Tag Archives: Auckland

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

Advertisements

34 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, great days, happiness, Media and interviews, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized, womens issues

Paradise is not lost

100_0559 In this country the sun is reputed to shine twice as often as it does in England, and it shines with especial clarity on Coromandel, so called when a ship of that name anchored where the township is now. The Coromandel peninsula is a rugged line of purple ranges and deep ravines where clear bright streams and rivers rush over rocks to the sea. Once the peaks of Coromandel were clothed in primeval kauri forests, and once too, those peaks hid seams of ancient gold. But now these two sources of gold have long been mined, the hills are covered in secondary growth, and the mine shafts are empty.

It’s always been a place of passion and politics, where potters and painters, poets  and philosophers have fought to defend their way of life in these empty, unpolluted and un-peopled places. Ringing this neck of land, pohutakawa trees flaunt their red flowers along the rocky coast-line, and distant blue horizons beckon to unexplored peaks and impenetrable bush.

Our house on the side of a narrow valley leading down to the water’s edge, looked up to the steep foot hills of the Coromandel ranges behind us. And we faced the Firth of Thames, where the light on the water had a mystic quality in the winter sunshine; where the line of Miranda beach on the opposite shore could just be glimpsed; and where flights of godwits gathering for their heroic autumn journey to Siberia, could be imagined.

Further down the coast was the place where Captain Cook first came ashore in this country.  Young Nick, the cabin boy who sighted land, gave his name to Young Nick’s Head, and where Captain Cook observed the transit of Mercury, he called the bay where they anchored, Mercury Bay.

When the Endeavour came sailing into Mercury Bay it was watched by a nine year old boy. Eighty-three years later the magnificent old man told his story. As he watched the great canoe with huge white sails skimming towards them, he was amazed when the ship’s crew then rowed ashore in the time-honoured fashion with their backs in the direction in which they were going.

“Yes, it is so,” said the old people watching with him, “these people are goblins, their eyes are in the back of their heads.” Eventually Horeta Te Taniwha, as he was called, gathered the courage to climb on board the ship with the older people.

“I and my two companions did not walk about on board the ship – we were afraid lest we be bewitched by the goblins; and we sat still and looked at everything at the home of these goblins… the chief goblin… came up on deck again to where I and my boy-companions were, and patted our head with his hand, and he put out his hand towards me and spoke to us at the same time, holding the nail out to us.

“My companions were afraid and sat in silence; but I laughed, and he gave the nail to me. I took it in my hand and said “Ka-pai” (very good), and he repeated my words, and again patted our heads with his hand, and went away.

“My companions said: “This is the leader of the ship, which is proved by his kindness to us; and also he is very fond of children. A noble man – one of noble birth – cannot be lost in a crowd”

“I took my nail and kept it with great care, and carried it wherever I went, and made it fit to the point of my spear, and also used it to makes holes in the side-boards of the canoe, to bind them onto the canoe. I kept this nail until one day I was in a canoe and she capsized in the sea and my god (the nail) was lost to me…”

The descriptions of the pristine land that Cook discovered in 1769, sound as fragrant and unspoiled as the descriptions of Roanoke in 1584. I ache to have seen Auckland harbour as it was then–the first accounts tell of the silence and the sunshine, the flaming pohutakawa trees bending over the still, clear water as the first white men glided spell-bound up the harbour in their sailing ships – it was a magical, mysterious country which seemed like the most exquisite place on earth to those early explorers. On the other side of the coast, where the other great harbour of Manukau lies, they found forests teeming with strange birds, great trees of more than ten metres in girth towering to the skies, cloudy waterfalls, black sand beaches  and steep jagged cliffs facing the turbulent Tasman..

 Songbirds fluted in the dense forests. Sir Joseph Banks, the great naturalist on board the Endeavour with Cook, wrote at Queen Charlotte Sound: “ the ship lay at a distance of somewhat less than a quarter of a mile from the shore, and in the morning we were awakened by the singing of the birds: the number was incredible. And they seemed to strain their throats in emulation of each other. This wild melody was infinitely superior to any that we had ever heard of the same kind: it seemed to be like small bells most exquisitely tuned.”

Civilisation has made life easier and more comfortable at one level, dentists, drains, and all the rest, and destroyed the planet in the process. And we all know it and yearn for the original untouched Garden of Eden. To have been alive then, and to have savoured this untouched land… it makes me feel homesick just to think of it. So-called civilisation of course, has changed so much of this. From 1840 onwards, the settlers did their best to destroy the forests, using the giant kauris for ships masts, and building wooden homes, wood being the quickest material to use to build a home in a new country. On the newly barren hills they planted grass for the millions of sheep which have brought prosperity to this country, and now erosion means that in some places, the rivers are no longer clear, but sluggish muddy currents.

They took the gold, and now they want the oil. Yet so many of us still want keep this country as unpolluted and unspoiled as possible; so we try to save the native birds, we enclose huge national parks,  we preserve the swathes of native bush and forest still here, and we oppose the multi-national oil companies. And nothing can change or spoil the silent, snow-capped mountains and wild waterfalls, the great lakes and endless miles of solitary beaches in an empty land the size of England, which is home to only four million people.

I now live an hour’s drive north of Auckland, looking out on green fields one side, and blue sea the other; and I walk the long deserted stretches of yellow sands, and can only hear larks singing high above the dunes, and the waves breaking on the shore. In a crowded world, where solitude and silence are hard to find, this place still seems like paradise – last, loneliest, loveliest – as Rudyard Kipling once described Auckland.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

I love vegetable dishes. This fennel dish I can eat as a meal, and my husband can have it with his steak, though it also goes well with lamb and pork. Allow a fennel bulb for each person, though if I’m having it as a meal, I usually have two. Cut the fennel in half from root to stalk and blanch in boiling salted water and drain well. Cut the fennel again, into quarters, and lay them in a well- buttered baking dish… it doesn’t matter if they break up. Scatter pieces of fried and chopped bacon over the fennel along with a finely chopped garlic clove. Whisk a teasp of flour into 250 ml of cream and pour over the fennel. Bake for about 25 minutes in an oven set at 190 degrees. Check it’s soft with a sharp knife. Eaten with a crusty roll or wholemeal bread, it’s very satisfying.

Food for thought

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.

CS Lewis, 1898 – 1963 English novelist, poet, medievalist and literary critic. Best known for his books ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and ‘Chronicles of Narnia’.

 

 

 

59 Comments

Filed under birds, colonial life, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, history, life/style, philosophy, pollution, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized