Working By Torchlight

Labour, Literature, & Listening

Cry, the Beloved Country, and piles of wool

by Kit Munro

Another day shearing sheep. I only had 74 sheep to shear today so it was a short day. Finished nice and early. The wool is beginning to pile up in the woolshed. The wool off several hundred sheep makes quite a pile.

Today, in keeping with my South African theme I listened to Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. This is the most moving book I have yet read. I had to be a bit careful, it wouldn’t do for a sheep shearer to be seen crying…

Maybe it was because I could relate to the main character, Kumalo. Being a chap from the country going to the big city he  was very bewildered, even overwhelmed. Any person from a rural background going to a big city for the first time, alone, can appreciate this:

One of the men points for him. “Johannesburg, umfundisi”.

He is silent, his head aches, he is afraid. There is this railway station to come, this great place with all its tunnels under the ground. The train stops, under a great roof, and there are thousands of people…He goes carefully that he may not bump anybody, holding tightly to his bag…The noise is immense. Cars and buses one behind the other, more than he has ever imagined.

Perhaps it is that despite the suffering endured by many characters in this book, the tone of the story is still hopeful. A pity that the story was written and set just before Apartheid got in to swing. Or maybe it is not a pity at all.

I have one great fear in my heart, that one day when they are turned to loving, they will find we are turned to hating

Most of all, I think though, was that this book provides the most eloquent justification for the role of the defence lawyer. An issue I often find myself facing.

That was what I read, this is what I achieved while reading…. A few hundred kilos of wool.



The woolen jersey your grandmother knitted you is NOT made out of this wool. Merino wool is more likely to go into this sort of stuff. Some of the old owners of the wool, oblivious:

This Book is number #173 on Flynn’s list.I found my copy of Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.


Is this the most unusual job ever done while listening to an audiobook?

by Kit Munro

Today I have been shearing sheep while reading/listening to The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay.

Readers of this blog may have picked up a bit of a pattern  to the books I choose to read; I am a fan of books that entertain me while informing me. This is probably Jim Flynn’s influence I suspect.

Anyway, the point being, I know little of South Africa and I suddenly decided that I wanted to learn. My knowledge is pretty much limited to knowing South Africa  had a thing called Apartheid. It is hard to be a New Zealander and not have heard of Apartheid because of this. I also know that South Africa has the best blade shearers in the world. So not much to go on really. The Power of One, being a popular, easy to read novel seemed like the perfect place to start. Even if it is a little out of date.

The Power of One follows Peekay as he grows up in South Africa in the 1940s. Courtenay states that the book had an autobiographical foundation but that it ultimately went much beyond that. With Peekay as my guide, while shearing, I was introduced to the tension between Afrikaners and English South Africans, the endemic racism, and the beauty of South Africa. I also encountered South African plants, prisons and boarding schools. All this with a story that at times made me almost forget I was shearing.

Peekay’s thoughts on seeing a prison for the first time made me think of a prison visit I once went on. The prison had just been built and nobody had “moved in” yet. The buildings all looked very nice. The place was empty, clean and brand new (some of the accommodation even had underfloor heating) but everything felt wrong. Maybe it is because I had been told what the place was, Courteney offers a different explanation:

I had never seen a prison, nor had I even imagined one, but there is a racial memory in man that instinctively knows of these things. The architecture of misery has an unmistakable look and feel about it.

The sheep I have been shearing today are a breed called Merino. They are grown for wool, not meat.

Come to think of it, there is quite a good arrangement we have with them on this farm. We keep them alive until they finally succumb to old age. In return they let us shear their wool off them once a year. We let them live to their appointed age, many last 12 or 13 years, and they tolerate spending 4 minutes or so a year having their wool removed.

Two sheep waiting to be shorn

Two sheep waiting to be shorn, except now one has to wait another 365 days.

This wool then is a nice product, in that nothing is harmed in the getting of it. Harvesting wool may not be the most unusual thing ever done while listening to an audiobook. In fact I hope not! I would be pleased to hear otherwise…


I found my copy of Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.

Mister Pip, a defence of audiobooks and two thirds of a vineyard

by Kit Munro

…you cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch fire and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.

Lloyd Jones Mister Pip

There are many folk who are scathing about audiobooks; for example, this person. There are also folk who go out of their way to defend audiobooks; for example, this chap.

I will not add my voice to the cacophony of this argument. Fortunately though, I have stumbled across a book, in audiobook format of course, that provides a more effective defence of accessing literature through listening, than I ever could.

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is set in the 1990s on Bougainville Island during the civil war. Mr Watts, the only white man left, takes over teaching the local children when the school closes. He says he has no teaching experience. So, aside from relying on local tutors, who take the students for a wide range of subjects (my favourite was the lesson on the colour blue), he reads to them. Mister Watts reads the children Great Expectations by Mister Dickens.

I doubt that Mister Jones intended Mister Pip to be a defence of audiobooks as a means of “reading” literature. Yet that is one of the great things about the writer-reader relationship. What he intended his words to mean and what I interpret them as, are both determined by the different intellectual baggage we carry. When he writes “trees” he may see Oaks or Manuka, when I read “trees” I might see Palms (in fact I see Pines and Weeping Willows).

I will not recount what I think are the arguments for audiobooks that are found in Mister Pip. To do so I think would give too much of the story away. What I will do is to challenge anybody to read or listen to Mister Pip and still believe that hearing a novel rather than reading it is a waste of time, or even inferior to reading it.

I began this post with a quote from Mister Pip. A quote that, I think, conveys how an audiobook is able to make the vines, sheep, or firewood in front of me melt away. Occasionally while listening, I will give a start to see I have reached the end of a vineyard row.

Today, while reading  Mister Pip we hit the 2/3 mark for the wrapping in the vineyard. Once we have wrapped another 5000 vines the job will be done, or very nearly done.

The problem is that there is another deadline. The sheep shearing must be done. By the 10th of October. Wrapping the vines has to stop while the shearing is done. On the plus side, while I am not a huge fan of vineyard work, I love shearing.

The woolshed waiting for sheep, wool, shearer and rousie.

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