Potrero Hill (and books and bookshops).

Heading west and up hill from the flatlands of the Dogpatch area is the mainly residential Potrero Hill which clings to the curves of the east facing hills, giving it a sunny disposition. The condition and quality of the homes here change with each street and sometimes with each cross street from swanky to shabby. Along with homes, this neighbourhood also has cafe’s and eateries and an interesting local music scene…..plus Christopher’s Bookshop which is on my “to visit” list.

Historically a working class neighbourhood until the gentrification of the 1990’s – you’ll now find a mainly working-professional and upper-middle class, family-oriented scene. And talking of scenes, due to the elevated position you have a wonderful outlook over both the Bay and the financial district skyline. I guess I could have lumped Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch together as the Spanish name for the Dogpatch area was Potrero Nuevo, but as you saw from my earlier Dogpatch post there was enough happening there to warrant a post of its own.

I’m not sure how much there will be here of interest from a tourist viewpoint as it is mainly residential and by San Franciscan standards very quiet…..but we’ll see. One benefit is that there is a Caltrain station here so that means easy access to and from the main city.

When ever we visit cities anywhere in the world, we usually seek out the parks and open green spaces for a break from the hustle and bustle to give us a chance to recharge our internal batteries. Potrero Hill has a few such areas. Mckinley Square, popular with children and dog lovers and contains several levels of trails that make up the official off-leash dog area. The park is pretty much on the crest of Potrero Hill and since my blog is primarily about books and writers, has a literary connection. Part of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel “The Language of Flowers” describes the park.

Published in 2011 The language of Flowers is Diffenbaugh’s first published novel and is about Victoria Jones, an itinerant foster child who gets moved from home to home until at the age of 18 she becomes a flower arranger…..hence the title. According to Wikipedia, “The novel was inspired by a flower dictionary, a type of Victorian-era book which defines what different types of flowers mean”. It’s also love story, which is why I won’t be reading it, but for those who enjoy love stories with a heavy accent on flowers and their meanings…it is most likely a good read. In fact Goodreads (did you see what I did there??? Lol) rates it at four and a bit out of five and says “A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past”.

Around the corner from McKinley Square you’ll find Potrero Hill Community Garden which was established in the 1970s and has a panoramic view of the city. About 10 minutes walk from the Community Gardens is Potrero Hill Recreation Center. Renovated in 2011 – here you’ll find a baseball field, a tennis court, a basketball court, and another dog park. It seems like Potrero Hill residents love their dogs. Likewise, the Jackson Playground at the North Slope also has a baseball field, a tennis court, and a basketball court. And another loosely literary connection…there is a public library which was renovated in 2010 and is located on 20th St. and Connecticut St.

So what else other than homes and parks does Potrero Hill have to offer, I hear you ask? The answer is….not a lot. It’s mainly a residential area with a few shops and cafes to service the locals – which actually makes it quite a good place to visit….WHY? – no tourists and no crowds. From our son and daughter-in-laws apartment, the closest mini-markets within walking distance, of any note – mainly Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are in or along the edge of Potrero Hill so we have ventured into this area quite a few times since our arrival almost a week ago.

To get to Christopher’s Book Store means a steep-ish climb from the Dogpatch up 18th Street to the corner of 18th and Missouri, where you will find a lovely little shop (open every day 10am to 9pm) on the corner with a good variety of stock and a knowledgeable lady owner. The original owner “Christopher” who opened the store in 1991 has a New Zealand connection. Christopher Ellison was from Te Kauwhata (not too far from Hamilton, New Zealand) a very small town of just over 1000 people – serving an outlying area of maybe 10,000 people. He decided that what the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco needed was an independent bookshop. The current owner – Tee Minot – started off working for Christopher back in 1992 and has been here ever since, taking over sole ownership of the shop in 1996. As you would expect of someone who has owned a bookshop for over 20 years, Tee is very knowledgeable about her stock and the area of San Francisco that her shop is based.

The only thing I could even begin to be negative about this shop is that it’s not big enough to have a dedicated reading area. There are just 3 aisles of books – but a good selection. Tee herself said she wished that there was room for a couple of couches in there – sadly there isn’t – otherwise this shop would be just about perfect.

