Tag Archives: Vietnam War

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

Peace and the heart of blogging

100_0395Part of this has been re-blogged.  Life’s rich pageant, as a comedian used to say, has run me over this week, so I’ve returned to the thoughts in this blog.

I had read a novel by a distinguished prizewinning writer, polished it off in a few hours, turned over and went to sleep. And in the morning I awoke thinking how depressing it was… not one man or woman who was inspirational, kind, or good – everyone ambivalent and self-absorbed. Then I remembered one peripheral historical character, whose real life contribution to the care of the wounded in World War One is one of the more fascinating true stories of that time. He was a man of integrity, compassion and genuine goodness. And as I thought about him, I felt my whole body relaxing, and a smile on my face. I thought to myself how much I love reading about goodness.

I thought about Mildred Norman, the Peace Pilgrim, that amazing woman who for twenty-eight years walked the length and breadth of the States seven times. She carried nothing but a few items in the pockets of her jerkin which was emblazoned with the words: Peace Pilgrim. From 1953 until her death in 1981, she walked to remind people of peace.

She walked through the Korean War, all through the Vietnam War, and on through all the other conflicts, until the day she died. She had no means of sustenance, she ate when she was given food, and slept wherever she was, and usually people recognised her goodness and gave her a bed…” walking until given shelter, fasting until given food”. When she reached 25,000 miles in 1964, she gave up counting.

Wherever she went she talked of peace, saying: “We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.”

Ironically she was killed in a car crash while being taken to speak to a meeting. But her disciples carry on her message. She was seventy -one, a gentle, silver- haired blue-eyed woman with a tanned complexion.

Then there was Don Ritchie, ‘The Angel of the Gap’. I can’t read about this beautiful man without tears blurring my eyes. He retired as a salesman, and bought a house with a marvellous view of the ocean just outside Sydney, which also overlooked a famous suicide spot. He spent the rest of his life looking out of the window at that famous view. Not to enjoy the view, but – “for a far greater purpose,” as one obituary put it – to rescue those who came to end their lives.

As soon as he saw someone lingering there, he walked across to them smiling, with his hands out, palms up (what a beautiful, instinctive gesture of peace and non-violence). “Is there something I can do to help you?” he asked.  He talked to them until they were ready to pick up their shoes and their wallet and their note, and to come back to his house where his wife had a cup of tea waiting for them.

Sometimes he risked his life struggling with those who were determined to jump. The official count of the lives he saved is a hundred and sixty – four, but those who knew him believe the figure to be nearer five hundred. Bottles of champagne and cards arrived for him for years after from those whose lives he’d saved.

He used to say: “never under-estimate the power of a kind word and a smile”. He died last year at eighty-six, proof that no-one needs special training to serve their world, that love makes a difference, that great goodness is to be found in ‘ordinary’ people ( if indeed they are ordinary) as well as in spiritual mentors…

This goodness is what I’ve found in so many blogs I read. Some I never miss… not witty or intellectual or spiritual, but filled with a sweetness and a simple goodness that lights up my day… they make me think of that haunting little Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’… because their goodness is a gift, and it’s a simple uncomplicated sort of goodness, spontaneous and undemanding. Reading these gentle blogs about ordinary events and everyday lives filled with weather and animals and growing things is like smelling a flower.

In the last few months I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the world of blogging. I’ve come to see that for many people it is their life-line. There are those who are sick, but never reveal it, who use blogging as their way of meeting and communicating with others. There are those coping with family illness, death and other domestic challenges, who receive kindness and understanding and a listening ear from the blogging world, and who in their turn open our eyes to the depths of life, and teach us truths about the human condition. As they share their ordeal, their pain and questionings, we bloggers also gain from the perceptions and understandings and resolutions they reach. And there are some who use blogging as a comfort and a support as they search for a job, or a purpose, or tackle a new challenge.

And blogging is an education. As it links us all from around the globe, we learn about the lives and countries of other bloggers. More importantly we share their feelings and gain greater understanding of our global village. And in the year or so that I’ve been blogging, my general knowledge has expanded as I’ve read scientific blogs, climate blogs, artistic blogs, literary blogs, mystical blogs…

But the kindness of bloggers is the heart of it all. That’s why I think blogging has a part to play in raising the consciousness of the world. Even the self-imposed conventions of conduct that we observe, never criticise, judge or write anything hurtful … to be supportive and respectful, are habits that can make the world a kinder place. Kindness stimulates the flow of peace and goodwill which is what will in the end, transform the world into a village, where we know and care about each other, and where, in Thich Nhat Hahn’s words: ‘peace is every step.’ The heart of bloggers is becoming a part of the beating pulse of the world… Namaste, my friends.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Felled by a gruesome couple of visits to the dentist, I needed something to eat that didn’t need chewing. So I de-frosted 500gm of minced chicken and sauted some chopped onion and some celery in a little oil and some butter. When they were soft, I added a cup of grated carrot, some chopped garlic cloves, chopped thyme and a couple of bay-leaves, a squeeze of Worcestershire sauce (you can leave this out). Add the chicken to the pan to quickly brown, and then tip it all into a casserole with some chicken stock to cook slowly in the oven – less than 150 degrees.

This, eaten with creamed potatoes, and pureed peas was just what was needed, and also passed muster with the other hungry threadbare gourmet in the house. And there was enough for another meal.

Food for Thought

Life has a bright side and a dark side, for the world of relativity is composed of light and shadows.

If you permit your thoughts to dwell on evil, you yourself will become ugly.

Look only for the good in everything, that you absorb the quality of Beauty.

