Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Memories Stirred by Ashburton

I remember coming back from lunch and how, as I entered the lift, several patched gang members came leaping down the stairs, followed by other, differently, patched men. The lift doors shut, and when they opened again on the first floor, more men faced off with knives, between me and the office door. I froze, couldn’t move or speak or push the lift button – I just froze. The office door opened, and the small, greying, assistant director said, “Get the hell out of here, or I’ll suspend your benefits.”

I remember the desperate young mother who called me a “fucking pakeha bitch” when I wouldn’t give her instant money, asking her to fill out a form first.

I remember the day the order came to never give our names to anyone, after a fellow worker received viciously abusive phone calls at home, and things thrown at her house, while she and her children hid, frightened, waiting for the police to arrive.

I remember the weeping, abandoned women. And the elderly widow who, never having been allowed by her now deceased husband to handle any money, was found living with piles of unopened, unpaid bills, no electricity, discovered when a neighbour reported her for fossicking in rubbish bins for food. 

I remember the doctor who told me to stop talking about suicide, to pull myself together, and to stop upsetting my mother or he’d send me to Tokanui and “make damn sure you get electric shock treatment.” I remember feeling totally abandoned by the whole world.

I remember, later, working as a nurse aid at Tokanui, chatting to the pleasant couple weeding the gardens who I later discovered were there  for having killed their infant son while driving the demons from his soul.

I remember the influx of weary women at the end of the school holidays, who had used up all their stores of energy, and just needed to sleep.

I remember the delusional, the depressed, the displaced.

I remember the sadness, the anger, the despair, of those who, for whatever reason – circumstance, chemical imbalance, loss, inability – were unable to participate in the riches of Godzone.

I feel the enormous grief of those who have lost family, friends or workmates in Ashburton. I feel the deep desperation of a man whose life has gone so terribly wrong. I cannot blame anyone, but we are all responsible.

Monday, September 1, 2014

August Reading


Delicious! by Ruth Reichl
I'm so glad I read Garlic and Sapphires before I read this book, as I may have found some of the characters unrealistic if I hadn't recognised them from Reichl's memoir. It's a fun romp though the world of restaurants and food publishing, with a bit of history and love thrown in. I did enjoy it, and again I am pleasantly surprised by Reichl's ability to change genre. As someone who wrote for magazines, both her memoir and this novel could have been bitty but although her chapters are a bit more defined than those of many fiction writers, her books are tied together well. I'm looking forward to the next book.

The Dreaming Void by Peter F. Hamilton
 My son, Greg, lent me the first two books of a series ages ago. I have struggled with them for the silliest of reasons - they are physically large books, and I find it difficult to get comfortable when reading them! It is a science fiction adventure trilogy, but not of the easy kind where everything is explained. There are number of different main characters in different places, and even different times, who are all converging on the same central event / place. It's often difficult to know who a chapter is about for a while, and the second book, which I have only just stared, does not pander to the reader by having a chapter or two catch-up and reminder. It's a very involved story, makes the brain work hard, and I am enjoying it thoroughly.

The Tea Chest by Josephine Moon
Another book of a woman stretching herself and growing, along with a couple of other women who join her on her journey, whilst exploring their own journeys. It is about Kate who is left a half share in the business she has been working for, and how she grows the business along with herself. The setting is unusual - several tea shops - but there is not much real detail of tea growing, processing, blending and so on, which I would have found interesting. Quite well written, fun, but somewhat unlikely circumstances and twists throughout, some of which I found irritating, as they felt like lazy shortcuts to explain things. A pleasant enough winter-by-the-fire read.

The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Alan runs away from his 100th birthday celebrations at the old folks home and becomes involved in a ridiculous series of events, the telling of which is intermingled with the stories of his life - equally ridiculous. Despite the totally unbelievable nature of his life and adventure, they are only unbelievable if you stop to think about them. While involved in the book, it is all feels just wonderfully true. 

This book was lent and recommended to me by a woman around 70. I'm 62. My young, male, 20ish friend came to visit and pounced on it, having read half of it and loved it, but he hadn't finished it because his 50ish father hadn't completed it either, so wouldn't let him take it away. I can't imagine any reader not enjoying this book. I totally recommend it. I think it would be especially good to read aloud to a friend who also likes books - I was wishing Steven or Jeff still lived at home so I could read aloud with them. It is now out in movie form but only in a few cinemas, and not in Hamilton, so I guess I'll have to wait for it to come out on dvd.


Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

This Reichl book is another memoir, this time about her childhood and younger life up until she went to work as a restaurant critic. Although it is memoir, she says:
"Everything here is true, but it may not be entirely factual. In some cases I have compressed events; in others I have made two people into one. I have occasionally embroidered. 
I learned early that the most important thing in life is a good story."
It is, in fact, another brilliant story.