I can buy books cheaper on line but, as I may have mentioned in earlier blog posts, I prefer to support the bricks and mortar establishments – particularly independents – when ever I can. Visiting San Francisco, I wanted to buy a book or two either by San Franciscan writers or featuring stories set in San Francisco. With this in mind, Tee recommended several books/writers and I selected two of them – Rebecca Solnit’s “Call Them by Their True Names” – American Crises (and Essays) printed in 2018 and which I have just started reading.

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Solnit, although born in Connecticut in 1961, moved to California when just a girl where she was educated from kindergarten to graduate school. She’s been an “independent writer” since 1988 and has published over twenty books covering everything from Feminism, History, Politics and Power, Social Problems, Travel, Insurrection, Hope and Disaster. This book however is a series of essays about, as she says, “the war at home” – referring to social injustice, climate change, domestic violence and of course the travesty that is Trump. The people at Goodreads rate this book as a 4 out of 5. I’m only about 20 pages in so far but she writes well – informs rather than preaches – so I will no doubt enjoy it.

The second of my book selections from Christopher’s is David Talbot’s “Season of the Witch”. Which according to the cover “tells the story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 and 1982 – and of the extraordinary men and women who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth and triumph”.

Paperback Season of the Witch : Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love Book

According to the Washington Post “An enthralling and harrowing account of how the 1967 Summer of Love gave way to 20 or so winters of discontent”.

So it should be a good read – at over 400 pages I am going to have to set aside some serious reading time for this one. Talbot was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now lives and works here in San Francisco. He specializes in “hidden histories” where his journalistic training is put to good use.

It scores a high 4 and a quarter on Goodreads but has been criticized for it’s racially singular accounts – being told by a white man basically from a white viewpoint about predominantly white people. I’ll keep an open mind when I eventually get to read it.

My wife Liz bought Jenny Odell’s “How to do Nothing” subtitled “Resisting the Attention Economy”. Unlike my two paperbacks, this is a very nice hard cover book with a colourful dust cover.

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Odell is another local writer, being based just over the bridge in Oakland.

Again this book is a 4 plus rating on Goodreads. “This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world”.

Where better to sit and peruse our new purchases than just over the road and slightly down the hill at Farley’s Coffee. Farley’s have really good coffee, by the way, so if you’re in the area you’ll be doing yourself a favour by calling in for a cup. The prices are much cheaper than in the tourist parts of the city too – a win / win situation. And the barista’s there are friendly and very good at what they do.

There are tables inside where you can sit and work / browse your laptop, or enjoy a bite to eat from their menu. We chose to sit outside in the sunshine beneath the Bottlebrush trees, sip coffee and read. This little seating area is right outside Farley’s door but is actually a kind of mini public park….or “parkette” if you like…where anyone can sit and while away a few minutes of a few hours, with or without a purchase from Farley’s.

Just a block further up the street from Christopher’s – which is quite a steep climb – there are some nice views of the city from this lofty vantage point on 19th Street.

Later on in the morning, passing the back of the library, the shutter doors were open revealing an area dedicated to selling used books – either ex library books, or donated by members of the public. Every book regardless of size, type or condition costs a mere $1. What a bargain. AND never being one to pass up a bargain I bought 4….and my wife bought 2. Our suitcases will be right up to that 23 kilo limit by the time we’ve finished buying books.

My picks were – Randy Shilts “The Mayor of Castro Street” about the life and times of Harvey Milk. A book of Essays edited by Jennifer Lee by American writers about their experiences in Paris – “Paris in Mind”. A pictorial feast of a book “Gertrude Stein in words and pictures” and my final selection was ironically by a guy who lives and works in my town of birth – Sheffield called Simon Armitage “Walking Home” subtitled “A Poets Journey”, which is about is attempt to walk the Pennine Way (the backbone of England).

My wife’s books were a paperback by Marianne Williamson’s “Healing the Soul of America”, and a cookbook by Terry Walters called “Clean Food”which is a nice quality hard cover book.

