Friday, December 14, 2012

Bed of roses

Driving home on one of Welllington's rare stunning days this week, I decided to stop by the rose garden. I timed it perfectly - in the middle was a trailer heaped high with rose petals and spent roses. The prettiest pile of rubbish in the world. Round it stood half a dozen people helping themselves to all the roses that weren't too far gone, while the nice park woman urged them to take as many as they wanted. So of course I joined them. The best ones to take were the red and white floribunda clusters. I put them down on the cafe table to admire while I had my cold juice.

Then I took them home, put them in a vase by Harvey's photo, and felt happy all evening.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas busy-ness

My neighbour has rallied, thank goodness, because (I'm purely selfish about this) I like having her to dinner and to talk to and go out with. On Thursday we managed to catch the last of the spell of glorious weather and get down to the rose gardens. It was probably the wet winter followed by the dry warm spring, but Wellington's roses are magnificent this year - even mine, which get minimal care and attention (though they do get very well pruned, thanks to a kind expert friend). Here's Jude the Obscure - it lasts hardly any time in a vase, but its fat round apple-scented blooms are worth bringing in even for just a couple of days.
       My main preoccupation this week has been sorting stuff out. Or rather not sorting stuff out. I'm extremely good at avoidance behaviour when it comes to difficult tasks like this. It's partly because I knew it would involve dealing with lots of nostalgic reminders of the past - papers, photos, cards, and the last small hordes of things that belonged to Harvey, like his hairbrushes. . His computer was finally taken away this week. I know it's a hopelessly melodramatic, overblown comparison, but turning it off for the last time felt like turning off life support. And I found a tape of a radio interview he did in 2004 for his garden memoir, This Piece of Earth. I didn't think I had any recording of his voice.
      So now it's nearly Christmas again. I'll be with family this year, including a great-nephew enjoying his first Christmas, while visitors mind my house. I've made the pudding I'm taking, but I haven't sent a single card or done much shopping. I must admit that the Christmas buzz I used to really enjoy is missing, but I suppose that's only to be expected. Meanwhile there's also lots to do in preparation for the food memoir launch next March, such as writing articles and getting to grips with social media (I know, I've written about this before but I mean it this time). Watch out for a whole new clutch of useful buttons appearing here and over on Something Else to Eat.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Passing through

My friend and neighbour is in hospital, though we hope she'll be home tomorrow. I didn't need to visit her as she had family there, and I was glad of it, because she's in the ward where Harvey died.
        Some days the past crowds in. I spent the morning going through his computer files to make sure we had saved them all before they're deleted from the machine. Such a wealth of writing.
        I also set about disposing of the dresser - thanks to my new cupboard, I don't need it any longer - and was silently apologising to Harvey as I made the phone call. He would never have agreed to it going.
        But he would have loved my Taranaki garden trip, though he would have been deeply envious of their volcanic soil (we had the same kind in Mt Eden where I grew up), where everything grows magnificently. One of the loveliest things I saw was a commercial planting of flag irises, in every imaginable iris-colour combination..

I don't covet the grand gardens, I know how much work they involve, but thank goodness there are people who like to spend their time creating these marvels for near-non-gardeners like me to enjoy. It's very soothing just to wander round gazing at them and not thinking about anything else, past, present or to come.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Labour of love

I'll have people with me this week, so the next post will be the week after. By then I'll be making the Christmas pudding (see Something Else to Eat), as well as learning (at last) how to deal properly with the full range of social media and chat about my food memoir when it comes out next March - it's already featured in a Listener article.
              Last Monday, Labour Day, was the 25th anniversary of my younger son Patrick's death - he would have been 43 now. As you can imagine, I knew it was bound to be a difficult day. So I took the precaution of asking a very good friend to come and spend it with me.
              First we went to Patrick's tree in the Botanic Gardens, then to Harvey's plaque down the road in the Karori Cemetery rose garden. We took the two lovely little bunches of flowers that my neighbour had brought over specially for me that morning.
              Patrick's tree is so tall now (like him) that we can only just reach high enough to lodge the flowers in its lower branches. As for Harvey, I'd seen earlier that the little in-ground flower holder I'd put there for him before (and will replace) had vanished when they redid that rose bed - you may recall it was ailing earlier, now it's been beautifully replanted. So I rose to the occasion, took down his favourite whisky glass, and set it in the soil to hold his flowers. When I told a friend that night, she said, "He'll be saying, Well, here's the water, but where's the whisky?"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The ghost in the machine

