Working By Torchlight

Labour, Literature, & Listening

Month: September, 2012

A Renaissance Man and a glass of wine, no glass of wine: Wolf Hall and the tools to wrap Sauvignon Blanc

by Kit Munro

Today, in the MoonRaker vineyard, while wrapping the vines, I have begun reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This novel is set in England during the time of the Tudors. The Observer includes it as one of the ten best historical novels ever written. So, I would assume, Wolf Hall is a better resource for learning about the Tudors than this. Wolf Hall chronicles the rise of Thomas Cromwell.

One of the characters in Wolf Hall is made to sound like a real Renaissance Man:

…is now a little over forty years old. He’s a man of strong build, not tall. Various expressions are available to his face and one is readable; an expression of stifled amusement. His hair is dark, heavy and waving. And his small eyes, which are a very strong sight, light up in conversation, so the Spanish ambassador will tell us quite soon.

It is said he knows by heart the entire new testament in Latin and so as a servant of the Cardinal is apt, ready with a text if abbots flounder. His speech is low and rapid. His manner assured. He’s at home in courtroom or waterfront, bishops palace or inn yard. He can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house, and fix a jury. He’ll quote you a nice point in the old authors from Plato to Plautus and back again. He knows new poetry and can say it in Italian.

In the vineyard the buds are getting bigger and it is making progress slower and slower. I have explained about what wrapping the Sauvignon Blanc vines involves here, but I have not showed the tools that are used.

Once a cane is wrapped, twined, or I suppose you could even say, plaited along the wire it needs to be tied in place. There are two different approaches to this.

It can be tied in place by hand with a cardboard twisty tie. This takes about 7 seconds. This is the old fashioned method and not the one that is usually used in MoonRaker vineyard.

The other approach is to use the Pelenc wrapper. This flash looking machine contains a roll of tape that is long enough to do about 1500 ties. Using this, it takes about 3 seconds.

Both have the same result:

Now, you may not think there is much difference between 3 seconds and 7 seconds, but when there is 60,000 canes that all need tying it makes a huge difference. The buds in this photo will produce maybe 7 bunches of grapes between them,  which will produce about a  glass of wine. A very large glass…

I found my copy of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall  here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is availible please let me know in the comments below.


One job that is just too much fun for an audiobook

by Kit Munro

There are a few jobs on the farm that I cannot do while listening to audiobooks. Some jobs are simply too dangerous. Some jobs require too much thought to allow for concentrating on an audiobook. However, there are a very few jobs I cannot listen to audiobooks while doing them because the jobs are just too much fun. Mustering sheep is one of these fun jobs. So no audiobook today, just chasing sheep. Today is just a boring photo record of getting the sheep in…

The sheep waiting to be mustered.

The truck heading back after dropping Misty and me off.

The sheep mobbed up.

Going through the first gate.

Getting them down to the head of the lake.

Misty waiting for instructions.

Letting the sheep string out next to the lake. Can’t push them too much here. If they crowd too tightly they can fall into the lake. Fishing a sodden wooly sheep out of the water is not fun. Imagine a sponge that kicks and weighs 70 kilos. That is only one. If half a dozen fall in…

The last one to go through the last gate

In the yards with Misty in action.

And finally in the yards. With one slightly muddy.

Nearly one third and Life of Pi

by Kit Munro

The vinnie who works in the same vineyard as me was listening to the audiobook of Life of Pi today and yesterday. She uses speakers, not headphones and since I was working in the row next to her I could hear Pi Patel’s voice all day.

I had already read and listened to Life of Pi by Yann Martel but it is good to hear it again. I do not know if I have ever had such mixed emotions about a book before. I cannot decide if I love it or hate it. At the very least I am glad to have read it.

Yann Martel seems to have had a fairly intimate and practical knowledge of animals. Or at least an approach to animals that I liked, purely because it largely mirrored my own. The role of a zookeeper is not that different to a farmer. I suppose the zookeeper gets greater variety and the farmer gets greater numbers. I particularly liked this passage:

Well-meaning but misinformed people think animals in the wild are “happy” because they are “free”. These people usually have a large, handsome predator in mind, a lion or a cheetah (the life of a gnu or of an aardvark is rarely exalted). They imagine this animal roaming about the savannah on digestive walks after eating a prey that accepted its lot piously, or going for callisthenic runs to stay slim after overindulging. They imagine this animal overseeing its offspring proudly and tenderly, the whole family watching the setting of the sun from the limbs of trees with sighs of pleasure.

Not only did I have the pleasure of Pi’s (and Richard Parker’s) company today, as well as having an author confirm my own prejudices, but we reached a milestone with the wrapping [for more on wrapping in a vineyard see this post]. One third of the vines are now wrapped. Roughly 5,500 vines are wrapped so there is a little over 10,000 to go.

Here is what we have done:

Here is what we have yet to do:

Here I am, enjoying wrapping, Pi and Richard Parker:

And yes, I do know my hat makes me look ridiculous and no, I do not care. It keeps the sun and rain off me. Very well.

I found my copy of Yann Martel’s   Life of Pi here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is availible please let me know in the comments below.

Encouraging literacy through audiobooks

by Kit Munro

As frequent readers of this blog know, I want folk who do not think they have the opportunity to read to realise that using audiobooks they may be able to create opportunities. Jobs, if repetitive, mind numbing, and solitary can create the opportunity, through the medium of audiobooks, for a lot of reading.

This post is devoted to other folk however. Not those who lack the time or the energy to read, but to those who lack the ability to read.

For people who cannot read, the medium of audiobooks makes an exposure to literature possible.

Historically the content of literature could only be achieved once reading was mastered. People have to work at reading before they can be rewarded with content. With audiobooks however a person can be given the content of literature before they have mastered reading.

A person who has never read would not have known what they were missing [a generalisation but for present purposes accurate enough] and quite reasonably may have had little desire to learn to read. A person who has never read but is given the content of a book they really enjoy would likely develop a desire to learn to read.

A more nuanced approach for semi-literate folk would be to give them only part of the content of a book in audio form and the rest in written form. If the change in medium could be at a cliffhanger in the book the desire to learn to read could be even more increased.

In this way audiobooks could be used to encourage reading in people who have difficulty reading or are illiterate.

Take this story from the New Zealand Herald relating to people in prison:

Up to 90% of New Zealand prisoners cannot read and write well, according to a 2010 statement to parliament by then Minister for Corrections Judith Collins. The Department of Corrections has since been busy embedding literacy and numeracy education into vocational training programmes.

Arguably there are many benefits to ensuring prisoners’ minds are kept active. Research published in the British Medical Journal in 2003 concluded that a lack of mental stimulation in prison contributes to poor mental health, frustration, anger, anxiety and even drug use.

Could audiobook reading programmes in prison improve inmates literacy or even instil a love of literature?

I do not know how true the below example is but the same story from the Herald refers to a prison reading program in Brazil.

The programme offers prisoners the opportunity to reduce their custodial sentences by reading works of literature, philosophy, science or classics. According to Reuters, the scheme is being rolled out in four federal prisons holding some of Brazil’s most notorious criminals.

…Brazil’s Redemption Through Reading scheme appears to have a different purpose than simply encouraging literacy or reading. The focus on texts of science, literature, philosophy or classics seems designed to encourage prisoners to challenge their mode of thinking or take a more expansive view.

Speaking about the scheme, Sao Paulo lawyer Andre Kehdi, who heads up a book donation project for prisons, told Reuters that “a person can leave prison more enlightened and with a enlarged vision of the world.”

Tony Blair Crutched and Eye-clipped: An audiobook and some sheep maintenance

by Kit Munro

Today I listened to these chaps

And this chap.


Although the sheep admittedly made a lot less noise than the statesman.

Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997-2007. His memoir, A Journey deals with events that are almost too recent to be called history. Indeed, Blair introduces his memoir not as a history but as a personal account in the form of an extended letter to his country.

Worship him or loathe him he was at the center of world events for these ten years. Ten very recent years. If you worship him then you will find his memoir enlightening. If you loathe him, well at the very least you need to hear his side of the story.

I enjoyed it. Having so long associated him with the British involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan I foolishly assumed there was little else to his term as Prime Minister. Tony Blair was, according to his memoir, intimately connected with events in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and the Irish Peace Process. In these spheres, it seems beyond argument that he had a positive influence.

The right he has done would not negate any wrong he has done. If that were so, all any murderer would have to do, to avoid punishment, would be to save a life. But if you are to make a judgment about whether he was a good or bad politician, or even only a good or bad man, then his memoir is required reading for you.

While reading Tony Blair’s memoir may be for the faint hearted, crutching and eye-clipping certainly are not. Read on at your peril…

Eyeclipping is when wool is cleared from where food goes in to a sheep. Wool is removed from around the eyes. In some sheep the wool grows in such a way as to cause wool-blindness. Below is an extreme example.




Crutching is where wool is removed from where the food comes out of a sheep. Long wool here can occasionally cause problems. Below is an extreme example of the problem caused and solved.




