Thursday, 28 February 2013


After a hot, still day, the evening fell into mist.

Mist, like snow, provides a new background, highlighting plants I might otherwise pass by.

Strange to look out upon a harbour fore-shortened by grey fog.




The guano-stained bird roost looks like a floating island.

I Can Hear You

'singing in the wire' 
(* a line from the song, 'Wichita Lineman' written by Jimmy Webb and sung by Glen Campbell)

The song is a clutch of mailboxes
at the end of an undulating road,
an unsteady stack of bee-hives
beside poplars.

The song is the whine from a transformer.
The song is a white bridge,
crickets, roadside grass sapped dry
through a summer that just will not let up.

The song is a power pole's pale-brown
ceramic cup receiving a direct hit.
It is a clod flung by my brother.
It is looped bars laid
against the white paper of a gravel road.

Released the month my father died,
the song can still bring me the valley
where we lived that year,
still bring me the sound of mourning,

of wind through wire, of the loneliness
of country roadside verges,
but in the end, the song does not deliver.
You can ask too much of a song.
After all, it is just a song.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


A poem written about the time my family moved from the countryside to Gore after the sudden death of our father.

'Immigrant Song' *
And there was always the library,
the rustling insides
of its deep-red brick,
the smell of ink and old sellotape;
its confinement
oddly comforting

On the way home
one of my sisters would read while she walked,
only looking up to cross the road.
We’d cut through the Gardens,
where the caged kea called,
its keening clearer at night

when alienation is especially felt,
as if the kea expressed the same ache
we felt, of sudden transplantation
from wild green; the orange flame
of under-wing feathers
closed-up behind cold wire.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

*Immigrant Song: Title of Led Zeppelin song. (On an LP I played many times at this time of my life - in my bedroom at 27 Devon Street, Gore.  The house no longer exists, replaced by ownership flats. The L.P. still exists. It was sent to me by a penfriend - a generous Californian teenager by the name of Ross Armitage. I would never have listened to Led Zep. of my own volition , so thank you Ross, Postmaster's son** from Santa Maria - or wherever you are now - for encouraging me to listen to music other than Pop and Country & Western.)

** Ross became my penfriend when in 1969 I wrote c/- Post Office, Santa Maria, California - the old drawing pin on the world map trick -  asking for a penfriend!! and the Postmaster handed the letter on to his son. 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Taking a Photograph of a Mountain


They showed us pictures
of their new house that sits
like a friendly deerstalkers'
clubroom making a plain statement
about coming home
to a house in the middle of a paddock
surrounded by golden grass.

She said it will have just vegetables
with no roses but maybe clover
for the bees. He said he'd recently read
a Baxter poem about Queenstown
with Lake Wakatipu as a blue eye
and the moon taking a photograph
of the mountains.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 18 February 2013

For Some Indication

Trafalgar Square, London, 1977

Waiting between the paws
of a large bronze lion
for the photo to be taken,
for some indication
that I was free now to move
on a cold winter's day;
November, December,
maybe February;

a long way from home
and my head thumping
with the red roar
of Picadilly's double-deckers,
but certainly with no thought
for the flicking fingers
and sighs
of my great-aunts in 1870

with aching shoulders
in a milliner's shop
near to where I sat,
or for my great-grandfather
one hundred years ago,
perhaps to the day,
driving his hansom cab
past that very spot.

Today I see the stillness
and wariness
in the photo of me
waiting between the paws
of a large bronze lion
for the photo to be taken,
for some indication
that I was free now to move.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Daughters-in-Law in my Garden

When our son Chris' girlfriend, Jenny read my last post she was disappointed that my photos of the garden didn't include the glasshouse - her favourite part of our garden - so I promised her that I would post some photos of the glasshouse.

For some years our glasshouse was left to its own devices. We were both too busy with other things to pay it much attention.

Then the nest emptied and time became available. Our daughter-in-law Kate kick-started us off with the gift of  some tomato plants and we were off. 

I tidied up & pruned the sad-looking grape-vine and this year was rewarded with bunches of grapes ripening nicely. (The runner bean flowers can be seen outside; bottom right).

When our son Chris & his  girlfriend Jenny were staying with us last year, Jenny loved to use the glasshouse for her yoga exercises ... her green yoga mat can still be seen here if you look closely. It's becoming covered with glass-house litter, so I'm going to have to rescue it, wash it and roll it up for when they comes back at the end of the year.

This year's tomatoes have done well too.

I often think of my sons' partners when I am gardening - especially in the glasshouse. I think of Mike's wife Kate, her determination to get us back into the gardening and her gift of tidying up some space for this to happen.  I think of  Chris' girlfriend Jenny, her love of herbs and vegetables and their gift of a herb garden.

And I think of Eriko (married to our son Steve) whose father was an amazing market gardener.  When he and Eriko's mother visited a few years ago, I showed them around the garden, knowing they were marvellous gardeners and feeling ashamed at the state of ours.
Since then the garden has vastly improved. I wish I could show it to them now - I would feel a lot prouder.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Common Old Garden

Outside from inside ...

Inside from outside ...

Side-by-side ...

A long side ...

Hanging out outside ... 

Step outside ...

Sunny-side up ...

 Spotted on side ...

On the small side ...

Cast aside (with pig beside) ...

Water side ...

Monday, 11 February 2013

Another Year of the Snake

 I was born in the year of the Snake.  If I look at my life (as the Chinese calendar suggests) as being lived in a twelve-year pattern, or cycle; I would classify it as follows:

1953 - 1964 twelve years of wonder ...
1965 - 1977 twelve years of tumultuous change - some bad, some good ...
1978 - 1989 twelve years of nurture ...
1990 - 2000 twelve years of challenge (ending up a little burnt out) ...
2001 - 2012 twelve years of consolidation ...

What will the next twelve years bring, I wonder? 

(Copyright alert! This is a photo of the snake logo OUSA and ODT are using for Otago University's Orientation Week promotion ...)

In my life, twelve years ago the nest was emptying; now it is well and truly emptied.

 ...  grapes in our glasshouse ...

In '01, twelve years ago, I'd been reunited with my daughter (who had been adopted out as a baby) for five years. Now our relationship is nearly eighteen years strong and she and her partner and three children, have become well and truly part of our family.

 ... runner beans, running ...

Twelve years ago I had one granddaughter; now I have three granddaughters and two grandsons. Twelve years ago I didn't know the joy and delight of having daughters-in-law. Now I have three wonderful and special women in my life.

Twelve years ago my mother was 70 years old and playing bowls . Now she is over 80 and no longer playing bowls. 

... cucumber ready to go between two slices of bread ...

 Twelve years ago I was about to have my first book of poetry published. I published my second book of poetry five years later and a third poetry book is ready to go.

... rhubarb ready for stewing (& Rhubarb Crumble) ...

Twelve years ago, Chrissie, my penfriend of (at that stage) 35 years, came over for her first visit to New Zealand. It was the second time we had met 'off the page' (the first time was in the '70's when Robert and I were on a working holiday in the UK). Since then she has made one trip back to NZ with her husband. This year we are planning to meet up  (in Paris!) to celebrate our birthdays together. (We have now been (pen)pals for 48 years).

Twelve years ago, travel was a pipe dream. Now,  because of our sons living overseas, we have made two trips to Japan and we're planning another overseas trip this year. Twelve years ago I didn't know a thing about Japan, now because of our son & family living there, it is my 2nd-most favourite country in the world. 

... come on toms - ripen! ...

Twelve years ago I didn't have my beloved Canon Powershot S3 that my sister kindly gave me when she upgraded.  I didn't have a mobile or laptop, I wasn't blogging, wasn't on Facebook or tweeting. I wrote a lot more letters and I used pen and paper to write. Now I use a laptop to write. (I love my 'Wee Eee PC ' notebook).

Twelve years ago I wasn't doing much in the way of gardening. Lately I have started to spend more and more time in the garden. Maybe the next twelve years will be down to earth years; years spent regarding nature. I'd like to think so.

... in 12 years our apple tree has grown substantially ...

... this morning I discovered these passionfruit in our garden. Is this symbolic? I'd like to think so ...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Ngaio Trees in a Plastic Park

Albion Cricket Ground , Musselburgh, Dunedin

Why do doctors call it 'bloods' - we only have one blood don't we? Many veins and arteries, sure, but just the one river of blood coursing through them? Am I right or am I right? (as Michael Gambon in 'The Singing Detective' would say).

Anyway, my doctor suggested I 'get my bloods done' the other day, so today I toddled off to do that.

On the way back home I took a couple of snaps. This is the Methodist Church on Queens Drive, St Kilda.

What an eysore!

Muselburgh's water treatment station - where they used to take Dunedin's temperature for the day, a particularly breezy spot so needless to say it was generally not indicative of the true temperature.

I remember in the early-90's, my sons playing here while I sat reading under the ngaio trees, set off as they were then by a smooth and nicely-kept space of green. The trees were a real feature.  Now they are knee-deep in black plastic;  swamped by peculiar black plastic-wrapped packages piled into a ugly heaps. Come on guys! Not cool.

 I hope 'they' - whoever 'they' are - do whatever 'they' are going to do with the black plastic soon,  so that the ngaio trees can once more feature as they deserve to.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Summer Interrupted

Seeing my friend Dorothy's bird-bath in the weekend made me want one of my own. After Paris. A lot of things wear the addendum 'After Paris', these days.

Nasturtiums are one of my favourites - best grown in a container as they are real spreaders. Whenever I see nasturtiums, they make me feel warm.

My friend Dorothy's garden backs on to a rural setting - the contented sound of baa-ing sheep floats over the back fence. Birds zoom. Bees buzz. The features of a St Francis statue and a pottery urn, add to the Mediterranean feel to this part of her garden.

The sun was warm on my barefeet as I watched the sun slip away for the day. I sat and dreamed. Dorothy watered her garden. Water restrictions by the council decree that even-numbered addresses water on even-numbered dates (and vice versa for odd-numbered addresses). How orderly, how sensible.

After time in Dorothy's garden, I felt levelled out.

When I arrived back home, these lilies were there to greet me. From just one lily ten years ago, the plant is up to fourteen blooms. Lovely perfume too.

And very fitting for Chinese New Year - a Chinese Lantern plant  (Thanks to Jill and Dave for this addition to the garden).

Visible on the flower are raindrops from the recent welcome downpour. But we are ready for some more sunshine again now - I hope the weather hasn't forgotten how to be nice after the cold southerly interruption. Come on Summer - get back to the business of being Summery.

Fine Time

Over a week ago now, my sister and her partner flew in from Wellington for a long weekend visit. It was a special occassion - my sister was celebrating a significant birthday. 
On the actual day, we celebrated with a dinner of traditional Scottish fare at Dunedin's Scotia resturant on a fittingly misty night, a view of St Paul's out the windows behind.

Earlier in the weekend on a day of glorious, hot summer weather, we wandered around the South Pacific gardens at Larnach Castle. 

The gardens around the castle have Alice in Wonderland figures 'planted' in various spots.

 Jill tries out the Queen of Heart's throne.

When with Jill and Dave, you have to be prepared to keep an eye out for birds.  They are on a mission to see how many different kinds of birds they can see and photograph in a year.  (Typical 'twitcher' behaviour, I know!) We were rewarded with this close-up encounter with a bellbird (of the fourth kind?)

Then it was time to wave good-bye to the castle ...

  ... and its flora ...

... and drive the peninsula's high road, dropping down for a coffee at Portobello, then pressing on to where the road meets the sea at Taiaroa Head and the Dunedin's albatross colony.

Those of you who have been reading this blog over the years will remember that five years ago I spent a season at the colony as a guide. 

As soon as we got out of the car, we were hit with the characteristic pong of seagulls nesting. This brought back  memories for me of my job here as a guide, trudging up the hill, a clutch of parka-clad tourists behind me; of pointing out the landmarks while spouting the spiel I had been trained to spout. (After doing this three or four times a day every day, I was heartily sick of the spiel - I am not a natural entertainer or formal verbal communicator - part of the reason for not enlisting for another season).

However the views and the setting; the wildlife and the sight of the giant birds, their silent approach and overhead swoop; were things that never palled. It takes your breath away each and every time you see an albatross. 
We were lucky enough the other day to see one flying a few circuits above the car park and over the sea.

 I was stunned to see how large the seagull colony had become. (No photos, sorry). When I was working at the colony, the gulls nesting area was confined to the hillside. They have now  spread to the car park.  You can't herd nature or confine flying creatures.
The extremely noisy and quarrelsome young birds appeared to be close to fledging, so it  won't be long and they'll be gone.

I think it's a shame that the Albatross Centre itself is now charging $5 entrance fee (it used to be free to enter). Because of that charge, we didn't go in to see the excellent displays and films available there to view. Come to think of it, I didn't see anyone else go in either. There was enough to see for free outside ...

...  such as fur seals that look like bears ...


... until they get into the water and turn into smooth operators.

It was a great day.  

But all too soon, we were waving good-bye to my sister's birthday weekend.


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...