Tag Archives: New Zealand

An ever-rolling stream

a traditional Cotswold village hotel, England, UK

A life  – Part one

Diarist Frances Partridge wrote”… I have a passionate desire to describe what I’ve felt, thought or experienced, for its own sake – to express, communicate or both? And I can hardly bear not to pin down the fleeting moments.”

This year is when I turn eighty, the sort of birthday one can never imagine will happen to oneself, and I still have  that:  ‘passionate desire to describe what I’ve felt, thought or experienced, for its own sake – to express. communicate…’ and above all, to savour and revel in the joy of everything – love, food, family, friends, ideas, music, books, the sea and the wind, the birds and the flowers… infinite treasures and gifts.

My years seem to have been packed with incident and tragedy, drama and amazement, travel and wonder. I look back at the people I’ve known and loved, and also to the people, who to my puzzlement and sadness have hated me and sabotaged me, and I know that each one has given me gifts of love and insight, and in the case of my enemies, strength and tolerance… I can’t say that I ’love them that hate’ me in Jesus’s words, but I try to see the point of their presence in my life, and to let them go… forgiveness is not a word I use… I’d rather come to terms with the past and the sadness of knowing that others are hostile, and then release them from my life.

What I have learned from the hostility and jealousy of those people who do actually hate me – and they are family rather than strangers-  is that their words reflect who they are, rather than telling me anything about myself.

One of the wonderful things about living the years that I have, is that Time has taught me so much about myself. In doing so, Time and opportunity have set me free to be the essence of who I really am, rather than the person who has been beset by the grief of bereavement, abandonment, divorce, poverty, pain and rejection. The insights that Time has allowed me to gather, have set me free from those profound and painful experiences to be joyful, happy, fearless, and, – I hope -loving…

And like Frances Partridge I have this urge to write about the fleeting moments, even if no-one reads them… just writing the story of time past will be satisfying, fulfilling, and, I suspect, will give me fresh insights with which to live the rest of life, however long it may be. My intention is also to go forth on the next journey, singing and dancing, heading off joyfully into that other plane of existence which awaits us all.

Maybe writing my story will seem self-indulgent to some readers, but to those who stick around and find it interesting, I thank you in advance.

Most of us were touched by history in the 20th century, and many of our lives touched too. Sometimes, the connections are obvious, sometimes they remain hidden. And sometimes history, events or people have reached out from other centuries and other segments of time and beckoned for attention. The past is always with us – our own and the pasts of other people and other times. Consciousness of these peoples and these pasts enrich the experience of our present.

And, oh, the pleasure of acquaintance with personalities then and now, their quirks and foibles and wonderful, mystifying uniqueness. And there is too, the indefinable uniqueness of the places around the planet where human beings have settled and, in the taming of the place, evolved their own particular culture.

Skyscrapers and fast food chains may try to obliterate the personality of modern megalopolises, but rock and sand, climate and sea still exert their shaping influence. Rock and sea hem in the millions who cluster upon Hongkong, and mould their lives as they push and punch for space, while among the mountains and islands, volcanoes and lakes of New Zealand, people have obliterated forests and swamps and become a pastoral people.

For a while I lived on the rock that is Hongkong, and among the mountains, lakes and plains that are New Zealand; I shared the hardships of survivors in dis-membered Germany and battered Britain, grew up in Malayan jungles and attended school set among tea plantations in the highlands.

The story that I write is like the story of us all, in that it’s my interpretation of the past, my remembrance and re-living and reworking of the segments of time  inherited from my forbears and family.

Begin at the beginning, commanded Alice, but, like most of us, my own stories only begin halfway though. Glints of sunlight and moments of beauty remain embedded in the dull, grey mass of unremembered early years. That pink dress with tiny tucks and frills, a blue balloon sailing away in the wind, the taste of a warm cherry pulled from a drooping branch, the honey scent of golden gorse flowers, these are my beginnings. But where did they lead and where am I still travelling?

Dorset in 1940 was a different world. It was my world. With no pylons or pollution, undefiled by progress, it still lay dreaming in that deep content described by Thomas Hardy. Once known as Summerlands, it seemed always to be summer in my two and three- year- old’s memory. Hardy’s description: ” The languid perfume of the summer fruits, the mists, the hay, the flowers, formed therein a vast pool of odour which at this hour seemed to make the animals, the very bees and butterflies drowsy…” was how it was for me.

The skies were clear and blue, and the bright sun blindingly gold. Dragonflies darting and dipping over the water seemed one moment emerald-green, the next, electric blue. Wisps of freshly- gathered hay lay in long horizontal strips high up on hawthorn hedges, where the heavily laden dray, hauled by a huge, patient cart horse had swayed and creaked down the narrow lane past our home in the dusk. The scent of honeysuckle and the taste of pink and yellow cherries warmed by the sun still transports me back to those times.

My twenty-three -year- old mother had fled the Blitz and was living in great discomfort in a tiny farm cottage. It had no electricity, which was not unusual then, and she walked regularly to the village shop to replenish the oil for the lamps she used at night. I dragged along holding the handle of the pushchair while my baby sister sat in it. We passed the grey stone manor, scene of Tess of the D’Urberville’s honeymoon, and plodded over the ancient Elizabethan bridge to a shop before the level crossing. The dark little shop had fly papers hanging in it with dying flies buzzing. Their misery appalled me.

Sometimes, I lay on my stomach and pushed my head between the struts of  the small bridge nearby to watch the currents of the stream. Other times I stood on tiptoes high enough to peer over  lichen-encrusted stone of the big bridge over the river, and gazed over the shiny water flowing below, and at the sharp emerald- green of the long strands of water-weed forever rippling with the current. If I forgot time, I discovered that my mother seemed miles away with the push-chair, and ran in panic to catch up.