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of buildings that caught my eye – this time showing the bottom of the hill, back on the flat easy walking streets….and I’ll throw in another shot or maybe two of Christopher’s Books for good measure, since it’s such a great little shop.

Next post will be of the Mission District Murals.

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Quotes about bookstores

I don’t know about you, but my home is full of books. Bookcases line the walls of my lounge and my office, the shelves sagging under the weight. And there are more books squirreled away, hidden in boxes, under the beds. Which is probably why, of all shops, I feel most at home and at my happiest in bookstores. Here are a few quotes from like-minded souls.

“You see, bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places.”
—Jen Campbell

“Browsing through the shelves in bookstores or libraries, I was completely happy.”
—Louis L’Amour

“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted—and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
—Mary Ann Shaffer

“Don’t patronize the chain bookstores. Every time I see some author scheduled to read and sign his books at a chain bookstore, I feel like telling him he’s stabbing the independent bookstores in the back.”
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I will end on that quote from the centenarian poet, publisher and co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco…..a bookstore that I will be visiting in the next few days. One of many of San Francisco’s independent bookstores on my “to visit” list.

An inspiring story of a determined woman.

My local independent book store Wardini’s in Havelock North had an author event a couple of weeks back that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. A very sprightly, articulate and entertaining octogenarian lady by the name of Robin Robilliard was there to give a talk about her book “Hard Country” – A Golden Bay Life.

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It tells the story of how she and her husband Garry arrived in Golden Bay in 1957 and took on a rocky, rundown marginal property aptly called “Rocklands” and their attempts to turn it into a successful sheep farm. They arrived there with a baby, only a few months old, armed with very little money but a lot of determination and a willingness to work hard.

The three previous owners of the land had gone bust but over the years Robin and her husband came to love this “nightmare land” and sixty years on still call Rocklands home.

She was a delight to listen to. Not only had she and her husband raised 3 children and battled the elements to make a go of their farm, but she had also worked as a nurse and later as a journalist during which time she travelled the world.

It’s a fascinating book and has sold over 10,000 copies so far. Robin says she has another book coming out soon. If it’s anything like this one, it should sell well and the best of luck to her.

She very kindly signed a copy for me and added a little personal dedication. What a lovely lady.

The Lost Pages – a novel by Marija Pericic

This novel is about the relationship between Max Brod and Franz Kafka. I hate to be cruel to any writer, but in this book’s case…in my opinion the pages should have remained lost.

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Although the premise of the book was a bold one, I believe that writers are always going to be on very thin ice when it comes to writing a fictitious story about 2 people who existed in real life, knew one another and were friends. Mixing fact with fiction is a dangerous thing to do. To then, as Pericic attempts to do in her novel, write a story which insinuates that Max Brod was mentally unhinged and may have actually killed Kafka by putting a pillow over his face, because he was jealous of the man both physically and intellectually – which is, if history is to be believed, a complete about face of facts – makes the book as President Trump likes to say “Fake News!”

No, I haven’t missed the point that it is a novel and therefore a work of fiction, but I found nothing redeeming at all in this story. The characters were more like caricatures, the writer insinuated conflict where there was none, the plot was frustrating to say the least and the dialogue was not believable. Brod’s character was so insecure, self pitying, jealous and full of doubt about every aspect of his life – including his relationships with other people and the quality of his own work – that I wanted to either strangle him or, alternatively strangle, Pericic.

In “the Lost Pages” novel, Brod does everything he can to keep Kafka’s work from being published, and yet we all know that it was Brod, during Kafka’s lifetime, who did everything in his power to get Kafka’s work into print and, after Kafka’s death, it was Brod, who compiled/edited Kafka’s work and in some cases even completed unfinished work in order to get it published and out into the public arena.

About the only thing that Pericic didn’t try to twist was that Kafka worked for a time in an insurance office and Brod for the Post Office. Otherwise the rest of the story was quite tortuous to read.

Pericic insinuates that Brod, although an accomplished writer before he met Kafka was, after meeting Kafka, so insecure about his own abilities that he could never write anything notable thereafter. That Brod went on to publish 83 titles seems to have escaped her. Again, YES I know it’s a work of fiction, but I like fiction to entertain me….not to frustrate and annoy me.

