Category Archives: The Sound of Water

Heaven is a Place on Earth

TLot18againOur home in the forest

This is the last instalment of my autobiography before I resume my normal blogs

I asked the Salvation Army’s Missing Person’s Bureau to find my mother when I was nearly fifty. It took them three years, and when they did, I immediately flew to London to see her.

We met on neutral ground at the Tate Gallery, and sat on a leather bench in front of a masterpiece. I have no idea what the picture was, but the pattern of the red brocade wall- covering surrounding it is stamped on my memory forever. We stayed there for hours until the gallery attendant gently told us they were closing, and then we paced the Embankment trying to catch up on a lifetime.

In the end we never did bridge the gap of that lost time as she only seemed to remember the good times we had had, while I remembered the bad times, but what I learned about her broke my heart over and over again. Her father had left before she was born, and two stepfathers died of cancer.

When she was eight months pregnant with my younger sister she lived through the angst of waiting for her husband to return at Dunkirk. He didn’t. He escaped two weeks later. Two years after this, when he returned to do his officer training she became pregnant again, and gave birth to that child on her own as well.

And now, she met a farmer from the Channel Islands, who was working on Pluto – Pipe- Line Under the Ocean, a top -secret invention to supply fuel to the armies at D-Day. They planned to marry when the war was over and take us children to live on his family farm. There was an accident and he was killed. My mother was pregnant, and in despair she fled.

She couldn’t afford to keep the baby, adopted her, emigrated to Australia to start a new life, and eventually re-married a man she’d met on the voyage out. Back in London she had a daughter with her new husband, and when that baby was a few months old, this man went into a sanatorium with TB and when he recovered, never returned to her and their child.

She brought up that child alone, and became an efficient civil servant. On her retirement she sold her house in order to move and buy a house near her sister. Shopping for a new sofa, she learned from the hushed gossip in the local shop that her solicitor had hanged himself after embezzling all his clients’ money including hers.

She had a few thousand pounds left, which she blued on a trip to China, to fulfil at least one life’s dream. She had whiled away the long lonely years by learning Chinese, attending cookery classes, playing chess and listening to opera. And when I met her, she was living in a council retirement flat. She was a gentle, refined woman, and never at any time when I met her at intervals before her death, made any complaint about her life; and though she was sad, she was never bitter.

After a forty-year silence, I met my stepmother again too. And the weeks I now spent in her company were amongst the happiest in my life. All the dislike, hostility and coldness she had shown me had dropped away. And all the hurt and pain and anger I had felt at being rejected also dissolved. The love between us was so complete and miraculous, it felt as though we had transitioned to the next plane of being, when we see each other clearly, and recognise the love and beauty of each other’s soul.

My father died fifty years ago. He shaped the person I am today. Back from the war when I was aged ten, he used to stop at a second- hand book stall set up by his bus stop on Friday nights. There he chose his old favourites for me, like Lord Lytton’s ‘The Last Days of Pompeii,’ and ‘Harold’, Kingsley’s Westward Ho and my very favourite – read and re-read – Hypatia, the Greek woman philosopher and mathematician who came to a sticky end, thanks to men! Then there was David Copperfield and so many others.

When we moved to Catterick, he shared the books he was reading then, which included Sir Nigel and the White Company, Conan Doyle’s historical romances set in France in 1366, C.S. Forester’s Hornblower Books, and Napier’s History of the Peninsula Wars. And every night, when I’d finished my homework, he read aloud to my eleven- year- old self from H.M. Trevelyan’s ‘English Social History,’ setting up my fascination with history.

Still eleven, he taught me the value of money and compassion. Sitting at the dining table I had suggested my stepmother buy some sheepskin boots because her feet were cold, “they only cost five pounds,” I blithely chirruped.

“Look out of the window,” my father ordered. A worn working man with a deeply-lined face and shabby clothes covered in grime from a building site, was dragging tiredly past. “That man earns five pounds a week to feed his family”, my father grimly pointed out, and lectured me on extravagance in words that would have profited Marie Antoinette.

Later in Malaya, when I was sixteen, and we entertained the Indian quarter -master to tea with his wife in her colourful saris, and I had to give them my books on the Royal family who they loved, he demonstrated tolerance and the opposite of racism.

Back in England in the mid- fifties, he taught me to accept homo-sexuality at a time when it was scarcely mentioned. I commented on a strange man on the bus who wore a brown striped suit with flared trousers, a wide brimmed brown felt hat and thick makeup. He laughed, told me he was a wonderful old ‘queen’ and was such a punishing boxer that no-one dared jeer at him.

He demanded respect for all his soldiers, telling me they’d fought through the war, were bringing up families on a pittance, and were fine decent people. Like Abou Ben Adhem, he ‘loved his fellow men.’

Later when I was twenty-one, he suggested that my outlook was a bit narrow, and that I should read The Manchester Guardian. Back then it had a reputation for fine writing, tolerant humane values, and wide culture. I became a sensible feminist, reading Mary Stott on the women’s pages, learned about good food, enjoyed witty TV criticism, discovered avenues of musical appreciation, and acquired a burning social conscience, which cut me off from all my family and many of my friends!

When he retired from the army at forty-five he commuted/cashed up his army pension to pay for his youngest son’s expensive schools, and so condemned himself to working to support his family for the rest of his life. But he died in 1968 at fifty-four.

I wonder if anyone will remember me, fifty years after I am dead? At the moment, I am far from dead, and know that he would have loved to know what risks I have taken to live my life as fully as I can and to be able to love as deeply as I do now.

When I began blogging, I inadvertently stumbled on an unusual blog when I was looking for some poetry I’d enjoyed. When I left a comment on this rather beautiful blog, which was not poetry, the writer replied with such courtesy that I was enchanted. In the science fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s words – I ‘grocked’ him. Which meant I felt I knew him, and recognised him, and understood him at a very deep level.

We began ‘following’ each other, and our comments reflected a mutual admiration. My new follower wrote exquisite remarks on my blogs, but when a rather malicious stalker I’d attracted from the day I first began writing, began sneering at my “followers massaging my ego,” I feared that he might recognise the underlying message of love in the sensitive, perceptive words my new friend wrote on my blog. I feared that my stalker’s spite could spoil this friendship.

So I wrote to my friend, suggesting that we write privately instead, to avoid any unpleasantness. Two years and two thousand letters later, my friend – now my love- left his country, his home of forty- five years, the job he loved at a world-famous observatory, his family, and his friends and came to begin a life with me.

I read recently:”I don’t think genuinely falling in love is negotiable. The heart goes where the heart goes. Age has nothing to do with it.” This is true – he’s much younger than me, cherishes me the way I’ve never been cared for before, we share the same spiritual values, and revel in a life of love and freedom.

Like me, he had left behind not just his home, but most of his assets too, so we looked for a place where we could afford to live, that would give us the environment we both wanted. It was waiting for us. Just as out of over eighty million bloggers we had  found each other, so we discovered the perfect place that we could not only afford, but which turned out to be a haven of beauty, peace, and community.

We bought a tiny one room log cabin set on forty acres of covenanted podocarp forest, where we look across a valley like an amphitheatre and gaze up to our own mountain. We listen to our streams tumbling over rocks below, and hear birds singing from the dawn chorus in the morning to the moreporks/owls through the night. Our property is home to various almost extinct species of frog, lizards, geckoes, to more than three hundred species of butterfly and moths – or lepidoptera as I’ve learned to call them – and to rare plants and trees. People come from the universities and world-wide societies to study these precious vanishing species in this time of the sixth great extinction.

