Monday, September 30, 2013

September Reading


The Obernewtyn Chroniclesby Isobelle Carmody 
  1. Obernewtyn 
  2. The Farseekers 
  3. Ashling
  4. The Keeping Place
  5. The Stone Key
This is a series that my son, Jeffrey, and I have enjoyed since he was a young teenager, and both of us are re-reading it before reading the last book published, The Sending (2011, which we somehow missed before. The last book in the series, The Red Queen is due out next year. Although the books are designated 'young adult' by the library, Jeff (23) and I (62) both still enjoy them. As you can see, I've been on an Obernewtyn binge - helped along by the fact that I've been sick with a nasty cold virus thingie for a month, and unable to do much else but read for a lot of that time.

The series is a post apocalyptic story set generations after a global nuclear holocaust. The main character is a young woman who has paranormal powers, as do her Misfit friends. On one hand the story centres around the freeing of the people and animals from the secular Council and the Religious Herder Faction, which involves most of the people in the books. However, there is also Elsbeth's personal journey, as The Seeker, to fulfil a greater task to free the world of the possibility of the Destroyer gaining access to the deadly 'Beforetime' weapons.

The series examines all kinds of issues around duty, responsibility, discrimination, slavery, racism, species-ism, religion, love and more.

One of my other sons finds the books annoying because he feels that Carmody keeps inventing more paranormal skills, but on re-reading I think that in the main she merely develops the skills, as would happen once the Misfits start using and exploring their abilities. In addition, the books become longer and more complex as they go on, which is understandable given she was only 14 when she first started the first book.

I enjoy the books and would recommend them to anyone from around 12 years old  who likes fantasy books.

Room by Emma Donoghue

An entirely different kind of book than the Obernewtyn series! This book was recommended - with warnings - first by a woman in my Raglan book club (women in their 60s - 70s) and then again by a 42yo woman in my on-line unschoolers book group (people in their late teens - 60s.)

To quote Laura (the one who recommended it to the on-line book club):
To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world....
It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. There are endless wonders that let loose Jack's imagination - the snake under Bed that he constructs out of eggshells, the imaginary world projected through the TV, the coziness of Wardrobe beneath Ma's clothes, where she tucks him in safely at night, in case Old Nick comes.

Told in the inventive, funny, and poignant voice of Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience-and a powerful story of a mother and son whose love lets them survive the impossible.
 It is a story of kidnap, abuse and escape, yet there are no graphic descriptions: the book is about coping mechanisms, about survival, about love.

It was shocking and thought provoking, especially reading it so soon after the hideous revelations of the Ariel Castro case in the US. However, it is also a story of courage, hope and the power of love between mother and child.

I highly recommend this book to anyone at all.

The Zookeeper's War by Steven Conte

Again, a completely different sort of book. This one is about an Australian woman, Vera, who married a German zookeeper before WW2, and became a zookeeper to, at the Berlin Zoo. The book covers the time from 1943 - 45. They struggle to look after the animals as staff are recruited to the army, and then foreign forced labourers are sent to help them. The book is about fear, horror, friendship, relationships, love, suspicion, trust and, most of all, survival. It has an horrific ending, which somehow seems more appropriate than a happy ever after scenario.  It is a fascinating book as it shows us war from perspectives far from those we usually encounter. Again, I highly recommend this novel.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


When I was 18 my friend's boyfriend was drunk driving when he crashed his car, and he walked away unhurt. She was paralysed from the neck down and died of pneumonia a year later. It was a tragedy, such a waste of potential: we cried and learned from this not to drink and drive. But we had only known her for a few years, and we were young and still had no sense of the inevitability of death.