Harvey's computer has been sitting in my spare room for about 18 months now. I moved it upstairs soon after he died. I knew that in a sense it was his afterlife. I also knew I'd have to deal with it at some stage -  go through everything on it, decide what should be kept, save it in some form, remove everything else and dispose of the computer itself.
          He'd been so well organised that he'd published his last book of his own poetry in his last year. I knew there wouldn't be a lot there that he hadn't already used. But the one thing I knew I had to keep was the entries for his diary, some of which I hadn't yet read, because he had never printed them out. He'd stopped keeping it after he started his blog (and of course, after he was no longer able to go out or do anything much except write, read, think and talk).
           It took me quite a long time, but I finally realised I was never going to sort all this out sitting at his computer. It has a curved screen I don't like, and his keyboard doesn't suit me. It's in a room that's too light, so to use it you have to keep the blinds pulled. And soon after he died I did something wrong and the whole contents had to be rescued and the software reinstalled. I was immensely grateful to the friends who helped with all this, but since then it doesn't seem to run very smoothly. So I just ignored the problem.
           A while ago I met a student who was carrying round a box about the same size and shape as an old video recording. She said it was an external hard drive, it cost about $150, and she could keep a whole computerful of work on it. 
            This week I bought one of these boxes and got my lovely computer man to transfer all Harvey's documents, pictures and emails into it from his computer. It worked very well, and it took up only a tiny fraction of the two terabytes of storage available. (Lovely word, terabyte, it sounds like a large friendly animal of some kind, maybe a sort of combination of a dog and a small dinosaur...)
              In theory, we should then have been able to delete everything from Harvey's computer and erase his user name. The final curtain. But at the last minute I got cold feet. I was very grateful when my computer man suggested I could just leave it for a while, until I'd made sure (by looking on my own computer) that everything I wanted was safely stored away. Strange, isn't it, how dealing with machines can be so emotional. But for writers, especially, their machines now feel like a part of their soul.
               I can now deal with everything that was on his computer much more easily, and I certainly will...soon. The other thing I have to do soon is decant everything out of my computer into the box, where my words can sit companionably alongside Harvey's. I need to do this because I'll soon have to get a new computer for myself, partly so I can learn to do all the flash social media stuff to promote my ebook. It will be out in March, and I'm told that the next Listener will have an article on ebooks in which it figures - I was interviewed this week.. My first food memoir media appearance!

Friday, October 12, 2012


As in everything I've done to feel better (I even went for some walks! Yes!) and everything my on and offline friends have done to help me feel better, is working very well indeed. The further down you go, provided you don't get stuck there, the more you seem to rise up when you recover.  Of course next week I may well feel completely differently, but so far - so good.
       And also as in actually working - I've had a raft of paid and unpaid writing to get through these last two weeks, all of it with deadlines and relatively difficult to do, and nothing is more absorbing or makes time disappear more effectively. I was so immersed last night that (admittedly after a very late lunch) I didn't have dinner till 10 pm. It was one of the times (few, but probably increasing) when I did for a moment think that there are advantages to living alone.
        It was so late that I thought I might as well take my dinner to bed and go straight from eating it to bedtime reading. I'm temporarily between review books (see my What I'm Reading sidebar), so I resorted to an ebook instead - I've got a couple that I downloaded but didn't read straight away because other things took precedence. It's very good to have them handy when I need them.
        Here's the Warrior Woman print Harvey brought back from Kyoto for me, with an apricot iris that opened from a sheaf of buds I was given. It's shrivelled away to nothing now, but others have taken its place.

Friday, September 28, 2012

How are you?

When people ask "How are you?", I don't really know what to say. The truth is that no matter how many uplifting pictures of flowers and gardens I post here, or how many lovely supportive comments everyone makes (and I do appreciate it, please keep doing it!), I'm just not that great and there are times when I really can't see the point of anything at all. Yes, I know I haven't been well and I've just finished the antibiotics, etc etc. But I can't escape the reality: I am on my own, and some days I don't have the faintest idea how to manage my life even till bedtime. And writing this blog to say so is sometimes the only way to avoid going to bed and staying there.

PS: For the New Yorker jigsaw site I mention in the fifth comment below, go here. Really silly, but It works for me...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Lying low

I've been lying low in both senses lately. Last week I had a dear friend visiting, and for once it was fine (though very cold). We fitted in tulips and seaside cafe lunches and generally mooched happily about. Last Thursday would have been Harvey's 78th birthday, so it was lovely to have her here for dinner - especially as she was the person who originally introduced us.
      But then she went home and I collapsed again, still dogged by what I thought was just the stubborn aftermath of a cold. It's been five weeks now, so I finally went to the doctor, who told me what I really have - the adult whooping cough that's been doing the rounds.
      Now I'm on the right antibiotic and feel as if I'm starting to improve at last, though I still don't have much energy and my taste buds aren't properly restored yet - wine is the acid test, so to speak. I've resorted instead to regular nightcaps of Harvey's whisky with lemon cordial and hot water (sugar is the one thing I can taste properly). But I reckon what I need most is a good long spell of warm sun, and there's no hope of that for a while yet.
        Instead I'm devoting myself to giving my food memoir one last going over before I hand it back to the publisher, Awa Press. And I had a nice little boost this week. I entered a story for the Grimm Fairy Tale competition (the first one I've ever written), called The Three Cheeses. It was one of the five also-rans singled out for praise by judge Kate de Goldi, as "a clever riff on the trialling of suitors within comtemporary foodie culture". You can read the winning story in the latest Listener, and Kate's report is on their website here. On such eagerly gobbled crumbs is a writer's life sustained...
        Here are this year's tulips. Nothing like the glorious ones in the botanic gardens, and not quite how they looked on the packet - it didn't show any white ones -  but never mind.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Coming home

 To everyone who has called, written, phoned or posted me about my birth mother, and the dear friends who looked after me last Monday evening, thank you. It poured all morning the day of her funeral, but by the time we got to the church in the afternoon, the rain had stopped. She had been a committed, active member of its congregation ever since she came to New Zealand at the age of sixteen. Together with the family, they made sure that her whole life, full of courage and love, was fully recognised and celebrated.
       She loved her garden, and I took a little garden of spring flowers up for her.

