Saturday, 30 June 2012

Seen While Walking

Students have dubbed this particular flat 'Hotel California'. 'This could be Heaven or this could be Hell'. The orange chair left outside in all weathers (it's mid-winter here) is standard. More often than not you see sofas. Sofa burning is a popular pastime of some flat-dwelling students.

Art on an outside power meter.

When I was student - ancient history! - I well remember the smell of coffee from the Gregg's factory.  To a seventeen-year old from Gore more used to the smell of roasting oats coming from Flemings creamota factory, the smell of roasting coffee was a foreign fragrance. Alternating with the smell of coffee, was the sweeter, more cloying smell of instant pudding or cinnamon and other spices. I have it on good authority (Robert works in this area) that the smells from Gregg's still permeate the air.

This morning as I made my way through the student area and into town, I swear I saw Janis Joplin getting out of a dirty, white Holden station wagon. The smile. The red and blue feathers in her wild hair ... the air of a free-spirit despite the coldness. I almost expected her to start singing 'Summertime' as she waited at the money machine. 
(Of course the real Janis, had she lived, would be in her seventies now).

North-end George Street shop fronts. 

I chose north-end's Governors to have my breakfast and coffee. Governors has been a cafe in Dunedin for nearly forty years now. It has a downbeat, arty atmosphere, a welcoming, unpretentious interior (solid wooden tables and chairs, posters on the wall) which never seems to alter, yet somehow, still maintains an energy and its creative vibe.

George Street alley.

Octagon view, Dunedin. First Church spire in the background. The Regent (with its familiar cursive lettered sign) is a historical theatre Dunedin people have managed to hang on to.

Down Lower Stuart Street, I'm looking straight down towards Dunedin's ornate railway station. It was opened June 4th, 1904 (which if my maths is correct, makes it just two years away from being 110 years old ... not old by European standards, but by NZ standards, it's up there).The station has NZ's longest platform, making it ideal for fashion parades. The designer/architect was George Troup, whose ornate designs earned him the nickname, 'Gingerbread George'.

Before reaching the station however, there's Best Cafe, a Dunedin institution with Bluff oysters on its menu. In the window a poem gives a potted history.

I resisted the temptation to go in for a feed of oysters. It was time for me to stride out, take the road home.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


WARNING NOTE: Not sure that any MEN reading this will be able to identify. Maybe this is just for the gals - guys are welcome to read on, but don't blame me if you wish you hadn't ...

It's a poem about what it's like to have a MAMMOGRAM.

(A fellow-tweeter asked to see it after I told her I'd written a poem on this subject.)

Here 'tis Ali:

'hit me with your best shot'

Seeing as it’s my first scan she’s sympathetic,
to a degree, but has a job to do, criteria
to meet, good, clear shots are what's required
and they do not want to miss
even a shadow. She helps me
to stand, just so, to tilt my shoulder

and rest my right breast on the glass.
I think how much it looks like a fish
on a plate. The vice is applied 
to just over the bearable-pain threshold.
She says she doesn’t really enjoy inflicting
so much pain; “Did you take a Panadol? ”

I told her I hadn't. After two shots
I think it’s over - silly me. “Two more”, 
she says brightly,  "Side-view this time”. 
She suggests a cold cloth to relieve discomfort.
I remember my granny, the one
who carried a child with a broken arm

fifteen miles to the nearest doctor
and turn the offer down. Pioneer stock
has a lot to answer for. I look down. No, 
I decide, not a fish a butterfly, in a case,
wings opened out and pressed
forever at screaming point.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

'Picking up Feathers' for Tuesday Poem

the daisy and wildflower wreath that Jenny made for the van and mentioned in my poem, 'picking up feathers'. Pounamu (greenstone) catching late autumn light.

Thrilled that once again Michelle over at Glow Worm has chosen my poem 'picking up feathers'. This time she has chosen it to be her pick for Tuesday Poem.  Take a look!


Thursday, 21 June 2012


which way's up

Which way is the wind blowing today?
The birds feast on the bread I've left out,
wax-eyes, the greedy ones, a sparrow
in tweed feathers maybe gets a look in.
It's cold, the shortest day kind
of cold that seeps from the ground up.

Which way is the wind blowing today?
A hairdresser and I, the other day,
discussed the sarcastic tone
her kids use when they say, "Whatever".
"I just loves those two words". she said.
Winter can also come up with some gems

the way the light falls on to damp dark.
Which way is the wind blowing today?
No way. The air is too still, too quiet 
until the ten-twenty shift to sudden sun
-shine and a gatecrasher sky of blue. 
The birds cannot believe it. Whatever next?

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 18 June 2012

Taking Shelter

In New Zealand, we call these birds (otherwise known as cormorants) shags. When I was working out at the Albatross Colony, when us guides named these birds as shags, we sure did get some raised eyebrows.
I seem to have lost my ability to identify the different species, but I think I am right in saying these are Stewart Island shags.

These little guys look rather bedraggled. The result of winter storms I daresay.

 This is another type of shag; maybe a pied shag; also looking a little stunned as it takes advantage of the calm in a sheltered spot on rocks at the edge of the inlet.

In Māori sayings, someone obviously poised to leave is compared to a shag (kawau) ready for flight: ‘Ka maro te kaki o te kawau’ (the shag’s neck is stretched out). People on a determined course of action are ‘me kawau ka tuku ki roto i te aro maunga’ (like a shag making for a mountain face). Shags also symbolise tenacity: ‘E kore te kawau e neke i tona tumu tu’ (the shag will not move from his stump).The dejected air of a sitting shag gave rise to the Kiwi phrase, ‘as miserable as a shag on a rock’. (Thank you Te Ara - New Zealand Encyclopedia for this information).

Thursday, 14 June 2012

'The Bell Of Lough Lene' - Flash Across Borders Entry

... rainbow over Anderson's Bay, Dunedin

New Zealand is to be the Guest of Honour this year at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  

The Frankfurt Book Fair: An Aotearoa Affair 2102  is a blog set up to celebrate this fact.  

June is Flash Fiction month in New Zealand (June 22nd is New Zealand's Flash Fiction Day). Go HERE to read more about that.

To celebrate this, Aotearoa Affair is featuring short, short stories with a Flash Across Borders edition of their Blog Carnival. 


I have joined the Carnival with a short, short story of my own:

The Bell of Lough Lene
By Kay McKenzie Cooke
The way it entered the water would've been like a stone hurled high, dropping straight down, thunk, like a cut through the water's skin. I picture trees. Probably different from our trees here in New Zealand. I imagine the darkness as the bell fell. I imagine fog all over the island and swirling around the lough. A lough is what we would call a lake.
The small bell lay there at the bottom of the lough for hundreds and hundreds of years until discovered by a boy, about my age, fishing for eels.
It's shaped a bit like my grandma's coal scuttle. The boy had wanted to give it his mother, but after he showed it to Mr Barlow Smythe, it ended up in a museum.
“Okay everyone, time to finish what you are doing. That includes you, Ryan,” the teacher's voice breaks into my thoughts.
I rush to put the last strokes to the drawing I'm copying of the bell's image from the information I've downloaded. 
It's funny how it's as if I can feel the weight of the bell in my hands. As if I can hear the way it sounds when hit with a stone, like something I have heard before somewhere else.
I try to imagine what it must have looked like round here when all of Ireland was covered in trees, including this island. Now there's hardly one to be seen, just stone walls and smooth fields that run right to the edge of the lough.
From the rock I stand on, I throw in the long line, enjoying the sound it makes as it falls. All four of its hooks are baited with squirming worms. I am dead keen to catch the large eel I have had my eye on for some time. He lurks under the rocks but always emerges for any bread I throw him. This time though, I intend to catch him. Mr Barlow Smythe's words are still ringing in my ears,
“Young lad, if you catch that eel, I will buy him off you.”
I feel guilty because after all this time of feeding the eel, he has become something of a pet.
Something tugs on the line. My heart races as I slowly pull it in, although I know by the weight it is too light to be the eel. I pull up something covered in slime, weed and mud. After washing it in the water, I see it is an old hand-bell. I bang it with a stone and make it ring. I wonder how long since it has been rung? I will take it home for my Ma. She is sure to love it.
In trying to save the bell, I lose it to the darkness. When I tripped on a tree's root, down it fell from my grip. I could not see where it landed but imagined I could hear it slicing the water with a thick splash. This makes me keep a tighter hold on all the other monastry treasures.
There are reports that the burning and looting strangers are not far away. Seven times the monastry has been burnt to the ground and again the monks have asked that the valuable things be either taken by boat across the lough to the island, or on foot to places where they will remain hidden until safer times return.
I will maybe search for the bell in morning's thin, grey light. If God be on my side, I might find it in the bracken. But I cannot tarry. I must get to the cave, pressing on over rough ground.
I am fourteen summers old. I send a swift prayer to Jesus and Mary the Mother of God, to have mercy on me and keep the handsome bell safe. I believe however, that for now its song has been stilled. For how many years, I cannot know.
(713 A.D.)
I rub my hands down the sides of my leather apron. The bell has a pleasing four-cornered shape. Aye, it is handsome to be sure. My master is pleased, I can tell by his silence. For a lad of my age, I can be well pleased with myself. On the way home, I kick a stone, scattering Old Tom Reilly's ducks. Then I break into a merry and carefree run.


