Friday, 29 December 2006

The Road Back Home

(Please NOTE: All photos used in this post - except the one acknowledged as my own - are from Fickr. Click on each one and the photographer's name will appear.)

We arrived back last night from a short holiday in Queenstown.

New Zealand Queenstown
Originally uploaded by maggi_wlsn.

After a Christmas morning breakfast of bacon and eggs, followed by a traditional-to-our-family port and slice of Christmas cake, we opened our presents to each other. Then ABM and S and I travelled through to Queenstown, ABM's home-town. M &K remained behind; they'd organised themselves to cook Christmas Dinner for a friend who had no other means of having a Christmas meal.

Queenstown has gone from tin-pot town at the head of the lake in the 1950s, to international tourist resort.

NZ : Queenstown Pier
Originally uploaded by Ann64.
We have watched it grow - and still it grows. In the thirty years since I've been going there with ABM to stay with his parents, there has never been an absence of construction work of some description - cranes, earth-movers, white, wooden safety-barriers, orange, safety-netting and piles of gravel are as familiar sights as the mountains and lake. I notice too that some of what was erected thirty years ago, is now being taken down to be replaced with something even flashier.

We, however, are lucky to be able to escape this madness, and relax in peace among the pines and gum trees. This photo I took a couple of years ago shows the view we look out on from my in-laws' home.

The highlights of the holiday were:

(NOT the weather! Which was mixed - but still better than the weather back home in Dunedin ...)

The food: Trout caught by a marauding, boat-y, band of brawny, young-adult, male cuzzies, then victoriously hauled home and smoked on the b'b'q. The Christmas Day dinner of mutton roast, new potatoes swimming in butter, beans, white turnips etc. followed by trad. Christmas Pudd., trifle, pavlova etc. Another meal another night, of Pork roast with trimmings ... And on it goes. (Do I need to explain that ABM's family are foodies!? If you knew what their surname is, you'd laugh as it's rather appropriate.)
* The walk: along the lake's edge to where a new lakeside township is being constructed, along with a fantastic, made-to-order golf course. ('Vairy' exclusive: Hollywood stars buy here. Think: pluty, pluty, pluty.) What a site. Just look at the view.

View from Jacks Point
Originally uploaded by le_sloth.

When us plebs walked around the empty sections, we could hear skylarks. I wonder if it will ever be that quiet again once the houses are built and the 'privileged populace' actually move in? Apart from that 'site'; as we walked, there was the even more impressive 'sight' of the lake and mountains. I was once again impressed by the flora - such as the wild flowers; lupins, daisies, foxgloves, poppies; and the cabbage trees. But no camera to record the sights, as S has borrowed it for his jaunts.
* Son. number 3: Seeing C again after he arrived back in Queenstown from Milford after his stint guiding on the Milford Track. But it was a swift Hi and Bye, as now he's off to a musical festival on the West Coast.
* The trip: from Queenstown over to Wanaka to visit the family I used to be nanny for. They are holidaying there. I hadn't seen them since they moved to the top of the South Island in July. And how I've missed them! I got lots of hugs and greetings. It was especially wonderful to see the youngest boy M. again. I looked after him from when he was six months old until he was two. To get to Wanaka, we drove over the Crown Range, a winding mountain road,

with - once again - wild flowers galore. Especially lupins. Clouds of yellow lupins lining the riverbanks.

And glorious smears of purple and pink lupins beside the road.

Originally uploaded by Peter Sundstrom.
Because this has been a wet spring and summer, everything is especially green and verdant. Hawks also abound. Must be some good tucker for them down among the stalks of grass.

The car-ride: With ABM and my mother-in-law (who is recovering from a serious operation, but recuperating well thankfully) up to the top of Coronet Peak - which in winter is a ski resort. What a stunning view from the top.

View from Coronet Peak
Originally uploaded by I Am Joe.

The visit: On the way home, dropping in to see my brother and sister-in-law and as usual having a good laugh with them before we carried on our way home to Dunedin. What was especially good was them offering to take the car we had to leave at their place on the way through, to a mechanic friend at their local garage. (Yes, car troubles on the way to Queenstown on Christmas Day, meant we had to leave the Alfa at their place, which fortunately for us is halfway between Dunedin and Queenstown. We were also lucky in that we were able to travel the rest of the way to Q'town with S who was driving behind us in the other car.)


It is ABM's birthday today. To celebrate, the five of us had a leisurely lunch at Glenfalloch Gardens where we sat outside. Tall, established trees sheltered us from the pesky breeze chopping up the harbour.