When I got home I brought my just-emerged daffodil - it was the first one I'd  ever planted myself, supervised by Ali - inside for her, and for me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A peaceful passing

I feel as if I'm living in a muffling fog, and not just because of the hydra-headed cold I've been battling since Friday. On Sunday I talked to my sister in Tauranga and she said my birth mother was fading gently, but the end came much sooner than we expected - she died peacefully at 7.30 this morning. So I'll be going up soon for the funeral. I'm so glad I had that final visit with her at the end of June.
         One of the first things I thought of was that now she, like Harvey, will never get to read (or at least have read to her) my food memoir. It's going to be published early next year as an original e-book by Awa Press, the very first one that they will do this way, rather than in print. So I'll be writing more about that as soon as I get myself properly back together again.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Holding our own

Thank you so much for all your empathetic comments on my previous post, they mean a great deal to me.  Jonathan left today, and of course I wished he could stay longer. But as it happened, I was immediately plunged back into other facets of my life, so I haven't had a minute to sit around moping.
         And for the next two days I'll be immersed in the many different delights of the food bloggers' conference. Last year it was in Auckland and I couldn't go, so it's a great treat to have it here. I'll be posting more about it over on Something Else to Eat.
          In next week's post I hope to have some exciting news to do with the book I've been writing over the last three years - a food memoir with the working title of Bittersweet. But as I have to be downtown tomorrow at the ungodly (for me - don't laugh) hour of 8am, I'll leave it there for now.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Home company

So, my son Jonathan has arrived and for two weeks, I have what I've missed most - home company. Someone who knows me very well and is there when I go down for breakfast and come home for dinner. Someone who can be talked to and listened to and laughed with, without me having to go out or make any arrangements in advance. Someone who makes cups of tea and sets the table, helps with the dishes and gets enthusiastic about what I'm cooking.  Someone to go to the supermarket and watch TV with. Someone to wave goodbye in the morning and welcome back home in the evening. Now, if it would just stop raining...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The perfect spade

Apart from the almost endlessly soggy weather dragging me down a bit, I've been chugging along fairly well for the last fortnight, cheered as always by my friends and wonderful emails from my son (who's arriving next week for a fortnight's stay). Here's an extract I'm sure he wouldn't mind me sharing - he's just moved into a new apartment. "I was kind to a large spider who decided to rest herself on my living room wall, I didn't kill her but encouraged her out with a broom. Unfortunately she then took the opportunity to give birth on the balcony and I now have an entire spider family appearing in the evenings. Just baby ones, but they were not in my design plan!"

On Tuesday Ali arrived for her regular gardening day, bringing me a marvellous find from her local op shop - a beautiful small spade, exactly suited to me and my garden. Until now I've had to borrow Ali's or Lesley's - Harvey had one, of course, but it seems to have vanished, and in any case it was too big for me to manage. This one was made by the English firm of Spears and Jackson, the Rolls Royce of garden tool suppliers. We put it to work straight away, planting a new viburnum.

The tulips have finally started to appear - I thought I might have planted them too deep, but five are up, so there's hope for the other four.

And the rhubarb Ali gave me is flourishing in its big pot, though she told me I'm not allowed to start eating it until next May.
It looks a bit surreal, like the astonishing film I saw yesterday, Beasts of the Southern WildHarvey had a much stronger film stomach than me, but otherwise our tastes fitted very well together, and we used to love the annual festival. But I don't mind going on my own, though I miss having him to talk it over with afterwards. I choose my films carefully, avoiding the ones labelled violent, terrifying, chilling, enigmatic, circular...  I probably miss some good things, but at least I can be pretty sure I'll enjoy myself and not end up hiding under the seat or walking out.  So far this year I've been transported to Lebanon, revolutionary France, Japan, and a Louisiana swamp, and every time has been superb.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


My neighbour was going away for a few days last week, so she brought me her arrangement of wintersweet, because she didn't want to leave it languishing unseen and knew I'd like it.
        I have it growing in my garden too - it was here when we came - but it's hidden away down the far end of the shrubbery and I'd forgotten about it. Harvey would never have done this, he used to bring it inside to me from our previous garden and was so pleased to find it here when we came.
         It seems to have heralded in a fairly calm time - although this might also have something to do with the omega 3 fish oil capsules I've started taking (when I remember). I started taking it because it's supposed to be good for your eyes, helping to ward off macular degeneration. But I was telling a friend that I seemed to have been, not exactly happy, but rather not UNhappy, for some time now, and she pointed out that omega 3 is supposed to be good for warding off depression, because it improves seratonin uptake. Who knows - but they're obviously not doing me any harm. And now I've got my son's visit to look forward to - he's coming home for two weeks in August.So I'm getting through the winter better than I thought I would. 
        Many thanks to everyone who posted or called me about my birth mother, it was so kind. She's back at the home now and doing as well as possible.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Where there's life...

...there's hope - and despite being 92, my birth mother is obviously made of remarkably resilient stuff. She's now eating and drinking again and it looks as if she'll be able to go back to her rest home in a little while. It's not her time to leave us just yet. If she had been a slight, frail old lady, it probably would have been. But like me, she loves her food, so she had plenty of reserves to draw on - and they stood her in good stead. Like another elderly lady, who is only a few years younger than her (and whom she greatly admires and has in the past borne a striking resemblance to), she's going to be with us for some time to come, bless her.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Somewhere near the end

I've been away seeing my birth mother. She's 92, and she's in hospital and unlikely to recover.  I've been lucky - I've known her for over 25 years. If you'd like to know more about how I found her, you can read Chapter 6 of my thesis, which is available online here.
         Given her age, I knew that this last visit would probably come soon. I was so relieved and pleased that the way it worked out, I was able to get there in time to see her and say goodbye properly. She loves flowers, and blue is her favourite colour.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Matariki - haere, haere, haere

