Monthly Archives: November 2017

“Charity”

I’ve been making a minor contribution to  a group called The Aunties. In Jackie’s words, this is what they do.

“Welcome to The Aunties – I’m Jackie. I’m the Aunty In Charge. If you’re curious about what I/we do, it is simply this. I am the interface between  a number of community organisations, and a group of people called The Aunties whose primary focus is to provide the material needs for the people who use the services of those organisations. The organisations/people we support are: Te Rōopu O Te Whānau Te Rangimariē O Tamaki Makaūrau; The NZ Prostitute’s Collective; the emergency housing team of social workers for the Salvation Army; a youth justice worker and her clients; and an expanding number of women in the community who are referred to me from these organisations, and also from women’s refuges, and the Family Harm programme.”

“Charity” is a funny old thing and it brought to mind this poem by Connie Bensley.

Charity

Trouble has done her good,
trouble has stopped her trivializing everything,
giggling too much,
glittering after other people’s husbands.

Trouble has made her think;
taken her down a peg,
knocked the stuffing out of her.
Trouble has toned down the vulgarity.

Under the bruises she looks more deserving:
someone you’d be glad to throw a rope to,
somewhere to send your old blouses
or those wormy little windfalls.

CONNIE BENSLEY (1984)

This is a complex poem and raises some interesting issues like, is it a charitable act to give away old blouses or wormy windfalls? Are people in need of “charity” some how less deserving and therefore have to be grateful for your old cast offs? Do people in difficult circumstances need “taking down a peg or two”?

Chief Aunty Jackie sniffs every garment and discards it, if it has so much as a whiff of mustiness. Anything stained? Chuck it.

I don’t want to speak on her behalf but my observation of Jackie’s view is that it must be given with love in your heart and therefore it will naturally be clean and in good condition. There’s some shit “donated” out there I have to say. If you just want to get rid of something put it in the rubbish. But also the crap is far, far, far, far outweighed by loads of clean, ironed, lovely things definitely given with love.

Judgement comes in too I guess. She’s got no money but she is smoking, takes drugs, has “too many” kids, stays with a violent man etc etc. in the end, her business is none of my business if I want to give someone a bit of support. I don’t know the back story, I don’t know what is happening for that person. I totally admit to having these sanctimonious thoughts from time to time but I’m trying not to.

Choosing gifts to donate? Makes us feel good to see all those presents wrapped up? For little kids that works well I think.  But…do we really know what that 14 year old teen wants? I think maybe at that age I would like a voucher to go out to the Boxing Day sales with my friends and choose something that is special to me. And yes that could be jeans with big rips in them because that happens to be cool right now.

Does anyone deserve less than the best we can do? And who decides what’s “best” for someone else?  Who knows when any of us might be “taken down a peg.”

There will inevitably be the stories where someone attended the Mission Christmas lunch and had “plenty of money” or “stole” two presents or…. do people say this to justify not giving anything?

Actually once it’s wrapped up, I don’t care what the receiver does with it. I hope they like it or find it useful, or are pampered a bit by it, or their children’s eyes light up but I don’t have any expectations that they need to be “grateful”.

Who knows what we do and why?

He Promised

He punched her in the face

At a party.

She fell,

The people grabbed him by the arms,

He was reeling

 

Later they returned together,

Arms around each other.

She was smiling happily.

She was pregnant, and he’d promised

To marry her.

 

by Anna Swir 

 

That all sounds a bit grim so here’s some Christmas cheer.

I baked a Christmas cake today and the whole house smells all cinnamon and brandy.

My favourite angel has the perfect grin. (I don’t tell the others she is my favorite though.) I bought her in The Netherlands from a  “disability ” workshop. They only used the creator’s first name and I’ve always wondered why. Because you are disabled you just get a first name? I don’t get that. A friend asked me how I attach them. i used the Commando clear mini hooks that theoretically pull off cleanly afterwards.

Have a good week. FG

I’ve got the power (not)

The Power Cut

So accustomed am I to having everything on tap that when the unscheduled power cut happened tonight I knew I couldn’t cook dinner so I thought I’d sit down and watch a bit of telly until it came back on…I know, call me stupid.

I’m now bathed in a wonderful soft candlelight and sadly there is no one to admire the soft glow I imagine my skin has in this light. It has also been a beautiful sunset, the sky bathed in reds and golds.

