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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

For 35 days in a row I’ve posted something on this blog. I started on a post-Christmas roll (technically known as a streak) and was motivated to continue when I read about a WordPress project called Bloganuary which was a challenge to post something every day for the whole month of January. I managed to do that, and would like to keep writing every day, but some days it’s hard to find inspiration.

I have a book of 642 writing prompts, but many of them require imagination and I’m more of a factual writer. After blogging for almost 16 years, with 4,370 posts behind me I worry that I may repeat myself and wonder if my readers will notice if I do. I looked for lists of prompts on the internet but again many require imagination and creative thinking.

One prompt that did catch my attention was “Who was your first best friend?” The first close friend I remember was Karen. We met when I was seven and she was eight, and we were in a composite Standard 1 & 2 class at St Albans Primary School.

1956 class photo: I’m 4th from right on the 2nd row from bottom and Karen is 2nd from left in the same row.

Karen lived just a couple of blocks away from me in Sherborne Street and we used to walk to and from school together. She had two brothers and a sister as well as two parents. As I had only my mother and a much older brother I found this larger family intriguing. Karen and her older sister shared a small second-storey bedroom where they kept a collection of paper dolls and we spent many happy hours dressing these. They also had a collection of comics, which were new to me. Every Sunday afternoon the whole family went for a drive and I was often included. We would visit various friends and relations and have afternoon tea. It wasn’t always the whole family that went – sometimes the older sister would be left at home to do the ironing.

I occasionally also went on holiday with them when we would stay at a camping ground somewhere in the Canterbury area. On these occasions Karen and I slept in the large family car. When my mother, brother, and I toured the North Island one summer, Karen came with us.

Once mother and I moved to Auckland my contact with Karen was reduced to letter writing but a few years later her family also moved to Auckland. When I married Karen’s father “gave me away” . We had no suitable male relations for this role as my brother had emigrated to Australia, and in those days a male “donor” was considered essential.

Contact dwindled after this as Karen’s family lived in a distant part of Auckland. Eventually she too married and went to live in Australia, and I have no idea where she is now. Unless people stay in the city of their childhood it seems inevitable that early friendships will fade. Having moved cities twice during my life I have lost contact with many friends who were once close. My daughters have moved more and further, but the internet now makes it easier to trace and keep in touch with people. I’ve searched for Karen online, but haven’t managed to find her.

I’ve lost touch with my first best friend
the one on whom I could depend

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I’ve always written poems.  Early ones rhymed and I thought of them as doggerel.  A friend told me they were rhyming verse, which is what Shakespeare wrote.

Rhyming poetry
a traditional form
used by the Bard

In 2015 I joined a Women Poets’ group and found that rhyming verse was definitely considered infra dig.  In that group I experimented with different forms and even plucked up the courage to read my poems in public sometimes.  The Canterbury Poets’ Collective invited anyone to read at Turanga on National Poetry Day.  You just registered and sent them a short biography saying where you’d been published.  The poems I was satisfied with had been published on my blog, so I said so, also mentioning my propensity for rhymes.  Several friends kindly came to give support, and I was allotted a time slot with four others, all properly published poets.  I read three poems, and the final one rhymed.  The audience, sitting on the Turanga staircase, clapped.  Afterwards I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as the mother of one of the “proper” poets and told me she preferred poems that rhyme.  I began to think I had a future as a performance poet.

Words that rhyme
not classed as true poetry
by unfriendly ears

When I left paid work I needed a new identity.  The label retired was not one I fancied.  To me that sounded as though everything was over.  These days I choose to put my occupation as writer – on passport, electoral roll, and anywhere a label is required.  It’s a rare day when I don’t write something, a blog post, a newsletter item, an email message.  All demonstrating that I am truly a writer.

Every day I write
prose or poems created
justify the name

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The first word processor I was introduced to was on an Amstrad Personal Computer.  These desktop machines were purchased by my employer in 1985, and I loved their superiority to the typewriter, especially the way I could go back and edit whatever I’d written without needing to re-type a whole document.  When we left Auckland in late 1986 I was asked what I wanted as a leaving present, and requested a new Amstrad, which accordingly came south with us.  I used it to compile a diary, from which I could copy suitable excerpts to send in letters to friends and family left behind.

With word processor
no need to re-type
an errant editor’s dream

In 2006 we planned our first trip to England.  Both our daughters had emigrated there, and I looked forward to seeing London where they had made their homes.  By this time we were all connected to the internet, and my technological daughter suggested that instead of recording my travels in e-mails I might like to write a blog.  I barely knew what a blog was, but with her encouragement I joined WordPress and started to write about my travel preparations.  My friends were  entreated to read this and to leave comments.  It proved to be a great way of relating what I was experiencing, and I could even add photos.  Blogging soon had me hooked so that I continued after that trip was completed.  I found the comments and interactions satisfying and enjoyed seeing my number of followers grow.

Hooked by the blog
from my desk top computer
connecting to the world

I was early for the WORD Festival session in 2015 and sat in the front row.   Another woman sat beside me, introduced herself as being from a well-known book publisher, and asked me if I was a writer.  Shyly I told her that I wrote a blog and had been doing it for some years.  She asked how many followers I had, and I said (rather shamefacedly) “just 400”.  “No need to be ashamed of that,” she said.  “Sometimes we publish a book that sells fewer than 400 copies.”  Then she said: “Don’t tell anyone that.”  I have repeated this anecdote on several occasions, but haven’t divulged the name of the publisher, which is still in business.

I wonder these days
do they still publish books
that may not sell?

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Fishing Fiasco

I remember the first time I caught a fish – probably the only time. I was staying at Orewa, north of Auckland, at a Theosophical Society lodge there, which had a river running through the grounds. I was about twelve, and my friend Dianne was staying with us. We enjoyed canoeing on the river, but on this day we were sitting on the jetty with some kind of fishing line. I don’t think there was a rod, possibly just string and a hook.

I was excited when I caught a small fish – probably so small it should have been thrown back, but I pulled it in and it lay gasping on the ground. I knew I had to kill it, and tried hitting it with a large stone, but it took a long time to expire. We certainly didn’t eat it, it was much too small. While I enjoy eating fish, in fact we have chowder for dinner tonight, I’ve never wanted to go fishing again.

I never want to catch a fish
but I enjoy them in a dish

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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

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I remember them
the girls I grew up with
St Albans schoolgirls
secure in blue gingham
they had fathers
I was different
being half an orphan.
Aged ten I flew north
life disrupted
with bare goodbyes

Auckland was alien
a potpourri of races
playing strange games
books gave comfort while
my circle slowly widened
Grammar School friends
a tight clique of four
in navy gym slips
with hats and gloves
becoming adults
tampons and pantyhose
sharing secrets
and support
until one day . . .

Early memories beckoned
return to Te Wai Pounamu
leaving friends behind
“abandoned” some said
starting again
a new circle
of spiritual sisters
ageing disgracefully


Where are they now
those girls I grew up with?

EGGS 4th form, Ruth top row, third from right

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Two and a half years ago I enjoyed a writing group at Avonhead, and this year I’ve returned to it. The tutor is excellent, and the sessions are good with plenty of stimulating opportunities to write and to share what we’ve written. Each week we are given an assignment to complete at home, and this is later returned to us with thoughtful criticism.

Recent assignments have been to create parts of a short story, and I’ve struggled with this. Most of my writing is creative non-fiction, i.e. this blog, with an occasional poem as well – although not so many of those lately. We’ve been given some parameters for our short story, and helpful guidance, but I’ve found it difficult to think of anything to write.

Ideally I’d pull some incident out of memory and embellish that, but nothing seems to fit. My writing often arises in the dream time between waking and sleeping, but this short story is elusive. I read plenty of fiction, but for relaxation rather than inspiration.

I’ve done some work on this week’s assignment, but not enough to feel satisfied with it. I shall attach a copy of this blog post to it, so my tutor will know how I’m feeling. Perhaps future assignments may suit me better?

It seems my muse has gone AWOL
or disappeared down some dark hole

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Missing Memories

The librarian helped me to look for a book which the catalogue said was on the shelf, but which had mysteriously gone AWOL. When she saw my name she told me we’d been in the same Feminist Studies class more than thirty years ago. Her memory is much better than mine (library training?) as I couldn’t remember her at all.

She asked whether I was still living in the same cottage and told me she’d come to a party we had in 1990 to celebrate our Silver Wedding anniversary. There was a crowd at that party, including Alf’s Imperial Army Choir who sang Rule Britannia -for Stephen, and Sisters in Jazz (Lynley Caldwell and Marg Buchanan) who sang I am Woman – for me. I wore a silver dress and Stephen had a silver cummerbund.

Silver Wedding Party

None of the party-goers had been at our Auckland wedding but old Auckland friends sent cards and telegrams, and one turned up unexpectedly. Because it was 1990, the sesquicentennial of the signing of Te Tiriti, I had a clever reference to this on the party invitations, but I can’t now remember what it was. Maybe I could ask the librarian.

There’s so much info in my brain
some facts just can’t be found again.

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Public speaking

I don’t recall any encouragement to make a speech when I was at school.  We read aloud in class, something we’d written, a play we were studying, or a Latin or French text, but we weren’t asked to write something and then present it.  There may have been debates, but I don’t remember any.  I feel envious when I hear of all the opportunities today’s students have to prepare and present speeches.

I was a shy person but was involved in and contributed to a number of committees through the 1970s and 1980s, usually as the secretary, not the chairperson.  Political activism and feminist groups stimulated me to express my ideas and feelings and I did, although it was never easy if the group was large and/or included people I didn’t know.