I knew, of course, that 21 June was Matariki, the Maori New Year, and that it's linked to the appearance of the cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters; you can see them when (says Te Ara) "the sun, drifting north on the shortest day in winter, reaches the north-eastern end of the horizon. The sun then turns around and begins its journey south."
           What I didn't know until today is that as well as being about new beginnings, planting and fertility, Matariki is the time to remember those who have died in the past year. Here's what Te Ara, the online encyclopaedia of New Zealand, says about it:

"In times of old, the sighting of Matariki was greeted with expressions of grief for those who had died since its last appearance. Some said the stars housed the souls of those departed. Rangihuna Pire, in his 70s, remembered how as a child he was taken by his grandparents to watch for Matariki in mid-winter at Kaūpokonui, South Taranaki:
The old people might wait up several nights before the stars rose. They would make a small hāngī. When they saw the stars, they would weep and tell Matariki the names of those who had gone since the stars set, then the oven would be uncovered so the scent of the food would rise and strengthen the stars, for they were weak and cold."
As it happens, even before I found out about this, I did think of Harvey at Matariki, both last year and this year. He set great store by the shortest day and the longest day, as the turning points of the year and the seasons. On 21 June 2010, he wrote:
        "The shortest day - always one of my favourites. Reversing tracks, the sun turns north again and slowly our hemisphere will warm up again. A relatively mild morning, cloudless. By midday it had clouded over and the threatened rain seemed increasingly closer. Part of the penalty of living in a temperate climate. My decision to dwell in Wellington determines the climate and the weather in which I exist. I have no choice on that matter."
          And of course he had no choice about its being the last time he would see the shortest day. The weather is worse this year, the rain pounding away yet again at the roof and the sodden garden. But the evenings will slowly get lighter now. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Getting by

Saturday night, when it seems that almost nothing ever happens unless I arrange it. And sometimes I do - but not tonight. Partly because I know I'll be busy tomorrow, so I didn't organise anything else - and partly because it was obviously going to be a freezing cold wet wintry night, so staying warm at home seemed like a good idea.
            And on the whole, it was. I wrote up my food blog, had a good curry dinner, washed my hair, and watched rather a lot of mildly amusing TV.
             I do tend to watch considerably more TV, or DVDs, than I used to. They provide faces and voices and distraction, especially over dinner. I listen to the radio a lot more, too, while I'm having breakfast, ironing, washing up, cooking. And I leave more lights on - I can't bear moving around a dark house.
              I seem to be managing pretty well at the moment, at least as long as I keep busy at the mundane level of everyday life - working, feeding myself and other people, reading, talking on the phone, seeing friends, going shopping, playing house. I take my time doing all these things, and time passes.

Mary Cassatt, Reading Le Figaro, 1878

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Buoyed up

So the first thing that buoyed me up this week, in the never exactly calm sea of my life,  was having one of my very oldest (that is, most longstanding!) friends to stay for a night. We braved the worst weather to hit Wellington so far this winter to go into town and hear a mutual friend speaking at the All Woman exhibition at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. I'd been meaning to see it since it opened, and it was brilliant.
           I'll have to go again, and if you possibly can, you should go too - it's on until 8 July. Stunningly original, striking images of New Zealand women, each with a brief description and their own statement, by Wellington-based photographer Bev Short, who spent more than two years travelling the country and "capturing images of women who inspire her".  So that was the second thing that kept me afloat. 

       Of course, it did make me feel I was a terribly feeble creature, compared with these amazing women - but then I feel that on a regular basis anyway, just from considering what the women I know have managed to accomplish and overcome. 
       Ah well, onward and upward, per angusta ad augusta, as my old school motto used to say, through difficulties to triumph - or as we irreverently translated it, through tights to heights. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A new cushion

Urged on by a friend, today I went to a class at Handmade 2012. I didn't quite see the point of making a pincushion out of a bottle top - still, chacune (I didn't see any men there) à son goût, and there were several other things I would have liked to try. But at $45 each, the classes weren't cheap, so I settled for A Cushy Job, which promised to teach me how to make a cushion properly, using an invisible zip. I've been making cushions (sporadically) for years, but I've never learnt how to do it properly - instead I've resorted to just sewing them up by hand on one side, knowing that if I ever needed to get the cover off, I'd have to unpick it. And I already had some fabric - I'd bought it well over a year ago to cover a giant cushion (for lying back on the sofa while watching TV), but had never got round to using it.
           I had a great time. Before the class started I had a lovely conversation with the young man (well, he looked young to me, though he had an eight-year-old daughter) in charge of the sewing machines - he told me he owns and uses five of them at home, from basic to very, very advanced. The machines were Brothers, reminding me strongly of my mother, who loved her Brother - she would have been thrilled to see how easy they are to use now.
           Our teacher, Jenny Deonarain, knew her stuff and was good at explaining it to us. Best of all, she gave us a neat little booklet of step-by-step instructions and photos, so we could do it all again when we got home. I didn't manage to finish sewing up the sides of my giant cushion in class, but I got the zip in - not perfectly invisible, but pretty good all the same. I'll put up a photo when I've finished it.
            The whole thing reminded me how much I enjoy learning to do something new, especially something like this that involves messing happily around with cloth and thread (a complete change from what I usually spend my time doing, which is working with words in some way). I must do more of it.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Go on, laugh

Thanks to my friends over at The Hand Mirror, I've just discovered the wonderful Jacky Fleming. She's British, but her cartoons are astonishingly relevant to New Zealand now, especially after the Budget.

