Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Happy

The best part of the year happened for us this last month, when our grandson Roi Oliver Douglas was born in Kyoto, Japan.


A new year provides a marker, a milestone reached and the beginnings of the next stage. Measures, markers; the tick of the clock.
Back in the eighties when our sons were small, we always had a large vegetable garden on the go, but we let it lapse when rampant consumerism caught us up in its swirl.

Today we bought a compost bin. I love that it looks like a dalek.

Some resolutions ...
A job change for me.
More picnics ... more photos ...

Writing-wise, I aim to focus on my third poetry collection.
Plus the novel that won't let me forget that it now exists - however embryonic. It keeps growing attachments and limbs; hey! It's organic. But it needs lengths of time I haven't available at the moment. (So make that another reso. To manufacture massive amounts of time to concentrate on writing a novel).

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Fancy Flights and Rainbow Fins

From the deck here at my in-law's home in Queenstown, we can see what's going on around the lake. Like the boat that tows people attached to a parachute out to the middle of the lake, air filling the smiley-face 'chute as they travel and causing them to float up quite high, until the boat stops and they gently float back down on to the water for what I imagine to be a rather wet and chilly re-entry.

Of course flight is no clumsy novelty for this tui and what's more doesn't cost him a penny. The consummate free-loader, here he is helping himself to a feed of honey water.

The seven male 'cuzzies' (cousins) here at Granny and Grandad's for Christmas, went on a Boxing Day, overnight fishing trip on the lake, arriving home twelve hours later with 14 trout - a mixture of brown and rainbow.

Some of which were cooked for tonight's tea (smoked over hickory chips on the barbecue).

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Merry

It seems strange not having a photo to add to this post, but I'm unable to access my photo file at the moment. We have woken to a grey kind of Christmas morning here in Queenstown, where the extended family have gathered from all corners. There will be twenty-one for dinner.
As it's my in-laws, I am an outlaw! but after thirty three years I am starting to get used to their different and funny ways (compared to my own family's twisted ways!)
We are about to have the sherry and a piece of Christmas cake and then open the pressies under the tree. Better go, I think I can hear a van heralding our son and d-i-l's arrival.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


This beautiful amaryllis was given to us by Robert's parents when just a bulb and some leaves. After bringing it home, it only took a week to flower and provide a slash of crimson in our sun-room.

Christmas is slowly drawing near ... I finally brought our potted Christmas spruce tree in from the cold.

'And I was bought and sold
And all I ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold.'
(Joni Mitchell)

It may be summer here in the Antipodes, but so far (this far south anyway) summer has yet to dig in.

Speaking of digging, an old tractor tyre that used to be a sandpit in the days when I did Home-based Childcare, has taken on another role - as a handy lettuce-and-spinach-grower.

A little like this happy, old kettle that has been reincarnated as a pot-planter surrounded by the ice-plants that remind me of summer days at my Nana's place, with its warm, wooden verandah at the back of the house.

Hopefully our slow-to-warm-up summer season will take note of all this transformation.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Has the Weather Really Changed All That Much? According to Early '80s Entries, Apparently Not.