The only thing which shattered the silence of those quiet days, was the terrible tanks which ground ear-splittingly along the road from nearby military camp. Once, as we crossed the grey bridge over the Frome, a column of tanks caught us halfway across. We sheltered in one of the mossy alcoves for pedestrians trapped in former ages by farm carts, horses and carriages. The caterpillar tracks, which seemed to smash into fragments the very air we breathed, were higher than my ears. Their noise felt like hearing the sound of hell. No-one told me this was the sound of war

At two I had few words, but I understood what the adults were saying, and they often puzzled me. The biggest puzzle of all was when they gathered in a little knot of excitement, and looked up to those clear blue skies, saying: ” There’s another dog-fight”. Hard though I squinted up into the cloudless blue sky, I could see no dogs, only  tiny white crosses, and white puffs following the crosses, diving across the sky. Now I know this was the Battle of Britain.

There was a framed photograph of me on the kitchen wall. Thick dark hair cut straight across my forehead, dark eyes, my neck and shoulders fading away. I looked at it often, wondering when my arms and the rest of me grew. And there were other memories too, like snapshots in colour, with no knowledge of what happened before or after.

Pulling on my Wellingtons and staggering outside, very proud to have managed it un- aided, and the pain at the burst of laughter when the adults saw the boots were on the wrong feet. The grass snake in the puddle. Putting my arms round a huge, hairy, grey and white dog called Mollie. The perfect happiness of the day I was big enough to fit the blue, pink and yellow flowered sun-suit, when the big children from the farm let me join them, and we ran up a hill where the sunshine streamed between the trunks of pine trees in golden columns of light.

These older girls taught me their country games, dances and songs, some harking back to the eighteenth century: ‘Poor Jennie is a-weeping on a fine summer’s day’, a haunting tune that has stayed with me all my life, and: ‘I sent a letter to my love and on the way, I dropped it. One of you has picked it up and put it in your pocket…’

These are some of the fleeting moments that reach back to that past more than seventy- seven years ago … ‘Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Bears all its sons away, They fly forgotten, as a dream Dies at the opening day.’

To be continued

Food for threadbare gourmets

After all that rich Christmas food we needed something to re-set our digestive juices ! I craved curry, wanted something quick and easy, and also wanted to use up scraps. I only had half an onion, plenty of mushrooms, the green top of a leek, and tomatoes. Giving the chopped onion a quick zap in the microwave, I added it to the frying pan with olive oil,  sliced mushrooms, the leek chopped very finely, and a couple of chopped tomatoes.

When they were soft, feeling lazy, I stirred in a generous teaspoon of prepared garlic from a jar, a teasp of ginger from a jar, a good sprinkling of ground cumin, coriander and even more of turmeric to taste, plus a teasp of mild curry powder for good measure. When the spices had cooked for a few minutes in the oil, I added water, and let the mix boil … after tasting, I added a generous dollop –  a heaped tablespoon – of ginger marmalade to take the sharpness off the curry and a good squirt of tomato paste from a tube. After letting all this gently simmer, I added some cream before serving, but another time would try yogurt.

We ate it with dahl – lentils – and a hard- boiled egg each. I couldn’t be bothered to cook rice as well, but the lentils soaked the curry up instead. This quick simple economical vegetarian curry was even better when it had mellowed the next day, when we had it again…

Food for thought

The dedicated life is the life worth living. You must give with your whole heart.

Annie Dillard – American writer and mystic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

28 Comments

Filed under beauty, consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, happiness, history, life and death, love, self knowledge, spiritual, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Little happinesses and big happiness

 

Image result for rowland hilder paintings

 

I love Autumn… I loved it in England, those early morning mists burnt off by the morning sun… the scents of bonfires and blackberries, picking hazel-nuts from the hedgerows, finding silky, shining conkers and kicking up the rustling leaves, crackling them under my shoes… freshly ploughed fields, and that sense of gentle melancholy, a poetic nostalgia for the last pale days of sunshine before winter crept in…

Later in Hongkong, the end of summer came quite suddenly overnight, when the light changed, and for a month or six weeks a light pervaded the harsh hectic city, and turned the island into a place of surpassing beauty.  I waited for those weeks every year. The gleaming days and shining waters of the harbour seemed rapturous for no particular reason, and those who noticed this magical transformation said the light was like the light of the Greek isles.

And now in the antipodes, autumn is the best season of the year – soft, golden days and crisp, starry nights.
We live in a covenanted podocarp forest of evergreen trees which stretches across high peaks and shadowed gorges. Some days we wake to find the sun shining on our mountain, and then see the gold light move down the slopes until the whole forest shines. Other mornings mist shrouds the peaks, and hovers in the valleys… last night the high wind blasted the last leaves of autumn from the trees along the roads, leaving just the fretted gold leaves of the gingko trees.

So today it feels as though autumn has passed, and winter is setting in. With deep pleasure, I get out the warm winter clothes, and start to think about winter food, hot and comforting, snug evenings with the curtains pulled, and warm sheets on the bed. These are ‘small happinesses’, a phrase my daughter introduced me to a few months ago.

This morning when I put the kettle on for my early morning cup of tea, the sun was on the mountain, a small happiness. Taking the tray back to bed, I checked my e-mails, gloating over the beauty of the latest photos sent from France by my daughter… yesterday Chartres, today Monet’s garden at Givernay, tomorrow Mont St Michel… Then I found a poem by Mark Nepo, sent by a dear friend, with phrases that gave me more small happinesses…

Each person is born with an unencumbered spot…

… an umbilical spot of grace… the last lines were: the incorruptible spot of grace resting at our core.

Holding these words in my mind, my love and I went shopping to a small town an hour and a quarter away. Every mile we travelled past weathered crags, misty mountains and green fields was beautiful. Finally, we reached the narrow coast road, where pohutakawa trees arched overhead, their roots clinging to the side of the cliff.

