Saturday, 29 September 2007


Part of Dunedin's Octagon - with Town Hall, Robbie Burns statue and spring flowers.

Took these photos today on my way to the Art gallery to have a peek at what DPAG has on display right now.

We weren't disappointed. Laurence Aberhart's black and white photos were stunning. Secret structures with shape and symmetry; interiors (of churches, community halls ... ) that tell of life stilled after an event. A huge amount of building frontages. Of Masonic Lodges, cemeteries and containers of one sort or another. I need to go back and take it all in some more.
As ABM said, in art galleries your head quickly fills until you cannot contain any more - of either images or ideas of images. My favourite was of the Waikaia cemetry. Waikaia is a town I know from my childhood. Relatives on my mother's side live there. And are buried there. The photo Aberhart took of the cemetery represented a Waikaia I am unfamiliar with. It appeared gloomy, dark, barren, unvisited and abandoned - the opposite to the brightly painted houses and sunshine-soaked town sitting below brown hills, that I remember from my summer holidays there. However, I could relate to the space and span - and to what was visible behind the tall, white statues all in a line; the Garvies. Or was it the Umbrellas? Waikaia lies by the river that flows between these two mountain ranges.

On Friday night I went to the launch of the book 'The Gorse Blooms Pale' - Dan Davin's Southland Short Stories, edited by Janet Wilson. I was sad to have to miss Maxine Alterio's launch of her novel 'Ribbons of Grace' (unfortunately on at exactly the same time.) But because I am in Southland reading tomorrow, I felt I needed to go to the launch with the Southland emphasis. I am looking forward to buying 'Ribbons of Grace' next opportunity. Maxine is a fine writer and is also herself a champion of her home province of Southland. She has always been encouraging and supportive of my own writing; all of which makes me feel even more of a heel for not attending her launch.
Wendy Harrex, Editor at the Otago University Press, read out an account of her memories of working with Dan Davin in her days at Oxford University Press in the seventies, when Davin was the Boss there. Fascinating stuff. Among other interesting facts, she described how there was at that time, hundreds of workers there. Hard to imagine that ...
Janet Wilson, the editor of the book 'The Gorse Blooms Pale', is a Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Northampton, UK and is an expert on Davin's work. I was leafing through the book after buying it when R said to me "Did you know you've been cited in the acknowledgements?"
I couldn't believe it. Why? When I read it, I see that it was for comments on Orepuki. Well I never.
While all that was happening, and ABM was spending some time at the golf course, little did we know that Son M had got his nose well and truly smashed after his surf board got caught by a wave and flipped up. Pools of blood and a dash to the hospital. In the bus! They'd tried to reach us for a ride, but we were both unavailable. However, all's well that ends well. The hospital gave him the all clear, and luckily he has no broken teeth.
Well that's half of my weekend. More to tell tomorrow.

Thursday, 27 September 2007


From Wikipedia.

Kōwhai is the Maori word for yellow, from the colour of the flowers.

The Kowhai is the national flower of New Zealand.

(Note: The 'wh' sound is pronounced 'f'.)

We have three or four kowhai trees around our house. This is a photo of one which we can see through our kitchen window. Its buttery yellow declares that despite the bitterly cold wind and rain, despite the skiff of morning snow on the hills, it is indeed spring.

Only Friday (tomorow) and then Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to go at the early childhood job and then - albatrosses here I come!

Meanwhile, I am preparing for the two readings I have to do before then ... plus being an m.c. for a third.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

... the story so far ...

The piece below, along with the picture above, is the first instalment - written by Seamus Kearney for the Shameless Lions Writing Circle collaborative Short Story.

The new watch that Grace's husband had given her the week before slipped inside the sleeve of her coat as her arm went up in the air. She felt she had no control over the movement, as though it were completely natural for her to be hailing a cab in the middle of New York. She felt as if she were being directed by remote control. 4:42pm, October 7. She made a mental note of the time, thinking it might be something she'd always want to remember.

