Sunday, 28 February 2010

Looking Forward

A full-on week. In the middle of it, the birth of a lovely, little granddaughter, Vienna,

held here by her proud, older sister.

On Wednesday, I took part in a lunch-time poetry reading in the Chinese Gardens, as part of the celebrations for the Chinese New Year.

Poet David Howard.

Poet Michael Harlow.

Poet Emma Neale.

As we read, a 'tiger-ish' wind whipped our faces with the tassels of a Chinese lantern. Fittingly so perhaps in this Year of the Tiger. (Someone told me that people born in the year of the Tiger have been known to have been left off wedding guest lists because of the reputation they have of stirring things up!)


That was my Wednesday, with bookends Mon, Tues, Thurs. and Friday, full working days on either side. Thursday was my last day of work as a signed-up staff-member. I have bid farewell to staff meetings, professional development forever! (I'm now a reliever; an independent, freelancer doing relief teaching when it suits.) I'm reminded of one of my sons who after completing his last maths exam stated as he threw his maths books to one side, "No more maths for the rest of my life!" (Not actually true. In my experience, maths is to be found in everything and no matter how much you detest it, is impossible to wriggle out of entirely). Also for me, the fact that I still have to earn, means I will have to accept some of what work comes my way, even if not always convenient. The working life hasn't completely gone away, like maths.

And maths is also involved when trying to keep track of ancestors ... for example, calculating just how many great-great-great- grandparents one has. I lose count after only going back three or four generations. A family tree it seems to me is as monstrous as the tree in the film 'Avatar', which we went to see last night.

Parts of the film did somehow make me think of William Gibson's cyber-punk book, 'Neuromancer', which has a superior plot ('Avatar's' plot is extremely thin compared). However, Cameron's stunning visual effects and sledge-hammer political messages do produce a visually-stunning film (the gigantic tree is still in my mind's eye twenty-four hours later).

One of the poems I read out on Wednesday was one I wrote especially for the event. The charge that fired it was the fact that as I was reading it out, my new granddaughter was arriving and all the people that had gone before her and into her make-up, were very much on my mind.


Born in the ‘Year of the Tiger’

just like her sister and her mother,

all three of them tigers.

Who could have predicted that?

Certainly not

my great-great-great-grandparents

left behind in the unlit interiors

of womb-like coffins,

who if they knew how

would surely text

their congratulations

at the birth today

of my fifth grandchild.

Yet despite their stopped hands

and mouths made dumb

by death, they do still

make their presence felt,

the olds,

putting their hands together

to dance and clap

in the wind

the quiet clamour

of their applause,

the sound of flax

leaves clattering

like blinds.


In March, along with other poets, I am reading at the Madras Cafe Bookshop in Christchurch as a guest of the Canterbury Poets' Collective. Tim Jones, a Wellington poet, has generously posted an announcement (with some great links) of this event. Joanna Preston also links to this autumn season of poetry readings in her blog 'A Dark and Feathered Art'


Monday, 15 February 2010

In the Year of the Tiger, Outside the Bonny Bank of Clyde

Was it only last weekend that we went on our getaway? On the Sunday morning we went from this (the view from our cabin in Wanaka) to ...

... the town of Clyde which backs on to the Clutha dam. I could never live in this town - as darling and full of historic atmosphere as it is - I'd be too nervous about all that monstrous build-up of water at the back of me. The dam might develop a leak and then where would I be?Up to over-my-chin in wide, muddy waters ... Silly maybe, but it's for the same reason I could never live right on the beach-front; for fear of tsunami. (I'm fearful like that).

However, a coffee in the sun outside the old Bank of New Zealand, is just fine.

I spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering with camera in hand while Robert played golf. After a while it dawned on me that it was actually Valentine's Day (so that's why there was a heart swirled into the froth on the coffee - doh!) and here I was wandering about on my own while everyone else seemed to be paired up ... Oh well. The fact that Robert and I love each other is a given; no PDA necessary, even on Valentine's Day.

I loved this church gate.

And these church bells.

And this dairy is adorable. (Talk about nostalgia! Is that a shadow of my Nana walking to get the messages, cane basket under her arm, with her perfect hairset and wearing her Osti dress and black velvet slippers?)

Please don't knock down this old tin shed ...

I found a vintage museum! It was closed so I took photos through gaps in the wire netting. I think this is a John Deering ...

On the way home, we just had to stop and take a photo of this daggy country airport! with a tin can to put the 'landing fees' into.


This Thursday I am going to be part of a lunchtime poetry reading happening at the Dunedin's Chinese Gardens. Apart from the privilege of being a part of the event itself, to help celebrate the Chinese New Year, I am happy for the opportunity it gives me to write something new, as well as to get back into the 'world of poetry' which I've kinda missed. (In saying that, I have also enjoyed the chance the break has given me to re-group without the intensity of regular poetry readings and events).
I just had to write a poem about the fact that my 5th grandchild (a girl) is due that very day (by C-section so it's pretty much a sure thing she will be be born that day). As well as that, both her and my other granddaughter (plus their mother) have all been born in the 'Year of the Tiger'. What are the chances?


Saturday, 13 February 2010

Finding Gold

We set off for a break-away weekend on Friday night after work. When we went for an early evening stroll from the camping ground where we stayed that night, the soft rain on the warm roads brought back childhood memories of Queenstown for R and summer holidays in Waikaia, Northern Southland, for me. (And playing tennis after tea, in Gore).