The wide silver stretch of still water, shimmering with light, lay alongside, and I watched birds dive for food in a small feeding frenzy, marvelled at the shag colony, where up in the pohutakawa trees, the big white breasted birds sat erect on their great nests concocted from twigs, while a gull flew overhead at 35 miles an hour. We passed the curving sandy bay black with hosts of black oyster catchers standing patiently on the shores of the estuary, white breasts and sharp, orange beaks facing the high tide, waiting for the water to recede and their food to return.

We did our shopping – small, kind, cheery encounters that are the building blocks of the goodness of life. A visit to the re-cycle centre yielded a satisfying bargain and a small happiness … two pretty pressed glass Victorian dishes for a dollar each, and then the building re-cycling yard had more treasures, including the perfect windows for our building project.

Feeling contented we relaxed in our favourite café, with hot chocolate and a blueberry muffin. We sat in the courtyard under the pollarded plane trees and watched a small flock of sparrows fall on each table as it emptied, diving into cake crumbs and pulling at a rasher of left-over bacon. A speckle- breasted thrush sat in an olive tree growing in a large pot, and pecked at the clusters of pale green olives. The sage green leaves were silhouetted against a rosy brick wall and the sinuous curves of branches and leaves looked like William Morris’s famous willow pattern.

I must keep a diary again, I exclaimed, I want to remember these moments of beauty. But writing this blog is the closest I get to it at the moment. This day was like all our days living in this remote place where we are the guardians of the forest, where species of plants and creatures that are almost extinct elsewhere, still live their tranquil lives hidden deep beneath the green canopy. I once said to my love that I knew people who were living quiet, mystical lives of love and beauty, and we agreed that we would make it happen for us.

Occasionally a note of discord strikes when a person who has other agendas intrudes into our peace, but since I take Don Miguel Ruiz’s Third Agreement seriously, and try never to take anything personally, our peace of mind is rarely perturbed. I also remember a meme which says: ‘negativity can only affect you if you’re on the same frequency – vibrate higher.’ So we try.

We forget to play music because the silence is so full of sound, the wind in the trees, the birdsong, the stream rushing down below. Living in this place, it’s easy to believe in that “incorruptible spot of grace” resting at our core. It’s easy to believe too, that the mystery of love and truth and beauty do still exist, in spite of what often seems like suffering and chaos in the outer world, but which, hidden from our limited understanding, may have a larger purpose. We only have to believe in love and truth and beauty, to see them – in people, in nature, in the universe, and in the deep silent mystery of the life unfolding around us.

So the roots of the trees in this forest grow deep in the earth, sustained by creatures of the dark, the snails, slugs, earthworms, flatworms and nematodes that degrade organic matter. The rain and the sun sustain them. Tiny frogs and rare lizards hide deep in their secret habitats, bees push into the flowers of the manukau trees, butterflies hover above the flowers, birds sing, the kingfisher plunges down into the grass for a morsel, morepork owls hoot across our valley in the moonlight, and nature continues to sustain them all, and the planet, and us too… what a big happiness!!!

PS   The picture is by Rowland Hilder who specialised in  painting nostalgic autumn and winter scenes.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

I needed a pudding for a gluten- intolerant friend, so fell back on our tried and true chocolate mousse… just eggs, butter and good dark chocolate… though I can never resist tweaking the simple recipe.

So after separating the eggs, melt a knob of butter in a saucepan, and I add a table spoon of brandy or strong black coffee or even sherry, and break the chocolate in. For every egg, use six squares of plain chocolate, and a little bit more butter.

Stirring the mix until the chocolate melts, take it off the heat before it goes grainy. Whip the whites of eggs until peaks form, and at this stage I often add one or two tablespoons of icing sugar and whip again until stiff. Stir the yolks into the chocolate mixture, and then gently fold this into the egg whites. Pour the mix into small individual bowls, chill in the fridge for at least six hours, and serve with cream.

I gave this to my children often when we were vegetarian, as it was an easy way to make sure they had enough protein.

 

Food for thought

“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.”

Helen Keller, who overcame the handicaps of being deaf, blind and dumb to gain a degree and live a life of service to others.

 

 

 

20 Comments

Filed under birds, consciousness, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, happiness, life/style, love, poetry, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, uncategorised, Uncategorized

Heaven’s scent

100_0542

The first time I smelt it was at sea. One of my dearest friends had drowned there a few days before with her baby and two small children. Her husband’s ship, trading between New Zealand and the Islands, had caught fire in a heavy storm just off the coast not far from here, and they had had to take to the life-boats. Their mayday signal was never picked up, and the life-rafts, which are reputed to be safer near the coast, had broken away. So my friend and her children didn’t survive the mountainous waves.

Her heroic and tragic story before this happened, is too long to tell here, but her partner, a French sea captain, did survive. He came to stay with us for the next few days until the body of one child was washed ashore.

We all trekked up to Northland, and after the heart-wrenching funeral, Jean asked us to take all the flowers to a nearby bay. There, a police launch was waiting, and with a few close friends we loaded the flowers into the cabin – then thankfully shut the door on the overpowering scent of freesias, jasmine and other spring flowers, and took off for the bay where my beautiful friend had died.

When we reached the spot where she had slipped from his grasp, Jean stopped the launch, and then, in an old Breton custom, went to toss the flowers into the sea. As the launch stopped, the sun was shining, the blue sea was calm, and the line of golden sand on the shore, still guarded by a watching policeman, lay ahead. Only another mile from here, but a mile too far for my friend.  We sat silently and breathed in the heavenly fragrance wafting around us. Exquisite. Then the door to the cabin was opened and the scent of the flowers inside was entirely different.