However, the book won The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award and others on “Goodreads” (where it rates 3.5 starts out of 5) have reacted positively to the story – for example “From the very beginning, I was drawn to the vulnerability and fragility of her protagonist, the anguish of an artist who never feels good enough, who is eaten up by his own insecurities, and whose low self opinion is sorrowful enough that we forgive him the gravest of errors against others.” AND “A clever weaving of fact and fiction, I was left wishing for an Author’s Note to disentangle the threads. Powerful and compelling, this is easy to read and hard to forget.” – Sadly for me, I wish I could forget it….and quickly. Had she written it about 2 fictitious people instead of real people it may have been marginally more readable.

Not a book that I would recommend to a friend – I would even balk at recommending it to an enemy.

Just passing through…..a life’s journey.

New Zealand writer Peter Wells (died 18 Feb 2019) signed off with a book about his own death titled “Hello Darkness”. It follows the last year and 4 months of his life, after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2017. The book broke new ground in that much of it was written on his own Facebook page and the writing was accompanied by his own photographs.

But that is typical Wells. He has always been a breaker of new ground, of being a leader and not a follower. He was one of New Zealand’s first openly gay writers and was writing about gay topics as far back as the 1980’s. In 1998 he was co-founder of the “Auckland Writers Festival” and also co-founded in 2016 “Samesame But Different” – New Zealand’s first LGBTQI Writers Festival. His goal was for the festival to be “an exciting event that makes people think about sexuality, difference and community, stretches their understanding, gives them a few laughs and creates a slightly magic space for two days in February.” This years festival finished on February 10th. It was Well’s 4th and last.

He was a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, but from the 1980’s onward also made films and documentaries predominantly about historical and/or gay themes.

His own blog site says this on his profile page…. “Peter Wells writes books and makes films. His films include idiosyncratic documentaries about conserving at-risk architecture like a flamboyant 1929 picture palace, or a shoe-obsessed gay man who tells his life story through women’s shoes (made with friend and fellow film-maker Garth Maxwell). He co-wrote and co-directed ‘Desperate Remedies’, a feature film described as ‘Jane Austen on acid’. His books include award winning short stories and novels. ‘Iridescence’, for example, about an Englishman with a secret hiding in Victorian Napier. His memoir Long Loop Home looked back at his New Zealand childhood with the wry glance of loss and affection.”

All of which brings me around to my reason for writing about him. Whilst he was without doubt a talented writer and film maker – my reason for writing about Wells is his connection to Hawke’s Bay – where I live. He lived for some time in a house on Napier Hill where he wrote what became known as his “Napier Trilogy” – comprising of his highly rated book “The Hungry Heart” – about William Colenso, the very knowledgeable clergyman/missionary who was also a printer, botanist, explorer and politician – but who was also a recluse, “Journey to a Hanging” which was a racially charged book about the horrific death of the Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner in 1865…killed by Kereopa Te Rau, a Maori leader, who was found guilty of killing, beheading, eating the eyes and drinking the blood of Völkner and was subsequently hanged for the crime, and finally “Dear Oliver” – subtitled “Uncovering a Pakeha History” – which was a book written about his own family history, followed back in time in snippets of historical memories. It was hailed as a masterclass in writing history.

He was also partly responsible for the birth of the appreciation of Art Deco architecture in Napier and the start of what has become a phenomenally popular annual event “Napier Art Deco Festival” with his 1985 documentary film “Newest City on the Globe” which he wrote and directed and in doing so brought the architectural splendour of Art Deco Napier to the world. Shortly after this film was released, film crews from the USA visited Napier to record in this Art Deco jewel of the south pacific. After that Napier was no longer a secret tourist backwater.

The first Napier Art Deco Weekend Festival was in 1989 and with each passing year the event grows bigger and bigger and is celebrated by locals and tourists/art deco aficionado’s from all over the world.

For all this and more – Peter Wells – we salute you.