"I just want you to drive," she said as she got in, avoiding the driver's eyes.

"Drive? Drive where, sweetheart?"

He sounded like he might be Middle Eastern, although the writing on photos and cards above his head looked like it could be Greek. She also noticed African music coming from the radio.

"I'll let you know. For now just drive anywhere. Wherever your instinct takes you."

"That is strange."

"Yes, it's strange. Please just drive. Anywhere."

"Whatever you say, sweetheart."

During the few minutes it took for the cab to rejoin the flow of angry traffic, she stared at the entrance to the subway that she'd been using to get home every night for the past 12 years. Ample time to change her mind. She turned off her mobile as the cab swung into Third Avenue. Happy trumpets played as a grainy picture of Sebastian and the two little ones faded into black. (1)

Seamus nominated me to continue the next piece ... which is what follows.

Grace sat back and tried to relax. All her muscles were tense. She moved her head a little from side to side to try and release some of the tension in her neck. She made an effort to relax her face muscles that she was sure were drawn up into a tight mask.
As the cab swooped along with the stream of homeward-bound traffic, a sudden gust of wind swirled fallen orange and red leaves into a mad dance. She found their dance mesmerising. It reflected her mood of being drawn into a wild dance, almost out of control. Where the dance would lead, she had no idea.

“Ok sweetheart?” the cab driver sounded uncomfortable with his role of just driving anywhere.

She nodded, still not meeting his eyes. She wished he would stop calling her sweetheart. She didn’t feel like anybody’s sweetheart.
She looked down at her tan boots and noticed one of the toes was scuffed. She fingered the money purse inside the large red shoulder-bag sitting beside her like an obedient pet. She would have to watch the fare. After all, she only had so much money to go on. She made herself stop biting her fingernails as she tried to figure out just where she wanted the taxi cab to drop her. (2)

For the next section I nominate Wanderlust Scarlett

Friday, 21 September 2007


This first sequence of photos are from my library and are of the St Clair playground mural. The mural was painted in the 80s or 90s, and if I am correctly advised, is about to be removed due to large-scale renovations happening to the St Clair beach frontage. The paintings on these walls are no doubt part of the collective memory of a lot of twenty-something Dunedin-ites.

Another poetry reading at 'Circadian Rhythm'. This time Bill Direen was the m.c. and Scott Hamilton the featured poet. It smacked of an invasion from the north - of cerebral wavelengths. Bill's journal 'Percutio' was launched, and those contributors who were there read their contributions.
Some of the audience looked bemused. Some laughed quietly at Bill's comical takes on poets and poetry. (For example, near the end of proceedings he posed the question, "Anyway, what is poetry?" And then answered himself with a string of intriguing definitions, among which was the strange: "It's lying down.")
The night had a smidgen of the poetry slam about it - maybe as close as Dunedin ever gets to such a thing. The Circadian Rhythm didn't exactly rock; however it might be fair to say it juddered a little at the mild mirth, the muted catcalls and snide heckling.

The fact that both Bill and Scott (from what I can gather anyway from their respective website/blogs) are punk-refugees, may have something to do with the mysterious timbre to the night. I felt slightly left out, I have to admit. There were snarly undertones I couldn't hook on to and in-jokes I never got. I felt old and dim. Subtle references and dangerously intelligent remarks, tend to go over my dull head. In comparison, I am slow. I've never been able to keep up with the clever ones in the class. I guess I've always been something of a try-hard nerd. I don't know what category I fitted into at high school. Never clever enough to be a nerd, never pretty enough to be popular, never sporty enough to be sporty, never radical or political enough to be a feminst, a hippie or a punk ... I guess bespectacled, quiet bookworm (librarian?) was the closest I got to any title. (I bet you anything no-one remembers me!)
I read three short, unimpressive poems. I realised afterwards that I didn't introduce them, so they were over and done with in the space of two minutes. I'd call them poems from my dead-poem zone. The muse has deserted me at the moment. Maybe that happens after a book launch. The muse believes you've got enough to go on with and does a runner. I miss my muse - whatever that is. Person? Persona? Symbol? Figment? Pretension?

