i’m holding out for a hero

Where have all the good men gone? And where are all the gods? Where’s the street-wise Hercules to fight the rising odds? Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.
I need a hero.
This desire for a hero is a little bit caught up in the conversations I have had lately about men and women and the confusion of our roles and relationships.
You see, recently, I have been very aware of the discrepancies in what women say they want. We want men to be manly; strong and protecting and able to fix the taps when they don’t work. We also want them to be romantic, perceptive, poetry-writing and extremely competent lovers. We want them to want us, but not fawn all over us. They have to stimulate us intellectually but not make us feel stupid. They have to have their own interests, but we must be at the heart of them.
Basically what we’re after is a hero. But where did we get this idea of heroes? And why do we impose it on our men?
The medieval guys told stories about heroes and it’s a long time ago, but they were pretty good at it.
One of the prototype stories involved a knight referred to as the Fair Unknown. This hero is an unknown quantity at the outset; a nameless knight errant who rides into King Arthur’s court and demands a boon. By the end of the story, he has a name, a wife and land, none of which he has achieved by himself.
The question asked by one of his love interests: Who are you? is probably the most crucial question in the story.  
The medieval authors tended to uses their protagonists as devices of amplification. What I mean by that is who this man is and what his function is in the narrative lies at the heart of the poet’s purpose and plan. The fair unknown character becomes part of an elaborate authorial design to explore the process of writing and to expose the artificiality of creating a literary world.

This man is a non-entity. His background is unknown to others and apparently to himself. Everything is decided for him. When he first appears he asks for a boon, but thereafter seems unable to take the initiative. Far from being a pro-active hero, he is instead a reactive one. Almost all his decisions are made by someone else or by the fact that he is the hero and has no other choice than to act the way he does.

His passivity is reinforced by the function of the other characters. They warn him of impending danger, explain local custom and outline combat strategies for him. These other characters owe their existence in the narrative to the fair unknown as they have been included to act as his conscience, provide him with a sense of identity, motivate his actions and to furnish him with some sort of courtly backdrop. They are, for the most part, superfluous characters who turn up, carry out a role and then disappear.

But the most interesting exploration is that of the hero himself. One medieval critic says, you can’t take any old hero and put him in any old genre. And I think he might be right. The way in which the hero behaves relies on the genre into which he is written. An adventure requires the right knight. And the narrative is shaped by proving his ‘rightness’.

The characters in these stories are not part of real life or a real society. They operate in a literary world. They are not intended to represent real people or real psychological progression. They are there to support the line of argument that happens to interest their author.

The good men are there. It’s time we appreciated them.

I’m holding out for a hero 


just be and do. it will be ok

Sometimes the synchronicity of life fills me with feelings of abundance.

I just went down to get a coffee from the coffee stand at the bottom of the building. There was a woman there with two of those tall toy poodles. One of the dogs came up and leaned into me for a pat and I was taken with the fact that I could feel the trust and gentleness it exuded. That’s not something I do, feel the energy of dogs, but there it was.

The other dog had a huge stitched up gash all the way along its body and a little bottle draining fluid. When I asked the woman what had happened, she said that her husband had been out with the dogs last night and in running past a fence, the dog had ripped itself open on a nail.

It turns out the woman is also from Christchurch and has in the last few years made a career transition too. She told me to embrace the change, and never fear a lack of qualifications or what other people think. Everyone is afraid of everyone else, she said. “They all just want to know what you will offer them. You are wise, just be and do. It will be ok.”

finding the bean

Kings’ Day. Twelfth Night. Epiphany.

There are a few names for this date, the 6th of January. And also a few possibilities for what it is commemorating. The most popular choice is that it is the day when the church celebrates the arrival of the kings who came to present gifts to the baby Jesus. Many countries have traditions surrounding this date and they are largely a fairly happy mix of pagan and religious observations.

In France, a bean, or in recent centuries, a ceramic figure, is hidden inside the King’s cake. Whoever receives the special portion, gets to wear the crown. It is an interesting tradition to continue, given the nasty end of France’s last King. And, in fact, the cake baked for the President of France is bean-less. I suspect they don’t want anyone getting any ideas.

The 6th of January marks the start of Carnival, the period of time that runs on down to Ash Wednesday and Lent.

So it’s win, win really. Even if you don’t get the bean, there’s still a party.


“People make mistakes in life through believing too much, but they have a damned dull time if they believe too little.” James Hilton, Lost Horizon

James Hilton’s twelfth book, Lost Horizon, came out in 1933. He is said to have been inspired to invent the fictional paradise, Shangri-La, a feature of his novel, after reading Austrian American Joseph Rock’s National geographic Magazine articles about the southwestern provinces and Tibetan borderlands.

Hilton describes Shangri-La as a mystical, harmonious valley whose inhabitants are, if not immortal, then certainly aging very slowly. The book’s protagonist, Hugh Conway, is a veteran of the trench warfare of World War I and the suffering he has witnessed and undergone himself has taken its toll on his emotional well being and physical health. It is for this reason that he feels so drawn to the tranquility of Shangri-La which offers him the inner peace, love and sense of purpose that he had lost.

It is not difficult to understand why the name is perfect for a chain of luxury hotels. The Shangri-La Hotels came into existence the same year as I did, in 1971. And so have been providing a luxurious haven for travelers for 43 years.

I like coincidences and I am quite happy to claim that one. Not that this trip required anything more to make it the perfect treat. Well, perhaps one more thing…

the far north

Before last week, I knew little about Cairns apart from the fact that mum and dad ate tiger prawns when they visited there. On the beach. 

I did not eat tiger prawns on the beach, I think to mum’s disappointment, but I did learn a bit more about Cairns.

The recipient of a very lovely and very generous gift, I was sent to Cairns for two nights. “To put me in the right frame of mind to start the new year.”

Two days and two nights of a tropical holiday. Because Cairns is tropical. It is in the far north. Which sounds far. And exotic. The city itself, if it can be called a city as it is actually pretty small with around 150 000 people, is not the main attraction of the area. Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and Far North Queensland.

Cairns owes its existence to the miners who arrived looking for gold in the Hodgkinson River goldfield and then became a major railhead and port for exporting sugar cane, gold and other metals and minerals.

Today sugar cane is still its second largest industry. Second to tourism.

It seems as though as soon as tourism becomes important and there is an economic drive to push it, people welcome tourists.The customer service in Cairns was exceptional. Everyone was friendly, welcoming and helpful. With the one exception of the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport. But then, he was listening to the summer cricket series on the radio and Australia were playing India. Of course, he would have been better listening to the Black Caps play Sri Lanka, because at least that would have had more historical and cultural significance. Black Caps Captain, Brendan McCullum, was playing in a way that earned him world-wide recognition as ‘the best batsman in the world’. But not everyone has the same priorities.

And I digress.