My phone battery is nearly dead as is this computer battery. Am I ready for an emergency? Heck no. Well I do have emergency chocolate. I hve also discovered I can’t touch typr  in the dark in quite the way I thoughy.

I am thinking of the people in Christchurch during and after the earthquakes and while it is a novelty for me for an hour or so, it was a major obstacle for them.

The power has just whooshed on again giving me quite a fright and I feel a bit out of sorts. While I was sitting here in the semi darkness, I was unable to use any distractions so there was just me and my thoughts and the candles really did look lovely.  Now FB is running hot and I can binge watch the TV again. But I don’t really want to…

Maybe Waldon et al were on to something.

There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature. Henry David Thoreau

Although I’m sure I read somewhere that he went to his mother’s for dinner quite a lot but that could just be an idle rumour. 

Although it is nice to make a cup of tea and put the Christmas lights on. I know, I know, it is still November but it was book club last night and I was feeling a bit yuletide yahooey.

On the topic of reposing in nature I wrote this poem while sitting with a view of the sea at New Plymouth recently.

View of the Sea 

There is so much interference with my view of the sea.

A book to be read

Powerlines and street lights.

A cup of tea.

There’s a white butterfly scavenging for cabbages and a car horn.

All interfering with my view of the sea.

A ship on the horizon, a flax bush, and seabirds,

The sun is shining now,  a pohutakawa is flowering, the first Christmas one,

and a woman in a blue walking  jacket.

Interference all.

Friends too.

Interfering with my view of the sea.

Hey ho, a rough draft but you get my drift. I’ll move to a rustic cabin in the woods and then realise there’s book club, the film festival, that nice cafe, a Christmas party, and I’ll find I can’t stand myself.

PS we neighbours got together for a film night recently. Here’s a question. When did Swiss women gain the right to vote???  1920? 1945? 1962? nope- it was 1971

“Die göttliche Ordnung”, written and directed by Petra Volpe follows fictional characters in the build-up to the national referendum in 1971, where a majority of Swiss men finally voted in favour of granting women the vote. Set in an unspecified and conservative corner of eastern Switzerland, the title (meaning “the divine order”) tilts ironically at ideas of men and women’s traditional roles.

When one of the main female leads wants to get a job, her husband tells her, quite rightly:

Now let’s not get carried away, but equal pay would be quite enlightened, wouldn’t it? We don’t want young women saying, “What do you mean that in 2017 women still didn’t receive equal pay??”

Just a thought. FG

You know you are getting old when…

you go to the museum in New Plymouth, Puke Ariki and see all the stuff you had at home as a child. At first I thought maybe they were just vacuuming the displays…

Who didn’t have one of these in their flat?

Then there were the trips to the dental nurse, what a complex range of emotions seeing the dental chair and the old treadle drill!  So many sights, feelings and smells. The terror, yes, the waiting room, muffled sounds of misery, the meths smell, the steriliser steaming and clanking away, but also the delight at the end when the nurse made me a little cotton tubular snowman made with dental floss and a black marking pen for the eyes. It was a badge of honour to take back to show you survived and were “good”. I still am averse to the dentist and still want a cotton snowman at the end…

The memories come flooding back just looking at the red leather seat and the spit bowl. My dental nurse looked quite a lot like Nana Mouskouri, although it may have just been the intimidating thick black glasses.

The treadle drill.

I feel as though I remember this too, especially that red rubber air squishing thing. Maybe they were standard issue.

If you need a laugh I think this Michael McIntyre skit about going to the dentist will do the trick.

In the next booth at the museum were the school uniforms. I guess this is New Plymouth Girls’ but Otago Girls High School was much the same. What a fuss there was about wearing the hat. I was caught downtown without my panama hat and was marched up the very steep street in Moray Place by Miss Upchurch and I had to return to assembly the next day to show that I had embroidered my name in it. (Thanks Mum)

Uniform rules were made to be broken and ranged from hoisting the gym frock up as short as possible by using the girdle to hold it up, to wearing “witches’ britches” underneath to reveal a fetching row of lace underneath. There were always endless discussions about hair length as  well. Nothing much has changed. Girls are still accused of “distracting ” boys just like the young woman in the orphanage in that wonderful but awful film, The Magdalene Sisters. Apparently she was too beautiful to be out in the world so was sent to the laundry in the local convent  so she couldn’t be a temptress.

