Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Day in the Lifetime

... for the sake of the birds

You can tell by their expressions that at the time of taking the photos, these were not happy felines! I took the photos soon after they'd both been fitted with bells; an attempt to stop them from catching birds. They look quite disconcerted. They couldn’t work out what had suddenly tilted their world. The fact that they both jingled as they sauntered threw them, and they looked at each other with suspicion and fear. Typical siblings, they seemed more than ready to blame the other for this sudden, noisy misalignment. During the day they were fitted, they crept miserably about, hounded by what must have seemed to them to be a type of tinnitus. Cats guard their dignity with some fierceness, and this insistent, silly accompaniment has caused them an uncomfortable discombobulation.

Not even a week later Grommet, the male cat, has caught a bird. As it was on a blustery day, I am thinking the bird may not have heard the early warning system.


... a day in the lifetime

The bus I catch has opera playing over the sound system, an indication of this day’s determination to be a little different. After I get off in the town centre, I look for somewhere to get a coffee, noticing on the way a young woman at an outside table who’s talking in a foreign language to someone on her laptop. Skype-ing home maybe? How rapidly technology has changed communication ... When we toured Europe in 1978 our parents had to wait a week for our postcards to arrive before they knew where we were.

While drinking my coffee, I see a man walking past outside with two babies (twins?) each in a buggy linked to the other like carriages in a train. Does this mean the horizontal mode of twin transportation has changed to linear? Or is it simply a matter of more choices for the consumer? Who knows. As a tail-ender babyboomer, I’m feeling more and more these days like I can’t quite keep up. Not that I’m complaining, I rather like my slow lowlands where the mist lifts every so often to reveal a tried and tested, true-blue sky. My mantra is fast-becoming, ‘what do I know?’ A pleasant enough accompanying theme tune, the lyrics created by myself as I go along. (Come to think of it - this mantra is not recent at all ... more along the lines of lifelong).

It’s always a momentous day when a grandchild’s on the way ... I keep thinking, this one arriving today, a girl, will be my fifth, and reel a little at how fast it's all happened. In no time at all from the girl in Skellerup gumboots clomping across green, Southland paddocks, to suddenly: a grandmother of five.

At an outdoor market in the Octagon I buy a new tin of Rawleigh’s 'Salve'. The tin we’ve had in our bathroom cupboard for thirty years is actually starting to rust. Rawleigh’s tins look exactly the same as they always have (maybe there are some things that never change.)

I have in mind taking a look at Dunedin’s ‘poem on the wall’ in Burlington Street. Over the years, I’ve read this poem a few times, in its original position. When I see the permanent, brass plaque made of it, I’m disappointed. Didn’t the original poem mention a blue hat? Was poetic license taken when they made the plaque? I remain a little suspicious and will never know for sure ... Memory does play funny tricks. Maybe the blue hat only ever existed in my imagination. (The immortalisation of someone’s street poetry is kinda cool though).

It’s time to go to the lunchtime poetry event in the Chinese Gardens. Unlike people suppose, not all poets are fond of performing. I heard a writer say on the radio that writers generally tend to be shy, introverted people who hate any public exposure, then added, “Oh, except for poets who love to perform”. Hey mister, I beg to differ. I do not particularly enjoy reading my poetry out in public. However, when asked I always appreciate being asked and would never refuse an invitation. The rewards of the engagement it gives me with those who come to listen and the connection that is made between the poetry, myself and the listeners, always makes it worth it. This day I’m looking forward to reading with friends - three other poets I’ve read with before. I’m going to enjoy myself and not be the ‘shrinking violet’ I was once accused of being, many years ago now. (At the time - Struan Robertson - it sounded to me like I was being accused of having some sort of a disease).

Despite the pesky wind knocking over the lectern and flapping tassels of Chinese lanterns in our faces; and despite the trains rolling past taking with them any words being read out; the reading goes relatively well. (The well-trodden cliche of ‘a small but appreciative crowd’ comes to mind). I’m buoyed by the surprise attendance of my husband. The trickster - not telling me he was going to be there. Straight after the readings, he tears back to work. My friend Ann’s a surprise too (after I realise the Garbo-ish person in sunglasses taking shelter from the mid-day sun under a floppy, straw hat is her).

