A Good Chap

If you’re being a good chap you can be counted on to do the right thing. Chap is a British term which applies to a man or boy. A woman may possibly be a chapess or chapette. This is different to the American term guy which can be applied to any gender.

Chap is a shortened form of chapman, an Anglo-Saxon term for a merchant, which is the ancestor of our word cheap, i.e. a bargain. Chapwoman referred to a female pedlar or dealer.

I’m interested in the word because I’m currently producing a chapbook, which was originally a small pamphlet of tales, ballads, etc, which was carried from place to place and offered for sale by a chapman.

My chapbook will be close to forty A5 pages, divided into seven chapters. The word chapter derives from the Latin caput (head).

There are also chaps, stout protective leggings worn by cowboys, and this word comes from Spanish. I wonder whether some chapmen may have worn chaps?

Cowboy in chaps

Myself I can’t be a good chap
my gender is the handicap

Weird Word

A vicambulist is someone who walks around in the streets. That’s definitely me, although I’d prefer not to be called a street-walker as that word has other connotations.

Today as I walked around I met a group of workers who were replacing the traffic light pole at the north-east corner of the Barbadoes/Kilmore Street intersection. It became bent when hit by a vehicle.

Replacing the pole

A night-foundered vicambulist is a street-walker (with or without other connotations) who has got lost in the darkness. This is definitely not me, as if I walk at night I stick to streets I know well. Are you a vicambulist too?

A call for help must needs be sounded
if someone walking is night-foundered

Paean of Praise

A group of women gathered last weekend to support a friend whose mother had recently died. We were each asked to bring something that reminded us of a woman no longer with us, who had been important in our life, and to share something about her.

Because I’d recently been writing a vignette about my political experiences the woman I chose was Janet McVeagh, Co-Leader of the Values Party during the 1980s. Today at my writing class we were asked to briefly write a paean, a creative work expressing praise, and I again thought of Janet.

She was an empowering inspiration to many of us, a true friend with whom I shared laughter and tears. We never lived in the same city, and we met just a few times each year. Often at Values Party national meetings we shared a room and would talk into the wee small hours. I can remember one gathering at our Auckland home where I abandoned the marital bed for a sleeping bag on the lounge floor so as not to waste any precious moments in her company.

In those pre-email days we kept contact through cards and phone calls. One day during a local body campaign Janet left an answerphone message to say that she was “off to Paris with Adam”. I wondered who this new man could be, and later found she’d gone with a peace group called ATOM, all part of her work to make the world a better place.

Sadly Janet died at the end of 2004, but she is someone I will always remember with fond love. In my garden the Raspberry Ice miniature rose is a lasting memento.

I can’t too highly sing her praise
she raised my life in many ways

Sadly I did not grow to love Sylvie. I have enjoyed Elizabeth Smither’s poetry and was keen to read this novel about three generation of women, but it failed to engage me. I felt it lacked continuity. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by reading too many murder mysteries? I read 70% of it over four evenings then decided I wouldn’t finish the rest as I have five other library books waiting beside my bed. I’ve been told that it finishes spectacularly, but I won’t be around for the ending. Has anyone else finished and enjoyed it?

This book is not one I could love
and so I’ve given it the shove


Impressive Image

Black Betty was our breakfast choice this morning, the first time we’ve been there for several years. The food is still excellent and I did appreciate my Earl Grey tea made weakly with tea leaves. The cafe wasn’t as busy as it used to be, perhaps because there are now so many new options available. No sign of the Harley Davidson riders who were Saturday morning regulars. They must have gone somewhere else.

We parked in Allen Street, and as we drove out we spied a mural I hadn’t seen before, as we rarely go that way.

Mural in Allen Street

It’s a portrait of Harlem-Cruz Atarangi Ihaia, and was painted by Erika Pearce in 2017, for the YMCA’s Street Prints Otautahi Festival. The mural raises issues of environmentalism, cultural identity, and female empowerment, and is illuminated by sustainable solar lighting.

Adjacent is a 2021 mural which I found less attractive. The letters appear to read NESS, but I’m not sure what it means.

NESS mural

Black Betty led us to a wall
with a new mural
proud and tall

Garden Grooming

This year is the first time I’ve employed an arborist. Previously we’ve always managed to trim trees ourselves in a slow amateur fashion, but some had just got too big, and neither of us is as confident on a ladder as we used to be, so we decided to “get a man in”. (I haven’t heard of any female arborists, but they must surely exist?)

I wanted two quotes and phoned two arborists who had been recommended by friends. I left a message with one who took 48 hours to respond. The other came promptly to discuss what we wanted, was personable and knowledgeable, so we accepted his reasonable price, and arranged for him to do the task on Thursday of the following week. Tuesday morning he phoned to say Thursday’s weather forecast looked ominous and would it be okay if he came Wednesday instead. I happily agreed, and he parked his trailer outside on Tuesday evening to avoid the morning crush of commuter and contractor parking.

He worked hard for six hours, doing everything we’d asked.

Pruning the apricot tree

All the trees we’ve planted are fruit-bearing, except for the yew tree, supplied by a passing bird, and transplanted by Stephen, who’s very fond of it. He asked that the yew, next to the apricot, not be touched.