So at times crutching is not a pleasant job. Still as usual an audiobook turns an unpleasant job in to an informative and at times entertaining experience. Make what you will of this passage from A Journey

Creating time for a leader is a near-sacred task. The person in charge of it is one of the most important in the team, and they have to be completely ruthless in saying no. The leader has always got to be the good guy. You bump into someone; they ask for a meeting; you agree, of course. What can you say? ‘You’re too tedious, too unimportant and have nothing of interest to say’? Of course not. You have to say yes. It’s the job of the scheduler to say no. ‘But he agreed to see me.’ No. ‘But he said he wanted to see me’. No, ‘But he said he had been meaning to call me himself to fix a meeting’. No. ‘But..’ No.

We used to have a phrase in the office called, in mock severity, ‘SO’, which stood for ‘sackable offence’. It applied to scheduling a meeting with people who were never to cross the threshold. It applied even if I had agreed to the meeting. It applied –I am a little ashamed to say– even if I had expressed to the individual concerned my deep frustration with my own office for defying my wishes and not scheduling the meeting.

Does this passage show that Tony Blair has no integrity, or does the very inclusion of this unflattering passage show that he has great integrity?

I found my copy of A Journey by Tony Blair here. Copies are also available at Random House Audio here and at Simply Audiobooks here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is availible please let me know in the comments below.

Audiobooks, Rioting and Organic Lawn Mowers

by Kit Munro

The farm/vineyard I work on is probably the last place in the world to hear news, and certainly the last place in the world that would ever make news. It truly is the middle of nowhere. The sort of place where mail comes so irregularly the post is actually quite exciting. The sort of place that relies on organic lawn mowers because they are cheaper –and easier to get hold of– than petrol lawn mowers.


These mowers at work in the vineyard:


Not only do these organic lawn mowers require no petrol they also convert the grass clippings into fertiliser and wool. Not a bad arrangement.

Despite being isolated and rural, news does reach the farm from the outside world. Particularly this week of riots. Riots in the Middle East, in China, North Africa and elsewhere. The causes of these riots –ostensible and otherwise– are beyond me. I do not know anything about the right or wrong of them. Nor do I know what it would be like to be involved in these riots. I have almost no first-hand experience of rioting. Only once have I seen a riot and that was only a few hundred drunken, spoilt brats throwing a combined tantrum.

In Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty Charles Dickens devotes much of the book to describing rioting. Barnaby Rudge is set during the Gordon Riots of 1780. Riots in all their horror, excess, bedlam (Bedlam actually features in the novel), madness, chaos and unforgiving organic nastiness are described. Mobs in their irrationality, senselessness and unstoppable force take on a horrific power, although very occasionally in the novel a mob (or is a good mob only a crowd?) warms the heart.

In these riots bravery features alongside suffering. Sacrifice alongside selfishness. Cowardice with selflessness.

Unexpectedly comedy also made an appearance. In the following rapid exchange, between a vintner and the Lord-Mayor I was actually laughing aloud among the vines. The vintner is asking the Lord Mayor for protection. The vintner is making this petition after the riots had begun but before they reached their peak;

“Disrespectful, my Lord” returned the old gentleman. “I was respectful five times yesterday. I can’t be respectful for ever. Men can’t stand on being respectful when their houses are going to be burnt over their heads, with them in ’em. What am I to do, my lord? Am I to have any protection?”

I told you yesterday, sir,” said the Lord Mayor, “that you might have an alderman in your house, if you could get one to come”.

What the devil’s the good of an alderman? returned the choleric old gentleman.

“– To awe the crowd, sir” said the Lord Mayor.

“Oh Lord ha’ mercy!” whimpered the old gentleman , as he wiped his forehead in a state of ludicrous distress, “to think of sending an alderman to awe a crowd! Why, my lord, if they were even so many babies fed on mother’s milk, what do you think they’d care or an alderman? Will you come?”

“I!” said the Lord Mayor emphatically. “Certainly not.”

“Then what,” returned the old gentleman, “what am I to do” Am I a citizen of England? Am I to have the benefit of the laws? Am I to have any return for the King’s taxes?”

I don’t know, I am sure,” said the Lord Mayor. “What a pity it is you’re a Catholic! Why couldn’t you be a Protestant, and then you wouldn’t have got yourself in such a mess? I’m sure I don’t know what’s to be done. –There are great people at the bottom of these riots. –Oh dear me, what a thing it is to be a public character! –You must look in again in the course of the day. –Would a javelin-man do?– Or there’s Phillips the constable –he’s disengaged– he’s not very old for a man at his time of life, except in his legs, and if you put him up at a window he’d look quite young by candle-light, and might frighten ’em very much”

I found my copy of Charles Dickens’  Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of Eighty here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is availible please let me know in the comments below.

Wrapping in the vineyard in the rain. Or am I in the Maypole? I can never remember

by Kit Munro

You know the almost snug feeling you get when the weather is cold, miserable and wet and you are really well rugged up?

It was a terrible day to be in the vineyard. The weather was awful; rain, southerly, the whole works. I was indeed rugged up; moleskins, leggings, five layers including a woolly singlet, swandri, beanie and a great big jacket that only has a few holes, at the elbows. Only my face and one hand were exposed to the elements. It is curious, when you are really rugged up, especially with a lot of mismatched layers and you are in awful, awful weather it can almost feel like you are in a cozy little hut, exposed to the elements but isolated from them.

You see the deadline for bud-burst is coming up…

Naturally as bud burst looms the bad weather that has to be tolerated increases. Not because the weather necessarily gets worse towards the end of pruning and wrapping (although ironically August and September often do seem to be wetter than June or July) but because the pressure to get the job done increases. So, in early June a light drizzle for ten minutes is enough to drive us inside. By late August or September there can be howling southerly, pouring rain and still we will be out in the vineyard.

Why must the wrapping of the vines be done before bud-burst you ask? You see here are two examples of a cane (the canes are the long twig like things) on a vine.

One with the buds bursting the other without. These buds are very delicate; Push them gently with your thumb and the bloody things pop off…Each of these buds represent a bunch and a half of grapes and so cannot be knocked off.

In light of that, wrapping these vines involves twining the canes along the fruiting wires. Like so…

So naturally after bud burst wrapping the 60 km of canes is like wrapping porcelain and is very slow. Before bud burst you can be rough with the canes and go quite quickly. Hence the deadline…

I had begun reading Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. I could not have chosen a better book to warm me up. In the second chapter ––which described; a night, an Inn, and two strangers meeting on a road–– while the rain poured and the Southerly roared, as I wrapped I read this:

Two miles to the Maypole! I told Martha I wouldn’t; I said I wouldn’t, and I didn’t––there’s resolution!”Repeating these two last words very often, as if to compensate for the little resolution he was going to show by piquing himself on the great resolution he had shown, Gabriel Varden quietly turned back


When he got to the Maypole, however, and Joe, responding to his well-known hail, came running out to the horse’s head, leaving the door open behind him, and disclosing a delicious perspective of warmth and brightness––when the ruddy gleam of the fire, streaming through the old red curtains of the common room, seemed to bring with it, as part of itself, a pleasant hum of voices, and a fragrant odour of steaming grog and rare tobacco, all steeped as it were in the cheerful glow––when the shadows, flitting across the curtain, showed that those inside had risen from their snug seats, and were making room in the snuggest corner (how well he knew that corner!) for the honest locksmith, and a broad glare, suddenly streaming up, bespoke the goodness of the crackling log from which a brilliant train of sparks was doubtless at that moment whirling up the chimney in honour of his coming––when, superadded to these enticements, there stole upon him from the distant kitchen a gentle sound of frying, with a musical clatter of plates and dishes, and a savoury smell that made even the boisterous wind a perfume––Gabriel felt his firmness oozing rapidly away.He tried to look stoically at the tavern, but his features would relax into a look of fondness. He turned his head the other way, and the cold black country seemed to frown him off, and drive him for a refuge into its hospitable arms.

In my wet weather gear I could almost feel the warmth of the Maypole’s fire…

The Maypole Inn by Mark Thomson

Pruning the vineyard is finally finished! Sanity preserved by audiobooks. If only just…

by Kit Munro

Today two things were finished. The pruning and also The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth. The last of the 16,500 Sauvignon Blanc vines were pruned about 9am. That left only the 150 odd Pinot Noir vines  for us to do. These 150 vines produce grapes that are not sold.  Instead they are used to make our own home-brew.

Having started back in May, today at 11:25am the last of the vines were finally pruned. Now on to the wrapping of these vines… 

I am not overly a fan of thrillers, but after reading the passage below I admit I was kind of hooked;

The Jackal was perfectly aware that in 1963 General de Gaulle was not only the President of France; he was also the most closely and skillfully guarded figure in the Western World. To assassinate him… was considerably more difficult than to kill President John F. Kennedy of the United States. Although the English killer did not know it, French security experts who had through American courtesy been given an opportunity to study the precautions taken to guard the life of President Kennedy had returned somewhat disdainful of those precautions as exercised by the American Secret Service…

From the excitement and turmoil of France in the  mid-1960s back to reality. Just to give some idea of how a pruned Sauvignon Blanc (or Savy) vine compares to an un-pruned savy vine…


The weapons of choice for pruning were…

And of course…


This Book is number #142 on Flynn’s list.I found my copy of Frederick Forsyth’s  The Day of the Jackal  here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.