Those are ribbons and tiny pigtails as my hair was deemed too long to wear out…

IMG_4174

I often imagine that uniforms were designed by twisted old bats to make young women look as hideous as possible. Where else in this modern age would girls be made to wear ghastly full-length tartan skirts?? And what was the hair length thing about? Envy of young lovely tresses perhaps?

Why do air hostesses have to wear a silly hat? Just asking….

Witches britches

The biggest gasp of shock, fear and definitely admiration was reserved for the model prefect who, in hushed whispers, “was pregnant”. After all, she had actually done “it”.

The good old days? Nah, not so much. I have always enjoyed teaching Fleur Adcock’s wonderful poem about uniforms and uniformity.

The latest Listener has an interesting article about the  surprising changes in attitude in the iGen teens.

Apparently, “iGen is distinct from every other previous generation in how they spend their time, how they behave and their attitudes towards religion, sexuality and politics.” 

One line made my heart lift, ” …they have no patience for inequality based on gender, race or sexual orientation”.  That certainly seems to be the case with my son’s circle of friends. They also seem more interested in politics and the world around them and are not particularly interested in material wealth. They keep in touch with the news though pod casts, TED talks etc. and therefore have access to a huge range of opinions and ideas.

What I’m Reading.

I have just finished Wichtel’s book and found it fascinating if grief stricken. I have had an obsession, I suppose, about the holocaust from an early age. I read Five Chimneys, The Silver Sword, Anne Frank’s Diary and others from an about 10 years of age and had recurring nightmares long after.

While Wichtel’ book is mainly about after the war and the miraculous “survival” of her father, it also drives home that the sufferings of the war linger long after and can run through the later generations.

One of the most chilling sentences in the book was when a Nazi soldier was interviewed after the war about the practice of bashing babies’ heads in against the side of the trucks. “It was just cargo,” he said, “just cargo”.

My nephews are both in the baby-making stage of their lives, precious, precious cargo. I can only knit soft, warm cashmere and hope their lives will be filled with love.

IMG_4152

Go the All Whites in about an hour. FG

The Country Idyll?

As many of you know, I’m a real estate junkie, constantly checking out every area of the country for a possible change in lifestyle. I never learn. My first house cost 45K and was in the tiny bend in the road 35 kms out of Christchurch called Irwell. I knew the area as I had started my teaching career at Southbridge District High School. However, I bought the Blacksmith’s Corner section while I was HOD English at Cashmere High School and doing my Masters part-time.

I fantasied endlessly about a potager garden, herbs flourishing, fruit trees heavy with bounty, and me wearing a fetching apron making home made bread.

Image result for perfect potager

NOT my garden

In reality, I was working all day and most evenings and then driving home on country roads and falling into bed and then getting up and driving back to town. I developed terrible hayfever and sometimes shut all my doors and lay on my bed with a pillow over my head as my neighbour across the road enjoyed Neil Diamond at full strength while working outside by putting enormous speakers on his veranda.

I did however, love my little, simple box house designed by Trevor Ibbetson, a dear friend who died far too early. I also loved the view of the Southern Alps.

It was in the Muldoon era and interest rates were frozen at 22%. After that foray into the countryside I went for houses right in town and built two sets of two townhouses over a few years.

Sam and I had another flirt with the countryside when I had a stint in Akaroa on a secondment. 18 months was enough of small town living and i was happy to go home to the city. It was after that that I was still restless and we went to France and then Auckland.

And now… I still hanker after the romantic countryside thing, even though I know it isn’t really real. I found myself thinking about this place near Geraldine as my next option… I know its crazy. I know if I was going to write  novel I would have done it by now but..

Fairlieproperty slider image

https://www.ljhooker.co.nz/3ESGGX/fairlie

Even though it looks old it was built in 2016 and has the perfect BnB option in the garden. I’m not sure where the nearest film festival is though. Still it would allow me to have three months in France each year.

I was reading a blog that I really like called Brain Pickings by Maria Popova and this week she refers to Walt Whitman and the wisdom of trees. She quotes Hermann Hesse, “When we have learned how to listen to treesthen the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy.”

