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Archive for the ‘Memoir’ Category

Monopoly Memories

A quiz question in Thursday’s Press was In which classic board game might you be instructed with “Doctor’s fee. Pay £50”? I knew the answer had to be Monopoly, but I had no memory of this Community Chest card. I unearthed my Monopoly set which is more than 60 years old and, sure enough, there it was.

Vintage Monopoly set

It must be at least 30 years, probably 40, since I’ve played Monopoly, and I’m aware that other board games have since become popular. I wonder whether the card about the Doctor’s fee may pre-date the U.K’s NHS? In my Monopoly box I discovered cards marked £1,000 and £5,000 so we must have had games where large sums were accumulated. Does anyone play Monopoly these days? Maybe at camping grounds in wet weather?

The other board game I loved and have played more recently is Scrabble. Sadly the friend I used to play with died several years ago. These days I play Wordscraper, an online version, with four different friends, and I fear that doing this, with an online dictionary, may have spoiled me for the “real” game.

While board games are not currently part of my social life, I regularly enjoy playing cards (500 and Canasta) with friends, and I also love my daily Wordle and the occasional jigsaw. What games do you play?

Monopoly’s gone by the board
and Scrabble now is online scored

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The dining room of Warner’s Hotel in Cathedral Square was full of smartly dressed people, with many civic dignitaries present on an evening in 2001. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of a dinner held in honour of Captain Robert Falcon Scott before his epoch-making voyage of discovery to the Antarctic. The original menu from 100 years before had been re-created, and there were many courses. The only one I now remember was jugged hare.

Scott married his wife Kathleen in 1908, so she would not have been at that original dinner, although she was in New Zealand for his 1910 expedition. A book “Widows of the Ice: the Women that Scott’s Antarctic Expedition left behind” by Anne Fletcher , dealing with Scott’s ultimately doomed second expedition, was published this year. As well as Kathleen, the book features Oriana Wilson and Lois Evans, and tells how they came from different backgrounds and how they dealt with the intrusive publicity when the tragic outcome of the expedition eventually became known.

At our dinner the guest of honour was Sir Edmund Hillary. After the meal many people brought $5 notes and asked him to sign them because the note bears his portrait. I didn’t do this, it seemed rude to me – a bit like the intrusions journalists had made into the lives of the widows of the ice.

A dinner to commemorate
the men who later met sad fate

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Error at Epsom

Epsom Girl’s Grammar School (EGGS), my alma mater, is in the news today, because some kōiwi/ human bones were discovered there. I gather the bones were actually a skeleton once used in science classes. I took science in the 3rd and 4th forms, but have no memory of any skeleton. Apart from the unpleasant task of dissecting a cow’s eye, the thing I remember from science classes is a teacher saying “Girls, you should never resist the urge to purge.” In the 5th and 6th forms science was not offered to those of us who were taking Latin. I did continue with maths, and remember when we studied trigonometry, the teacher would sometimes say that the girls who were taking science would understand a particular concept, with the implication that those taking Latin wouldn’t, and I didn’t.

When I sought an illustration for this blog post I felt sure I’ve kept a School Magazine from the early 1960s, but have no idea where it is. What I could easily locate was my third form maths prize.

Plate from my only school prize

The incident that has put EGGS in the news today is the fact that two Māori pupils were asked to perform a karakia for the newly discovered bones, and their parents have pointed out that this was not acceptable within tikanga.

When my mother died in 1995 I knew it would be incorrect to put her ashes in the local river, and instead I scattered them in my garden and mixed them with the soil. I later became involved with Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, and was surprised to find how open and generous they were, compared with Māori activists I’d previously met in Auckland. At a tikanga class I learned that having human ashes scattered in the garden meant it would be unsafe for any pregnant Māori woman to enter our property. I eventually discussed this with a visiting friend who has expertise in Māori spirituality and he performed a cleansing ritual so any danger was removed.

It seems that current leaders at EGGS have not had the privilege of much tikanga instruction. In my day the school population was almost entirely Pākehā, but surely that will have changed by now. After this incident they will be keen for more cultural education.

You don’t know what you do not know
best to hold back and take things slow

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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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