‘Pet Pig Lost’ read the notice pinned on a telegraph pole as I drove into the village.
My heart turned over. I do hope no-one catches him and eats him, I thought, and then banished the thought before it could take wings. This was a serious matter, but two days later the notice disappeared, and I heard that the pig had come home. He had better luck than a neighbour’s labrador, which being old and doddery wandered off in the wrong direction after he’d gone out for his late night pee. His owner searched frantically into the night, and then gathered the neighbours to search all next day. Finally, 36 hours later, someone realised they’d heard intermittent barks down in a wooded gully, and there was the poor old thing, he’d fallen into a drain and couldn’t get out, being too frail and arthritic.
This is the stuff of life in our village ( we also have births and deaths, strange accidents and surprising elopements). It’s made up of four hundred and fifty permanent residents – fishermen, retirees and the rest – and at weekends and holidays, what are known as weekenders. We’re a mixture of teachers, builders, mechanics, writers, potters, painters, lobster fishermen, retired professors in disciplines ranging from botany to marine biology, one ballet dancer who is now a choreographer, so we have our very own dance company, a lady who threads beads and makes necklaces, an odd job man, a mountaineer, a reiki teacher, a weaver, a sewing lady … the list could go on, but you get the picture – a mixed bunch. We’re Kiwis, English, French, German, American, Canadian, South African and Australian.
The first settlers landed in this beautiful place in the 1860’s. Their names still people the bowling club teams, the volunteer fire brigade and the library rosters, they adorn the grave-stones in the cemetery and the war memorials, the names of roads and rocky bays. The first family who landed, arrived from England, bringing a tent which they set up on the beach at the end of the harbour, the first Europeans to set foot here. They were joined by settlers from Nova Scotia who had originally come from Scotland. They had found life in Nova Scotia so hard, that after several consecutive years of the crops failing, they packed up their lives after 30 years, built a couple of ships, and sailed off with unbelievable courage and optimism, to find another promised land.
They found it here, and once more set to, to chop down trees for their homes, and clear land of bush and forest to plough and plant their food. The nearest provisions were several hours of sailing down the coast to Auckland, or a long ride through untamed and unmapped country, to the nearest small town of a few hundred people.
So women made their own clothes, and carried and boiled the water for the copper. When the clothes had boiled in the copper, they pulled and pushed them through the mangle, and blued and starched them and hung them out to dry on bushes and make- shift lines with a forked branch as a prop, before the labour of ironing ; heating up the irons on a fire and testing to see if they were hot enough by spitting on the base to see if the moisture sizzled. They cooked and preserved and baked and dried and salted and bottled the food. If they ran out there was no store nearby to re-fill the larder. Those were the days, and they were also the days of my childhood, when neighbours were forever popping over to each other or sending a child to ask for an onion or an egg, or half a cup of sugar or milk. Neighbourliness was an absolute necessity of life, particularly in childbirth.
People gave each other lifts in their carts. The men helped each other fell the trees and saw the planks for building their homes, they lent their horses for the ploughing, and joined together to fence their fields, plant hedges and crops, cut the hay, build the hayricks, and even grind the wheat which they had to grow, or go without. Ships of supplies might berth at bigger ports like Auckland, but if they missed a tide or were caught in storms, then the supplies didn’t arrive. These settlers started their own school and paid the school mistress out of their own meagre pockets, and built the schoolroom, and found accommodation for the teacher.
And they made their own fun. They put on their Sunday best for church, they organised picnics, and sang round the piano, and formed a brass band… it was astonishing how many people learned a musical instrument then, and could play dance tunes on their violins or their flutes or mouth organs. And people whistled in those days, and sang songs to each other. They read aloud to each other at night by candle-light, and the children played hopscotch and five-stones and marbles – games that encouraged highly developed eye and hand and foot co-ordination . They skipped and played ball, and the boys played endless games of foot ball, kicking stones all the way home from school, so their boots were always scuffed, but they developed tremendous ball skills.
It was a hard life and a simple life, but also a satisfying life. Neighbourliness supported the whole community, and there were no extremes of rich and poor, it was a truly egalitarian society. Many of those qualities still make this small village what our store owner used to call paradise. It’s still a small self sufficient community. We have our own private library, run by local ladies, the school bus is driven by a white bearded retired professor, the store run by a retired social worker. We have our own fire brigade, all unpaid volunteers, who come for first aid as well as fires. We have our own garage, our own school, and most importantly, our own fresh fish and chip shop; our own classy restaurant where local gigs are held, and some still sing hymns in our pretty white painted church with its tiny bell tower, while others do yoga in the church hall.
Our little cottage is on a cliff overlooking a small bay, where the waves crash onto the rocks below, and I go to sleep to the sound of the sea. The Japanese poet Yoshi Isamu might have written his haiku especially for me:
Even in my sleep
the sound of water
flows beneath my pillow.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
This is called Healing Soup, and it’s certainly very comforting, due, I think, to the unusual inclusion of ginger and coriander. I love it, and you couldn’t get more economical than this. All you need is a large onion, a carrot or two, a few stalks of celery, a couple of garlic cloves, a piece of ginger the size of half a walnut, and a sprinkling of coriander.
Chop the vegetables and saute them till they begin to soften. Add the garlic and ginger, and sautee a bit more. If you haven’t got ginger you can use the powdered sort, but the real thing does taste better. Stir in a quarter to half a teaspoon of coriander powder. You may find you want more or less, but it’s the coriander that gives it its warming quality. Pour in some chicken stock or use Braggs amino acid or chicken bouillon, and make the liquid up to about a pint with this amount of vegetables. Boil until the vegetables are cooked, and then whizz in the blender, and you should have a lovely warming soup. I make it the consistency to sip from a cup.
You can double the amount, use less stock to make it thicker, use other vegetables, even cucumber which then makes it a cleansing soup. I’ve added mashed up sweet potato/kumara, left over from the day before, pumpkin… all delicious, but the original recipe is still my favourite. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with lots of fresh chopped parsley.
Food for Thought
The day he moved out was terrible-
That evening she went through hell.
His absence wasn’t a problem
But the corkscrew had gone as well. By Wendy Cope English poet