Last night my brother-in-law, Mac Bell, died. From my current perspective of 62, 74 seems way to young. I said goodbye to him on his birthday, two days before he died. Like all of us, he had both good qualities and flaws - but what was important to me was that I enjoyed his company. I enjoyed the discussions, sometimes arguments, that we had. He had a different outlook to mine on many subjects, but there was always respect for each other. He didn't speak without consideration, and could amend his views if you gave him good reason. He was very knowledgeable about many things, but that didn't make him a know-it-all - if I knew more about something, he respected that. I knew him for 43 years. I miss him already.

At my age, the death of a friend you have known so long brings grief that wells up through your whole body, not just in your throat and eyes. It also brings a heavy sense of my own frail mortality, an awareness that I could die today or soon - or I could live another 40 years. There is a personal reality to death that wasn't there when I was 19.

Last night, also, my oldest chook died. She laid 3 eggs this season: tiny, the size of a blackbird's egg. We have the space on our place to allow our old ladies to live out their lives in retirement, and I had been watching her comb start to turn a dark purple and her blindness become almost complete. If she had seemed unhappy I would have put her down (I've done it once before) but she spent her days standing by the feeder and the water bowl, or sunning herself and enjoying a dust bath. Usually, dead animals get disposed of fairly unceremoniously here, but today my oldest hen was buried under rich, black soil in a grave I dug while weeping a farewell to her, and to Mac Bell, and to my friend, Lalage, and to my mother, my father, my aunts, uncles, friends who have all enriched my life, and then died, leaving behind both sadness and gratitude.

Farewell, Mac aka Peter McGruther Bell.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Does one actually ‘need’ a cell phone? Probably not – we (society) managed without them until very recently, and I didn’t have one until 1999. However, working on the assumption that in this day and age a cell phone is, if not essential, certainly very useful, then I will say I ‘need’ a new one.

My current cell phone isn’t broken entirely, but while I admit that I use it mainly for texting, I would like to be able to use it as an actual telephone. Which I can do if I am in my car, or if I put it on loudspeaker so all around can hear what the person on the other end is saying, although s/he may not realise that. The speakers have given up the ghost you see, although whether that is out of spite or because of physical damage, either way it is from dropping it too many times.  It is annoying both to me and to people calling me, to have me answer the phone with, “Hi, my speakers are broken, please call me on my land line or text me.”

It got me thinking though, about how much has changed since I was a child. As a small child I didn’t use the phone – I couldn’t reach it. As an eleven – twelve year old I spent many hours talking to my friend Jan on the phone, but there was no privacy, nor comfort: I stood next to the phone, or sat on the wooden floor by it. The phone was in a large square-ish entrance way, with doors opening to outside, the bathroom, a bedroom, and into the large sunroom / enclosed verandah which acted as a hallway to the rest of the house.

Our phone looked very like this one.

The phone hung high on the wall, at adult level. It had no dial, just a receiver, a handle and bells. We were on a party line, which meant there were four phones in four household that all used the same line to connect to the exchange. We each had our own number: the Lloyds were 14S, the Churches were 14D, we were 14K and the Kearneys were 14 something, but nobody called them and they didn’t call us. To call someone, you used Morse code, so to call the Lloyds you used the handle to make the bells ring three short rings. The Churches, being D, were long-short-short, and we being K, were long-short-long. When you heard the phone ring, you could tell by the code if it was for you. To get the operator to put you through to someone on another line you did a single long – but if you made it too long, she would growl at you. It was like having four phones in a house these days – if you picked up a phone when someone was already using it, you could hear the conversation, as could the operator in the exchange.

One day Mum was a little bemused as Mrs Kearny rang and asked if Mum would bring something from the village for her. It was odd as the Kearnys kept to themselves and had hardly ever spoken to Mum before, but Mum wasn’t one to be rude, so agreed.  When we got there, Mrs Kearny asked us in, and chatted awkwardly for a couple of minutes, then asked me if I liked ice cream. I said that of course I did, where upon she asked if I would like one. I was confused as in those days, fridges had a small ice box only, domestic freezers had yet to be introduced. She led us to the other end of the house, through a door onto an enclosed verandah, warning us to be careful of where we stepped: looking down, we saw that the floor boards were rotted, there were holes and splintered wood, so we had to pick our way along, stepping only on the beams. At the end of the verandah stood a second hand shop freezer, and inside there were ice cream shop sized packets – four different flavours! The whole request to Mum had been contrived simply to show off the new acquisition.  Even at that age, about eight, I remember being shocked to the core, and asking Mum on the way home, “why would they spend that money on a deep freeze instead of fixing the floor?”