But how on earth did I get on to all that? ... I am trying to tell you about the poetry reading ...

Scott Hamilton's poetry I found to be grounded, interesting and almost-narrative. I liked it. The subject matter hints at the subversive. His poetry can sometimes segue, then end in an unexpected and abrupt manner, which I also like. He admitted to being a fan of Dr Who and sci-fi; an influence which I think adds an interesting edge and depth to his poems. He read in a non-bombastic, slightly self-deprecating manner. We like that down here. He was good value.

Peter Olds read again. The first reading he did was as a contributor to 'Pecrutio'; his classic poem about South Dunedin's pie cart. Between stanzas, Bill Direen read the German translation. Nice. Very nice. I could've listened to more of that.

Phoebe Smith also took the podium to read some of her conversational, quick-witted, entertaining, dramatic (in the sense that each poem could be a short act in a play) poetry. Seamless, articulate, clever, funny and easy to listen to. Her delivery is that of a consummate performer, which is not surprising given that she's a well-known Dunedin actor.

David Eggleton also read - no poetry event in Dunedin is ever complete without him. I noticed the heads of several listeners keeping the beat. David's a rapper of old. Even before rap, he was rapping. Some would say ranting - and indeed, have. But rapping is probably kinder.

Sandra Bell, also read a South Dunedin poem. I relished the references in one of her poems to a misty Mount Cargill, a large hill that slightly looms on Dunedin's horizon. As we left, it was good to catch up briefly with N who was outside, her glass of wine sitting on a parking meter. N actually lives on Mount Cargill and she verified that for half the year it is indeed covered in mist. She lives there in a hut. She invited us to come visit. One day I will. I hope someone there will give me directions, otherwise knowing my sense of direction, I will spend days lost in the mist searching for her.

Before I start work at the Albatross Centre, I still have the week ahead and the first three days of the next week at the early childhood centre. Of course I will miss the staff and the children and their parents. I am not heartless. However, there are things I will not miss. After more than twenty years in this sector, I am well and truly ready to go on to something else.
Lovely L (who is on holiday now, so I won't be working with her again) gave me a bottle of wine yesterday as a good-bye gift, as well as a gorgeous bunch of yellow roses.

Yellow roses are dear to me. They remind me of how my Dad gave my Mum a yellow rose every anniversary. Wine is also dear to me, but for very different reasons!

This morning I treated myself and ran a hot bath. I also made a pot of tea in the teapot S brought back for me from Japan,

