Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Rabbie

The Scottish pioneer memorial unveiled today at Riccarton House in Christchurch, home of the pioneer Deans family, on the immortal bard's 250th birthday.

The occasion was marked with a procession

Victorian and Edwardian costumes

Scottish dancing

and the addressing of the haggis: Great chieftain o' the pudding race

(and very tasty it was, too).

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Pilgrimage

The road to Skippers is not for the faint hearted. It is narrow and unsealed. On one side vertical rock faces tower above. On the other, the road drops almost as sharply to the canyon below. In the 1800s, even this road did not exist. The early gold miners had to somehow make their way on foot to the gold fields of the Shotover River. To make it easier to get out the gold, a dray road was built by men with dynamite, pick axes and shovels.

Skippers is deserted now, its buildings little more than piles of roofless stone. It’s popular with tourists though, and the bolder among them can bungy jump from the old Skippers bridge. Van loads of thrill seekers come to raft or jet boat on the white water of the Shotover river.

It’s easiest to go by bus, but if you go by car it pays to check the bus timetables first. If you meet another vehicle, one of you must back up to the nearest passing bay. If the other vehicle is the bus, it will always be you that backs up – no matter if you have to back up a mile, and the bus is only a few yards past a passing bay – the bus will never back. Best to make a day of it, and plan on arriving before the first bus, and leaving when the last bus is gone.

From the 1860s to the 1880s my greatgrandfather Thomas Brydon was a carter in Invercargill. Then came a depression. There was insufficient work to support his family. This is when he came to this rugged country, where he became a shot firer in the Phoenix goldmine at Bullendale. Skippers is remote enough, but the gold mine is even more remote – up the left branch of the Skippers Creek, another eight to ten kilometres into the mountains. Here the men worked underground mining gold from the quartz reefs. Since it was underground, daylight was irrelevant. They worked by day and by night. New Zealand’s first hydroelectric scheme was here, to power the quartz stamper, and I suppose, lights for the men to work by.

Thomas was a shot firer. It was his job to drill holes for the dynamite, place the dynamite and ignite it. Then of course, to retreat to a safe distance and wait for it to go off. Something went wrong. One of the charges failed to go off. The rules said that he should wait two hours before approaching. For some reason, he didn’t. He went back to check, at which point, the delayed explosion occurred, and he was seriously injured.

He was transported to Queenstown by ambulance. A simple enough sentence today, but what did it mean then? First he had to be carried to Skippers by horse over narrow rough tracks in the dark, taking three hours. That was where four hours they met the ambulance which would of course have been a horse-drawn cart. A mechanic at the mine reported at the inquest “ we were about 12 or 14 miles on our journey when the groaning ceased, I stopped the horse and looked at the man, when he groaned once more and apparently died”.

Thomas is buried at the Queenstown cemetery. A few years ago I contacted a local undertaker who was able to check the cemetery plans for me. He told me the general area where Thomas was buried. There is no headstone. Some years ago a fire went through the cemetery and burned the simple wooden crosses and fences, making it difficult to identify the exact plot.

I sometimes imagine visiting the site of the Phoenix mine to see the place where he died. What would I see there today? According to the track guide,
The former Phoenix Mine is marked by an old rock breaker perched high on the riverbank, above the site of the massive 30-head stamper. Nearby, Murdochs Creek is littered with mining relics, and the remains of Bullendale’s cottages are scattered on the tussock flat above.

(There is a photo of one of the old huts at Bullendale if you follow the link. I also found photos of the Skippers Canyon, but not of the Phoenix mine area, on Flickr - some of them quite spectacular - I used the search terms "Skippers" and "Queenstown". I just haven't figured out how to add them to my blog.)

Will I ever make the trip? It is described as a two to three hour journey one way requiring medium fitness. I know that I can walk a couple of hours in the city on the flat. The mountains are another matter. This is a hike, not a walk, requiring good boots and survival equipment. Every summer the newspapers are full of talk of tourists, ill-equipped for the changeable weather in New Zealand’s mountains, who become lost or trapped by sudden weather changes and lose their lives. If I’m to take the idea seriously, I would need to prepare by improving my fitness, acquire some serious tramping gear, and learn survival skills. The easiest way might be to hire a guide. I’m fast approaching sixty – it would need to be in the next few years. It is a pilgrimage that I think of making, but whether I ever will remains to be seen.

For Sunday Scribblings “Pilgrimage”

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Caution and Procrastination

No, it doesn't quite have the ring of, say "Pride and Prejudice". But I have been pondering the connection between the two...

A few days ago I received my regular e-mail newsletter from Borders advertising, among other things, the "Essential Leonard Cohen" at a very reasonable price. So I thought about it, and decided that yes I wanted it, and yes I could afford it, and that if I went on the way home from work I could fit it in without making a special trip (since Borders stays open till some ridiculous time at night instead of shutting at 5.30 like most shops around here) but it had to be Friday because on Thursday I work closer to home and I walk...

And of course when I got there it was sold out.

The day didn't completely suck though, because at work my computer monitor died. Which doesn't sound like a good thing - but when I plugged in the new one I had to change the settings for screen size, and then I started poking around finding out how to change the desktop and screensaver. So, when I got home I decided to check out my home computer as well (which is a Mac, and therefore different from the work PC).

So, now I have Stonehenge on my desktop at work, and at home I have a whole folder of images from our trip to the UK (I was going to write last year, but it isn't last year any more, it was 2007) - anyway, I have a whole folder of images, and the desktop rotates among them every time the monitor "wakes up".

If you want to see some of what I see on my desktop, check out my archives for October and November 2007 where I wrote lots of posts, with images, about our trip.

This is probably all very basic, but it is making me smile right now.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If You Build It, They Will Come

Here is what we bought at the post Christmas sales (four of these, in kitset form). Each of these cost about the same as one book (books are expensive in New Zealand, but the bookshelves were ridiculously cheap).

Thanks to my husband who put it together for me, I now have room for more books. Although not for as many as the picture suggests - I did a fairly good job of filling up the shelves after I took this photo. I had a slim bookshelf about half the size of this one, which has found a new home in my son's room.

It was after we bought our bookshelves that I found this. I can imagine being buried with my favourite books (something to read on the journey?) but - in my bookshelves? That's the strangest idea I've come across in a while...

Ever wondered how much energy you use web surfing? I have been feeling slightly guilty about it since reading this story whose claims Google have since countered, here. So, who do you believe?

I am back at work after a week or so of partial holiday, and another week and a half of full holiday. It was my first time off at home in a year and a half or so (previous holidays being used for travel). I intended to do lots of writing. It didn't quite work out like that. In fact, now I am back at work I feel more geared up to make the most of my leisure hours. We'll see what happens.

This is my 500th blog post. I'm amazed. (I'm also amazed at how old I am, but we won't go into that!)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Readwritepoem: Goals for 2009

At readwritepoem this week we were invited to set poetry goals for 2009. Frankly, it's too hot here, and I am still on holiday. I do have vaguely formed goals and plans, which I may make more concrete in the coming weeks - establish some sort of regular writing habit, for a start. I hesitate to put a number to the quantity of planned poems. As I put it in a comment on Dana's blog, I plan to love my poems more this year. That is, not to think they are wonderful and need no improvement, but to love them the way I would my children, which is to pay them attention, spend time with them, and not expect them to behave like adults when they are still two year olds, or teenagers. To let them develop in their own way.

(There will also be a book of poems produced this year by my small poetry group. We have the grant money so we are obliged to do it, no excuses. I'll get a quarter of the space - about twelve to fifteen poems, which I can easily fill from already existing work, if necessary).

I've been thinking about these things, and clearing my hugely overgrown garden now that I have time free from work (until yesterday and today when the temperature soared just too much), and then the Wordle at readwritepoem this week offered up some words which seemed to fit with these thoughts and with something I had written in my notebook the other day.

So, here is a very rough draft, using the words "bombardment", "signature", "stucco", "crimson" and "geranium".

Summer, Here

After Christmas all the days
slide off the calendar and lie
in a tumbled heap on the floor
with the towels and jandals.
The sun beats down and the nor’wester
brings a constant aerial bombardment
of pollen. We eat Groundhog Day meals
of lettuce salad and leftover ham.
The days stretch endless – easy to plan
a triumphant year, easy to think
there’s all the time in the world
to write brilliant poems. In the garden
I’m clearing swathes of long grass.
A vague buzzing grows louder
when I move the blue barrel. All the bees
are heading for that corner,
writing their signatures in long looping flight
confused perhaps by an absence of blue.
They make their way to the grille
in the foundations, lurch their fat
fuzzy bodies over the cross bar
and disappear into the basement.
I am dizzied by bright days and bright
words. White stucco, blue rain barrel,
crimson geranium – searching for entry
into the dark and cavernous mystery
of the poem.