Paramahansa Yogananda 1893 – 1952  Indian guru and author of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’

 

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Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, great days, life and death, love, peace, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Goodness, peace and bloggers

100_0185

Last night I read a novel by a distinguished prizewinning writer. I polished it off in a few hours, turned over and went to sleep.

This morning I awoke thinking how depressing it was… not one man or woman who was inspirational, kind, or good – everyone ambivalent and self-absorbed. And then I remembered one peripheral historical character, whose real life contribution to the care of the wounded in World War One is one of the more fascinating true stories of that time. He was a man of integrity, compassion and genuine goodness.

And as I thought about him, I could feel my whole body relaxing, and a smile on my face. I thought to myself how much I love reading about goodness.

I thought about Mildred Norman, the Peace Pilgrim, that amazing woman who for twenty-eight years walked the length and breadth of the States seven times. She carried nothing but a few items in the pockets of her jerkin which was emblazoned with the words Peace Pilgrim. From 1953 to 1981 when she was killed in a car crash, she walked to remind people of peace.

She walked through the Korean War, all through the Vietnam War, and on through all the other conflicts, until the day she died. She had no means of sustenance, she ate when she was given food, and slept wherever she was, and usually people recognised her goodness and gave her a bed…” walking until given shelter, fasting until given food”. When she reached 25,000 miles in 1964, she gave up counting.

Wherever she went she talked of peace, saying: “We who work for peace must not falter. We must continue to pray for peace and to act for peace in whatever way we can, we must continue to speak for peace and to live the way of peace; to inspire others, we must continue to think of peace and to know that peace is possible.”

Ironically she was killed in a car crash while being taken to speak to a meeting. But her disciples carry on her message. She was seventy -one, a gentle, silver- haired blue-eyed woman with a tanned complexion.

Then there was Don Ritchie, ‘The Angel of the Gap’. I can’t read about this beautiful man without tears blurring my eyes. He retired as a salesman, bought a house with a marvellous view of the ocean just outside Sydney, which also overlooked a famous suicide spot. He spent the rest of his life looking out of the window at that famous view. Not to enjoy the view, but – “for a far greater purpose,” as one obituary put it – to rescue those who came to end their lives.

As soon as he saw someone lingering there, he walked across to them smiling, with his hands out, palms up (what a beautiful, instinctive gesture of peace and non-violence). “Is there something I can do to help you?” he asked.  He talked to them until they were ready to pick up their shoes and their wallet and their note, and to come back to his house where his wife had a cup of tea waiting for them.

Sometimes he risked his life struggling with those who were determined to jump. The official count of the lives he saved is 164, but those who knew him believe the figure to be nearer 500. Bottles of champagne and cards arrived for him for years after from those whose lives he’d saved.

He used to say: “never under-estimate the power of a kind word and a smile”. He died last year at eighty-six, proof that no-one needs special training to serve their world, that love makes a difference, that great goodness is to be found in ‘ordinary’ people ( if indeed they are ordinary) as well as in spiritual mentors…

And then there are some of the bloggers whose posts I never miss… not witty or intellectual or spiritual, but filled with a sweetness and a simple goodness that lights up my day… they make me think of that haunting little Shaker hymn ‘Simple Gifts’… because their goodness is a gift, and it’s a simple uncomplicated sort of goodness, spontaneous and undemanding. Reading these gentle blogs about ordinary events and everyday lives filled with weather and  animals and growing things is like smelling a flower.

But unless one is a Pollyanna, I have a shadow to face too – cyber-bullying. It’s hard to remember that we are all one, when  encountering words and actions of destructive malice, and this is when the words of the sages like the Peace Pilgrim help me keep my balance. It’s then that I try to be thankful for this shadow, because it shows me that there must be some place in me where I don’t love myself as my neighbour, and so some inner work to do. And it’s that test of one’s character and integrity to be unmoved by such psychic attacks.

Miguel Ruiz’s words carry me through these moments that could unbalance me. His second agreement reads: “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others do and say is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others you won’t be the victim of needless suffering”.

These words of wisdom are what can keep me on the path of peace… because though the Peace Pilgrim talked about world peace, and the end of war, the wars won’t end until our own lives are at peace and ‘peace is every step’, in the words of Thich Nhat Hahn… Peace to us all.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Summer means lots of tomatoes, and I often use them the way I remember from living in Vienne, Central France as a child. I remember huge – probably- beefsteak tomatoes, with their middles cut out, and filled with thick golden mayonnaise. If I do them today, one each is enough for us, for a light lunch, served with some crusty rolls. If I do them as a starter, I use smaller tomatoes, and surround them with glorious sweet smelling basil. I serve them on green plates, and they look gorgeous.

The mayonnaise is the usual. Using a stick beater, in the beaker break one whole egg – both yolk and white – plus salt, pepper, a good slurp of white wine vinegar or lemon juice and a good teasp of mixed mustard. Pour in some grape oil or other gentle tasting oil but Not olive oil, to just under halfway up the height of the beaker, and then press the button! Whizz, whizz, and mayonnaise is ready! This process spoils the taste of the olive oil – hence the need for alternatives.

Food for Thought

The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is happening outside. And only she who listens can speak.

From ‘Markings’ by Dag Hammarskjold, second UN Secretary General. 1905 – 1961 Diplomat, and writer, son of a Swedish Prime Minister, descendant of generations who had served the Swedish crown and people since the 17th century.   A spiritual man, during his time at the UN he organised and supervised every detail of a meditation room there. His plane crashed in suspicious circumstances on a peace mission in Africa. He’s the only person to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.

I’m learning to take pictures, but haven’t got the hang of captions yet!  This is the crepuscule rose in my garden

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Filed under bloggers, cookery/recipes, happiness, life and death, love, peace, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized