Thursday, 31 January 2008

true confessions

although my daily occupations are centred on the redeployment of materials, planting of trees and generally fairly laudable behaviour in terms of responsibilities to the planet, I must confess to having what some might call a dark side. this may shock. I actually enjoy driving. and given I live in rural bliss, getting anywhere at all other than the nearest village (achievable on a velocipede or Shanks' pony) does require motorized transport if it is to be accomplished in reasonable time i.e. without a camel train and camping gear.
even worse, my chariot of choice is a Mazda MX-6. tiny smart cars are fine for metropolitan areas but put them up against country traffic, a blur of trucks, multistorey tourist buses and wandering stock and they offer about as much protection as one of those red netting bags that Spanish onions are packed in. scary stuff.

one of the particular pleasures when returning home from parts foreign is peeling off The Beastie's jarmies (aka cover), popping the hood and inspecting the offering on the dipstick...then a quick pre-flight visual inspection (nothing so rough as kicking the tyres) before sinking happily into the driver's seat. despite the age of the car (vintage 1996) it feels fantastic. the instrumentation is nicely positioned and favours the driver. the leather seats hold one snugly, the gearstick feels good to hand if not quite so short and snippy as that of it's little brother, the MX-5. I heave a sigh of contentment, it's 'clear props' and the V6 purrs into life emitting a tigerish rumble not unlike that of a Porsche 911 (sadly beyond my budget). chortling 'chocks away' we're off. the mile or so of dirt track to the bitumen is a faithfully constructed model of the floor of the Grand Canyon and so has to be negotiated slowly and carefully. once we're on the black stuff though, it's pure driving heaven. it would have been a bonus had the designer chosen to inlcude an oil pressure gauge along with the other instrumentation...but hey, you can't have everything.
I'm surprised Mazda stopped making them after only a few years - predict it will become a classic one day, it's such a lovely sleek shape.

the only drawback I can think of on the MX-6 is the front wheel drive, but it compensates for it's inability to do donuts (not something a respectable mother of three, keen on preserving the life of her tyres, should be doing anyways) with four wheel steering.
this nifty notion makes for perfect steering (neither over- nor understeer) and The Beastie sits down like a duck on corners. bring on the winding roads. then when one finds a nice straight bit (and there are a few around here) one can just open the taps, feeling the G forces push one back into the seat as the scenery begins to blur. this responsiveness is something I miss when forced into hire cars...

when all's said and done, The Beastie only slurps 9 litres per 100km, and certainly has cleaner emissions by far than the many ancient poorly maintained vehicles one sees clogging up the roads. oddly enough the fuel consumption is equivalent to that of the unspeakably ghastly automatic Nissan Pulsar which awaited me at Greymouth rail station last year, despite a firm request for a manual. I'd been looking forward to tackling the winding West Coast roads with something vaguely responsive, sadly it was not to be.

steering the Nissan was like trying to drive a barge through a canal full of toxic sludge. the seats appeared to have been whittled from hebel blocks and then covered in fluff. it made strange beeping noises when stationary. the brakes seemed to be operated by an on-off switch and not a lot happened when one put one's right foot in the general direction one might expect to find an accelerator. it wheezed a bit, causing me to suspect there might have been a nest full of asthmatic termites under the bonnet. there certainly wasn't anything terribly exciting. not at all like the little Alfa 33 I once hired (1986) for a trip to Melbourne. I fondly remember it having done the 450 miles in 6 hours on one tank of petrol (eat your heart out, Jeremy Clarkson)

we made slow if not exactly stately progress South, taking in various glaciers and staying for one blissful night at the Franz Josef Glacier retreat (three cheers for wotif!!) later playing pool at the wonderfully hospitable Working Men's Club in Greymouth.

that trip taught me two things. one I'll keep to myself for the time being, the other is never to drive a Nissan again. I'll walk, thanks.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

there's no place like home

i'm home again, and it's good, very good indeed. warm welcome on the paddock as well as the usual convulsive border collie greetings. and all those cat backs firmly turned, signifying they're not taking any notice of the prodigal's return.

Monday, 28 January 2008

visibly risible

here's an amusing sign. i'll agree that suffolk are an excellent meat breed, and i'd happily stuff mattresses with their resilient and springy wool...but lingerie? we're getting into Billy Connolly's Auntie Agnes' territory here. particularly hilarious given Aotearoa's fame in the merino department (second only to the bigger southland a little to the west in terms of quality and itchlessness). suffolk wool is best suited to making socks for trampers and wayfarers (preferably worn with a merino or cotton sock on the inside) as it is inherently resistant to felting as well as being extremely durable.

the thought of it knitted into knickers leaves my knees knocking.

Friday, 25 January 2008

highly strung

i think it can be reasonably hypothesized that string is one of the most important inventions. how else did that piece of stone embrace the stick and become the axe? how did paleolithic princesses make their tantalizing aprons or neanderthal man keep his trousies up?

we spin ourselves a yarn, making string from rag waste, trimmed edges of cloth and those wee scruffles of thread that blossom on a cut edge of silk cloth. i have Nalda Searles to thank for giving me the gift of this technique, it is a soothing and practical occupation, and one of the few textile crafts one is still permitted to practise while in international transit - as knitting, stitching and crochet require the use of 'lethal' weapons.

the photo below shows a length by John Parkes, evoking flame trees....

this talk of string reminds me of a story about my grandmother whose mother died having just given birth to her. grandmother was farmed out to be cared for by others and consequently did not have as happy a childhood as she might have had in the event her mother had survived. be that as it may, one Christmas Eve at the local vicarage, when presents were being handed out in the traditional manner - one for each child - grandmother was handed a large ball of wool, together with a small crochet hook. being an industrious child she set about crocheting a scarf...and as she worked her way through the ball of yarn, surprises began to appear. first a hairclip, then a ribbon, further in a small comb and gradually as the scarf grew, so did the collection of pretty objects that had been carefully wound into a beautiful bundle of surprises by the Pastor's two daughters (grown women who also ran the village school), not wishing to single out the motherless child at the moment of gifting by giving her more than the others; clearly aware of grandmother's interest in making things but also thoughtfully extending her pleasure in the gift of wool and hook with the unexpected appearance of treasures...

Thursday, 24 January 2008


it is decided we will walk to see the glow worms. our host insists we abandon footwear in order to more intensely experience the paths thither. barefoot in the night we make our way through the fringes of suburbia. a full moon hangs low, the seven sisters are still keeping orion at bay. the gravel gnaws sharply at our feet.

suddenly our guide stops at what appears in the gloaming to be a large black hole in a thickly forested patch by edge of the road. switching on his torch a set of steep steps is revealed, literally ledges in a cliffside. they tumble down to a rivulet, and we feel as if we might, as well. climbing steep objects in the dark calls on all the senses.

standing in the stream, we see the mouth of a low tunnel and crouching, we enter. that two of our company are speaking danish makes it feel as though we are undertaking a journey as part of a fairytale or saga. perhaps this tunnel was dug by hobbits. i banish thoughts of giant spiders still any minute i expect Grindel to erupt vengefully from some unseen orifice.

meanwhile the torchlight dances on the water showing rare wild scaleless fish, even a small eel. i find eels slightly unnerving, though beautiful, especially when the feet are taking a path which is only fitfully illuminated. our host dowses his light and presently the cave walls are dotted with hundreds of magical bright blue gleaming spots... and words fail me... glow worms!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


the Waikane river beckons on this perfect day...rather like Goldilocks' porridge, not too hot, not too cold, but just right. yesterday's wild winds have blown away and blue skies smile. we wade barelegged into the water, trailing lengths of silk like seaweed over the stones. later, armed with our bundles, riverwetsilk wrapped around found spontaneous plants (more prosaically described as weeds), riverstones at the core we wend our way back to the studio, an aromatic haven full of steaming dyepots, perfumed leaves and jewel-like samples.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

to bee, or not to bee

the passing and commemoration of Aotearoa's best-loved beekeeper is in many minds today. family members reminiscing about Sir Ed remind us of his humility and his extraordinary insistence on the state of ordinariness. his response to an interviewer pointing out his modesty regarding his achievements makes me smile..."well, there's a lot to be modest about." we wish him well on his next adventure...which, according to Peter Pan, is an "awfully big one".

