Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Blogger’s Farewell

This is a sad goodbye. Before I drop one of many balls in the air, I have to make a decision.

I’m in the middle of self –publishing a collection of my earlier blogs for family and friends who don’t have a computer or don’t read blogs… a little Christmas stocking filler….

Self-publishing is quite time- consuming, especially when you live an hour away from the printer, and want to discuss spacing, type-faces, size of headings, capitals, design the page lay-out, whether to up or change the italics, design the cover, edit and proof read and lots of other details .

I do my own editing and proof-reading since it’s been part of my work experience (my proudest boast is that knowing nothing of rugby, I edited a gold plated edition of the World Book of Rugby, and picked up when the rugby writer himself  had muddled James Small with Jason Little!). Editing takes time – tightening up sentence construction, and grammar, weeding out unnecessary words, especially adverbs, making sure all the verbs are active and not passive apart from the obvious spelling and punctuation. And then the proof-reading.

I’ve been doing this, as well as spending one day a week with clients who come for counselling, and am also in the midst of writing another book, and have to revise the completed manuscript of another book. I also write articles for a parenting magazine, and do proof reading. And I’m selling my recent book ‘The Sound of Water’ – packing it up to send to libraries and to post to people. I didn’t put it into bookshops, as they take most of the profit on a book. But by doing radio interviews, local newspaper interviews and talking to groups – I’m speaking at another book club next week – the book sells.

I’ve managed to juggle these balls with the time spent on blogging, which as we all know isn’t just writing a blog, but is also a very time-consuming activity!

The ball that I can’t drop, is my 83 year old husband, whose health has taken a dive, and we are into a round of regular hospital visits and side-trips to doctor, x-ray departments, and all the paraphernalia of modern medicine. (As an alternative treatment addict myself, this is all anathema to me.) And I also have family and friends who need me at different levels of engagement.

So I’ve decided that blogging, which has been an amazing distraction from everyday problems, and an enjoyment of unsuspected depths, is the thing that for now has to go on the back burner. The thing that really twists my heart is saying good-bye to the wonderful, loving friends I’ve made.

Reading people’s blogs means that you also read their soul, for blogging is not just creative but a very deep emotional engagement with bloggers who are living lives of challenge and emotional depths. Bloggers share their self doubts, their pain, their heart-aches, and their interests, their joys, their spiritual search. And it’s been very precious to experience that depth of tenderness and vulnerability from the beautiful men who blog. With women we are not surprised to experience their emotional open-ness, but to have that same experience with men, feels very rare and beautiful.

The people – men and women – I’m talking about, will all know who they are, and they are beloved.

I shall miss the animals too, Fuzzy and Boomer, Zoey the Cool cat, fat piggie Charlotte and Ton-ton in his smart blue coat, Sunni’s mischievous little darlings, and Sharla’s kitty-kats who enjoy sitting on the dashboard on long journeys and watching the road ahead. Buckminster and Amber, what will I do without you? How will you manage in Sweden? I shall still follow silently the stories of your lives and quietly click the ‘likes’. But for now, I have to cope with my life.

I’ve learned and discovered so much from reading other’s blogs… blogging has been an education for me. And thank you, wonderful friends who’ve encouraged me, given me the confidence to become more direct and honest in my own writing, and showed me that we can all be accepted for who we are, and not for what we do. It’s been such a privilege to enter this world, and to be accepted, and to make such deep and loving connections. I can’t bear to say goodbye to you, so will continue to read you and to love you.

P.S. If you’re interested in my next book, it’s called ‘Chasing The Dragon – an addiction to life.’ It’s 195 pages.

The ebook version is out now and it will be available free for a limited time on:

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/254812

and on some platforms Smashwords distributes to (Apple, Barnes and Noble, etc);

and on Amazon Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Chasing-Dragon-addiction-living-ebook/dp/B00A99RERO/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1353492963&sr=1-3&keywords=chasing+the+dragon

for 99 cents (that is currently their minimum price).

It will also be available as a paperback on Amazon for US$12. 99 plus postage.

To order the printed in New Zealand book (with flaps and deckle edges, printed on Munken Cream paper) which is available now at NZ $30, US $24, and 15 UK pounds, contact Valerie Davies at:

Merlincourtpress@gmail.com

Or  Merlincourt Press,

P.O. Box 161

Leigh 0947, Rodney

New Zealand

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Filed under bloggers, books, Forthcoming books, great days, happiness, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

A Soldier’s Life is Terrible Hard -Part 11

By popular demand, another instalment of a soldier’s life!!

After my somewhat chequered career as a recruit I set off for officer cadet school with the rest of my intake – all eleven of us who had surfaced from the forty other applicants.

