Monthly Archives: April 2013

The fun of fashion

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What to wear has occupied many happy  hours and years of my thinking life. So though some research has claimed that little girls and boys are conditioned to be male and female… pink versus blue…  I’m not convinced!

I don’t think any little boy could have felt the bliss that I did at three when I finally got to wear a sun-suit that had been too big for me. I remember the day I was allowed to wear it, I shall never forget the pattern of navy, pink, yellow and blue tiny flowers all over it. It was linen, it had tiny buttons down the front, and was the most beautiful thing I’d ever worn. I remember the glory of running to catch up the big girls next door, skipping through long fine grass that grew beneath the pine trees, and the shafts of sun-light beaming down between the rough trunks. And above all, the rapture of knowing that I was wearing such a wonderful thing.

Not quite the same rapture over my white petticoats trimmed with broderie anglaise, and the smocked pink dress and the blue dress, made of ninon – a fine muslin type fabric with soft little bobbles sprinkled all over it – but I still enjoyed them. A year older, and winter, I revelled in the Fair Isle berets and matching gloves my mother bought me and my sister.

I stood and watched with some disapproval as she preened herself in the two new coats she had just bought, one a black fluffy material with gold buttons, the other a smooth jade green wool with green and gold buttons. She had said she couldn’t resist them. I remember precociously thinking that there would be no more clothes coupons left for us.  I was five, and in war-time we had an allowance of coupons for the year, which once used, meant no new clothes until the following year.

School uniform was a treat then too, with beautiful quality velour hats with big brims and a wide ribbon round it for winter, and a Panama hat the same shape with another big ribbon round it for summer.

When my Victorian grandmother came to care for us after my mother had gone, she dressed me according to her firmly held notions. I went to school one day in an anguish of embarrassment, wearing soft leather full- length gaiters right up my legs with hundreds of tiny leather buttons. We needed a button hook to do them all up.  But I couldn’t get them off for PT (Physical Training), so she abandoned those, thank goodness. She spent hours at her treadle sewing machine making me pink satin, lace- trimmed dresses and the like, and sent me off to church in a new brown tweed coat which was agony every time I sat down. It turned out she had sewed up the scissors into the deep hem.

Worst of all were the bright purple fluffy mittens she got hold of – warm – but hideous. It lacerated my fashion- conscious soul every time I put them on. At my best friend’s seventh birthday party I left them behind at her house, hoping that that would be the end of them. But further humiliation ensued when my grandmother made me go back to get them, and so then every-one knew that these frightful objects were mine.

Bundled off to my new parents at nine and a half, they threw away all the clothes my grandmother had lovingly made me, and took us shopping in London, where we were equipped with little tweed velvet- collared coats and matching berets, pretty dresses, and best of all, check shirts and shorts, just like the girls wore in Enid Blyton’s books. Fine feathers indeed.

But they had to last… that was the last time we enjoyed such largesse. When I grew out of them, there were no replacements, and I had to manage on various hand-me-downs, and odd birthday presents. So when I started earning, the best thing about it was never again having to wear clothes that embarassed me. But though I wanted fine feathers, I had also learned the lesson we all did on reading ‘Little Women.’

The scene in which Meg, also humiliated by her worn clothes, allows her frivolous friends to turn her into a fashion plate for a party, and overhears some older women commenting, what a pity that that pretty modest girl had spoiled her appearance with frills and flounces, and crimped curls, had struck deep. Meg feels overcome with shame for not being true to herself.  So I wanted fine feathers, but not fashion overkill!

Oh, the lovely cut of winter clothes, the fabrics, the wool and tweed, the gabardine and mohair, the lambs-wool and cashmere, the knits and jersey, velvet and corduroy; the colours, rich plum reds and pine greens, the russet tones, and mustards, the navy blues and chocolate browns – breathes there a woman with soul so dead – to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott – whose heart doesn’t leap when confronted with these riches?

And for summer, we had linens and cottons and seersuckers and silk, the muslins and tulle, taffetas and brocades for evening. We’d never heard of denim then, and nylon was something for parachutes and stockings. Fashion for a teenager earning money at last, meant a circular felt skirt, a wide elastic waspie to nip in our waists, over a frilly starched cotton slip and worn with  a Marilyn Monroe sweater and flat pumps. In this get-up, we twirled and swooped, dancing to rock and roll, and skiffle, though we could still waltz and do Scottish dances at formal balls, in long romantic evening dresses accessorised with long white gloves. And then there was the mini!

But times have changed of course. I’ve just read a survey which claims that women’s waists now are seven inches bigger than they were in nineteen-fifty. The average woman’s waist then, they claimed, was twenty- seven- inches, and it’s now thirty-four. I think they’ve got it wrong – my waist was twenty-five then, and I envied the possessors of twenty-four inch waists. The research also says that women are square and waistless now, and that the old hour-glass figure has gone. I had noticed how waists are disappearing, and have wondered how anyone could wear a waspie any more, while circular skirts would not do much for expanded hips these days.

So it seems to me that women are not so much the slaves of fashion, as that fashion is the slave of women’s diet. And now that spartan war-time food, not just in England and Europe but probably in other parts of the world too, is no longer on the menu,  fast food and tampered- with food, and Too much of everything, seem to have re-shaped the female figure. And fashion in the shape of towering platforms and spiked heels seems to have hobbled women quite as successfully as bound feet in China.