Non- Fiction (unfortunately)

Dirty Politics: How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand's political environment by Nicky Hager
I've only managed to read 60% of this book so far: I can only read little bits at a time, because I find it so upsetting. However, I read a little every day because I think it is a must read for everyone in the country. I especially think that National Party supporters should read it, because beyond the actual dirty tricks that are exposed, it also reveals the truly horrible attitude of a small (I hope) number of of right wing people who have been manipulating the National Party in ways that would appal the majority of National supporters. Sadly, many won't read the book, brushing it aside as a left wing smear campaign. Having read what I have, if I was a Nat, I would be getting myself very involved in the party, doing my best to clean out the corruption and the ugly immorality display by Cameron Slater and his cronies. I am Green through and through, but I have friends who always vote National and they are good people (albeit, misguided, in my opinion) who would read parts of this book with as much horror as me. Despite not having finished the book yet, I'm writing this now in the hopes that people may read it before they vote. Essential reading.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

SADness Easing

Yesterday I just couldn't shake the SADness, although I wasn't falling all the way down. The first thing that started the uphill climb was getting a text from Nick and Izzy asking if we were doing anything, and then, as we weren't, they came out to sit by the fire and chat, and look at the moon, and be in the country peacefulness. It was just the kick-start I needed, and this morning I decided to be a bit proactive. I discovered something a while back, when I was working through John Kirwan's book, All Blacks Don't Cry, and website about depression. When I was depressed and people said, "do something you like doing, to cheer yourself up," it made no sense to me because when I am depressed, I don't like doing anything. Through JK I discovered that what I actually need to do is, 'do something I enjoy doing when I'm not depressed, even though I don't feel like it at this time.'

So I grabbed the camera and went for a walk around outside on this glorious sunny, wind free day.
 We discovered the kettle has been leaking, so after a couple of days of drying out, Mac is finally turning the slab of macrocarpa into a bench top!
 Such lovely wood.
 The ducks make me smile just because they are, well, ducks!
 The rhubarb hasn't died off this winter: the stems are shorter and thinner, but they have kept on growing.
 Snow drops are possibly my favourite spring bulbs.
 The tagasaste is buzzing with both honey bees and bumble bees.
 The magnolia which was a land warming gift from my friend Margaret, is finally flowering.
 Dew covered spider webs are always breath-taking.
 The hyacinths re a bit stunted this year, but still fragrant and beautiful.
 And who could fail to see summer in this glorious incarnation of joy?
 Mac was ploughing up a new potato bed, and I got stuck into the vegetable garden, so that when it's time to sow and plant, the beds will be ready and waiting. Gardening works for me in so many ways: just connecting to the earth, but also, the anticipation of harvest, the physical hard work, the sounds of birds and bees all around, the sense of usefulness, of purposefulness.
There's not much to eat at the moment - loads of parsley, a little silverbeet, pak choi, beetroot, miners' lettuce and carrots. But soon there will be lots to choose from, I hope.
Then, tired and sore from the digging, I watched as the light faded from the day. I'm still not out of the woods - but I can see the light over the mountain.

Friday, August 15, 2014


It's winter. I haven't coped quite as well this year as I did last year. For the last six weeks I had to really work hard not to fall into the chasm: if I am not constantly aware and actively keeping my eye on the path, I tend to wander just a bit closer to the edge. Spring is here - maybe - the end of winter is here, anyway.

It's been harder for a number of reasons on top of winter darkness. Financial worries. Friends drifting away as they move to different places, get involved in new relationships, new jobs, new interests - or just tucking themselves away into their own problems. An old amalgam tooth was disintegrating and, perhaps as it's been a long time since this happened, I failed to notice that part of my misery was the particular type of depression that always accompanies the leaching of mercury into my body. (A depression accompanied by deep anger.) Then more financial worry from having to visit the dentist.

And then the death of Robin Williams at age 63. I'll be 63 this time next month. If he couldn't make it through, can I believe that I will?

There's been so many wonderful writing about depression since Robin's death, and so much that I strongly relate to.

I knew that the thing that stopped me actually committing suicide during the half dozen times I really wanted to, was the thought of the family and friends who would suffer if I did so, and the thought of the person who discovered my body, especially after I got to know someone who found her father shut in his idling car with a hose from the exhaust.

I've been doing a lot of thinking as I read all these people talking about their experiences and understanding of depression. I suddenly realised it wasn't just that I cared about other people that stopped me, it was that I realised that I have never considered myself as deserving of having my feelings matter. As a child I was smacked for being angry, sent to my room when sad and told to be quiet if I was happy and dancing around singing or such like - "what have you got to be so happy about," I remember my mother saying once. So I've just discovered that I have this underlying belief that I don't have the right to be depressed enough to kill myself.

When I heard that Robin Williams had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, my initial reaction was jealousy. In my worst times I have often wished that I would be diagnosed with some ghastly disease, so that it would be okay for me to commit suicide, because no one left behind would feel guilt for not doing something / enough to help me. How's that for sick?

So the next step in healing myself has become clear: I need to be able to have feelings of any kind without guilt, without thinking I don't deserve to have feelings. It's ridiculous that whatever I feel, guilt overwhelms it. Guilt because I don't deserve it. Guilty for thinking about suicide. Guilt for being depressed. Guilt for being sad. Guilt for not wanting to do things. Guilt for feeling proud of something I've done. Guilt for loving people 'too much'. Guilt for being happy.

No one should ever feel guilt for feelings. Sometimes the way we act in response to those feelings may be deserving of guilt. But not the feelings themselves. I want to reach a point where I can accept that I am entitled to my feelings, even the suicidal ones. I hope I never reach a point where I actually do kill myself, but I'd like to stop feeling guilty for feeling.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

July Reading


Snake Ropes by Jess Richards
I heard of this book when a woman, whose blog I follow, reviewed it:

From blog by Catherine at Still Standing On Her Head

Jess Richards was born in Wales and grew up in South West Scotland. The setting of the book is a mysterious island somewhere far to the west of Scotland. The inhabitants have long been isolated. Their only visitors are the mysterious tall men who come from the mainland to trade for fish and for the women's craft work, being careful not to disturb the culture of the islanders too much. The story is told in the voice of two young girls, Mary who is an islander, and Morgan whose parents have settled there from the mainland, after fleeing something dark in their past. If I had to label this book with a genre, I would say "magical realism". Morgan can talk to the dead, and the myths told by Mary's grandmother become tangled in the story so that it is not quite clear what is myth and what is real.

It's a stunning book, highly imaginative, unlike anything else I have ever read. I highly recommend it. 

I agree. It is a strange but compelling book! It is classified as fantasy, which I guess it is, but is nothing like anything I have read before. I won't say I liked it but I couldn't abandon it either. I haven't decided whether I'll read her second book, Cooking with Bones, which sounds from the title as if it is even creepier!

The Cornish Knot by Vicky Adin

The Cornish Knot is the story of Megan, a widow of 12 months who receives her great-grandmother’s journal written a hundred years ago. She embarks on a journey to trace her family tree, discovering secrets and finding herself immersed in the world of art. She follows the footsteps of her ancestor from Cornwall via Italy to New Zealand.This is the first of a series, The Past Finders, which will all be about 'history, family, love and renewal'. It's an easy read, not badly written, and well researched. However, it is somewhat unrealistic in its unfolding of the story, for the sake of drama - in a real life situation, the story would have unfolded in a much less orderly fashion story-wise, but way more logically in terms of a woman travelling the world to trace her predecessors.

As I say, an easy read, good for a journey, or for curling up with when you are sick, or like me, suffering from a sore back.


Garlic and Sapphires by  Ruth Reichl

 I'm a vegetarian. I don't much like restaurants, especially the posh ones where the food has been artistically arranged on the plate - I get creeped out at the thought of all the fingers involved in arranging it - and I have never read a restaurant review. I also have a horror of big cities. However, a woman I met recently, and who I, so far, really like, mentioned Ruth Reichl, and one of the ways I like to get to know people is to read books they recommend. Well, I'm hooked! I'll be finding more of her books for sure.

Garlic and Sapphires is a memoir about Reichl's years as the restaurant reviewer for the New York Times. It is based around some of her reviews, but is about her discovery of sides of herself that she didn't previously know about, as she develops disguises so she can visit restaurants without getting the special treatment that recognition brought. She writes so well that her descriptions of food that would have me gagging even if I was 3 tables away, make me salivate. She is incredibly funny and insightful, and I can't wait to get my hands on another of her books - I'm looking forward to some cold, wet days in front of the fire!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Today Next Year

A writing prompt asked: What was there about today that you will enjoy remembering in a year's time?

Not the woman
that the council want her
to either chain up her dogs
or build a secure fence.
Not the man
that the bench seats and tables
outside the chippie shop
aren't clean enough.
Not the woman
the concrete path
to the jetty
is in the wrong place.
On this bright
yellow and blue
mid-winter's day
I smile at small boys
dropping rocks
into the sea
with a satisfying splash.
I smile at the curve
 of the blue footbridge
leading the women
pushing strollers
following toddlers
over the water
to the playground.
I notice the leaves
of opportunist
self-seeded plants
sprouting from the top
of the broken palm tree:
like a comical toupee
on a balding man.
There's a shiny
 black and chrome
better than new
nineteen forties car
parked outside the cafe,
a chance to chat
to one, no longer a stranger.

The dog runs into waves
the boy follows
foaming water fills his boots
and, nearly mine.
Gulls run along the sand.
There is laughter and barking,
shells and driftwood.
If this day next year
is as cold and wet and dark
as one expects in July,
these will be the memories
I will take out to enjoy,
to taste, to smell,
to relive in front of the fire.


lemon zest
lime juice
hot drinks
for winter days

honey mixed
with memories
of summer,
hay rides
and shearing sheds

of saxophones
and cool jazz
and long black
barely restrained
wild ringlets

memories and connections
and almost no-one left
to understand them.