I learned later that it was no coincidence that the Colonel happened to come past the transport as we left, looking keenly at me! Oblivious to the impact I had had on various unfortunates at the depot, I discovered that officer cadet school was just like going back to boarding school, only better – I got paid!. As the youngest, and just out of school, I probably found it easier than the rest who had enjoyed their freedom. But to me, regular study periods, meals in the dining room, putting on uniform every day, was just more of the same.

Cadet school was set in a camp left behind by the Canadians after D –Day. Our nearest neighbours were the TB patients in the next door sanatorium. No potential there for hobnobbing with the opposite sex. The camp was surrounded by silver birch woods, which stretched for miles to the nearest village, and on still June nights I would wake to hear nightingales singing in the moonlight.

The only difference to boarding school was the hours spent on the huge parade square being drilled by a tiny sergeant major, less than five feet tall, whose mighty voice echoed not just around the parade square but on and beyond to the main Portsmouth road. As the eleven of us wheeled and drilled, and right formed, and fell into line, came to a halt, and about turned, a line of lorry drivers would pull up on the side of the road to watch us for their amusement, while they ate their sandwiches.

Thus it felt all the more humiliating, when dreaming about the un-read pages of the timid love letter stuffed hastily into my battledress top to read in our break, that I missed a step, failed to hear the word of command and carried on marching in the opposite direction when the rest had about turned. Love letters – or what passed for them – were a fairly scarce commodity at cadet school, as we might as well have been in a nunnery, we saw so few men or even boys.

The highlights of each term were the invitations to the house of an elderly couple who invited batches of Sandhurst cadets and us girls to hear talks on Moral Re-Armament. Their house just missed being stately, their servants were helpful, their food was heavenly, the worthy talks were utterly boring to frivolous young women, but the chaps might be interesting, we hoped. They never were, but hope always sprang eternal.

Apart from the daily morning parades, and the hours spent perfecting our drill and learning to shout commands that one day would be directed at our platoons as we took them on parade, we spent a great deal of time in lectures on arcane subjects like pay scales, army regulations, map-reading and leadership.

No rifle drill for us, but instead lectures from a series of university lecturers on constitutional history, current affairs, scientific trends and something called Clear Thinking, which involved logic, and fallacies and syllogisms – all considered necessary for a well-educated officer back in 1957!

Constitutional history was taught by the scion of a famous German intellectual family who’d escaped Hitler before the war, but the name of this gentleman was so long that generations of philistine and irreverent cadets just called him ‘Footy’, which he pretended not to know. He also pretended not to know that we never listened to a word he told us about constitutional history and the balance of power between the Commons and the House of Lords, but sat instead endlessly practising our signatures, or planning what to wear on our next trip to London.

Scientific Trends was taught by another mid-European lecturer, only unlike Footy who’d grown up in England, this very gentle man had a very thick accent and a deadly monotone. He showed films to illustrate the scientific trends, and as his lectures were conducted in the cadet sitting room, where there was a film screen, we just curled up in an arm chair in the dark with a bar of chocolate, and usually dozed off.

The rest of the syllabus was devoted to giving us an understanding of life, and the background many of our future charges came from, so we visited a Lyons Swiss roll factory to see what life on a conveyor belt was like, attended a Petty Sessions where we saw sad souls parade before the magistrates, and I felt like a voyeur, and worst of all, went to the Old Bailey. The day we were there we watched a murderer condemned to death, after a crime passionel. His voice after sentence had been passed was like the rustling of dry leaves.

The most challenging part of officer training was the two days I spent in the cook house, discovering how hard life really was. My worst crime was to leave the potatoes so long in the potato peeling machine that they came out the size of marshmallows. The kindly cooks who actually had to deal with this catastrophe, covered up for me, and my copybook was not as blotted as it might have been.

A handful of lectures on strategy and army organisation at Sandhurst were memorable for the lunch breaks when we mingled with the Sandhurst cadets. My most lasting memory is going for a punt on the lake, and it sinking, and my partner in this exploit – John Blashford-Snell, who has since become a famous explorer who did the first descent of the Blue Nile, explored the whole Congo River, and the Amazon, shooting many rapids unscathed – had to wade ignominiously back to shore, towing me sitting on the end of the leaky vessel.

The one thing I did master while at cadet school were the steps to the Charleston, then back in fashion. I perfected the knock knees, pigeon toes and tight sideways kick by holding onto the back of my chair in the lecture room as we waited for the next lecturer to arrive. I practised my dancing until I was foot perfect, and by the time we Passed- Out was acknowledged as top of the class by my peers in this  useful social accomplishment.

