Sunday, February 28, 2010


A Delightful Discovery

Joy and Robbie Lawson live on two acres at Makakihi. Maka where? Makakihi, that tiny town between Glenavy and Timaru; a river, a factory making potato chips, a tavern and a few folk selling country crafts. Joy is a potter, Robbie a gardener. I met them when the Glenavy Women’s Institute found that the planned venue for their February meeting was not available. Not to worry, one of the committee members had relatives with a nice garden at Makakihi. Twenty W.I. members descended on the Lawsons, were welcomed, entertained and fed home mixed barbecued rissoles with three salads, a range of pickles and sauces Escoffier would have envied, plus fruit salad and ice cream to follow, under a spreading flowering cherry tree and the biggest wisteria I have ever seen.
But first they showed us their two acres, borders filled with flowers and shrubs from which Robbie takes cuttings for sale, winding paths through glens of shady trees, Joy’s pottery is in a little courtyard behind a lattice screen, her stock of garden ornaments displayed outside; quirky hedgehogs, pukekos, spotted mushrooms and dozens of miniature gardens set is unorthodox containers; a picture frame fastened to the fence, a discarded colander filled with tiny cacti. Indoor pottery is displayed next to Joy’s studio and in a blue caravan set in another part of the garden. Nearer the house is a ‘reflexology path,’ carefully sized flat stones have been set on edge so one can walk in bare feet while massaging one’s soles. Joy and Robbie preach the value of mulch and carrots like tree ferns, laden tomato vines demonstrate their beliefs.
Where are they? Driving north look for the last sign ‘Plants and Pottery’ on the right before driving on to the bridge. Their two acres is a wonderful example of how a house and land can combine to make a real place for living in. It’s worth stopping to see.


The Glenavy Women's Institute meets every month. It's main purpose is friendship. Most of our members are busy, hardworking farmers' wives with awesomee organisational talents. They might be late for meeting because they had to feed calves, but they arrive, smartly dressed, they have baked something for afternoon tea, and have knitted some tiny baby garments for the hospital's prem ward, or a funky beanie for teenagers with cancer. They have a wonderful talent for thinking on their feet. The venue for our February meeting was not available. No panic, one ofthe committee members has a relative with a beautifulgarden.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


What happens when a clever gardener marries a gifted potter? Magic, that;s what. Next time you pass through Makakiki where McCains make potato chips, drive in to the [lace with a sign outside that says, PLANTS & POTTERY. It's not a garden centre, you won't be pressured to buy, but you will probably come away with a boot full of plants and a head full of ideas.


What happens when a clever gardener marries a gifted potter? Magic, that;s what. Next time you pass through Makakiki where McCains make potato chips, drive in to the [lace with a sign outside that says, PLANTS & POTTERY. It's not a garden centre, you won't be pressure d

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A week for sitting in the sun and reading

