Monday, 25 May 2015

Pushing Through

As I write this, Autumn with all its whims and vagaries, is bowing out and leaving the stage to winter.

Winter is impatient to take the spotlight and today we awoke to sleet and hail.

I'm hoping that the mild days (like the one when I took this photo) haven't completely fled the scene.

This little cornflower is a late arrival in our garden. I didn't get the seeds planted until the end of summer, so as a result the flowers are small. But hardy, I trust. I'm going to have to check on its condition after today's onslaught of hail. Cornflowers aren't designed to flourish in wintry conditions. They are happier growing among a field of wheat. I remember seeing clouds of them (along with red poppies) in the wheatfields of Germany when we were there two summers ago.

Speaking of red poppies ... this is a display of knitted and crocheted poppies in Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. Each poppy represents a life of a soldier lost in the First World War. Otago and Southland lost a heck of a lot of young men at Gallipoli , Turkey one hundred years ago. Among them, my great-uncle Joe Butler. They are not forgotten.

Part of the Toitu museum was once a draughty bus depot where often on Friday nights, I'd catch the bus to Gore. What a cold place it was to wait for a bus. I remember these heavy doors well. You'd push them open to enter a space with a beautiful mosaic floor. Ahead of you were the small ticket booths.

There has been a lot of change in my life lately. I have been pushing through some heavy doors and gateways in order to enter this new phase. It is still my life, but not as I knew it. Change is good. At least that is what I am telling myself.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Chiggle Chuggle Choggle: Full House

The entire landscape around here has changed and all without me needing to go anywhere.

Easter egg hunt

This turn of the kaleidoscope has been instigated by family arriving from overseas and requiring a soft landing - which we (and our house) are happy to provide.

Until things are more settled, it's all a bit of a happy muddle. A 'chiggle chuggle choggle' (a term I've made up to describe this warm 'n' cosy feeling of a full house).

That there has been a benign takeover is evident by such things as the ever-extending trickle of footwear at both the front and back doors, the table requiring both leaves out, a bench rarely completely cleared of dishes, the drum of small, running feet, the use of the couch as a trampoline and the constant smoothing of crinkled covers ... (I know that those of you with small children or in an extended family set-up will be saying, Welcome to my world! And it's a world I've been in before too, but not for some time ... ).

Aggie when she was a little younger than she is now ...

Our old cat, Aggie, is gradually getting used to all the unscripted and sudden movements.

I'm loving hearing the word, "Grandma" first-hand (not just on Skype) and snuggling up with the kids to read a book on the couch.

Adding to the changing landscape is the build. To alleviate the current space-squeeze we're having a flat, or apartment, built. (Call it your 'luxury apartment', my sister-in-law suggested).

Today the weather has added a bitter twist to our once-sweet autumn. Whenever the colder weather arrives, replacing weather that is too warm and distracting to be inside writing, bells begin to ring out in my head - Write! Write! Write! they say. It is a clarion call I cannot ignore.

I started off today's writing stint at a favourite cafe that looks out on to the liveliest section of George Street. Here I ordered a coffee (triple-shot) and spent an hour getting myself into the writing groove.


Grandma is walking under a sky
of sleet, making her way
down the drive
in second-hand boots from Brazil.
She's off to catch the bus into town
where snow is falling in chunks
off the backs of cars
from Halfway Bush; slap-bang
in the middle of the Octagon.

Grandma finds she has lost her glasses.
Maybe on the bus. She phones
the Lost Property number,
turns back time, tells the woman
where she was sitting: second seat,
driver's side. But they're not on the bus
after all, they've been handed in
to the cafe where she was drinking
her flat white with triple shots.