So give me beautiful clothes, but not haute couture, fine feathers but not high fashion… and I will probably still be planning what to wear when I’m on my death-bed – maybe I should write a book about clothes – what to wear from the cradle to the grave. And I haven’t even mentioned hats!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

That apple cake! It was scrumptious, but so crumbly that we needed a fork to eat it with. So maybe a bit less apple and a bit more flour would hold it together. And whipped cream lifts it to another level!

Tonight, roast lamb, which rarely crosses this threshold, but it’s a special occasion. So along with all the usual trimmings, I’m making onions in white sauce. Peel and chop several onions, and boil with salt and pepper until cooked. In another saucepan melt two ounces of butter, and add enough flour to make a stiff roux. I pour in about a cup of milk, and then a cup of the onion- flavoured water, and stir briskly. Put it back on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time until thick. Add nutmeg to taste, salt and pepper and the onion. You might need more milk, though I like the sauce quite thick. I usually add a dollop of cream…

Food for Thought

Beauty is a choir of singers, a chorus of dreamers, a concert of aspirations, an orchestra of goals, a symphony of ambition and a ballet of productions.

Glenda Green  Born 1945. Artist and author of ‘Love without end. Jesus Speaks’

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Filed under cookery/recipes, fashion, food, great days, happiness, life/style, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Peace or Patriotism?

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Is patriotism enough? Nurse Edith Cavell first raised the question before she was shot by the Germans for treason  in 1916. She was an English nurse, matron of a Belgian hospital when the Germans invaded Belgium on their way to invade France. On the outbreak of war, her hospital was immediately designated a Red Cross hospital. For the next two years she not only carried on with the work of the hospital, but rescued and nursed back to health wounded British and French soldiers, who were then helped to return to their countries. She also nursed wounded German soldiers. She knew that she was in danger, but she said: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.”

The Germans arrested her, and court martialled her for treason. Under German law she was sentenced to death. From this perspective, it seems strange that an English nurse working for a Belgian hospital in a country which the Germans had invaded, breaking their treaty of neutrality, and then ravaging the country, shooting whole villages, burning ancient cities, should have been expected to be loyal to these invaders! The Germans said that they had treated her fairly.

She raised the question on patriotism just before her execution, when she actually said that: “Patriotism is not enough”.

This phrase has been in my mind, as this country prepares for the most solemn day in its calendar – ANZAC day – a day of national mourning and unity which it shares with Australia. It commemorates the Battle of Gallipoli on Turkish soil. It was a disaster for the Allies, who lost 21,555 British soldiers, 10,000 French, 8,709 Australian and 2,721 NZ soldiers. Winston Churchill has always been blamed for it, but from the beginning of his idea, and the actual carrying out of it, something now called ‘mission drift “ occurred, in which the original idea got lost in  more ambitious schemes, but without the extra men and supplies needed for these  ambitions.

In the forty three years that I’ve lived in NZ, I’ve seen a revived connection with these ceremonies, as more people remember – though they may not understand – their history, and the heroism of their ancestors. At my age, I heard firsthand the memories of my great-uncle and grandfathers who were in the navy and the army in the First World War, so it doesn’t seem almost a hundred years ago to me.

And one of the things that always saddens me about these ceremonies and rituals in my adopted country, is that this day also becomes an opportunity for some to bash the British in their sermons and newspaper articles. So it tends to be forgotten that the British and the French lost great numbers of young men in this battle too… and that they always valued the great qualities of the NZ and Australian fighting men. This is what is called chauvinism… the dictionary defines it as:militant devotion to and glorification of one’s country; fanatical patriotism’.

And it happens all around the world, in some countries more than others. On the other hand, there are also many people around the world who have responded to Edith Cavell’s insight, and can see that patriotism is not enough. She also said:  “I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” She was not just a brave woman, but a deeply spiritual one, and had reached insights that many of us are still struggling towards.

Another one who did have those insights was the officer commanding the Turks at Gallipoli. Fourteen years after the Gallipoli campaign, some of the mothers of the soldiers who had died on the Turkish peninsula, wrote to the President of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, asking for permission to visit the graves of their sons. Kemal Ataturk had been that commander at Gallipoli, and he sat down and wrote these words to the grieving mothers:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You the mothers, who sent their sons to faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

I can never read these beautiful words without the tears welling in my eyes….

Kemal Ataturk was the great visionary leader who transformed Turkey into an enlightened and free country back in the twenties and thirties. In two years, his drive and vision raised literacy from ten per cent to seventy per cent, and he gave women all the freedoms that men enjoyed. His early death from cirrhosis of the liver was a tragedy for Turkey and for the world.

His foreign policy was simple: ‘Peace at home. Peace in the world’. These are the words and thoughts that rise above mere patriotism, and to use those lovely old words from the Anglican prayer book are what could bring us: “peace in our time”.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The cemetery with the war memorial in our village lies on one side of the tiny peninsula where we live. It looks out to sea. The other side of the road, we look out to sea in the opposite direction. So since everyone gathers in the road outside our house before entering the cemetery, we always end up having friends in for coffee when the service is over.