P.S. There really is a bell of Lough Lene, discovered by a boy fishing for eels and now housed in a museum in Ireland - Google it!

Go here to read the writing that has so far been featured in previous blog carnivals.

From Wikipedia: Flash fiction is a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as three hundred words, while others consider stories as long as a thousand words to be flash fiction.

The term "flash fiction" may have originated from a 1992 anthology of that title. As the editors said in their introduction, their definition of a "flash fiction" was a story that would fit on two pages of a typical digest-sized literary magazine.

Other names for flash fiction include sudden fiction, microfiction, micro-story, short short, postcard fiction and short short story, though distinctions are sometimes drawn between some of these terms; for example, sometimes one-thousand words is considered the cut-off between "flash fiction" and the slightly longer short story "sudden fiction".

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Stadium! Or Is That A Dirty Word?

the old looks in at the new ... Logan Park and trees as seen from inside the stadium ...

I like our new stadium. There, I said it.

For those who have no idea of the import of those words 'I like our Stadium' let me try to explain. For those who care ... (actually I can't really believe I do myself, not being a sportaholic per se. My only excuse is that I come from a family of them and I'm married to an ex-basketball player and now, golf-addict -er).

Dunedin had a stadium (although it wasn't called a stadium, it was called Carisbrook - aka The Brook and House of Pain - and designated as a rugby ground rather than a stadium). The House of Pain, had character and even (until they added a huge roof) had what was dubbed a 'Scotsman's Stand' situated by the railway line, where people could look down on the ground and watch the game for free. Carisbrook had history and huge sentimental value, but time and use was having its effects and after one hundred and thirty years it was time for either a major overhaul, or for something new.

... we went to watch a game of rugby some smarty-pants described as 'the game that doesn't matter' - but we'll leave that for now. It was between the South Island and North Island - a historic event I take it ... South Island won (yay!) My sister, when I told her that 'we' the South Island had won, she (who lives in the North Island) asked - "Who were they playing?" Needless to say, she's definitely not a sports fan!

Dunedin people were divided about the stadium; if anything though, more people in Dunedin (those who were going to have to foot the bill for this new stadium in their rates bill) were AGAINST a three-hundred-million-dollar stadium. After all, it was mainly going to be used for rugby and not so much for rock concerts and definitely not for literary events.

... at half time the little guys had a go - called Ripper Rugby, because instead of tackling the opposition, they rip a velcro strip off the side of their uniform ... More often than not, the kids headed off in the wrong direction when going for a try ... too cute ...

