Saturday, 22 December 2007

All's Well

We started Christmas festivities early ... my granddaughter (above) goes to her 'other side of the family' this year for Christmas Dinner - so we snuck in an early one.
Still have family around for the main one though. Two Christmas dinners may seem a little greedy ... but it is rather enjoyable all the same.

Thanks to all who worried about me in the earthquake - it was miles away; in the North Island; so we didn't feel a thing here in Dunedin.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

At Last I Can Hang Up My Keypad

I did it. (Don't believe the 'Thursday' at the top of this entry - it's actually 7.00 am Friday 30th November over here in the Antipodes.)

Now for a blogging break.
I will be back ... sometime in 2008, but will no doubt pop in to visit some of you in the meantime.
Meanwhile ... the call of summer-days, white walls, poems, books and other sundry recreational and / or serious endeavours - plus of course, the Big One, Christmas - will be keeping this Chiefbiscuit busy yet, hopefully, crumble-free.

PS There will be the occasional Update posted on my website

Designed to Skate Across a Sky

albatross at Taiaroa Head
There’s one now, just lifted off

from tousled grass

near the lighthouse. It is larger

than you think, it is the king

of sea-sky blue. In the sun its wings

shine whiter

than the whites of our eyes

lifted up to see it flow, then bank,

shake its pale, spatula feet.

Its wings over us, as broad

as the width of this boat

- outstretched wings sculptured

driftwood - perfect,

patient, measured,

unflappable glider wings

designed to skate across a sky

of ice-blue - a sky that etches

on to our eyes the albatross,

then reels it in;

winds it back.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I've just written this poem, given that I am now a guide at the Albatross Centre, but in actual fact I wrote it long before going to work there. My friend C from Britain was over for a holiday and we went on a trip on the Monarch. Seeing these birds soaring above us was such an amazing sight it engendered this poem, which ended up in my first book, 'Feeding the Dogs'.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Fins and Final Stretches

I've hit the home run (or stretch) as far as this NaBloPoMo goes. Some grow mos for Nov. (ask Dinzie! Are you going to post a photo?) but like many others, I have been trying to do a blog post a day through this month.

Only three days to go. And then I will be taking a breather. Have decided I probably won't post through December and January. It's time for a blogging holiday (even if not a proper one, as I will be working at the Albatross Centre through the Christmas break.)

Today I treated myself to a coffee at a cafe in St Clair with this outlook.

And this is the shark bell here at St Clair.

And some more info here.

And here Christine Johnstone, a Dunedin writer, talks about her book 'Shark Bell' which is set in St Clair and features the ... ta-da! ... shark bell of course.

Son M goes surfing on Dunedin beaches. As you can imagine, I often worry about the sharks. However he sees more seals - and sea lions - than sharks. The seals often herd the surfers out of the water. He has seen a shark fin or two however. No wonder I worry.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

What I saw Out the Window Today

It was a good day at work today.

Northern Royal Albatross.
There were some awesome flying displays today from the younger birds who have come back to the colony to find a mate. For the Northern Royals, this takes four or five years of yearly visits back to the colony where they were reared. As they have already spent four or five years out at sea before this, they are about ten years old before they actually breed.
The first time they touch land after fledging is when they return to look for a mate. These younger birds are known as 'the teenagers'. They like to party, socialise and show off. As a general rule, the Northern Royal albatrosses mate for life. Barring accidental death or mishap, the Northern Royals can live for thirty or forty years. The oldest bird, known as Grandma, lived to be over sixty years old.
Her last chick, Buttons, had a chick called Toroa (the Maori name for albatross), who was the 500th chick hatched at the colony. He and two other 2007 fledglings were fitted with GPS units so that their circumpolar journeys can be followed. You can go here to see where they have got to so far.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Interview Across the Water

The lovely Clare Dudman, a British writer of two fine novels, '98 Reasons for Being' and 'One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead' (I've read both novels and highly recommend them) has posted up an on-line interview I did for her.
Go here to read it.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Turn of the Terns

Barbara's book 'Kairos' arrived the other day. I am waiting for a day when I can devote time to truly savour the poetry in it. (Of course I couldn't resist a sneak preview, so I have already enjoyed reading some of the poems.) From the deftly woven, strong poems I have read so far, reading the whole book is going to prove to be a very satisfying experience.
Today I saw some Caspian terns plunging into the water. They are the birds featured in the photo below, which I took a while back.