with beekeeper in mind and a fondness for bees, when friends suggest we break our evening bread together at the Busy Bee (in Raumati) given our first choice Lembas is closed on Tuesdays and there is a hurricane blowing i am favourably disposed to be pleased by the establishment.

having experienced aromatic deliciousness, warm smiling speedy service, unparalleled cleanliness, soothing surroundings and general bliss at the Mussel Boys in Paraparaumu some nights ago i could even describe my attitude as comfortably optimistic. the waitress at the Mussel Boys understood her wine list, was clearly delighted by the food she was able to offer and indicated by her very demeanour that she had been waiting all day, just for us to walk in the door. this is how i like to be welcomed, particularly when i am far from home and especially when hard earned shekels are to be exchanged for edible commodities.

sadly the Busy Bee now joins the list of places to be avoided at all costs when visiting Wingnutcentral; among a range of dining experiences which are rapidly beginning to resemble local terrain - peaks of achievement separated by deep valleys of despair. if only those metaphoric valleys had rivers to flush out the dining debris. high points have included the Wellington Trawling Seamarket, that nice place on Cuba Street called Satay Palace or something very similar, the aforementioned Mollusc Fraternity and of course the octogenarian favourite, the Green Parrot.
lows have included an appalling cafe in Kaikoura, whose chowder brought to mind Lord Blackadder's pungent and graphic description of one of Baldrick's cream-coloured culinary offerings. the chowder presented by the Bee's ample waitress isn't quite in that league and redeemed by recognisable morsels of sea-creatures; however finding a small black hair at the bottom of the dish was more than a little disconcerting.
the crowning glory of my present evening is provided by the appearance of four diminutive and decidedly deceased objects erroneously described on the menu as king prawns. it is obvious from their dessicated appearance that some time has elapsed since the Reaper popped by for cocktails and canapes at the prawn family residence and despite the promising description of the dish on the menu it is a dull affair.
in contrast my friends are pleased with their meals. the scallops are certainly plumper than their crustacean cousins...however once immediate hunger is assuaged and we begin to more closely observe our surroundings it is clear all is not well at the Bee. the waitress keeps flicking her hair everywhere. the state of said hair conjuring lines from an early Dire Straits song, that bit about the conductress on the number nineteen. the hair slides over a plate of muffins she carries to another table. uggh. too tired and too stunned to protest, we cough up the cash and depart.

grub may well be a simile meaning food, but grubby is not a descriptor one likes to associate with dining.
and $16.50 for four shrivelled shrimps is scandalous. no wonder i have a bee in my bonnet.

ps, actually posted on tuesday, non-usa time...

Monday, 21 January 2008

into the wild

today a wander in the Nikau bush, a rainforest remnant on the Kapiti coast. birds drop pure notes from the canopy, ferns and epiphytes wander skyward. tiny striped fungi cluster on fallen logs. we walk mindfully. at predetermined 'trig' points each person gathers a windfall leaf to add to their 'walking bundle'. these become cloth documents, coded maps of the path each person has taken. mementos of a memento of time past.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

the koala tea of mercy

is not strained, but falleth like the gentle rain from did the bottle that was hurled at me this afternoon by the occupants of a car, flashing past in a blur of noise on the Kapiti coast road. well, i guess if you see a madwoman harvesting solanum berries from the roadside that could be one of the potential responses.
ordinarily such unruly attention-seeking would trigger my perpetual curse response however at that particular moment i had been standing, hands full of harvest, wishing i had come out armed with a container. instead i had sallied forth free of bags and other encumbrances, simply to enjoy the sunset and take the air. as one does.