A vineyard allows for a lot of audiobook listening

by Kit Munro

The vineyard covers about twenty acres. It is made up of roughly 170 rows. If it were a single row it would be 30 kilometres long. It would make an extremely long conveyor belt at a factory. Each plant takes anywhere from 40 seconds to 2 minutes to prune. There are 16,500 plants. To prune then, takes some 25, 000 minutes, or 416 hours. 416 hours is a long, long time to be bored.

In that time, the entire works of Dickens could be read once, A Dance to The Music of Time could be read 5 times and War and Peace could be read 7 times. Pruning these 30 kilometres of vines represent a lot of books or a lot of boredom. The choice, has been simple.

The vineyard is laid out in a way that does make for a small amount of variety. Some vineyards are just square, flat grids. This vineyard is made up of two separate blocks.

While one of these blocks is flat the other block is not flat at all. In different places it covers, small gullies, hillsides and even a little plateau right out the back. The contractors who come to harvest always say what a nice vineyard it is to work in, on account of its unusual shape. This vineyard is usually one of the last to be harvested and by the time the contractors reach here they have worked in any number of square, bleak grids.

Still, topography can only alleviate the monotony of the work so much. 416 hours is a long time to be bored but it is also a long time to read…

Listening to Letters from America while feeding the animals

by Kit Munro

On a bookshelf here there is a copy of Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America 1946-2004. I have not been able to find a copy of this as an audiobook. What I have found, are various compilations – by decade – of his Letters From America. At the moment I have been working through the 1940s and 1950s. Letters from America are great to listen to while I do the daily chores just before the 6 o’clock news.

First the chickens must be fed and eggs collected. Their chook-house is an old water tank.


Then the sheepdog, Misty, must be feed and taken for a run. While pruning is on she gets little exercise but next week with the start of shearing she will get a lot more work and will not need a run at all. Once lambing starts in October she will be run off her feet. Much to her relief I am sure, as she seems to love chasing sheep.


Then, finally firewood must be collected and the fire set.


Alistair Cooke’s fifteen minute Letters suit the chores very well.  These “Letters” were a weekly BBC radio programme which reported on  life in the USA. I roughly have enough time to listen to two Letters a night.

They are history without being a history. Snapshots of the way things were that week. It puts things in perspective, listening to current events of 60 years ago before watching the current events of today.

One of the Letters tonight, from 1952, was on the appearance and rise of a new medium; Television. In 1948 there were 500,000 TVs in the United States. By 1952 there were 19 million. Contrast the two following statements made 60 years apart, but on the same topic, how television affects children;

There has been quite a bit of comment here in the last week or two on Mr T S Elliot’s comment that Britain should be aware of Television as a grave threat to –These were not his words but I think his sense– as a grave threat to leisure, to intelligence, and culture in general. The great question what will it do to our children rocked around the nation last year….

Northwestern University has just published the results of its survey of what television does to the child and its answer is: nothing. Nothing that hadn’t already been there or been done before. Television it seems is a reflector of what is in the child. Not a poisonous snake poisoning him from outside.

They found that for instance the amount of time spent on television by any one or any one hundred children has no correlation with their marks in school….. The rising generation is going to the dogs just as fast or just as slow as you or I did.

Alistair Cook Letter From America 1952

Then there is this statement;

Above all, do not use television as a childminder. Aside from having had their leisure time filled up with non-reading, your children, if they are average, will have seen 10,000 murders by the age of ten. They will be conditioned to expect the cheap fix of a spectacular event –a murder, rape, car chase or sex act– served up to them every few minutes on a platter.

This gives them a mental clock unfriendly to reading: they lack the patience to allow a writer to construct a character, atmosphere, moral dilemmas and plot through the use of words that take hours to absorb. Readers have to give something of themselves to a book, rather than just passively observe it.

Jim Flynn The Torchlight List: Around the World in 200 Books 2010

Whoever is right, I still think the 6 o’clock news, the current events of today, is improved by being prefaced with Letters from America, the current events of yesterday.

I found my copy of Alistair Cooke’s Essential Letters  from America: The 1940s & 1950s here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is availible please let me know in the comments below.