As we set off for St Bathans, the wind and rain edged behind us, saying ‘please excuse’ on its way past. The Maniototo landscape was its magnificent self; dry, desert-like land stretching to a distinctive mountain border, the wide sky bursting with blustering clouds fighting a losing battle for their place in the sun.
The small town of St Bathans is a little off the beaten track (and the road we took to get to it was gravel) but it's certainly worth the trip.

The old gold diggings are testament to the fact that desecration of the land is not always ugly - in this case, nature and weather taking over the remains of brutal, high-pressure sluicing by miners, to form sculptures from the exposed, pale cliffs.

In this photo, Robert is sitting outside the local hotel, known for its ghost. While sitting there drinking his coffee, and as I was taking the photo, a woman went past with the laundry (you can see her in the photo holding a pile of sheets). On her way past the wooden seat farther along the wall, she said, "Hi Joe", to what appeared to be an invisible person. Uh-huh, thinks Robert, she's saying hello to the ghost. Then he noticed that lying in the shade under the seat was a dog (no doubt called Joe).

After leaving St Bathans, we headed deeper into Central Otago, driving past rural settlements newly spruced-up for the tourists and people following the two-or-three-or -four? day long, cycleway along the old railway line. I kept an eye out for Kyeburn* and what I knew was once the country school of a friend of mine, and was rewarded when I spotted the faint, but unmistakable, outline of school-buildings complete with swimming baths. Sadly it now has the glum, run-down appearance that disused buildings take on.
As we drove into the small rural township of Omakau, we saw that their annual A&P* Show was in progress. It didn’t take us long to decide to stop and have a gander. We ended up staying a couple of hours. Long-gone, it seems, are the days of the large A&P shows I remember, ones that lasted for two days with merry-go-rounds, plastic windmills, ferris-wheel and chair-o-plane rides, Miss 'Whatever-Province' competitions, bonniest baby competitions, candy-floss, clowns, ballerina dolls on sticks, highland dancing, wood-chopping, toffee apples, carnies running their suss, evening side-shows and in the Grand Parade, impressively scary bulls and vain roosters, obstinate pet lambs and calves, obstreperous shetland ponies ... However, at the Omakau show, the remnants stalwartly remain. As soon as we got out of the car and smelt horse-dung and heard bagpipes, we knew we couldn’t be anywhere else but at an A&P show. We found pens of woolly sheep, bagpipes, horse jumping, hot chips in a paper cup, and there was even a Grand Parade. As we headed for the car, over the loud speakers came the announcement that the Jack Russell race was about to begin.

From there we headed for our Saturday night destination, Wanaka's Top Ten camping ground. Past a serious array of business-like vineyards that pooh-pooh any idea of wine-making as a mere cottage industry, we sped, past the long Pisa Range, its trademark, snipped-off tips marking a blue boundary to the west, to sit basking in the last of the sun and eating a tea we made up from what we had left over in the picnic basket and chilli-bin.


*Kyeburn - there is a story (apparently bona fide) that an early settler surveyor (John Turnbull Thomson) under instructions to name the district's creeks, settlements and other notable features, wanted to use Maori names, but his superiors told him that this wouldn't do at all. In a fit of pique, he named them with Gaelic names for common farm animals; hence names such as Kyeburn ('kye' meaning cow) Eweburn, Wedderburn, Hogburn etc ... But the best one of all has to be naming the main road through, Pig Root. To this day Southern Highway 85 is known as The Pig Root. (I just love that!)

*A&P - stands for Agricultural and Pastoral.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

'air loosely tethered'

This land is now part of the Michael Hill golf course, but back in the 50's, it used to be Robert's aunt and uncle's farm. Robert's mother remembers walking across these paddocks from the small cottage they lived in for a short time, to visit her sister in the farm house, clambering through barbed wire fences to get there. Robert would have been only about 18 months old at the time. His father recalls that the cottage just had a rain-water tank and when that ran dry, they'd have to fetch water from the water race up the hill at the back of the house. There's a photo taken during their time there of Robert as a one year old playing 'dolf' with a wooden spoon. Quite prophetic really, come to think of it.

While watching the golf, I noticed the grasshoppers, daddy-long-legs, dragonflies and skylarks. (Skylarks appear to like golf courses). I kept picturing the place as it used to be; peaceful and lonely ...
Of course, to the insects and birds, nothing has changed. They still go about their business, despite the crowds following swinging golf clubs, temporary tents selling gold watches and BMWs encroaching on terrain they inhabit and feed off. It put me in mind of accounts of birds singing in the middle of war - of how soldiers on the battlefields could hear them still singing above the tumult of gunfire.

A bunker-like sandpit for the children. Not that were many children there. Pretty boring place for children, a golf course, I'd imagine. Especially when they hold up the 'Quiet Please' sign.

Near Alexandra on our way home. New Zealand's equivalent of a desert (rocks and sheep). I find this bare, rocky aspect very appealing. There is a poem in 'made for weather' in which I try to capture something of this.

near Alexandra

A western sky suggests
the promise of air loosely tethered
and space and light. Of breath
blowing through
the pleat of mountains.
Warm wind through wire.
Of opening out
an accordion of sun.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

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...