The cake I’m doing for this occasion is an easy apple cake – I seem to have dozens of different apple cakes – and this one is quite a chewy one. Peel and slice five apples, mix with a cup of brown sugar and put to stand for 15 minutes. Mix together a cup of self raising flour, a teasp of ground cinnamon, half a cup of oil, a beaten egg, half a cup of chopped dates (I often leave this out) and three quarters of a cup of chopped walnuts. Stir in the apples and sugar. Tip into a greased and floured tin and gently press the mixture down.  Bake in a 160 degree oven for one and a half to two hours, and cool before turning out. I often sprinkle sugar over the top, and add a dash of vanilla to the mixture.

Sometimes I serve it with stiff whipped cream, and make it the day before, as it matures deliciously.

Food for Thought

Everyone has within him something precious that is in no-one else. But this precious something in a man is revealed to him only if he truly believes his strongest feeling, his central wish, that in him stirs his inmost being.

Martin Buber  1878 -1965 Austrian born Jewish philosopher

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Filed under great days, history, military history, peace, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life, world war one

The mystery of other lives

 
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Not a picture of hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil, but a picture of the three fat wood pigeons sitting on the power line outside our house yesterday.

They used to be plentiful, but between the Maoris and the settlers they nearly became extinct. They’re now protected, and their numbers are increasing. The Maoris call them kereru, we call them wood pigeons. They are precious to us.

This morning, waiting for the kettle to boil while I made a cup of tea to take back to bed, I stood at the bench looking out of the kitchen window, and watched one of these pigeons in the guava tree. As he swallowed the guavas whole, they travelled down his throat and then the lump disappeared into his white curving bosom.

I was fascinated to see how this big heavy unwieldy bird kept his balance on the thin frail branches. He moved from fruit to fruit, gobbling them up, without ever looking or checking to see where his feet/ claws were going to find a secure foothold. The feet moved with an intelligence of their own. Once, the twig bent so much, the bird keeled over, and his wings flapped open to hold him, as his feet found a better foothold. Enough being enough, he whirred heavily out of the little tree shortly after, and lumbered off. The tangy red guava berries are small and sour this year, with no rain to swell them, so I’m leaving them all for the birds.

I took the tea-tray back to bed, and lay back on the pillows looking out of the window on the other side of the house. The loquat tree, just beyond the window, which is covered in blossom, was rustling and shuddering. A turquoise and black tui was enjoying the blossom, seeking the honey, long beak pushing aggressively into the flowers, and plunging from one bough to another, with the same sure-footedness as the wood pigeon.

As I watched this bird, with his bright white bobble of feathers jiggling at his throat, which caused the early settlers to call him the parson – bird, I felt I was watching something familiar, and then I remembered. As the tui sucked the honey, his tail waggled back and forth in an ecstasy of concentration, just like the tails of lambs when they are suckling their mothers in the fields.

During the nightas I turned over in my sleep, I heard a morepork, the New Zealand owl calling, very close; later, the huffing of a possum in the loquat tree, which sounds like the hissing of a python and what I feared were rats rustling in the roof above. I hoped the hedgehog I found yesterday was on the move in the garden drinking, eating and making merry by the ivy. I seemed to be inhabiting a corner of the universe where other creatures were getting on with their lives oblivious of homo sapiens.

When I drove through the little hamlet at the edge of the sea on my way to shop the other day, I slowed down when I saw a couple of ducks crossing the road. I stopped a good fifty yards away from them, so they wouldn’t feel hassled, and was tickled to find them being followed by at least another twenty waddling, feathered bodies. When I slowly drove past the drive where they had all disappeared, I saw there was a feijoa tree hanging over the fence, and the ground was covered in the fallen green fruit.

The ducks were feasting… how did they know the fruit was there, that this drive was the only way to get at it, and that this is the time of year for fallen fruits? Their intelligence is of a different order to ours, and it works for them. It being the beginning of the duck shooting season in a few more weeks, they will soon all congregate on ponds they know are safe from hunters, in city parks like the duck pond in the Auckland Domain….

And on the way home I dodged a quail family scuttling along the side of the road with half a dozen speckled brown babies. In our last house, I once looked out of the window and saw a veritable army of quails advancing down the drive… eleven to be precise, four adults and seven tiny powder puffs on wheels. They all scattered over the lawn, while the four adults stood one at each corner, with their backs to their babies, guarding them.. When the babies had finished, the adults marshalled them, and moved off, with one adult bringing up the rear, and keeping the stragglers in order. An exquisite example of responsibility, co-operation and parental love.

Henry Beston wrote in ‘The Outermost House’:  ‘We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

And philosopher Ken Wilbur writes that: ‘Every single thing you perceive is the radiance of Spirit itself, so much so that Spirit is not seen apart from that thing: the robin sings, and just that is it, nothing else…’

And so as I catch in a glass the bumble bee which has just blundered into the house, and is buzzing angrily at the window, I release it outside, sending it on its way with a blessing, knowing that we are all fellow travellers and all connected by Spirit.

