Gift selection simplified

Arrowtown book buyer Miranda Spary continues her regular column about her recommendations for a good read, and life as she sees it ...

It's just over a month till Christmas - where did my year go?

I loathe Christmas shopping and usually try to buy everyone I love the same present so I can cut down the stress and strain of choosing separately for everyone.

Sometimes it's obvious a present has pleased some recipients as much as it has displeased others.

My brothers struggled to thank me the year I got everyone a worm farm.

This year might be easier as Amanda Richardson and Cath Hanna have persuaded (some of the foolishly modest took a lot of persuasion) a whole gaggle of the Wakatipu's most talented and creative people to bring along the fruits of their brains and hands and sell them at the Anglican Church hall in Church St on November 29.

The tiny sneaky preview I've had is sensational, but I know I won't want to give any of the things I plan to buy away.

We are so lucky in the Wakatipu - our fabulous community has chipped in huge amounts of support for things that really should be fully funded by the council rates we pay - the cycle trails, for one and the Memorial Hall upgrade for another.

Cath Gilmour tells me they have raised more than 90% of their target for the hall - what a brilliant effort - and there's a fashion show (with cocktails - excellent!) on November 28 to help massage a little more cash out of our pockets and into the hall.

Everyone who's ever attended any event in the hall knows how overdue this upgrade is, so get along to DT Carter in Remarkables Park for tickets.

Our pockets got a little more massaging last week as we celebrated Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee and raised money for the QEII Jubilee Trust.

There's nothing nicer on a bit of a miserable grey afternoon than a slap-up lunch at Rata and a stirring and warming singalong of God Save the Queen.

The trust raised loads of dosh and we all had a ball - happy, glorious and victorious all round.

I'm up in Christchurch as I write this and I'm still feeling a bit shattered and emotional after doing the red zone bus tour.

I've spent a lot of time in Christchurch through the years and thought I knew it pretty well.

Now I barely recognise it.

While the most shocking and obvious change is the disappearance of so many landmarks, the other truly surprising thing is how many stunning older buildings are reappearing after being hidden or crowded by more modern, less earthquake-proof (and mostly less attractive) neighbours.

It's worth visiting Christchurch just to do this tour and see what I mean.

There are huge, huge areas of bare land everywhere and it is quite eerie being driven along streets with no traffic or people, just cranes and diggers and their drivers.

There's something morbidly fascinating about watching the cranes (nicknamed Twinkletoes) gently pecking at condemned buildings and seeing chunks of wall and furniture tumbling down to the ground. Gruesome but gripping tourism.

Speaking of which, I was walking along the Arrow River with some girlfriends, all talking 10 to the dozen when suddenly we saw a man gagged and bound, lying on a rock beside the track.

Normally it's a big effort to shut us up for even a second, but this worked like a charm.

A little further along was a group of slightly feral looking types: wild hair and dirty faces.

And a couple of cameras filming them all.

It's Nomad Safaris' latest offering: they are taking visitors round some of the settings for The Hobbit, and giving visitors a chance to star in their own production Shades of Hobbit.

What a fantastic idea - the visitors were so into it all and so were the Nomad staff.

I've done an awful lot of travelling this year, and one of the best things about travel is it makes reading so much more meaningful. Reading books set in a place you know gives you new insight into the people and their patterns.

Berlin's history is dirty and dark, and the Nazis' contribution was particularly so.

Not all Berliners were part of the Nazi nastiness though and A Woman in Berlin is a terrible record of two months of one woman's life at the end of the war. She was a journalist and started a diary as the Red Army invaded.

The Russians wanted revenge for what had happened in their country, and as there were so few German men around, they took their revenge on the women.

When the diary was first published, there was a huge outcry - German men didn't like the way they were portrayed as failing to defend their women against the rapes and violence.

The anonymous author refused to give permission for it to be republished until after her death.

This is a fabulous translation and while it's not pleasant reading, there's a lot of very black humour and you can't help wondering how you could possibly cope living in those times under those conditions.

Luckily for us, it seems unlikely Wakatipu dwellers are going to have to find out the hard way, but it's good to be reminded why it's good to keep our politicians in line, rather than the other way round.