Our neighbours, hidden in the forest, have a shared environmental commitment to keeping the sprawling hills and ranges free of pests and to nurturing the creatures who’ve made their homes here for milleniums. These neighbours come from all walks of life – an architect, a musician, zoologist and landscape professors, a geologist and several engineers, a restauranteur, a painter, a therapist and others. They are all nationalities, Swiss, English, Australian, Belgian, Dutch, Maori, Russian, Mongolian, American.

Behind our high wrought iron gates, we share a civilised social life, and work together to preserve the forest. On our property, we’ve extended our original tiny dwelling, planted fragrant flowers, created architectural flights of steps, made melodious bells from diver’s tanks, re-cycled doors and windows and other found objects, and live a blissful life of creativity and harmony.

I wake in the morning and look out of the window to where the dawn shines gold on the peak of the mountain. I turn to my love and whisper, “the sun is on the mountain.” And another day begins of a quiet mystical life of love and beauty.

The end

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I love Indonesian food, and a friend gave me a little booklet of recipes years ago. One page in particular is stained and dog-eared… with the recipe for sambel goreng telor on it – this means eggs in coconut milk.

For two people hard boil four eggs, cut them in two and put in a deep dish. Fry a chopped onion, and when soft add tomato, clove of garlic, half a red pepper, a table spoon of brown sugar and salt to taste. When they’re soft, add half a cup of coconut milk, heat and pour over the eggs. Delicious with plain boiled rice.

Food for Thought

 Hear our humble prayer, O God, for our friends the animals, especially for animals who are suffering; for any that are hunted or lost or deserted or frightened or hungry; for all that must be put to death.

We entreat for them all thy mercy and pity and for those who deal with them we ask a heart of compassion, gentle hands and kindly words.

Make us ourselves to be true friends to animals and so to share the blessings of the merciful.

Albert Schweitzer, doctor, humanitarian, writer,  musician, organist and organ restorer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under animals/pets, army, bloggers, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, environment, happiness, life and death, spiritual, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Closing Circles

Image result for valerie davies nz

The penultimate instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

A year after Arthur Thomas’s pardon, a Royal Commission condemned the policeman who’d planted the cartridge, and said Arthur should never have been charged. I sat through the weeks of testimony, crocheting a colourful rug from all the scraps of wool I had, and I think driving the male chauvinists around me quite mad!

I was back home towards the end when Patrick took time off from his office to hear the last stages of the inquiry which was all based on his findings. He rang and said they were being asked to put in a claim for what the investigation had cost them, and Jim Sprott was claiming $150,000. Patrick said it didn’t feel right climbing on this bandwagon of claims… so I told him about the painter Whistler’s damages of a farthing in England when he sued Ruskin for defamation in 1870, and suggested Patrick likewise claim a dollar – otherwise you’ll be written out of the court’s findings, I said.

So he did claim a dollar. Arthur was given a million dollars in compensation, and Patrick was rewarded with an OBE. The following year the Queen presented it to him, at the same time that my daughter received her Gold Medal from the Duke of Edinburgh

While all these dramas were playing out, I resigned as Woman’s Editor of the Star, feeling that the increased attacks and hostility from feminists would lose their sting if I wasn’t there, and the women’s pages might become unmolested!

I took the children to England for a holiday, and when we returned took up writing my columns again, and was commissioned to write several books. I once calculated that fifteen years of writing two columns of a thousand words a week, probably added up to about 780,000 words, and that didn’t include all the articles and interviews I wrote in that time as well. At least half as much again, I suspect.

A column which covered vivisection and the experiments and horrible operations that people like South African heart surgeon Dr Christian Barnard performed on animals, caused huge repercussions. It revived the moribund anti-vivisection society known as SAFE, (Save Animals from Experimentation) and Patrick and I became president and vice-president.

This column also triggered a big meeting of angry doctors at the Medical School at Auckland University where they reportedly discussed: ‘What to do about Valerie Davies’. At the time I had also castigated the practise of every medical student having their own rat to kill – they  bashed it on the table by holding its tail, before dissecting it.

They sent my article to Christian Barnard in South Africa, who’d become a high-living celebrity by then, and he responded by sue-ing me and the Star. The Star cravenly paid up the money he demanded, but I refused, telling my solicitor I’d rather go to jail. The children were devastated, and my son even had tears rolling down his cheeks when I explained what I was doing.

In the event my clever lawyer wrote told Barnard’s solicitor that my defence would be that I’d found all the hideous boasts about making a two headed dog, and the screams of a baboon wrenched from his mate to take his heart for an experiment, in Dr Barnard’s own autobiography, and a TV interview. We heard no more!

I continued writing columns that enraged people, writing of the barbaric treatment of calves in modern farming, to the use of 245T (a dioxin based pesticide) the indiscriminate felling of trees, and other environmental concerns. After a column on climate change and the ozone layer, a university professor wrote a scathing letter to the paper calling me a ‘knee-jerk environmentalist’, while a professor of paediatrics, rang me at home he was so furious when I wrote that babies should never be left to cry as it broke their trust in their parents.

Now all the research into brain function has proved me right. Child psychology preaches the benefits of cuddling and of feel- good pheromones  connecting in the brain, and the dangers of cortisone building up in the brain if babies are left to cry, which leaves them prone to depression and a host of problems as they grow older…

Sometimes, in the rain and misery of the Springbok winter, traipsing in and out to the Royal Commission in the city- an hour’s drive each way- struggling with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, living on willpower, not energy, seeing the miseries of modern farming as I drove past fields with bleak herds of cows deprived of their new calves, stopping the car to untangle desperate goats tied up and used as lawn-mowers on the road-side, I used to wonder what was wrong with me.

Why was I so out of step with everyone and everything? And then I discovered a group in England called Women for Life on Earth, and I knew I wasn’t mad after all, and that my concerns were those of many others too. Knowing this restored my confidence and gave me heart. (This group morphed into the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, and their historic resistance to nuclear weapons.)

My illness had got worse. I couldn’t bear light, and had tortoise shell rattan blinds on every window as well as curtains, I had difficulty understanding speech and used to exhort the children and my husband to speak clearly. I couldn’t bear any music except formal baroque tunes, and was in constant pain.

Somehow, I kept up with driving the children around, having friends and Patrick’s family to stay, his other four children and their friends for meals, walking the dogs twice a day, cooking decent nutritious food on time, fulfilling numerous speaking engagements – teachers conferences, school prize-givings, parents groups, schools, Rotary and other clubs, even the annual lunch of accountants – to mention a few – writing the columns which generated so much controversy and so many letters to answer, not to mention the dreaded housework. I paid the teenage children to help… my daughter to do the washing, my son to clean the bathrooms.

And at the end of this hard, sad winter we left our dream home in the country, where no-one had waved or spoken to us in over a year, and moved back to town, where friends welcomed us, strangers called in with fruit and flowers and cakes, and we felt we had come home.

A young, unprejudiced and open-minded woman doctor friend dropped in to see me, while I was having an episode of CFS. Mimi introduced me to Re-birthing, a system of connected breathing which was all the rage at that time, and this was a turning point for me. The breathing got me on my feet, and I was now strong enough to become involved with a personal growth group, Self-Transformation, which I helped to establish in this country.