 Food for thought

This prayer of St Francis is dedicated to America with love – and to the world – since we are all one…

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St Francis is the patron saint of animals. He lived from  ADe l,ived fromH1181 to AD1226

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Filed under animals/pets, birds, cookery/recipes, great days, life/style, philosophy, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, wild life

Cricketers, bridge-players and great white hunters

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These I have loved, to quote Rupert Brooke. I think I’m a serial monogamist – but didn’t dare put that in the title and invite a torrent of prurient spam into the file! Neither did I dare put ‘men’ in the title – that would have meant more Viagra ads.

I started young and can date the first love of my life back to age nine. Stuck in a London flat with two new parents, waiting to move north, bored with playing in the park and endless games of ludo, these two strange adults took us to the cinema one afternoon. ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ no less. My heart did a tumble – Leslie Howard alias Sir Percy Blakeney, standing, quizzing glass raised in one hand, one long leg in pantaloons and buckled shoe resting on a chair, lace cravat tumbling from his neck, and laughingly baiting his pursuers with his little ditty: “ They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell, that damned elusive Pimpernel?” Oh, his gaiety, his nonchalance, his recklessness…

My heart was his. I sought out Baroness Orxy’s Scarlet Pimpernel books and they sustained me for some years, until the glowing image dissolved when I found ‘Jane Eyre’. Mr Rochester!  He truly enslaved me. I read the book over and over, memorising every scene in which my (rather doubtful) hero figured. I found him terrifying and mesmerising. I used to terrify my dormitory at school too, sitting on the end of the bed in the dark, reciting the latest instalment of Charlotte Bronte’s homage to plain women and masterful men.

Mr Rochester’s black beauty faded on board ship to Malaya, when I discovered that Cupid really could throw darts. I was fourteen the night we boarded at Southampton, and my father suggested that he and I take a stroll around the decks to watch the bustle of embarkation. As we passed an open window where a posse of young naval officers were making merry, one of them glanced out of the window. A pair of deep blue eyes looked straight into mine, and for the rest of the five week voyage I thought of nothing else. I craned to see the possessor of these magnetic blue eyes whenever we were all in the dining room, and pined between meals.

I rejoiced when we were delayed in the Suez Canal for a few extra days after a crashed oil tanker blocked our passage. I glowed when I found him playing tennis at Mount Lavinia in Columbo while we had afternoon tea. I never spoke to him. I cried for days when we landed in Singapore and he sailed on to Hong Kong, immaculate and oblivious in his white tropical uniform. I think my parents must have gone mad with irritation, never knowing when I was going to dissolve into what they probably thought were hormonal tears. My secret was locked in my non-existent bosom. I never even knew his name.

Then along came ‘Gone with the Wind. My father, knowing nothing of my amorous past, assumed I would come home crazy about Clark Gable, and decided to put a spoke in Mr Gables ‘s wheels before I left, by telling me to watch how his ears waggled when he spoke ( they did!) This malicious dart fell harmlessly by the way. There was my new/old love, Ashley Wilkes, with his brooding blue eyes, his noble brow, his elegance and his honour! I watched ‘Gone With The Wind eleven times before I was over Leslie Howard. My father was disgusted that I would love such a wet!

But time has revealed that not only was he a talented stage actor, playwright and producer, but also a patriotic man who left comfortable Hollywood to return to war-time England, and who died when the Luftwaffe shot down his plane on a flight outside the war zone. He was reputed to have been on an intelligence mission. He also had a reputation for womanising (who doesn’t?). He himself said he: “didn’t chase women… but couldn’t always be bothered to run away”.

By the time I’d worked through the eleven viewings of ‘Gone With The Wind’ in various parts of the world, some years had passed, and I then became pre-occupied with flesh and blood. But come re-marriage, contentment and a deeper appreciation of the beauty of men, I became a serial lover again.

My first new love was the noted Pakistani cricketer, Sarfraz Nawaz, who discovered ‘reverse swing’, and taught it to Imran Khan and other Pakistani cricketing greats. But I loved Sarfraz before he achieved greatness ( you could almost say I discovered him!) and having seen him by chance on TV while my new husband was watching a test match, I demanded to be taken to the cricket to see him live.

This was the early to mid-seventies when great – or rather infamous events were a-foot in Washington, and a tall gentleman with a twinkle in his eye shot to fame, as they say. Archibald Cox. Some may remember him. I loved him for his rumpled suits, fine intelligence and un-assailable integrity. My exasperated husband triumphantly waved a wire photo he’d found in the office, hoping to break his spell. But I thought Archibald Cox lolling in his  chair with his long legs propped on his desk, and the leather soles of his shoes facing the camera – sporting two large holes – was irresistible.

If I had loathed Nixon before, my hatred knew no bounds when he famously sacked my man, and I never saw him again. So that left me with Andrew Young, (another groan from husband) Ambassador to the UN. I looked at a recent photo of this interesting man, and it just didn’t do justice to his youthful fire and fierce good looks. But even he couldn’t compete with that spectacular entrance of Omar Sharif emerging from the desert on his camel, jingling and shimmering and enigmatic in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

When he re-appeared as Dr Zhivago that was it! My husband was as usual, chagrined, and assured me that all this gorgeous man ever did was to play bridge… he was brilliant apparently  and wrote books and newspaper columns about a subject that is a closed book to me.

