Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Every Time I Was Astonished

It’s been a long time since poetry and I have been on speaking terms, just quietly. I have been giving it the test of time, distance and freedom. As a result, we have been looking a little sideways at each other.
I think it’s because my second poetry collection is still languishing somewhere on the publisher’s in tray. A date for publication wafts like an ion looking for something solid. To save the angst, I've mentally abandoned both the manuscript and the writing of any fresh material and haven't written a poem for weeks. Instead, I have been fraternising with prose. (Shhh, don’t tell poetry!)
A couple of times I’ve touched on the subject with friends who care and asked them if they think poetry and prose come from the same parts of the brain, but as yet no-one's been able to come up with an answer that completely satisfies me.
Yesterday, however, I started reading poetry again. And it felt good. I read David Howard’s book, ‘The Word Went Round’ and also Allison Wong’s book, ‘Cup’. David’s tough, sturdy language pleased me. He uses words that come from the land and from people who work it. He writes of his forbears and in particular, his late father who was of Irish stock; a plain man, a worker, whose character colours all that is in the book. He is a voice on David’s shoulder, an implant in his brain. It is a book largely about the land and people fighting to claim it and/or reclaim it; remember it or forget it. David’s similes and metaphors are unusual, yet how apt they are! They astonish. To my ear, they sound Irish, interesting, quixotic, fitting and fey. He is also very crafty with puns.
I read the book at work, when Baby H was asleep, and every time something written there astonished me, I’d lift my eyes from the book to the view out of the third storey window. Basically it's an angular view of ugly buildings in the part of Dunedin that is called The Exchange. It's called that because it's where the Stock Exchange used to be. The buildings, apart from the odd touch of masonry brilliance, such as the old Bank of New Zealand’s gargoyle-like lions, are largely made up of unimaginative, solid, square blocks of concrete in differing shades of grey, darkened with ingrained smut. And not one of the buildings is still being used for what it was originally built for.
Sometimes I see a silent pigeon winging it to where the empty post office’s flat roof rules its line against a white sky, then disappearing rather clumsily over the edge. I look over at that building and the bus-stop in front of it, and find it hard not to imagine that even from three storeys up, I can smell the whiff of urine that lingers on the steps near where I wait to catch the bus home.
The sound of buses pulling in and then pulling away again with a growl and a release of air from the brakes, intersperses my day. This is the sleepier end of Dunedin’s main street; it is the end that was historically the hub, but which in the last thirty years has slowly retreated as the city's shopping edged closer to the University end. The noises I hear from inside the apartment seem to reflect the inevitable hollowness of abandonment; the sudden roar of a car driven by a young male, echo-y shouts and bangs from builders refurbishing an old hotel, the squeak of brakes, the metal clang of a trailer bumping behind a van, a door slamming shut, the suck and trundle of the apartment’s lift.
Then last night in bed, I read Allison’s book. That is the great thing about poetry. If like me you are a guzzler, it’s possible to devour a whole book in one sitting. Of course I usually go back over to relive and savour. Somehow a poetry book is easy to return to, numerous times. I am not so inclined to go back to a book of prose as I am to a book of poems. Allison’s book was full of charm and tantalising subtlety - sensual and strong - as tough and cool as the fronds of a cabbage tree. Her voice is mesmerising, personal, patient and soft, but with undercurrents of - is it wryness? Bitterness? No, I think it’s maybe quizzical. Prosaic more than angry. Bewildered, amazed, amused, rather than revengeful or stubborn. And always affectionate, even in disappointment. And I like the way she can catch you unawares, surprise and shock you and cause you to start. (She wasn’t going to have me caught napping, even if I was in bed and near sleep.)
I have enjoyed catching up with poetry again and I can feel the urge to write a poem beginning to stir, slowly, like a blue-tongued lizard waking from a long sleep in the sun.