It grew exponentially. This was the early eighties, when groups like EST were breaking down so many barriers, and people all over the world were ready to start their journey towards self-actualisation. Jung was often the starting point, his book and his theme ‘Modern Man in Search of his Soul’ in tune with the new age.

Abraham Maslow, Ken Wilbur, then Dipak Chopra, Jean Houston, Caroline Myss, one after another, names and techniques came crowding into our consciousness, and people like me couldn’t get enough…meditation, yoga, Reiki, shiatsu, rolfing, holotropic breathing, aromatherapy, sweat lodges and other methods of bodywork we explored put us in touch with our emotional blocks and old traumas, and kept us busy for years.

Buddhism, the Essenes, Hawaian Kahunas, Shamanism, gurus from Ram Dass to Sai Baba, Raj Neesh, and the Dalai Lama held many in thrall – though gurus were not for me – and this is only to touch on a few of the influences, techniques and people who influenced my friends and I as we journeyed on. I sold most of my precious things to pay for all this… silver from my first marriage, oriental rugs I’d collected over the years, a precious French provincial table… it was worth it.

It was all a mystery to my husband, who called me a New Age Nutter, which didn’t bother me at all. I tried often to explain what I was doing, and it didn’t matter how often I did, he never understood or remembered.

He had a different journey. He had ten jobs in twenty years, travelling from radio back to newspapers, then magazines to public relations, radio again, magazines, to teaching journalism and back to newspapers, finally becoming editor- in- chief of a group of suburban newspapers when he was in his early seventies. They were years of financial insecurity, when he was badly paid, and I was glad to still have some money from my writing and then the counselling practise that I managed to operate for all those years until I was in my mid-seventies.

In every job he found, pressure would build-up, and he would be unable to see eye- to-eye with his boss, just as he had been so often at the Star. It’s only as I look back that I realise that this was his modus operandi.

He’d come home and I’d sympathise and take on the angst and the anxiety. We moved house often, buying old wrecks which I restored and beautified, each time hoping that by reducing the mortgage or making life easier at home, with less travelling, or some other excuse, it would reduce his stress. It never did.

He had also become obsessed with Japan, and apart from writing books about it, studying its history and customs, and collecting anything Japanese, he became an expert on samurais, Japanese sword-play – kendo and eido- and antique Japanese swords, which were hugely expensive. He was always buying more and more precious ones, as he learned more and more about them, and went to Japan half a dozen times.

As my car fell to pieces, because we couldn’t afford to replace it, he was ‘investing’ he assured me, in his swords, which would pay for our old age, so we didn’t need to save or pay off the mortgage. I believed him.

And so we came to the end of our roads. As Paul Coelho wrote: “It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.”

Next week is the last instalment of this series. The Who-dun-it of the Thomas case will be told in an Appendix the week after that.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 

As we talked about our go-to puddings over a nice drop of affogato in our favourite restaurant, one of my closest friends asked me for the recipe for my hot chocolate sauce for ice-cream I was boasting about. This is for her.

It comes from good old Mrs Beeton, and my children loved it over ice-cream, while I serve it for guests now with pears baked in wine plus ice-cream.

Blend together a rounded dessert spoon of cornflour, two rounded dessertspoons of cocoa powder, and three rounded dessertspoons of sugar with a little cold water measured from half a pint. Boil the rest of the half pint of water and pour on the mixture. Pour into a saucepan and boil for two minutes, stirring all the time. Add three drops of vanilla and half an ounce of butter. Simple and  delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, Japan, self knowledge, The Sound of Water, Uncategorized, womens issues

Crimes, Dogs and Bugs

Valerie35

Shirley took this picture as we said goodby to them

Another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

The atmosphere in the Supreme Court shocked me. The Chief Justice seemed to be in a towering rage all the time, and there was a sense of apprehension in the court. Outside the glass doors at the end of the room a man was hovering. The Chief Justice caught sight of him, and loudly instructed a court official to tell him to take his hat off or go away. And that was the sort of irrational domineering energy with which the whole judicial procedure was conducted.

The police and the crown prosecutor sat with a relaxed and satisfied air, confident that the findings would go their way. The Thomas family and supporters including the farmers and countrymen on the Re-Trial Committee sat and hated them. And I hated the lawyers who were not partisan, but who all knew each other, fenced with each other in court, and joked and chatted outside!

At the end the Crown prosecutor read out his summing up from the second trial with all the lies, distortions and half truths in it which had helped to destroy Arthur Thomas’s credibility and convict him. So all through that night in his hotel room, Patrick (not the dilatory lawyers) went through it fact by fact, line by line and re-butted it all with the truth, the real facts and the new evidence which he’d published in the newspapers over the past eighteen months, and which negated the crown prosecutor’s summing up. As he wrote each page, the counsel’s secretary copied and typed it in her room.

The four other judges (not the Chief Justice) were impressed by this prodigious achievement when Arthur’s counsel read it out in court, but it didn’t change their opinion one little bit. When their findings were published months later they had accepted that Patrick had proved his theory about the cartridge cases, but said they couldn’t rule out the possibility that there were bullets and cartridge cases in existence which could prove the Crown case. This extraordinary logic meant that Arthur Thomas remained in prison.

The rest of the evidence, they glossed over… things like a gold watch wrongly attributed to Arthur in the first trial and covered in blood and mucus. It didn’t figure in the second trial because between trials, the real owner had contacted them to say it was his watch which he’d taken into the jeweller to have it cleaned after pig killing. Patrick learned of this when an anonymous caller rang and said, “Find Fisher”. He had no idea who Fisher was, but sleuthed and finally tracked down the owner of the watch who now lived several hundred miles away. When he went to see him, he asked Fisher if he still had the watch and they found it in his children’s toy box. The helpful mysterious caller must have been an honest policeman.

When Arthur’s supporters including Patrick and Jim Sprott, his father, and the Chairman of the retrial Committee took the case to the Privy Council in London, the same bias operated against them… the Crown Law Office had phrased the appeal to ask for an opinion. When everyone had spent huge amounts of money getting to London, the Privy Council threw it out saying they only dealt in rulings, not opinions.

We were all devastated, and on his return from London Patrick was instructed by his firm to stop his work on the Thomas case – it was the end of the road. But he refused saying that a thing that was wrong didn’t stop being wrong just because they hadn’t won yet. He continued to write stories and place them to keep the case in the public’s mind, and by doing so put his career on the line. We weren’t sure where to go next, but we knew we had to keep going wherever it took us.

He wrote a book called Trial by Ambush and sent a copy to every member of Parliament. It disappeared into a pit of silence, and I suspect that none of them bothered to read it.

While we waited for the results of the court of appeal in Wellington, and Sir Richard Wilde’s judgement, we had enjoyed our first Christmas in our new home, with Patrick’s eldest daughter, husband and grandson joining us, and also a large black and white bull which ambled through the garden and stuck his head in our open bedroom window to greet us on Christmas morning.

With the coming of New Year Bill and Shirley now arrived to spend two days with us. Bill had to report to the police every day, so he had done this first thing in the morning before they left for us and he did so late the next day when they arrived to stay with friends the following evening. This meant, they thought, that they would have the two days with us, when the police would have no idea where they were, and the SIS would be unable to tail them.