If you want to find out more about the man and his work, Links to Peter Wells blog, his Wikipedia page, the Auckland Writers Festival, the Samesame but Different site and the Napier Art Deco Trust web page are below.

http://www.peterwellsblog.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Wells_(writer)

http://www.writersfestival.co.nz/

http://www.samesamebutdifferent.co.nz/

https://www.artdeconapier.com/

Writers as protectors of freedom. A review – my thoughts on Ivan Klima’s biography – My CraZy Century.

I have been fortunate to live in “Free” countries. I was born in the UK and 30 years later moved to New Zealand in 1989 – a significant year in world events…but I’ll come back to that. Both countries have free and democratic elections and yet I have taken to the streets with thousands of others – in both the UK and NZ – to protest political policy – both domestic and foreign.

Although as a protester I came into conflict with the police – I was not arrested and was certainly not “disappeared” – a fate that befell many dissenters of political policy in other, less lenient, countries.

I have just finished reading Czech writer Ivan Klima’s biography titled My Crazy Century. On the cover of the book the C and the Z in the word Crazy are in red. A reference to the many years of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. I highly recommend that anyone and everyone reads this book.

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The book gives us a clear insight into not only the conditions imposed on the Czech people under the Nazi’s……concentration camps and all….during the German occupation in world war 2, but also those enforced by their communist liberators – who in turn became their dictatorial masters during the post war era – right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist Block in 1989.

The people in power, both Nazi and Communist, feared the influence (on public opinion) of intellectuals, artists, writers, anyone who held political opinions other than theirs, so did all they could to silence them. This was done – in the extreme – by killing them, imprisoning them, exiling them or putting them under constant fear of their lives by harassing them day in, day out. Writers like Klima and his contemporaries who dared to have ideals other than those of the ruling party were banned from publication. Their previously published works were confiscated and burned and their scripts for plays etc were not allowed to be performed. They would be subject to sudden searches by the secret police who would ransack their homes and take away any written materials….and then they would be taken away to be “interviewed”….interrogated.

Under the control of Nazi Germany they suffered the horrors of not only living in an occupied country but also of being hauled off to concentration camps for extermination. Their jubilation of being “freed” by Russian troops at the end of the second world war was short lived as they came under the rule of the Czech Communist Party – who were little more than puppets, controlled by Stalinist Moscow. Anyone who didn’t fully accept the new regime and tow the line were punished. In the case of Klima it meant losing his job, being put on a list of banned writers, being constantly followed and harassed by the secret police and more. His father was also imprisoned for several years under the communists. Others were tortured, murdered or simply disappeared. Their fate unknown.

This treatment and further threats and mind games did not stop Klima and his circle of friends, meeting to discuss the political situation, writing essays, articles, novels and plays expressing ideologies in direct conflict with those of the ruling party – and smuggling these works out to be published in the UK, Germany, Holland and Switzerland.

Being a writer – particularly one who does not tow the party line – as ridiculous as it seems in this day and age, was a very dangerous occupation. The fact that these writers persisted for so long in such restrictive and dangerous circumstances to continue to produce their work is admirable to say the least….and ultimately contributed to the overthrow of the Communist regime.

Only 3 months before he took over as president of the country, Vaclav Haval was still in prison, being persecuted for his political beliefs. It’s amazing how, after so many years of ruling with an iron fist, a dictatorial regime could be overthrown, so quickly and without bloodshed.

The whole “revolution” happened in a period of 6 weeks. It earned the name the Velvet Revolution due to the relative ease that the transition took place. It had been unthinkable that a former banned and imprisoned poet would become leader of the country – and yet….it happened. You should never under estimate the spirit of the people, the right action, at the right time, in the right place, by the right person/people, or the power of the written word.

Klima’s book spans six decades that include war, totalitarianism, censorship and the never ending fight for democracy. He looks at the way that “this crazy century” has led mankind astray and impacted not only Klima’s generation, but also today’s generations still struggling against totalitarian societies around the world.

Klima recounts first hand what it was like to be of Jewish heritage, confronting along with his family, the inhumanities of the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the treatment dealt out by the Nazi thugs….who were replaced by four decades of Communist thugs….and finally after years of harassment, persecution and censorship, the sweetness of the Velvet Revolution – when the time was right for such an ideal to thrive.