My first training in public speaking was when I joined NZ Tecorians in 1992.  This organisation provides training and support, similar to the more widely known Toastmasters.  I chose Tecorians in preference because they were New Zealand based, born out of feminism, and had a much cheaper subscription because there was no levy to an overseas office.  They ran a structured programme where you could progress at your own pace and provided education and entertainment.  I remember fondly an A.G.M. at Avon Tecorians where we played charades, and I would still rate this as the  most enjoyable A.G.M. I’ve attended (and I’ve been to quite a few!).  Being a Tecorian taught me heaps about how to structure a speech within a given time frame, to make impromptu speeches, to be humorous, and to use cue cards.  We also learned to evaluate each other’s speeches, something I never found easy.  The formula commend-recommend-commend gave a gentle framework for this, and I admit I’m still inclined to make comments to myself whenever I hear someone speaking poorly, especially if they use bad grammar or a lot of ums.  I entered local and national competitions and appreciated the friendships made. 

The Avon branch folded after a couple of years, and I then joined the South Christchurch branch which eventually folded too.  Hornby is the only Christchurch club now operating, along with Darfield and Rangiora, and I strongly recommend Tecorians to anyone who wants to further their public speaking skills.

This training was supplemented and extended by leading rituals and eventually becoming a marriage celebrant.  My work at Volunteering Canterbury often involved leading groups and speaking publicly, and I can still do that confidently, although I have fewer opportunities these days.  In later years I learned to prepare power point slides which can make speaking easier and more interesting.

Since 2015 I’ve been part of a women’s poetry group and have sometimes taken part in public performances for National Poetry Day.  The Canterbury Poets’ Collective holds a series of evenings each spring with open mic opportunities.  With encouragement from a supportive friend (thanks, Horomaka) I read my work at a couple of these in 2019.

I find public speaking satisfying, provided that I’m well prepared, and I enjoy hearing others speak, especially if they do it well.

I’d be interested to learn about your experience of public speaking.

It’s easy to be daunted by
the thought of speaking if you’re shy.

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On the Air Waves

I grew up in the years before television, when our main entertainment, apart from reading, was the radio. We had a radio in the kitchen above the fridge, and a radiogram in the front room. If ever I was home from school I would hear the daily serials: Doctor Paul and Portia Faces Life. On Sunday morning there was the Children’s Request Session with old favourites like Little Toot, Diana and the Golden Apples, and the Waltz of the Flowers. It seems to me now that most of stories were American recordings, not like the wonderful local tales we now hear early on Sunday mornings.

My brother loved the Goon Show, but I was too young to appreciate it then. On Sunday evenings Mother and I would listen to a serialized drama such as The Day of the Triffids. When I was about eight I was given a crystal set which meant I could listen on my own. I remember Life with Dexter, the story of the Dutton family on Monday nights, which was followed by Randy Stone’s Night Beat. On Thursdays there was the Hit Parade.

During School holidays there was a programme hosted by Happi Hill, for which the theme song was Happy Days are Here Again. On Friday afternoons there was a programme with Aunt Haysl. She ran a children’s club on the roof of Hays Department store, and took a group across to the 3ZB studio each week to be recorded.

My brother, who later became a Physics Lecturer, built himself a radio transmitter. He installed a tall willow pole beside his sleepout to act as a mast. For hours I would hear him repeating “Calling C.Q., come in please” as he sought to make contact with others around the world.

Transistor radios meant we could take the radio outside with us, great for teenage gatherings. We took a personal interest in the lives of pop stars, and my bedroom walls were papered with large posters of my idols – centrefolds from teenage magazines. When the Beatles first came on the scene my rascally elder brother sent me a set of cards depicting beetles – the six-legged kind.

Now I value my MP3 player which can be easily turned on during the night. Also beside my bed is a tablet which uses WiFi to give me access to the BBC Woman’s Hour. I love this programme which gives a female perspective on the world and keeps me in touch with U.K. life. At night I often read in bed, then listen to the radio before I go to sleep. If I wake in the early hours I don’t want to put on a light and disturb Stephen, but I plug in my earphones and listen to a programme. It’s like having someone read me a story.

Today my radios are set to RNZ National which provides my most immediate news. After the first September 2010 earthquake I purchased two dynamo torch/radios, and these were indispensable after the earthquakes in February 2011. Being able to wind up a radio is more convenient that having to maintain batteries, and I keep one dynamo radio beside the bed always. RNZ was an absolute lifeline during earthquake emergencies. When the September earthquake struck early in the morning the house shook violently, and my main thought was “If it’s like this here, whatever must they be experiencing in Wellington?”. We’d always expected that the big one would be in that city. It was RNZ who quickly informed me that the epicentre was actually in Canterbury.

With radio you always know
you’ll get news and a spoken show.

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