This was optimistic. Months later, when Patrick was discussing the trial with one of the Star’s reporters, the reporter said to him, “Of course – the Sutch’s stayed with you at New Year, didn’t they?”… which told us two things – one, that the reporter was an SIS spy, and two, that the SIS must have bugged Bill’s car, and knew exactly where he was – with us.

My letters to Shirley and hers to me would take ten days to reach us and had obviously been steamed open.  Our letters were perfectly innocent but it felt unnerving to know that we were under that level of surveillance. The two days Bill and Shirley spent with us was full of fun and laughter. The shock of the spy arrest had changed Bill, a proud and rather arrogant man – now he had become very gentle, and almost humble… Shirley was her effervescent articulate self, and their conversation was both provocative and thoughtful…

We had a lot in common – including Quakerism, for though neither of them had a belief in God, they had many Quaker friends, and I had been an enthusiastic Quaker attender for years. ( Quakers are committed to non-violence, and a belief in the light in every man)

Our new friends both loved the children – my son, who we jokingly called the mad gardener, who towed his collection of beloved potted plants on his trolley to different parts of the garden which he thought they’d enjoy, before leaving for school every day. Bill gave him advice on how to fix a lawn mower engine to this trolley to make it faster!

My daughter gave them a spirited exhibition of the Maori poi dance, and began a friendship with Shirley sharing their love of art that lasted until she died. Shirley later gave her the wonderful advice that when she went to University she should choose subjects she loved not subjects which would be useful.

We waved goodbye to our guests, who drove off to stay with a friend called John Male who was working with Quakers and other peace lovers to create the New Zealand Peace Foundation of which he became founding president… an unlikely friend, the SIS might have thought for a spy…

Both children were learning the piano and they also wanted to learn the flute and clarinet respectively, and played duets together. We walked our dogs up the lane every day, which now included Patrick’s elegant afghan, and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, both rescued, and both adored. It was about this time that as we were walking the dogs, my daughter said to me, “You know, most mothers think their geese will grow up to become swans, but you think we’re swans already!”

It was true! And I loved trying to create an idyllic country life for them, going strawberry picking and blackberry hunting, making jam and bread, trying my hand at bottling fruit, crocheting counterpanes for our beds.

We always had a holiday project, once it was applique, another time learning to write in copper plate handwriting, which was a disaster for my son, who’s deeply disturbed teacher at the village school, hated any sort of talent, and mocked him until he gave it up. Another holiday I borrowed a bike, and we explored the country roads on our bikes. We painted, and both children evolved painting what they called Happy Cards, some of which went to Oi, while others ended up in Arthur Thomas’s cell in Paremoremo Maximum Security Prison, two and a half hour’s drive away, when we all visited him.

The children also created Happy Boxes, in which valued objects from shells to cards, photos, letters and other treasures were stored. These began as painted shoe boxes, but as time went by, both children used Christmas money to buy themselves a beautiful antique box each for their collections.

When they’d done their homework and their music practise, I used to read aloud to everyone every night – one husband, two children, and three dogs in the audience – starting with ‘The Little Prince,’ laughing over Toad in ‘The Wind in the Willows,’ agonising over the fate of Boxer being carted off in ‘Animal Farm’, crying our eyes out when Dora died in ‘David Copperfield’, while the death of Gyp, her beloved Cavalier King  Charles  spaniel, delivered the coup de grace to us all. We ended this ritual with Doris Lessing’s ‘Shikasta’ when my son was sixteen.

These were good days and though there were many challenges to come, we all had enough belief in what we were doing to carry us through… challenges which included my car crash, a price on Patrick’s head, and the ignominy of never winning a prize at the annual Flower Show!

To be continued.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

After supper the other night I had the plate of ginger, dates, walnuts and dried figs leftover which we had grazed on instead of pudding. And all the packets containing them were open. So I decided to make one of my favourite cakes.

A reader gave me the recipe forty years ago, and even drove all the way out to our house with a sample cake. I’ve made it ever since ! The basic ingredients are a pound of dried fruit to two cups of flour, half a pound of butter, three eggs, a cup or more of sugar, and a teasp of vanilla, almond essence and orange essence.

But I have played with it and added to it, and each batch is different to the last. I usually add a bit more fruit, and sometimes a dollop of golden syrup as well as the sugar, which is always brown. If I have bits of apricot jam, ginger marmalade or honey sitting in the bottom of jars they go in too… sometimes I do half butter, half oil… sometimes a cup of whole meal instead of all SR flour or a cup of almond meal with all the flour.

This time, the fruit consisted of all the stuff I’d already opened, chopped small, plus a good cup and a half of sultanas, some chopped prunes, and the remains of some Christmas mince which I found in the back of the fridge, and still seemed good to go. Boil the fruit in a cup or more of water. Add the sugar, golden syrup and such-like, then the butter/and or oil. When the mixture has cooled slightly, stir in the beaten eggs one at a time, and the essences. Finally the flour.

If I’ve added more fruit, and all the other ingredients, I’ll often have topped up more butter, another egg and more sugar, which means at this stage, more flour.  I simply add enough to make a firm consistency. It’s as though you can’t go wrong with this cake.  Poured into a couple of greased cake tins, lined with greaseproof paper, I often arrange crystallised ginger on the top, and sprinkle sugar to give it a sweet topping (if I’m going to over-indulge in cake then I want it sweet). I often use loaf tins instead of traditional round cake tins.

If I use this for a Christmas cake then obviously, I top it with marzipan but not always icing… Place in a moderate oven to cook for an hour or until the skewer comes out clean. Cool in the tin, and then, if I’ve made two, one is wrapped in foil and a plastic bag, cut in three and put in the deep freeze for future use when someone calls.

Food for Thought

Some fun from Isaac Asimov:

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

 

 

 

 

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Country Life, UFO’s and Russian Spies

Image result for victorian villas in nzAnother installment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

As the Thomas Case unfolded, we were putting together a new life, and moving out of the city.

I’d imagined living in a village, but the New Zealand country-side is not like that. Instead there are a few scattered small towns among dairy or cattle farms which spread in great swathes across rolling hills and fields.

We, of course, didn’t want a farm, but somewhere to live not too far from Auckland to work. We found it. A half- acre of abandoned tennis courts forty minutes from the city. It lay in a valley mostly farmed by descendants of the original settlers, and who, we learned later, were well known in those parts for somewhat antique life styles and opinions which had not changed much since their ancestor’s distant pioneering days.

In the beginning we were an exotic phenomenon. Half the farmers were Catholic, so Patrick was a familiar personality to them through the Catholic newspaper, and as such we were disapproved of … were we married or not? Others decided we were Jews, which was not a term of approval. Others were not too keen on people who were undermining the justice system, and trying to get a guilty man who’d murdered one of their kind out of prison. ( All this information came home via the children at the village school)

As time went on I compounded this mistrust by campaigning in my columns (which were read) against the spraying of the fields with a dioxin pesticide, 245T – now discontinued – felling of trees, treatment of animals and other unpopular causes.

We found an old Victorian villa, with traditional white lacy carving along the verandas, and moved it out to our little piece of land, transforming the wrecked shell into a warm, colourful and beloved home, and planted trees and grass and flowers over time.

While we were still settling into the house and the community, I flew to the South Island to open a solo parent conference in the mountains above Nelson, a beautiful little city. On the way I stopped in Wellington, the capital, to have lunch with a well- known lawyer and civil rights activist- Shirley Smith- who had contacted me. She was married, I learned, to another well-known New Zealander, Bill Sutch, historian, writer, top civil servant, ex-diplomat, now retired and Chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council.

The diminutive, untidy sweet- faced woman who met me at the airport was quite unlike the elegant sophisticated lawyer I’d expected. She had a wonderful simple directness, as well as being articulate, warm and intelligent. Being a somewhat disorganised housewife, she stopped at corner shops on the way up Wellington hills to pick up butter, bread and various things for lunch.

And then this highly civilised woman took me into her house on the hill where I enjoyed her conversation and the resources of her remarkable mind. It’s a rare pleasure in these times, for someone to be able to fall back on ancient poetry or history to illustrate a point, and when few people are fluent in Greek and Latin, French and German- and also Anglo-Saxon- which she had learned to keep pace with her daughter when she was at University.

I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the house designed by renowned Austrian architect Ernst Plishke and filled with fascinating and precious objects…walls of books, tribal rugs, a large T’ang horse, pictures by famous painters stacked because there was nowhere else to put them, brass Buddhas, ancient terracotta Etruscan figurines, Eskimo carvings, antique pewter. I learned later that her husband Bill’s collection was famous.

Bill himself now came in from the garden, which was his pride and joy, and in which he’d created a Mediterranean micro-climate to grow olive trees and protect other exotic fragile plants from the cold Wellington winds. He was wearing an old red checked shirt pinned together with safety pins at irregular intervals where there had long ago been buttons, and wearing battered corduroy trousers…

He was shabby and courteous and delightful. As time went by, I loved him for his sense of humour and incredible erudition, for his love of sophisticated art and his joy in simple things like my blackberry and apple tart or bunch of buttercups on our dining table.

On this day, lunch was eaten at their table, laid with fragile German china on a Mexican tablecloth, with reminisces about how these things had ended up in Bill and Shirley’s home, mixed with anecdotes about Bill’s time in politics, with UNRRA after the war, and at the United Nations in its earliest days… places and people from the headlines of my childhood, from all over Europe and all over the world… at the League of Nations and watching Anthony Eden battling at Geneva before the war, Eleanor Roosevelt after the war, his struggle to keep Unicef going when the UN wanted to close it down, (one commentator has said that Bill should have been included in Unicef’s Nobel Peace Prize) Bill tramping across Tashkent, Samarkand, Afghanistan, into North-western India in the twenties, exploring Mexico together, and Shirley’s memories of pre-war Oxford when she was studying classics.

Shirley’s simplicity was the polarity of Bill’s immense complicatedness. Bill cared for the under-privileged because it was the duty of all upright people to do so. Shirley loved the poor and the oppressed. She was incapable of passing by anyone who needed help, and spent most of her time in her law practise helping those whom others wouldn’t help, acting for those who couldn’t afford legal expenses. She never made a penny out of her practise.

When they delivered me back to the airport, I was drunk on the glory of enjoying what Mr Eliot in Persuasion described as the best company – “clever well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.”

I continued my journey to Nelson, wearing what Patrick used to describe as my Russian spy outfit, consisting of a long high-necked black coat trimmed with fur, black trousers and long black boots, and large black sunglasses. This was quite relevant when Patrick rang me the following Friday afternoon.

“That charming gentleman you had lunch with last week”, he said, “has just been arrested as a Russian spy”. He added – “I hate to think what the SIS made of you arriving at the airport in your Russian spy outfit, going up to their house, and returning to the airport to fly out again”. “I don’t believe it,” I replied, and sat down to write to Shirley. I learned afterwards that many of their friends deserted them after this appalling incident.

Shirley was in a state of shock after the Secret Intelligence Service- SIS – had crashed into their house late at night after they’d arrested Bill- who didn’t drive – walking up the street with a bottle of milk from the dairy…having been seen talking to a Russian diplomat. The SIS men went through the house, taking out every book in the shelves, searching for any incriminating evidence – none of which they found.

Bill’s trial – the first and only spy trial in this country, was set down for the next year, but now in December, we were caught up again in the Thomas Case. I used to say we ate, drank and slept the Thomas Case, with phone calls, conferences, Thomas family calling in to see us, angry, desperate Vivian visiting, public meetings, and now the Court of Appeal in Wellington.

Patrick was the go-between and principal mediator between the different branches of the campaign, including the Thomas family, his parents and all his brothers and sisters, the lawyers, the Retrial Committee, the police, the newspapers, and the politicians.

While Patrick was in Wellington battling the arrogant bullying Chief Justice and his panel of mainly prejudiced judges, I stayed behind with the children and had the first of many extraordinary experiences. At the Guy Fawkes gathering, and over tea at the Country Women’s Institute I had heard people claim to have seen UFO’s in the valley.

Farmers up at four o clock in the morning for early milking saw them, one woman was terrified when she saw them and locked her doors, others were more pragmatic and curious. I didn’t know what to think… farmers tend not to be fanciful…

On this evening, at about seven o’ clock on a summer’s night, when it was still light, with no stars in the sky, I saw a large light hanging above the hill opposite our house. As I stood there, wondering if this was a UFO. I became convinced. It was too large for any star. It hung there silently and unmoving. Then suddenly it shot up vertically and without a sound at enormous speed, and disappeared and I was left with a strange sense of joy and peace.

The next day I flew down to Wellington to the Court of Appeal and sat through the drama and hate and pain which pervaded the court room.

To be continued

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 A friend was coming unexpectedly for supper last week when the cupboard was somewhat bare… we’re half anhour away down a muddy tortuous road to the nearest shops, so there’s no chance to nip to a corner shop for emergency supplies. So out of the deep freeze that afternoon came a packet of frozen pumpkin soup and some frozen chicken. I boiled the chicken with onion, carrot, celery and garlic, which gave me chicken stock and chicken.

I flossied up the pumpkin soup with a chicken bouillon cube, stirred in some butter, cream and nutmeg, and this cheered up a bought soup. I made a risotto with the chicken stock, white wine, onion, garlic, chopped mushrooms and arborio rice, and at the end grated a courgette into it before adding the chopped chicken, cream, salt and pepper and some fresh parmesan.

We were having this meal on our knees on a cold winter’s night, so the soup was served in cups to sip. The risotto with extra parmesan was easy to eat on our knees, especially since I’d put the vegetables in the dish, so we didn’t have to cope with salad. My friend was trying to lose weight so I didn’t make a pudding but arranged on a pretty plate dates, walnuts, dried figs and crystallised ginger so she could graze if she wished. She did – strict diet not withstanding! And we all downed with gusto the pink champagne she had bought.

Food for Thought

We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody. R. Buckminster Fuller

 

 

 

 

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Another Bright Beautiful Spirit

 Moawhango memorial chapel

The chapel at Oi’s home

A life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

My friend Oi (pronounced O-ee) had ideas so advanced that even Quaker Meeting – that most liberal and open- minded Christian group – threw her out.

With no family around us, friends of all ages were always important and she mattered to us as much as Philippa. Edith Oiroa was born in 1900- called Edith by conventional people but Oi by kindred spirits. She was the youngest of ten, born to a father who was sixty years old, and she died when she was a hundred and two – so the two life-times covered a hundred and sixty- two years, and went back to 1840. Her father had been a cabin boy on a ship that was wrecked on the NZ coast in 1856.

Local Maoris formed a human chain to rescue him, and he stayed with them for some time, becoming very close to the chief. After returning to England, he came back with a seventeen-year-old bride, and the Maori chief gave him land with which to start his life here.