On asset sales:

On reducing tax breaks for second houses:

And on using the recession to justify cutting public services and taking away tax breaks for low and middle income people (including children), after massively decreasing taxes for the rich:

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I'm sorry I didn't write a proper post at the proper time last week - but it was for a good reason. I've had a birthday, and have been busy organising nice things to do and doing the nice things other lovely people have organised for me. And I've enjoyed it all, because a week ago I realised I was feeling Much Better. I don't know why, any more than I knew exactly why I felt so awful before, but I think it's partly because I wrote about it here (and got lovely messages back), and spoke about it to a few good friends.
          Anyway, it was very timely - I wanted to enjoy my birthday, and I did. And - I've now managed to get my iPad working properly in the ways I want it to work, with only one phone call to the help desk :) So I'm quite proud of myself. I know everyone under 20 can do this stuff standing on their head, but for me and my peers, it's another story. I finished the first (free) volume of In Search of Lost Time, and decided I'd give myself a birthday present: the Kindle edition of the whole series, over 2000 pages. It cost $2.99. So now I can look forward every evening to going to bed with Marcel.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A mixed bag

Very cold here this week, winter seems to have set in early. Despite a forecast of wind and rain, my gardening mentor Ali and I managed to plant the lilac tree she had grown for me from an offshoot of hers (which came originally from her mother's, so it has a venerable lineage). She assures me it can cope with neglect, which is probably what it will get from me most of the time.
        We didn't get the multi-coloured tulips into their pot, but I can manage those myself, I've done it before. But we did plant ten fancy daffodil bulbs and the rhubarb plant she also brought me. As my food blog shows, I'm very keen on rhubarb, so I hope it survives. It's in a pot, which it may or may not like, but it's a better alternative than the rubble-strewn clay which makes up most of my garden, under a very thin layer of topsoil.
         I questioned Ali closely about how to look after it. At first she was far too vague, as good gardeners (like good cooks) so often are - "they like a lot of feeding..." No, no, I said, that's no good, you have to tell me exactly what kind of food, how much of it, how often, and how to put it on. Then I wrote it all down - that's the only way I'll have any hope of getting it done.
          I've found a good new way to get myself into town, too. On Monday afternoons I take my turn as a volunteer at the wonderful Eva's Attic, where you can find amazing bargains in smart second-hand clothes and do good at the same time - all the proceeds go to excellent causes, such as the New Horizons for Women Trust.  It's in Cuba Street, upstairs next to Olive Cafe.  The only hazard is that I get to see the new stock, and sometimes it calls to me, so I have to try it on...
          Eva's is lovely and warm, but otherwise it's been a bit damp and chilly indoors as well as out - nothing wrong with the heating, I just can't seem to keep it together very well.  Last year's emotions ran both lower and higher; now it feels more like a persistent slough of despond. I have plenty to do, and manage to get absorbed in various kinds of wordsmithing, but otherwise... not so good. Can't be helped, of course, and I'm sure it will pass in time. But I try to tell the truth here, as much as I can, so there it is.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

The iPad and I: so far, so good...

This week I picked up my  new iPad. Not that I ever had an old iPad - I've just bought one - but instead of calling the latest version the iPad 3, its creators insisted it was simply "the new iPad". I decided to get one because 
         (a) more and more of the books I want to read are appearing in paperback editions that look as if someone has simply taken the original (unaffordable) hardback and shrunk it down, resulting in small thick clumsy books with tiny print;
         (b) I can't see to read unless I'm in a really good light, which isn't always available, especially when travelling (even on the bus). The iPad is lit and you can make the print bigger. Unlike the Kindle, the iPad has a screen big enough to let you do this and still get a reasonable amount of text on the page;
         (c) I thought it would be nice to stay in the warmth downstairs instead of having to go upstairs every time I needed to use the computer. I don't own a laptop, so the iPad seemed like a good idea all round.
         The nice young man in the shop wrote down a list of basic instructions for getting started. You have to sign up to iTunes, which I'd never bothered with before. 
         The first hurdle was getting my iPad to do anything at all. I would turn it on, it would show me the apple, then it would go black. In desperation, I finally resorted to my desktop PC  to find and download the User Manual. It told me about the arrow that flicked up for a moment when I turned the iPad on. You have to slide it across to unlock everything.
         Once I got that far, it was reasonably plain sailing until I got to the part about there being an email from Apple asking me to verify my email. It asked me to put in my Apple ID. But by that time I'd filled in so many boxes and answered so many security questions that i couldn't remember what my Apple ID was. So I clicked on "Forgotten your ID?", and it asked me to input my birthday. I did that, and it told me I was wrong.
         At this point I gave in and phoned the help desk. A very calm woman with an accent that was only slightly difficult to follow (as I'm sure mine was for her) started by asking me for the serial number. Then she told me where it was - on the back of the box. I peered intently at the tiny letters to make them out, eventually she understood what I was telling her, and she got me back on track. She even helped me go back into the maw of the beast and correct my birthday. (I could have lived with it recording the wrong birthday, except that I didn't of course know what wrong birthday it had.) Then the call got cut off.
         I bravely carried on, alone. I knew exactly what I wanted to do first: download the app (see, I can speak iPad!) for Kindle, so I could get ebooks from Amazon. I will still buy real books from real booksellers, but there are some venerable classics available for free. One of these is the first volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past, the first thing I wanted to download - I'd decided this was the year to tackle it.
         I didn't quite get that far last night - it took me all my remaining time and energy to get onto the internet and download Kindle before falling into bed, too exhausted to read. (Halfway through I had to phone the help desk again, because although this book was free, they still wanted all my billing details, and I couldn't work out how to type in my phone number in any way that was acceptable to the unseen god of the machine, which insisted on a three-digit area code. A nice young man got me over that hurdle. They train them very well not to laugh). 
         This morning, after a frustrating half hour or so (the manual kept telling me what to go to in Settings, but I couldn't find Settings, so that was no help), I finally managed (I'm not quite sure how, and I probably won't be able to do it again without a lot more futile prodding at the screen and swearing) to get into Amazon and download Swann's Way. And start reading it.
         I still don't have a clue about the iCloud, or how to write (or dictate!) notes and send them to my proper computer,  let alone how to look at my emails (I think it can do that, but I'm not sure). And I was disappointed that the Kindle books seem to stay floating around in Kindle, rather than neatly installing themselves on one of the most reassuring bits of iPad, the nice wooden bookcase (the only thing I have on it so far is the manual). Maybe the only books that go onto it are iBooks? 
         But I've just discovered the Gutenberg Project, with its enormous and fascinating lists of bygone books (including Proust, only in French). And I expect I'll be able to figure out how to do the other things I need or want to do. Eventually. Meanwhile I'm having a good time with Marcel.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

