Quand on y Pense la Pension
Lately it feels as if I’ve made a lucky escape. An escape from ‘the tyranny of the white page’ (a quote that should, I believe, be attributed to William Somerset Maugham).
Think of me as Robbie Burns, taking a break with a ciggie and a gull.
I feel like I want to write on a whim rather than as an urge.
Applying for my Super Ann. yesterday and today (and it appears, over the next few days ahead as it’s turning out to be rather a tortuous process) has freed something in me. A realisation that I no longer have to ‘work’. Until now, I thought once I got my pension it would be a case of feeling that at last I was getting ‘paid to write’ – a lifelong dream.
However, it’s come as a surprise – a shock! even – that instead of feeling more freedom to write, helter-skelter, I am feeling the kind of freedom that I believe only comes once one has struggled out from underneath a large rock. I want to take a break from the pressure (I want to get out from under that rock labelled WRITE! GET PUBLISHED!). No. Sorry. No more imperatives. The freedom to write what I want to write, even if no-one else reads it, is strangely liberating. I’m withdrawing from the writer-rat-race. (Here I am, the country mouse waving my little white flag).
Expect more blogging. But not always linked / shared on Facebook or Twitter. Readers can find their own way here. And I’m happy with that. (Especially as I know I have some faithful readers – love you guys!)
An early Michael D. Cooke painting that I have in my office, echoes what I am feeling – that I am one of many, travelling through life in my bubble, in a world receding, or approaching (whichever way you want to look at it) and in the background, a looming wall of – no, not rejection so much as a protective barrier to outside pressures. There is freedom in that.
Writing has given me pleasure all through my life. And of course I will not stop. This very post is testament to that. I was once happy and proud to describe my occupation as writer. Please note, past tense; now that’s a surprise.
Now that I am a pensioner, my reward for all the effort I’ve put into my chosen profession as a largely unpaid writer, is the luxury of choosing to step away from the ‘workplace’. And actually get paid for doing so? Wow. (But, where’s my gold watch and cake?)
I can feel myself turning in the winds of change – turning somewhat from a participant, into a bystander. About to be ‘pensioned off’, I am sensing release from ‘get published or die writing’ attitude.
And another WS Maugham quote; why not: ‘Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long’.
Excuse me while Robbie and I have a draw on our smokes, allow the birds to roost in our hair and consider this next phase I’m entering.
Te Awa Running Free
Awa is te reo (Maori language) for River.
While this isn’t a photo of a river exactly, it is a precious place near to my home and dear to my heart, where a tidal, salt-water ‘river’ flows from the harbour. An inlet. An outlet. It flows in and out twice a day, keeping time to the sway and turn of the tide.
Lately I’ve been thinking about rivers … their nature and character. I’ve been thinking about what different rivers mean to me. The rivers of my childhood; the rivers I have known; and the rivers I know now.
The symbolism of a river is something I can easily apply to my writing life. The idea of a river turning, running, playing, bending, twisting, as it finds its way to the sea. Finds its way home. The way it runs – ever renewing, ever moving, never stopping to look back in despair. Its freedom. The way by its very nature, a river cuts loose.
Dunedin Railway Station
The previous post may sound a trite grumpy.
But to be honest, even as I speak, it’s being filed away under, Oh well. Moving on.
This autumn we’re having in Aotearoa right now is so damn good that any curmudgeonly thoughts or grumps, simply melt away in the autumn sunshine.
When you come up against life’s stone walls, sometimes all you can do is flaunt your assets.
our very own resplendent, deciduous, native tree makes me want to dive into all that delicious ambrous umber
Like Snoopy’s, ‘Kiss on the nose’, Autumn’s soothing and welcome beauty, ‘does much to turn aside anger’ (disappointments / discouragements).
The local hairdresser’s salon is called ‘Cut Loose’. I ponder this as I walk my favourite walk around a sleepy inlet, with the harbour at first a rumour to my left until ultimately, a welcome reality to my right.
Today I am accompanied by music playing loud in my ear buds. I don’t always feel the need for the panacea of music – the sounds of nature are usually reassuring enough. However, today I needed Lucille WIlliams. I needed her to put words to the swirl of feelings whirling from my stomach; my chest; my heart; up into my brain.
Previously, whenever I tried to think of the name of the hairdressing salon in order to make an appointment, I could never remember it. The name refused to stick. Names of other salons would rise to the surface instead. Tangles. Hair Now. Headquarters. But as ‘cutting loose’ is fast becoming my mantra, I am sure to remember now.
Cut Loose. Easy.
About a year ago, following some indeterminate instinct, I wrote the words ‘Unlooked for things’ in black marker pen on a broken piece of china I’d found on a walk along the beach. I then placed it in plain sight on the desk where I write. At the time I wondered why I needed to keep those particular words close. I no longer need to wonder.
‘Unlooked for things’ can be unwanted, even nasty, surprises; or, they can be seen simply as gifts – gifts encouraging me to cut loose; to freewheel and ride the waves as they roll.
Larnach Castle, Dunedin. New Zealand.
These large silver ferns (the real deal – so often all we see are the far more prolific, ordinary ferns) are found at the back; what I like to think of as ‘the scullery entrance’; to Larnach Castle, Dunedin. The silver fern (so-called for the brush of silver found on the back of each frond) is the favoured symbol for New Zealand sporting teams.
We had occasion the other day to show a friend (he was best man at our wedding 42 years ago as it happens) around Dunedin. Larnach Castle was one place he wanted to see. Even though English visitors splutter – “Call that a castle?!’ I still feel a sense of pride in this building that was once a crumbling ruin, but which was slowly and steadfastly restored over many years, by one family.
While our friend took a tour of the castle, Robert and I had a cup of tea in the ballroom. We did appreciate the roaring fire (being a cold, drizzly, Dunedin day – which actually, is perfect weather in which to view a stone castle complete with ghost). The tartan gear of the waiting staff was also appealing for the way it added an understated, Scottish flavour to the atmosphere.
Once Peter re-joined us, we took a wander around the gardens with its view over the harbour.
Admittedly, Larnach Castle is nothing more than a large stately home built for a privileged family with fanciful notions – the family of Larnach. However, it has a history that fairly bristles with family feuds, intrigues, betrayals and finally, suicide.
Like all castles, whether large or small, a hovering secretive feel clings to its mossy, damp and square, stone walls. Secrets it holds close, and will never reveal. We mere mortals can only imagine.
… when you’re no longer Number One …
Rejection is a bitter pill to swallow no matter how small. A couple of fairly small rejections loomed into my inner sanctum recently. Nothing earth shattering and not unexpected either. But when you submit your written work and it is spurned … it hurts. Like you’ve been shot in the chest by a slow-moving potato; or a heavy lump of cold dough. Aimed at your heart with slow and cruel precision.
… and no invite to board for quite some time …
It’s because your writing is inseparable from yourself, so any exclusion, or shun, cannot help but sting; cannot help but feel like some kind of body slam, a push that no matter how mild, is still basically an uncaring kick to the kerb. No wrestling match required. Just a little shove.
The rejection email can arrive suddenly, out of nowhere. You’re walking in an inner city park, being astonished by 500 year old trees reaching for a magnificent sky, like splendid denizens of the past, and it arrives in your pocket by email – faceless and cold. An email that begins with a casual, ‘Hey’, (so rude! in my – admittedly old-fashioned – book) before stabbing you in the heart with the word ‘reject your poem’. This of course is an excellent reason not to read emails while on an otherwise sublime walk.
… when you’re at the end of the line …
Oh heck. I’m just letting off steam. The email with its careless off-hand manner, has been dispatched between two fingers into a bin labelled ‘Trivialities’ and destined for the fire.
There is unfortunately one more submission in the pipeline which will also no doubt be a ‘No’. Hopefully when it comes it won’t address me as ‘Hey’.
Well, Hey, it is a young person’s world. I am no longer a young person and I have no hankering to be. Youth and early middle age comes with its own anguish. God, I am truly thankful to have left all that angst behind.
No back tracking. The end of the line brings its own sweetness.
… and fees no longer apply …
… when you’re on notice, on guard …
… at the back of a slow train going nowhere fast …
… with a view to moving on …
… you can choose not to turn to rust, or let the daisies grow under your wheels …
… because here is where the iron meets the road …
Unlike the decommissioned Kingston Flyer, I shall (as the song says) keep on moving. Despite these small setbacks in the last two days, my relevance and dignity remain intact.
Onwards and upwards, as my Nana would say. My book, ‘Craggan Dhu’ will see the light of day. I have no doubts about that. That’s why I have started writing the sequel. All that’s needed is a little bit of steam.
And that’s what I’m doing – building up a whole heap!
I’m actually pretty chuffed about that.
Under and Over
Recently I walked with my daughter-in-law and nine-month-old granddaughter (who technically speaking, didn’t actually walk so much as was transported) to the Andersons Bay cemetery where some members of extended family / whanau (on both my d-i-l’s side of the family and her father-in-law; my husband’s) are buried.
We searched in vain for the grave that I was certain I knew the whereabouts of. Graves are a bit like that … if you don’t visit often enough, they hide.
In this case we were looking for the place where my husband’s grandparents are buried. I know its general location – in a corner where it has a great view over his local golf course and farther out over the Pacific Ocean.
One day while playing golf Robert mentioned to his playing partner that his grandparents were buried ‘just up there’ indicating the direction. And surprisingly enough, his golfing buddy said, “Mine too”. What are the chances?
While granddaughter slept in the front-pack, Kate and I took in the amazing views and pondered anew on the many silent witnesses to lives lived.
On the way back home we discussed whether we wanted to be cremated or buried and other such happy subjects! Someone we both know wants to be buried because they like the idea of being a skeleton. I must say I’ve never thought of it quite like that. Ever since that discussion, I’ve been looking at people in a different light – imagining their skeletal frame underneath the flesh, thus affording a whole new perspective on how I now view people – and indeed, all living creatures.
‘Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself’ Wallace Stevens
about 10 – 15 years ago, my mother gave each of her four daughters and three daughters in law, a cup by the artist / potter Rosina Wachtmeister.
Cups of tea from my red-and-crimson-poppy-cat cup with saucer, always taste better.
… speaking of Mum, here is one of her lawn bowling bowls.
Mum loved her lawn bowls. The day after she died, my sister and I drove to her club – Takaro Bowling Club, Palmerston North – especially to see the flag flying at half mast in her honour. One of her friends, Ivy, aged ninety, said of Mum, “I always thought she’d given up bowls too soon”. Ivy was still playing. Mum stopped competitive bowls before she turned eighty, but still went along to the club for social games and to play cards and (of course) have a go on the ‘pokies’.
... my great-grandmother with the very high cheekbones, Lizzie Butler (nee Riddell / Riddle) watches over me as I write.
I like to imagine my great-grandmother’s (good Presbyterian that she was) expression as kindly, wise, invested and interested; if a little reserved. Is she one of my muses? Maybe. Peter Rabbit (not a muse) was a gift from my daughter. The scruffy, blue lion (hiding two little, black, knowing and mischievous eyes under his tousled, blue mane … and who always reminds me of a favourite book, ‘The Blue Lion’ by Graham Billing) was a gift from my son. And the out-of-date-now desk calendar, a gift from another son and his family sent over here when they were living in Japan.
I am a somewhat erstwhile collector of Peanuts comic strip characters. Snoopy and the band on top of the 1960’s record player my sister and I used to share.
To a certain extent, the Peanuts comic strips got me through my tempestuous, traumatic teenage years,. As did the record player. Early on in the piece, the record player played mostly country and western, as well as 60’s pop, with a little Neil Diamond and Cliff Richard and a whole lot of assorted 45’s going cheap at H&J Smith’s, Gore. Later, as we entered the ’70’s, it strayed into Led Zeppelin.
my writing desk … suitably awry …
I love this angel my good friend Jenny P gave me. On the other side of this hanging …
… is an image of a Free Spirit. I never know which one to hang facing forward – to my eye, both are equally appealing.
*Note: This small, cushioned hanging looks to me like the work of the artist, Donna Demente, but I keep forgetting to ask Jenny if it is indeed her work.
Being a free spirit is hard work. I try to be a free spirit. My late aunty called me a free spirit, so to at least one person, I am one (or have been one as a child, perhaps).
Lately I have been thinking about these words …
The words come from a book given to me by my son & daughter in law when I was staying with them in Berlin. A useful book for inspiration and for firing the imagination. (The book is called, ‘Living Out Loud: Activities to Fuel A Creative Life’ by Keri Smith).
Given my personality, living out loud is not something that comes easily or naturally and I am not about to change my modus operandi. However, the idea of actitvities to fuel a creative life, does appeal. I enjoy dipping into this book when I feel in need of some inspiration or kick starters. And that is where I seem to be at these days.
The warm and delicious colours of autumn are also helping.
Firing On All Cylinders
Riverton, Southland – taken on a cloudy & stormy day
Nothing beats a fire for warmth. I’m sure being one of the elements, gives it added status, appeal and power as a means of heating. When I am seated in front of a warm fire that is behaving itself behind glass, it is my favourite element.
fire-tones of rhododendrons Gore Race Course
We have entered fire-days season. Today a storm played around us, like a cat with a mouse. The sky was dirty with brown clouds of hail. All the more reason to hunker down and enjoy the warmth of our fire.
Questions re tax forms and applying for Superann. occupied both my mind and time today.
old shops, Orepuki, Southland (go HERE to read a poem this deserted-town aspect has inspired)
Ages and stages.
down on gem beach, Orepuki, Southland, my sister looks for stones … now she is someone who I am sure would only be too willing to verify how old I am, despite how much I may remonstrate …
I still have to pinch myself when I think of my age. That saying that you are only as old as you feel, just doesn’t hold water. The years and attitudes one grows, bely that. But at least I am still firing on all cylinders.
I know a great-grandmother (and it gives me pause to realise that I am fast-approaching a stage when I too will become one of those myself) who calls herself, ‘Super Gran’. I do like that.
Poetry in Tiger Country
naked lady – belladonna amaryllis – known as Easter Lily in some parts … These flowers appear in autumn when other flowers are dying off. Because of their name, I always think they look a little cold. I want to pick them all and bring them inside. And yes, there’s a poem in that.
amanita muscaria … highly toxic, with hallucinogenic properties … so I’m told. I saw this today in the shade of a lancewood (horoeka) that appeared uninvited in our garden – possibly it has grown from a seed dropped by a bird … Our garden is known for its many uninvited guests …
… the classic, humble polyanthus that keeps on giving, dying down, only to re-emerge a little later with brand new baby buds and flowers. Loves the shade. In my opinion, a garden is not a garden if it doesn’t have primrose, primula or polyanthus in some corner somewhere … Polyanthus remind me of childhood and home.
Marigold or calendula. The word calendula comes from Latin and means ‘little calendar’, or ‘little clock’ or possibly, ‘little weather-glass’. The name marigold refers to the Virgin Mary. (Wikipedia). Sunny, reliable, easy to grow. The smell of marigolds is the smell of reading books in the sun.
Reading a poem that I like (one that is not my own) causes a shift in my brain. I swear I can feel the planes of my mind shudder like subterranean plates in an earthquake. Not all poems do that for me, but when they do, it is a truly marvellous thing.
I believe that this ability to change something in the brain – to change your own reality – is a power that only poetry has. When compared to prose, poetry has the x-factor; an unidentifiable element that merely verges on the tangible. I say ‘verges’ because as fast as I try to define poetry, or solidify it into a proven definition, the faster it turns to liquid and escapes. It’s like trying to pick up water between your thumb and forefinger, or trap air in a glass.
Maybe our garden is like a poem the way it continually escapes definition. We have spent much blood, sweat and (possibly) tears over the twenty-three years we have lived here, managing and taming this rambling, dog-legged section we’ve often described as tiger country, with its overgrown dips and banks, corners and inclines.
Large, sun-eating trees have been removed, plants, weeds, prolific shrubby menaces – both self-propagating or grown from seeds dropped by birds – have been clipped, fostered or removed according to charm, usefulness or tenacity. However, all attempts to completely tame our section, fail.
We have had to accept that we have a garden; a piece of paradise; a quarter-acre section; that has a certain rustic, ragged, scruffy, rascally charm. And then there are my favourite flowers and plants – the ones from her own garden that my mother brought down with her on her visits, and the ones friends have given us over the years. Those plants and flowers hold memories and meaning and are cherished.