to have on hand. ABM thinks that a bath is good for the plumbing. He believes that it's possible that when all that the water is let out, it clears the pipes of any unwanted, potential blockages. As he is a science teacher, he's usually right about such logical and reasonable premises. And I am happy to oblige if a long, hot bath is part of the theory.
While in the bath, I finished Diane Brown's 'There Goes Another Vital Moment' - a deliciously frank read about her experiences in Europe. She went there with her partner, Philip Temple, after he was awarded the Berlin Fellowship. Interspersed with these impressions, is her angst as a parent of teenage son back home. I could identify with a lot of the frustration that being a mother of a teenage son causes, so well-described by Diane. Like me, she remembers former times with a sweet boy. Do mothers of sons ever get over the transformation of 'sweet boy' to hairy, non-verbal teenager? My experience is that they do go on to develop into wonderful young men; however, the remembered soft-skinned, affectionate boys who hug and kiss and give you butterfly-kisses on your cheek, is something never regained. If you let it, it can be heart-breaking. However, most mothers, Diane and myself included, do survive that stage. We recover and go on to experience the humour and energy and joy that fully-grown, loving sons offer.
How Diane's relationship with her partner Philip, another well-known NZ writer, weathered the stress of displacement is also honestly described in this book. The revelations are always subtle and more often than not, couched in descriptions of tense moments. I like the way Diane captures the incidentals and co-incidences, or serendipitous moments, such as the one that led to the title of the book. Those things that come across your path when you are travelling or journeying. I also enjoyed the references to the actual job of writing, and to the competitiveness as writers between her and Philip. It is an interesting and well-written book.
I also read a little more of Graeme Gibson's 'Bedside Book of Birds'. As well as the beautiful side - the myths and legends about birds - Gibson includes accounts, horrifying in their pragmatism, of people slaughtering and hunting birds, even as small as wrens and chaffinches. The bit I read this morning was about a young lad who killed and bagged about eighteen small migrating birds which he'd first lured, albeit in an ingenious manner, and then shot with a home-made sling-shot. Not for the squeamish.
I guess these accounts remind us of the blood-thirstiness we human beings exhibit towards the creatures we share this planet with. It is a good thing to add to the mix whenever considering our place in the food chain. It actually reminds me of my father - a man who truly admired and liked birds - but who wasn't, in his younger days, above killing the native wood pigeon, kereru, a NZ bird that has been protected since the early twentieth century. When talking about this recently with my mother, I said I'd never eaten 'pigeon pie', to which she replied, "Don't be too sure about that."

I am looking forward to doing a poetry reading in my old haunt of Southland - the province from where I hail. I will be reading at the Invercargill library on Sunday 30th, at 2.00 pm. The next Friday, 5th October, I head to the North Island to read at the Palmerston North library on the Friday night at 6.00 p.m. This is where my Mum lives, so it's an opportunity to visit her as well as startle a few unsuspecting residents of Palmy. Invercargill and Palmerston North aren't exactly the cultural capitals of NZ - which makes them all the more attractive. No expectations. Just the assurance that those who do come to listen are there for all the right reasons.


Thursday, 20 September 2007


Crocuses and dew.

Dewey Duck.

Morning magnolia.

Lunchtime daff.

Teatime moon.


Sunday, 16 September 2007


Managed to prise the camera off K today and download the photos I had on it of part of the walk to work each morning through the Gardens

and of one of the two lions there ... hopefully, when I find the time to take them over there, both lions can make a visit to Shameless Lions Writing Circle

and the crocuses - taken a fortnight ago before they fully opened ...


I also managed to take a couple of photos around here - just to prove spring has arrived ...


I get the camera back tomorrow, so will be able to post some more photos through the week.


Saturday, 15 September 2007

Cool Change

Frost is what keeps us from being invaded by locusts and ants. Besides, I have always appreciated its clarity. The clean canvas. Shards of air snap frozen.

This photo taken of frost on a fence near Orepuki, is not my own. I picked it up from the internet about year ago and now cannot locate the source. If it is yours, or you recognise it as someone's you know, please let me know so I can properly acknowledge ...

Later: After hours of searching I did manage to find the photo ... here is the site where I got it from. The photograph turns out NOT to be of frost, but of spider webs in fog! And it was taken by Nanette Sinclair.


Of course now with spring’s arrival and plum blossom scenting the air with a thick, dusty sweetness, the frosts are fewer. Blossom on a large plum tree below our house, catches my eye with its whiteness - like a descended cloud. Or a patch of un-melted snow. Every morning as I pull back the concertina-ed, wooden garage doors, the sound of the bolt I can never be bothered to raise, scrapes over the concrete and is always followed by the tootle of our local bellbird. As if saying that it'll look after things while we are out. One of our cats grizzles at our departure and heads up the driveway towards the neighbours. The nose of the car swings by trees silently growing back their leaves.