Lots of protests were lodged against this stadium and protest marches were held. Dunedin has a large creative / cultural sector and I cannot think of any of my writing friends who were for the stadium. A fence-sitter of old, I usually held my own counsel on the matter. Even my daughter, who is an avid rugby fan, was against it. I tended to wonder why they didn't just overhaul The Brook, but was told this was an unviable option - one reason being that it was situated in a bad place as it was hard to get to and there was always problems with parking.

Dunedin's City Council ended up giving the stadium the green light and despite weighty opposition, our State-of-the-Art stadium was built. Huge frustration was (is) felt by a large number of Dunedin's population. They feel that they have had no say, no power, no influence and what's worse, through the rate's bill, are forced to pay for something they don't want and which is of no benefit to them.

It also seemed to prove yet again that Rugby Heads always get what they want in this country. You have to live in New Zealand to realise just how much power this game has over the whole country and how unfair it seems to those of us (the minority) who don't actually see rugby as that important. If there was a fairer dispersal of public funding, it wouldn't be so frustrating. However, the Arts don't get a look-in when up against RUGBY (any sarcasm eke-ing through all those caps, intended).

So far, we have attended four or five rugby games at the stadium (didn't make it to Elton John's concert - I heard it was cold and that the sound system had problems, so maybe, sadly, it is not a stadium well set up for concerts anyway). I have enjoyed the fact that it is has a roof and a great atmosphere. The food and drinks are expensive though, so we don't buy anything there.

We figure we are paying for the stadium (which went way over its budget and has put the council into debt - as well as the local rugby club) so we intend making use of what we are paying for.

As I said at the start of this - I actually like our stadium, nicknamed by some because of its shape as The Lunchbox. Others think it should be called The Albatross (as in an albatross around our necks, I guess? maybe?) Or, The White Elephant. Personally, I think it looks like a Dish Rack, but reckon it should be nicknamed The House of Panes.

Anyway, as I said  at the beginning of this (as it's turned out) long explanation, the new stadium, whatever you want to call it, doesn't stick in my craw like it does for some of my friends. I can appreciate its engineering and I feel a sense of pride that touring rugby teams don't have to put up with antiquated (for all their historical and sentimental value) amenities.Plus, who can argue against the fact that it's better spectators don't get soaked in the rain, or suffer from exposure to bitter wind-chill?

However, any qualms I do have will completely disappear if the Dunedin City Council gets behind a mammoth Arts Festival (no Hire Fee) featuring VS Naipaul, Fleur Adcock, Jack Vance and Diane Wakoski. Plus a 'Real McKenzies'  rock concert, with Dunedin's alternative group, Bradley Initiative, as the opening act.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Signs and Wanders

birds on our bird table will become a familiar sight from now on 

Today winter is biting - at the time of writing, a cold rain has chugged in from the darkened sky. I remember when we had kids at school to collect, if it was going to rain, it always seemed to arrive right around three o'clock when school gets out. Lo and behold, today the rain that has been threatening all day, arrives at 2.35 p.m. A few waxeyes made tentative visits to the sugar water on the bird table, but it may not be sweet enough as they didn't seem too fussed today.

You know winter has truly arrived when birds are seeking food closer to human habitation. This morning I heard and saw tuis close to the house, while all around, I could hear the rusty-hinge squeak of wax-eyes - or silvereyes. The Maori name for these tiny birds, is tauhou, meaning 'new arrival' or 'stranger', because unlike the English song-birds, such as the thrush or blackbird, the wax-eyes weren't introduced into New Zealand, but made their own way here around 1832.

You know grandchildren have been when after they've gone you find finger marks on windows and computer screens, soap on the mirror, a chewed muesli bar under a cushion and plastic toys in odd places (like the cowboy which R. found guarding a bowl of nuts and raisins and the turkey I found in the biscuit cupboard).