As we are still on holiday, we are enjoying having the time to do such things as listen to cds (KT Tunstall, J.J Cale, Eric Clapton, Nillson, Neil Young, the cd called ' Mad Dogs and Okies' which S gave ABM for a birthday present ...) and watch ABM's Christmas dvd - 'Coffee and Cigarettes'.

I've also got a pile of holiday reading to get through - so far though, I am not making good progress. I am 100 pages only into Haruki Murakami's short story collection, 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.' I don't know if this slow progress is good or bad. It probably means that I'm more active than I'd anticipated.

It's good to be back home. Even if a trifle cold (because, after a glorious morning and early afternoon, it is now a mite chilly.) ABM is cutting kindling for the fire. We are planning a 'night in' watching dvds and reading by the fire. Ummm... remind me again - it's summer, right?

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Boxing On

I am writing this in an internet cafe, the traffic swishing by at my back, like the waves on a beach. Luckily, the real waves of a mountain lake are only seconds away.

Walking down here to the town from where we are staying, I walked along a track with each side strewn with daisies, poppies, lupins, foxgloves and summer grasses with fragrant seedheads - timothy, cocksfoot ... The broom is in flower too and provides a rich, yellow background. Luckily I don't suffer from hayfever, as the scents of the grasses and flowers were particularly strong this morning after last night's rain.

I noticed the foxgloves prefer to grow alone, whereas the lupins prefer to clump close together. I smiled a wry smile as I realised something about myself - I'm more of a foxglove than a lupin.

Friday, 22 December 2006


It was my last day at work yesterday - for the year, and at that particular place. I start another job in the middle of January - looking after a newborn baby. Oh how happy I will be working for myself, yet again; freelance, without the grappling-irons
My daughter and granddaughter were here with us on Wednesday night for our (what has become traditional) own, special pre-christmas dinner and gift unwrapping. Granddaughter (and niece) B as usual kept us amused and entertained with her usual natural aplomb. She is always the Santa and has the job of handing out the presents from under the tree - and does it beautifully. We are putty in her hands. She charms and delights us without missing a beat.

I always say Christmas is busier (harder?) for females than males ... don't hate me males. But it has to be said. There. I've said it. Not grizzling ... just stating.


Only two more days to go and it's Christmas once again - the 54th Christmas I have experienced so far. Put like that, I sound ancient! So why does it feel as if it's only about the twentieth? It's a puzzle.


My Poetry Thursday poem is from my book,'Feeding The Dogs'. I probably chose this one because it makes an allusion to Christmas, but then again it may be because it was just where the book opened.

the rifle

Beautiful shoulder-blade
of honeyed wood
shaped for an iron barrel
of fine, dapper lines
with finger-shaped trigger

kept separated from its bullets
and only taken out to kill
injured or old sheep dogs
or sick cats, or geese at Christmas.
Kept in the dark

propped up in a corner
in the wardrobe
behind Mum's lavender
dress for best, the one
she always wore to the Races

along with the necklace
Dad bought one anniversary
with its fiery, cut-glass beads
spiked with light and sparks
that shoot from her throat.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Jet Skis and Wild Poppies

Californian poppies growing wild at Bannockburn, Central Otago.

On Saturday the 9th, we went through to Bannockburn for ABM's twin nephews' 21st party. Here is a photo I took of Bannockburn and part of Lake Dunstan which was formed when they constructed a dam on the Clutha River.

ABM's sister and husband hired a camping ground for the event. Over a hundred people were there and we were all fed to the max. Some people have a gift where food is concerned - ABM's sister certainly does. She produced platters and platters of it. The hams were massive. I've never seen such gigantic ones. Being farmers, they believe in produce.

The surroundings were stark and brown - Bannockburn proclaims itself as the 'Heart of the Desert', which is a bit of over the top. However, it can fairly be described as bare; but rocky rather than sandy. The rainfall is very low as well and it gets very hot in summer. It is generally described as having Mediterranean temperatures and is a grape-growing area.

The sign is a little misleading though because after the tra-la-la! ... and drumroll please ... there appears to be nothing there!

Wild flowers are growing there in abundance. I couldn't stop taking photos. This photo shows the prevalent Californian poppy. The purple, low-growing flower is wild thyme which covers the hills just like heather covers the hills in Scotland. Being thyme, it fills the air with a smell like the stuffing for a goose! Small, nudging honeybees smother every bush. The pink flower in the background is rose-hip which also clambers over the rough, bare hillsides.

I should've been taking photos of family, but kept getting sidetracked by the flowers.