This was disappointing, so for a few years I transferred my affections to Robert Redford as the handsome, eccentric and very decent great white hunter Denis Finch Hatton in ‘Out of Africa’… he had a lot in common with Sir Percy Blakeney and Ashley Wilkes.

But like all my other loves, Robert Redford is aging, and is not the glorious young man he once was. So in my twilight years, my loves have been fewer, and indeed, I thought my love life was over, until we went on a cruise a few years ago. Reader – to quote Charlotte Bronte – I, like every the woman on our dining table, fell hopelessly in love with our handsome young Indian waiter.

All the husbands ground their teeth, knowing they couldn’t compete with this charming clever and exquisite young man. He dispensed sour green apples to a woman he’d noticed hovering on the edge of sea- sickness, cherished an autistic teenage girl, attended to each of us as though we were each the only woman in his life, and in my eyes, at least, achieved perfection when I discovered that he was deeply spiritual. He was a devout Hindu, a vegetarian and a man who saw all religions as having the same value. In other words – a good man.

Well, he sailed away of course, and I now face the unpalatable truth that men my own age are not figures of romance. But I don’t want to become a cougar … a term I’m told which describes older women who pursue younger men. So I will just have to fall back on the sweet memories of my youth… though you never know… they say the party isn’t over till the fat lady sings…  I mean the slightly over-weight lady… oh – that could be me!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The most useful thing I learned when I was in the army was how to keep peeled potatoes fresh. Sitting in the cook house at night as a recruit peeling hundred of potatoes for all the hundreds of women the next day, I had to put a knob of clean coal in the water to keep the potatoes fresh and the water clear. The tragedy of my life is that I haven’t seen coal for years, so can’t use this pearl of wisdom myself…

Food for Thought

While we wonder what will happen next in North Korea, I found this, written nearly two hundred years ago, and it seems that nothing has changed since then.  “What experience and history teach us is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. 1779 – 1831 Influential German philosopher.

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Rise up children and be free

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How to make yourself very, very unpopular!  Years ago I discovered that in the tug of war between the rights of women and the needs of children it can be dangerous to take sides. I gave up writing supportive articles about feminism, since there were already plenty of them, and started to defend the rights of children. It seemed to me then that children’s well – being was in danger of being forgotten in the rush for rights for women in this country.

To my amazement, the very active feminists around me ostracised me – crossed the road rather than acknowledge me if I met them in the street, and carried on a sustained campaign over the years of hostile letters about me and my articles in the local press. Many years later one of the most prominent and talented of these women, by then a mother herself, wrote a book on mothering in which she vindicated my stand, saying I was the only woman in NZ who had stood up for motherhood.

I say this as I gear myself up for what could well be an infuriated response to this blog by people who feel passionately about the rights of women. Because now I’m bothered about motherhood. It’s a fact of life that when women become mothers they have to give up lots of rights – the right to a night of unbroken sleep, the right to go to the loo without an audience, the right to have an un-interrupted conversation with a friend… the list of lost freedoms is a long one. But we all know that babies and children must come first.

So it bothers me to read that women are artificially having babies into their fifties and sixties, or when they don’t have a partner to support them and their child. I know from experience how hard it is to be a single mother, and to try to be both mother and father. And I feel sad for children who lose their elderly mothers to illness or old age before they are even adults. Children are stuck with what sometimes seem to me to be selfish choices and I don’t feel that all women have the right to have a child, if the child’s quality of life is at risk.

But even worse, is to read that in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, women are not just being being sent on active service, but now to fight as front line soldiers. An enraged man wrote a blog that this was ridiculous as women were not physically strong enough to do what has to be done in the front line and under fire, he felt that men were being endangered, and he’s probably right.

But what bothers me is that many women serving now are also mothers, with their husbands also serving. Surely we all know now that parting a baby or a young child from their parents breaks the bonds of trust. Abandonment sets them up for all sorts of emotional problems and relationship difficulties both in childhood and in later life. And most people now too, surely know that this is one of the traumas that propels hurting teenagers into drugs and alcohol dependency, pregnancies and violence, and too often, broken relationships, marriages and unskilled parenting?

And if the mother is killed on active service – where does this leave the child, growing up feeling that his or her mother chose her career and the thrill of fighting over the commitment of mothering? Do the temporary caregivers love the child, and are they happy to discover that now it’s a lifetime commitment? If it’s elderly grandparents, were they looking forward to a peaceful retirement, or maybe coping with ill health?

For older children the parting from their mothers is just as traumatic. It more than bothers me to think of a child having to say goodbye to their mother, living with care-givers who may or may not love him or her, and going to school every day, either longing for a letter or text from their mother, or wondering if this is the day they’re going to hear that their mother has been wounded or killed.

I was six and a half when my mother walked out of my life forever, and I know how it feels for those children. The trauma was so great that I was forty five and on a personal growth course before I could bring myself to mention my mother again. What anger and grief vulnerable, broken-hearted little boys and traumatised little girls will grow up with, feeling rejected by a mother who left them behind. Little boys rarely receive again that tenderness and gentleness that a mother can give her son, and little girls are lucky if they find a loving stepmother who doesn’t prefer her own children.