The yellow leaf is one V. found on the ground on our excursion to the Gardens. She held it between her finger and thumb all the way to the car - through the clammy-aired hot-house where we threw coins into the gold-fish pond and made a wish (she's only two and a half and looked adorable standing with her eyes closed while she made her long and silent wish. Her four-year-old-brother, on another visit there with me, promptly announced aloud in two seconds flat that he'd wished for Buzz Lightning). Next we went through the Cactus House - eerie and slightly menacing in a dry and vacant way - V. still holding the leaf - then past the late roses and to the car.

Once in the car, she continued to hold the leaf the whole journey to my house. I found it on the coffee table after she'd gone back home.

 grey heron

A walk around the inlet on Saturday yielded the shy heron paddling the low-ebbed water to rustle up some food.

agapanthus seed-head

a fern frond retracting - in the background the summer garden-seat we will need to store away in the next few days ...

no winter mud evident on the boots, yet ... 

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

All The Roads And Shortcuts

Weird cloud visitation - taken a week or so ago during a walk right as the sun went down, a good time to take the air.

Seagulls are naturals.

Wooden stairway to the Surf Clubrooms, St Clair.

A photo taken after rough seas dragged buried rubble from the sand-hills.

A born collector, it did my heart good when handed a bunch of 'wild flowers' gathered by another born collector.

Today the weather forecast is for snow-in-the-air. Winter has well and truly arrived.

'the long and winding road'

Unravel the many tangled lines
of paths that no longer exist,
the pebbled one through heavy leaves
leading from the mailbox
to the corner of the house,
tracks through mud that pongs of frogs,

through grass crusty with frost
each pale blade clearly marked,
or that bulldozed lane that cuts
through clay, claggy yellow
and weighing down
the soles of my boots.

Line them up, all the roads and shortcuts
those threads on a loom
as present as this road I walk on now
is solid, yet how fast it disappears
into the future, how quickly
it turns into what has passed.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Good-bye Autumn, Hello Winter

Autumn has been served ...

... and now it is winter. Not that I mind winter - having a winter birthday on the Southern Hemisphere's equivalent to the Northern Hemisphere's Christmas Day, 25th June, certainly helps. Although I do recall a downside - when I turned eleven, I cried most sorrowfully because a heavy snowfall had prevented Mum from buying my birthday present in time. That was just one of many occasions I was told not to feel so sorry for myself.( I actually came to think that 'feeling sorry for myself' was a sin. So much so that at Confession, I'd dutifully confess how many times I'd felt sorry for myself 'since my last confession'). Thus began a lifelong habit of tabulating sorrows.

A sight I always miss when our sons leave after coming to spend time with us again. This time it was Chris out with the skateboard. The first thing he bought when he got back from being overseas was a new skateboard.

For days our house was soothed by the mellow tones of Jenny teaching herself Beethoven's bagatelle, 'Fur Elise'. She noticed that our piano was made in Berlin and a connection was made between Jenny (born and brought up in Eastern Germany) and our piano.
Now our piano lies quiet again, 'Fur Elise' only playing in my head.
It's a dappled tune full of quick steps, slow pauses, sun and shade, light and shadow, gladness and sorrow all mixed up and following on. I could picture falling leaves and rushing water. Jenny's worries that I would get tired of the constant repetition, were really to no avail. The tune swam into the background, providing a motif for the days that she and Chris spent with us.
When they left three days ago now, the house and the piano seemed to utter a deep, sad sigh.

P.S. But do you know what? Remember how I wasn't looking forward to seeing only two toothbrushes? ... Well unbeknownst to us, first Chris decided (secretly) that he'd leave his toothbrush behind and then when Jenny found that out, she decided that she would leave her's behind too. Chris wrote a poem and left it with the toothbrushes. When I discovered it after they'd left, I cried.

So, we still have four toothbrushes ... and a poem.

We left behind our toothbrushes
resting safe between yours
where they can hear Grommet's meowing
and the creaking of the floors,
where you can say good morning
to their bristly little faces
and they will beam back happy
in the loveliest of places.
We will pick them up again
the next time we come home
it's just nice to leave something here
an anchor while we roam.

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...