On this day (Dec. 4th.) in 1978 we were in Scotland and it was Monday. In my Five-Year Diary (one entry per page per year for five years) I wrote: 'Tricks of light today with a huge black cloud hanging over Aviemore and where the sun could get through or under, pools of light have lit upon a hill or part of the village. On our way back from the shops the light was golden and quite beautiful.'
Then down the page to 1979: (Tuesday) when we were back working in Dunedin, New Zealand, living in a flat in Duncan Street: 'Fine day today with a bit of wind. On Sunday we had terrible strong winds and the pot plants on the verandah blew over. Tonight we went for a run ... full moon above the town ... '
Then in 1980: (Thursday) when we had moved to Manor Park, Lower Hutt, Wellington and had just had our first baby son: 'Gusty weather. Had a long sleep this afternoon and felt better for it. Robert's very tired these days! He always goes and gets Steven when he wakes up through the night, and that's a great help. We're gradually learning all about what being a parent means'.
1981: (Friday) when Steven was just over a year old: 'A nice day outside, but I was stuck inside with a dreadful tummy bug. Stevie was excellent and played around in the bedroom, hardly grizzling at all. Robert arrived home at last!'
1982: (Saturday) when I wonder why I thought American basketballers wouldn't be nice? 'A lovely sunny day. Robert was playing basketball for St. Pats on an outside court. A lot of Americans there but they're nice!! It was nice in the sun. We all got sunburnt.'
And note the comment re all of us (that would include the babies) getting sunburnt - a major disaster these days! but back in 1982, just an indication of how hot it was.
However, by 1988 in another diary I note that my attitudes had changed - along with society's no doubt - when we were back in Dunedin and with three sons: Monday, December 5th: 'Today dawns bright, still and sunny. Perfect for the school picnic at Brighton beach. The water was so gentle and light, I could easily have gone for a swim. But there was seaweed and seagull feathers to find! I got sunburnt but the boys didn't as I'd covered them well.'
In 1989 I read an entry about how I was no longer going for walks (or jogs) on my own after an English tourist was murdered on Mount Maunganui ... A fear of walking alone in lonely spots that is still with me. New Zealand had lost its innocence; no longer was it safe for women to go jogging or walking alone, especially in isolated places.
I stopped writing in diaries in the early 1990s. Looking (and reading) back, the days when the children were little seem to be the happiest and most fulfilling times. As they got older and more independent and I began to forge a career for myself in Early Childhood, things began to become a lot harder. More angst-ridden. More complicated.
I still look back on those early days (when I was in my early thirties) as my best years, the happiest years.
Not that the present time is horrible. I have the time and space now to write, which I didn't have back then. I can sit back and chill with a glass of wine. Like I'm doing now, in a silent house and only the cat wanting to talk. (He's a tabby and tabbies are known for their cat-chat.) Robert will be back soon from having a 'few hits' out on the golf course. Just like back in 1979 and 1980, it is a day of gusty winds so it will no doubt be a battle for him out on the links course he frequents. And when he gets back we'll have a light tea and the night will quietly unfold and dissolve. Not a bad life. I should write an entry in the diary. Oh, that's right. No need. Now there's blogging.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

cutting the lawns zig-zag

This cute little fellow was in Steve's in-law's garden in Japan ... just sitting there, being green.

Like the froggie above, I'm just not in the mood to hop to it. Not Christmas shopping, or baking, or trimming trees, wrapping presents, or writing lists. I'm not in the Christmas mood at all. Yet. I need some drizzly weather and the smell of tar-seal roads steaming in the rain. I need to hear the Jim Reeve's version of 'Little Drummer Boy' playing in a crowded mall, the panicked, crush of last-minute Christmas shoppers dashing out of the rain into shops, the mid-shopping cup of coffee to collect my thoughts, cross items off my list ... I need the smell of Christmas lilies, pine, candles, mowed grass ... I need the weirdness of windows and Christmas cards decorated with snowy scenes, robins and sleighs in the middle of our summer, to impact. As it will. I hope. From past experience it usually finally hits me around the 20th. (People try to enforce the mood far too early these days.)
Back when I was a child, Christmas was heralded mid-December by the appearance of crepe paper Christmas decorations pinned to the kitchen's low, pinex ceiling. Streamers flowing out from the light bulb in the middle like ribbons from a maypole, with novelty concertina-ed paper decorations pinned in the spaces between - my favourite was the rooster with a gaudy tail.
Another sign that Christmas was imminent was the wooden crate of fizzy drink bottles in the wash-house. (Us kids all 'baggsing'* the Ice Cream Soda). And Mum panicking over getting all of us kids bathed, the goose plucked, gutted and stuffed and the lawns cut. One Christmas Mum enlisted the help of older cousin Neil to cut the lawns. He got the hand-mower with its wooden handle, ridged wheels, swirly blades all lined up and ready to go. Mum showed him where to put the 3-in-1 oil so the blades and wheels would turn smoothly.
"How do you want me to cut the lawns?" he asked, checking to see if there was a preferred method - up and down rows? Or maybe a square pattern, starting from the outer edge and gradually working in to the last tiny square in the centre?
"I don't care," Mum said, "You can cut them zig-zag if you like, just as long as they're cut."
I was most disappointed when he chose to cut the lawn in a conventional up and down manner. I was sure he'd leap at the chance to cut them zig-zag; I knew that's what I would have done.

*baggsing - baggsing something meant that you had first dibs. (I'm not sure if this is a kiwi expression, a Southland expression or one just made up by us kids ... We would 'bags' the pudding dish, bags sitting in the front seat of the car etc. As there were seven of us, it was a matter of survival).

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

twin peeks

I have no idea why, but I have a mad urge to have two blogs on the spin at the moment. My other one is here if you want to check it out. I think what I'm aiming to do with the new / different one is to have a simplified site (no sidebars, links, gadgets or photos) in which to chronicle any writing progress and processes. Feel free to visit if you wish; no worries if you don't.