We read of worrying numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq committing suicide, and the veterans who come home so deeply traumatized by their experiences that they never recover. Some become violent – thirty per cent of returning British soldiers are involved in violence on their return – others are so deeply depressed that they are unable to work, and unable to sustain their relationships.  How will it be for children if their mothers, as well as their fathers, come home in this state? Or so badly wounded that they can’t care for their children?

I wonder if when the policymakers, finding they were running out of men to send on active service, thought – ah, we can send women, and they will approve because they’ll feel they’re now truly equal, and we’ll get some brownie points – I wonder if they ever thought about the children, and the huge social problems they are cooking up for the future? Have they planned any safeguards for the innocent traumatised  children of traumatised parents?

Did they ever stop to consider that children do have rights, even if they’ve never been spelt out?  Though there is no mention of the rights of a child in the Bill of Rights, at least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says specifically in Article 25 that: “mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance… and should enjoy… social protection.”  Mothers should be exempt from any service which takes them away from their children, or which infringes on the child’s right to be loved and to feel safe. And for this reason, it bothers me that we imprison mothers… the long term damage to children when parted from their mothers is incalculable.

A boy who’d been adopted at birth, endured a cruel childhood and been returned to the welfare agencies at twelve, bewildered and maimed, was in our car going on an outing, when my little ones began singing a song they’d learned at school, with a haunting tune. The words were “Rise up children and be free… free your brothers, free your sisters, rise up children and be free…”  Sing it again, the boy cried, with a catch in his voice. I realised the words felt like hope for him.

I hope and I wish that mothers could rise up to protect their children, and refuse to be parted from them. Surely all mothers would support them? Yes, women have a voice – but do mothers and children? And is there any good reason why children should be emotionally damaged at home while their mothers are in a foreign country learning how to kill in wars that nobody wants?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

People are coming tomorrow to inspect the old chap’s collection of Japanese antiques. I’ll have to give them morning coffee and something to nibble. I thought of hot scones, but can’t be bothered juggling with the butter and the strawberry jam and the whipped cream, butter knives and napkins. A cake seems a bit grand, and actually too much trouble for a business encounter, so I’ve decided on flapjacks – nice and chewy, comforting and sustaining.

Melt six oz of butter and stir in six oz of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and eight oz of rolled oats. Mix them thoroughly and press into a well greased tin. Smooth the mix with a knife and bake for about thirty five minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked and golden brown, cut into squares in the tin, and leave in the tin until quite cold. I like a quite thick flapjack, so they are moist and chewy, so I put this amount in a smallish tin. I often double the amounts, and I usually use half sugar to half golden syrup for a stickier flapjack.

It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about it rising, and it doesn’t go stale either.

Food for Thought

Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely change your life.

Don Miguel Ruiz Mexican teacher and shaman

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Seize the day!

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Today was not one of those days, but One of Those Days.  Yesterday, as I watched the tiny, greenery- yallery birds we call silver- eyes in the trees, hunting for insects and the like, I thought how I hadn’t seen the cock pheasant for months. He must have found another home, I thought.

When I awoke this morning I jumped out of bed and looked out of the open window to the sea as usual. There, right below my window, was the pheasant, in the garden bed with the bromeliads. He slowly pecked and ambled his way down through the vegetable beds to the petanque court, and then sauntereded off down the path into the wild patch. A moment earlier or later, and I would have missed him. Do I believe in coincidences, or did the pheasant pick up my wave-length?

It was one of those glorious late summer days. The colours bright, the air sparkling.  In the morning I rendezvoused with two old friends at an art gallery in the next village, to see an exhibition in a barn in the orchard. The gnarled branches of the old fruit trees were blanketed in fluffy celadon-green lichen, and hung with knobbly green quinces and pink and yellow apples. The barn was full of pottery, paintings, sculpture and furniture.

Robin knew one of the painters, who told us a dealer had wanted to see her work, so the painter had suggested that the dealer come to the exhibition. The artist led the dealer into the barn, and before she could show off her vividly coloured abstract flower paintings, the poor painter told us with some chagrin, that the dealer had instead pounced on a set of black and brown geometrical abstracts, and said she’d buy the lot. These black and brown works of art were composed of cow dung, clay and other mixtures, and smelt richly of a farm yard!

After a cup of coffee by the river, and a whip round the gallery there, we drove on to Tawharanui National Park, and the “Exhibition in a Woolshed”. Never has the sea looked so blue, the islands so green and purple, and the sands so white. The rolling hills were burnt gold in the flaming sun, and the gum trees which lined the last stretches of the dusty, winding gravel road gave us grateful dappled shade.

At the National Park we enjoyed the pungent smell of a real woolshed, and savoured the integrity of the wooden slats and fences, smoothed and polished by the hands of generations of sheep shearers – hands – no doubt, impregnated with oil from the fleeces. Another collection of absorbing paintings, pottery and sculpture, and then a walk around the sculpture park edging the turquoise sea.