And what a lovely surprise tonight to hear a song-thrush! It has been so long since we’ve had them about here. Contrary to what I thought might happen, I recognised it for what it was straight away and didn't confuse it with a blackbird's song at all. It was unmistakable and seemed to trigger something deep; memories of bulldozed piles of fire-blackened wood; the sodden bonnets of foxgloves. Memories of my father’s voice. Primal memories.
I got out the binoculars, found the little fellow and laughed at his struggle to remain on the thin, wavery mast of a silver birch blustered about by the wind. He was a little ruffled, but undeterred; determined to keep singing until his song was finished, or until it got dark - whichever came first.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Frozen Fireworks

This is a daggy little thing my friend KL sent me.

It’s appropriate because on Wednesday night ... we watched Comet McNaught in the western sky over the sea out at St Kilda - what a sight.
(Please note - I do not and never intended to, take credit for this amazing photo - if it doesn't show the name of the person who took it, and such things matter to you, please click on it to find out who the clever person was.)

Classical Comet
Originally uploaded by Tirau Dan.

And not to be outdone, there off to the right was the very moon of which the song speaks, slipping down behind the hills of Kew - a C-shaped moon, which in the Southern Hemisphere means it’s into its first quarter; whereas in the Northern Hemisphere the first quarter is a D-shaped moon. Being married to a science teacher you see, means I get to know all these things about how the solar system works. (Which because of my non-retentive brain, have to be explained to me over and over because I always forget.)

The comet was glorious - bright and clear. Its long tail flowing behind it like a frozen shower of fireworks, is actually 300 million kilometers long. The Southern Cross was up and a little to the east of the comet - easily found by first locating the two bright marker stars. And the pot - or saucepan - which in our part of the sky is the bottom half of Orion’s belt and sword, was farther over towards north-east. We watched the sinking moon and the glory of a comet heading west, to the accompaniment of tree frogs and the beat of St Kilda's surf.

Speaking of wonders, another is - Baby H ... my charge through the day Monday to Thursday. I am besotted and beguiled; every little burp and sneeze is a marvel. My whole working day revolves around his routine - his sleeps, his gurgles, his feeds, his nappies (which I better explain to my American friends, are what you call ‘diapers’.) All of these are of major note. And meaningful stuff. He is his own marvellous little miracle. His own amazing production line. And so the day goes, watching his every move, listening to every coo and chortle. I sing ‘Eency Weency Spider’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and smile and laugh and open my mouth wide and huff and talk and go ‘Beeedy beedy bop’ - you know, all those silly things you do with babies. And he thinks I am funny and fascinating and wonderful - and I think he is too - so there’s this mutual appreciation-buzz-thingy going on the whole day long. Most days, because he and his family live in an apartment right in the city, we go out for a quick coffee - he sleeps and I read the newspaper and drink my long-black-with-milk-on-the-side. But the best thing about being Baby H's nanny is - I don’t get to do the 3.00 a.m. feeds! There’s a wonderful cut-off point when I say good-bye to beautiful, Baby H and go back to my other life. Perfect.

And I have Fridays off too - thus giving me a three-day weekend. Today was Friday - the sun came out and ABM & I pruned some more branches to give us a far view from our kitchen window through to our back section. All we need now is a rustic seat placed there to give the illusion of days spent sitting under trees. I did sit out on our front deck to eat my lunch and spotted a kereru (which aren't hard to miss!)

kereru 3
Originally uploaded by C Buckley.
sitting in one of the silver birches. I took a peek at it through the binoculars, marvelling again at the markings - the white baker’s apron, the iridescent bottle-green feathers, the tiny head with red-rimmed eyes. I also saw little wax-eyes with their short attention spans, a couple of fantails

Originally uploaded by nzkiwi.
looping the loop, as well as the inevitable yahooing seagull on its way to the beach. And of course, as always, the ever-present, talkative sparrows. (Once again, here are flickr photos of a couple of the birds I mention.)