What I Didn't Know I Had Forgotten

A photo from my father's album - his first rabbit? At a guess, I would say the photo was probably taken around 1935 - 36 when he was about fifteen years old.

At nine years old I graduated from writing with a Black Beauty pencil, to a fountain pen. I was the proud owner of a marbled-blue, Osmiroid fountain pen with a rubber, inner tube that constantly needed to be tanked up. Along with the hit of raw ink (pungent yet not unpleasant) I remember the fountain pen’s hand-warmed plastic, the taste of its chewed end and the ease of its nifty, lever-operated filler. Sometime in the late 1960s schools admitted defeat, allowing blue ballpoints to be used for general writing (rather than allowing just the use of red ballpoints for ruling margins) and thus fountain pens became redundant.

My father used to keep a diary, writing in small, navy-blue diaries with a thin, capped pencil tucked into the spine. My mother still has all the diaries, except for ‘1963’ which I’ve manged to get my hot little hands on. The entries tell of domestic details and hard yakka: Monday, 10th of June, 1963: ‘Carted two loads spuds sold a porker to Snow Egerton £8 fed pigs cows Fine can of milk from Milton Herrick’.

The pencilled words are smudgy, faint and uneven, almost to the point of being child-like. The word order is endearingly wonky; after reading a few entries, it dawned on me that the word ‘Fine’ interspersed at random in different entries isn’t an adjective, but a reference to the weather that day. Without my father making the effort to each night write down the day’s work done, we would have no record of it. The work is recorded in endless, pencilled, farming verbs: drafting, tailing, lambing, feeding out, clod-crushing, dagging, topping, crutching, sub-soiling, harrowed, weaned, killed, culled … again nothing spectacular, but they are one of the few records we have of his life.

For years I kept diaries too, full of the mundane. One of the entries in 1984 describes the explorations and discoveries our four-year old son was making as he negotiated the labyrinth of language and imagination: ‘Tarati’ is a regular visitor to our home. An imaginary friend whose mother lives in Queenstown. Sometimes she has green hair and a yellow dress.”

Whenever I read these entries, clear associations flood in. I play with time. I recover the past and bookmark it in order to keep its place in the present.

Writing on a laptop is not as earthy as pen and paper. It doesn’t show the sweat. No holes are rubbed in the paper. Sometimes I have a yen to write with a fountain pen again. One with an old-fashioned nib shaped like a digging tool; not unlike the chisel plough my father mentions in his diary. A pen that I need blotting paper for and an ink-well to fill ‘er up. But even if I did act on this I can’t see myself ever surrendering what has become the norm for me, writing on the laptop. Seeing the letters already formed for your fingertips to pick and choose, is more remote than forging the letters for yourself from lead and ink; in fact it feels like cheating; and compared to this clean, calculated method, manually creating the letters yourself with a pen or pencil is honest spadework. However, achieving effortless crisp and professional writing on the screen, becomes addictive.

Writing stored online, or in a computer’s hard drive, isn’t as easy to take a hold of as writing that’s kept between the pages of a book. At present I am using my old diaries as a research tool in order to re-discover something of the mood of the 1980s and ‘90s when I was deeply into parenting. The diaries, tactile and sturdy in my hand, help me to remember what I didn’t know I’d forgotten. When I read Dad’s diary, the feel of its hard-backed cover tucked in my palm, is part of the pleasure. I read it to recover a father taken away too young, too early. Part of that recovery is to see in the entries, his handwriting with all its imperfection; words scratched out, clumsy arrows to the bottom of the page where he has added something he forgot, the mis-spellings, the lack of punctuation. Such revelations would be impossible in any online written piece, historical or otherwise.

Whether I write in ink, pencil or by tapping on a keyboard, like my father there is also something in me that drives me to chronicle my life; to break twigs and leave some sort of a trail. I’ll let my father have the last word: Tuesday, 12th February, 1963:‘Weaned Goargina, Bobtail, Black Slit Ear Got mower ready for Hay went up Stan Shaws to cut Hay too many thistles cut some up top Hoggett Block Fine’.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

End Result, New Begins

I'm back to report I didn't make the word total of 50,000 for the NaNoWriMo. However I came close enough to 40,000 words to feel a sense of achievement. I now have the gist of the novel nailed down. The characters are real (and talking to me). I know where to start and where to finish and generally what will be in the middle. All I need is the time to write the thing. Two-hour blocks aint gonna do it. Even dedicated-writing-day blocks (unless they are endlessly end to end! And wouldn't that be nice?) The novel will be shelved and I will sneak back to sporadic poetry. For now. With a sense of relief.

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...