The day flowed from one treat to another. Late in the afternoon we arrived at another cafe for lunch, exhausted with art and walking in the midday sun. We sat outside in the shade of the trees, where we could see the waterfall. We go back through twenty nine years of gruelling growth courses, endless lunches, regular birthday parties, shared experiences and watching our children grow up, marry, have their children, break-up, divorce and struggle on, in sickness and in health…

Two of the paintings in the woolshed were accompanied by poems by Fernando Pessoa. They were numbered and called “The Keeper of the Sheep”…. my favourite lines from number 11 were:                                                                                                                                                      “The world wasn’t made for us to think about it…                                                                                                                                                                          But to look at it and to be in agreement”.

And then, number XXX1X:                                                                                                                                                                                                                        “… the only hidden meanings of things                                                                                                                                                                                                   Is that they have no hidden meaning.                                                                                                                                                                                                        … things are really what they seem to be                                                                                                                                                                                          And there’s nothing to understand.”

Words which were a wonderful antidote to artistic pretension and cow dung! As we left the woolshed, outside in the sheep pen there was a battered old farm noticeboard which read:

‘Cows: bulls, steers, heifers, calves.’

Sheep:  rams, wethers, ewes, hoggets lambs.’                                                                                                                                                                                 The names were as evocative as a poem, a hymn to a rural past that few people now remember or experience.

Sheep seem to be in my consciousness at the moment. Last night, I’d been reading an artist’s account of her decision to find a lamb to photograph while she was painting Jesus, so she’d get it right. She went to a local market, but saw only a sorry collection of scraggly mixed breeds – no lambs. She was about to turn away when a sparkling white ewe emerged from the flock and approached her. She was pregnant.

The artist decided to buy her, and the dealer told her the sheep’s breed was a ‘mouflon’. On the way home, she was suddenly struck by the fear that the sheep might be some sort of new hybrid which had not existed when Jesus had been on earth, since she had never seen a sheep like her, in spite of growing up on a ranch.

After establishing the sheep in her new home, the artist set off for the library, where she found that the mouflon was the oldest domesticated breed of sheep in Europe, and had  been herded in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Since they were living in the US, it was an amazing synchronicity to find the exact type of sheep she needed, especially since she hadn’t known that she did need it!

The perfection of the interlocking factors in this story reflect a little of how I feel today. It’s as though I know in my heart, and not just in my mind, that all is well, and that if we let go trying to make the right thing happen, the perfect thing happens. And it may not be what we planned or thought we wanted. This means a sense of peace, a calm, and a certainty. There is no need to keep striving, because when we surrender, life falls into place anyway.

And I’m learning to let go the distinction between the earthly and the spiritual. There is no distinction. Everything is sacred. So the laughter of today has the same value as this morning’s early meditation. As I hummed the pop song:  “Take my heart to higher ground’, a la Streisand, I felt it was as sacred as a Bach cantata. Feeling that every moment has a hidden significance, means the days are lived at a particular level of commitment

Making the most of each day, and knowing that the sum of these days add up to life well lived, is its own reward, and so in the words of that old Jewish saying, we can go on our way stringing pearls for heaven. And maybe try for heaven on earth… and carpe diem.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Browsing through Sally’s latest blog at mybeautifulthings@wordpress.com , I saw her picture of lunch at Falmouth – salmon fishcakes, spinach, poached egg and Hollandaise sauce. My taste buds sizzled, and I thought this is what we’re going to have for supper. I actually had some salmon, plenty of Agria potatoes – best for mashing, and all the trimmings – fresh eggs, spinach in the deep freeze, and a recipe for a quick hollandaise sauce.

Here’s my recipe for the quick hollandaise sauce. Blend the juice and zest of two lemons, four egg yolks and two teasps of mild mustard.  Melt the butter, and keeping the motor running, pour the butter into the eggs in a slow stream. Process until just thickened and no more. Season to taste, and keep at room temperature until using it. This makes two cups. Extravagant and delicious!

I used fresh smoked salmon and dill in the fish cakes and rolled them in flour before frying them in a mix of butter and oil. I think if I was feeling threadbare, a tin of red salmon, or even pink salmon jazzed up with plenty of herbs would work.

Food for Thought

I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets…

William James 1842 -1910   Sometimes called the father of American psychology, and also best known for his book ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience.’

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Carrying On With The Army Again (part 4)

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This is the continuing story of ‘my brilliant career’ in the army! I had returned from my regime of prayer and fasting, otherwise known as a Religious Leadership course, none the wiser, but many times lighter from the in-edible food provided along with regular religious services by the Army Chaplain’s Department..

Back at my all women unit I prepared for my next adventure, and another opportunity to meet the young men we yearned to fall in love with, but never got within coo-ee of. Going on a  course was the only opportunity of meeting the opposite sex, so this time I’d sent my name in for a fire fighting course.

The instructions told me to bring a boiler suit. This did not bode well for a non-athletic person, but I accordingly went to the quarter-master, a grim north countrywoman who’d served all through World War Two, and didn’t approve of frivolous young things like me. Accordingly she issued me with a khaki boiler suit with its outrageous measurements listed on a label stitched to my bottom. It was so huge I had to wear a belt round the middle of my newly skinny frame to keep it up, and was, as I assumed the quartermaster had intended, a perfect antidote to any masculine interest!