Over the inlet, they busy themselves;
with skipping-rope wings,

then with the weight of stones, drop
into the water and as swiftly

back up again; a reverse catapault;
to continue undamaged,

nonchalant circling. It's the red krill
they're after. In the air, the small

from flowering flax; dark malt.


This poem of mine was accepted, along with another one, for publication in the Sydney University English Department magazine 'Southerly', in 2005.
It is about seeing these Caspian terns en masse one day feeding on krill in the inlet. They are way-cool birds. I especially love their little black, Batman masks. And the way they dive straight down into the water, without a splash - just like svelte, Olympic high-board divers.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Royal Spoonbill - a poem and a photo

early feed

Like old people
trying to read a newspaper
through a magnifying glass,
two round-shouldered spoonbills
scan the mud,
knee-deep, with feathers
as white as snow
-covered tussock and black
-rivet eyes imprisoned
behind soup-ladle bills
the colour of pewter.

*** The poem I wrote a couple of years ago. It is a poem that doesn't go anywhere, but nevertheless describes the Royal Spoonbill fairly accurately, so I guess it still has its place and one day, you never know, I may write a book of bird poems which this will fit into very nicely. Meanwhile ... it can sit here.

*** The photo I took on my way to work this morning. A rather hurried shot and one which doesn't do justice to the interesting spoon-shaped (or, soup-ladle shaped) bill this bird has. A wading bird, it finds its food on the edges of the harbour. It has a crest as well which I wasn't able to capture as it was too busy foraging to lift its head. Besides, I was running (or I should say walking!) late and couldn't afford to hang about waiting for it to lift its head.
Another interesting fact about this bird is that it has just started nesting on the Peninsula here in Dunedin in the past five years.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

21 Degrees

Another corker today.

A GOOD day to have off work.

A day to meet up with friends for a coffee.

A day for flora of all kinds to open right up

to the sun, the light and sky.

I have decided I have gone as far as I want to go with the NaNoWriMo. It's turned into 5,000-word short story.

I enjoyed some more Amy Clampitt poetry today. She was an astounding poet.


Monday, 19 November 2007


Okay, I admit it. I am tired of blogging. Nineteen days straight - whew!

After this month I have decided I will take some time off blogging to do the Christmas thing and to paint the room I write in.
Every woman needs a room to herself, wasn't it Virginia Woolf who said that? For the first time in my life I have a writing room.
It needs a bed to be taken out and it needs to be painted. It needs light (I think white paint will have to do as we can't afford to put in a skylight.) It needs a large book-shelf and a large desk (and a colourful rug.) It needs new curtains (or venetians, or blinds - I've yet to decide ...)

It is S's birthday today. Happy Birthday son! He is in Kyoto, Japan and loving it there. He and E (his fiancee) have found a new flat to move into together. He and I spoke by Skype today. He showed me the ring E gave him for a birthday present. It was looking real good. And he was wearing the hoody we sent over for him. It's starting to get cold over there.
Meanwhile here, it is warm and sunny.
A real corker day as my mum would say.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Favourite Things