Robert Batley, Oi’s father, established a huge sheep farm, built a big beautiful house, cottages for his shepherds, barns, wool-sheds and an exquisite little chapel, where Oi and her nine brothers and sisters played the organ and helped hand out prayer books to the shepherds and their families as they entered. As each child was born, the generous chief had given them some Maori land.

He ceremonially adopted Oi, and gave her the Maori name Oiroa, which roughly translated, means: ‘compassion for those in need’. Though it was shortened to Oi, she lived up to her name always, and when I met her was beloved by many people for very good reasons.

She married a distinguished Auckland architect – William Gummer – who worked with the famous Edwin Lutyens in England, and is sometimes known as NZ’s Frank Lloyd Wright. He created many of Auckland’s great buildings, and beautiful private homes including some famous ones in the Hawkes Bay. Oi herself was very musical, and played the piano, and was so deeply involved in the musical life of her adopted city, that in the early thirties she and another musical aficionado, started the first orchestra in the city, whose descendant is still thriving.

She was beautiful – and open-hearted and sweet-natured. She was also unhappily married to a much older controlling, jealous and angry man. Other men loved her, and I picked up hints over the years of tempestuous scenes and dramatic confrontations, one in which her loyal cleaning lady divested a desperate suitor of his shotgun at the front door. Oi received and declined her last proposal in her eighties.

Her zest for life never diminished, in spite of a son’s suicide, a difficult life, and much loneliness. Neither did her kindness fail, or her energy, for that matter. I was sure her inner life kept her young. She was often busy driving “old ladies” shopping until well into her nineties. She obviously didn’t feel she qualified for that label – yet! Her spontaneity and authenticity, happiness and serenity, endeared her to all ages.

I met her at Quaker meeting, where we were both what is called attenders, as opposed to members. On occasion when the beautiful and mystical silence was gently broken by a deeply felt message, if it was Oi, as she was known for short, it would be a profoundly mystical and eminently practical thought.

Throughout her life she was drawn to mysticism, a branch of the spiritual life which has always been mistrusted by organised religion, as its devotees seek union with the Source, whatever it is called, thus bypassing the need for priests, mullahs, rabbis, gurus or whatever. Whether these mystics were Muslim, as in the case of Rumi and the Sufis, or Christians like Master Eckhart, Mother Julian or St John of the Cross, they often came to a sticky end at the hands of their respective religions.

Luckily in the twentieth century, this fate is not so common, and Oi escaped lightly by just being blackballed by Quakers! She explored most branches of both Western and Eastern mysticism, and in her thirties, became a lover of Ramakrishna’s teachings, keeping a photo of him by her bed-side always. He practised several religions, including Hindu, Islam and Christianity, and taught that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true, and they lead to the same ultimate goal- God.

After Oi introduced herself to me, and invited me to her beautiful house (I had not been long in NZ then), we became close, and she became my mentor. My two small children looked on her as a grandparent and we loved going to her serene and peaceful home.

Though it was in the city, it sat among mature trees and a rambling, flowery garden with a stream. Her architect son had designed it for her. Music, in her mid-seventies, was still her passion. Sometimes I would arrive at the garden entrance, and hear the glorious sounds of a trio or a quartet streaming out of the windows, and I’d stand silently outside under the persimmon tree, listening to Mozart or Mahler.

When the children and I were there, we‘d often end up singing round the piano with the student who boarded with her, and was a brilliant pianist and lovely tenor. We’d all sing favourites as diverse as Handel’s, ‘Where e’er you walk”, to: “Feed the birds,” from Mary Poppins. My other musical friend, Phillipa, whose unbearable life was slightly improved by taking clarinet lessons, and who longed to play in an orchestra, needed practice playing with others.

Hearing about her, typically, Oi offered to play with her, and through music-making, they learned to love each other too. I was spending the day with Oi when I learned that the ship Phillipa was sailing on had caught fire, and she and the children, plus her six-month-old baby, were adrift in a lifeboat in a violent storm. I spent all day praying and  imagining her anguish and exhaustion trying to keep the children warm in an open boat, never realising that they were already dead.

Oi’s unorthodox thinking, which of course, was not confined to spiritual practises, but spread into all areas of her life, alienated her family who were very religious and ultra- conservative. She rarely saw them, so she began spending Christmas with us until one son who disapproved of us too, was shamed into inviting her for Christmas after many years.

Their loss was our gain, and in some ways Oi became a  part of our family. She gave me many of the books which had sustained her and influenced her thinking, and which had helped her find her path to expanded consciousness and freedom. One of the joys of reading them was that she’d underlined or marked the passages which sang to her.

Not only did I find this a wonderful aid to a deeper understanding, both of the texts and of Oi, but it also taught me the pleasure of marking and making my books my own, which I had never dared to do before.

I’d grown up learning that books should be treated as sacred, and never marked, turned down, or in any way treated as familiar friends. I do it all the time now, knowing that others who eventually find their way to them will – or might – enjoy the same pleasures of insight and intimacy as I have done.

Oi’s words still remain in my mind, and often come back to me. When there was a problem she would close her eyes, and focus for a minute, then open them and say firmly: “You cannot know the solution.  You can only pray that the situation evolves for the highest good of you, and everyone else involved. And know that this will happen, and let it go.”

She’d quote T.S. Eliot: “It is not our business what others may think of us,” or: “God wastes nothing”. She’d say: “Let go and let God.” – and, “Happiness is like water in the palm of your hand. If you gently hold your palm open, it will stay. But if you clutch it and try to hang onto it, you lose it.” She died at over a hundred, fourteen years ago, but her loving wisdom sustains me still.

When my life began taking some strange turns, becoming involved with an innocent man accused of a double murder, our phone being tapped, death threats, drug lords, and other frightening developments, Oi was always there encouraging us and supporting us.

To be continued

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I love puddings – hot, cold, chocolate, lemon, fruit, baked, steamed, chilled – you name it. I haven’t made clafoutis for ages, but decided, it being winter, we could do with a hot pudding, and dug out this old recipe from my clippings. It has more eggs in it than some clafoutis recipes, but when I was worried about the children getting enough protein when we were vegetarian, this was one of the dishes that stilled my anxieties.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a pie dish or oven proof dish. In a large bowl, whisk together six eggs, eight tablespoons of sugar, a teasp of vanilla, until the sugar is dissolved. Add twelve tablespoons of flour and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the pie dish.

Now add two and a half cups of pitted cherries, fresh or frozen if you have them – or any other berries. If using frozen don’t melt them, but toss them in frozen. You can also use plums, or tinned peaches. Sprinkle some sugar over the top and bake until the clafoutis is beautifully puffed and golden, 35–40 minutes. Serve immediately – with cream or even good ice-cream.

Food for Thought

 Lovers of God do not belong to any caste.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

 

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Strong Spirit – Bright Beautiful and Beloved

Image result for capitaine bougainville

Another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

I first saw Philippa as I stood in line at the chemist. Like me she was waiting for a prescription for her son. Unlike me, her four- year- old son was sitting in a push chair, obviously unable to walk, while around her, enfolding her exquisite Pre-Raphaelite beauty was a miasma of pain.

A few weeks later, I discovered at a parent teacher meeting that this unforgettable young woman was my son’s new teacher. As I worried about him, she told me fiercely that children from single homes were no more disadvantaged than children from two parent homes, which were often more dysfunctional than single parent homes.