At the end of this gruelling training, interspersed with dances, parties and uniformed guest nights – when we practised the solemn ritual of Passing the Port – you Never lift the decanter from the table and only slide it in the coaster from right to left so it goes around in a circle, using Only the right hand – five of us emerged as second lieutenants. And now reality hit us.

Second lieutenants, we discovered, were despised by all, except new recruits. Everyone knew we hadn’t the faintest idea of what we had to do, from the regimental sergeant major down to the newest corporal. We were saluted, and called ma’am, but we knew that behind this ritual was the thinly concealed contempt of ‘old hands’.  Wet behind the ears, my father would have called us.

Many of the old hands had been through the war, like my motherly platoon sergeant who told me they knew D-Day must be in the offing, when they had to give up all the sheets from their beds, so that the huge new detachments of American soldiers  arriving nearby could have the sheets on their beds! And in the end, it was my platoon sergeant and the company sergeant major who taught me what I needed to know. Which seemed to be mostly to do what they told me!

Their commands varied from: “Here’s the pay books to sign, ma’am”, to: “Time to inspect the recruits, ma’am”, to: “Time to have your tea ma’am”. My requests varied from: “What shall I do now, Sergeant Major?” to: “D’you know where Private Smith is ?  She hasn’t made the tea yet.” A soldier’s life is terrible hard…

And as I re-assured my second, and non-military husband who feared that I was the Commanding Officer of our new establishment, he didn’t have to worry – the CO Thinks he runs the place – but it’s the regimental sergeant major who always does. He was very satisfied to be the regimental sergeant major.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

‘Sumer is a-cumen in’ slowly, while the asparagus is a-cumen in quite fast. I love it as a meal in itself. Melted butter of course, is the classic accompaniment to it, but I also love this delicate and delicious Japanese style sauce.

You need one teasp of dried mustard, one teasp of hot water, one egg yolk, one tblesp of dark soy sauce, a teasp of finely chopped fresh ginger (you could use dried) and a quarter of a teasp of salt. Mix the mustard and hot water to a thick paste, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Arrange the blanched asparagus on a platter and pour the sauce over. Serve within three hours. I like it lukewarm.

Food for Thought

There is so much in the world for us all if we only have eyes to see it, and the heart to love it, and the hand to gather it to ourselves.

Lucy Maud Montgomery 1874 – 1942   Canadian writer whose evergreen Anne of Green Gables series of books have enchanted generations of children since they were first published in 1908`

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Watching the Whales

This morning I saw a pod of whales swim past. I missed the dolphins in the harbour a couple of weeks ago, when the children went in to swim with them. But I think I may have been the only one to see the whales.

I went out in the early morning to bin the rubbish, and walked up to the edge of the cliff to look out to sea. The sea was calm and almost silver, the sky so pale and clear, that the horizon and sky almost merged.

As I stood there in the stillness, a fin appeared, and then the rest of the whale, and a  white fountain before it plunged back into the trackless sea. And then another, a little further over, and then another, fins and fountains of water…less than quarter of a mile away.

For a few minutes they sprang and blew and dived. Then I saw them no more. But I was blissed out… just to know that there was still life in the sea. It’s only in the last twenty years that anything has been known in this country about orcas, or killer whales as they’re also known. There are three groups, it’s now estimated, and about three hundred only in New Zealand waters. They live in pods of two or three according to researchers, but I’ve seen up to a dozen adults and their babies cruising up Auckland Harbour.

The ones I saw this morning were Antarctic orcas, a steely grey, compared to the black of other groups… and a long way from the Antarctic. They travel fast at more than 50 kilometres an hour, and though the males are between 20 and 30 feet long, the females slightly smaller, they are not truly whales, but belong to the dolphin family.

We have a marine reserve a few miles north of our harbour – the first to be established in the world – and it teems with fish of all kinds, the way the sea used to be before man pillaged these unpolluted waters and in less than two hundred years managed to deplete them to the point of worry. I sometimes wonder if the fish know they’re safe in the reserve, the way the ducks all fly to safety in the lakes and ponds in the parks around the city, in the days before the duck shooting season starts.( how do they know the date ?)

When Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who sailed across the Pacific in 1947, made his voyage, the world was still fairly un-despoiled. (writers may be cheered  to know that his book, The Kontiki Expedition, which was a best seller, was turned down about two hundred times by agents and publishers, including author William Saroyan)

Heyerdahl, who wanted to prove that people had sailed from South America across the Pacific and peopled islands in the Pacific, made his boat the way the ancient Incas would have done – a sort of raft out of balsa-wood. I’ve recently re-read this book and the picture he gives of the ocean made me ache for the same experience.

He described the intimacy of being at sea-level, with the sea washing over the raft, so that they never sank in rough weather, and how when they killed a big fish like a shark to eat, all the shark’s pilot fish then attached themselves to the raft. The natural balsa wood of the structure also began to grow its own collection of sea-weed under the water, and among the pilot fish and the sea-weed, hermit crabs and barnacles began to make their home.

So this floating travelling home for six men became an organic part of the ocean, with its own micro-life, bobbing along like a cork on top of the water, but also in it. They were part of the life of the great ocean, visited by strange un-named and unknown forms of deep sea life, and travelling with the winds and the currents, accompanied sometimes by dolphins, sometimes by sharks, flying fish landing on the raft, and at all times, living as an integral part of the sea and the winds, the storms and the stars.

The immense nostalgia that I feel on reading Heyerdahl’s description of what was a pristine ocean, untouched by pollution, is because of course, it is a very different experience today. The water is now filled with floating plastic on its way along the currents to tag onto the huge continents of plastic rubbish which kill birds and fish, and slowly bio-degrade into tiny particles which will make their way into the fish, and finally into the human race, a well-deserved fate. And not just plastic rubbish, of course, but floating lost containers, hidden in the water, which are a constant hazard for boats.

A couple of years ago, David de Rothschild and a handful of adventurers, including Heyerdahl’s grandson Olav, built a similar raft, called Plastiki. Rothschild wanted to make the point about all the waste that we don’t recycle. His boat was built, from amongst other things, 12,500 used plastic bottles, and fitted with solar panels, propeller turbines, urine to water recovery systems, and was completely ‘green”.

He sailed from Sausalito, California to Sydney, taking nearly four months. His report on the ocean was devastating. He saw hardly any fish, – the crew couldn’t have survived by fishing every day, as Heyerdahl had done – the ocean was empty, except for plastic rubbish and other floating discards.  The plastic of course, was heading for the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, which I see official sources have tried to downplay, and suggest is not as bad as it seems.

But if you follow up the unbiased reports, the pictures are horrifying; of dying seals entangled in nets, dead ones with plastic rings clamping their mouths shut; fish and birds strangled by plastic bags and fishing lines; and worst of all, a turtle who must have got entangled in a plastic ring less than a foot wide as a baby, who is now a grown animal, strangled in his middle by this plastic ring and completely deformed. These pictures will prick your conscience.

The plastic mountain is not just growing, but also breaking down, so that shards of plastic are entering the food chain through the fish. So the chances that we too may start to ingest the rubbish from the oceans is quite high – sailors passing across the Atlantic have also reported that they were never out of sight of rubbish floating in that great ocean too.

So what can we do? We are consumers. We can start to refuse to buy stuff that’s wrapped in plastic, and everything is. We can lobby our politicians and convince them that doing something about this issue is quite as important as drilling for oil. We can spread the word so that more and more people become aware that we are endangering our oceans.

One English scientist was so appalled when she saw the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, that she went home, and lobbied her home town, and they are now plastic- free; no more plastic bags in shops and supermarkets, and they are now working on the rest of the plastic menace.

The crazy thing is, if we all used string bags and baskets like we used to, we wouldn’t need a lot of that oil that they’re looking for under the ocean. Bloggers of the world unite, and refuse to go on using plastic wrappings and plastic bags and all the other plastic throwaway stuff that doesn’t last as long as a china bowl, or a wooden chair. Unwrap the shirt, the scissors, the mosquito repellent, every single item, and leave the rubbish on the counter  – let’s be counter revolutionaries and clean up our world.

If you want  to know more, there’s lots about it on Google. The Great Pacific Rubbish Dump will take you straight there.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A friend came for lunch on a chilly spring day, so we had celery soup, followed by one soft cream cheese, and one soft blue one locally made, with tomatoes and celery and hot rolls, followed by my standby, lemon tartlets with homemade lemon curd given me by a friend at the weekend, prettied up with a dab of crème fraiche, and coffee.

The celery soup was good, I added a leek to the sauted onion and celery, for another layer of taste, and a small potato for thickening. When the stock (a couple of vegetarian bouillon cubes) had been added, and the soup had been whizzed  and was just about ready, I whizzed up some of the celery leaves and some parsley with half a cup of milk in the blender, poured it onto the soup and brought it back to hot to serve straight away. The sharp green flecks of parsley looked lovely in the smooth pale green soup, and the celery leaves gave it a zingy peppery taste. We had a nice chilled Pinot Gris with the cheese.

Food for Thought

If it is to be it is up to me.

Advice from an anonymous English schoolmaster to his new students. I’ve used it before, but it seemed appropriate today.

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