Friday, August 31, 2007

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

...and I do know when I'll be back again - so I'll be back on line in October.
Please check back for news and photos

Monday, August 27, 2007

Weekend Photos

We have been having spectacularly glorious spring weather over the last week or so. I had quite a few errands to do over the weekend so I took my camera along and made a few opportunites to relax and take photos on my way to and fro.

On Saturday I stopped for a little while at the Arts Centre market:

This is "Lord Livingstone". My mother never told me not to take sweets from stone statues!

Another of the Arts Centre's regular buskers, with the tram, a local tourist attraction, in the background.

On Sunday afternoon I had a meeting to attend, near the estuary:

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Getting Ready

Only a week to go! Since The Trip is so much on my mind, I figured there'd be no blog entries unless I blog about it. E-mails are flying back and forth, advice is being offered, and this is the weekend for packing, just to make sure I have everything I need, as there won't be much shopping time during the week - and we leave early Saturday morning.

We received a "welcome pack" from the resort where we will be staying for a week in Scotland. Hmmm. Do we want to play golf? "Only" £60 per person. (Club hire an extra £20). No thank you very much, we can play for about a tenth of that in New Zealand, should we ever get the urge. Not something I'd cross the world for (unless maybe I was a golf fanatic, and the course was St Andrews?)

Do we want the hot water and heating turned on before we get there? There is a charge for that, too. Do we want to order a "welcome pack" of groceries from the village shop. There is an order form but no prices. Choose from a list, or order the £25 Arrival Pack which includes tea, coffee, biscuits, milk, cornflakes, bread, butter, cheese, bacon, sausages, eggs, olive oil, orange juice and a bottle of wine. Or for £50 they will add a bottle of spirits, oatcakes, haggis, sliced ham, a whole cooked chicken and a box of fruit and veg. Again, this is looking a lot more expensive than our local prices. The there is theleaflet from the local butcher, again with no prices. I may just try the haggis, but for the basic groceries we plan on shopping in the cheaper supermarkets, so "no thank you, no thank you, and no thank you" to all their helpful offers.

I note that the village shop offers vegan haggis. Vegan haggis? Isn't that an oxymoron? Can someone please explain vegan haggis to me? The thinking around here is that it is various grains mixed up and packed into the stomach lining of the soybean plant.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Poetry Thursday: The Penultimate Week

Yes, I have been an absent blogger lately. I am rather busy working in the day, and procrastinating in the evening. I haven't written much poetry lately, but when I read that Poetry Thursday was winding up at the end of August, I didn't want to miss the last two weeks.

So, here is one of the few poems I have written in the last couple of months. My uncle recounted how he saw my greatgrandmother reading a Gaelic newspaper sent from Scotland, when he was a boy. He assumed that she was a native Gaelic speaker. I worked out later that couldn't have been true. She didn't come from a Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland.None of the relatives remaining in Scotland were recorded as Gaelic speakers on the 1891 census (the first year that question was asked). She must have learned it, but why? Her obituary suggests she was well-educated, but well-educated young ladies at that time were taught French, art and needlework, not Gaelic which was thought to be a barbaric language. Just one of those questions I will never really know the answer to (unless there is really an afterlife, where we will all meet up).

Please keep in mind that this is very much a first draft.

Jessie Reading a Gaelic Newspaper, circa 1920

After a day of hard work, she sits
and loses herself in imagination.
The words sound in her head, consonants a tangle
of tree roots on her tongue, soft aspirates
like the hills melting away into the mist.
Her Scottish cousins humour her, post her the news
in this language of the uncouth Highlands
which they do not understand. While she scrubs floors
and carried loads of heavy laundry
they serve tea in fine china and send their daughters
to learn French and fine needlework.
Not because it is the language of her forebears, then
and not because it is the mark of education
though she was a scholar once,
certainly not for the news it bears,
now three months out of date,
she reads because of the mystery
of another language, of the remoteness
of its speakers, and the power of believing
that in words there hides the possibility
of becoming someone else.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Birthday Jottings

I had a strange experience driving home from work. I reached the first major roundabout, which is where the traffic to and from the airport crosses the major ring road around the city, which usually carries a constant stream of traffic. Today, there was virtually none. No traffic queued up for a hundred or so metres down the airport road. I sailed straight through, and continued to sail through every traffic light controlled intersection until I was nearly home. This strangely surreal experience came to a halt when I reached the last traffic light but one, and again had to queue through three changes of traffic light before reaching the intersection, But it was wonderful while it lasted.

I reached home just in time to grab my credit card (which I realised earlier in the day I had left at home) and get to my doctor's appointment with not a minute to spare. On the corner just before the medical centre, a giant chicken waved at me. Or at least, a man in a black and white chicken suit waved at me. (No camera, and no time, so no photograph, unfortunately).

It's my birthday. Which is not a huge deal for several reasons. One is that we had the family birthday dinner last night, since it was a Sunday and therefore no one was working. I don't tend to attach a big significance to the actual day. I remember birthdays more by events that happen in close proximity. This year, it's our trip to the UK which I view as a giant birthday present. All our spare cash (and more) is attached to the trip, so any little fun presents are a bonus. I have "Kiwi Magnetic Poetry". And chocolate. (I may not have chocolate much longer, at the rate I am nibbling it.)

Other birthdays I remember are the year I got engaged, five days before my nineteenth birthday. Or the year my parents came for a birthday dinner, on the night of my birthday, which was a Friday. I intended to have the birthday dinner on the Saturday, since I was working. But since my parents were leaving on holiday on the Saturday morning, I held the dinner on the actual day of my birthday. The next morning, early enough that it was still dark, I had a phone call from my mother to say that my father had died suddenly some time in the night. I don't think I feel sad about that birthday (though I do about my father's death) - I feel grateful that we were all together on a happy occasion, on his last night alive.

Despite not making a huge deal of my birthday, it was very nice to wake up to birthday e-mails from blog friends (thanks, Dana) and e-mail friends from around the world. Especially since they had taken the trouble to work out that it is actually my birthday in New Zealand almost a day before the calendar hits the same date elsewhere in the world.

I had a blog visit from the wonderfully entertaining Mr Farty yesterday. He left this comment:
"Lions! You've got lions! Not fair, we've only got cows in Embra.
Or did have until your lions ate them."

(Go ahead - click the link - you know you want to.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spring Photos

We have been having beautiful warm days, so that it would be easy to think that winter is over - especially since all sorts of spring flowers are beginning to put in an appearance. I remind myself that heavy snowfalls are not unknown here in August and even in September, but for today I am enjoying the warmth. I took my camera for a short walk down to the river - here are some of the results.

This tree is a kowhai tree, and its yellow flowers are as much a sign of spring in New Zealand as daffodils.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Thinking of Scotland

Thinking of Scotland brought to mind a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is one of the poets we studied at high school, and I've loved his poems ever since. Although he wasn't Scottish, this particular poem appears to be about a spot that is not too far from where we will be staying:


This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

- Gerard Manley Hopins, 1844 - 1889

For more poetry, visit Poetry Thursday

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Only One

- A writer needs three things, experience, observation, and imagination, any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.
- William Faulkner

And here is the photo for the day: since we will swap the best month of spring for a northern hemisphere autumn, I am delighting in all the signs of spring I can find.

Monday, August 06, 2007


1) All the tests were negative, and the hospital let P come home on Saturday afternoon. As he says, it's one way of getting a free medical check before our trip. I'm really glad they didn't keep him till Monday, because it would mean lost wages if I had to take time out to trip up and down to the hospital.

2) The new Guardian Poetry Workshop is up. Check it out. There are ten different first lines - the idea is to choose one and write a poem using it. Every month I print the workshop out and I never actually do it. Unfortunately, they don't give a very long time frame for submitting the results. But I keep all the exercises in case one of them inspires me in the future. I also like to read the poems they select from those submitted, and the comments.

3) One of the reasons I won't be doing it this week is that I have to produce a bunch of mailing labels, subscription reminders, invoices etc for Takahe magazine. I decided to give up this job now that I am working full time, and I was just about to hand it over with this issue, but they want me to stay. Money is being offered (it was previously unpaid) - not a huge amount, but enough to make me think. There won't be much in the bank when we return from our trip. I haven't been in my new job long enough to be paid while I'm away.

4) I hope the foot and mouth outbreak in the UK doesn't spread. I have memories of various parts of the countryside being closed in the last outbreak over there a few years back, and I'd hate to think we mightn't get to see everything we want to. So far, it's confined to a part of the country we don't intend to visit.

5) I've slacked off on the photography over the last few days. So here is one I took some weeks ago, that I rather like.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Making a Difference #4

Sunday Scribblings this week posted the topic "decision" which reminded me of the decision I made to try and find new things to do each week to reduce my impact on the environment. I haven't posted about it for a while, but I have made some further changes. For instance, I defrosted and turned off the bar fridge.

We inherited this with the house, and it seemed convenient to have a separate small fridge to keep the drinks cold, especially when we were entertaining. But to be honest, not much as moved in or out of it in the past (insert fairly large number of) years. It's a no-brainer to me that it's pretty pointless to keep the same six pack cold for about ten years, just in case you want a cold beer. (I don't - I don't drink beer). So I turned it off, defrosted and cleaned it, and told my husband it was OK if he turned it back on if he really wanted to. It seems he didn't.

Not quite so obvious is Sainsbury's decision in the UK to trial wine in plastic bottles, because it is better for the environment. In fact, I find this one rather ironic. It seems not so long ago that there were big protests over the move to plastic milk bottles in New Zealand, rather than glass - the protestors saying that glass is better for the environment. Of course, the glass milk bottles were reused rather than just recycled - we used to put them out for the milkman the next morning, and they would be returned to the factory and refilled.

Clearly, Sainsburys are going to save a lot of fuel moving the wine around the country, because the plastic bottles are so much lighter. And yes, the bottles are recyclable. But whether, in the whole of their life, a glass bottle or a plastic bottle is better, is not really clear to me. And we do have to consider that making plastic bottles uses up scarce petroleum deposits, whereas glass is made from sand which is plentiful.

Since one of the wines being trialled is a New Zealand wine, our local winemakers are not happy. They say that it won't help the quality image they want to project. They may be right, though I suspect that ultimately, plastic bottles will be well-accepted and not considered a sign of an inferior product.

In this household, we buy mainly cask wine anyway, so it's all packaged in plastic.

More decisions at Sunday Scribblings.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Normal Service Will be Resumed Tomorrow...

When I arrive home this evening, I found a signed copy of Chiefbiscuit's new book in the mail. I've been waiting all week for it. I would jump into bed and read it, except that I think I will fall asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. That's because....

I had about two and a half hours sleep last night, maybe three before the phone rang. I was lying in bed thinking "isn't P (my husband) going to answer that?" (since he is a real night owl and stays up far later than I do). Finally I figured he must be in the bathroom or something, and got up to answer it, only to find that it was actually P calling from downstairs on his cellphone.

He was having disturbing symptons - chest pressure, shortness of breath, etc, - and decided he should go to hospital. So we headed off in an ambulance to the ED where they did tests, found nothing wrong, and eventually he started to feel better. Of course once there, they don't let you go so easily. At least, not with those symptoms. By 6 a.m. it was clear that a) the promised cardiologist would be round sometime, but no one knew when and b) anyway, he would have to stay till at least ten hours after he first went in, for a second blood test. But it did seem that if that was clear, which was what we expected, he would be able to go home. So I went home, got ready for work, and promised to come back and pick him up as soon as he rang me. I didn't take much lunch, because I thought P would want lunch when he got home.

By two thirty I still hadn't heard, so I rang the hospital to find he was on a ward, and I could speak to him after 3.00 when "rest time" finished. When I finally found out what was going on, it went like this:
All the tests were clear. But they wanted more. Probably a treadmill test. But that's not available until tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon, so he had to stay in overnight.

On the other hand, they might decide to do a different test. But the hospital shuts down, rather, over the weekend, so they couldn't do it till Monday or Tuesday. But no, even though he is now feeling fine, he couldn't go home over the weekend.

This is what our tax dollars pay for. People who are feeling well take up hospital beds for three days longer than necessary, because nobody can do required tests promptly.

Of course, I am glad we still have a semblance of a free public hospital system, but still. Only a few days ago the hospital was in "red gridlock" because there wasn't a single spare bed, and no one could be admitted for 20 hours. It seems like such a waste to hold someone in unnecessarily just because it's the weekend. It's not as if they even pay penalty rates for weekends any more.

After that I finished up at work, went home and fetched a really large bag of books, and went in to see him. This morning when I left, I had said "shall I bring a book in for you?" and he replied that it was OK. I think he has changed his mind :)

The ED was good practice for our trip to the UK. English and Scottish voices all around us. That seems to be where most of our junior hospital doctors come from these days. Not that New Zealand pays well, but they seem to like to come here for a few years anyway, which is just as well, because we don't seem to train enough here, and those we do train head off overseas to earn larger salaries so they can pay off their huge student loans.

It wasn't altogether smart of me to go with him in the ambulance instead of following by car, because there I was in the middle of the night with no transport. By 6 a.m. when I left, the buses were running. And I had a bus card, somewhere in my purse. But somehow, it all seemed too much mental effort to a) find the bus card b) find the bus stop and c) figure out the timetable. So, I just put one foot in front of the other until I arrived home an hour later. It was actually a very pleasant walk.

Now, I'm hoping that he will get the treadmill test tomorrow and be sent home, because I don't want Monday or Tuesday messed up. Because those are the days I'll be working at the job where I don't have any sick leave, so if I'm running up to the hospital and back, I'll get less pay, and P has already done the sums for August and September which show that the bank balance will be not exactly large by the end of our trip.

And now, I really should stop rambling and fall into bed.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Poetry Thursday: Meet My Family

A post for Poetry Thursday:

A while back, immersed in genealogy, I found myself wanting to write about the interesting stories that some of my relations seemed to have. Since I didn't really know enough about them, I sprinkled the meagre facts with a seasoning of imagination and wrote a series of brief poems. Since I'm immersed in genealogy again as I prepare for my big trip, it seemed a good time to share some of them.

Of those below: David is my greatgrandfather's brother (on my father's side), a watchmaker who emigrated from Scotland to the United States and arrived in Wyoming on the first ever train to reach that far across the continent.

Alick/Amos is my greatgrandfather, (on my mother's side, alternating between male and female lines) who was a bit of a mystery until I managed to work out that he was a bigamist who had changed his name. I believe he probably married his first wife because she was pregnant, and when the baby died he left her, joined the militia and went to Scotland, where he married again under a different name.

Ann was my greatgreatgrandmother's sister (aunt of David above). Census records revealed that both she and her shoemaker husband were deaf and dumb. Sadly, their four daughters seemed to have been similarly handicapped, and all died young in the poorhouse. But for a while, things went well. I came across the account of a deaf and dumb marriage ceremony in a genealogy magazine, and I put the two stories together.

Wyoming 1867

He arrives in Cheyenne with the railroad
There in a room behind the shop
he mends watches,
shutters drawn
against the heat and the dust.
They tick the years.
The railroad moves on, the trains
rumble westward. For a second
he lifts his head, then bends to his work,
sets all the watches to high noon.

Leeds 1876

He is running away again, but
this time his wife comes too
Five children journey with them.
He opens his cabin trunk,
packs spare shirts, a Bible,
his carpenter’s tools-
hammer, plane, chisels, auger-
and just in case, several extra names
all matching the initials
on his handkerchiefs

John and Ann
Stirling, Scotland 1842

They make their vows like this:
hands on heart, hands on the others heart,
hands raised towards God.
He mimes a grave, signifying
“till death us do part”.
Now wed, they make a home.
She stirs porridge, scrubs floors,
gives him daughters.
He crafts shoes, which speak for him,
eloquently, with many tongues.

Today's photo celebrates my garden which is beginning to bloom again. Spring is on its way!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Two Busy Days

Yesterday the Poetry Chooks finally got together. Supposedly we meet once a month, but the date had been postponed for a week several times running. One of us, C, was working till 7 in the evening so we met at her house and all took food. Over dinner we discussed C's recent trip to Poland, my upcoming trip to the UK, the behaviour of clever cats, and our opinion of the winners in the Montana New Zealand book awards.

We were universally disappointed, though not surprised, by the winner of the poetry category. The award went to Janet Frame, for a collection of her poems, three years after her death. This seems wrong to me for several reasons. Firstly, the substantial cash prize would have been much more use to a living writer. I agree with a column written by Christopher Moore in our newspaper today, when he says that giving awards to dead writers sets a dangerous precedent - how far back in history do you then go? Of course, if the writer was alive when the book was published, and dies between then and the announcement of the award, it's a slightly different matter. Janet Frame's estate was left for the purposes of funding awards to writers, so there is something strangely circular in the process, except of course there will be leakage of money to administration along the way.

Secondly, she copped out. It was often suggested to her that she edit her poems, and she said "that will have to wait for someone to do it after I'm dead". Of course, editing after you are dead means correcting obvious typos, choosing which poems to include, and putting them in an appropriate order. It's not the same as the more radical revision that only the poet can do for themselves. And these poems, for all their flashes of lush and brilliant language, really needed editing.

I think we universally would have preferred James Brown to win.

Of the three candidates for best first book award for poetry, the winner was the only one I haven't read so far. So I can't really comment, but it didn't find much favour with my fellow chooks.

The fiction awards produced a rather more satisfactory result. Lloyd Jones won the fiction award for his book "Mr Pip". Since it had already won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, it would have been a little strange if he hadn't, but as he said, different readers have different preferences, so you never know. I haven't read this one yet, as I'm still in the waiting list at the public library. But we had all read, and loved, Rachel King's "The Sound of Butterflies" which won the best first book award for fiction. It was really good enough to compete for the main prize, but wasn't included. It's good to see New Zealand writers stepping away from this small corner of the world to find plots and settings for their work. This one is set in the Victorian hey day of flora and fauna collectors. Sophie marries Thomas who has a passion for collecting and studying butterflies. He has the opportunity to go on an expedition to the Amazon, but when he returns, it is clear that something very disturbing has happened to him there, and as the book proceeds, we gradually discover the details.

After dinner it was time to share our own writing. I really haven't written much since NaPoWriMo finished. I had one very rough draft that I hadn't taken to either of our two previous meetings, because I didn't think it was ready. But I was tired of not writing, so I printed out copies of that, and in the space between work and the meeting, spent five minutes hastily typing up a new poem, and printed out copies of that as well. (I didn't really write it in five minutes. I've been mulling it over in my head for a while). I was quite pleased by the reception which suggested that the poems aren't quite as unfinished as I thought. Now, I just need to find time to put them through my patent editing method, which is to read the poem aloud half a dozen times, go and do something routine like gardening or ironing, and wait for my subconscious to speak to me.

Overall, the evening was a good reminder that instead of indulging myself with inner dialogue that says "I don't have time", it takes surprisingly little time to "just do it".

I know, the title of the post says "two busy days". I think an account of today's activities will have to wait for another post. In the meantime, here's the photo for the day. This is the wall at the back of our local swimming pool, or at least a small section of it. I have many bare tree branch against pastel sky photos, but I thought I'd post something a little more colourful for a change.

(I should really have added lots more links to this post, but I'm a bit short on time. If you want to know more about the writers mentioned, you could always try google).