At the Poetry Readings on Wednesday night, Richard Reeve was the featured poet. M.C. Sue Wootton introduced him with some robust quotes from past reviews of his poetry.
He read a long poem from his soon-to-be-published book, ‘In Continents’. (As far as I can tell, any ambiguity in that title is intentional.) He also read seven rhymed lyrics about outlying islands in the southern ocean. He had my full attention just at the very idea of poetry being written about the outlying islands of the southern ocean. Solander Island in particular, it being almost a mythical part of my childhood landscape. As always with Richard’s poetry - it blew me away. ‘cloud orchards’ and ‘rashers of kelp’, just two of the striking images typical of what Richard's packed poetry offers.
Richard’s subject matter is always from the ground up. If he ever strays to include the sky, one can guarantee a return earthward again to plumb the depths of the soil. Or to listen to shellfish in the mud giving off blind signals as to where it all began. There is not another landscape poet like him.

Among the other readers on Wednesday night, there was the beautiful Tahlia Matthews who read a priceless poem about a friend’s experiences with some pet ducks. Funny, tender, sad, realistic, conversational and dramatic - it was pathos at its finest and perfectly delivered in Tahlia’s customary dead-pan style. It is a poem that deserves a good agent and a wider audience. Given the exposure and the chance to travel, I believe that poem has the makings of a kiwi classic

Peter Olds delivers astute, honest poems with a street-wise reality - salty poems that come to the reader from dog-eared places where despair or fear threaten to haul away any hope. On Wednesday night, Peter read out a very funny poem about flying and what the fear of flying does to one’s sense of composure. His descriptions of his fellow passengers on the plane were cutting and somehow very familiar.

Another treat was hearing a young man quote a poem he has memorised from his childhood - a Tolkien poem called ‘The Mewlips’. Fantastic. Kudos to this lad’s mother who read poetry to him when he was a kid.

As Sue put it at the end of the readings, Wednesday night at the 'Circadian Rhythm' was a night that John Dolan would’ve enjoyed immensely, because it had ‘range’; something that Sue remembers as being important to John.
(It was good to hear John’s name mentioned. We miss him and his wife Katherine. Afterwards, among a few of us, desultory comments were made to that effect. Dunedin, post-Dolan, somehow still has a hollow ring to it.)

I like this ABM quote (he can come up with some good’uns - not always for public consumption however!) While trying to describe someone who's a 'waste of space', he came up with this definition: “Their bodies are only useful for carrying around their heads.”


K took Jedi for a walk the other day and ended up carrying her after she got stuck on some rocks. Jedi is now in her 80s in dog-years. We wonder if she’s suffering some sort of dog- Alzheimers, as during a 4.00 a.m pee in the backyard, she took off and had K (still in her pjs) running off down the street after her, desperately trying to call out quietly so as not to disturb the sleeping neighbours.
Jedi has a really bad, arthritic leg which she can’t usually put any weight on, so keeps hoisted up. K gets sick of people asking, “What’s wrong with your dog?” She says she wants to hang a sign around Jedi’s neck that says. ‘I suffer from arthritis. I am old.” K says it’s like an old person with a walking frame continually being asked, ‘What’s wrong with you?”

My daughter has the wickedest sense of humour. Working longer hours has meant I haven’t been able to spend the time I used to with her and my granddaughter.
One time we were talking fanciful nonsense - something we like to do - and imagined post-nuclear children. (Let’s just say it’s a sci-fi thing.) R made up this scenario of a mother explaining about her child to another.
“He’s got no toes, but at least he’s got all his fingers - which is a bonus. He’s only got half his hair - but then you can’t have everything. And he’s got clear skin ... Well ... it does glow at night, but then, doesn’t everyone’s?”
She kills me.
The other day she was taking their dog Ace for a walk and as she went past some road-workers they called out,
“Does he bite?”
R’s riposte?
“No. He’s pretty fussy.”
She said it wasn’t until she was just about out of earshot that she heard one of them say,
“What did she say?’
And then they burst out laughing.