And so when I relax and let go of any idea of a manicured backyard, neat and pleasing to an eye that is satisfied by squared-off angles, flat, uncluttered horizons and curving stone paths, I am able to appreciate and enjoy the delightful variety of bird life that our trees attract, and the unasked-for surprise of unexpected plants and flowers that have decided to make their home with us.
Instead of seeing it as a hard to manage, overgrown nuisance, I am going to switch my thinking to seeing it for what it really is – a poem! with jagged line endings and ragged rhythm. It is not a piece of shaped, square prose with a beginning, a middle and an end and it never will be. It has a more random quality to it than a thing clipped to within an inch of its musicality.
Like a poem, there is something undefinable in our garden’s untamed charm. All it takes is the sudden arrival of a merry piwakawaka, or a hidden riorio practicing its shy scales from the canopy of one of our large trees, for our garden’s true colours to show. At those times, suddenly it’s a beguiling, magical place. I swear that is when I can feel something shift in the recesses of my mind. And it’s sheer poetry.
Saving Time To Make Time Matter
I’m taking on the challenge of writing a poem a day for NaPoWriMo month. I’m using photos from my poetry folder (the photo above being one example) to inspire poems.
York House, Orepuki – a century and a half old. It is the house my great-great-grandfather from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, Mr. Henry Hirst, built when he settled in Orepuki in the 1860’s. Breaks my heart to see it fading away without notice. It’s such a brave, strong building. Very historical. it needs to be saved. And in doing so, saving time.
This photo was taken in 2015 and I believe the house has deteriorated even more since then, its demise most likely accelerating in these very last years of its life. (And yes, there is definitely a poem waiting to be written about this house).
So far writing the poetry has been without much sweat and bother … helped I guess by the fact that I have already prepared myself for defeat, by accepting that I will NOT be able to write a poem a day (already it’s day five and I’ve only written three – or maybe four). However, this quiet patch I find myself curled up in at present, is not going to last. The trick will be to make time, rather than simply find it.
fishing trawlers, Riverton, Southland
As well, somewhere away at the back of my mind I’m aware of my novel poised for publication (somewhere, yet to be decided) like a boat moored with sails folded.
Let’s hope the tide doesn’t slip too far under the book (boat) as it waits to become fully-rigged.
On the Road
Early 20th century stone horse trough, the lower trough designed for sheep and dogs to quench their thirst.
This historical site is situated on a stretch of the highway into Queenstown, known as the Ladies Mile.
A stone monument to Robert Lee, engineer, is behind the trough. Lee was responsible for a private irrigation scheme built near Lake Hayes in 1912 in order to irrigate 600 acres of his farm, Threepwood.* How lovely is that word?! ThreePenny Wood? Threepence Wood? I intend to steal it. (Duly noted in writer notes).
*Information supplied by Queenstown Historical Society
Innocent-looking roadside flowers belying tough country. I snapped this photo from out of the car window while at an enforced stop due to work ahead to clear a slip at Nevis Bluff.
This bluff is at the start of the Kawarau Gorge and due to the unstable nature of this rock face, there are often slips. We could see workmen sluicing away any loose rock as we drove slowly past. Then as we gathered speed farther along the highway, I tried to imagine what it must have been like for those who first carved out this road we were travelling on. It would not have been easy. A lot of blasting I imagine – both figuratively, in the way of expressive language, as well as literally.
I often think of my Granddad, Reginald Francis Lee (as far as I know, no relation to the engineer Lee mentioned earlier) who worked on the roads in Western Southland in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Another name for his work, was road-mender. I like that. (Yet another word to note).
A panoramic look from Sandymount on Good Friday.
A very good Good Friday it was too with extremely fine weather over all our islands; an unusual occurrence for the whole country to be bathed in sunshine – normally there is cloud somewhere in this country of ours (after all, Aotearoa means, Long White Cloud).
At Allan’s Beach we sat for a while on the sand and soaked in the sun and sound of the sea.
Robert had packed the tea and biccies. Chinese red tea and rice crackers. (I quietly looked for some cheese … but no, he hadn’t packed cheese. I guess it’s a hard road finding the perfect man). No Easter eggs either. So far this Easter has been Easter-egg free. Hot cross buns, yes. (Disappointingly bland this year).
So nice there on the beach – until the sandflies and pong of seal and penguin, moved us on.
Next Day, Easter Saturday:
This Easter break has been enjoyably mild and calm. There has been peace and time to reflect on what the Easter season really means. It is my favourite festival, mostly because of the way it quietly affords the chance to reflect and renew. It suits my nature.
A drive to Port Chalmers today – our port town, full of history. A town on the shaded side of the land; stocky, robust, hard-working, stony, tidy, staunch and secretive – where to a certain extent time has frozen. Full of creative types – writers, poets, musicians and artists. You have to look for them though. Most of them like to hide away.
We drove slowly around the back beach road stopping to read a couple of poem-plaques locals have positioned along the way.
This poem refers to Quarantine Island which can be seen over the harbour from where the plaque sits. Aptly named, the small island was where people suffering from infectious diseases were once sent to recover (or not).
And in the nature of harbours, boats and rough waters, tragic events are never far away.
The Town Hall perfectly renders the spirit of Port Chalmers. Proud, with handsome, fine lines, a hint of decoration, a tint of exclusion and a heap of earned respect.
Today with picnic hamper on board, we set off to have a picnic lunch somewhere where there was no-one else.
Robin Hood Park’s circular green looked rather enticing. And apart from a lone astronomer-type unloading his car at the Observatory, we were indeed alone.
Autumn is really getting into gear now. The trees have a distinct autumnal aspect.
Looking out through the trees towards the sea and where we live …
Loading the car boot and heading home. No doubt Robert’s planning some time on the golf course at the very same time as I’m planning on making time for writing up all the notes I‘ve been taking. Road-menders and Threepwood here we come.
part of an Easter-themed display in the church; this bird cage representing when Jesus threw the money changers and sellers out of the temple, upending tables and cages of doves …
all of the stained glass in photos above are from St Michael’s Anglican church, Andersons Bay, Dunedin
Attended an Easter-themed morning at St Michael’s church yesterday. Once again, the symbolism of autumn and how it can relate to the Easter season and pre-Easter’s Holy Week, proving fruitful grounds for reflection, imagination and expression. (No acorns were harmed in the making of this assertion, although the necessity of their burial in order to grow mighty oaks, was alluded to).
The opportunity to write was welcomed by all of those who attended. Among the pictures to use as inspiration, was a photo of a bent tree. (Not the photo above). Those who know me well will know why this image immediately appealed.
The poem below was the result.
There is still life
in this tree
no matter how harmed
There is the resilience
of riding it out
when there is no other choice,
of staying put,
seeing it through
at some calm. blue-sky altar
of healing and sun
it will once more offer
its crooked beauty.
Kay McKenzie Cooke
Fruit, Seeds and Spores
Grapes begging to be picked
white lady in the woods … or more prosaically, white agapanthus against bark …
calendula … holding a candle to autumn … marking the calendar
Easter Daisy offering a hand
I know these daisies as Easter Daisies. I’m fond of these flowers because they are the very first flowers I grew in my very first garden.
I was eight years old (maybe nine) and the garden was a small triangle of dirt beside where the white-painted, outside bricks of the chimney stood at ground level … a favourite spot for me to read, because the bricks warmed by the coal range steaming away inside the kitchen, warmed me as I leaned back against them.
I have been making small, named arrangements of flowers from the garden. This one I’ve called, Remind Me Again How Far We Are Away From The Sun.
I’m still reaping the benefits of going away to be by myself for four days. Because of that time to think and reflect, something has shifted inside my brain, I am certain of it. I feel braver, calmer and stronger. I feel more expansive. Like a starfish. Open for possibilities, but with some residual protection available should I need it. Like a starfish, I have my rocks in place to cling to should the waves become too rough.
It seems to me that Autumn is just as significant and appropriate a season to celebrate Easter, as its original season of celebration – Spring. All around us here in the Southern Hemisphere, are present reminders in nature, of life in death – fruit, seeds and spores. (The glorious, butterscotch-yellow toadstools we have growing in our backyard, an example of the latter – go HERE if you want to see these stunning structures).
Easter can be a chance to celebrate people gone, but never forgotten. People who, sometimes, still visit my present through reminders all about me, in nature, memories and words. As well (because in life things seldom arrive alone) it is also chance to celebrate new life – such as the planting of bulbs. And of course, the mokopuna / grandchildren.
Needless to say, at the moment, I am one happy starfish.
To Think To Thank
I took four days to stay by myself in a crib – a term us Southerners use for what others might call a batch or a beach cottage.
Since arriving back home, I do miss hearing the near sound of the sea at night. It was part of the charm of where I was staying, and I’m sure it helped me to sleep well.
Where we live in Dunedin is close to the sea. In a tsunami threat, we would be wise to head inland. But we’re far enough away not to hear its night-time breathing, its beat, its boom, its bass and rhythm. So, yes, when I arrived back home, I missed that sound – a sound I remember hearing as a child living in a town by the sea.
Usually, whatever ails me can be cured by taking myself out of the stream and spending some time alone. Beached.
Some people seem horrified at the thought of me staying in a quiet, out of the way place by myself. For four days! To them it was not an attractive prospect at all. They wondered how I could do it. No doubt they also thought me a little weird.
The bathroom was in a separate outside space, which meant that whenever (pardon the use of a no doubt by now antiquated euphemism) ‘nature called’ in the middle of the night, I had to brave my fear of the dark. I admit I did find this slightly un-nerving.
Another unsettling time was on my last night when south=west gale-force winds appeared to want to tear apart the rather flimsy-looking wee crib I was staying in. Rain lashed the south-facing, darkened windows as if handfuls were being chucked by some spiteful god, and I could hear what my fear interpreted as a sinister, repetitive and ominously insistent surge of waves crashing high up against the cliffs, just across the road from the crib.
Having earlier looked up the tides chart online, I knew there was a high tide happening right then, in the early hours. The sea’s crashing sounded so close. It had me peering out the ocean-facing windows to check that the squall hadn’t caused the sea to bust through any previously established defence, to end up on the crib’s front lawn.
I fully expected to see that my most recurring nightmare, the one of the sea breaching all natural limits to wash up on to dry land, had come true.
But it hadn’t. All was well. If a little windy and noisesome. Even so, I slept in my clothes just in case the electricity went out, the roof blew off and a mad dash for safety was required.
I was thankful that the crib proved to be sturdy and watertight.
Walking alone on a beach where there is no-one else in sight, can be a good place to feel sad for those who have gone; the ones you miss. The ones whose absence matters.
As i sat on a log looking at the waves and farther out to where the sea begins to melt into sky, I heard a penguin shriek from the sand dunes somewhere behind me.
It was also good to think of those who are still around; those who are important and integral.
It was a beach where the sea left behind stones it had carried there. I like to collect stones. Even though I felt it was a bit of a daffy thing to do, I decided I’d pick up stones that for me represented members of my close family. Stones that symbolised some aspect of their personalities.
The stones will no doubt end up on a garden wall at home and no-one will know anything about me choosing them specially, or which stone is which, or whose. And that is fine.
Limitless time is a gift. I thought I might write, but it didn’t flow. And I didn’t mind. It was good just to think. It was also good not to think.
I spent more time looking at starlings on the power lines than I ever have in my life up until this point. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
The Great Unravelling
Know how I said in yesterday’s post that I felt like a crazy-mad, jumping ping-pong ball?
Well today I feel more like a too-plump ball of wound-up wool. Maybe it’s time to unravel.
Talking with my daughter in law K. today helped me to realise that it won’t be just the last six months that have been full-on … how about the past three years?
In that time my mother, father-in-law and an aunty I was very close to, have died. All three deaths impacting like a thump in the chest. A realisation of my own mortality, a reminder of time passing and the heavy, gut wrenching experience of permanent loss and absence.
As well, three more grandchildren have been born bringing total number of grandchildren to eight. Which of course! is a wonder and a joy; but such life events require time to celebrate, process and accommodate. (And a certain level of energy).
Overseas trips are great. They supply the craving we all have to experience difference and they satisfy a natural curiosity. They provide surprise and wonder.
But for me, are incredibly energy-sapping. Especially when travelling alone. My trip to Berlin in 2016 was amazing, but it took a lot of energy and quite some recovery time. So I have added my ‘Berlin experience’ to the ball of wool. Plus, I’ll add in all the other trips to visit family that I’ve made locally in the last three years. They come to rather a lot.
As well, the three years writing-effort put into the manuscript for a novel and what will essentially be my fourth collection of poetry.
Looking back at all this (and there is more … but I won’t bore you any longer) leads me to conclude that what I’m suffering from right now, is a bit of burnout.
P.S. Today I have been reminded once again that I have three amazing daughters in law.
Back when I had three sons, I could not have dreamed that in the future I would be blessed with three wonderful daughters in law as well. I did hope. And pray. Those hopes and prayers were answered.
This, and other blessings, will be what I will dwell on in these next few days, as I quietly unravel.
Turning Down The Heat
I’ve been starring in a 1960’s black and white film clip, the kind they made back then for children in order to demonstrate scientific principles.
The particular clip I’m thinking of is the one showing uncontrollable, rioting ping-pong balls rollicking about and occasionally colliding with each other in a wind tunnel. This particular illustration was to show the reaction of molecules in water, once that element reaches boiling point.
A modern day example would be Lotto balls frantically flinging about in their rotating perspex barrel.
My life reached boiling point six months ago and I’ve been in boiling water ever since; unable to switch off the heat.
Circumstances seemed to to have piled one upon another during the past six months – some have been unusual events, some just a combination of everyday and family situations arriving all at once. (And Christmas never helps).
I am thankful that the first impatient rush of spring and the sear of summer’s bright, energy-sapping heat that followed, has now been replaced by a far more mellow-yellow autumn. It’s my favourite season and one that always invites a slower approach to life.
Future projects I have lined up in my mind (such as photos to select and print and put into albums, family tree research, house and garden restoration … ) bay for my attention, but I’m ordering them to cease their fevered clamouring until I feel more rested. Until I feel calm again.
As always, writing projects are also among the line-up of projects vying for attention and jostling for a place in the queue. However in that area, I’ve reached something of a hiatus. The ideal chance to stop, reflect, potter, ponder, take notes (I’ll never stop taking notes) and gather energy.
I don’t want to turn off the heat altogether, because that would no doubt leave me up to my neck in cold water. Not an attractive prospect. I shall therefore simply slow down from boiling point to a slow, graceful, almost imperceptible, simmer.
And the odd glass of wine won’t go amiss. Cheers. Slainte. Kampai. Prost.
NOTE: Apart from the first photo, all photos were taken from Karetai Track, Dunedin, New Zealand, on a recent family outing.
CRANKING UP THE FESTIVITIES
Earlier this month in Dunedin, a celebration for the Chinese Spring Festival was held at the Chinese Gardens, ushering in what is known in the Chinese calendar as the Year of the Dog.
In the Chinese Gardens site, the peaceful atmosphere guided people to sit awhile, or wander through.
Outside, entertainment was provided by a variety of local dances and music items performed by representatives of the different cultural groups in our city.
Of course, here in Aotearoa, it isn’t spring, but nearly autumn. Our laden apple tree providing proof.
I have been busy writing poetry for the Cavalcade Market Day in Owaka that J&K Rolling (aka Jenny Powell and myself) are attending. We have both been busily composing poetry that is horse-related and making poetry books and cards etc. for our POETRY stall.
Thrilled to purchase this Huntley and Palmer biscuit tin from eBay. I remember it from when I was a small girl. My Dad made up a story about this picture, telling my sister and I that the girls visiting the blacksmith were us – and we believed him.
It was thinking about horses and my father and his love of horses, that brought this biscuit tin to mind. Imagine my delight to go online and find that someone in Britain had the exact one I remembered from the 1950’s. And it was for sale. Ah, the joys of internet.
Tomorrow Jenny and I head off for J&K’s next outrider adventure in the small town of Owaka; gateway to the Catlins.
There is a Market Day in town on Saturday to help welcome the 500 horses and riders of the Goldfield’s Cavalcade, due to converge at midday on the small town. The Cavalcade is made up from various groups of horse riders that have set out from different parts of the Southland and Otago.
And J&K are taking part in the Family Market Day with a Poetry Stall selling poetry posters, cards, books etc. As well, we will be reading poetry on the hour every hour and inviting people to read their poetry as well.
Our tagline Breaking City Limits for Fine Country Lines says it all.
We set out with the goal of bringing poetry to the country, and finding any poetry there to be discovered. Always, always, we achieve just that – surprises and serendipitous events adding spice to all the various whistlestops we have made over the past four years.
So much that happens creatively in the hinterlands, happens under the radar. City folk just don’t get it. Get it? You have to go – break city limits – in order to find the gold. So that is what we do.
Over the years, horses have become a feature for J&K. We keep the horse theme going (like a running gag) and make it part of our persona. This time the presence of 500 horses can only add a pretty big WOW factor to our venture and up the ante.
Tell you all about it when we get back. If you can handle it.
RIDING INTO THE NEW YEAR
PART ONE: Tough Start
It is only now I feel I can write about how my year started. It started off hard for me this year. Although the month of January had some happy family moments,
it was mainly caught up with helping care for a much-loved aunty in the last stages of the cancer that finally took her life near the end of the month.
Time stopped, as if captured in amber – yet weirdly, at the same time it mercilessly ploughed on.
And all while summer temperatures soared to over 30 degrees in the inland Southland town of Gore.
view from inside my aunty’s little flat, looking out … dark-red (almost to the point of being black) gladioli in foreground …
Sad to say goodbye to a favourite aunty, but she herself said she had had a long and happy life.
Recovery for me has been helped by grandchildren moments …
And walks around the inlet
PART TWO: Back On Track
The photo above is one I took on my trip to Berlin in 2016. It is a photo of one of several magnificent statues placed on museum island, depicting horses and riders in battle.
Horses are very much on my mind at present because in two weeks time, with my friend Jenny Powell, I’m going to be attending the Owaka Cavalcade Market and Family Day, when 500 horses taking part in the annual Goldfield’s Heritage Trust Cavalcade, rides into town.
These photos were taken in the winter of 2016, in Luggate, after J&K Rolling had rolled into Wanaka to take part in the National Poetry Day events there.
J&K Rolling, Outrider Poets, will have a stall at the market with poetry cards, books and other poetry paraphernalia for sale. We will also be reading poetry there; on the hour every hour. We have invited riders in the cavalcade, and anyone else interested, to bring along a poem and take part.
For our Poetry Stall, I’m using leaves to print paper that will be used for poetry cards etc.
My d-i-l Kate came up with the idea. With baby granddaughter on board, we have been busy collecting leaves and other bits of flora, packing them between paper and then boiling the stack up with vinegar and an old horseshoe. (There’s more to it of course, but I’ll leave it at that for now).
After being boiled and then left to steep ...
The great unveiling … We were thrilled with the results …
All ready for a poem. One about horses, of course.
Like her sister (my mother), my aunty also liked writing poetry. The poems I’m writing at the moment, I write with them both in mind and I suspect with them at my shoulder. No doubt in typical fashion, with much laughter and arguing the point!
Tail Feathers and Bottom Feeders
The old year is shaking its tail feathers ready to fly off into the horizon of time lost, never to be regained.
Potentially a dismal thought, if it wasn’t for the present’s habit of feeding on what is before us to replenish and fulfill.
Which is exactly what this spoonbill was doing this morning in the inlet not far from our place. I spotted it on a walk, the duck-and-frog smell of low-tide mud, rotting vegetation and algae not entirely unpleasant.
Low tide is a good time to visit the inlet. That’s when you spot the bottom feeders.
A new year ahead provides opportunities to turn the page; to turn a new leaf …
which is a nice feeling.
Being an organised creature, I already have my aims and goals for 2018 pretty much sorted.
Among these is the goal to begin writing the second part to my novel (along with sorting through my mother’s photos and papers and scrabbling a little more among the family tree).
I will continue to write poetry and already have an idea in mind for what to focus on for this year’s batch of new poems. (This isn’t always the case, so I am thankful that I have settled upon a theme).
low tide corner ( a mite pongy this morning when I walked past)
A new year is a good chance to try new things I reckon and I have a couple of ideas and plans for new experiences, but I won’t risk jinxing these plans with descriptions or explanations.
If these future ventures do come to fruition, no doubt any evidence will be recorded here.
So. Watch this space, I guess. And a Happy New Year!
‘I am a rock’
… I am an island … Monkey Island.
Great to take another trip recently with my sister and aunty, back to my childhood town (my turangawaewae) of Orepuki and Monkey Island beach, Te Waewae Bay.
It was a warm, calm summer day with people taking advantage to have a dip and to sunbathe.
… a favourite sheltered spot for my parents and us kids to have a picnic – a tartan rug spread out on the sand and the nearby creek providing many hours of fun.
Being there on a summer’s day brought back happy memories of times spent down at the beach swimming and picnicking with my parents and brothers and sisters. I remember one occasion when we were still there after the sun had gone down over Foveaux Strait, my father and uncles boiling up mussels and frying flounder over an open fire. In my memory, it is a golden time.
My sister and I spent a bit of time exploring the rock pools, discovering cats eyes and beach pebbles. Just as we used to as kids.
It was another great trip down memory lane.
I’m taking a bit of a break from writing, focusing instead on Christmas preparations, gardening and enjoying summer and social times with family and friends.
Lyall Bay, Wellington
Another trip, this time by air to the North Island. To Wellington, where our son and his wife and their baby live (for now). I also have a sister and a brother who live there.
I always enjoy visiting Wellington, Aotearoa / New Zealand’s capital city, with its corners and twists, deep-deep green pockets of native forest, curly dips and helter-skelter hilltops.
The buildings too – quaint Victoriana and / or middle twentieth century homes squashed in and dwarfed by the inner cityscape of broad-shouldered glass-fronted buildings – the most attractive of which reflect the sea and sky, while the uglier ones cower, or lurk, in the shadows cast by motorway overpasses or simply by way of being located on the wrong side of the street.
So much of Wellington seems to be crammed into whatever space can be found in the crumpled texture of hills and coastline.
So much of Wellington couldn’t be found anywhere else. Each suburb appears to exhibit a character of its own, from Thorndon’s Victorian-past-elegance-now-gone-to-seed vibe, to Newtown’s lively, sub-cultural grunge, Hataitai’s quaint, pocket-sized quirkiness and Island Bay’s lost soul waiting to either be re-discovered or newly discovered … I could go on …
The undergrowth (and overgrowth) in Wellington suburbs, is thicker, bigger, denser, clammier and more encroaching than what I am used to in the comparatively more shuffling, open green rustle of Dunedin.
I found myself walking up a warm, sun blasted (with no respite in sight) Wellington suburban street-with-incline, thinking, “Why could this be nowhere else but Wellington?” Then I answered my own inquiry. “Because of all the rampant dark-green and the smell and sound of it growing”.
An oppressive lunge of bottle-green borders silent, suburban streets that look as if they are about to be devoured by the bush; or drowned by faraway creeks, the seep and devious trickle of which are barely discernible above the chortle of tui. Finding my way around such quiet streets to where my daughter in law was going to pick me up, gave me a feeling of being trapped in a suburban valley, full of the menace of greenery and no-one home. Quite possibly, they were all attending seminars. (My daughter in law has a theory that Wellington is full of over-achievers and first-borns).
Thankfully there are pleasant patches of bush. Like in the beautiful park I went for a wander in with my d-i-l and baby granddaughter.
Dappled light and birdsong. Entrancing. My granddaughter’s expression was one of wonder as she experienced a spot of forest-bathing. This was the flip-side to my previous experience of Wellington’s greenery.
a patch of wild, roadside flowers providing some light relief
my granddaughter’s evident pleasure in greenery
these Lyall Bay garage doors took my eye …
… coffee by the seaside, always a treat.
… as is coffee by the harbour.
Catching up with my brother and sister involved a drive with my brother and sister-in-law up the coast to my sister and brother-in-law’s lifestyle block (no piccies to share, sorry).