Personally for me, the events of this book are recent history – having been born in 1959, I recall many of the main points in the book, but I did not at the time realise the full horrors of what was going on “behind the iron curtain”. The official channels and the media only provided a sanitised version of the news….and to this day continue to do so. As the number of independent news organisations disappear and are swallowed up by larger conglomerates – the easier it is to control the news. When the TV news comes on in the evening and the presenter says “Here is the news”…..what they really should be saying is “Here is the news that we want you to know about…and this is OUR version of it”. We are being digitally lobotomized.

Although the so called “Free World” was not directly responsible for the suffering of the Czech people, we were guilty of complacency….of inaction….of doing nothing but raising “an official protest” in the United Nations at the time of such atrocities. As Klima and his fellow banned writers proved, when governments fail to act it’s up to writers – ALL of us – to get the word out there, no matter what the personal cost.

Bastards I have met…..a book by Barry Crump.

Please forgive the use of the B word. 

Be advised that this post contains profanities and details of violent  crime. Those of sensitive demeanour should stop reading now.

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For those of you who are still reading, this is partly a look at a best selling NZ authors tongue in cheek book about “Bastards” and his rugged lifestyle and partly about the more serious subject of actual Bastards – murderers and the like – who I have come across during my lifetime. OK so back to the book and the writer …..Barry Crump – or Crumpy to those familiar with him or his books was a man who didn’t mince his words. He called a spade a spade and a shovel a shovel (whatever that means…). He was a straight talker. In this book – published in 1971 – he points out that for every true hero there are about 15,000 bastards and goes on to give anyone interested his A to Z of “bastardry”. Most of the “bastards” he talks about are in actual fact likeable rogues, or the type of annoying bastard that we’d all prefer to ignore and he gives us a run down on the various categories of bastard complete with fictitious latin names, including the Actual (Bastardus fairdinkumus), through Lazy, (Bastardus loafus) and Nasty (Bastardus notquiteniceus), to Literate (Bastardus bookwormus) and Stupid (Bastardus clottus). It’s all written very much tongue in cheek and it’s all a bit of nonsensical fun…he doesn’t get into talking about the real evil bastards that we sometimes come up against in real life. And be warned I will be talking about such people at the other end of this post.

For those who aren’t familiar with Crump’s work, he was a typical Kiwi (New Zealand) bushman who made a living hunting – in the main part, deer or possums on department of conservation land. Usually employed by DOC to keep an area pest free. He also did a stint in Australia shooting Crocodiles. He was always a lover of a good yarn – a story that is, not a ball of wool – and became a writer of semi-autobiographical novels. Many of the novels would have a central character who was the typical “Good Keen Man” – obviously based on his good self…..someone who was a bit of a scallywag…a rascal, but with a heart of gold.

The fame of his early books landed him a part in Toyota’s commercials for their rugged 4 wheel drive vehicles….and Crumpy got a new Toyota for his trouble. Link to the ad is below. He really punishes those Toyotas.

One of his books “Wild Pork and Watercress” was adapted into the movie “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”. It’s everything kiwi, it’s funny, well scripted, has some lovely shots of the New Zealand bush (wilderness) and is well worth a look. The link to the YouTube trailer is here…

Anyway…getting back to the subject of bastards….It got me thinking about some of the more unsavoury characters that I have had the displeasure to meet in my life so far. It also got me thinking that if there truly is a god, he or she must have been having an off day when they allowed such people to breathe the same air as the rest of us.

I don’t pretend to be perfect – I have my faults, some of which I am certainly not proud of – but compared to some of theses “Bastards I have met” – I am almost angelic.

There are people who are “bad” because of the way they have been raised – a combination of their environment and their family history never gave them a fair chance at being a “good” person. Unfortunately there are also people who are not only bad, but are evil to boot – by choice, because they want to be. They enjoy it and it gives them a feeling of power over the weak….and a feeling of mental superiority. I’m talking about the type of people who look just like you and me…they could be your neighbour, work mate….even a family member. They look ordinary….normal. BUT deep inside is a black heart and an evil – some would say insane – mind. They aren’t insane though. Everything they do is controlled and carefully thought through and when they get caught, as some of them inevitably do get caught, they profess their innocence, claim it’s a travesty of justice and that the world is against them because “no one in their right mind would do such a thing”.