When we talked about this to a friend, he told us about the writer Rosamund Lehman, whose daughter had died suddenly – of polio, I think – in Indonesia. A heavenly fragrance permeated the hall outside Rosamund’s flat. People didn’t believe it until they went to visit her, and then were overwhelmed by the perfume.

A few years later, we began to experience the same wafts of flowery perfume in our sitting room. I searched for the source, but it came from none of the flowers in the room. The scent cut through the smell of the coal fire, and every other momentary odour. In the end, we gave up, and just accepted, as a friend said, that we had angels there. After a week of this, one of our cavalier King Charles spaniels was diagnosed with an untreatable disease. We gave ourselves five agonising last days with him, and then took him to the vet for the last time.

When I got back home my nine year old daughter was waiting on the veranda, home with flu. She couldn’t wait to tell me. “The flowers came from that patch on the floor where Sheba used to lie to get cool,” she cried. (Sheba was an afghan who’d died the previous year) “She was warning us about Benedick.”

When we went inside, the fragrance had gone, but later, as I sat by the fire crocheting and wiping stray tears, I suddenly smelt a strong scent of lavender. Knowing well that I hadn’t got any, I still searched my knitting basket for a bottle of lavender. I called through to my daughter in bed – ‘have you spilt some lavender water?’

Then we realised that my son had picked a bunch of lavender and camellias to go with Benedick on his last journey… the scent was a last message from his little dog.

Since then we’ve heard of other instances of these heavenly perfumes. In her beautiful account of a year living in the Blue Mountains, Australian poet Kate Llewellyn, describes sitting next to two nuns on a train, and their gentle simple conversation with her. After they had left, she felt that she could smell violets… “the odour of sanctity,” she called it.

The Catholic Church calls it the ‘odor of sanctity’, but always associates it with the bodies of saints who have died. But these heavenly scents are like a gift sent from who knows where, and have nothing to do with sanctity. Rather, they are like gifts from a benevolent and loving source who for some reason allows these emanations of beauty to visit and to comfort. No-one has to be holy or to deserve them, they are simply a manifestation of another order of beauty and wholeness that we may be conscious of, but can never see or grasp.

They are the moments that we can hold onto in a world where man can create so much pain and misery. Beyond this world created by man is this other level of love. And how exquisite that it’s the fragrance of flowers that delivers this message of hope – that the world doesn’t have to be the way we make it – that there are other worlds of truth and beauty and peace that these fragrances remind us exist.

Rabindranath Tagore talked of the air filling with the perfume of promise… sometimes I wonder if that is what these flowery messages are – both a consolation and a promise.

Food for threadbare gourmets

With a family of gluten free addicts, I’m always looking for recipes without wheat. This is a lovely chocolatey treat. I melt 125 g of butter and 150 of dark cooking chocolate gently in a large saucepan. Stir in half a cup of sugar and a teasp of vanilla. Next, stir in three egg yolks and a cup of ground almonds. Beat the egg whites until peaks form and then beat in two tablsp of sugar.  Using a slotted spoon, gently fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Line a 20 cm cake tin with a base of cooking paper, and bake at 180 degrees for 25 minutes. The cake will come out soft, and will sink and firm when cool. It’s very rich, so a sprinkling of icing sugar on top is all it needs.

Food for thought

In a rich moonlit garden, flowers open beneath the eyes of entire nations terrified to acknowledge the simplicity of the beauty of peace…

Aberjhani, American historian, novelist, poet and blogger

45 Comments

Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, flowers, great days, life and death, love, peace, perfume, philosophy, poetry, spiritual, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Birds of a feather

100_0479My heart was in my mouth. I was sitting at the traffic junction in our small town where six roads meet and compete for the lights.  Would the traffic stop? A duck was slowly waddling across the road with a clutch of tiny ducklings in tow. They made it to the pavement which would lead them along to the river in the middle of town, with just one hiccup over two slow ducklings who stopped to drink from a puddle, and which an impatient woman nearly cleaned up as she got tired of waiting.

This is the duck season. We become very conscious of them as they shepherd their progeny across busy roads, oblivious of the killing machines skidding to a halt yards from them.

A friend told me how in the middle of the busy village street, he stopped to let a mother pass while her babies all scuttled to safety on the pavement, but she wouldn’t move from the middle of the road. As he wondered how long she was going to obstinately stand there, suddenly two recalcitrant toddlers made a dash from the other side to catch up with their mother and siblings. Ducks can count!

The same thrush (I think) who made life difficult for us last year, by nesting in the honeysuckle by the side door of the garage has returned, and I in-advertently uncovered this year’s nest as I began to trim the overhanging ivy on the arch into the garden from the garage. I saw with horror a beautiful blue egg in the exquisitely woven little nest, and hastily covered it with strands of the trimmed ivy.

I blocked the arch with a rake and a hoe and a plank of wood across the top of the steps to stop anyone using it, so now everyone has to go the long way round from the garage. (see pic above!) I tiptoed up the next day, to check if the bird had returned, and as I stood peering intently into the tangle of ivy leaves, I suddenly realised that a beady yellow- rimmed eye was staring at me. I backed away very slowly, apologising softly for my intrusion.

A grey heron unexpectedly circled in front of my car as I drove between spring- green trees and hawthorn hedges encrusted with white blossom this morning; and I noticed that the striking paradise ducks with black, white and sherry coloured plumage who mate for life, seem to have disappeared from their usual haunts – to tend their nests too, I presume.

Driving home in the dusk a few nights ago, I saw what I thought were burrs on the road in front of me, but they were moving. As I swerved, I realised that the tiny balls of black fluff rolling to the side of the road were probably paradise duck babies. They all start off as balls of fluff, and then the brown mallards develop tiny yellow legs and webbed feet that scurry frantically across the road, beautiful little creatures with not an ugly duckling among them.