Pruning the cherry tree

The arborist took large amounts off the walnut and cherry trees. The latter was supposed to be “compact” but after 30 years it was approaching the top of the lamp standard and we are glad to have it reduced. There will still be plenty of cherries for the birds, and for us if we cover the lower branches in time.

“Our” man cleaned up beautifully, piled all the branches into his large trailer, and used a vacuum to suck sawdust and debris from the footpath and patio.

I’d already pruned all the roses (except the banksia which the arborist tamed), and the feijoa tree. Now the garden and I can take a deep breath while we wait for spring. One tiny daffodil has already produced a flower.

The first daffodil

Our trees have all been neatly cut
now we just wait for fruit and nut

This book kept me riveted. The protagonist is an obsessive woman with a facility for mathematics who becomes bookkeeper and financial controller for a small town in Illinois. I could easily identify with this part of her character, but not when she started to scam part of the town’s revenue to finance her art dealing. I kept thinking: don’t they have auditors in small-town America?

Miss Farwell leads a double life with an alter ego who moves in stylish big city circles and buys and sells art at mouth-watering prices.

The title of the novel is in homage to Patricia Highsmith, and the book was inspired by the true life story of someone who took $54 million from their town’s accounts over a period of twenty years. The writing is excellent and the suspense maintained throughout. The ending is apt and satisfying.

She creamed her portion from the top
and then found that she could not stop

Riverside Ramble

The morning was cold, but sunny and still as Christine and I parked in Avonside Drive to walk along the river. As soon as we got out of the car we were approached by three pukeko.


Soon gulls joined them along with ducks and a swan.

Gull on car

In winter school holidays they are probably missing their usual feeders, but we had nothing for them.

We walked east along the riverbank and stopped to have our snack at the memorial seat to John Taylor. He was the last of 1,300 to remain in the Avonside Red Zone after the earthquakes, and he died in 2017. He used a wheelchair because of paraplegia, and his memorial seat reflects this.

John Taylor’s memorial seat

We crossed the river at the Gloucester Street Bridge and enjoyed the view from the opposite side, including this shag, drying its wings in the sun.


Further along we found a collaborative art project Te Tuna Heke where tuna/eels are portrayed. The aim is to build a habitat that is high in mahinga kai value and will enhance the mauri or life force of the river.

Next we came upon the new Fungi Farm which is a project of Richmond Community Garden, beside Avebury House. This reflects the Mycelium Network, also known as the Wood Wide Web.

Woven fungi

We admired Letterbox Love where Andrew Powell has re-imagined the boxes and their context. The people who lived at the Red Zone addresses these letterboxes once served had their lives turned upside down and flipping the letterboxes reflects this upheaval. Each letterbox has been transformed into a planting container where flowers can grow and flourish symbolising that life continues even when things change, and that beautiful things can emerge from this.

Letterbox Love

We returned to our car refreshed by our time beside the river, and stimulated by so many interesting sights.

Along the river we could see
some birds, artwork, and new fungi

The marriage which is the focus of this book is that between Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson. It was an open marriage, with both partners enjoying affairs with members of their own sex and weathering the ensuing scandals. Two thirds of the book are an autobiography by Vita. I’d never read any of her writing until I recently read her love letters with Virginia Woolf, and that’s a shame because she is a captivating writer. The stories of her aristocratic youth are a fascinating glimpse into another world.

In 1913 a letter from Harold to Vita quotes il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville. I was pleased to recognise this poem which I remember learning in fifth form French. I’ve now discovered that it was written in 1885 by Paul Verlaine.

During Vita’s affair with Violet Keppel/Trefusis I was taken aback by how they could spend their days reading, playing tennis, and walking without an apparent care for any responsibilities.

While I relished the parts written by Vita, I ended up skipping some that was written by Nigel, but appreciated the detail of her not allowing peeled and faded wallpaper or frayed velvet tassels in her sitting room to be renewed. Her possessions must grow old with her. She must be surrounded by evidence of time. That’s an idea that appeals to me. Nigel talks of the garden at Sissinghurst also being a portrait of their marriage as Harold made the design while Vita did the planting. Their loving if unusual relationship lasted for fifty years.

You get a fascinating look
at open marriage in this book

Writers’ Retreat

I was surprised and pleased to be invited to spend a day with a group of writers that I’d had no contact with for six months. Last year we’d met regularly, but this year I’ve chosen to put my writing energy elsewhere. Nine of us met in a home with beautiful harbour views and all took a contribution for lunch.

My pot luck platter

In the morning we shared what’s been happening in our lives and it was a pleasure to reconnect with everyone. We are all getting older, and this means changes.

After lunch we each read something we’d written recently and gave supportive feedback. I was glad of the opportunity to share the first two vignettes of my planned chapbook.

Lately I’ve been thinking about home which is the topic of next week’s vignette, and it occurred to me that this writers’ group is a place that feels like home. It’s somewhere I can share personal feelings, be nurtured, and not judged. My ritual group is another place that provides such a home. Do you have a group that supplies the comfort of home?

Sometimes your home is not a house
rather a group without a grouse