Apologies to mrs g for not getting around to this until now.
Some of my favourites ...
books - not a fan of novels so much as chronicles, diaries, bios, short stories and of course poetry.
birds - If I believed in reincarnation (which I don’t) I’d come back as an albatross, but on one condition; as one of the Northern Royals at Taiaroa Head - they get looked after so well.
Orepuki - The town where I was brought up.
sea - The ocean places me, calms me and inspires me.
afternoon naps - ‘Nana naps’; a deep, 2-hour sleep during the day is a great anesthetic. I just wish workplaces would provide!
firesides - Nothing like a fireside ...
rain and wild weather - Orepuki, where I was brought up, is near the Roaring Forties. Consequently, I have happy, primal memories of rain and wind and wild weather.
dvds - What a great invention. Who needs to go out?
hot baths - Mmmm ... with bubbles ... chocolate, candles, wine, a book ....
frosty mornings - There’s something fresh, invigorating, clear and clean about an icy, frosty morning.
autumn - The glory of summer saying good-bye; the dying, the slowing down, the mild warmth and the soft light.
babies - And now, if they’re crabby or smelly, I can just hand them back!

Cilla McQueen is an established New Zealand poet. She has published ten books of poetry. Recently she has moved down to Bluff, Southland, at the bottom of the South Island, New Zealand. Here she writes about her environment of sea and light, harbour and hills and of her relationship with her new-found home, the town of Bluff and its people. An artist as well as a poet, Cilla has included drawings in some of her poetry books.
Cilla McQueen is an expert at capturing a moment. She is a poet of place, so wherever she is, she becomes part of that place; a resident, with a resident’s perspective. An expert wordsmith, her sense of the moi juste is her special gift. I adore her work. My favourite book of poetry is her ‘Berlin Diary’ written while she was on a writing assignment in Berlin, Germany. Here her natural bent towards a sense of place has been shaken and stirred somewhat, but she still manages to evoke the feeling of being ‘here’ as a foreigner, feeling a little lost, a little homesick, a little disoriented. We are introduced to other writers from other countries, but subtly and naturally. Because above all else, Cilla is a natural: a natural writer, observer and chronicler.
I love Cilla’s work. All I want for her now is to be made our next Poet Laureate. No-one deserves it more.


Saturday, 17 November 2007


Today was Saturday. Working on a Saturday feels strange.

I mean, other people are swimming in the harbour, following a kayak.

shags are conversing

and drying their wings.

and mailboxes are waiting for letters ...

On the way home from work I spotted Mother Duck again - if it is the same one that I saw yesterday, I am sad to report she's lost three ducklings. (Which doesn't particularly surprise me, as yesterday I noticed a black-backed gull nearby, and they are known to be rather fond of baby ducklings ...)

At work today I had the experience of having my talk about the albatrosses interpreted for an audience who came from Hong Kong.
And that experience is where my American Sentence for today was hatched.

The interpreter listened to what I said, and then said what she liked.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Homing Pigeon

For all those who inquired, a 'flat white' is a coffee made with hot milk slightly fluffed-up i.e. not as fluffed up as much as a cappucino.
Now I hope you all know what a cappucino coffee is? In case you don't, it's a real fluffy, milky coffee with loads of froth; in fact I'd go so far as to say it is all froth.

I take my camera* to work with me every day. Today on the way home I was feeling surprisingly carefree and observant.

* The camera - a Canon - was given to me by my sister Mcdinzie - partner of Dinzie - when she bought herself a bigger camera. Every time I take a photo, I thank God for the kindness of little sisters.

For example, I noticed these tyres used as a boat's 'hitching post' (I wonder if there's a nautical term for it? If there is, K&J or Marie are sure to know what it is.)

These white doves for some strange reason were standing at the water's edge as if pondering ... I wondered if they were lost? I am hoping that the homing instinct kicked in eventually and they got back home all right.

The wild lupins seemed especially appealing tonight. Maybe because, like lanterns, they provided a stippled light against the grey water.

And then I couldn't resist stopping again to take a photo of this mother duck and her paddling little ducklings. At this stage there were eight. After taking the photo, two more came bustling up to join the brood.

My American Sentence for today comes courtesy of a man I work with who hails from Yorkshire. He and his family moved over here about a year ago and bought a house with a bathroom that's got a shower, but no bath.

I can't be having with just showers; I'm dying for a good, hot bath.

