Sunday, 14 December 2014


November went with a rush and a roar and now we're into December and still it doesn't feel like summer ...

I haven't felt inclined to get into the garden ...

and I only walk along the beach when the sea is calm and the tide low ...

Recently we took a break away to visit Robert's parents. On the Saturday we went for a stroll along the banks of the Arrow river.

A river when operating normally, is a soothing companion. This river contains gold. We saw some hopeful tourists panning for gold. Maybe they found a speck or two. It's all about the hunt.

We passed another group with a guide  describing scenes from Lord of The Rings - or maybe it was from the Hobbit films? (Some of the scenes for those movies were shot around these parts). However, movies of Tolkien's imaginings do not summarise what this part of the country means to me.

For me, Arrowtown means family - my husband's family - and the gold-mining history that seeps from its every pore.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Day One and Beyond

Day One: When I Was Introduced To The Slow Lane

It occurred to me as I wandered the grocery aisles on Day One, that one of the major impressions I was gaining about my first day as a full-time writer, self-employed, no longer at the beck and call of others, was one of life having slowed to the pace of a relaxed heartbeat. Absent, was the white noise - the constant background panic brought on by the feeling of not having enough time.

bird on a blanket, Port Chalmers shop 

Through deciding to leave my work in an early childhood centre, I have cut myself adrift; free to float slow. It was a novelty to be quietly choosing produce in a supermarket at 1.30 in the afternoon, rather than my usual busy snatch and run method. Welcome to the slow lane.
A bit later, I was. In the slow lane. Swimming in the (what is called 'Hot' but is really more lukewarm) Salt-Water Pool at St Clair, revelling in the sensation I had of floating in blue limbo. Overhead, thunder-heads rolled on by as I kept snug in the water, hoping that any lightning strikes that this particularly nasty spring weather is doling out, weren't going to force the pool to close. I had already been informed by one of the other swimmers that this had happened the day before.

Juke box, Port Chalmers shop

As soon as I arrived at the pool, I immediately noted that my desire to be left to private thoughts, un-hassled by strangers wanting to engage, was never going to happen; despite my deliberate hunched over, no-eye-contact-demeanour and monosyllabic responses. The body language of other swimmers; such as slightly leaning into my personal space, unsubtle methods of seeking eye contact; made it abundantly clear that I was required to be part of every conversation – the comparing of tans (olive as opposed to freckled), the inquiry as to the pool attendant's recent trip away (as if I cared), the previous day's experience of being pinged by hailstones whilst still in the swimming pool (now that, I must admit, sounded like fun), how clothes stick to you when getting dressed after a swim, no matter how hard you try to completely dry yourself off … This last conversation-bid took place while I was struggling to maintain some dignity in the changing rooms. Really?! You want me to turn around and talk to you while I'm in the process of trying to dress as quickly and privately as is possible under a thin towel? Really?!

looking out, shot from Vogel Street, Dunedin

When my eyes flew open that first day at 7.45. I felt like a child on Christmas morning, ready to leap out of bed. It was Day One and despite the cliché, it actually did feel like the first day of the rest of my life. Later on in the day when I checked the mailbox, I found a card left by my neighbour N. wishing me well on my first day. Inside she'd written, 'Happy 'day 1' of being a full-time writer, and happy day 2, day 3, day 4 …'
Not that I got much writing done. By the time I had rung up about getting Ruby (our Toyota Corolla) a new battery and waited all morning until the guy came with one, then did the grocery shopping, then mailed a parcel overseas, then swam, then napped (to recover from either the swim or the twenty-five years of gainful employment in the early childhood sector, I can't decide which) it was time to cook dinner.

heavy wooden door, Water St, Dunedin

On my last day at work, I was fare-welled very sweetly by the staff and children at the centre. I was given a generous book token and a giant, brightly-painted card the children had made. 'We Love You' it said, and 'We will miss you'. At my stage of life, leaving paid work is an acknowledgement that my working life is over. At the end of my last day at work, when I went to start Ruby to go home; she wouldn't start. Her battery was flat. The significance of this didn't escape me.
Being this close to retirement age means that I am tempted to feel like I'm already there, with the ground I have stood on up until this point of my life, cut away. A door has been closed. This could be seen as diminishment; if I hadn't chosen to close the door myself. However, the truth is that I am like our car, Ruby, after we got her new battery fitted; leaving paid employment has given me a brand new go; I am primed. Start the engine, hear me purr.