There and here

No-show last week because I went to Auckland to see family and friends and some pictures. The Degas to Dali exhibition at the redone Auckland Art Gallery was entirely satisfying, partly because of the outstandingly good text that went with it - it sounded like (and was probably by?) my favourite NZ art expert, Mary Kisler, who told Kim Hill it was the best exhibition she'd worked on. It's on till 10 June.
        And then I saw an ad in the paper for a Frances Hodgkins exhibition at the Jonathan Grant Galleries in Parnell, so we went to that too. It included the rescued 1930s black chalk drawing "The Sitting Room", which had been used as a kitchen cupboard door in a student flat in Canterbury, England, and was thrown into a skip during renovations - read the full story here. There were also a number of works which had belonged to Hodgkins' close friend Jane Saunders (the Hocken LIbrary has a lovely double portrait by Hodgkins of Jane and her partner Hannah Ritchie). For a moment I had a mad impulse to buy one, but of course calmed down and bought the catalogue instead.  You can see all the works, which span 1901 to 1947, at the excellent online site here.
          So what with all this absorbing art, and spending decent lengths of time with friends and family I hadn't seen for a while (including meeting my new great-nephew), and the glorious weather and good food, I had a pretty nice time. For no particular reason, I suddenly lost it on the bus coming back from the airport, but the messages on my answerphone pulled me out of that trough and set me back on my feet again. 
           Now I have two new editing jobs and three book reviews to do, so that will keep me occupied for a while. And tonight I went to see Geraldine Brophy and Jane Keller in the last night of Floral Notes, a wry, moving, stylish piece (they wrote it themselves) about the numerous species to which I belong, but which is still all too rarely seen on the stage - older women. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Farewell to Watts Hardware

Tonight I went to the farewell, in the local church hall, to John and Anne Watts. John ran Watts Hardware in Marsden Village for thirty-seven and a half years. (I got this photo off Google, so it's not very good.) It was a lovely old-fashioned hardware shop, stocking an astonishing range of things. About ten years ago I wandered in one day and found a beautiful, not-too-big traditional roasting dish, complete with rack. Harvey was very pleased with it and used it a lot for his famous roasts.
      Everyone who served me there was really helpful and kind, endlessly patient with my dim questions about the finer points of paint and sandpaper, handles and glue. The last big thing I bought was a kind of solid rubber wedge, to form the end of the new ramp at our front door. It was quite expensive, but they knew it was for Harvey, and gave us a really good price. But the ramp was finished only a month before he died, so he hardly used it.
       John Watts is getting on, and now he's not in good health, so he's had the big sale and closed down. It feels like the breaking of another link to my past life, both with Harvey and with the kinds of shops and shopkeepers I grew up with in Auckland's Mount Eden. So like everyone else around here, I'm really sad to lose him.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Wellington is enjoying an astonishingly fine autumn. On Monday Ali came round for the garden, and we got an amazing amount done, mainly because of her encouragement, energy, skill and knowledge, but also because the weather was so good that I didn't flag as I usually do. She brought me lemons, new plants, and her latest batch of quince jelly (see "The magic quince").
          But later in the week I did flag quite badly - the aftermath of Rarotonga, I expect, plus the approach of a holiday, always a difficult time, beset by a heightened consciousness of being on my own.. It's hard work, this living alone business, especially if you don't go out to work every day. You have to organise all your company and companionship, all the time - it's no longer just reliably there, ready whenever you need it, without having to actively do anything to get it. And of course, by the time you've been together as long as we had, there's such a generous store of shared experience  and knowledge that you implicitly understand so much, being together is easy. (The danger, of course, is that you take each other for granted and don't fully value what you've got, but something of that is probably inevitable.)
              The other problem (maybe it's just me?) is I can get quite nervous about contacting people to arrange things, especially over holidays, thinking that they're probably all busy already, and maybe a bit weary of hearing from me anyway. Silly, I know, but it's easy to get into a downward spiral about it all.
               Anyway, I managed to rally enough to go out last night and buy myself the new House and Garden (to inspire the major tidy-up I planned for the weekend), a block of peppermint chocolate (in lieu of an Easter egg), and one hot cross bun for this morning (though I am totally non-religious, I irrationally cling to the tradition that Good Friday is the proper day for eating hot cross buns). This afternoon I went for a walk down to Harvey's plaque, and tonight my neighbour is coming in for dinner.
                Not sure about tomorrow yet, but on Sunday my lovely long-distance driving friend is taking me over to the Wairarapa, and on Monday another one is coming to the garden centre - I need some new pot flowers, and maybe some tulip bulbs. Harvey always grew them, and  in the photo are the ones I grew (I was so proud of myself) for his last spring. But I didn't bother last year. So I think it will be good to revive that tradition, too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A holiday

