Learning to write

When did I learn to write?  I can’t recall, although I do remember learning to read and understand words.  At school there were basic books like “Janet and John”.  By the time I was six I was writing in pencil, on paper, with lower case and capital letters.

Words set down
pencil on paper
thoughts arranged

The stories I wrote at school were marked excellent.  I wrote letters to relations which always started with my address and the date.  A primary teacher commented that I expressed myself with confidence and imagination in both written and oral work.  My spelling was almost infallible and my writing very neat.  We left Christchurch and I wrote letters to school friends most of whom I would never see again.  These were done in pencil, on lined paper, with a rubber handy just in case.  My writing was joined up, no longer printing, and I was aware of the need for correct grammar. 

pencil to ink
no room for mistakes

In Form Two we were asked to write a piece about our teacher.  The words I used were: “His initials are F.B. and from his talk of his prowess at tennis you might think they stand for Fabulous Backhand.”  This got me good marks, and approval from my classmates when I read it aloud.

Reading aloud
brought applause
appetite for acclaim

This is a raw, bleak book, about abuse and addiction. The story tells of a woman’s traumatic childhood, then different stages of her life. It starts in Australia, moves to Aotearoa, then to America.

Reading it wasn’t helped by the fact that in this edition pages 185-200 were missing. At first I thought I must have skipped something, then checked the page numbers and realised there was a gap in the printing. I also found that six later pages were printed twice. This is something I’ve never come across before.

The Australian author said the book took a long time to write, and it took me a long time to read it. The story is brutal, and it dragged at times. I was tempted to give up, but wanted to know what happened to the central character. Not sure whether I could recommend it, but it does give a different perspective on life. I chose this novel after reading a Guardian review that said it was a meditation on vulnerability and remarkable empathic, but I shan’t be seeking any more by this author.

This was too brutal for my taste
and suffers from the printer’s haste

Monday Morning

Our car was due for its annual warrant and service, and we booked it in to Armagh Automotive at 8am this morning. Both the nearby cafés are closed on Mondays, so we walked down to Belle on the corner of New Regent Street to get breakfast. They open at 7am on weekdays, serve delicious food, and the weather was warm enough to sit outside. We savoured our breakfast while watching others hurrying to work.

Breakfast at Belle

The endangered black-billed gulls which have nested in this area the last few years have been moved along, but there are still some red-billed gulls, and these swooped the moment we left our table. One grabbed a piece of bread and others crowded round trying to snatch it away.

Gulls squabbling over bread

We walked home along the Cambridge Terrace side of the river. From the Manchester Street bridge the poplar reflections were beautiful.

Poplars reflected

Several piwakawaka darted among the trees but they were too quick for me to be able to get a photograph. Just past Madras Street someone was offering free sunflower seedlings and I was pleased to pick up a pottle with six plants in it.

Free sunflowers

I’m not sure just where I’ll put them as they will need sun and water, but I’ll probably find them a spot outside the fence. Further on we spied a family of ducklings, always a delight to see.


I’m writing this outside in the swing seat at midday, and the temperature in the shade is 20°. Summer is definitely making its appearance, with bees buzzing in the flowers.

Out in the balmy summer air
with flowers blooming everywhere

Festive Formalities

I wonder how many people still send real cards at Christmas time? Do you remember the days when we decorated the house with strings of cards? These came from businesses as well as friends, and decisions had to be made as to whose calendar we would choose to use in the coming year. Even the bank sent a desk calendar until very recently. Promotional calendars have now ceased (except for one from the local garage). This may be partly because of cost and partly because so many people use only online calendars these days. I still like to have one on the wall behind my desk, and am grateful to the Australian niece who provided this year’s one.

Many years ago I stopped sending seasonal cards to people in the same city, but I’ve kept doing it for family and selected friends overseas, usually including a letter outlining our activities during the year. This year I hesitated, partly because it seems that all we’ve done is avoid Covid. In previous years I’ve often had cards printed with our message and photo, but this year I decided to send pre-printed cards. At Ballantyne’s I was delighted to find some with festive cats, sold in aid of Women’s Refuge.

NZ Post has indicated that mail for the U.K. needs to be sent by 19 November to ensure a pre-Xmas delivery, so today I’ve organised cards for people there. (Gifts for U.K. daughters went several days ago.) Next week I need to do the Australian ones as their deadline is 24 November. For some of these distant relatives this is the only contact we have all year, but I think it’s important to maintain. What do you think?

A festive greeting’s good to get
although it’s years since we last met

This is a complex book with several layers. It’s the story of a privileged media family, somewhat similar to Rupert Murdoch’s, but the characters all have parallels in Tudor times. A cast list at the beginning explains who they all are, which is useful. The sisters of the title are the equivalents of Elizabeth I and her half-sister Queen Mary.

The fact I’ve read plenty of historical novels helped me appreciate the nuances and guess what might happen. Literary quotations give the story extra resonance. This was certainly a very different novel, more of a romance than my usual choices, but thoroughly enjoyable. There is a prequel, Wife after Wife, primarily about the modern Henry VIII, and I rather wish I’d read that first.

Some characters are truly devils
and this resounds on several levels

Fifty years a Feminist

This year’s WORD Christchurch festival is very different from previous ones. I bought my tickets way back before Covid Delta colonised Aotearoa. It must have been a nightmare for the organisers when they had to first cancel, and the re-schedule the festival. The poetry workshop I’d originally registered for was cancelled completely, with the fee fully refunded.

The other session I’d booked was Fifty Years a Feminist, with author Sue Kedgley interviewed by Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel. Sue, who lives in Wellington, couldn’t attend in person, but came via a video link, and it seemed strange that there was only one chair on the stage.

Sue online and Lianne on stage

I arrived early at The Piano, and was shown to a socially distanced seat, with every second row left empty, and two vacant seats between each bubble. I estimate the Carter Hall would have been only about 20% filled for a session that would usually be a sellout. The audience was all masked of course.

I haven’t yet read Sue’s book, and hardly felt I needed to after reading Phillida Bunkle’s very thorough review. The fact I’d lived in Auckland through many of the incidents portrayed made me keen to hear Sue talk about them.

Sue emphasised the fact that the slogan The personal is political which was prevalent in the 1970s still applies today, and gave the example of the harassment of students at Christchurch Girls’ High School by boys from Christchurch Boys’ High School, where collective action by the girls had been effective.

Sue and Lianne both spoke of the bullying that goes on in our parliament and how that male culture needs to change, preferably with the assistance of a Code of Conduct. It’s heartening to see signs of more co-operation between parties. Empathy, compassion, and the ability to listen are often hallmarks of women leaders.

When asked how we can help women in public roles Sue mentioned that the National Council of Women is setting up a Misogyny Watch group. We need to show our support for each other. Change often comes through collective protest action.

Sue pointed out that the gains of feminism are fragile and some young women have no idea of how hard won they were. Our new history curriculum needs to incorporate the history of feminism and the importance of protests.

There was discussion of how people could be rallied, and Sue acknowledged we are all exhausted, especially with Covid. Earlier this year a group of young women in Wellington rallied against harassment in bars, and were successful in putting responsibility on the hospitality industry.

What an energising boost it was to hear these two women discussing the history and current state of feminism in Aotearoa.

A boost to feminism’s strength
to hear these women talk at length

Christine and I chose this walk from the Christchurch City Council’s Walk Christchurch book. This has 60 short walks, and was published in 1998. Despite earthquake disruption the instructions are still good.

We started at Redwood Park and walked past Northcote School where one of the buildings definitely needs to have its spouting cleaned.

Green spouting

The walk took us all around the area, and through several small reserves, many with lovely trees.

Relaxed cat at Sisson Park

Many of the houses we passed obviously were state houses, and the gardens had varying amounts of attention. Some were beautifully planted and tended, while others looked sadly neglected. Further on, the homes were newer. One even had an owl, symbol of Athena, on the gatepost.

Owl on gatepost

We wondered why this pine cone was hanging from a tree, and Christine suggested it may serve as a bird feeder.

Bird feeder?

It was good to visit unfamiliar streets and see a different suburb.

We do enjoy our monthly walk
a time for exercise and talk

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

Crux Ansata

Fashioned from horseshoe nails

you live on my bedroom wall

a black leather thong

supports you there

to remind me of sisterhood

and the fight not yet over

Floral Friday

Cecile Brunner are the perfect miniature roses, and it’s a sign that summer’s almost here when they start to flower. I was delighted this week when there were enough for me to be able to pick a bunch and bring them inside.

Cecile Brunner bunch
Cecile Brunner bush

A friend who died had her birthday at Beltane, the beginning of November, and I always gave her a bunch of these roses, because that’s what her mother used to do.

When my brother died his former wife brought a bunch of these tiny roses to the funeral for me, because she remembered that they had grown at our childhood home. I have no memory of them there, but I love having them in our garden today. Ours were planted in 1995 and have flowered profusely ever since. With Covid now detected in Christchurch such signs of hope are even more precious.

These roses hold a memory
and promises of what will be