I’m talking about people who – for example – pretend to be on a business trip far enough away from their chosen scene of the crime to put enough doubt in a jurors mind. They make sure that someone – preferably more than one person – has seen them in this place….and then speed home and murder their wife and child in the most brutal and violent way. Then later, when the bodies are discovered, by an unwitting relative, play the victim and publicly seek to avenge the deaths of his family – fully knowing all the time that his alibi is almost watertight and his chances of being found guilty minimal…..that is until DNA evidence catches up with him and firmly puts him at the scene of the crime in clothing contaminated by the victims blood and gore. This was an actual case here in NZ. Horrific.

Another undeniable “B” that I met is an extortionist – his victim was so traumatised that they committed suicide. He’s also a molester of young boys and he’s a murderer, having stabbed to death the father of a child he was molesting. He then escaped from prison at least once, taunting the police, the Department of Corrections and the government – yet thinks that HE should be given special rights and privileges over other criminals because he is of above average intelligence. He is also extremely vain and complained bitterly when the press showed photos of him without his wig. Again, a softly spoken, well read, intelligent person who can hold a pleasant conversation. Yet in an unguarded moment undeniably IS a very dangerous person….and a very nasty bastard indeed.

These people do exist. I have met them. Talked with them. The terrible thing is that if I hadn’t been aware of the details of the crimes committed I could easily have liked the person responsible for such vile actions. You see they are controlled, measured, normal, “reasonable” people – on the surface. They can be pleasant and behave in an acceptable way for 99.9% of the time…..and yet commit the most horrific atrocities. That’s why they are so terrifying. That they then, once caught and convicted – despite the mountain of evidence against them and the guilty verdict in one or more trials, tie up the justice system and spend thousands if not millions of dollars of public money on appeals and re-trials (because they know the system and how to manipulate it) makes me incredibly angry. This much needed public money would be better spent on the sick, the hungry and the homeless.

These criminals….the murderers and rapists are sometimes (but not always) put away in prison for lengthy periods because we no longer have the option of the death sentence. Capital punishment was last used in 1957 in New Zealand. Was abolished for murder in 1961 and was totally abolished – even for treason – in 1989. Here in New Zealand it costs around $100,000 per year to keep one person in prison. That’s just for your run of the mill ordinary prisoner…without the costs of any special treatment or appeals factored in. $100,000 each prisoner, per year – no wonder there’s no money for housing, hospitals and schools!

Back when I was working at my first “real job” after leaving school in England I saw a guy – a truck driver – who would regularly pick up and drop of goods at the depot where I worked. His name was Peter William Sutcliffe aka The Yorkshire Ripper. On the surface a quiet, almost shy, truckie who kept himself to himself….oh yes and just happened to be a serial killer. In 1981 he was found guilty of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder 7 others. Lord alone knows how many more….other potential victims he’d scoped out. He was given 20 concurrent life sentences so will never be released from prison. He will die behind bars. He’s already served 37 years and is only 72 years old….so could live for quite a few years yet…getting 3 meals a day, a roof over his head, the option of books from a library, education etc. all at the public’s expense.

These are just 3 examples of – to quote the title of Crumpy’s book – “Bastards I have met”. There are more, many more just like these men – unfortunately.

I consider myself to be a pacifist…..very much a live and let live type of guy who believes that criminals should be given a chance to rehabilitate and prove that they are worthy of a place in society….once they have paid their dues.

In a recent blog post…or was it on FaceBook?… I suggested that the USA may be an uncivilised country because they still have the death penalty. BUT men like that – like the ones I have mentioned above….I should say PEOPLE like that to be politically correct, (but they are usually men), people who are so devious and deviant and can’t be trusted to truly reform – have me thinking that maybe the death sentence should still be an option – even in so called civilised countries, in this day and age.

It’s a controversial subject and I know that any two people can be poles apart in their opinions about capital punishment. This is simply my opinion based on my own experience.

Again, I apologise if I have offended anyone with what I have written about in this post.