauma will become a drama in our busy lives. After all “is it worth the trouble”?

As I’ve thought through the circumstance that brought each of these situations about I can see three things that need attention. Maybe this is the cure or just the bucket of water we need poured on our collective heads.

  1. We have limited time and we spend it isolated from the good or bad that is happening around us.
  2. We care only about ourselves and so we assess our own danger and predicament according to our values and no one or no impersonal alarm will tell us what to do with our day.
  3. We believe we can’t be hurt because we live in a modern world where our houses have safety switches, our cars have air-bags and we don’t believe in Hell.

To notice we need to be aware. To act on what we notice we need to be flexible. Lets be aware of how flexible we need to be.

Did You Hear that Alarm?

Can you think of  a time you heard an alarm or had a warning from someone and ignored it? Tell me your story in the comments window below.