They are ‘living the dream’ (although I suspect that they would beg to differ, as at present the wait for their house to be built necessitates a ‘life-in-caravan’ lifestyle). However, their plans for orchard, wetland and large garden are taking shape, their hens are loving it and their cat turned from townie to country cat in a flash. Their block of land is huge (especially when you consider that they have to keep the grass down) so they now have a ride-on mower – which we all just had to try out. Of course. Even with a ride-on, it takes them two hours to do the mowing.
On this visit to Wellington I witnessed my granddaughter roll over for the first time, saw her experience for the first time the feel of grass on her bare feet, of cold rock pool water and gritty sand between her toes.
Such things are priceless.
Taking the Back Roads
… Colac Bay on a bleak day …
A trip south afforded images to substantiate material for writing both prose and poetry. As I drove past both familiar and novel landmarks, time slipped and footholds moved.
… taken outside the town of Winton.
I remember my Dad on Sunday drives out this way, thinking it was a huge joke to call the western end of Winton the Dead End, because that was where the cemetery was. (Yeah, very funny Dad).
My driving was mostly accompanied by Joni Mitchell’s Travelogue cd, her words inspiring, adding fuel to the fire of my thoughts, dreamings and memories.
… Wyndham’s windmill …
… couldn’t resist taking this photo of sheep grazing on the front lawn of an abandoned? house on Wyndham’s main street. New Zealand writer, Janet Frame lived with her family in Wyndham when she was young. Seeing the sheep on the front lawn amused me because one of my favourite Frame short stories is one that features a sheep straying into a house (or the wash-house, if my memory serves me right).
Whenever possible, I took the back roads. It was clear weather and benign driving conditions, with Southland’s springtime favours punctuated by fresh green grass and reliable rivers.
… an interesting country cemetery within coo-ee (or, in the case of this cemetery, cow-ee?) is always hard for me to resist …
… Wyndham cemetery …
… the ubiquitous, windblown cemetery saint …
… also familiar, the caretaker’s shed …
… vigilant mother sheep checking out the threatening figure knee-deep in long, roadside-verge grass, holding out a strange object in a somewhat alarming manner. One of the lambs looks like it is about to dive in for a drink, its sibling thinking, ‘Now there’s an idea’ …
Particularly pleased to see lots of agile lambs leaping about with typical spindly, stilt-like movements.
It isn’t Spring for me unless I see lambs.
cafe in Rakaia where I stopped for a welcome coffee. The decor reminded me a little of a favourite cafe of mine during my stay in Berlin … I wonder if it’s still there …
September proved to be a month of quick trips away (including one down to my favourite old haunt of Orepuki to take another look at what is left of the small library they have down there), meeting up and being invited out to dinner with friends, a poetry reading or two, a General Election to note and vote in, and as always; family – M. visiting for a week in order to fulfil a commission for a cafe-wall painting, having grandchildren to visit, a trip to stay with another son in Christchurch ….
fun at the Margaret Mahy Family Playground – what a great place for Christchurch to have! It must help add a bright note after the earthquake six years ago that wrecked the city; so much so, the central part is now unrecognisable …
while in Christchurch, the weather was kind and we were able to enjoy a backyard bbq …
… complete with toasted marshmellows …
… And then back home again to my own backyard – quintessential kiwi in its own understated, no-frills (definitely NOT House & Garden! – more like Rumpled & Rustic) way, what with the tractor tyre (that was once a sandpit, but now used as a compost bin sprouting mint) plus the rusty rotary clothes line and the Warehouse (Whare Whero) green, plastic chair …
Back home, I continue to pay more attention to my own backyard, now that winter is over and the warmer and longer sunlight hours of spring have arrived. Time to don the silly sunhat and funny clothes, grab the scythe and slash back the jungle undergrowth.
… Ahhh. Loved an unexpected visit this weekend from son and daughter-in-law and their wee one … Is there anything more perfect and pure than the clear gaze of a baby?
All of this visiting, social outings, road trips and family times have proved a pleasant distraction from missing my husband, who is at present far away from his own backyard.
Needless to say, the writing that I thought I would get done while R. was away, just is not happening.
However, I cannot be disappointed, because the alternatives have felt like too much fun.
Nevertheless. (What a lovely word that is). Nevertheless.
Nevertheless, I have set some goals and if this month of October doesn’t slip like sand through my fingers too rapidly, I should be able to deliver on my own promises.
in my own backyard
Pegs perched like birds
on a wire
rotary clothesline. A green plastic chair,
one unreliable leg duct-taped
for security, a tractor tyre growing mint.
At the back of the house,
of green, of concrete slab
wall, of promises
to deliver, silver beet, fuschia
and a sense
of time measured
in breathing in
takes of cut grass
and the crush
of broken geranium.
Kay McKenzie Cooke
clamour of yellow (bell-shaped flowers of the kowhai tree)
Taking little wanders in the backyard to check out the progress of Spring flowers (and horrors!) weeds, is one of life’s tiny pleasures.
I often wish I could give up the time I spend on writing and devote that time to gardening instead.
Today I met a friend for coffee in St Clair. The groynes (wooden piles) are looking even more wrecked than the last time I checked the progress of their demise.
I realise that the photos I’ve taken when they were upstanding and intact (albeit weathered and gnarled) are now a record of what once was.
Today the sea was ruffled and a grizzled grey.
My friend and I spoke of cabbages and kings. Of forgiveness and Omega 3. Grandchildren and ageing gracefully – or with abandon.
We left each other perhaps none the wiser, but certainly feeling a solidarity that comes with age.
We talked about swimming and grandchildren. About the different way everyone looks at life. About how in the end, all we can do is to maintain the health of our own minds and hearts, and let everything else be.
It was Friday night and a certain pre-election madness was in the air. A loud-voiced man in a yellow t-shirt was telling everyone he could see, to vote Labour. “Labour is New Zealand’s church,” he said. “Down with the Tories”. I think he was most likely doing more harm than good.
My friend and I said good-bye, laughing when a small dog on the corner suddenly gave a huge yap.”Such a loud bark for such a small dog,” my friend said. Let that little dog be an inspiration for us all: anything worth saying can be said with just one bark, if it’s loud enough.
The Moment A Single Blade of Grass Is Caught by The Sun
dandelion up close and personal
a single blade of grass
From Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Inversnaid:
“What would the world be, once bereft,
of wet and wildness? Let them be left.
O let them be left; wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”
red hot poker
As Christopher Lloyd wrote in The Well-Tempered Garden
“Many gardeners will agree that hand-weeding is not the terrible drudgery that it is often made out to be. Some people find in it a kind of soothing monotony. It leaves their minds free to develop the plot for their next novel or to perfect the brilliant repartee with which they should have encountered a relative’s latest example of unreasonableness.”
Followed by something I wrote in response:
This was not my experience as I clambered about our steep bank. Thinking and reflecting was a luxury in which I couldn’t indulge, there was far too much hard labour involved in the weeding – toil that was accompanied, I noticed, by rather a lot of old person sound effects.
owl garden ornament
old door handle from my childhood home
door handle from front door of my childhood home
All photos taken by me with Canon S3
An errant blade of grass, the common dandelion, an old and useless door handle, a rusted keyhole … All could be symbolic of the locking and unlocking of the past (or the future) and how much of the present can be caught in the moment the sun catches a single blade of grass.
As I write this, ocean-side clouds are rushing to scribble out our previously clear and sunny day. There’s a silent battle being forged between the blue and the grey with the grey issuing a volley of sea fog towards ‘Old Swampy’ (otherwise known as Flagstaff). A smoky trail of steamy grey threatens to engulf the whole city.
a breakaway to visit the newest grandchild
a stone found on the beach close to our son’s art studio – a stone to mark our granddaughter’s name, as well as our first introduction to her ‘in the flesh’
cheerful signs of Spring! Magnolia buds in Dunedin’s Botanical Garden (and at the same time, a reminder of another of our granddaughters)
while at the Gardens, this photo was just there for the taking (Paradise ducks, in this case the female being the more colourful one)
Dunedin street scene … a coffee in the Octagon and a visit to the art gallery is a favourite Sunday afternoon activity
a Sunday morning top-up of stained glass (St Michael’s, Andersons Bay)
well-worn steel steps in a car park, marking the passage of many feet … going up …
going down …
Someone asked me a week ago how my writing was going and all I could think to reply was, “Grandchildren”.
Yes, family takes up a lot of my time and thinking space. Of course it goes without saying that I wouldn’t have it any other way. The eighth grandchild arrived a month ago. I can only feel blessed.
Another blessing is that the poetry is flowing. (Not the prose so much. It requires a lot more space. Like potatoes as opposed to radishes).
Spring is brewing; a delightful prospect after what has felt like an especially tedious and sun-less winter. Even better, I can see a solid area of writing space opening up for me in the next couple of months. I’m looking forward to using this wall-to-wall writing opportunity and intend using it to sort and file material for Craggan Dhu; Part Two. As well as collecting the poetry for my fourth poetry collection (as yet un-named).
Naming is important. The names all my grandchildren have been given, are beautiful. Like jewels I can tumble in my head, each name different, each name treasured.
Inside Out Winter
Some photos of winter here in the deep south.
The first few were taken on a recent trip to Queenstown.
Grandson and sheep, Lawrence, Otago
Old wheel, Lawrence, Otago
Taken from the gondola, Queenstown
A wintry outlook taken across from our place looking towards Andersons Bay Presbyterian church, now no longer used. Forced to close I believe because of the high cost required to bring it up to earthquake requirement standards.
After two years living in our wee downstairs flat (a really cosy and adorable space making us reluctant to vacate) we moved back upstairs where our son and his family were staying temporarily.
We are happy to be back to a larger space, a view, a conventional, electric oven (rather than convection), a bath, a wood-burner and garden. However we were also loath to leave the convenience of a dishwasher, really great shower, mod.cons. double-glazing and modern, easy-to-keep-clean space.
Our rather tired home is a mite shabby and in need of some major wallpapering, painting and carpeting … but all in good time, and as we can afford …
On a neighbourhood walk recently, this blue garden seat caught my eye … one of my favourite shades of blue …
A well-built fence and somehow very Dunedin. Maybe it’s the peaked fence-post lids that make me think that. Something very upstanding and conservative about them.
Nothing upstanding and reserved about this neighbourhood fence and mailbox, and all the more endearing for it …
Hydrangeas – another favourite shade of blue.
An artichoke plant – next year maybe I’ll remember to pick before the flower appears – but such a pretty flower, it seems a shame not to let it flower.
I wrote a poem about these old kettles. Kettles are very cool.
See the little hearts? My daughter in law Kate made this elephant, and I love it.
And just today I took a photo of these easter daisies. I look out at them from our kitchen window. They are certainly a bright spot in my winter outlook.
Winter is normally a time for hunkering down and reflecting. But it seems I’ve been busier than ever this winter. The calendar keeps filling up with events and appointments and time in the room I use for writing, has been rare.
I’m not unhappy about this.
A busy life is feeding me lots of stuff to write about.
If I was stuck at home with nothing to do, I don’t think I’d have anything to write about.
However, a part of me would welcome the chance to prove this.
Looking Back In Order to See Ahead
On a trip south this week, I stopped at Sod Cottage which is an original new settler cottage dating back to 1860’s. Sited on the side of the main highway south, it serves as a stopping place for anyone curious about what houses may have looked like at that time; both inside and out.
A picnic table outside encourages passers-by to stop for a picnic. However, as there was still frost on the ground the morning I stopped, that idea didn’t appeal.
Farther along the road, I spotted a mob of very muddy sheep in a swede paddock. Swedes are what New Zealanders (especially those in the south) call a type of turnip. When driving past later on in the year, when the turnips begin to rot in the ground, wafts of foul air fill the car. Just another rural experience!
On the way back from my trip to Gore, Southland, I stopped at Lake Waihola as I could see that after a frost, the lake was looking very calm and photogenic.
Such ‘Lake Placid’ characteristics is not always so with Lake Waihola. As it is not a deep lake, its muddy bottom is easily disturbed by the frequent winds that move around where the lake is situated, between two ranges of hills.
Writing-wise, I am continuing to write a poem-a-week for my recollection of the trip to Berlin I made almost a year ago now.
The research for Craggan Dhu: Part Two, will take me another year to complete. But because part of the research involves family memorabilia, I can kill two birds with one stone – tidy up and file family papers at the same time as milling useful ideas and facts for this second novel.
The past continues to infiltrate my present. Early this week I took a book from the Orepuki library (which dates back to the late 1800’s) into the *Hocken Library here in Dunedin. I was informed there that the books in the Orepuki library probably need to be listed to establish their value and usefulness. A job I would be only too happy to tackle. In the spring.
*The Hocken Museum is a valued repository for New Zealand historical data and materials.
Robert and I went for a walk recently, fortuitously choosing what turned out to be a perfect combination of time of day and atmosphere: low tide and near to sun’s set.
The kelp at Lawyers Head was amazing to see, lying in rich-brown heaps exactly where dumped by the ocean’s swinging arm.
There were other things too to take the eye. I started clicking my camera and couldn’t seem to stop seeing colours and textures to capture.
black, glistening rocks taking a breather before the next wash by an incoming tide
cerise seaweed …
rocks stained by the iron oxide in the run-off (so I was informed by someone more knowledgeable than myself)
concrete slab from man-made sea wall, torn away by the ocean …
a popular pooch spot, going by the paw prints …
light strokes over the surf painted by a sinking sun
So. Sent off the manuscript. Four months now to wait until I hear whether it has been accepted for publication.
Meanwhile, I am hatching the second part. I was going to introduce a whole raft of new characters, but the characters already introduced had something to say about that! They want me to keep them on. Their stories are not done. So it looks as though they will remain, but I will also be introducing some new characters as well. Plus a whole new plot.
Imagining Part Two is what keeps me awake at night. I can’t turn off my brain and the onslaught of ideas.
But at least keeping my mind engaged in the hatching and plotting of Craggan Dhu: Part Two, is good armour against any nasty, unruly jolts of anxiety that can sometimes arrive just as I am about to fall asleep – like rapier attacks cruelly aimed to prevent the bliss of sleep.
Such unfounded, indiscriminate anxiety usually swirls around the question of what is the meaning of life, and other such boring, existential questions like who am I really? And what if my life is really just all a dream; some cruel hoax?
Then morning dawns and all is well again; proof that to combat confusion, a good dose of daylight does not go amiss. That, and a walk by the sea.
Flax and Sun
Takitimu mountains backdrop
Te Waewae Bay
Monkey Island beach
This long weekend we took a trip south to ancestral lands.
My novel “Craggan Dhu’ (yet to find a publisher) was ringing in my ears. So much of its grist has been milled from these parts.
The characters in my novel were singing and dancing with me as I stomped the ground and sniffed in the scent of flax and sun. (Well, to be honest, a couple of them were griping, it not being in their nature to sing and dance).
As promised, I have taken myself down to the sea. Twice this week so far.
I wondered why I had left it so long. After all the beach is only a stone’s throw from our place (3 – 4 k’s at the most …)
Then I realised that I actually prefer the beach in the cooler months. Not so many people. Not so windy. The colours muted and peaceful.
I especially love the blues … the white froth adding contrast.
On Monday the breakers were steaming and frothy after a storm over the weekend.
I am posting off my novel’s m.s. to a publisher this afternoon.
Then I shall to the best of my ability, forget all about it and get back to poetry and writing down ideas I have brewing for the second part to my Craggan Dhu saga.
It will be sweet to get back into some in-depth strumming again after so long just picking out sporadic notes.
The timing is right; it is nearly Matariki (the appearance of the Pleiades over the horizon). That is when my writing really hits its stride. The universe and me in tune.
Photos above taken by me with I-Phone 5
From 2011 – detritus on St Kilda beach
I can hear the beach calling me. Its been a while since I’ve visited.
Last night I pulled away from social media, vowing not to return until Spring (and even then I’m not sure I’ll want to join the crowds at the watering hole again).
I want to take time to listen and read. Think and dream. Without the white noise of checking status and Like-ing things people post. Reminds me of the days of intense blogging and the self-imposed obligation I felt back then to read and comment on every blog I followed.
rocks at Cosy Nook
Writing has had to take a back seat lately as I have been busy with getting our apartment downstairs ready for Air BnB placement.
Our son and family who were living in our home, have moved on to another city so we have moved back upstairs into what feels like an manor (after living for two years in the cosy apartment downstairs).