I still consume, buy, worry, get caught up in traffic and work politics and yet I think I should have moved on from all this crap so I see a house in the middle of nowhere and think, maybe I could do that and be still. And then I think, nah, I’d be lonely and scared at night. And then I go looking for a sugar fix in the cupboard.

I’m pretty sure I could give up all work though and not be bored….

Illustration by Maurice Sendak from Open House for Butterflies by Ruth Krauss. Also form Brain Pickings. Well worth reading the whole article.

I also listened to a story the other day called The White Horse. It is a Chinese folk tale about not judging a situation. I, of course aspire to that but never manage it. But you might. 

My friend has been told of three friends this week who have been diagnosed with cancer.

Enjoy the moment if possible and let me know if you fancy accompanying me to Fairlie/Geraldine….FG

Len Lye in the sky.

Food and France-Petit Louis

When I was living in France over 14 years ago, Petit Louis’ was the place to go for a birthday or when visitors came. Not that it was expensive but it was a bit of a drive up to the Plateau de Sault. I lived in France only over the cold months from January to July so we always ate inside. When I arrived this year in late Spring I was keen to visit again but wasn’t sure that Petit Louis was even alive as he was talking about retiring many years earlier.

However, to my delight he was still very sprightly and his restaurant was as busy as ever. All the charcuterie is made on his farm and the produce is all sourced locally. We went on a lovely sunny day and sat outside in the busy garden for lunch.

Petit Louis always does his party trick of pouring the wine onto his forehead and letting it run neatly into his mouth without spilling a drop. He then offers this same trick to his guests. Woe-betide you if you close your mouth as you will be splattered with red wine.

When everyone is seated and the aperitif is over, a huge bowl of farmhouse pate in an earthenware bowl is unceremoniously put on the table. This is followed by an array of charcuterie all from the farm,  accompanied by unlabeled bottles of red wine and a bowl of wickedness – duck fat bits.

The mains tend to be duck, duck or duck in a variety of forms. Suffice to say the cheese is divine. Dessert is a crepe with homemade fig compote with cream.

A digestif is a definite requirement. For me this is bliss, a lovely homemade meal, sunshine, good friends and great wine. FG

 

Eating my way around Spain and France

We started our journey in Madrid. Day one, tired and jet-lagged I came upon churros for breakfast, perfect!

Spain is of course, famous for its tapas and we managed to sample quite a few.

Every place where you rest your weary legs for a drink, you always get free olives or other small tapas.

and there is often a tasty selection for “after”.

I imagined eating lots of oranges in Valencia but apparently they are not sweet and tasty but they still look and smell good.

I didn’t eat a standout meal in Spain but maybe it was because I was on the tourist beat. I did, however, meet a friendly foodie on the bus to San Sebastien.  He had flown to Bilbao from Barcelona and then was beside me on the bus to San Sebastien. He was very helpful and told me all about his blog. I now follow Daniel on Instagram and his photos are sumptuous and the food looks delicious.

You can see how well-known as a food writer he is on his blog site.

http://danielarbos.com

© Daniel Arbós

If you want to know where the five best places for coffee in Paris are, just consult his website. I wish I had taken the time to find one standout restaurant to go to, but still we had a pretty good time eating out every day in some unique and beautiful cafes.

We crossed the border into the Pyrenees and I immediately felt at home.  Part of the eating delight is the environment and we found the most exquisite setting for dinner right in the village square beside a very old church in the most glorious balmy temperatures.

When we reached my beloved France we returned to the little hamlet I lived in lived in with Sam 15 years ago. It was strange but lovely to visit Sam’s school and to visit dear friends who own a gite in Puivert in the Pyrenees. Each evening in the lovely late Spring weather we sat out with their guests in the garden and had dinner. Francoise is a wonderful cook as you can see below:

Just an everyday lunch….

It is called the Gite des Marionettes because they make beautiful handheld puppets.

These are the cheeses they eat every night, this is not a special occasion shot, so yummy.

Every night is special, starting with an aperitif and ending with a digestif.

Sharing a meal with a stranger immediately loosens the tongues even if those tongues are foreign and we always managed to make ourselves understood.

I am saving the trip to Petit Louis for another day as for me, it was a pilgrimage.

I don’t think  Michelle and Francoise would approve of my chocolate,liquorice log for dessert tonight.

FG