Grandma said she feels like the Titanic.
A wreck. She's gone for a sleep.
They want Grandma to wake up.
They knock on the bedroom door.
Bang. Bang. They call out, "Grandma!"
But Grandma stays asleep
with a pillow over her head
to block out the middle of the day
and any interruption of light.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Home Front

photo taken by Jenny Powell

It seems an age since Jenny and I went on our latest J&K Rolling poetry reading whistle-stop to Orepuki. I cannot believe it was only three weeks ago.
Looking back, the standouts have to be:
*The reception we got at the Orepuki Beach Cafe; their warm hospitality and in return for us bringing our poetry, the great meals they gave us, cooked from food sourced from their farm and from the ocean at their doorstep.
*The people who came along to hear us read and their participation in the open mic. part of the proceedings.
*The scenery around Orepuki that never fails to speaks to me of home.
*Being able to show Jenny around my 'heart's home'.
*Waking up to an Orepuki morning for the first time since leaving here as a child. (I have visited many times, but there's never been a place to stay. Now there's the lovely, comfortable Quartz Cottage for visitors to stay in).

morning view from Quartz Cottage


Mum loved ragwort, even going so far as to tend a stray wind-blown plant that popped up in her Palmerston North backyard!
It was because this weed with the brilliant yellow flower, reminded her of the ragwort-covered paddocks of  her childhood home in Orepuki. As children they got paid to collect it by the sack-full, because it was perceived as poisonous for cropping animals. (In fact, cropping animals tend to avoid it. However this also means that if left to its own devices, it will take over pasture. So, in fact, having children collect it was not a bad idea).

The mention of my mother leads me to perhaps the over-riding highlight of our whistle-stop.

Both Jenny and I knew that the theme for this reading tour would be 'Mothers'. Both our mothers passed away last year and two other people important to us also recently lost their mothers.
This was a trip to where my mother was born and brought up. It seemed written in the stars that we would be aware of our mothers and alert to the signs that we had their blessing.
And so it was.
The ragwort for me was just one of many such quiet signs.

Yellow roses are another reminder for me of my mother. It was the flower her and Dad claimed as 'their flower'. Dad's mother (my Granny McKenzie) had them growing at the house where he grew up. Because he worked on the family farm, he had access to these yellow climbing roses and on their anniversary (when he remebered, perhaps!) he'd pick one for Mum. Simple, effective, endearing and best of all I'm sure in Dad's eyes, free!


drowning water lily ... 

A water lily just hanging on and no more. I am very fond of water lilies. Recently I have felt like this particular water lily, a little discombobulated and trying hard to keep its head above water.

There's been a lot needing done around here on the home front, but we're getting there.

bed made up and ready for family coming to stay

cot fit for a grandchild

Monday, 9 March 2015

Poetry in Orepuki

On our way to Orepuki, Jenny and I stopped at the fishing-port town of Riverton for a bit of a look at what was on offer as far as the shops went.
We found a second-hand bookshop called The Cosy Book with a gift shop next door.
When we asked about the buildings that the shops are in, we were told that they are probably the oldest shops in New Zealand.

From Cosy Book, to Cosy Nook.

Jenny had never seen the little cove called Cosy Nook. She was suitably impressed, even if a little wind-swept.

We were on another 'JnK Rolling' road trip; delivering and picking up poetry in the southern coastal town of Orepuki (which also just happens to be my old home-town, having spent the first ten years of my life there).

Two Orepuki-ites, Penny and Brian, have restored an old Orepuki house (which co-incidentally was where my great-aunt; Aunty Mary Simpson nee Hirst; used to live) and have successfully turned it into an attractive and popular cafe called, Orepuki Beach Cafe.

This is where Jenny and I were reading.

 Penny offered us a complimentary meal - whatever we wanted to choose from the menu. How generous. We both chose the flounder, which didn't disappoint. Delicious. They've got a gifted chef at Orepuki Beach Cafe.

People had started to drift in. A quiet buzz started up with the friendly, un-pretentious atmosphere that I associate with Southland.

Then it was time for the Open Mic part of the evening to begin.

Below are photos of a sample of the ten or so readers who took part.

The Open Mic part was then followed by Jenny and myself as featured poets.

One couple had come over from Te Anau, someone else had driven there from Invercargill. The atmosphere was lively and entertaining.
Once again - as we have found at all of these heartland-in-the-hinterland readings we've organised - the response was positive and the poetry great.

The cafe has become a repository for Orepuki's social history, with information available for customers to read. Orepuki has a history of gold-mining and other industries such as sawmilling.
On the wall is a large photo taken at Orepuki's Jubilee in 1952. Among the people shown in the photo, are my late parents. It was nice feeling that they were there with me.

It was weird for me 'returning home' - it always weird going back to this place I once considered was my whole world. (Part of me still believes that about Orepuki).
The attachment to this place that I formed when I was small, goes extremely deep. Not surprising when you consider how many of my ancestors hailed from here.

looking towards Te Waewae Bay with the Princess Range in the background

Very cool to wake up in Orepuki. Because there hasn't really been much in the way of accommodation for many years, it was the first time I'd stayed in Orepuki overnight since I was a child.
Memories of mornings as a child flooded in. I remembered Dad's morning factory-run, driving the tractor to the local dairy factory with a wagon-load of milk cans behind. I remembered Mum getting us ready to go to school. I remembered walking to school, taking for granted how beautiful the surrounding country-side, how spectacular the view out over Foveaux Strait.

old shops - MacDonald's draper's shop to the fore. Every return visit I seem to see more and more of the old town (as I knew it) literally disappearing into thin air 

The people who still live here - lifelong residents and in-comers alike - along with such places as the Orepuki Beach Cafe and the tavern, are what keeps Orepuki's bruised old heart beating.

Quartz Cottage is a great place to stay in Orepuki. (Recommend it!) I awoke to a still, peaceful morning that the sunlight was kindly painting-in. Magical.

 Not far away from the township of Orepuki, Foveaux Strait beats against the cliffs that stretch all along the wide sweep of Te Waewae Bay.
Last night it was as loud as a train. In the morning it sounded even louder. The sound woke me up in the early hours and once I homed in (pun intended) on its loud roar, I couldn't get back to sleep.

looking towards the Takitimu mountains

... all that's left standing of the railway station platform where the steam train regularly called in to Orepuki station

After an astonishing, very yummy and generous 'Orepuki Grill' for breakfast ...

... it was time to bid Orepuki adieu.

Jenny was smitten with my old home-town and says she's coming back. Everybody knows that it won't be too long before I'm back. Just try and keep me away.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Staying on the Road South - Part Two

Lake Monowai - its character appeared to be more reclusive than the other two lakes we'd visited that day. Maybe because it is a bit off the beaten track. The lakes featured in this post (and the previous) may all look the same but believe me, they have very different personalities.

On this trip south, my sister was determined to stop off at places she hadn't seen since childhood - if ever. Lake Monowai was one of of these.
It is a boomerang-shaped lake and we could only see part of it before it took off round the corner into the mountains. Popular with fishermen, campers and trampers, it is off the tourist trail and one gets the distinct impression that it's happy to keep it that way.
There is a free DOC camping ground there. I imagine it would be extremely peaceful - but bring insect repellent to ward off those pesky sandflies. A suit of armour, or bee keeper's regalia, or a fencing costume - or even a simple balaclava and gloves - would be even better!
On the way into the lake we passed the place where a small hydroelectric power station is situated, at the junction to the rivers Monowai and Waiau. Built in 1925, it is one of NZ's oldest power stations.

My auntie and me by the historic Clifden swing bridge - a feat of engineering. (The bridge, that is, although my late parents - and indeed, my grandparents on behalf of my auntie - may have argued that we both are too!) 

Lake Hauroko - mysterious, moody 

A long road (most of it shingle / gravel) that led off the main highway, eventually took us all the way to Lake Hauroko, surrounded by native bush and holding tightly to its secrets. There are burial grounds in the locality, so it is a place that is tapu (sacred) to Maori.
We didn't linger after making our greetings.

Memorial Library, Tuatapere

Next stop was the town of Tuatapere - birthplace of me and my six siblings. Every small town in New Zealand has a war memorial (as in other countries, I'm sure) to honour the dead in the First and Second World Wars. However this may be the only war memorial that also serves as a library.

Otautau Hotel

Our last stop for the day was the Central Southland town of Otautau. We stayed the night in the hotel here after enjoying one of the most delicious pizzas (made on the premises) that we've ever tasted, we reckon.

Otautau, the heart of Southland, is a place that is important to our family for more than one reason and on more than one level ... Happy, sad and where a missing piece (or pieces) to a family tree puzzle may be held.

It was good to spend time in this town.  For me, its sense of pride and friendly, welcoming nature is the memory that remains the strongest.

There is a lot more to tell about our trip - family tree moments, the revival of memories and even some mishaps; mostly funny. But (for now) what happens on the road, stays on the road.


'how this all harbours light'