fate intervened and began to strew useful things in my path, first an empty glass coke-bottle then luscious black brambleberries to fill it; then a large rusted fragment of steel, followed by a slightly smaller chunk of die-cast aluminium - and suddenly the abundance of a myriad tiny dark purple solanum berries, irresistable to a wayfaring dyer. and lo, as i stood there gazing in vain for another dumped container to fill, the gods smiled, and released one from a passing chariot.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

musings at the green parrot

overheard on the wharf at dusk... "that's odd, even here the sun sets in the west". a visitor from another planet, perhaps? days end finds me in Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, a whirled away from my usual haunts.
nonetheless there are familiar paths to tread, flowers to pick and slip unobstrusively into a pocket, rusted fragments to find. i go down to the sea. the tide is out so my quest for a bottle of seawater takes me somewhat gingerly down slimy steps. winkles cluster busily about. there are mussels in abundance. water bottle filled i turn to Taranaki street and the familar comfort of the Green Parrot. my luck is in, there's a corner table where i can establish my defences, back to the wall, behind the journal/keep, and play the watcher.
three men whose sporting days are long behind them consume vast platters of grilled meats. they chew open-mouthed and manage conversation at the same time. old friends who can dispense with niceties. the waiter brings bread and butter, i spread one on the other, liberally apply salt and am well content.
no walking up Taranaki in the rain tonight. the dimming sky is soft, blue, gentle. last year, caught in a thunderstorm after dark, i was gathered up by a kindly police officer who would not hear of my quest for a bus and insisted on driving me back to my digs in Island Bay. only in Wellington, where (no doubt to that bizarre visitor's ongoing surprise) the sun has just gone to rest, in the west.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008


dappled sunlight streams in through the window puddling light all around interupting the packing of yet another suitcase for yet another wandering. soon there'll be dorothy moments in other countries but sadly without the red sparkly shoes.

meanwhile there are cherries to prick and soak in vodka, against a rainy winter's day...assuming there'll still be rainy winters. right now it's not looking too hopeful.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

dipping a toe in the water

a first experimental scrawl on the wall, just to see if the paint will stick and what sort of fish one might catch with it. here's a poem to amuse the whirled

it's called signlanguage

body flung across petalstrewn bed
whispers from an inland sea
eyes glimmering beyond the border
doing their cloud thing across the blue
sledgehammering into mind.
soft coincidence of memory
lost somewhere west of the moon
where fragrance darkly blooms
the sails fill, the telltales flit

the sails fill, the telltales flit
remembered in the faraway
crystal salt sears tentative tongues
weaving wind whips layers
from the sleeveworn hearts.
fog rolls in, seeping between lids
omens unfurl in quiet corners
golden summers up in smoke
red dust conceals the fire in stone

red dust conceals the fire in stone
starlit night sundered by the axe
of first light through the door
while rains turns dust to blood.
the swollen belly kicks and heaves
writes signlanguage for blind hands
beetles crawl midst fallen leaves
where now are those nine?
footsteps in the wildwood

footsteps in the wildwood
white cloths filtering the breeze
the solid earth stood stone still
while trains roared past
painter, pianist, poet, purveyor of dreams
all these and more
were promised in a meeting.
hooked like a salmon from the silver seas
fixed in a fading photograph

fixed in a fading photograph
from a hole in the sun
eternity scrawled across the pavement
sand falling grain by grain
communion in the common cup
simple heaven in that lost wildflower
making sinners of us all
ghostdancers in our sodden graveyards
pulling petals one by one

pulling petals one by one
the red sun rose, eyes darkringed
some sweetness in the air
cigarsmoke about the wavering flame,
slipped velvet along the corridor
shrugged into a shirt
bought a return ticket
and decided to stay
on this contented day

on this contented day
that which was lost was found
the chickens came home to roost
and early eggs counted, hatched
the purveyor of dreams kissed me in my sleep,
remained as I awoke drifting
sang in the voices of the nine planets
forgotten words found wandering
body flung across petal strewn bed