Years ago as we walked down the lane by our house, being towed by two shaggy afghan hounds and a cavalier King Charles spaniel, I was consoling the children about the village fete, and their spurned handicraft entries.  “The thing is,” said my ten year old daughter, “other mothers think their ugly ducklings will grow into swans, but you think we’re swans already!”

Not surprising when I thought about it… swans had been part of my life as a child. We lived close to a lake called the Backwater. It had once been a tidal inlet, until the local authorities had built a bridge which blocked the flow from Weymouth Harbour. Until then the tide had washed up and down this long channel, where there’s evidence that the Romans once had a small port at the end of the inlet where we lived. There’s a legend that later, when the Vikings made their first raid on England at Portland just round the corner, they also pushed their way up the Backwater in AD 787.  Later the Saxons settled around here among local British tribes who‘d been inhabiting the area since Mesolithic times – 12,500 BC. (Genetic experiments have shown that a significant segment of the modern population here are descended from those original Mesolithic inhabitants.)

 When I knew the Backwater, neither  Stone Age coracle nor Viking long-boat could have rowed up the now tide-less water, for thick beds of reeds had spread to give safe cover for the big, white mute swans to build their nests and hide their cygnets. I used to walk my dolls pram down to the edge of the lake and throw them bits of bread. On the grass the other side of the road edging the water, the Americans had had all their tanks and armoured vehicles lined up row on row before they left for D-day, thus reversing the ancient pattern of invasion, and taking fire and sword back to the mainland.

There are so many legends and folk tales about swans, the commonest being that their nearly ten foot wide wing span can break a man’s arm. This is one of the long-running jokes in Sue Townsend’s gloriously funny book, ‘Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ Adrian buys a trendy flat in a disused warehouse alongside the river, and discovers too late that a posse of swans consider this place to be their territory. Everyone who visits the hapless Adrian ends up warning him, “A swan can break a man’s arm, you know”.

They mate for life too, and I love the names of the different species: as well as the mute swans, there are trumpeter swans, whooper swans, tundra swans, and the Bewick, a sub-tribe of the tundra clan. The biggest populations of wild swans live in Russia, and it’s believed that the only reason swans didn’t become extinct in England un medieval times – since they were good eating – was that though everyone cut a notch in the feet of their own swans, birds without the notch were considered to be the sovereign’s property and protected by a royal swan herdsman. This preserved the native species. And as for cygnets, who can forget the all male corps de ballet who performed at Covent Garden, and then made their breath-taking and tantalisingly  brief appearance in the film ‘Billy Eliot?’

We only have the non-native black swan here, immigrants from Australia who now populate various lakes around the North Island in great numbers. I remember my disbelief when I saw the one black swan on the lake at Kew Gardens as a little girl. I love them now. The evil black swan queen in Swan Lake gives black swans an undeserved bad name – they are elegant, peace-loving family-oriented birds, loyal to each other, male and female raising their families of cygnets together year after year. 

It seems appropriate that all our swans here are black, when I consider that New Zealand’s  national colour is black… the All-Blacks play rugby, the NZ cricket team wears black, as does our Olympic team, the America’s Cup yachtsmen  and all other sports teams. And statuesque Maori women look magnificent in their black mourning with wreaths of green leaves around their heads, as they perform the ancient karakia or grieving  chants with their graceful waving arm movements. Black is indeed Beautiful in this country !

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

A green-thumbed – or is it green fingered –  neighbour generously left a bag of goodies outside the door the other day. Among them were delicious, tender young leeks and green cauliflower. They deserved a dish of their own so I used a recipe I’d just found. Steam enough cauliflower to fill a cup when mashed. Cut the leeks into rounds, and sauté in butter until tender. (I always put a little oil in too, so the butter doesn’t burn) Mix the cauliflower and tender leeks with an egg, a good quarter of a cup of flour, two tablesp of parsley and one of chopped dill, a good grinding of black pepper and half a teasp of salt. Form the mixture into patties and fry on both sides. I sprinkled them with plenty of Parmesan, but I would think crumbled goats cheese would be good too. Next time I try them I shall use coriander, and mix in some crumbled goats cheese.

 

Food for thought

From Midrashim: Proverbs 6.6

Go to the ant, you sluggard,

and watch it lug an object

forward single file

with no short breaks for

coffee, gossip, a croissant,

And no stopping to apostrophize

blossom, by-passed because

pollen is not its job,

no pause for trampled companions:

consider her ways – and be content.

David Curzon, born 1951 – poet, essayist, translator and United Nations official retiring in 2001.

 

 

83 Comments

Filed under ballet, birds, cookery/recipes, environment, great days, history, poetry, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Ancient Rituals and a Modern Valkyrie

100_0117As I write I can hear soft rain falling, punctuated by the larger sounds of drips from overloaded leaves, and the swishing of the sea on the rocks below. The pink-breasted doves are cooing contentedly, bringing a sense of peace– all eleven of them,  who now enjoy two free meals a day. It feels as though the village is in rest and recovery.

 A few days ago a man died just beyond our village boundaries. He was the Maori chief and landowner for this area, and had great mana. He was a noble, handsome man respected by everyone, and had a striking, beautiful Pakeha (European) wife, whose dignity and courage matched his. Their marriage was a triumph; she accepted and lived by the local Maori customs, as well as keeping her own integrity, and creating a life of art and culture, warmth, and hospitality. She introduced visitors to the long, empty, pale gold beaches on their land, edged by the rolling blue Pacific; and she kept a herd of nearly a hundred horses, for tourists and locals to ride. She worked hard the way only those whose lives are committed to the wellbeing of horses will know.