My favourite part of the weekend was sitting up on a high bank surrounded by a carpet of the fragrant thyme and a profusion of orange and yellow Californian poppies, rose-hip and other lichen and dried-moss-like desert-plants. I perched there looking down on the party guests cavorting in the water and 'doing stuff' with bikes and boats and cars.

This photo is one I took from my perch and shows the carpet of flowers at my feet. The photo looks a little dusty because the car being driven past as I snapped the photo, is churning up a white cloud of dust.

It was warm rather than hot. The party-goers were a crowd not interested in drinking (this is unusual for kiwi 21st parties believe me.) They preferred to be alcohol-free and to just enjoy Lake Dunstan, boating and tearing around dirt roads in cars and on bikes. There was a jet boat, a jet ski and a wave rider as well as an assembly of motor bikes. They were very active.

However, I always think there's something a little ironic about enjoying the countryside - getting away from the city - in order to ride noisy machines. I was more interested in the landscape. I kept escaping from the hustle and bustle and conversation to find quiet spots in which to savour the deep silences, which in a place like that, are never far away.

Back at base, in the kitchen, there were many practical people who liked nothing better than to make salads and generally ensure plates were piled high. I have to say, I always feel slightly out of my depth in such situations. But, I hasten to add - I did my bit. Pulled my weight. Lent a hand.

As we travelled home, I enjoyed seeing the change from Central's brown and bare rocky landscape (Ruth Dallas has described it perfectly in a poem as 'moonscape') to the green paddocks of Lawrence and beyond. I said to ABM that if we ever moved to Central - as we are sometimes tempted to do - I would miss the ocean. I think I would also miss the colour green. Although there is always green to be seen in the shelter belts that scramble over the rocky landscape.

Originally uploaded by Waynem.

I was particularly struck by the poplars. Rows and rows of them, sinewy and lithe and elegantly painting strong, green stripes against the sky.

NOTE: This one isn't my photo.

Sunday, 17 December 2006


Here is my contribution for this week's Sunday Scribblings.

It is Christmas Eve and I know that soon, when the sky above planet earth grows dark, Santa will launch his reindeer-drawn sleigh and begin his trek to every house in the whole world. And I know too the first part of the earth to grow dark is ours. Maybe already Santa has started on the North Island where it gets dark first. Down here though, at the very bottom of the South Island, the sun lags behind, taking its own slow and dreamy time. Already it is nine o'clock and still light. I stare at the sunlit-pink curtains in my bedroom, willing them to darken to claret.

I fidget about in my bed trying to find a cosy, comfortable space. I call across with a loud whisper to my sister in the other bed. But the lumpy bedclothes don't move. She is asleep. Lucky her. I would love to be able to go to sleep as quickly as she did, asleep even before it is properly dark. Maybe I won't be able to get to sleep at all tonight. What will I do if Santa arrives while I am still awake? I'll have to pretend, but I'm really not sure if I can fool Santa, he has had so much experience.

I crawl over my bed to get to the window that my mother has opened just a little to let the summer-night air in. The curtains billow in and out in the breeze. In and out. In and out. Kneeling at the foot of the bed, I lift a tiny corner of the curtain to take a peek. I can see the dark square of the swing's wooden frame and the chain and seat that hang there, not moving, just waiting, obedient and patient. I see the tin walls of the garage beginning to turn from silver to black. Somewhere a blackbird sings, "Petticoat, petticoat."

I drop the curtain and smell a whiff of mildew and dust. I check that Dad's woollen working sock still hangs at the foot of the bed all ready for Santa's goodies. Back under the blankets, again I shut my eyes. Through the wall at the head of my bed, I hear my parents' voices as they move about in the kitchen. I hear scrapes and bumps, murmurs and sometimes a cough or a laugh. I think of the plate with its slice of Christmas cake, left on the table along with a glass of milk. In the morning all that'll be left on the plate will be some crumbs and a raisin and beside it, the glass with a cloudy tide-mark. I think of the green enamel basin, flecked black where it is chipped, and full of water all ready on the back lawn for the reindeer to drink from. It sits there on the mown grass smack bang in the middle of the square of light the kitchen window throws out. I remember how last year on Christmas morning, still in our pyjamas, we went to check if the reindeer had drunk the water and discovered scrape marks on the lawn where their hooves had landed, and a flat, orange balloon that must've dropped from the sleigh.

