The Show!

Fieldwork–or more specifically, participant observation–has always been what I love most about my research, and event-based fieldwork has been an important part of my current project. This year’s National Agricultural Fieldays gave me a thorough introduction to agricultural technology and rural computing in NZ, and the Merino Shearing and Woolhandling Competition showed me a new dimension of human-animal relations. But I’ve been waiting all year for the 149th Canterbury A&P Show, and that’s where I’ll be Wednesday-Friday this week.

Today’s NZ Herald has a story about The Show that does a great job of conjuring the event:

“Look at the power in this Angus bull. It looks like a Mac truck and there’s a tonne o’ meat in him. He’s got a nice expression on his face, a calm temperament, a fine pair of testicles. This is a helluva good-looking bull.”

“This South Devon cow, she’s bright-eyed and feminine. And she has nice feet, firm on the ground, and a pretty, chubby calf. There’s a good udder set on her, too.”

Six judges for the Beef All Breeds competition have made their winning choices. They talk about the animals with knowledge, enthusiasm and humour. I’m a city slicker and had no idea that an Angus bull could be so interesting or cattle judges such showmen. The judges, and most of the male onlookers, wear their R.M. Williams boots and belts, their best jeans and town-shirts – cotton, ironed nicely, sleeves rolled up and the top two buttons open showing a tuft of chest hair.

I’m at the Canterbury A&P Show. A&P means Agricultural and Pastoral so this show is all about things rural; the country comes to Christchurch. There are no competitions for sewing, baking or growing and arranging flowers that some shows have … The focus is animals.


In the livestock pavilion, a vast, covered area, I inch between myriad pens, starting with cattle, moving on to goats, pigs, llamas, alpacas then, finally, sheep. It smells of hay, lanolin from wool and coconut sunscreen from the people walking by. Some animals have rows of ribbons tied to their pens. Others haven’t been lucky and sit, blink and chew, waiting to go back to their fields.

The show is on for three days and these hundreds of animals must be fed and watered; 30 tonnes of grass is trucked in and an enormous amount of hay. There is even a milking machine to which dairy-cow owners dutifully take their prize cows twice a day. The logistics behind this (and the mucking out that must go on because the pens and animals are all immaculate) is impressive.


I find a shady seat near farmers who are drinking Speight’s and yakking with their mates in a low-toned rumble. Some hold their winning certificates and happily accept congratulations. It’s convivial and friendly in a blokey way. As I leave I notice I’ve had a nice sit-down in the Sheep Exhibitors’ Club.

The Sheep Maternity Ward is nearby and I, with a flock of wide-eyed children, watch a lamb being born. It’s a grunty, messy, bloody process and the floppy, dazed lamb that slides out seems to be yellow. Mum is licking it in a jiffy and when I return half an hour later the smart wee thing is staggering around its mother’s wool looking for a nipple.

I, too, need food but the A&P Show is no place for a vegetarian. Avenues of food stalls are selling pies, hot dogs, burgers, beef sandwiches, beef noodles and lamb kebabs; nothing, anywhere, that is remotely vegetarian. I settle for a ham roll and pull out the ham.


The Canterbury A&P Show has delighted visitors for 149 years; the first one was held in 1862. It’s a fun day out and a rare insight for townies – these days that’s most of us – into heartland New Zealand.

Yes. My animal and meat-loving self is super excited. Stories and photos to follow!

Fly tying

Shawn Davis

“Shawn Davis is a chemistry teacher. But his spare hours are spent amidst lean feathers, fine wire and tiny hooks, practicing the age-old craft of fly tying. Turning such a practical thing as a fishing fly into an artwork—and innovating while doing so, as Davis does—serves as a stirring reminder to search for art in the everyday.”

via Anthropologie

Emma Goldman will always be my hero

Love and Anarchy

“In short: Emma Goldman was a born refusenik. ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ must have been the first sentence out of her mouth. An anecdote made famous in the 1970s, when Goldman’s iconic status was being revived, says much on this score. One night when she was young, she was dancing madly at an anarchist party when a puritanical comrade urged her to stop, insisting that her frivolity was hurting the cause. On the instant, Emma flew into a rage, stamped her feet, and told him to mind his own damned business. ‘If I can’t dance,’ her response has been paraphrased, ‘I’m not coming to your revolution.’ The tale is told as a tribute to the emblematic boldness with which she defended her right—everyone’s right—to pleasure, but it could just as easily have concentrated on the startling extremity with which she balked at restraint and the swiftly felt hot defiance boiling up inside her.