At the same time, however, we can now see all the work needed to update and re-touch the rather faded and shabby interior. (Something we have been talking about doing for ten years).
Cosy Nook rocks (2)
If there’s such a thing as a ‘Magical Places of the World’, Cosy Nook in Western Southland, New Zealand (and just down the road from where I was brought up) would surely comply. Such magical places serve as inspiration for me to get writing.
Yes, I really do need to get back to writing. And back to the beach for a shot of salt and surf.
Photos taken by me with Canon S3
Novel Mountain Climbing
Three Sisters peak, Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown, New Zealand
Yes, writing a m.s. for a novel and getting it all ready to send to a publisher, can be a bit like climbing a mountain.
Not that I have ever climbed a mountain.
But I have written a m.s. for a novel.
Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown
If only I could just wave a magic wand.
Or had staff.
(A magic staff?)
Then I could magically skip the stages to ‘getting the thing published’ and just concentrate on the fun part – the actual writing.
sunset reflected on to Remarkables mountain range, Queenstown
The light at the top of the mountain seems like a very long way away at the moment.
All of the above photos were taken by me with a Canon S3
Seven- Year String Theory / It’s Just A Theory
Feeling a bit like this kite these days – free, yet tethered. Free to write, yet tethered to themes. Themes of forgiveness, celebration, exploration, hurt and grief.
Entering new ground … I am settling into my tenth seven-year stage. One of active participation after the previous seven-year stage which was of a more pondering, meditative nature.
It’s as if for those seven years, I was gathering my strength and confidence for this seven-year stage. (This stage, from ages 63 – 70 corresponds to when I was aged 7 – 14; and then again when I was aged, 28 – 32).
I look back on my life and for me, there is a clear pattern of entering new phases every seven years. These seven years then fall into a twenty-eight year pattern.
I’ve lived through the twenty-eight year sequence twice now.
The first seven years I have titled the Learning years.
The second seven years the Active years.
The third block of seven years, the Weathering years.
The fourth seven-year stage, Celebration years.
After experiencing my third time of living through the Learning (exploring, pondering, meditative, gathering) stage, I am now in my third round of Active years. These years appear to take on the nature of participation, curiosity and energy.
I liken it to the butterfly – the first stage is as an egg – still, waiting, gathering; then as a hungry caterpillar – devouring, participating, working and energetically experiencing; then as a cocoon – weathering life’s harder times, dreaming, passive and patient; then the last phase, which is the butterfly fully formed and celebrating its freedom of flight.
portion of a painting by Michael D. Cooke
This ‘seven-year string’ theory of mine has no scientific or mathematical basis. It is purely something I have concocted for myself in wakeful hours of trying to get to sleep. It amuses me to look back over my life and divide the years lived into these seven year stages.
My first Active phase was when I was aged 7 – 14 and delighting in my roles of daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend and school pupil. Simple roles, easy to fulfil. By the time I was into my second Active stage (35 – 42) , I had added the roles of wife, mother, aunt, teacher and writer. Again, delightful roles I revelled in.
Now, third time round, the roles of daughter and granddaughter have been taken away from me. But I have the delight of the added roles of grandmother, published writer and retiree. And I am still revelling.
Aint life just the grandest thing?
I thought I had lost this photo of a little frog we saw in my daughter-in-law’s parent’s garden in Okayama, Japan.
It was one of those moments that stick in your mind. I spotted the wee fellow when E’s father was showing us around their amazing garden – a garden that warrants the term ‘Market Garden’ back here in New Zealand.
Sadly E’s father died a few years later. I am pleased that I am left with fond memories of him and of E’s family home and garden, of the dinner served to us that moon festival night, and of the over-whelming hospitality of her parents. It was a magical time, a portrait worthy of occupying a special position in my hall of memories.
from a few seasons back now, a row of green tomatoes hopefully ripening on our windowsill (if I remember correctly it didn’t work, Dunedin’s day-long length of sunshine quickly waning as March marched on into April).
While going through old blog posts, I came across the photos (featured above) I forgot were in my stock.
I decided to feature ‘green’ – possibly in deference to St Patrick’s Day, which happens to be the day after our youngest son’s birthday. I’m glad though that our son wasn’t born on St Pat’s Day. Not the greatest to every year have your birthday overshadowed by so much mad green.
munted tennis ball washed up on to the St Kilda beach tide line
I spent a successful week’s writing last week.
I achieved it by pretending I was ‘away’ (possibly at a writer’s retreat somewhere).
For all intents and purposes, I was not home if anyone tried to find me. I didn’t answer the phone – anyway, it would only have been scammers or random companies soliciting takers for home heating, or real estate agents wanting to value our house.
I told people I was going to ‘be away’ for the week and locked the door and applied headphones.
I didn’t venture out even to collect the mail. (Although I did sneak away for a few walks and a couple of visits to the gym. Necessary prevention of leg and gluteal muscle atrophy from so much sitting).
My entire week’s focus was on slightly adjusting the ms for my novel – incorporating some helpful suggestions by my ‘readers’. Really happy with the result too. Thank you dear readers (you know who you are).
Now all I need to do is to write out some family trees as an aid to the book – which is going to tax this very right-leaning brain of mine. (“Come on left brain – wake up. Help me out, there’s a chum”).
I’ve been encouraged by my achievement of opting out of society to spend a week fully engaged in writing. I now know it is possible to achieve this without having to leave town. Saves spending money I don’t have on petrol, accommodation and extra supplies. I now know I can assign myself regular Writing Weeks. And I will.
Even a studio or office is not necessary. Just a diary empty of any commitments, locked front door and the appearance of absence, buys me a writing retreat for zilch. That’s win-win in my book (a rhetorical book, you understand, not my actual book).
My actual book is just about there. Will be sending it off with a hope and a prayer very soon.
And then what?
Craggan Dhu; Part Two (and more poetry for collection number four).
A walk around the neighbourhood …
with camera aboard …
painted bus shelter …
brick wall in the Andersons Bay Plunket Rooms corner …
where I sat a while and watched the world go by …
and farther out towards the harbour in the distance, boat sheds and a portion of Dunedin’s wharf-side vista …
until it was time to leave my sunny spot by the ivy-ed wall …
and head on home, past this elegant villa …
with a Lilliput library outside the gate …
A friend of mine is responsible for getting these little free libraries up and running in different places in Dunedin. She is also responsible for poetry cards in waiting rooms nationwide and for poems-painted-on-steps. She’s heading for a Service medal of some description, for sure. Soon I will have to call her ‘Lady’. She’s just that kind of amazing generator for the community … Someone is bound to nominate her. Hell, I might even do it. (If I can be biffed to get my butt up off this sun-soaked wooden seat, that is).
People like my friend astonish me. Where do they get the energy? I need the day to give me a good shove before I can even get going in the mornings.
‘Every morning I wake as if from the dead’ (I think that may be a line from one of my poems, and if it isn’t, it should be).
People like my friend don’t go daydreaming and wandering and sitting on wooden benches watching the world go by. They are the world. The rest of us sit idly by and watch.
Now isn’t there a poem about that somewhere? Written by someone really famous?
Meanwhile … I am mentally revving myself up to make a massive tackle on my novel’s m.s. Feet are skidding a bit in the mud though. I’m needing a bucket of sand for traction.
I have been planning a write-away . A writing getaway. Somewhere quiet in a secret location. Free of charge. But I think that thought just took off with the pig I saw fly past.
Still Coming Up Roses
I cannot believe it!!! (And yes, it does qualify for three exclamation marks).
little mousie brown at the foot of the Peter Pan statue at Dunedin Gardens, his ears shiny from people rubbing them
The latest photos which I put up to replace the first lot that went missing, were also gobbled up by some mysterious interweb quirk …
However, I think I may have worked out that the url for the page was from an old blog and somehow when I updated in a different sequence, the whole thing went wooshing off the cliff … very weird.
Hopefully I’ve solved it by starting up a whole new page that is not connected to any old url.
Look at me getting all techy!
even though this summer has apparently been New Zealand’s second worst on record (I wonder when the worst summer was?) the roses still all bloomed, so it can’t have been all that bad
Squeezing writing time in between catching up with friends and gym and normal life is not cutting it for the my m.s. corrections, so I’m eyeing up somewhere to go for some dedicated writing time, and ordering my calendar accordingly.