Sunday, December 31, 2006


I haven't been posting much over the last few days. I had all sorts of things planned to do while i'm on a holiday break, and then I was offered two weeks free trial to Ancestry. As a passionate genealogist, it has been keeping me very busy.

T.S. Eliot wrote in his "Four Quartets"
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Researching family history, to me, is a search for the place where I started. We are all shaped by those who came before us in ways we can't imagine. The majority of my ancestors came from Scotland. I treasure my Scottish ancestry. And yet I am not drawn to bagpipes, tartans or other popular images of Scottishness. I don't believe they were part of my ancestors' lives. The tartan as we know it is a 19th century invention, and kilts were not worn by the lowland Scots. I don't know what it is about Scotland that calls to me, but later this year I will be making a journey there to see what I can find out. Perhaps to "know the place for the first time". I feel like an explorer in the labyrinth, gathering up the threads that have been left for me by my forbears, following their trail back to all the places they left well over a hundred years ago.

They came from all walks of life - farmers who owned their own land, agricultural labourers, a schoolteacher, a lamplighter, coal miners, tailors, bakers and many others. They left for all sorts of reasons. I wish I could talk to them, but wonder if we could understand each other if I did. Not because the language and accent would be difficult, but because their world view would be different. I don't think that concepts such as self-fulfilment would be very familiar to them, whereas ideas such as duty are less popular now.

So, visiting Scotland is not a final destination on my quest to "know the place where I started for the first time". But it is one more step on the journey. I'm trying to keep an open mind about what I might discover, so that I am not disappointed. I don't think I will be.

More Eliot:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from....

We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.

Oh, and if anyone would like a free trial at Ancestry, let me know - I can send an invitation.

"Destinations" is the topic at Sunday Scribblings this week.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oh Yes, It's Thursday

I'm in holiday mode, which means I don't really remember which day of the week it is. And I don''t have to remember, until next Wednesday when I go back to work. Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day and the day after are all public holidays in New Zealand. Only a few work on the days in between and many offices shut altogether. The shops, though, are closed on Christmas Day only, and the next day the sales start. I'm not sure how these are different to the pre-Christmas special offers when everyone competes for the Christmas shopping dollar. However, it came in handy because just before Christmas, I did a huge mountain of laundry, and then discovered our dryer wasn't working properly. So we have bought a new one at 20% off.

Oh yes, it's supposed to be summer. Someone forgot to tell the weather masters. Finally, though, we have had two nice sunny days in a row, and I have started exercising again after all the holiday food. I took a walk up the hill today and remembered this piece that I wrote a month or so back when I had one of my fitful attempts at writing a poem a day. This is today's contribution for Poetry Thursday:

Rapaki Track

A hawk lifts over the ridge
and skates in tight circles
on the blue rink of the sky.
Serrated wingtips blade the air.
He is searching for movement
but there is only the white stillness
of the grass in the wind,
water running in the cleft
of the valley. He circles and
circles and then spins off northwards
towards the city. A plane
is rising in the east to meet him.

I didn't see a hawk up there today, but I did see another wild species - a bagpiper. I think he goes up there regularly to practice, I've seen him before. And by the river, before I reached the hill, this fellow posed for me - he let me get as close as about a metre away before he flew off.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Joy to the World

Firstly, I have another photo of the pohutukawa tree, or at least the top of one which was the best I could do on the steep hillside below the university in Wellington. It is not, as David thought, a bottlebrush which is an Australian shrub that is considerably smaller. Also, the pohutukawa blossoms are rounder and softer than those of the bottlebrush, which are quite stiff. Some will be covered in blossom even more thickly than this in the weeks to come.

Last night (Christmas Eve) I headed off to "Carols by Candlelight". It has been an annual tradition held in this city for the past 46 years. When I got there something seemed a bit odd. I looked around for people passing out song books and candles and couldn't spot any. Where was the band? Where was the compere? Were they running late? Shortly someone stood in the centre of the gathered crowd and started calling out carols, which people started to sing a little raggedly. Some had brought their own carols and songbooks. When I asked someone near me what was going on, he said the event had been cancelled, so we were having a "do it yourself" singalong instead. Why was it cancelled? I'm not quite sure, it seemed to be something to do with all the rain we had had, and the fact that the ground was too wet to put the stage up.

Stage? I didn't grow up here, but holidayed here with aunts and uncles regularly as a child. I do remember attending once or twice, when we came at Christmas, and I'm sure there was no stage. The essential ingredients are a crowd, songbooks, candles, a Salvation Army band, and someone with a microphone (I think it was the bandleader) to announce what we were singing next.

Gradually things got fancier. Someone decided to add a "celebrity" compere. And a soloist or two to interrupt the crowd singing. Fortunately they save the real hype for "Coca Cola Christmas in the Park" (sponsored by guess who?) which comes a few weeks earlier and is mostly a family pop concert with a few Christmas songs like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and if very lucky, one or two which actually mention the real reason for Christmas.

Anyway, it turned out last night that not even the essential ingredients are essential. We had a crowd, some of whom had candles and songbooks they had brought with them.

We had a self-appointed compere but no microphone. We had a soloist: a French tourist who gave a vivacious and extended impromptu solo, all in French. Few understood it, but she was loudly applauded. Halfway through, a trumpeter appeared to accompany us. (Presumably he went home to fetch his trumpet when he found the band was absent). We all enjoyed it immensely. It felt like the true spirit of Christmas.

When I was moving around to get a better view of the trumpeter, I noticed this window directly behind the crowd. It is the window of a hotel which is further away than it looks, because I was using the zoom. I thought it made a beautiful backdrop to the scene

Sunday, December 24, 2006

New Zealand Christmas

Normally the shops here go crazy the day before Christmas. However I headed to the supermarket today for some last minute items and was surprised that I didn't even have to queue at the checkout. My daughter who works at a different supermarket was actually sent home because they had rostered on more staff than they needed. I guess the fact that Christmas is on a Monday is making it less rushed for everybody - finish work on the Friday, then there is still a whole weekend for that last minute shopping, instead of a few hours late at night on Christmas Eve.

On the other hand, the weather is giving me problems. It has been raining and raining, and then raining some more, with a few fine interludes in between. I did a huge pile of laundry, put it in the dryer which I don't usually use in summer, and then found out that the dryer wasn't working. Christmas Eve is not a good time to get it fixed. So I ended up stringing up a line on our patio, which is open at the front but otherwise covered, and "decorating" the front of our house with a load of laundry. It gives new meaning to hanging up the Christmas stockings.

When we were in Wellington last week I took the opportunity to take the photograph below. One of the things I miss in Christchurch is the pohutukawa trees blooming at Christmas. We are too far south for them to thrive - although there are a few, if you hunt them out. This tree is also known as the New Zealand Christmas tree because it blooms so profusely with bright red blossom around Christmas time. As it was a little early, not all of the trees were blooming yet, and those most thickly covered seemed to be out of reach of my camera, but this will give you a taste.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Almost Christmas

As I said in my last post, I have been crazy busy in the past week. Only a little of this was truly Christmas related. I was also involved in mailing out the latest issue of a literary magazine. This includes a complex mixture of renewals for individual subscribers, invoices for libraries and book shops, contributors' free copies and so on. There is still a little tidying up to do but it can wait till after Christmas.

There were end of year barbeques (in the rain) and at work, I did extra hours to clear everything away before the end of the year, since I won't be working between Christmas and New Year.

Now I find the house has grown dust bunnies in the meantime, so this weekend is a time for hurried housecleaning before Christmas Day, when I hope to be ready to relax.

In the meantime I am having brief fixes of blogging, visiting a site or two, or making a brief post, as a break from the housework.

The photos below are of a Christmas tree that I encountered last year in a shopping complex in Wellington. The shells on the tree are polished paua shell - a New Zealand shellfish similar to abalone. I thought it was very effective, although the photos don't quite do it justice.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Is It Thursday Already?

I am crazy busy this week, so I am very quickly posting a poem from my files for Poetry Thursday, and I may catch up in a day or two.
Just as well that this week's prompt was "do what you like".


points both east and west
a Byzantine ziggurat
a jazz riff, Dizzy Gillespie on a trombone
it’s a double puzzle,
a blazing breeze,
a horizon zigzagging to the zenith,
an awkward couple,
a figure 2 sharpened
catching z’s in a double bed
all knees and elbows

More Poetry Thursday here

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Don't Rain on my Parade

As I've mentioned in previous posts, we had a quick trip to Wellington this week for my daughter's graduation. Although she lives at home in Christchurch, she studied for her library degree by correspondence with Victoria University of Wellington (the only university that offers it), while working parttime in a library here.

The "summer" weather has been very erratic lately, so we were relieved to have a perfect day - neither too hot, nor wet - since the graduands parade through the city before the ceremony.

They were led by the Scots College pipe band

Followed by men in silly hats

More men in silly hats (the purple squashed thing on the left was a particularly splendid example, unfortunately this photo doesn't do it justice)

The MLIS (library) students wore hoods described as "champagne with fuchsia stripe". Actually their hoods were more like sailor collars - much easier to wear than the true hoods that some of the students with other degrees wore.

At the end of the parade, all the students released their balloons in Civic Square.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Poetry Thursday: On the Street Where You Live

This week's prompt at Poetry Thursday set me thinking about streets. At first, I didn't find much to inspire me in the town where I currently live. Sure, we have a whole bunch of streets named for poets: Tennyson, Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, Shakespeare. All very dead and very English. I suspect the streets in Christchurch are just too darned polite and well-behaved - laid out in nice grids with pretty English looking front yards. Maybe I live in the wrong part of town. I have to admit that the hot winds we have been having this week aren't so polite, but they don't inspire me to poetry. They just make me tired.

Then my thoughts turned to Wellington, where I grew up, and I started to find poetry. The street where I spent my childhood was called Tai Paku Paku Rd. This is a Maori name which means, as far as I can ascertain, "gentle murmuring waves". If no one has ever put it in a poem, they should have - it sounds poetic, right off the bat. Actually, like many Wellington streets, it is not. That is, it starts off with good intentions at the crest of a hill. You can drive a car down and round a bend, and all of a sudden, about where our house was, the street runs out, in a turning area with a great view of the harbour. But the name doesn't. It continues down a zigzag footpath where there are more houses, and then it become a set of steep steps cut into a sandstone cliff, all the way down to the harbour, where it is signposted just like any real street.

Grass St was another street like that. It was the street my music teacher lived on. There was a short stretch of real street leading away from the waterfront Esplanade, and then a zigzagging path up the hill, through the pohutukawa trees. I could get off the bus at the bottom and make the steep climb, or I could stay on the bus while it took the long way round up the road to the top of the hill (I usually bussed up and walked down).

Poet Lauris Edmond lived on Grass St in her later years. When I read her autobiography, I realised that I was constantly almost bumping into her, but not quite. She moved to Grass St after I had grown up and stopped learning piano. I think Grass St made it into one of her poems, though I can't locate it just at the moment. She taught at my small primary school a few years before I started there (and it did make it into one of her poems). Also in her poems are Mount St, where a small historic cemetery jostled up against the university, and the wonderful Spanish sounding streets which give their names to cable car stops : Salamanca Road, Talavera Terrace. (Spanish always sounds poetic to me. The suburb where I grew up also had a Spanish name: "Miramar" - "behold the sea"). The closest I came to Lauris, I think, was when we bought our second house, and rented our first to a group of flatmates which included one of her daughters - though it was mostly done through an estate agent. We never met until I heard her at a poetry reading and had a book signed. We probably only exchanged a few words. But nevertheless, in her poems and her autobiography, there are the scenes of my life.

Our second house as mentioned above was in Happy Valley Road. This was a long road running up a valley from the sea, populated at the bottom and top, but with nothing but scrub covered hills in the middle section, too wild to really be called "countryside". Poetry seems to have been following me: when I recall Happy Valley Road I always think of Jenny Bornholdt's poem "Instructions for How to Get Ahead of Yourself While the Light Still Shines". You can find an audio of it here (scroll down to the Audio section).

I'm writing this on Tuesday night and will post it on Thursday night, after a quick trip to Wellington for my daughter's graduation. Maybe I'll find time to work on some poems of my own about Wellington streets. In the meantime, if the Bornholdt link isn't enough, here is a link to another street poem - a rather long one - Galway Kinnell's The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World.

Thursday postscript: I didn't think I would get a poem written - but I did:

Lunchtime in the Cemetery

In Mount St the dead jostle up against us
They are not ours. We deny them
elbow room, picnic on their rooftops.
"Meet you on the five nuns", we say
as we head to our lectures and laboratories.
We lunch on sandwiches, fruit, and each other.
We compare notes, finish last-minute assignments,
study various sorts of chemistry.
Just as our crystals absorb moisture from the atmosphere,
so we absorb the sunlight.
We are becoming deliquescent.

Part of the Mount St cemetery

More Poetry Thursday here

Monday, December 11, 2006

Haiku Monday

This week's theme at onedeepbreath is "containers".

a small square box
of many coloured papers -
worlds not yet folded

a jar of buttons
from discarded garments
fastens memories

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Getting Busier

We are definitely into the silly season of December. So, maybe my posts will be shorter this month. For today:

1) We had a real live donkey in church this morning.

2) I went out with my husband this afternoon and made a good sized dent in the Christmas shopping, and

3) I also bought some new trousers. Not only did they turn out to have a special on the trousers I wanted, a free top with each pair, but I managed to fit into a size smaller. Yaay! Seems my changed eating habits are actually working.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are You a Maximiser or a Satisficer?

I think I got those words right...They come from an article I read a while back. It's to do with how you make decisions. Maximisers gather all the information they can, analyse it carefully and try to make the best possible decision. Satisficers collect some information, then make a decision that is "good enough", and are satisfied with that. They don't mind if they didn't buy the best possible house, or get the cheapest possible deal on their new computer, or whatever. Satisficers are happier (though maximisers might not think so). That's because they are not always worrying that they might have got a better deal if they'd looked harder.

I was thinking about it because I've been running around trying to sort out our holiday bookings. We looked at various ads (lots of earlybird specials at the moment for travel to Europe next year), looked at online booking prices and I went to a certain travel agent, who advertises "lowest airfares guaranteed", to see what he would offer.

The lowest airfares guarantee is slightly misleading, because he gives the same price as you get booking with the airline direct, online. And then he charges a $50 service fee each. However, he came up with a good rental car deal which we couldn't match searching online. So we decided to book the airfare and the rental car with the travel agent and pay the fee. (Ignoring all the other things he was trying to sell, like prepaid bed and breakfast, travel insurance - definitely not the best or cheapest, and tours in Singapore where we have a stopover).

The only thing was that the formatting of his e-mail invoice got scrambled in transit, and I failed to notice that there was a 1.5% addition for paying by credit card. So I paid by credit card, for the hotpoints, then realised we had been overcharged (he also accidentally charged for the insurance we didn't want, and refunded it).

When I replied on his e-mail, he realised what a mess the formatting was, and agreed to refund the credit card. So now I have to go in and pay cash. But we could have booked online for the same price, paid by credit card, and got the hotpoints. And I am sick of running around. So, I am trying to remind myself that I'm very happy to be having this trip, and if I've messed up and not got the best possible deal by finding another travel agent who would accept credit cards, too bad.

On the other hand, with my new camera, I was quite content to spot one that I love, at a good price (special birthday deals at my husband's favourite photo store), and just enjoy it, without comparing dozens of cameras and reading heaps of online reviews. I am happy with it! If there's a better one, I don't want to know!

So, in regards to the opening question, I guess I'm a bit of both, depending on circumstances.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Poetry Thursday: A Poetry Meme

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was

Apart from nursery rhymes, and hymns, many of which are really poems (being a Presbyterian we sang a lot of psalms, which are classified in the Old Testament as "poetry") - the first two poetry books I owned were "A Child's Garden of Verse" by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Golden Book of Poetry edited by Louis Untermeyer. I think the latter came first. So probably the first poem is from that book - "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" by Ogden Nash, which I loved and still do. (If you follow the link on the Poetry Thursday site you will find that this meme came from Cam, who recalls the same poem, coincidentally).

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and........

Well, I was never made to memorize any poems in English. I do still recall a good chunk of one I had to learn in French - la Fontaine's fable of the fox and the crow (Le Corbeau et Le Renard). I loved memorising it. No problem.

3. I read/don't read poetry because....

I read it of course, because I love it. And because the best poetry hints at all sorts of layers of meanings. And because - well, just because I love poetry and I always have

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is .......

Probably many different poems on different occasions. Maybe Jane Kenyon's beautiful Let Evening Come. Or, if I am in a more light-hearted mood, it might be Billy Collins's Introduction to Poetry

5. I write/don't write poetry, but..............

I do write poetry - but I don't think I work at it hard enough or consistently enough. (Enough for what? Good question. Maybe, enough to satisfy myself that I am living up to my own expectations)

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature.....

With poetry I can browse and dip into it more, and also go back and re-read favourites. It is a very different experience from the "straight through" of a novel.

7. I find poetry.....

In books, at readings and on the internet! Especially at Poetry Daily

8. The last time I heard poetry....

was at a book festival in September. I was alternately amused, moved, stimulated and bored. I particularly remember Bill Manhire reading his poem Erebus Voices which commemorates the victims of an air crash in the Antarctic. (It was written to be read at a memorial ceremony). Bill Manhire is a poet I haven't particularly liked in the past, but his more recent work seems to be more accessible. This one is particularly moving.

9. I think poetry is like....

This reminds me of having a new baby, when everyone clusters around trying to decide who the baby is like. I always said of mine "she is like herself" or "he is like himself". There is so much variety in poetry, I don't know how to begin to answer this question.

More answers to the meme at Poetry Thursday
No poems of my own this week, but if you follow the links you will find several very fine poems.

Ten Photos I Want to Take with my New Camera

1. A really nice sunset, without any houses, power lines etc in the way. I can almost but not quite get there from one spot on the upper level of our house. I could climb the hill of course, but then I'd have to come down in the dark and I think that would be risking a sprained ankle on the rough track.
2. Pohutukawa blossom. Otherwise known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, because it is bright red and blooms at Christmas. Unfortunately it isn't seen much this far south, and sometimes at Christmas I get a little nostalgic for the North Island thinking of pohutukawa.
3. A harbour scene with fishing boats and their reflections. Yes, my tastes are a little chocolate boxy at times. We have a harbour not too far away, but most of the wharves have been closed off to public access - unlike Wellington where they sensibly have made public parks along the waterfront.
4. A squirrel. Preferably a British red squirrel and preferably not in a zoo. Because I've never seen one, and I think they are really cute.
5. A Chinese market.
6. Two old toothless men playing Mah Jong in the street. (Can you tell I want to travel?)
7. My daughter at her graduation (coming up soon!). This is her third degree, but she missed graduating in person the other two times because she was travelling.
8. Since she's graduating in Wellington, I'm looking forward to nostalgic photos of my home town. Maybe the cable car (and maybe the pohutukawas will be in bloom).
9. My greatgreatgrandparents' gravestones. I'm hoping that when we get to Scotland next year, they won't be vandalised or weatherworn beyond readability (I do know which churchyard to find them in).
10. Macchu Picchu. One of my dream destinations. Not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, because I am bored with photos of grasscovered hillsides and the flowers in my garden, here is something else - an impulse shot that I think turned out rather well. (Bonus points for accurately identifying what it is).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I Haven't Forgotten...

...that I have a blog, it's just that the Christmas silly season seems to be starting around here. And I have a new camera to play with. Lots of zoom and what-all else. For those who care about such things, it is a Panasonic DMC-FZ50. It's more expensive than I intended, but it looked so good that I couldn't resist - so far I love the big manual ring controls on the front for focus and zoom, just like an old-fashioned film camera - very easy to use.

There will be photos here when I figure out how to get them from the camera to the computer, I probably need to set up new cables since I'm not sure that the ones for my old camera fit. At the moment though I am doing boring things like taking the same photo on different apertures just to see how much I can blur or sharpen the background - not necessarily pretty shots, just whatever is around.

In the meantime Fiji is or isn't having a coup. I couldn't believe it when I picked up the paper on Friday and saw "Fiji's coup postponed for rugby game". Well yes, I could believe it, actually. I'd believe it in New Zealand, too, except that we wouldn't be having a coup in the first place. I'm not sure that we even have enough military to stage a coup, even if they were that way inclined. They're probably far more likely to say "she'll be right, mate" than to try and overthrow the government.

Every time I read the military commander's name I think "Bananarama".

Hopefully I'll post something soon for onedeepbreath, and Poetry Thursday will be along soon, too.