(Imagine it being said in a seasoned Yorkshire accent, with the emphasis on 'th' in the word 'bath'.)


Thursday, 15 November 2007


blue harbour

Water seems to dominate my work-days. Not that I mind.

This morning, after fifteen minutes, I realised that there had been a little miscommunication and I was at the pick-up point an hour earlier than I needed to be.

I decided to while the time by taking photos.

I've heard of a parliament of owls - but a committee of seabirds?

No talkies.

... the view to my left

... the view to my right

... the view straight ahead

... but the best view of all - the view behind. Coffee to go. A large, double, flat white please.

I happened to have an hour to spare the very morning an entrepreneur decided to set up coffee-to-go from the back of his car at the car park where I wait for my ride to work. It was his first morning of a fortnight's trial run. When I explained that I didn't have any money on me, he said I could bring him the money tomorrow morning.
And then he gave me my American Sentence for the day:

"I find that on the whole coffee drinkers are very honest people."

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Rained-On Lily

I took this photo yesterday of a lily just after it had been rained on.

Contrast that with the grey sea that I looked out at from the staff room at tea-break today.

What a cold, blustery day.

The visitors scurried from the warmth of their camper vans to the warmth of the Centre, experiencing a wild walk in between.

But the albatrosses loved it. They are impossible to capture in a lens - they can get up to soaring speeds of 100 ks. Of course, not around the headland, but still fast enough to make it hard to get them in focus and close up.

I’m only up to 4,500 words on my NaNoWriMo dab. I call it dab because I never seriously expected to plunge through to the 50,000 words challenge. However, it’s been a good motivator. I think what I am doing is writing a short story.

I don’t know if anything will come of the short story I am writing. I keep vacillating. And the dilemma I slip too easily between, is whether to concentrate on prose or poetry.
It is fair to say that when I am writing prose, I miss poetry, but when I am writing poetry I don't miss writing prose at all.

Sometimes I think I only want to write prose because it is the more respected, or understood. More people read it. When I tell people that I write, they inevitably ask, What do you write? When I say poetry, sometimes an awkward silence follows. As if poetry is too scary and difficult.

American Sentences - to refresh your memory - is something Allan Ginsberg made up. Some of us non-Americans wonder if we are able to write one too. However, haiku isn’t restricted to just the Japanese, so I figure American Sentences aren’t just for, or about, Americans. It is simply another form of short poetry. It is a sentence, or a line of poetry, made up of 17 syllables.

Hey! Thanks to Ceridwen, there's a new poetry site: read.write.poem. Go check it out.

My American sentence for today is -: Tomorrow’s forecast is for sleet with snow down to seven hundred feet.

Monday, 12 November 2007

A Sliver of Kiwi!

For those of you curious, about what's gong on with NZ writing, the following sites may be helpful: Lumiere and Leaf Salon

- they are but a tiny sliver of two of the busy hives that make up NZ's writing scene. There's so much more happening than what this represents, but these happen to be two of the few sites that report on such things.

And my kiwi poet today is Bernadette Hall

Bernadette is an awesome poet and a most lovely person. You can read some of her poetry on the above site. Bernadette is one of the first poets to really encourage my own poetry. She won't even remember, but her handwritten note on the bottom of a letter accepting a poem of mine for the Christchurch newspaper's Poetry Corner, gave me a real boost. It was such an encouragement for me, an unpublihed writer at that time. It was about ten years ago now - or more. All the note said was, 'I really like your writing!' That's all. But it meant the world because here was an established poet whose poetry I loved giving my faltering attempts at writing poetry, real credence. I will be forever grateful to Bernadette for just taking a minute to write those five words. But do you know the best thing? The exclamation mark. I LOVE exclamation marks ... and for there to be one at the end of that note of Bernadette's was something to truly savour. !!!! Thank God for exclamation marks!!!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sideswiped by a Canadian

I've got three days off now. I tell you, it didn't feel right today with no albatrosses to look out for. Local Thrush was here again though, singing his 'Jimmy is here' refrain - or that is what it sounds like to me anyway.

It has been a dull, grey, old Sunday here. I have had a quiet day, catching up on reading and a bit of writing. My NaNoWriMo novel-writing is a bit slow, but I'm happy enough with the 2,000 words I have managed to amass so far.

Our cat Aggie.

Plus I have been listening to 'Shine' by Joni Mitchell, who turned 64 on Wednesday.
In my research today, I found out that the the words to Joni's song, 'Bad Dreams', on the Shine cd, is actually a poem by Joni which was printed in the NY Times.

Here is part of it:

Bad Dreams

The cats are in the flower bed
A red hawk rides the sky

I guess I should be happy
Just to be alive ...

But we have poisoned everything

And oblivious to it all

The cell phone zombies babble

Through the shopping malls

While condors fall from Indian skies

Whales beach and die in sand ...

Bad dreams are good

In the great plan.

(Apparently the last lines come from something her three-year old grandson said.)

A lot of the cd's lyrics (protest songs mainly) were written from her British Columbian summer home in Sechelt.

Sea lions in Dunedin's harbour. I think they look a little like wet bears.

So, no kiwi poet today - as I had intended - instead I've been sideswiped by a Canadian.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Glad to Sad

This morning started with the song of a thrush. For some years around here the thrushes seemed to have disappeared, so it is with some gladness that we welcome them back. In the place where the blackbird used to sing, on top of the blue cypress, the thrush now sings. I wonder if some territorial battle has been won? Both birds have songs to lift the eyes, but the thrush's song has a certain added lilt; something extra.

I didn't see an albatross flying today. The wind blew, the people willed them to appear, but nary a one. People were sad and disappointed. There is a field camera fixed on one albatross sitting on its nest incubating its egg while its mate takes its turn out at sea, feeding. But all the albatross did all day (I guess it's a male, as apparently it is the male who does most of the incubating in the early days) was tuck its bill into its feathers, and sleep.

Got home to find ABM had cooked tea and hired a dvd ( Bob Dylan's "No Direction Home'.)
A cosy Saturday night in has been planned.
ALSO, got home to discover that the latest Joni Mitchell cd I'd ordered from Amazon, had arrived in the mail today. It is fantastic! Ah me ... she is one amazonian woman. I just love her work. This latest cd, called 'Shine', blows me away.


But sad news ... Jedi (15 years old)

is not at all well, and is not likely to last much longer. We got a sad phone call from M. It breaks my heart; so I can only guess what M&K are going through saying good-bye to this lovely dog who has become so much part of their lives.

Friday, 9 November 2007

For Sore Eyes

Once again I have run out of time to focus on a poet - but seeing as I have three days off work after tomorrow, I will have more time then.

'Leaping Salmon' climber rose.

Meanwhile, with leaden eyelids I will make my way to bed, leaving you with this picture of a budding rose from our garden. I only noticed it for the first time tonight when I arrived back from work. It was just the lift I needed.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Late Starter

Today did not start well. I woke up with a start to find I was horrendously late. And I mean horrendously late. All day I felt like I was out of synch. Playing catch-up with my brain.
However the albatrosses were magic.
I took a group of Brits up to the Fort, but surprise! surprise! they weren't interested in the Watkins range finder at all, and only mildly captivated by the disappearing gun - not after seeing the three albatrosses visible today from the Observational Post.* Note: This is the Fort's OP, as opposed to Observatory which is closed until November 24th.
The albatrosses were displaying (the term for 'showing off' - spreading out their not insubstantial wings, stretching their necks, sky calling, preening each others feathers ...) The tourists were beside themselves with delight. So was I.
I did make an attempt to point out the lighthouse ... made of basalt ... second oldest lighthouse in NZ ... but they couldn't have cared less.
There were the albatrosses; hovering and gliding in full view and generally making good use of the blustery wind conditions.

And good on Shameless! he has awarded me a Shameless Lion's roar. Thank you Shameless. Check out the deal here at the Shameless Lions Writers Circle.