 The chief was buried at the Maori marae, which lies across the harbour from where we live. The marae is the spiritual centre of Maori life, and the tangihanga – the funeral – is the most important ceremonial that takes place there, taking precedence over every other activity. The body lies on the marae for at least two days before the day of the funeral, and is rarely left alone. Friends, family and members of the tribe come from near and far, dressed in black, and the women often wearing green leaves in mourning wreathes around their heads. They look wonderful. They will talk and sing to the person lying there, recalling both good and bad things about them, laughing, joking – all expressions of grief are encouraged and accepted.

 The person who has passéd is commanded to return to the ancestral homelands, Hawaiki,  by way of ‘the spirit’s journey’ –  te rerenga wairua . Close kin do not speak. On the last night, the ‘night of ending’, the pō whakamutunga, the mourners hold a vigil and the coffin is closed. Then either at night or dawn on the third day, the funeral service is conducted, and when the burial rites are complete, a hakati – feast – is served. Everyone who attends brings their share, or gifts called koha.

 And when it’s over, the home of the dead one is ritually cleansed with songs, chants and prayers called a karakia and desanctified with food and drink, in a ceremony called takahi whare – ‘trampling the house’. That night, the pō whakangahau  – ‘night of entertainment’ – is a night of relaxation and rest. And after these powerful and therapeutic rituals  the widow or widower is not left alone for several nights following.

 So when our chiefly neighbour died, mourners travelled from all over the country, including the famous and powerful, to participate in the tangi. The ceremonies on the last day took from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. At the same time, another villager died. He too was a distinguished man, a Pakeha, but he had no children and no family. He wanted no ceremony or funeral. ‘So we can’t say goodbye,’ sorrowed an old, old friend…

 While this has been going on, I’ve joined for the first time, the annual village winter ritual of having the flu, and as the second week dragged on found myself irritated that I couldn’t even have flu to myself, but had to start nursing my husband as well. Late last night after a second bad fall, I couldn’t move him, so called out the Volunteer Fire Brigade, the local version of guardian angels. It took three of them to get him off the floor, and I then began a chase after the ambulance to hospital an hour’s drive away. Leaving him to be diagnosed and pumped full of drugs, I drove home to bed at three thirty in the morning.

As I made the most of this drama to the statuesque and very beautiful young woman who comes to clean, I asked how her week had gone. Not as exciting as yours, she disclaimed modestly, before regaling me with the story of her horses. She has two. This particular night she had joined friends at a farewell fancy dress party, and worn, she told me, a glittering sequinned body stocking for the first time in her life, accessorised with a net skirt covered in sequins. As the party raged, she received a text saying her horses were loose, and had last been seen galloping in the sea at a nearby village.

After several nerve-racking hours, with reports of them all over the place, she finally ran them to earth in another bay. Abandoning her car, she rode bare – back on one, leading the other by a halter, body stocking glowing in the moonlight, sequins glinting, and net skirt billowing in the wind. ‘I was just glad no police ever clapped eyes on me,’ she said, ‘they’d have thought I was high on something!’

I wish I’d seen her, a magnificent, glowing Valkyrie beneath the shifting clouds and silver moon. As we laughed there was a knock on the door, and there was one of the firemen from last night come to see how I was, one of many others , family, friends, neighbours who’d rung or enquired how we all were.

Life and death, laughter and rain… the village is breathing, the rhythm of the sea encircles us, the in-breath and the out-breath of the universe continues, the heart-beat of life and death still pulses. The ancient rituals ease the transitions, the soft rain cleanses and refreshes; we are in rest and recovery, and the unknown road still stretches mistily ahead for us all. ‘We may not be taken up and transported to our journey’s end, but must travel thither on foot, traversing the whole distance…’ And in this small world we live in, we know we are in good company.

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Wanting something light and easy, I found an old recipe for ten minute cheese soufflés. Separate the eggs and yolks of two eggs, and mix the yolks with salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne and a little mustard. Mix in two dessertsps of grated cheddar cheese, and then fold in gently the whipped egg whites. Fill two thirds of well greased individual soufflé or ovenproof dishes, and bake in a hot oven for six to eight minutes until well risen and golden brown. Serve at once. This amount makes three to four small soufflés. I’m thinking they’d be a nice easy first course for dinner with friends.

Food for Thought

I loved this foodie thought from writer Lawrence Durrell ( 1912 -1990): ‘The whole Mediterranean.. all of it seems to rise in the sour pungent smell of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.’             Just reading these words makes me feel the heat, smell the scent of thyme and rosemary, and long to savour some strong red local wine beside a lapis lazuli sea….

53 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, life and death, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

Nineteen Eighty-Four has caught up with us in NZ

 

100_0352

This blog is written by my husband, Pat Booth, a NZ journalist. It’s his weekly column, and I think it’s important for several reasons.

He writes:  “It’s a pattern that an author would die for. Actually, he’s dead already. But interest in his book is at its highest level in decades. Latest figures: Sales up 6884 per cent in 24 hours.

An unlikely sales team is working on the project world-wide – the CIA, presumably MI6, some secret group called Prism, China’s deceptively tame-sounding Ministry of State Security,  the Five Eyes partnership and NZ’s GCSB.  New Zealand’s promotion team is headed by the Prime Minister, John Key.

The book? A brief  resume (with credits to Wikipedia): “Nineteen Eighty-Four”  by George Orwell, published in 1949, is set in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind control, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as thought crimes.

“Their tyranny is headed by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. Big Brother and the Party justify their rule in the name of a supposed greater good.  “The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, (Aha!) is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism.

“His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record always supports the current party line. Smith is a diligent and skilled worker, but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.” Of course, any spy epic must include sex.