Last night at 1.30 a.m., I finished reading Clare Dudman’s ‘One Day The Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead’. It’s about Alfred Wegener, a much-overlooked German scientist who first mooted the idea of continental drift. His theories in the larger scheme of things, turn out to be vital in determining the way the earth was geologically formed, and is still forming and changing. Wegener basically spent his life trying to convince and prove to other experts that his theory was right. The details and descriptions in this book are expertly crafted by Clare, and they effortlessly place the reader into the frame of time and place. I was especially satisfied by the descriptions of the icy wildernesses of the far northern terrains of Greenland and Iceland - the ice formations and colours, the descriptions of tiny flowers, of lights in the sky, of light reflected through ice, of mirages and the delusions, the realities and the clarity on both clear, cold days and in among the frozen mists and wastes when sky and earth revolve as one; the impact of wind and of extreme cold. The smell of unwashed humans in close contact, the sound of sledge runners, the effect of ice on skin and environment; the taste of pemmican. The agony of fruitless death. The ecstasy of a day going well, with smooth ground underfoot and blue sky overhead. There is not a detail missed. Clare has an intuitive feel for character portrayal and for place. Her writing is strong and clear. Not that I was consciously thinking about that as I was reading, I was just enjoying the story. Wegener’s personality and life, told in his own voice, is brilliantly drawn by Clare. The scientific, more technical side of his life, fascinating in itself, is nicely balanced by the portrayal, both affectionate and incisive, of his domestic life and inner conundrums. He has a touching vulnerability I warmed to and an appreciation of life’s bitter-sweetness that I could identify with. It has all you look for in a good book - tension, strength, reality, the power to take you right to the heart of place, and characters who fascinate and engage. The story has a sweet sadness beautifully portrayed by a master storyteller. I like a book I start reading and immediately trust. A book I know is going to take me to places I wouldn't otherwise be able to go. Clare's 'One Day The Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead' is such a book. Order it from Amazon and read it! You'll be glad you did.


Wednesday, 24 January 2007

In The Wrong

In the interests of keeping it green, I bus to work. This frees up my car for Son M to use and I’m happy to oblige; he deserves a break. Each morning I board the bus, hand over the correct money and say, “Into town please’.
Well, normally I do. But this one morning, I said (for some odd reason even I can’t figure out right now,) “One zone please.”
This particular morning the bus driver happened to be a grumpy one. (Have you noticed how bus drivers in the main fall into either of two categories?)
“That’s one dollar twenty,” he said, “You’ve given me one dollar sixty.”
Now right there is where I should’ve realised that it was actually TWO zones into town. But silly me didn’t think to clarify. I just thought, ‘Oh they must’ve changed it - maybe there’s a special rate before ten o’clock or something now.’ That was my big mistake.
A bit farther down the track, the driver suddenly bellows, “Female who paid for one zone gets off here.” Giving a guilty reflexive jolt, I lurch out of my seat, saying, “Oh. That’s me.” Red-faced I'm sure (although I have to say that one of the benefits of ageing for those of us prone to blushing easily, is that you become hardened and hardly blush anymore. Yay!) I trot up to the front to apologise and explain that actually I wanted to go into town and was that two zones? I beg your pardon. All the time thinking, but didn’t you think maybe that that is what I wanted when I happened to give you the correct money for two zones even though I did - hands up - I admit it, say, 'One zone'? Couldn't you just possibly have figured that one out? Just how hard can it be? (As my youngest sister often says.) But oh no Mr Oscar the Grouch, the driver with a mean streak, you chose to trick me didn't you? Catch me out? As is the wont of all bullies.
Grumpy Drawers grudgingly accepts my payment, but still demands I pay full price again. Luckily I had the correct change, otherwise I just know I would have been turfed off the bus to fend for myself.
But that’s not all.
Not content with haranguing me, he then proceeds to yell out that another female had only one zone clicked on her bus pass, then gets out of his seat and parades up the aisle like a mini-dictator (all he needed was a switch to bang against his trouser leg) until he found the culprit. Now I don’t know about buses in other places, but the buses in Dunedin are very quiet. Almost silent. Through all of this farce, not one person murmured. There were maybe some eyebrows raised and perhaps a couple of what could loosely be termed mirthless, half-smiles exchanged, but nary a word was spoken. It was the silent majority in full bloom.
And so Mr I've-Got-a-Piece-of-Gorse-Stuck-in-My-Undies was allowed to get away with it. Of course he’s in the wrong job - he should be a school caretaker, or a Russian conductor. (I say Russian conductor because the whole experience put me in mind of an article written by a writer friend of mine about an unsettling border experience she had on a Russian train.)
As he makes his way back to the front of the bus, our charming driver sneers in his best ‘sarcastic-teacher’ tone,
“You people need to get to know your zones better don’t you?”
What's this? 'Get to know our zones better'? Hang on a minute mate - this isn’t a classroom here. This isn’t even Russia. This is a bus full of mature adults. At least that’s what I thought it was. Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve been known to be wrong before.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

I'm Anne

For Sunday Scribblings. This week's prompt - 'Fantasy'.

Although her circumstances and mine were very different, there was something about Anne Shirley that I could respond to - that fighting attitude, her chatterbox cheerfulness despite trying circumstances ( such as her red-hair, the bane of her life; how she longed for it to be ‘auburn’ rather than ‘carrots’). Her desire for pretty dresses with puff sleeves. The mistakes she made through sheer enthusiasm. Her ability to spot a mile off, any pretentiousness and hypocrisy. Her inner strength. The way she used imagination to defeat obstacles. ('True, Anne could not help a little pang when she contrasted her plain black tam and and shapeless, tight-sleeved, homemade grey cloth coat with Diana's jaunty fur cap and smart little jacket. But she remembered in time that she had an imagination and could use it.') And then of course, there was Gilbert Blythe whose attentions she initially rejects in snooty fashion. Would he eventually win her heart? Anne from ‘Anne of Green Gables’ was a fantasy, a fictional character, but real and gutsy all the same.

And I found it easy to transpose ‘Anne of Green Gables’ on to my own childhood landscape, even though it was on the other side of the world to Prince Edward Island, Canada. And even though it was set in a different time in history. The town in which I grew up, I easily imagined to be Avonlea. The stream in which Anne’s ‘bosom friend’ Diana just about drowned, became the creek that ran near our house. The trees, the orchard, the lanes, the fields, the neighbouring houses - they were all to be found in my world too.

Below is a poem I wrote recently in which I try to convey all of this:

I’m Anne

Whitecaps switch on and off
as Foveaux Strait darkens.
I walk back home
along the White Way of Delight
on gravel as loud as sandpaper,

in the air the smell
from Gerritson’s pig-farm.
The Lake of Shining Waters
is a small dam brilliant with lime
-coloured chickweed

and along The Lane
through chest-high grass,
the snuffle of seed-heads
and there, the first sight of home
- Green Gables, despite
its scarlet roof.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Dull Days and Doldrums

'Literary Occasions Essays' by VS Naipaul was excellent reading. Well, I'd expect nothing else but excellence from this writer. A writer I only discovered in 2002 or thereabouts, after a lecturer mentioned him in an off-the-cuff remark during a lecture. The remark went something along the lines of - "If anyone hasn't read 'A House for Mr Biswas', they must do so immediately."

Naipaul's descriptions of how he writes, how he began to write and how the whole process ties into his childhood background and upbringing, was useful and fascinating stuff. Another book I didn't want to end. But that's all right - there are plenty of other books Naipaul's written, both fiction and non-fiction, that I have yet to read. And I resolve to do so.

I opened the mailbox lid yesterday to find a book from Amazon. Clare Dudman's 'One Day The Ice Will Reveal All It's Dead'. Last night I ran myself a deep, hot bath and as I happily wallowed, read the introduction. If the introduction is any indication of the rest, I am certainly in for a treat.

This afternoon I met baby H. He's alert and interesting. Tomorrow I start being his nanny from Monday to Thursday. I think we're going to get along just fine.

ABM and myself have been spending time in the wilderness around our house bush-whacking. We are feeling very satisfied at what we've managed to clear, and the sunlight we've managed to let in up the back of our section where the branches of trees were holding hands. So much so that you could stand up there in the rain and not get wet. I say sunlight, but to be honest it is in short supply. The usual January, very low and thick cloud-cover overhead, has Dunedin sitting under it like a schooner in the doldrums. Hearing gulls mourning overhead, just completes the dismal scene. Ah but perfect weather for reading - now where did I put that book?

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

The Best Thing

The best thing about sitting out on the terrace at my in-laws is looking out at this view of mountains and lake. I took this photo in winter; at the moment there is not as much snow on the mountains, apart from that which is shaded in sunless fissures.

The mountains run north-south, just as, apparantly, most mountain ranges in the world do. I say most because I have it on good authority that there is a range not far from here (The Carolines) that run east-west - a fact which fascinates geologists the world over; so much so, they come out here to have a look-see for themselves. Although, I feel I must clarify; The Carolines aren't really mountains, but high hills (the sort that get called mountains in Wales or Scotland.)

The mountains I am feasting my eyes on these days (until tomorrow when we return to the coast) are called The Remarkables. Scoured, jagged and very close, they seem to stand like towering guards, wearing blue uniforms in the morning light when the sun is behind them, then becoming more defined as the day goes on, turning to the tan of fatigues, or combat-green.

These rocky mountais are evidence of a glacier's sharp turn right to head south, and bear all the marks of the distress this caused. Wrinkled as a rhino's hide in summer, in winter they are more resplendent, cloaked and shrouded in snow. As the sun sinks, they become glass mountains, often taking on an apricot-pink sheen from the reflection of the sun's rays.

Over the years, the distinctive jags on the tips of the northernmost end have become etched on my brain. They've become as familiar as friends. Even when far removed from them, I can still see in my mind's eye the saw-tooth ridge where the range begins, then the way it climbs to three higher points called The Three Sisters. Below them, a scarf of white snow picks out what is called The Queen's Drive.

I said the best thing about sitting out on the terrace was looking at the view - but that's not strictly true. The best thing about it is shutting my eyes, listening to the birds, the sound of the neighbours' children squabbling, the slap and thump of a speed boat making its way up the lake, the hoot of the old steamer Earnslaw as it sets off on its mid-day cruise, then (and here comes the very best part of all) opening my eyes again and seeing that it all hasn't disappeared. That it is true. That it is real; this view. This beauty.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Paninis and Sheep

(Those here to read the review of 'Luca Antara' - see 7th Jan. post below.)

ABM and I have had a pleasant day - lunch out with his parents (after a leisurely breakfast) at a cafe called 'The Book'. I have no idea why it is called that - I saw no books. But plenty of paninis. We talked about how there used to be just two choices of bread - brown or white, sliced or unsliced . Back when the word panini, as ABM's Dad said, simply meant an Italian street urchin.

Since then we have had a wander around a couple of art galleries just knowing our son M could/ should be on display ... one day, when the time is right. 'Patience achieves everything'. Or as my Irish great-grandmother Agnes Reid was fond of saying in her Derry accent, "Payshuns and per-severance." (Ah. A long-lost virtue I'm afraid Great-Grandma.)

The day is mild and dull. Not a bad thing as the sun here when it shines full-on is brutal and my skin cannot take much of that anymore. I'll just become one large freckle.

I am reading VS Naipaul's essays now. Devouring his reflections on the art of writing entertwined with his own writing history and his background. He is a favourite writer of mine - his novel, 'A House for Mr Biswas' is brilliant. Looking for something to read? Try that book. I know you'll not regret it. I also like his book, 'The Enigma of Arrival.'

I have been having interesting dreams while on holiday. One was about a sheep that needed shearing - half of it was shorn. The poor thing was quite lopsided and having trouble standing upright. It kept toppling over. "Somebody! Shear that sheep!" I was mentally shouting.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Places Near and Far

On holiday in Queenstown again, among the mountains and lakes. Taking time here in a cybercafe to write about that book I enjoyed reading so much.

Here are my thoughts on 'Luca Antara':

I think what I liked most about this book by Martin Edmond, was its patience. Which of course is all to do with the writer's style. Its three threads - narrative, mystery and autobiography are deftly woven, or in this case maybe plaited would be a more apt description, into a satisfying pattern pleasing to the eye and ear.
Ostensibly it tells of the possible earliest European discoveries of Australia, but as well, there are other tales to be told.
The book starts and ends with the writer's own relationship with Australia, in particular with the city of Sydney. It is a realtionship Edmond tends to divulge slowly, piece by piece. Or do I mean in a piecemeal fashion? Whatever. Both probably. I believe it is this meandering style, this slow suffusion, that gives the book its dream-like tone.
As a reader I was intrigued and entranced. I found myself drawn into both Edmond's inner and outer world as it was being played out in Sydney at its most surreal. The mystery deepens as Edmond sets out to solve a mystery, and then travels to parts of Asia and the Pacific in order to track down or establish details.
This last part of the book is the part I found most satisfying. It is where Edmond is perhaps at his best, a patient, laconic observer, never obtrusive, never opinionated, but simply a recorder of what unfolds. We read about what he sees, hears, smells ... of what he experiences as a traveller - which is often when life is at its most random; an aspect Edmond's able to capture well with pleasing subtelty. Effortlessly, he allows us to accompany him on his quiet quest.
Part of the experience of reading this novel is that we are led to wonder if maybe it is partly a fiction made out to be fact - or the other way around. Edmond's clever handling however ensures that as a reader I never felt I was being toyed with. Indeed, I was happy to be taken along for the ride.
I didn't actually want the book to end. I hope I can go on another journey soon. When's the next trip planned Martin?

Friday, 5 January 2007

Small Spruce On Top Of Head

POETRY THURSDAY ... is a cyberspace event I like to contribute to if at all possible. Today on my walk along the beach, lying scattered along the low-tide line, there were pieces of smooth brick shaped like cakes of soap, and shards of china, ceramic and glass gathered and dragged there from southerly coastlines. It put me in mind of one of my favourite poets and poems; Amy Clampitt's 'Beach Glass'. ( I decided linking to that poem would be my contribution for this week.)

Of course I couldn't help myself. By nature I am a beachcomber and so I arrived home with several good specimens. The beach glass is my favourite.


I'm like one of my son's paintings, ( see above - I scanned a rough drawing of his that was lying on the desk here by the computer) I feel like I've got a tree growing out of my head. Thoughts and ideas are sprouting and growing outside my skull. Like a science fiction character, or maybe a character in a Scandinavian-folktale, whose name translates to 'Small Spruce On Top Of Head'.

Today I packed Christmas away in a box. Literally. All the decorations and ornaments went back into the 'Christmas Box' and back into the wardrobe in the spare room until next year.

And we waved good-bye to S this afternoon as he set off on a plane and the first leg of his journey back to Japan. I cried a little. As you do when someone close leaves to go to another country and you know you won't see them for another year, at least. Already the house seems to echo from the space left by his absence. I'm sure that just on his own, he'd have enough energy to run a small generator. A bit like the one I remember my uncle used for his milking shed. We are left now with M's peaceful calm. And his old dog who mostly sleeps all day long. That is good too - but it will be up to us now to create our own energy. Not to be so lazy. Or held back by trepidation. (If we need instructions, I guess we can always text or email S! )

My 8-year old granddaughter got a mobile phone for Christmas. Now I get texts from her when she's in bed and meant to be going to sleep.

It was a lovely sunny and (dare I say) even hot, day today. Again I followed the sun around the house and backyard and read and wrote in it. My writing consisted of writing out some goals for the year - among them writing goals. For example, picking up and completing the 'novel' or whatever it will turn out to be. And chasing up this next poetry collection of mine. When I wrote out all the things I wanted to do, I realised that because I'm going to be working 30 hours a week in about a week's time, I'm not going to have enough hours in the day. I felt mild panic rise in my chest like a fast-encroaching tide filling up a rock-pool. It is the panic of a writer without enough time left over after earning her keep. I've counted up how many days of holiday I've got left (10) and promptly went into another panic attack.