I really did have a proper holiday in Rarotonga. I'm very grateful to my niece (Harvey's brother is her father) for inviting me to her wedding, otherwise I might never have got round to going there.
        My idea of a really relaxing holiday is to go to a lovely beach, find a good place to sit in the shade, and read a lot, breaking off only to go for paddles and beach walks and small local expeditions to find something to cook for dinner, along with an icecream. That's exactly what I managed to do most of the time, except that once other family members arrived, we went out to dinner instead (see Something Else to Eat) - it was so nice to have a crowd to go with every night, because having dinner alone is the thing I find most difficult when I'm away.

I also loved the fact that there was no need for me to drive anything anywhere. Little buses go round the whole island in 50 minutes, clockwise and anti-clockwise, so you can never get lost.    
       There are proper stops (one was right outside our place), but they also stop if you hail them from the roadside, or tell the driver where you want to get off. Yet they're always pretty much on time. Brilliant.
And of course it was warm. All day, every day, even during the one huge two-hour downpour. After the non-summer we've had here, it was incredibly soothing and relaxing.

The wedding day itself was the most perfect of all - no wind, no clouds, just sun and blue sky. And right on cue, a tropical sunset over the lagoon, the only one we had. I wished so much that Harvey could have been there with me to see it, and toast his niece and her husband as they stood barefoot and beautiful on the beach.

But one marvellous thing happened on the way over. My plane reached Auckland quite late, so I ended up  cutting things a bit fine for my flight to Rarotonga. But I had to stop at the duty-free and buy a special bottle of red wine to take for the wedding dinner. I raced in, found a nice man and asked him to find me a good bottle of pinot noir for X dollars. He went to the shelf, reached one down and said "This is really good". I didn't even look at it - I just thanked him, bought it and ran off. Of course when I arrived panting at Gate 9, I found that the flight was delayed anyway. So I sat down and looked at the bottle. It was from Central Otago, the brand was Soho, and the name of this particular wine was - McQueen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thank you

Before I dash off - thanks so much for the three warm, thoughtful, helpful comments on my previous post. I'll think about all this while I'm away, and of course any others will be greatly appreciated too. Here's a picture of Harvey's plaque with three late Dublin Bay roses from the garden - I took them down the road to mark our wedding anniversary this month.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Where to from here?

I've been writing about the experience of losing Harvey and learning to live on my own for a little over a year now. My first post after he died went up on 16 January 2011.

What I need to work out now is, do I go on with this blog in the same way? Or do I broaden the focus a little and use it more as a writer's blog where I try things out?

I don't have to decide right now, and in fact I'll be away again from next week until the end of March (I was lucky with the timing - it perfectly suits a visiting academic couple to look after the house for me). So I won't make any decisions about it until I get back. But I would really appreciate any comments and thoughts you would like to send me about what you want to read here. (Just bear in mind that because comments here are moderated, they may not appear till I get back and put them up.)

Meanwhile, today I went to a book launch in the same local hall where we launched Harvey's last two books, and also had afternoon tea following the private funeral on 31 December 2010. The publisher, Steele Roberts, was the same one that had brought out Harvey's anthology, These I Have Loved, in October 2010. In his speech today, Roger Steele moved me greatly by recalling that occasion and paying a gracious tribute to Harvey. Thank you so much, Roger. It felt like a kind of gentle closing of a circle.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I missed posting here last week because I was feeling too low, in that awful state where everything seems completely pointless. I think it was partly the aftermath of being ill, and partly the fact that my wedding anniversary was coming up and I wasn't sure how I would cope with it. The frightful "summer" didn't help eiither - this week it was officially confirmed that Wellington has had the least sunshine and fewest warm days on record.
      But dear Ali came round last Thursday and that made a big difference. Then on Friday I was whisked in to TVNZ's Wellington studios to appear on Close Up, talking about adoption. And fortunately, weeks ago I'd organised a long late lunch for 3 March, as a belated 50th anniversary present for friends (see Golden). I produced a five course lunch and thoroughly enjoyed myself  (I'll put a post up about it later this week over on Something Else to Eat).

I knew I'd probably feel rather flat when everyone went home, so I arranged to go round to my neighbour's and watch a DVD. As my contribution, I took round delicious leftover bits of the last course (strawberries, slices of chocolate salami, and a few stray truffles), plus the dessert wine, and that all went down very well indeed. All these goings-on seem to have turned the tide, and I've felt much better since.  

Sunday, February 19, 2012

All over the place

I'm sorry to be so late posting this week. This isn't the only thing I've run late with, or not done at all. I can't blame being ill - I'm definitely better now, thank goodness. But the combination of the trip to China followed by the illness has somehow completely upset my daily life.