Day Two: When I Did Not Read 'War and Peace'

It appears I received another good-bye present from work … a tummy bug. Part of working with pre-schoolers is that you are in direct line of fire for sickness. After a few years, you build up a certain degree of resistance and this invisible suit of armour fends off most of the illness that swirls around you in the form of droplets and toxic fumes from suspect bowel motions. But not always. As my second day of 'retirement' has demonstrated. One of the bugs obviously made it through the fine mesh of resistance I had over the years carefully and methodically constructed. Perhaps my decision to leave lowered my defences, leaving me disengaged from defence mode and vulnerable to attack.
Two-year olds have been proven to be the biggest carriers of disease in the universe. They have an enviable capacity to spread bacteria. Anyone planning an evil, viral attack upon the community, for whatever dastardly purpose, need look no farther than a two-year old. With no idea of how to 'catch that cough' or about frequent and thorough hand-washing, their success rate for the spread of disease is truly astonishing.
At one stage during the day before my last day at work, J. sat on my knee while I read him a story about Rapunzel. He spent the time sneezing openly with the abandonment of spittle and mucus that only a pre-schooler can manage. Chances are it is because of this (or some other up close and personal moment with a toddler) that I spent last night throwing up.
Consequently, Day 2 of my life as a-writer-and-that's-it, was spent in bed. I slept and watched Graham Norton shows on TV On Demand. I ate a banana and three pineapple chunks. I drank one cup of tea. I kept up with my Facebook timeline. (Our son in Kyoto posted another photo of a Japanese roof to add to his collection of Japanese rooves. Japanese buildings have astonishing rooves. My sister posted a photo of a tui being a tui).
Suffice to say, I did not spend the time in bed profitably reading 'War and Peace'. I didn't even do a crossword. That day my brain cells did not fare any better than my digestive tract.

chalk drawing, Vogel Street, Dunedin

That day a space-craft made a perfect landing on a comet; right on schedule, upright and to the second; like a Japanese train driver.When I saw on-line footage on Facebook of the scientists celebrating the instant of point of contact, I did have to chuckle at how inept scientists (who can programme with genius precision a landing on a comet) are at high fives and hugs.
As evening approached, my tummy bug turned coward. It was no longer the rough, unshaven ogre lording it over my sense of well-being. It had begun to whine and to plead for forgiveness. And because the smell of the chicken stir-fry Robert was cooking for dinner smelt so damn fine, I decided to be magnanimous and grant Hairy-Ol' Gut Bug my pardon; then promptly booted it right out into space where it could kick up merry hell and infect the comets.

Day Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten: When I Love My Job

People ask – what's it like writing full-time, with no deadlines or rules, being able to take a tea-break whenever you like? Etc. After a week and two days, I can say that it's harder than you think.
Sticking to a routine and being disciplined enough to actually write, is not easy. 
My stock replies to inquiries seem to be; I am so busy being me, I have no time left over to actually write. 
Or; I spend so much time doing stuff to do with writing, there's no time left to do any actual writing.
An office away from home would be the answer, then I wouldn't see that the bird dishes need topping up with sugar water, that the washing needs hanging out on the line, that the washing needs to be brought in from the line …

Lumsden railway station; Northern Southland

In order not to seize up, I realised I needed to replace what physical exercise I was getting from my work with early childhood (it had more or less provided a useful daily work-out) with some other form of physical exercise. This takes time. Swimming, an Irish dancing class, walks … all good fun, but each requiring up to two hours to prepare for, get to, do, then recover from.