But I managed to regain control ... I took deep breaths and picked up the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's collection of short stories, 'Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.' This book has glints of genius. But on the whole, so far I find the stories strange and removed. I guess the writer would say - Yes. Hello-o. That's the point. One of the stories I read today, called 'A Perfect Day For Kangaroos', is the story I have enjoyed most. Here is an example of the subtlety and quirkiness I liked in that story '... the mother kangaroo and her baby had become one unit, resting in the flow of time, while the mysterious other female was hopping around the enclosure as if taking her tail out on a test run.'

In one of those elusive, twining strands of coincidence, the book I was going to report on today, 'Luca Antara' by Martin Edmond - the book I've just finished reading and enjoyed so much - mentioned Haruki Murakami. Unfortunately I haven't left myself enough time after a very busy day, to explain some of the reasons why I liked the book. And tomorrow we head back to Queenstown again to see the folks for a few days. So there will probably be no time then either. I sense a theme here. However, I will continue to process my thoughts - as another twig sprouts from the top of my skull.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Can You Hear the Crickets?

This morning after I got up (at ahem 10.00 am - Well ... I was up writing and re-jigging my blog until 4.00 a.m.) I went straight to the swing-seat we got for Christmas and sat there in my 'jamas, dressing gown and bare feet, listening with joy to the crickets. Yes! Crickets. Yes! It was actually a warm and sunny morning. However, I am alarmed at how many signs of autumn there are ... wax-eyes visiting the berries on our cotoneaster bush, ripe plums on the plum trees ... Ripe plums means it's time to make the plum sauce my brothers and sisters all crave. But surely that doesn't normally occur until well after the end of January? The world has gone mad. ABM brought out a cup of tea and sat beside me, but he couldn't hear the crickets at all. He could hear the high-pitched chirp of the sparrows, but nary a cricket's chirp. Selective high-range hearing? What's with that?

I asked S again about the seagulls in Japan and he said that yes, there were seagulls in Japan, but the crows are the front-liners in the battle for food scraps. The seagulls over here in our crow-less land, don't know how good they've got it being the unchallenged kings of the picnic playground and car-park scraps. I think the only other bid that would challenge them would be the magpies, which have gradually worked their way down the country through the decades. In Southland when I was a child, there were no magpies south of Christchurch. It's different now. However, the magpies seem to prefer open country to built-up areas, unlike our friend the seagull.

M was telling us yesterday that the last time he went surfing, a seal came up to him. Seals are a bit of a nuisance to the local surfers as they (not surprisingly) see the black, wetsuit-clad surfers as a threat - another species of seal to challenge perhaps? - and try to upend the surfers by swimming underneath their boards. This time, however, M (almost by instinct he said) spoke sternly to the seal. Much as he would to his dog Jedi if she was being bad. "Hey!" he said eyeballing it and pointing his finger at it,"Cut it out!" And much to his surprise, the seal swam off.

S and I went for a walk along the beach from St Kilda to St Clair tonight. He is away back to Japan tomorrow. I don't want to think about it. It was 8.30 pm and the sun was beginning to get ready to slip away behind pearly cloud. The tide was out. The wind was very cold and brisk in our faces. We talked about how on tv tonight it was mentioned that it was the coldest December in 60 years. S reckons we in NZ should just get used to the fact that we don't really have seasons like they do in the Northern hemisphere. He said it's like turning a switch on or off in Japan - whereas here in NZ, it's more diffuse. He could be right. I believe in listening to the younger generation - perhaps they have a handle on the world that my generation are beginning to lose hold of. Maybe it's all different now. Maybe our summer is more February - March. (I jolly well hope so, otherwise we've missed out altogether this year.)

We walked as far as the posts - the wooden groynes that must be about a hundred years old now. I know I said I wouldn't be posting photos, but seeing as I have on hand a photo of those very posts, I will post it here.

