Along Portobello Road

cliff face prettiness

A week ago now, we said goodbye to my mother-in-law, Joan, aged 90 (a week off turning 91 years old). For many years she was a positive force in Queenstown and in the days when Queenstown was still a small town, could legitimately be described as the heart of Queenstown. She was loved by everyone, because she loved everyone. Loving people was her gift. Aroha knew her, and she lived it and in it.

rockin’ it

When she left Queenstown; her hometown for over sixty years; to live in a rest home in Gore, Joan was greatly missed by friends and acquaintances alike. Even though dementia claimed her last few years, her extrovert personality remained intact, along with her legendary love of people. She quickly won the hearts of all the staff at Windsor Park, habitually calling everyone ‘Darling’ and more often than not, telling them how beautiful they were. In turn, their care of her (as indeed of all the residents there) was exemplary.

indigo echium

Robert will miss his 200 k trips from Dunedin down to Gore every Sunday to take his mother out for a drive. It was something precious to both of them and has left him with fond memories of his mother’s last years, weeks, days and hours. Her sense of humour never diminished and despite the mist of dementia, every Sunday there was some quick quip he was able to relay back to family.

looking back along

Robert’s brother and sister, who live in Gore, faithfully visited their mother every day. I am positive that this made their mother’s last years as pleasant as they could possibly be. Robert and our two oldest sons happened to be there with her when she took her last breath. They considered this a privilege. One that, Robert said, you don’t really seek, but a privilege, nevertheless.

pink Queen Anne’s lace

Joan leaves five children, 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. When our sons were growing up, there were many happy holidays spent with Granny and Granddad in Queenstown. Christmases there were amazing, never to be replicated. The 1980’s and 1990’s were encapsulated right there in the sun by the lake, below the mountains, in a house overflowing with aroha, gifts, colour, fun, food and family.

more pink lace

As a mother-in-law, Joan (right from the start, she asked me to call her Mum and I always did) was for introvert-me, a force to be contended with – but, I hasten to add, a cherished one, fiercely protective and deeply caring of everyone who was included in her extended family. She was the first person to introduce me to someone else as a writer. Much to my embarrassment at the time. At that point I thought of myself as just a scribbler with no thought of ever becoming an author. How could I be called a writer? But Joan was bold and could see into the future (another of her gifts) and was not about to tolerate any cringe factor on my part.

secret path

Right to the end, when dementia robbed her of memories about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, her children and her in-laws remained locked in. An indication of how deeply she had early on, naturally and without question, accepted her in-laws as part of her family. Even if in her later days, she once asked Robert, “Who did Kay marry?” and persisted in regarding me as the twenty-two year old she first met many years ago. Don’t ask me how she factored in my silver hair and rather more matronly figure.

relief of trees

As you grow older, significant deaths become more frequent. Though most of them are expected, they still throw you for a loop. The absence of what once seemed permanent fixtures, is a grief you accommodate, but one from which you never really fully recover. One way I find I can bear it, is to believe that they do not totally leave. They remain in your life, through memory and thoughts, or sometimes in tangible, personally significant occurrences.

gum tree detail

When Robert’s father was buried in Queenstown seven years ago, tui could be heard in the trees around. Fitting for a man who loved to feed these birds. The other day when my mother-in-law’s coffin was being carried in silence by six of her grandchildren, I could hear a pastoral bird – either a blackbird, or a song thrush – singing. Fitting for a woman who carried strong, lifelong memories of a happy childhood on a farm in the small town of Kingston.

seen through the trees

Today I walked down Portobello Road. As well as taking photos, I listened to a reader podcast. I enjoy hearing the books that readers enthuse about, as well as those that they don’t take to so much. These reader (or book) podcasts are put together by people who reside in a world of books. Books are everything to them. As a writer myself, it’s thrilling to hear what books do to readers and how much books mean to them. I’m a reader too, of course, but would consider myself more of a writer than a reader. Writing doesn’t leave much time for reading.

heading back on the other side of the road

But yes, I do read. To prove it, I have a huge t.b.r. pile, plus a very full library in my Audible app. ready to listen to. Not to mention all the d.n.f’s, in another pile. (Hark at me becoming au fait with reader lingo.) At the moment I’m reading two books at once, However, I suspect I’m filling up any reading time at my disposal with listening to pods about reading (without actually reading anything – oh dear, what is that about? I do wonder. All the same, I’m not fighting it.) I wonder if there’s a German word for this particular affliction.

roadie rhodos

A hitch with my second novel means that I won’t get my hands on copies until after we get back from a planned trip away to Wellington next week (followed by another quick trip to Christchurch.) At the same time, we’re waiting on our gib stopper guy to finally turn up so that we can get on with painting our partly installed, new bathroom. Last word was that he’s got the flu’ (or Covid?). He said he couldn’t get into the dr’s. It was impossible, he said. He had to meet someone outside. “You have to be well in order to see the doctor these days,” his take on it all. These are strange days.

ship’s in

And so, we sail on through death and life.

crazy ti kōuka cabbage tree

Perhaps the weird, Edward-Scissorhands-figure this ti kōuka cuts, says it all. No matter how you look at it, much of life is up in the air. Try and catch it if you can. And a crazy haircut can only help.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

One thought on “Along Portobello Road

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