Time now to go to the hospital and meet the newest grandchild. On the way, walking past factories in the bright sun (the sunshine that my Japanese daughter-in-law when she was over last summer, found so harsh ... and I don’t blame her, with only a thinned ozone layer between us and the sun to dull its beam, NZ’s sunlight is very sharp indeed) the wind is still intent on mischief and throws grit into my eyes. This is a painful experience when you wear contact lenses. I am literally stumbling blind, cut by a combination of sunlight shards and grit. I duck into an office building’s basement car park to doctor my streaming eyes.

Of course my granddaughter’s amazingly perfect. My daughter’s sleepy, so I don’t stay long. As I leave the hospital, I hold the image of my granddaughter’s face - her shut-tight eyes. In fact I’m thinking about her so hard, I apparently miss seeing among the other buses, my bus arrive and depart again. After thinking it was taking its time, I ask the woman sitting beside me if the Shiel Hill bus has arrived yet. “It’s just this minute come and gone again,” she says looking at me as if I’m crazy. And I don’t blame her one bit.

I tiredly plod up our driveway, still in a pondering mood, and spot a monarch butterfly adorned in tigerish colours. It sits patiently while I take its photo and then flip-flops away. My heart sinks when I see two or three birds fly after it. (My only hope is that as they are seed-gathering wax-eyes, they probably aren’t after the butterfly so much as the berries of the pittosporum). Butterflies live very brief lives, packing a lifetime into just one day, totally unaware there’s any other way of living. On one level, this could well be the definition of bliss.


McDinzie said...

very thoughtful moments. I love the expressions on the cats faces...speaks volumes!

You realise you are starting to have true senior moments...missing buses?!?!?

dinzie said...

It's funny how we never see the catapillar stage as being part of a butterflies life .....I think it would be great if humans did that as well....A complete and glorious metamorpohosis to live life to the fullest for that one final day .......

Anne S said...

Nice cat pics and I hope the bells work, though they have already proved a false hope. It seems, in my experience, that only old age really kills the urge in cats to hunt birds.

Can you still get Rawleigh's products? I remember the Rawleigh's man coming through the neighbourhood when I was a child.

Katherine Dolan said...

This essay is itself like a monarch butterfly -- fluttering lightly over Dunedin with an eye for brilliant detail. It lingers over a resting place for a moment, then lets itself be moved.

Kay Cooke said...

McD - The cats were very perplexed and expressed such consternation. Poor things ...

Dinzie - You're right there's more to a butterfly's life than just that one day as a fully-fledged, adult butterfly - I think we humans go through similar stages ...

Anne - We'll see what happens with the cat bells ... it's a bit of an experiment at this stage.
Yes we used to get the Rawleigh's man calling too .. no more. Only at the occasional market (or I guess on-line ordering as well).

Katipo - Thanks, I love that description! :)

Crafty Green Poet said...

what a lovely post! I feel a bit sorry for the discombobulated cats but as a bird lover I'm happy to hear they've now got bells (even if they don't always work!).

I am also not a huge fan of performing my poetry in public (though other public speaking doesn't bother me!). I've just accepted an invitation for a 20 minute slot which is more than I've ever done before.....

Becky Willis Motew said...

stunning photos as do you do that?
The poor cats...but what choice do you have? Are they used to it yet?

Claire Beynon said...

Perhaps we would all do well to live as the butterflies do... also taking into account the incubation period that precedes their brief winged life?

Hello dear Kay - another wonderfully detailed post, thank you.

I have nominated you for a Sunshine Award - please pop across to my blog for details? XX

Kay Cooke said...

CGP - Thanks - yes I am looking forward to feeding the birds w/o fear of them being easy targets, this winter!

Becky - Yes they are getting used to their bells and so I am happy too!

Claire - Yes I like to reflect on the stages of the butterfly's life and correlations in our lives. Thanks for the award - am popping across now!

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