The curtain continues to move in and out. In and out. Like my sister's breathing. The breeze outside tinkers with the down-pipe on the corner of the house and makes a tingly noise that could almost be taken for sleigh-bells. The gate squeaks. I squeeze my eyes shut and roll up into a ball under the blankets. The bedroom door slowly opens. Somehow though I know it's not Santa, but only Mum.
"You'd better get to sleep or Santa won't come," she warns.
"I can't get to sleep."
"Close your eyes and count to a hundred."
As she moves over to check my sister, a floorboard creaks under her feet. Then the door shuts with a disapproving click. I begin to count. A hundred seems a long way away. Surely by about thirty I'll be asleep. Surely. I hear a bump on the roof. My eyes fly open.


Friday, 15 December 2006

Roads of Grass

This is the fastest post I've ever written. But at least I've written a poem for Poetry Thursday - even though it's now Friday over here and so I'm officially late.

I may be back to edit and add more later.

named late

Before moving to Devon Street in town
we'd only ever lived on gravel roads
without official names
and a centre-line of May weed.

On one trip back to the old place,
a blue-and-white County Council sign
had named 'our road'
Salisbury Road. We laughed.

A whole town emptied by urban shift
now full of useless signs
with awkward street names
naming roads of grass going nowhere.


Thursday, 7 December 2006

The Thing That Startles

This is my response to Poetry Thursday's challenge for this week. Great list of questions to work from - Thanks Cam and Dana/Poetry Thursday.

This is a picture I took last year of Back Beach at Riverton, Southland, NZ.

'Waves' by Eleanor Farjeon

There are big waves and little waves,
Green waves and blue,
Waves you can jump over,
Waves that you dive through,
Waves that rise up
Like a great water wall,
Waves that swell softly
And don't break at all,
Waves that can whisper,
Waves that can roar
And tiny waves that run at you
Running on the shore

I believe this was the first poem I heard and truly appreciated as poetry.

Or it might have been ...

'Someone' by Walter de la Mare.

Someone came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Someone came knocking,

Tver - small door
Originally uploaded by Dona Juanita.

I'm sure, sure, sure.
I listened, I opened,
I looked to left and right,
But naught there was a-stirring
In the still, dark night.
Only the busy beetle
Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech-owl's call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking,
At all, at all, at all.

Both poems anyway, blew my six-year old mind. The power of words had begun.
When I was thirteen, 'The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower' by Dylan Thomas also impacted.
(I seem to recall reading it at Wendon School, under a birch tree, around me the sound of blackbirds and the smell of gorse in flower ... but that could be a fancy.) Another poem I had pinned up for a long time on my bedroom wall, was part of a longer poem by Browning.
The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!

There it was in between a picture

of Eden Kane on one side

and Frank Ifield on the other.

(You'll be relieved to know my idea of 'good-looks' has changed! since those days.)

I was forced to memorise a number of poems at high school. The one I remember most was 'Ode To Autumn' by Keats. I relished the words as if they were food in my mouth.

I read poetry because it encapsulates something that is either universal or which I have experienced myself. I also read poetry for the delight of words and language being used in ways that surprise me. Much like the reasons why I watch a movie or listen to music, I like the experience of fine-ness. Of being entertained. Of having my need for an artistic or creative experience satisfied. For the way it engages with a part of my brain and lights up neurons that nothing else lights up in quite the same way.

I write poetry and have done all my life - ever since I was seven years old. It is a way of expressing myself that appeals to me. It is a way of chronicling my life and experiences. It forces me to reduce an experience or episode down to its sauce. (Yes, that's sauce, not source.)

Poetry is also a good way to get revenge on your enemies - or on anyone that has done you an injustice in the present or in the past. Oh yes! There is nothing quite so satisfying as getting your own back in a poem. Poetry can be a very handy weapon. I guess it all boils down to expression - it is a form of expression. A way of speaking out, or of.

My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature mainly because poetry is more succinct and faster. I have been known to read an entire book of poetry before going to sleep. But I always read a poetry book more than once because poetry is designed for multiple readings. I have a heap of poetry books and I read them over and over. Until about the last five years, I spent ten years reading poetry alone - nothing else.

I find poetry in landscape, everyday conversations and quirky episodes, memories, people, my family, love, hate, music, books, walking, loneliness and moods ... I find poetry in cafes when I sit by myself and write about what is around me. I find poetry most when I travel, when I am out in the country, when I am subjected to new experiences and when I go back to the place where I was brought up.

The last time I heard poetry was last week at a Poetry Reading and which I was part of. There was an abundance of poetry - some good, some bad. Some exquisite. Of my own? Well, I couldn't possibly comment.

I think poetry is like a song without music. Like stillness. Like something elusive caught, dissected and examined. A thing that startles. A thing with the power to quietly astonish.