But Orwell would never have produced  anything quite as cute as whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s girl friend, Lindsay Mills, who labels herself in her blog  as “specialising in pole dancing, partner acrobatics and aerial dancing”. She knows her “Man of Mystery as “E” … As I type this on  my tear-streaked keyboard I’m reflecting on all the faces that have graced my path …” etc etc

All this is good for a giggle –  if only it didn’t reflect so clearly the sort of world we live in. Today’s facts are as worrying  as anything in Orwell’s fiction. Digital science has outdated him.

Modern scandals represent so much of modern life – the ability in our society to dig into phone and e-mail records to identify who we call and when, phones that take and send photos, so called security systems on streets and in buildings intended as a protection from crime which can be tapped as to who was where and when, charting  movements by vetting data in those same mobile phones.

Here is a guide to aspects of the spying world you may never have believed  existed. The GCSB: The NZ Prime Minister, Mr Key chairs the committee which in early July will hear submissions on the “Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill” (to those in the know, “the Spy Bill.”) It allows the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders in set circumstances. GCSB’s web site boasts that it “employs the cream of New Zealand’s talent… many recognised as leaders in their field of expertise.”

PRISM: What’s most troubling about the U.S. PRISM isn’t that it collects data. It’s the type of data it collects. According to the Washington Post it collects: “…audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs… [Skype] can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone, and for any combination of audio, video, chat, and file transfers when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance.”

PRISM’s masthead has familiar massive white inflatable globes on its masthead – like those  in that secret US base at Waihope in NZ’s South Island that no one will talk about!

Insisting that broad national security requests seeking users’ personal information were unconstitutional, Yahoo went to US court fighting a PRISM demand  that they  join the spying programme and hand over data. They lost. A secret US court operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) sided with the National Security Agency and forced Yahoo’s hand. Most recent figures show that Facebook got up to 10,000 requests for data from NSA in the last six months of 2012, involving  between 18,000 and 19,000  Facebook users on a broad range of surveillance topics, from missing children to terrorism.

Microsoft had between 6000 and 7000 orders, affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 accounts, but downplayed how much they had revealed. Did you get all that? Similar “depth of access” applies to Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest. Just to be clear: This covers practically anything you or I have ever done online, up to and including Google searches as you type them.

Five Eyes:  This “intelligence community” grew out of close UK-US intelligence cooperation in World War 11. Early in the Cold War, “faced by growing Soviet conventional and nuclear threats, American and British intelligence cooperation grew.”  Out of that came a Top Secret sphere of sigint  (secure integrated global network) cooperation whose existence was denied by participating governments  – including ours – for many years. Its website includes an up-beat statement from Canadian Brigadier General James Cox:

 “Cyberspace is now an accepted domain of warfare and Five Eyes sigint agencies are the principal ‘warfighters’, engaged in a simmering campaign of cyber defence against persistent transnational cyber threats… “…to provide governments with foreign sigint in support of national decision-making. In doing so, Five Eyes partners – the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and  New Zealand  – rely on each other to share the collection and analysis burden.

“Today, technological and computational advances create innumerable opportunities for the interception of diplomatic, military, scientific and commercial communications, as well as the extrapolation of radar, spacecraft and weapons systems. While it cannot always reveal what an opponent is thinking, sigint can tell you what he is saying and doing, Most critically, sigint can provide warning of imminent enemy activity at various levels.”

The general also says rather unconvincingly: “Five Eyes partners apparently do not target each other, nor does any partner seek to evade their national laws by requesting or accepting such activity. There is, however, no formal way of ensuring such eavesdropping does not take place. Each partner is trusted to adhere to this ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between allies.”

“Apparently” is not good enough. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister says: “It is the Prime Minister’s view that New Zealand’s relationships with its partners are of overwhelming benefit to New Zealand’s national security.  I’m not convinced.  Are you?  It’s worse than “1984”. It’s real.”

End of my husband’s thoughts on spying, and Canadian spy chief’s gobbledegook. Noam Chomsky has suggested that younger people may not be as outraged by this invasion of privacy as older people, since they’re already used to the open slather of Facebook and Twitter. But if so, I think they haven’t, in the words of the old joke : “realised the gravity of the situation”…

On the other hand, while a sinister interpretation can be put on these spying measures, in another way it shows us how we are all interconnected – that no-one is not, these days, part of the global village. The US and its allies have unwittingly united us all in their network of operations, and in so doing  may well unite us all too, in our resistance to being swallowed up in the phantom fears of fighting terrorism and in the brain-washing of the so-called fight for freedom.

This determination to monitor the citizens of the world may back-fire and show us all that seeing every-one as a potential enemy, terrorist or undesirable person is not the answer to peace. Peace is a state of mind, not a war on anything.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

All the family came for lunch yesterday to celebrate my birthday. Too many to sit round the dining room table, so I had to devise a menu to eat on our laps. It was a cold meal, so I made some hot mulled wine to warm everyone up on a freezing day before we began on the champagne and the rest.

It was quick and easy, using one bottle of good red wine ( I used some local Sangiovese), quarter of a cup of brandy, a peeled and sliced orange, eight cloves, three cinnamon sticks, two teasp ground ginger, and at least a third of a cup of honey… you can use more or less, depending on your taste.

Gently stir /mull for about twenty five minutes without boiling. I served it in coffee cups. This amount is enough for four to six people, but serving it in little coffee cups stretched it out to more than that.

Food for Thought

From the centre which we call the race of men

Let the Plan of Love and Light work out

And may it seal the door where evil dwells.

Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth

The last verse of The Great Invocation, channelled by Alice Bailey 1880 -1949  writer  on philosophy and occult themes

 

 

 

 

55 Comments

Filed under books, cookery/recipes, great days, peace, philosophy, politics, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Precious objects

100_0412I knew what it was as soon as I saw it.  It was unmistakable. The one and only. Its price far above rubies.  And I knew it was irreplaceable. We were standing in Friend’s kitchen making a pot of tea, and my eyes fell on this strange looking knife, with a black bone handle and a short pointed blade that looked as though it had been buried for aeons.