I read two novels with a New Zealand connection this week:
BREAKING THE CLOUDS by Margaret Blake (pub Robert Hale 2008)
ISBN 978-0 -090-8562-1
is set mostly in a far north New Zealand town where an English couple have settled, he works as a solicitor in Auckland, she has walked into the Deputy Principal’s job at the local school. The novel’s theme is the break up of their marriage. As the story continues I found myself thinking,
“Hold on, has Margaret Blake lived in New Zealand or did she skim through ‘Lonely Planet’ for details?”
I do not make a habit of nit picking when I read but nits in this book kept jumping off the page and hitting me; repeated references to ‘North Island’ and ‘South Island’ I have never heard either referred to without the definite article. Ninety Mile Beach has changed coasts, in ‘Breaking the Clouds’ it edges the Pacific Ocean, not the Tasman Sea.
The characters could have been interesting; two intelligent, middle class ‘poms’; a distant cousin destined to be the villain; an enigmatic, rich Maori, who looks like John Tamihere, his kind sister who makes soup and scones, but they all speak with the same middle class idiom and sentence structure. By page 116 whoever borrowed the book before me had become so fed up with the grammatical errors in the narrative they took to underlining them in pencil; ‘that’ for ‘who’ ‘’lessoned’ for ‘lessened’ etc.
That old maxim, ‘show don’t tell’ from Creative Writing 101 has been ignored. Driving into Auckland from the North the protagonist sees nothing that distinguishes Auckland from Liverpool, or Boston or Athens. As for teaching we learn nothing of how Bron interacts with pupils and staff. When Job takes her to a party and she sings we don’t know what song or how she sounds to herself. Worse; when they go to dinner at Mangonui, renowned for its fish and chips, there is absolutely no description of the meal, did they buy them wrapped in newsprint, or eat them from a plate? Did they squeeze fresh lime over them? How crisp was the batter? How flaky was the fish? Nothing.
The narrative bones of the story are there, but the characters don’t react to places or people so that we see their thoughts. I ‘googled’ Margaret Blake.
She has written several historical romances, perhaps she was uncomfortable with the demands of a different genre, but ‘Breaking the Clouds’ did not impress me.
On the other hand PLINY’S WARNING by Anna Maria Nicholson (Harper Collins 2009) did. Nicholson is a journalist with ABC Australia; she has researched carefully and raised deep scientific issues. Frances Nelson is a vulcanologist, on an International team assessing the dangers of Mt Vesuvius. We meet her on a dive in the Mediterranean’ ‘Her calf muscles tighten as she kicks her flippers and dives deeper.’ We are sharing the experience with her from the first sentence, through the encounter with a moray eel, to the discovery of mosaic tiles from a drowned Roman villa.
The characters are real, not because of how they dress but from the descriptions of what they do, and Nicholson has chosen some truly dramatic locales. We hear the boiling pools and the echo of fragile pathways on White Island. We share the last moments of a family trapped in Pompeii. We feel the rage and despair of a gifted young ‘cellist dying of cancer in Naples.
Nicholson has wisely decided to tell the story in the present tense, apart from flashbacks to New Zealand the story unfolds like a screen play, it adds to the suspense. Frances Nelson lives in a working class apartment in Naples. She interacts with her neighbours, through them we learn about the effects of municipal corruption upon ordinary lives; the streets clogged with rubbish, shoddy buildings which collapse in earthquakes, how the gangsters react to protest. The author has taken two dramatic themes, one political, the other scientific, and tied them together with a story about real characters, truly serious story telling.

Friday, February 5, 2010


When visiting the Health Centre the other day I found the waiting room full of elderly ladies, like me. On the magazine table, almost hidden amongst the trivia magazines and vintage National Geographics, I spied some rose pink leaflets, A4 folded in three.

they announced. Inside was a selection of short poems, from the classical by Robert Burns, through ‘Wild Daisies’ by Bub Bridger to a haiku by Greeba Brydges-Jones and best of all under the title was added.
yours to keep

This was my first sighting of a project I have known about for some time, so I grabbed a copy and showed it to the other ladies. Instead of discussing our current ailments we spent a delightful twenty minutes reading and discussing the poems. I think our blood pressure would have registered lower as a result.

Poetry in Waiting Rooms is the brain child of Dunedin Poet Ruth Arnison. She plans to put together four issues per year. The Autumn collation is about to go to the printer and she is working on Winter.; a labour of love involving finding and choosing poems, then getting permission from copyright holders, organising sponsorship for printing and distribution and finally talking the medical community to put the leaflets into their waiting rooms. WELL DONE RUTH!

Speaking of Physicians and Poetry, I recently discovered NORBERT HIRSCHHORN who is the featured poet in this month’s Caught in the Net line poetry magazine.
A specialist in women and children’s health care, who now lives between London and Beirut Hirschhorn’s poetry is elegant, polished, with that indefinable touch of Jewish wit; like ‘Stand straight my mother said, or you’ll turn into a hunchback and no one will want to marry your sister.’

I have a lifelong schoolgirl crush on John Keats, I have loved Lawrence Ferlinghetti for forty years, Roger McGough for twenty, now Norbert Hirschhorn looks like taking his place right along side them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


In my youth, pre WW2, people could travel the world in cargo ships as 'supercargo', usually no more than twelve passengers. It was leisurely, comfortable and children were spoiled rotten. Frankly it was much more enjoyable than being herded through airport drafting yards, scanned and searched, packed into metal tubes to breathe re-cycled air. So when I found a website advertising voyages on cargo and container ships I sent an enquiry.

The daily cost of sea travel is about 130pounds per day, cheaper than the Hilton or Hyatt on shore. The cabins are en suite, passengers dine with the ship's captain and officers. Passengers are allowed to use amenities like indoor swimming pools installed to keep the crew happy.But there is a snag. Because there are no ship's doctors they do not accept passengers older than 79 years. DAM!

So I have to relinquish my dream of a leisurely sail to and from Crete, but if anyone under 79 is reading this I say to them,'Be adventurous, plan to do things a little differently before it is too late.'