Shameless says : Those people I've given this award to are encouraged to post it on their own blogs; list three things they believe are necessary for good, powerful writing; and then pass the award on to the five blogs they want to honour, who in turn pass it on to five others, etc etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere! The image above can be copied and pasted onto other blogs. Also, a small size of the award for sidebars can be found over at the writing circle site.

Now as I am encouraged to Pay it Forward ... which of course is a pleasure ... I am giving a roar out to the following five bloggers:

mapiprincesa! (for wonderful, insightful writing about her children, detailed and fascinating accounts of her experiences in Japan and all the words of different languages she manages to weave into her posts.)
Catherine (for the wonderful report of her trip to Britain and Scotland, her photography, the enviable clarity and love of reason - and of course her poetry.)
pepek (for her indefatigable energy, ability to care deeply about what's really important, and lively sense of humour.)
Mrs G (for her energy, sense of humour, honesty and fascinating mind.)
Paris Parfait - (for beautiful photography, a beautiful mind, Parisian flavour and for her passion.)

And what do I believe makes for good writing? All of the above words coloured-in green.


I will post on another NZ poet tomorrow. I have run out of time for today.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


Yesterday I posted a clutch of new poems in my poetry blog - cell collection. Poems are beginning to break out ... after a long incubation.
It's a bit like the albatrosses who at the moment are laying eggs and beginning the 80-day incubation period. We don't know where the nests are situated. We are hoping that there are some in front of the observatory, because otherwise there'll be no nesting albatrosses for the visitors to see. Which would mean that as guides, we'll have to explain rather a lot more than if there are nests in sight to view.
The DOC workers are the only ones who can go onto the site, but at present anything they know about what's going on there is confidential. They guard and protect the albatrosses fiercely, until the eggs are laid and all is well.
So on the other side of the predator-proof fence that denotes a protected site, and over the hill and down on the cliff a bit, the nests have been built and eggs are being laid - all unseen by us or the public. Until November 24th. The suspense is building.

However today, with the wind a robust south-westerly, the albatrosses were appearing from around the bluff and showing off. Careening, swooping, gliding and hovering. Sometimes they hung suspended for a second or two, making us catch our breath, until swinging around and disappearing from view again. The seagulls nesting on the headland too, were trying very hard to imitate. But once an albatross came into view, the seagulls looked like ineffective specks.

Meanwhile ... once back in the city and home again, the wildness and windiness of the headland was replaced by genteel spring flowers, and a very green tree catching the light of the sun as it disappeared for the day.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Good News from A Far Country

Our son S, 5 years old - first day at school photo. He was a favourite photo subject for tourists from Japan - they were always wanting to take his photo - must've been the blond hair. (What do they say about future events casting their shadow?)

We have had some good news from overseas. (Funny, but I was born on the 25th of the month, and when I was younger I was told that the matching proverb and verse to the date of your birthday was often meaningful to your life. Well ... guess what Proverbs 25 v 25 says? 'As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.' I've always remembered that line, but have never had it proved in quite the same way as now.)
The news? S and E have announced their engagement. S is our son in Japan. We have yet to meet E - although we have seen her and talked to her by camera when we've Skype-d. She is very sweet. I am so pleased for them both and excited to have a future daughter-in-law from Japan.
Good news from a far country is a good thing!
Congratulations S&E.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Wind and Crossed Wires

A cold day here today and I haven't ventured out at all. I just hunkered down and watched out the window as the southerly dressed down a cabbage tree on the other side of our little valley. Over behind a hill with its back to the coast, we are lee-side, where all remains still.

And so My American Sentence for today is ...

Over there, look, the wind is turning trees into a cat o' nine tails.

This wasn't something anyone said, because apart from ABM, I haven't been in contact with anyone today (except the woman who rang the wrong number ... which actually leads me to my other American Sentence ... )

Who am I speaking to? Oh I'm sorry, I've gone and rung the wrong number.

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...