It took me a long time last year to get back some sort of equilibrium and come to terms with living alone on a day-to-day basis. I thought I'd managed it pretty well, really. But it depended on a range of routines, including cooking for myself and for friends, and doing some work, and going out.

While I was ill, all of this fell apart, and now I'm having trouble putting my life back together again. I know this sounds really feeble, especially considering that we're just coming up to the anniversary of the February earthquake which devastated so many people's lives in Christchurch. (The film When A City Falls is on TV3 this week - Wednesday at 7.30.) But it somehow feels as if I've slipped back quite a long way. I've gone back to having flashbacks of the last few days of Harvey's life, and I have to try hard to realise what I'm doing and consciously stop and think about something else. It all just reinforces the difficult but essential knowledge that none of this is straightforward, and it really is two, three, many steps forward and then several steps back.

Friday, February 10, 2012

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

Appalling how your world narrows down when you're ill. I had a relapse this week (very common with campylobacter, apparently) and had to go back onto antibiotics. I felt as if I'd gone almost back to square one, two weeks ago. But they seem to be working really well, thank goodness. You may not want to know this, but today is the first day I've been to the loo just the once.

With any luck, it won't be too long before I can start going out again properly, and eating something beyond yoghurt, applesauce, broth, bananas, jelly, dry toast, rice, boiled eggs and occasional bits of fish. (Instead of nice food made by me, there are nostalgic pictures of Chinese food over on Something Else to  Eat.) Fortunately I've had some urgent editing work to keep me occupied, and reviews to write, and kind friends have come to visit when I've been up to it.

 They do understand that despite the notoriously nasty nature of this infection and the remarkably ferocious way the usually reticent Ministry of Health portrays it in their helpful leaflet, they won't catch it just by being near me.

But I really am getting pretty bored with it all the same. When I think how long Harvey had to put up with feeling grotty and feeble and not being able to do anything physically or even enjoy his food much, I wish I'd told him more clearly how brave and determined and admirable he was.

Anyway, let's hope that my hero Erithromycin has done for this particular evil creature this time, and (with apologies to Lewis Carroll) set the poor beleaguered Tumtum tree to rights.

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
She chortled in her joy.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Women of Xi'an

The terracotta warriors (220BC) were, of course, amazing and I will be happily dragging friends through my photos for weeks to come. But in the huge and wonderful Shaanxi Provincial Museum next day, I found the first image I'd seen of a woman, dating back to the beginning of the AD era.

I know she doesn't look like a woman, but that was how they wore their hair then. She's probably a servant, or maybe a concubine, because of course she came out of a tomb. (The warriors didn't - they were guarding a tomb some distance away.)

Next came the beautiful Tang ladies (618-901 AD). I hadn't realised Tang was so early.

(Throughout my trip I kept asking Jonathan "What dynasty is this?" "Han, Mum" he'd say kindly. "Yes, but when was that exactly?" He was very patient.)

Here's a lovely one with a baby, and one on a horse, looking like a medieval demoiselle, and a close-up of another with a magnificent hairdo.

This wonderfully elegant one was labelled "Female in male clothing" - certainly the hairstyle is male. But Jonathan wondered if she might in fact be a eunuch.

And here are some more servants. The very thin one with a book is later than Tang, I think - Yuan maybe? (Sorry, Jonathan - I should have written it down.)

The two with a teapot and a cup are much humbler folk-art. Their companions behind them are country horseposts, but these two stood at the gates of a small estate.

We found them in the misty grounds of the Small Goose Pagoda. Then we went off for some lunch and our own pot of delicate green tea. Only we changed our minds and splashed out on a rare, expensive cup of coffee instead.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


China was great and I meant to do a proper post this week, but unfortunately fate intervened in the form of a really nasty stomach bug. I've only just started to feel slightly better, so I hope to catch up later this week.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A new year

I know Harvey died a year ago, but sometimes that feels like a long time, and sometimes it feels very short. And now it feels strange to no longer be able to say, or think, "my husband died last year".
              I haven't exactly made any new year resolutions, but I have come to a sort of general resolve: I need to try to live, as much as I can, in the present, and look ahead to the future, rather than turning back to the past. It's not easy; and not only because of the obvious, inescapable fact that I have more years behind me than ahead of me. As for many people my age, of those I've been closest to in my life, more have died than are alive. And I don't have any grandchildren to draw me on into the future.
               But the past is a place to look back on, not to live in. Neither Harvey nor Patrick would have wanted me to dwell there. Both of them had an enormous zest for life and for making the most of their time, something I've often not been very good at, even when they were here with me.
               So now I'm off to China to see my son Jonathan, while my visiting friend looks after the house. It's the third time I've been, and I've got to the stage where I enjoy going back to familiar places almost as much as I love seeing completely new ones. There'll be some of both on this trip, and once again I'll have a close companion to share it all with.
               Of course it's not the same and it never can be, I know that. Harvey and I travelled very well together, though of course, since we were both bossy and each thought we knew best, and strange surroundings stress you out a bit, there would be the occasional disagreement (to put it politely) about where we were, where we were going, what we should do next, where we should eat...
               In China there are no such moments, because Jonathan knows his way around and I don't. He also knows what I will like. What's more, I can't read a single word I see, it's all just pretty decoration to me. So I just trot round obediently after him, and it's very relaxing.
               It will be a good start to this new year, and to living in the present. And in three weeks I'll write about it here. By then we will be in the year of the dragon, a very auspicious sign, embodying beauty, creativity, energy, confidence and fearlessness.