I spent several hours today basking in the sunlight. Like a cat, I followed the sun - first outside on a deckchair, then inside curled up on the couch where the sun poured in through the windows. I read the last of 'Luca Antara'. I didn't want it to end. That's when you know you're reading a good book. I want to talk a little more about it tomorrow, after I have processed it a bit more.

As for my writing. I haven't written anything for a very long time ... I can feel the weight of unwritten material heavy inside my head. After S goes back tomorrow, I'll be able to concentrate a little more. I can hear him packing his bags as I write. It's not particularly a happy sound. Yet it is a sound I am not unhappy to hear. He's living an independent life and consolidating his future. In one of those dichotomies of life; I am glad and I am sad.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Still There In The Morning

The old year went out and the new year came in very quietly in our household. ABM and I stayed indoors and watched two dvds - 'Brick' and 'The Inside Job' (at least I think that was what the second dvd was called - a Spike Lee film anyway, so his direction probably made it better than it should've been.) Both were okay - we didn't feel cheated after watching them, just pleasantly entertained, and no brain cells were damaged or mutilated in the process. I thought Denzel Washington looked old and fat. But I like him better like that. More jaded and bitter. More believable.

Meanwhile outside the sky greyed to black. There were fireworks at midnight. We were going to walk down our drive, along the street and around the corner, for a better view. However the last dvd we watched didn't finish 'til right on midnight, so in the end we simply stepped out on to our landing and in the cool night air, watched as each unseen firework-shower simply caused the sky to pulsate slightly, the underside of rain-filled clouds lighting up as pale-yellow as week-old cream.

On New Year's Day itself, the TV news showed a round-up of the nation's New Year's Eve celebrations, including a shot of our Mayor Chin in full regalia, gustily singing Christmas carols to a gathered throng of grinning, round-cheeked Dunedin citizens. It was as cheesy as Dunedin gets. And believe me, that can sometimes be pretty cheesy.

The next day even though the weather was drizzly and unpromising, I decided we would go on a picnic and cheerfully prepared the necessary. The males in my household grumped and chided me for thinking we could have a picnic in the rain. But I was obstinate and decided. I was going anyway - it was up to them. They could come if they wanted. They came. As I knew they would.

We piled into the car - all five of us - and followed a tiny glimmer of light, until lo and behold, we found a glimmer of blue sky above Aromoana. Here we found a sheltered spot on the beach in which to set up our chairs and food. Smooth, small waves quietly lapped and licked the shore. We sat in the lee of the sandhills and ate our picnic meal in perfect calm.

When a couple of squawking, strident seagulls approached, adamant that we throw them a crust (we didn't - it only encourages them) S said he hadn't missed there not being any seagulls in Japan. Then he said that they have crows over there and conceded that they're probably worse than seagulls. He told of one time camping out overnight and waking up to discover that in the night crows had picked over the food they'd forgotten to pack away. He said the methodical way they'd picked over the food, choosing and discarding, gave him the creeps. Which inevitably led us on to a conversation about Hitchcock's movie 'The Birds'. Am I the only one who doesn't find that movie scary? S suggested it's more suspense Hitchcock is so good at building up in his movies, rather than raw fear.

Aromoana is a pretty place, but full of a weird oppression. As if everything is covered by an invisible, clear film. As we drove through, all appeared normal - family groups were out walking, laughing and chatting. Nevertheless, the thought that ten years ago in this small seaside town, people - including children - were murdered by a man with a gun, seemed to bubble silently under the surface. It was as if we glided underwater, the merest breath of memory enough to disturb the surface. None of us mentioned it at all, so I have no idea if anyone else thought about it. Yet somehow, at the same time, I know we all did.

On the way home we bought ice creams. S wanted a gum-drop ice cream - it was one of his many cravings after having eaten only Japanese food for a whole year. Pies is another. Sausages and Raro drink sachets are also among the things he's missed. And Colgate toothpaste - Japanese toothpaste sucks, he says.

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...