“Is that your special knife? “ I asked. Her soft, be-ringed hand covered it protectively as it lay on the bench.  “Yes”, she replied, her voice throbbing with all the weight of the years of devotion. “I’ve had it since it came out of the house when my first mother- in- law died over fifty years ago. I hide it from Jim so he can’t use it or lose it. I don’t know how old it is, I think the blade may have broken in half, which is why it’s so short. But I use it for everything.”

“You don’t have to explain,” I laughed, “I recognised it straight away. My father had a knife like that.”

He and my stepmother married just after the war when there was nothing to buy in the shops, and couples starting on their married life subsisted on the gifts of family and friends. This knife came from my stepmother’s father. He didn’t value it obviously. But nothing would have wrested it from my father’s hands, the talented cook in the family.

It was just your ordinary bone handled, long bladed knife. Not an actual carving knife, but the sort that was used for carving fowl in the days when people had a different utensil for everything. This meant that the blade was quite slim. But it was known as The Carving Knife.

For all the years of their married life, my father and stepmother used it for everything – peeling vegetables, carving the Sunday joint, cutting the Christmas cake, filleting a sole – they had no truck with dinky little vegetable peelers and fancy little kitchen knives. This was their treasure, versatile and indispensable. As the years went by the blade became more and more curved and thin from sharpening and from constant use, but it never buckled under the pressure.

If it went missing the whole house was in uproar and panic. Frantic searches ensued until the precious object had been found, and peace returned to the kitchen and peace of mind to the drawing room. We children were dispatched to all corners and cupboards in the kitchen- always feeling rather hopeless. I can still see my handsome, moustachioed father bent over the dustbin outside on a dark winter’s night, unwrapping the bundles of rubbish wrapped up in newspaper the way we did back then. He found it too, that time. It was not only well used, but well travelled, accompanying us to and from army quarters, from country to country and into retirement.

Now that they are both dead, and I was far away each time, first in Hong Kong, and then here in New Zealand, I’ve often wondered what became of their most precious possession, whether anyone else remembered and treasured it, or was this cherished hard-working, faithful kitchen help-meet just jettisoned?

My husband will only use the same mug for all his drinks. It’s a blue willow pattern mug, which the children bought for me for Christmas 1974, and has lasted until now. It actually has one chip, but it doesn’t put him off. He will also only use two stainless steel spoons from the kitchen drawer for his breakfast muesli, out of all the spoons in the house. He likes their shape. They are amongst the oldest, ugliest and cheapest in the house. They came out of the top of a large packet of Tide in 1965. Tide was a washing powder we used in the sixties. The spoons were part of a set of knives and forks as well, which were buried in the soap powder in each box – which of course, I used in copious quantities for all those nappies.

And my son, when he was four and five, on being asked what he wanted to eat would always reply: “Toast with melted butter and the crusts cut off and my drink in a rose cup”. Like me he is still addicted to using beautiful things – but not, maybe, as addicted as me…

In her funny and charming little book ‘The Holy Man’, Susan Trott has a chapter called “Fussiness”. The Holy Man noticed that one of his disciples, Henri, always sat in the same place for meals, and always used the same blue plate, and he also noticed that the sleeves of Henri’s robe were always folded back in exactly the same way with three folds.

So the next day the Holy Man sat in Henri’s place. When Henri asked him about this he just pulled down the sleeves of Henri’s robe. The next morning as Henri entered the kitchen, the Holy Man dropped the blue plate, and then swept up the shattered pieces. Later, Henri nabbed the Holy Man – who was called Joe, actually, and said: ‘Okay, you think I’m being fussy,’ but Henri still couldn’t see the problem. In their discussion, Joe pointed out that attachment means suffering, and he also suggested that these attachments meant that Henri was trying to control his environment, which leads to rigidity of thinking.

I often think about this chapter, being an extremely fussy person myself, and try to train myself to let go without suffering when I chip a plate or break a favourite mug. I try to see it as an opportunity to find something new,  just as pretty – which I’m not sure is what Buddha or the Holy Man had in mind!

And as for the kitchen knives – yes, I have one too. No it is not a fetish, but a right hand man.  Over a life-time several of these precious objects have broken or disappeared, but I feel my present general duties, all purpose kitchen knife will last the distance. I found it in the garage when we moved here, seven years ago. It’s the most comfortable of all my knives to hold. The curve of the blade is perfect for everything I want to do, it gets sharper than any of the others, and if it goes missing, there‘s hell to pay. But my better half is oblivious to all this, and uses it as if it were any old knife. So I end up like my father, searching frantically in rubbish bags, over-loaded dishwasher and kitchen drawers for my indispensable partner in the kitchen. Yes, I am shamelessly attached !

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

With a slow-cooked casserole the other day, I decided to skip the mashed potatoes which it cried out for, and do pureed kumara/sweet potato instead. Peeled, and boiled until soft, I tipped them into my new toy, the stick whizzer. First I put a big knob of butter and a good dollop of cream, then the kumara, salt and black pepper and nutmeg to taste. A quick whizz, and there was this melting,  delectable orange puree.

Inspired by this, I decided not to mash the carrots and parsnip together, but to puree them too. This meant cooking the carrots for longer than the soft parsnip. But whizzed again with the butter and cream, they were heavenly too. They soaked up the beautiful sauce of the casserole which had been cooked in spices and pea – nut butter for twelve hours at fifty degrees.  Recipe next time!

Food for Thought

In the morning the ignorant man considers what he will do, while the intelligent man considers what Allah will do with him.

Ibn Ata’illah-Sakandari  Sufi saint, born in Alexandria circa 1240, died in Cairo 1309, where his tomb can still be visited.

37 Comments

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