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Archive for January, 2009

Kick me, please.

Here I am, having one of those days when I’m feeling down. I need an exercise in grace, and gratitude.

I am pretty much recovered from my nasty cold, and even though I am still feeling tired I am able to get back to the gym and do a good workout.
I dropped a light jacket leaving the gym this morning and when I returned about an hour later it was still there on the side of the footpath.
I am guaranteed at least a small income for the next year, unlike two of my friends I heard from today.
I have several holidays or weekends away planned over the next six months.
It is warm, the sun is shining, and there are some randy cicadas outside the window. As a woman in a shop in Les Baux de Provence once said to me, isn’t it a happy sound?
We don’t know what “too hot” feels like here in Wellington (unlike Mrs S).
I have just sold some old furniture on TradeMe.
It is Friday afternoon.
There is champagne on ice, waiting …

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Summer days 1970s

After hours of driving, we knew we were almost there when we could see a blue hole in the clouds. The hole was over Alexandra, one of the coldest places in New Zealand in winter and one of the hottest in summer. About as far inland as you can get in New Zealand, protected from the cool sea breezes that blow all year round, this was our summer holiday destination. An “escape from the easterly” as my mother used to put it.

We camped in the same grounds every year. The camp was large, terraced above a river, and there were plenty of willow trees as shelter under the fierce heat of the January sun. From our camping spot we could look up to the stark, rocky hills that protected Alex (as it was known) from the south.

We passed our days simply. Children would play outdoors all day, with badminton or softball sets that we got for Christmas, or “French cricket” with tennis rackets and balls. If there was a real cricket match on anywhere in New Zealand, you could hear the commentary all over the camp, from portable radios next to men sitting in deck chairs, with a beer in hand. My mother would sunbathe, and my dad would meet up with the “neighbours” and chat. As the heat rose, we would read under the shade or nap.

Every second morning or so, we would go into town for supplies and have a holiday treat in a milk bar (largely gone from the NZ landscape now). A milkshake (my mother’s favourite) or an ice-cream. Even at 10 or 11 am, the sun would be pumping out its heat, and an icy treat was always welcome.

We would go swimming in the afternoons, at the large pool in the town. It was surrounded with grass, and so families, like ours, would picnic there under the trees for hours. Even my father would swim, although he always said the temperature had to be over 80 to go in the water. We would laugh, because this showed how old school he was, working in Fahrenheit. To this day, 32F, 100F and 80F are the only Fahrenheit numbers which make any sense to me.

My dad would sometimes take off, perhaps all that family togetherness hour after hour too much of a shock after a year of isolation on the farm. He would cross the river and climb the rocky hills, sometimes to the clock at the summit, where he had a magnificent view of the plains, the Clutha River (New Zealand’s largest) and the suspension bridge, the orchards which surrounded the town, and the tailings of the gold rush in the 1800s.

The cooler evenings were spent walking, then later playing cards, monopoly or scrabble in the long, light southern nights.

Meals were simple – fresh summer salad sandwiches for lunch, and something easy and quick in the evenings, cooked over the sole gas element. I remember our excitement that we would get Honey Puffs as our breakfast cereal. Laden with sugar, and expensive, it was banned for the rest of the year. Perhaps that’s why, at my latest Christmas holiday just a few weeks ago, I indulged in the guilty pleasure of Honey Puffs for breakfast.

As we got older, a few days before we were due to return home, my parents introduced pick-your-own fruit activities at a local stone fruit farm. We would pick boxes and boxes of peaches, apricots and plums, take them home, and my mother would make them into jam or preserves, a welcome taste of summer in the depths of winter.

We would take excursions; if my parents were feeling adventurous we’d drive to Queenstown, New Zealand’s tourist hub, but more often to Clyde, the former gold-mining centre of Central Otago just up the road, or to Cromwell, another gold-mining and orchard centre, where we would wander the old streets with the stone buildings. We were obviously tourists here, pale in our summer shorts and tops, my father’s legs gleaming white, against the browned locals accustomed to the sun. I loved going to Cromwell, both for the gold rush history, and for the dramatic nature of the winding Cromwell gorge where the Clutha River narrowed between steep rocky hills, the pale icy blue of its waters contrasting so sharply with the rich brown of the soil and rocks. Across the gorge we could see the apricot orchards, and the old huts used by gold miners over 100 years ago. Both the historic centre of Cromwell and the gorge have now been flooded with the construction of the Clyde Hydro Dam, and whilst I appreciate that hydro power energy is as clean as you can get, I feel regret that I’ll never feel the thrill of that journey again in quite the same way.

But then, it is always hard to recapture the magic of those endless hot summer days of childhood, isn’t it?

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January 2009

The days are long, but never long enough. There is so much I want to do, before work and life encroaches and before I know it, the year is over again. And it’s starting already, with client meetings and phone calls this morning. Argh!

  1. Organise my office and spare room
  2. Scan slides from 1981 in Thailand. Haven’t even unwrapped the new slide scanner yet to see if it works, and have hundreds of slides to go through, so it will take ages.
  3. Organise and order photobooks (my new latest discovery) for our trips to Marrakech, Spain, Europe, Thailand, and New Zealand, as well as my childhood and family photos (Note: will need to scan those in too). Will cost a fortune but would be great to have.
  4. Sell old furniture on Trade Me. (EBay was too slow to get to NZ, and enterprising young Sam Morgan beat them to it. He’s now worth a fortune. Sigh.)
  5. Choose a paint colour for the windowsills.
  6. Sand the windowsills. Oh joy, what fun. Sigh.
  7. Paint the windowsills.
  8. Choose and buy and pot plants for our existing deck … hopefully before the summer is over.
  9. Scrub and paint our extremely unappealing brick letter-box in a nice glossy black (Note: that’s been on my to do list the last 6 summers, so there’s not much chance of it happening).
  10. Organise building permit for the deck (Note: see above note).
  11. Organise builder for the deck (Note: See 9 above)
  12. Blog
  13. Work on my project
  14. Organise our anniversary
  15. Work stuff which if unmentioned will ensure that my summer holiday can last just a little longer
  16. Organise our trip to Africa later this year, though already, with the way the exchange rate is going, we have had to rule out my first choice destination and lodges. Sob. (I know, I’m a spoiled cow).
  17. Catch up with friends
  18. Paint (with an easel, no sanding required).
  19. Exercise (when I’ve recovered from my current lurgy).
  20. And most importantly, find time every afternoon to listen to these guys. For some reason, I have a feeling they would appeal to Deloney and Mrs S. They have a bit of an (aged) cult following here every January, every day from 12.30 to 5 pm NZ time. As they say, you can listen to them “on the interweb.” I still can’t get over them playing “this.”

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January days six years ago …

The strong summer morning sunlight was insistent, piercing her closed eyelids, willing her to wake. She struggled to hold on to sleep, because even asleep, her mind knew that she was protected, safe. But the sun won, consciousness overtook her. Her eyes opened. For a moment, serene, comfortable, rested. Then … loss! She squeezed her eyes shut, but it was too late. The pain followed very quickly.

She spent her days alone. Wandering the silent house, listlessly. Talking to the cat, checking her voice still worked. But he never spoke back. And when, in fits of sadness, she would hold him tight, rocking back and forward in her grief, desperate to feel another living thing close to her, he would struggle against the unfamiliar grip and the strange raw animal sounds she was making, and break free. Leaving her scratched, scarred, and feeling even more alone.

Mostly, she lived with the ever present sadness hovering close to the surface. She kept it in check by a thin veneer of calm, covering the cracks as they appeared as quickly as possible, usually before the tears leaked out or the voice faltered, but not always, usually before others noticed, but not always. She found herself weeping easily, at the simplest of things. Unaccustomed to tears, it was as if the tap had been turned on, and she feared that now it could never be shut off completely.

She dreaded the phone ringing, having to make conversation with someone, anyone, having to deal with questions, pretend she was cheerful. Home was a haven. But of course, there were unavoidable chores to do.

“How is your day going?” asked the cheerful, spotty youthful checkout operator at the supermarket. She hated this question. “Fine,” she mumbled, struggling to look normal, incapable of raising a smile. Supermarket shopping was daunting. She was reluctant to go when there might be crowds. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing someone she knew. Having to make conversation, appear cheerful to those who didn’t know, or sense the pity in their eyes, their judgement of her situation. So she went in mid-morning, quickly, furtively. With the retired folks and the new mothers. A double-edged sword. She looked only at the floor or the shelves, avoiding all others.

After the supermarket ordeal she escaped to the nearby cafe for a latte and the opportunity to sit for a while, incognito, for just a while being normal, doing normal things. She would take that when she could get it. The other customers largely ignored her. The teenage girls from the school down the road were appropriately happy and boisterous, beginning the new school term. She was invisible to them, and that was fine by her. The business people unnerved her a little. Usually she was one of them, in another café, discussing the latest office gossip over a coffee. But now she wasn’t part of that club. And felt lost. Because then there were the mothers and babies. Usually one or two were pregnant, a few loud toddlers, and a crying newborn. They would settle next to the play area, spreading out, taking over, leaving their buggies in the way and their toddlers to play, so that no corner of the cafe was safe. A boy ran along the banquette seating towards her, and stopped. He stood, turning his head on the side, looking at her as if she were a strange alien being, this woman sitting alone, with the sad face.

And she felt she was – a woman without a place in the world, in society. She wasn’t at work, and she didn’t belong to the happy mothers’ club.

She drove home. “SORRY” said the neon sign on the big yellow bus as it wound its way down the gorge. In an odd way, she felt comforted. Not too many people had said they were sorry. Or meant it.

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As I backed out my driveway today, on the way to meet my friend A for lunch, the first of the summer’s agapanthas brushed the car. It made me extremely happy, knowing I’d be seeing this view (above) soon.

We had arranged to meet in the Botannical Gardens, at the cafe next to the rose garden. I arrived early, so enjoyed a very pleasant half hour sitting under a tree getting into The Dream Life of Sukhanov.

Roses of all colours scented the air, and the cafe was filled with people enjoying the summer. There were plenty of locals entertaining visitors to the city, as well as independent visitors, taking photographs and studying maps. A very old lady in a wheel chair and, perhaps, her grand-daughter or niece or kind next door neighbour, enjoyed their lunch and a decadent cake to finish.

We found a table outside under the shade of a grape vine, relishing an excellent Salad Nicoise and a good coffee. Sadly A had to go back to work, otherwise a nice chilled glass of rose or sauvignon blanc would have been perfect.

Of course, an hour is never long enough, so to increase our available chatting time, I walked part of the way back to her office with her. We walked past the playing grounds, filled with several teams playing touch rugby. Joggers up from the city ran past in pairs, enjoying the summer sun. A particularly strapping young man gave us all a treat by running by topless, glistening. The pathway then winds its way through the Bolton Street Memorial Park, a leafy, calm oasis next to the motorway. Once a cemetery, well-maintained gravestones remind us of those early settlers who established this city, dating from 1841 to 1892 when the cemetery was closed, overtaken by development of the city around it. Some of the stones recorded the ships these settlers arrived on. One couple, buried side by side, arrived on separate ships in 1841 (her) and 1842 (him) and died in 1887 and 1889 respectively. In our young country, these dates seem ancient.

At the end of the park, a walkway crosses the four lane motorway and arrives at The Terrace, lined with office blocks filled with government departments, their bosses just across the road in the Parliament buildings. The park and the gardens seem a world away from that suited, hurried, grey, street on this beautiful summer day.

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A new beginning …

The hardest part of starting a new blog is choosing the colour scheme and theme.  I’m not convinced, so bear with me if it changes.  The second hardest part is deciding the name of the new blog.  The easiest part was deciding what to write about.  I knew I wanted to write about days in my life, sometimes trivial, sometimes momentous, past, present and future.

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