J. and A. Cooke's garden, Queenstown

Important too, to keep up with family, friends and other writers. Always highly enjoyable, stimulating and necessary to prevent any slipping into a shrivelled indoor-world that a writer like myself is tempted to allow. This, however, requires such occupations as meeting for coffees, lunches, emailing, texting, on-line networking ... All of which gobble up time. 
Then there's the necessary shopping, housework, meal prep. Writers also need to daydream and to read … Fitting ACTUAL writing around all these is frustratingly difficult.

caravan, Ranfurly Camping Ground, Maniototo

One day I decided, right. Let's be disciplined and organised about this. I worked to a strict timetable in order to complete the urgent things I needed to do and, with the aid of a trustworthy crock-pot, cleverly carved out a chunk of writing time for myself in the late afternoon. I achieved it, but in the end decided to use the time I should have used for writing, to write out Christmas cards. It is still November – am I going crazy? All I succeeded in doing was hi-jacking the writing space I had so earnestly created. The next day I was so exhausted from a day of being strict with myself time-wise, I woke up with what felt like hangover symptoms - without the benefit of having had any alcohol-fun.
But I am not complaining about these predicaments. I am loving it. As I said to one of our sons; after all these years I can finally say, I love my job. Really. I do. When I get round to actually doing it.

Day Ten: When There's Always Tomorrow

I've given up counting the days now. Being a full-time writer is becoming normal. Hell, I am even writing! I have moved on in the novel. A paragraph. I count that as advance.
I used to have 'tomorrow never comes' paranoia and push myself to achieve much in one day. Now I feel there is 'always tomorrow'. It's a very South American attitude. In the seventies we did hotel work while overseas and one of the staff we worked with (Joaquin) was always saying, 'Manana, manana' which kind of meant, 'sometime soon, sometime never'. Joaquin ( another of his jokes was to say when introducing himself – “I'm Joaquin and I'm not jokin'”) would be very proud of me these days. What doesn't get done today, can be done tomorrow. Manana, manana. Another paragraph, another chapter, another poem. It's as if tomorrow has taken on a new personality. This attitude may not get a novel written in quick-smart time (luckily I'm not working to any publisher's deadline) but for today, I'm liking tomorrow. 

magnolia and Cecil Peak, J. and A. Cooke's garden, Queenstown

Monday, 17 November 2014

New Zealand's Southern Coast's Gaba Tepe & A Bra-Fence With Aspirations

Gaba Tepe hill, situated at the foot of the Longwoods, Orepuki. 

Gaba Tepe - or Kabatepe - is the name of the headland in Turkey that looks over the northern Aegean Sea on Gallipoli Peninsula. Gaba Tepe was the location of the Turkish artillery battery defending their land from New Zealand and Australian (ANZAC) troops, who landed on the peninsula beaches in April, 1915 and suffered huge losses. Two of my great-uncles were killed in World War One. My Nana's brother Joe was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 and her older brother, Alf, was killed in Sommes in 1918.

As a child playing with my friend who lived across the road from this Orepuki landmark, I thought the hill was called 'Gabbatippy'. We would play roly-poly down its soft, green slopes, completely unaware of the event it was named after.

Wind-swept native trees border the paddocks. 

This weekend we went down to Orepuki (a regular event for me) and while we were there, went on a bit of a tour with my cousin (who has spent most of her life in Orepuki). She filled in the gaps of my knowledge and memory. My family left there when I was ten years old, so my memory only goes so far. She would point to an old house, or a space with a cabbage tree; or sometimes merely a depression on the ground; and say, "That's where .... lived. And that's where ... lived". So many houses gone from this once thriving rural Southland town. Including the house where I used to live.

Closer view of the storm-lashed trees bordering Gaba Tepe, Orepuki. 

And now for something completely different. Bra-fence! A hand-painted sign announces it as, 'Tim's Tit Stop'.