I'm still having to resort to using photos from my library, however, K. my d-i-l, is dong some great work with the camera and it's great to see her so inspired. She has a Fine Arts Degree, so the Canon is in good hands.

Meanwhile ... I am continuing to use my eyes alone.


And now for the biggest news of the week:

Soon - in 30 days to be precise - I am starting a new job here.

I am very excited to say the least. I can't wait to swap small children for large seabirds!


Sunday, 9 September 2007

The Things You See When You Haven't Got A Camera

Sparrow on tanalised, wooden fence-post. Taken at my brother's farm in June.

At the moment I am without a camera. It is hard not to be able to take photos of spring - such as the abundance of plum blossom around our house. However, I would rather K. has it just now so that she can try out for a photo comp.
Meanwhile, I am having to commit to memory such sights as the one I see each morning in the Botanical Gardens, of purple crocuses covering a patch of lawn. Every day they open up a little wider. And then back in our own garden, the emerging kowhai flowers. The blue matchheads. The new-green koro of unfurling ferns.


I have spent the day pottering. I did a little sweeping - spider webs from walls, leaves from gutters and paths. And in the garden, I did a little 'scratching' - I can't in all good conscience call it actual weeding.


I also took some time today to sit outside and finish reading 'Mr Pip' by Lloyd Jones. This book has been short-listed for the Booker Prize. I prefer his earlier book, 'The Book of Fame.' 'Mr Pip' wasn't as riveting as I thought it was going to be.


A. called round with a bunch of daffodils from her garden. The scent of them immediately transports me back to being a kid on a Saturday, out rambling the paddocks around our home and spotting a yellow sea of wild daffodils. As we make for them, an annoyed flock of geese we've disturbed, waddle and yell ahead of us. We pick huge bunches and bury our noses into the cool, astringent scent. We feel the run of cold, sticky sap trickle down our thumbs, under our cuffs and all the way to our elbows.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Bring Back the Bike

This is a favourite photo of mine. Taken by S when he was living in Toyama, Japan.

There is something admirable about bikes. Go here to read S's effortlessly-written impressions of bikes and life in Japan.


Avus has restored a vintage Raleigh bicycle. You can see what a magnificent job he's done here.
Such workmanship and attention to detail I can only gawp at in wordless admiration!

It put me in mind of a poem I wrote about ABM's Raleigh bike.

blue Raleigh

Loose-mudguard rattle, sixties'
and your faithful charger
on through the seventies
and eighties.

The only thing it guzzled,
your energy. One day
in the nineties
just before you finally
dumped it,

the boys and I spotted it
parked in its usual bike rack,
a donkey in a stable
of mountain-bike thoroughbreds,
a tin fork

in a canteen of silver cutlery.
To them, an object of ridicule
and shame. Already they'd forgotten
the familiar kerklunk
over the driveway's kerb

and the brake's strangled screech
outside the front door,
their cue to hurl themselves
headlong into your handlebar arms.


An old bike also featured in a poem of mine ABM read out at M&K's wedding.

it's a relic

Saw it, loved it, bought it at the tip for four dollars,
an old-fashioned bike with a red, round, winking tail-light,
a torch-shaped front light driven by a dynamo, a carrier
and - this is the coup - 'straight handlebars'
(their hands draw them for us, square in the air.)

It's another of their lame ducks - they have an eye
for such things, M&K. They're into classic retro.
He wears his father's cast-off 80's t-shirts. They prefer
the calmer waters of this 21st century's white-water
rush; the slipstreams, where you find discarded treasure.


I got my first bike when I was eight years old. That was also when I got glasses. So there I was, this scrawny little thing with a short haircut and fringe, big front teeth, freckled face and pink-framed glasses, riding my new, sapphire-blue bike along a quiet, gravel road. As the humming tyres ate up the road underneath them, it seemed to me that the world had suddenly become far more manageable. I was riding the top surface of the planet earth. I was going places and getting there faster.


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...