‘Felt’ is the operative word. She always claimed that the ideas of anarchism were of secondary use if grasped only with one’s reasoning intelligence; it was necessary to ‘feel them in every fiber like a flame, a consuming fever, an elemental passion.’ This, in essence, was the core of Goldman’s radicalism: an impassioned faith, lodged in the nervous system, that feelings are everything. Radical politics for her was, in fact, the history of one’s own hurt—thwarted, humiliated feelings at the hands of institutionalized authority. Handed down from on high, such authority was to be fought at all times, in all places, with all one’s might. From this single-minded simplicity—one that neither gained nuance nor lost force—she never departed. It was, in her, a piece of inspired arrest.”

PS. I want to take this Emma Goldman finger puppet to meetings with me and every time I’m asked a question, pause to look at it and ask “Hmm… What would you do, Emma?”

Links: women and work

Issues related to professional women and mentoring interest me, and I’ve got a bunch of links floating around that I want to put in one place before I forget:

HBR: Women Don’t Go After the Big Jobs with Gusto: True or False?
“[Y]et another myth is busted: the one that says women fail to pursue their career goals as proactively as men. The truth is that women do, but even when they make use of the same strategies, they still don’t get as far ahead … [But] the women who did more to make their achievements known advanced further, were more satisfied with their careers, and had greater compensation growth.”

How To Self-Promote Without Being A Jerk
“Inform, don’t brag … I like a low-key approach with facts and information and not a lot of bravado.”

‘Quiet Desperation’ of Academic Women
“[W]omen were picked disproportionately for service assignments, especially those that are time-consuming. Then those same women are criticized for not doing more research, and the theoretical credit awarded service is never to be found … [And] many feared backlash and retribution if they agitated openly for change.”

Women and Mentoring in the US
“52% of women who said they had never had a mentor said it’s because they never encountered someone appropriate.”

Jill Ker Conway
The Road from Coorain & True North

Less = Less

In my job I have a lot to do. Notice I didn’t say too much to do, but rather a lot to do. And despite recognising the difference, every so often (like today) I still manage to feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know how I’m going to get it all done. When those days happen, I procrastinate by blogging find myself sitting back and taking stock of what I need to do and what I want to do–and the anxiety is almost always attached to the realisation that once I get everything done that needs to get done (and it will all get done eventually) I will likely be too tired to do what I want to do. And that’s depressing.

Last night, at the end of a long weekend, I read an interesting blog post about doing less, and sent the link to myself so that I would read it again today when I got to work. The basic rules seem simple and sensible, but the more I think about them, the more difficult they become. Of course, I’m sure that’s because I’m thinking about them more instead of less (duh!) but I live in a culture, and work in an environment, where few of these things are actively encouraged, supported or rewarded. That being the case, I want to post the suggestions for how to do less, so that I don’t forget:

Go with the flow. Imagine the effort required to swim upstream compared to moving with the flow of a river. If you go with the flow of things, rather than against them, you will naturally do less, and with less effort.

Don’t force things. A common mistake — trying to hard, forcing something that doesn’t want to be forced, forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. A lot of effort, action, and time is wasted. Instead, find a smoother way — think of water, which flows around things rather than trying to force its way through them.

Find the pressure points. In martial arts, instead of using maximum force, you are wise to find the points in the body where less force can be used to greater effect, whether that’s to cause pain or imbalance or some other effect. Well, I don’t advocate finding pain, but the idea of pressure points is a good one: if you can find the little spots where a little action can change everything, can go a long way, you have mastered the Do Less philosophy.

Let others do. Give others the room and freedom to move, to create, to invent, to learn, to work, to do, on their own. Less time, effort and action spent trying to control others means that you do less, but let others make things happen. It means letting go of control, but that’s a good thing. Other people have creativity, imagination, dedication, good ideas too.

Let things happen. Often our actions interfere with events that would happen without our actions. In other words, if we took no action, things would happen without us. Sometimes it’s better to let things happen. Step back, don’t act, things will happen without us.

Now I should admit that most of that advice goes against some seriously ingrained habits of mine, but I’m willing to change. And if I manage to learn to do less, I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to do what I want. And in terms of work, that really means doing more research, more writing, and running a workshop sooner rather than later. Yes. That would be good.

[cc image by Steven Reynolds]

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