Yesterday I wrote a poem about a song-thrush I saw out on our lawn. I haven't seen one for some time. They've been scarce in our quarter over the last few years. I was reminded of another poem I love, 'Pied Beauty' by Gerald Manly Hopkins.
(Here is part of it.)
Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle trim.


How could I hope to follow that? But anyway, here goes ...

Song thrush
Originally uploaded by Viche.


Watching Out

You are a long-legged, lawn-giraffe.
My mother
at seven years old,
covered in freckles
and no front teeth.

Your beak is a sewing machine's jab,
a needle, a stiletto's heel.
A mottled-skinned gardener,
you grub
for worms.

When the grey cat hunches, a missile
poised, I clap my hands
to warn
before shadows dappled
now and pretty, turn

to steel and a hot-breath, sun-round mouth,
picks and rips
the tiny bone-cage that is you,
trapped under feathers
of burnt-honey suede.


Saturday, 2 December 2006

No Medal, But I'm Happy

Well ... didn't make it to the 50,000 words, but got to 38,000.

I printed it all out and now have in my hot little hand 80 pages as part of a rough first draft which I will work on and add to. It was helpful to focus for a whole month on the 'novel' and to form the beginnings of something from the miry clay of memory, association and experience.

But what a busy month to try and write in!!!! NaNoWriMo is a brilliant idea - but nevertheless, a Northern Hemisphere idea and as a consequence doesn't dovetail perfectly into the Southern Hemisphere lifestyle. (In fact I hear rumours of NZ already planning a June novel-in-a-month instead. So ... that would be a JuNaNoWriMo??) Over here, November is perhaps the busiest month in NZ's social calendar. It's when the end-of-year dinners and meetings and before-Xmas get-togethers are scheduled. Plus with Daylight Saving's longer hours, outdoor living becomes the focus - long, light evenings are certainly NOT conducive to labouring away in front of a computer's dim light. NEVERTHELESS - despite having family to stay, going out to dinner more times than in the whole, previous ten months - and other spring and getting-ready-for-Christmas-events - I am happy enough with the amount I managed to hack out.


Today is the second day of summer ... but we've had such a cold spring that we're kind of wondering if we're in for a white Christmas. As I write, a strong and cold, nor'easterly wind is walloping the leafy trees outside our house and despite the bright sun, I know it will be very cold and unpleasant if I venture out. I have decided I will stay indoors and read up on blogs instead. Having had a whole month off, I have got a lot of catching up to do.


I will leave you with some of my November Highlights (listed in no particular order.)

*Meeting friends for coffee

*Being a guest reader for a poetry reading event

* A job lined up for 2007 with a young couple to be nanny for their newborn baby

* My 76-year old Mum coming to spend some time with us & doing things with her like going out to afternoon tea at Glenfalloch where we sat on a grassed area surrounded by greenery and huge, old trees while a bullfinch hopped around looking for crumbs under our feet; going to a second-hand china shop - and finding some little bargains - getting in some dvds to watch in front of a roaring log fire (as I say the weather's been cold!) a trip through to Lawrence where we had lunch in a cafe called 'The Lemon Tree', which is run by a German couple who in NZ's off-season, go back over to Germany to cook for the Michael Schumaker.

* Going to 'The Departed' with ABM - a film so full of graphic killings that by the end, the audience was laughing when yet another person got shot.

*Six dinners out with friends and/or relatives

*Some walks along the beach

*In-laws staying a night

*Our youngest son getting a job as a guide for the Milford Track
*News that our oldest son will be home from Japan for Christmas and New Year

* The astounding art that our middle son is producing in his studio/bedroom at the end of our garage & having him and his fiancee K back here ( although there is now no December wedding to look forward to - they've decided to postpone)

*Spending time with my daughter and granddaughter
*Finishing the sci-fi book - 'The Necromancer' (of which I'm sure I only understood about 45%)

*Picking honeysuckle and lavender

*Seeing all the rhododendrons and azaleas that are out

Azaleas, Dunedin
Originally uploaded by John Gevers.

*seeing all the Christmas decorations - although this also can also make me feel very grumpy ... I am always a little ambivalent about Christmas ...

Originally uploaded by Bakko Brats


Originally uploaded by Aeode.
*Hearing the helicopters ferrying people (for $500 a trip) out to see the icebergs off our coast. The bergs are travelling north - four years ago they chipped off the old block: Antarctica ...

*Going to a friend's art exhibition of beautiful paintings she's painted after a three-month stay down in Antarctica (an example of her work is in the image below)

... and many more experiences I'm sure have already all dissolved in the mists of time ...

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...