Arriving at the squalid house where a harpy ripped off the army by giving us abominable food and beds, I walked into the ante room, where a group of attractive -looking young men stopped talking and sat in frozen silence, while I wondered what on earth to say or do. Luckily an old boy friend arrived and took me out to dinner (my last decent food for a fortnight), and told me that while he waited for me to go and change, one of these young men addressed the room, and declaimed: “What was that!”

The next day we all gathered at the Maidstone Fire Station. We began with a long introductory lecture, the gist of which I found hard to follow, as the Chief Fire Officer repeatedly emphasized that there would be no blue jokes and sexual innuendo. Every time these remarks were re-iterated, the various young men stole sideways looks at me, and I sat there completely mystified. But after a few days of lectures, when the practical work began, light dawned. From now on, as we reeled hoses, and ran up and down directing icy water, and manhandled female couplings, man holes, male-female connections and a number of other technical terms, I realised what these kindly firemen had tried to spare me!

Every day when we staggered back to our digs on freezing foggy December afternoons, I for one, was absolutely shattered with reeling and running and sliding down greasy poles and even climbing out of a tower on what seemed to be a piece of white cotton, and being lowered to the ground. (where my knees gave way from the aftermath of terror, and I fell on them).

I made sure I was first into the bathroom to warm up with a hot bath, and it was only on the last day, I discovered that the extreme chivalry of my fellow sufferers had caused them to hide from me the fact that that was the only hot bath in the cistern. There was no more hot water until the next morning when I had my early morning bath! On the last day too, the lovely men at the Fire Brigade staged a ceremony at which they gave me their badge mounted on a piece of leather for me to wear as a medal, and said I could come back and join their brigade any time I wanted.

Back to my nunnery at the depot, I thankfully forgot about fire fighting, and never gave it another thought. Two years later, when I had unexpectedly been made a captain at the early age of twenty two, I was posted with this rank to another all-women unit – the training centre! Did they have something against me at the War Office?

When I was taking over the job from a much older and rather sporty woman who drove the latest model expensive sports car – a cream TR4 –  she pointed out that I would also be taking over as fire officer from her as well.  “Did you do that awful course at Maidstone?” she asked in her clipped tones.  I nodded, feeling slightly intimidated by this very assured person. “Some bloody Amazon had done it just before me,” she continued, “and I was expected to run around and climb out of towers and generally behave as though I was on an outward bound course.”

Good heavens, I thought to myself. That must have been me. Didn’t I have to do all those hefty horrendous fire- fighting exercises? No wonder the Maidstone Fire Brigade had taken me to their hearts, given me their badge and offered me a job! My fire fighting duties here at Liphook were not too onerous, and consisted of regularly inspecting the seven rather dim General Duties soldiers, allotted to us to do any heavy work. When lined up for inspection they looked rather like the seven dwarfs. Our fire-fighting equipment consisted of rows of three red – painted galvanised steel fire-buckets filled with sand lined up outside each hut, along with a stirrup pump. Naturally we made sure that the ancient stirrup pumps were in good working order!

The camp was surrounded by bracken covered heath which often caught fire, and I would hear the Liphook volunteer fire fighters sounding their siren. One night I turned over hearing the siren again, and was just sleepily thinking that it sounded much nearer than usual, when my bedroom door flew open, and there stood my stout colonel, fearsome in riding breeches and a duffle coat flung on over her pyjamas. “That’s Our fire alarm,” she barked!

To be continued ! Three previous instalments of this account of my brilliant army career are in the archives under: ‘A Soldiers Life is Terrible Hard’ and: ‘Carrying on with the Army.’

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

I’ve spent the Easter break knocking up dinners, lunches and morning teas for relays of family and friends who’ve come every day of the holidays. At the beginning of the holiday I baked a fruit cake which would last for the whole holiday, moist and too filling to gobble up.

It’s simplicity itself. The basic recipe is one pound of mixed fruit, half a pound of butter and a bit less of sugar, three eggs, half a pound of flour, pinch of salt and vanilla. You simmer the fruit in a little water until soft, then add sugar, butter, essence and salt, and when cool add the beaten eggs and the flour. Bake in a medium to slow oven for an hour or until cooked.

I’ve never made the basic recipe. I add extra fruit, things like chopped dates, finely chopped figs and sometimes prunes, a spoonful of fig and ginger jam or apricot, I use brown sugar, treacle or golden syrup instead of some of the sugar, and sometimes add spices and nutmeg, or orange and lemon juice…ginger marmalade…  sometimes ground almonds, or oatmeal or whole meal flour – anything that I think will be delicious! It never tastes the same, but it’s always moist and more-ish. I dredge the top with sugar, so it has a nice crisp sweet top. Simple!

 

Food for Thought

Let all the strains of joy mingle in my last song – the joy that makes the earth flow over in the riotous excess of the grass, the joy that sets the twin brothers, life and death, dancing over the wide world, the joy that sweeps in with the tempest, shaking and waking all life with laughter, the joy that sits still with its tears on the open lotus of pain, and the joy that throws everything it has upon the dust, and knows not a word.

Rabindranath Tagore, the very sound of whose name is poetry, is one of my favourite poets. He was a Bengali, and lived from 1861 to 1941

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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