New Zealanders (or should I say, some New Zealanders - I'm not sure what I think about them) love a quirky fence - especially if it is situated somewhere along the tourist trail. There are toothbrush fences, bike fences, sneaker fences ... the Cardrona Bra-Fence is the most famous one, but this was dis-established due to road safety concerns. Maybe this bra fence here on Highway 99 is setting itself up to become the next Cardrona?

Look out for the bra-fence if you are on the road between Colac Bay and Orepuki. Or not. (I reckon they must be fastened to the fence pretty tightly to be able to remain intact through the south coast's regular gale-force winds!)

Friday, 7 November 2014

Not A Soul To Be Seen

'In the early 1930s Ranfurly's increased status, coupled with several suspicious building fires, created a demand for a large number of new buildings. Art Deco was the architectural style of the time, and before too long Ranfurly was smartly outfitted with jazz-age buildings. This trend wasn't short-lived, because the local architect and builder continued to build Art Deco houses long after the fashion had faded.
Today, Ranfurly's beautiful buildings have been enthusiastically restored to their former glory. A highlight is the Centennial Milk Bar, which now houses a fascinating Art Deco museum. Browsers will also enjoy the second-hand Art Deco furniture and fittings shop, and the self-guided Art Deco walk. And if you're around in February, be sure to fit in Ranfurly's Art Deco festival.'
The excerpt above is a quote from 100 %'Pure NZ

Ranfurly's railway goods-shed is typical of many that served the railway lines of New Zealand. Alike as peas in a pod, this is identical to the one in the town where I grew up.

Behind the railway station on a back street, the buildings are not as well cared for as those on the main street.

A photo on an information board. Ranfurly was specifically built in 1898 as a railhead town. Now it is a pivotal point on the popular rail-trail bike track that follows the dis-established railway line through the Maniototo.

For me, walking around Ranfurly engendered memories of small towns in days gone by - hence the sepia tones ...

Typical small-town NZ street, with not a soul to be seen.

And what small town would be complete without a little whimsy?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

High-Tensile Poetry

Something near to miraculous occurred yesterday. I came away from the poetry reading I attended last night, with fresh ideas. The poetry, written by poets from Nicaragua (Joaquin Pasos, Blanca Castellon, Ernesto Cardenal and Gioconda Belli) inspired me to look again at such well-trodden themes as time, death, freedom, community, political duress and love; as well as 'the poem as subject', that for once doesn't regress into the contrived or pretentious. I'm as keen as mustard now to get these ideas down on paper.

Or maybe not. As one poem I heard suggested, I could allow these future poems to simply remain my bright, peripheral friend for just one day, before watching them fly free and (apart from the description of their brief existence as unspoken / unwritten / untranslated poems) letting them go, unrecorded. Such is the value of freedom to a poet who lives where true freedom is precious and largely unattainable.

As I listened to a language I cannot translate, I gained some idea of how to listen to the bared poetic voice. The music of the poetry being read in Spanish, offered freedom from trying to work it all out, leaving the words to flow over (under? in? through?) my brain. After hearing the translation, I then waited to hear how a phrase or line sounded in the original language. When I was rewarded by recognising the line or word, it was satisfying and surprising all at the same time.

When introducing the two guest readers for the night, M.C. Jacob Edmond, described translation - any translation - as a betrayal. I can see the truth in that, but as Jacob also pointed out, there has to be a flip-side. The other side of the coin is how much of a gift that a translation is. Especially when handled correctly.

There is possibly a Spanish word that means 'wider insights that take you away from your own reflected environment'. English can sometimes be an inadequate language. However, when another language is translated into English with as much insight as the translated poetry I heard last night, it is clear that any clumsiness or restriction can be over-ridden.

The word spellbound came to mind during this Octagon Collective's reading at Circadian Cafe. Listening to the gifted translator, Roger Hickin of Cold Hub Press and Rogelio Guedea , a major Mexican writer and poet residing in Dunedin, as they read from the works of famous Nicaraguan poets, was a real treat.

Jacob introduced both men as taonga (in the Maori language; Te Reo; that means precious treasures). A fitting description with Rogelio being a famous Mexican poet. (So much so that when Jacob was in Mexico and people found out he was from New Zealand, they would inevitably ask him if he knew Rogelio Guedea!) And Roger is certainly a well-established and renowned New Zealand poet, publisher, artist, translator etc. who has for many years worked at the cutting edge of publishing and the art of translation.

The poetry I heard last night, having been wrought under sufferance to a restrictive, freedom-taking political system that someone like me can only imagine, left me with an impression of the metal (mettle) of language hammered thin in order for the raw essence to be revealed. This was poetry taken to the wire.

Jenny Powell was invited to join the other two readers, and read three of the translated poems of Gioconda Belli. Jenny read beautifully; her readings are always very clear and intelligent and last night was no exception. Her delivery honoured the voice of the poet perfectly, giving it full justice.

The poetry I listened to could have been (given the political circumstances in which the poetry is written) mired in anger, bitterness or hatred, but it was not. Instead, I found it delicate, yet strong, unadorned, even sad, and all the more moving and powerful because of those things.

This poetry from Nicaragua that we were treated to last night, reminds me of a high-tensile spider web that silently, beautifully shimmers as the morning mist catches it; that quivers in a gale, yet holds its strength to remain unbroken.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Call of the Crow

crow at a park in Kyoto, Japan. Taken December 29th 2011 - just before we walked to the cake shop to buy a birthday cake for R.

Sometimes I have no idea of what to write on my blog, other times I have a very definite idea.

I knew yesterday what I wanted to post today. Going through my unpublished comments, I read that someone had asked for permission to use a photo of a crow I had posted back in 2012. I was delighted someone a) wanted to use it for artistic purposes and b) actually asked for the right to use it.

Because the photo is one I took in Japan, it got me thinking about all our trips over there. How fortunate I have been to be able to make a trip over there three times now. (In R's case it's been four times).

The trips have been in different seasons. R's trip was in Spring, so he was able to experience some of Kyoto's celebrations of the blossom season. (That experience is now down on my dream-list).

The photo I took of the crow was taken in winter. So far, my favourite season in Japan.

The crows' haunting calls and sudden silent approaches, punctuated every outing. In Kanizawa as we walked through the gardens at dusk (just before closing time) a whole flock of them landed on a piece of ground, their coal-black outlines accentuated by the snow's smooth whiteness. Our granddaughter attempted to chase them off, her pink coat an eye-catching contrast against the black crows and white snow.

Far from being freaked out, I find crows both fascinating and compelling. Maybe that's because we haven't got them here in New Zealand. My daughter-in-law said that over in Japan crows are kind of seen as annoying scavengers. Which is ironic, because when she came over to New Zealand she loved our seagulls, yet some of us over here kind of think of seagull as annoying scavengers.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Finding The Time

The sign for the number eight - 8 - is the only figure in our line-up of Roman numerals that is impossible to get out of.

It's a loop. Once inside, you can never escape.

Eiffel Tower as seen from Le Jardin des Tuileries - taken June 25th,  2013

The 'F8 Principle' (as I shall dub it for patenting purposes) means that you can opt to physically return to pleasant memories (with the control to come and go at will) and dwell there in your own time loop; skating your own Figure of Eight moves; for as long as you desire.

canal in Arrondissement 19, Paris, June 2013

However, until this invention of mine is actualised, photos will have to do.

left bank Paris, 2013

Maybe there's already an App. A F8 App. Must look it up.

Actually, when I think about it, how would I ever find the time to Time Travel?

Au Trappiste, Paris, 2013

Ah well ... c'est la vie.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Colour Me Spring

kowhai flowers in our garden a month ago

The kowhai is just finishing flowering now. A native tree, it forms part of Spring's full orchestra here in Aotearoa.

The lovely magnolia has recently become a significant flower for our family. It also goes by the name of Tulip Tree.

Dunedin's Botanical Gardens is a favourite place of mine to take the grandchildren.

Illness update: The doctor has prescribed antibiotics. Praise the Lord for antibiotics. And for poppies.

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...