Mrs Kearny might not have talked to anyone much, but she knew all about everyone, because she was an avid listener to other people’s conversations. When you wanted to make a phone call, before starting to ring, you lifted the receiver and queried, “Working?” and if someone else was already using it, they would say ‘sorry,” and you would hang up again. But when we rang there would often be double pick up clicks and then Mum would say, “Sorry working,” and then start talking to the person she rang. But often you would have been talking a while before you heard a noise and realised someone was listening in.

The operator was also an avid listener, but she was pretty open about it. “You want to talk to Mrs X? Sorry, she’s in Hamilton today seeing her gynaecologist, won’t be home until about 3, I heard her telling Mrs Z.”  Obviously, we all tried to avoid personal conversations as much as possible!

However, we didn’t have much choice in how to communicate: physically face to face, phone attached to a wall (no cordless, or long cords even, back then), or mail. The mail went as it went – no fast post or couriers. Overseas mail went airmail or surface mail – as in, it went on a ship. No texting, no internet, no emails, no Skype.

When Mac and I went to England and Europe in 1975 for 18 months, we wrote letters to our parents, and an occasional letter to a friend. We rang our parents on Christmas Day, and that constituted our Christmas presents to them, so expensive it was. The calls were made from a phone box outside the local pub, because we didn’t have a phone in our flat.

I love today’s variety of ways of contacting and connecting with people. I love my friends all over the world who I have met via the internet – the unschoolers and beekeepers and homesteaders and book binders who I would never have met in ‘real’ life. I love the ease of re-connecting with old friends with whom I have lost touch. I love being able to text one of my sons with a quick comment about something I have seen or heard that they might be interested in, especially when I don’t know what they are doing and don’t want to bother them with a phone call about something trivial. I love being able to call someone when I’m lost (though the GPS unit in the car takes care of most of that now) or broken down or at A&E, or whatever.

So, yeah, I need a new phone, and it seems silly to get a simple basic $49 phone when there are smart phones available with internet and cameras and bells and whistles, but there are so many phones and so many plans and so many providers and I’m scared I won’t be able to learn how to use one. Life was so much simpler back in the day, if you broke down, you walked. If you were admitted to hospital, they called someone. Maybe. If you were lost, you stopped and asked people the way, and if you were lucky you got the right directions, if not, you asked someone else. But that was all hard work too.

A new phone. Time to buy one, and time to book one or two of the sons in to give me tutorials, I think.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


All the talk about beggars in Auckland, and the new by-law outlawing them if they "are deemed intimidating or causing a nuisance" had me thinking. Who gets to decide if any particular beggar is "intimidating or causing a nuisance" - is it the Council, a council worker, a policeman, or just any one at all who chooses to say "I feel intimidated?" or "That person is a nuisance to me?" But then I started to think more about begging in general.

Then two weeks in a row I saw a man (I say a man, because assuredly he is more than a beggar, just as I cannot be defined by a single aspect of my life) begging near where I was meeting my son for lunch.

My first gut reaction was one of revulsion for a society in which some people feel the need to beg.

My second thought was that at least he was being honest and direct - asking for money. Let's face it, there's a hell of a lot more people out there mugging people, breaking and entering, or stealing via investment scams.

Talking to people about this, it seems like most people feel that begging is somehow worse than shop lifting, handbag snatching or home invasion. What is it that gives people this gut feeling that begging is scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel?

And yes, before you ask, I did give him some money.