A few weeks later when she was passing my gate, pushing her four- year- old spina bifida son, Mua, and her younger son Tane, walking beside her, I rushed out and asked her to come in for a cup of coffee. We became the closest of friends, and I marvelled at her amazing courage, tenacity and intelligence. She had married a Fijian-Indian, and gone to live in a Fijian village where life became unbearable with the birth of her handicapped son who everyone rejected. One fearsome night, as a tempest raged and floods rose, she seized the opportunity amid the fear and confusion, and fled taking both children, and returned to New Zealand.

On her first Sunday back with her parents, her father insisted that she go to church, knowing she had rejected their Catholic faith. She had the choice – church or banishment. Her integrity and courage intact, she left her home, rather than compromise herself.

Life with two pre-schoolers, one a toddler, the other suffering all the worst aspects of his birth defect,  needing constant operations, and having no financial support was an un-ending struggle. She could only cope by going back to teaching, putting her elder son in a home for other handicapped children during the week, and taking her toddler to play centre every day.

She loved coming to see me in what she called ‘my blue room’ and said how the life we’d made for ourselves  gave her courage that she could have a good life too. Every time she was depressed I’d raid my wardrobe to cheer her up with an exotic garment. She looked amazing in the orange quilted Chinese tunic I gave her to wear to parties, but which she wore with black trousers to school, and also the turquoise satin embroidered Indian robe which must have cheered up the staff room no end! Driving to school, I’d see a beautiful figure walking down the road in jodpurs or hot-pants and crane to see the front of this fascinating person, and it would be Philippa.

She agreed to me writing a story about the life she led, with no support or understanding from the community, in which even a bus driver bellowed at her when she was slow climbing onto the bus, carrying the inert body of one child on one hip, and the toddler on her other hip. He yelled at her: “It’s not my fault he’s handicapped.” So she never went on a bus again.

There were the hours spent waiting in hospital waiting rooms for surgeons to see her for another patch up operation on her child – “He thinks because he plays the harpsichord and drugs my child into a vegative state to numb his pain that he‘s doing something wonderful for humanity,” she raged bitterly.

I wrote about the misery of carrying her heavy child as she toiled up the steep staircase of the condemned house where she’d managed to find cheap lodgings – and even made it look like a home, with pretty bits of glass and pottery and coloured fabrics draped across the windows and beds. Amazingly, Philippa had borrowed a friend’s clarinet, and managed every now and then to get a lesson. This was her life-line, and she doggedly worked away at the instrument.

The effect of the newspaper story was magic. A charity sprang into action, helped her find a good ground floor lodging, and carpeted it, so her son wasn’t dragging himself around on a bare floor. They bought a washing machine and dryer for her, to cope with her son’s incontinence, and the play centre stopped charging fees for her toddler son’s attendance. Between her headmaster, her doctor and I, we were able to cobble together a living allowance for her based on a sick benefit, so she could rescue her son from the crippled children’s home which he hated, and give up teaching as her health was giving out.

From now on I also had a friend who would always have my children on their sick days or during holidays, which had always been my greatest anxiety. The four children all became close, and my two would go with Philippa to help her with Mua at his swimming therapy. Philippa now became accomplished on a clarinet which she bought on hire purchase, and began teaching at schools, to earn some extra money.

And then she met a handsome French sea captain, who was as good as he was kind. He adored Mua, and took the whole family off to Sydney where he was based on land for a year. Philippa attended the Conservatorium of Music, and Jean took the children skiing, having secretly taught Mua to balance on his calipers to surprise his mother. Jean bought a state of the art wheel chair for him and the only car big enough then to accommodate the wheel chair. When they returned to Auckland the following year, Philippa was pregnant and even more beautiful. But I was terribly concerned. I wondered if she was going to die in child birth. I felt there was some awful fate awaiting her.

I was right. When the baby was a few months old, the family embarked on what Philippa had decided would be their last sea trip across the Pacific with Jean before settling into their house and children’s schools. It was their last trip. After a happy evening in the company of musician friends who came on board and made music with Philippa, who played the expensive new clarinet Jean had bought for her – his ship, the Capitaine Bougainville – sailed for the Islands.

A few hours later a vicious storm blew up, and in the pounding seas further up the coast of NZ, a tool fell off the bulkhead in the engine room, and cut the fuel pipe, feeding the engine. The engine caught fire, and there was no way of putting it out. The life boats were lashed onto the roof of the engine room, and Jean had to make a decision to wait on the burning ship to be rescued, or  leave the flames and escape in the lifeboats before they were destroyed in the fire.

His Mayday message was never received, so he had to take the dreadful decision to launch into the mountainous seas. A sailor took each one of the children, but each time the life boat capsized, another child was lost. After three hours Philippa died of exposure and exhaustion and slipped from Jean’s grasp as his feet touched sand.  He was tossed and tumbled in the surf, vomiting salt water before collapsing on the sand. He told me he had to resist turning back into the sea to end his life then, rather than face the years without Philippa. But forcing himself to get to his feet, he ran to the nearest house where he found a holidaying family at breakfast and raised the alarm.

A few survivors made it to shore, but twelve sailors as well as my friend and her children were drowned. A few days later, Mua’s little body was washed up, and we drove the five hours up to Whangarei for his funeral and for his mother, brother and baby sister Jasmine. Jean then travelled to the islands visiting the families of all his sailors who had drowned. In the months that followed, Jean often came to stay with us at our new home in the country where we now lived with my new husband. His pain was terrible.

Eventually he returned to his home in Brittany, and captained a cross channel ferry to England. He married again and returned to this country a few years ago to be present at the ceremony marking the monument being erected on the beach, in memory of those who had been lost. He wrote a long poem straight after the tragedy which he sent to my children… he wrote of saying goodbye to my bright beautiful beloved friend before she stepped over the gun-wale to reach the bucking life-boat below: ’Your smile and your serenity, Your only luggage for eternity’…

To be continued

Food for threadbare gourmets

 I didn’t get the food back home quick enough and found the frozen peas were too soggy to go into the deep freeze. Chagrined, I couldn’t bear to waste them, so made a quick and easy pea soup with a chopped onion zapped in the microwave and added to a generous helping of chicken stock.

When the stock was boiling I tipped in most of the peas and cooked them until the peas were soft but still bright green. After being whizzed smooth in the blender, I added cream… and the soup ended up being sipped for lunch, and the other half ended up in the deep freeze anyway!

Food for thought

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

 

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Halcyon days and finding my voice

Valerie33

A Life- another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

The first months were tough… Auckland was one of the world’s largest cities in area back then, and map-reading a strange city is challenging. More challenging was map-reading the events and psychology of a new society when instructed to write a story about the effects of a trade union decision or writing about a fight after a fight at a boxing match.

I wasn’t cut out for this sort of reporting… even when I managed to ferret out the salient details of a story, I found it hard to write without a personal slant, a humorous aside, a detail about character or clothing… none of it suited to the newsroom’s style!

The last straw was an interview with ninety- year- old Dame Flora Macleod, visiting her scattered clan this side of the world. Full of detail, enthusiasm and warmth, to my chagrin, this effusion never made it to the news pages, but was banished to the women’s page- to the regret of many other reporters I heard later.

So it was wonderful when I was transferred to the women’s page which some might have seen as a demotion, but which was for me, a welcome respite from the masculine challenges of the newsroom.

My boss Val, was a friendly six-foot blonde amazon who’d been a champion swimmer, her assistants a fiercely feminist single mother, and a happy pregnant Auckland socialite. They all provided different aspects of life for the page, and I unconsciously began carving out my own niche, when I observed that if Maoris were supposed to be equal members of New Zealand society, it was strange that we never had any stories about them and their doings and achievements. “You can be the Maori news-person”, said my boss.

So began a series of really interesting stories about wonderful Maori women achievers, professors at the university, charity workers, community idealists, political activists, nearly all of them working for a better deal for poor Maoris, women and children.

One rainy morning when we were all fruitlessly racking our brains for ideas for stories to fill the empty page for that afternoon’s edition, I wrote the first of what Val called my ‘think pieces’ which developed into regular columns.

And then I began to realise how tough this pioneering society was on children, especially after an encounter with one of the country’s most distinguished women paediatricians, who also pioneered family planning clinics around the country. Alice Bush, who became a friend, told me that she felt in her forty years of practise that parents were less tolerant now, and more inclined to punish their children physically.

I dropped all my feminist crusading at this and began to campaign in every way that presented itself for a better deal for children. I felt too, that the immense and enthusiastic wave of feminist activity and the drive for equality for women meant that too often children’s needs were being overlooked.

This led to a surprising development. The feminist in the office was closely involved with the very militant students at Auckland University, and I suddenly found I was persona non grata with them and every other feminist in the country, both in the trade unions, the universities, and several influential magazines. I was blacklisted from all women’s conventions and conferences, and even cut dead in the streets by hostile women.

The very real hostility continued for years, and during the concerted campaign to undermine me, a stream of hostile letters were published in the newspaper castigating me and my writing and opinions. The editor was so intimidated by these strong women, both on the newspaper staff and elsewhere, that he caved in and published these attacks on a member of his staff.

One of the aggravating features of this unhappy situation for my adversaries was that I became very successful, the general public loved my columns, and when I became women’s editor and introduced an entirely new concept – a weekly pull-out newspaper for women – it became the talk of the country. I covered every subject that I thought women would be interested in, from breast-feeding, to treatment for cystitis, to bringing up children, to the struggle of women in other countries, from the mothers and grandmothers in Argentina, to Winnie Mandela and Helen Suzman.

The readership reached not just women in the towns and in the country, in rich suburbs and new cheap housing estates, but men, too – judges, surgeons, lawyers – people of all ages and walks of life. In a small country, one size fitted all, there were no niche newspapers or other publications. This was also a challenge – to find a way to appeal to everyone at the same time.

At the same time, I was writing a column for single mothers in the NZ Woman’s Weekly, a wonderful little magazine, which was bought by a quarter of the people in the country, and according sales lore, and the ‘hand-on’ theory, meant it was read by at least two more people, so that at least three -quarters of the population of the country read this publication.

It sat in every waiting room- hairdressers, doctors, dentists, lawyers and so on, and there was hardly a home which it didn’t penetrate. Surveys showed that it was the favourite reading of all females from the age of eight or nine upwards, and the favourite reading of most boys up to the age of fifteen.

It reached a huge readership. One day the editor asked me to do something about a letter which had reached her, from a single or solo mother as they were called. I researched the whole subject and wrote an article for the magazine and I was then deluged with dozens of letters from solo mothers. From then on, every week I wrote a column for them. Thirty years later I was still meeting people or receiving letters from widows or divorced or single women saying that my column had been their life-line – just knowing that someone understood their problems and cared, had helped them through their lonely hard times.

After one letter from a woman whose husband had walked out leaving her with three children under five, including a year old, and how she had to work digging potatoes; how she had to leave the children locked in alone in the house, with no heating which she couldn’t afford, and just bread and milk to eat all day, I realised that there had to be some sort of assistance for women abandoned by their husbands.

Women who became pregnant – out of wedlock- as it was called back then, had no benefit either, apart from a tiny payment which lasted four months, as long as they were breast-feeding. This meant that no-one could afford to keep their baby, and there was a very high rate of adoption in NZ.

So campaigning for assistance for women and children also became one of my priorities, and the following year, the new Labour government which had also reached this conclusion, introduced a benefit for women and children who had been desperate and destitute up till then.

And there were still the plums – the fascination of meeting such luminaries as Doctor Spock, the man whose books were a bible to most mothers back then. He was a big genial man, who cared about more than just bringing up children kindly. He’d been an Olympic rower in his youth, and by the time I met him was deeply involved in political activities which included opposition to the Vietnam War.

His wife Jane listened to our interview, and at the end said to me that she’d like me to interview her as I was not like the aggressive journalists she’d come up against in the States. I did, but the interview was unpublishable. She was a hurt, angry woman, who felt her part in bringing up their sons and providing much of the material and experience that informed her husband’s books, had never been acknowledged… “He just sat behind his big desk, while I brought up the boys and told him what I was doing…”. I wasn’t surprised to hear that they divorced a few years later.

Life was not all work either… John continued to call either at the office or at home, bringing his dogs with him… taking my son for fishing weekends, arriving and gathering us up for a trip to a distant beach with his friends and sitting round a camp fire chatting and singing in the dusk.

There was the fair-haired, blue -eyed Italian aristocrat who would ask me which car I wanted to go to dinner in, his Lancia or his Alfa Romeo, the laughter in the office at another would- be suitor, a bearded be-spectacled man with shorts, hairy legs and sandals who was always bringing my copy to discuss with me; and the perfectly happily married man who stood in front of my desk as I looked up over my typewriter, and declared that he’d crawl across broken glass to have a cup of coffee with me. Words which brought more gales of laughter from my colleagues in the office! They weren’t days of wine and roses, but were definitely days of goodness, fun and freedom, and a respite before the next chapter of our lives.

To be continued

 Food for threadbare gourmets

 Since I shattered my leg two years ago, and prefer not to stand for long, I’ve evolved all sorts of short cuts to get me by when I’m slaving over a hot stove!

First and foremost… I use chopped garlic and ginger from a jar – something I always swore I’d never do, though I still grate fresh Parmesan. When making pommes anna – potatoes in cream and garlic, a fairly common occurrence in this house, I no longer peel the potatoes, but scrub them clean with a pot scourer, and slice them thinly, and it makes no difference to the taste. When making apple crumble or scones, I never rub the butter into the flour any more, but grate cold butter from the fridge, stir it into the flour and it works just as well. I never bother to roll out scones, but simply place the dough on a floured board, nudge it into a shape about an inch  thick, and simply cut it into squares, not bothering with  pastry cutters.

I cook onions in the micro-wave for six minutes, and then fry them for a few more minutes to brown nicely, thus eliminating the time spent formerly standing turning them in the frying pan.

When I cook mashed potato, I do plenty extra to use in leek and potato soup, or to fry with bacon and sausage. And I cook double amounts of spaghetti bolognaise – half for the freezer, half for himself, while the leftover extra cheese sauce from lasagne or macaroni cheese is perfect over broccoli for a small lunch dish for me. Risotto is always a double amount – either re-heated in the micro-wave, or gently fried in a little olive oil to make the crust crisp and delicious. So many other small things which make life easier …

Food for thought

It is as necessary for man to live in beauty rather than ugliness as it is necessary for him to have food for an aching belly or rest for a weary body.

Abraham Maslow, ground-breaking thinker,  therapist and writer

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