Archive for the ‘observations’ Category

Eyes are everywhere…..

February 9, 2008

It is hard to believe that we have been living in the bus for over five months already. Yup, five. The reality still hasn’t sunken in somehow. It’s there every day, of course, but it still simply feels like a long, long holiday. Not that there haven’t been adjustments to make, and plenty of them, too. Having to line up for a shower if you choose a busy time, like first or last thing, having to remember that the toilet cassette needs emptying NOW, without delay, having to share your every outside moment, and a number of inside ones as well, with complete and total strangers, not knowing who will end up being your neighbour for the night; it all takes some getting accustomed to. One of the things that I didn’t really allow myself to think about before we embarked on this was the complete and utter lack of privacy you have when you live in a campground. The instant you step outside your bus, you are in the public eye. People watch you, all the time. Natural curiosity, I suppose, but it becomes a little wearing. You are watched when you go to the laundry, watched when you go to shower, when you walk the dog, collect the mail, connect the hose for water, put the rubbish or the washing out, bring the washing in, go for the mail, all day, every day, ad nauseum. Even when inside, unless you live in constant curtained seclusion you are under the gaze of interested parties who are curious about your abode or, to be honest, often straight-out nosy and for a person who is in many ways intensely private, this has been no easy road to travel. Probably just as well that I didn’t think too hard about this particular aspect of our new life, or I may well have put the brakes on the whole crazy scheme. The other permanents seem to feel this too, and you can generally guess fairly accurately who is a permanent and who is just enjoying a holiday by the way you are greeted, or not greeted. The holiday-makers grin inanely and babble on about the great/nasty/unseasonable weather, or the wonderful/ratty/dilapidated ablutions, while the permanents have a strong tendency to walk like blinkered horses, eyes fixed in front and a little downwards. It becomes the only way to have a little privacy, I suppose. We are kind of in the middle of the transition at present; still sociable enough to say hello and smile, but not willing to chat with every Tom, Dick, Harry or Jane who wants to stop and natter.


I’ll have to work on this…


Virtual Walk.

August 24, 2007

I’ve thrown the morning paper down with disgust and despair and retreated to the study. The two main stories concern Dubya’s latest blathering on the hopelessly complicated Iraqi situation and the happy news that new pandemic-potential diseases are now developing and spreading at the rate of knots. Happy breakfast, everyone.

As I sat down, I realised that this is possibly the last time I will write from this desk because tomorrow we move the furniture to the storage unit and the house will be bare and empty, awaiting the arrival of the new people. I will miss this place terribly and up until now have scarcely allowed myself to think about that aspect of leaving. Twenty-one years of living, loving, hating and growing are embedded here and you don’t leave all that without a backward glance. When we arrived, it was to a large grassy paddock, protected from the cold southerly blasts by a large row of lawsoniana. There were no other trees, except for a huge old-man pine, which was felled to make room for the house. There were no gardens, no shrubs or bushes, no flowers, no vegetables.

If I raise my eyes just a little and glance out of the window, I can see a row of raised beds running along the length of the house. One is full of primulas and their glowing jewel colours defiantly light the grey morning and provide a contrast to the flowering quince above them. Its pink flowers cover the bare branches which are alive with waxeyes who are there for the tiny insects that live among the petals. They visit every morning around this time and are deft little acrobats, navigating with ease through the sharp thorns and hanging upside down by their strong little feet. They are not in the least bit shy. At first, you only see one or two, their green and grey blending with the bark, but watch for a moment, and you will see that there are six, eight, ten, dozens, moving in the tree and on the ground beneath. Suddenly, they are done and rush away, flying in little swoops to their next destination.

Look a little to the right and the stately deep purple heads of a winter rose rises up from its low lying leaves. It seeded last year and its children, still in miniature, are growing up around its feet. Further on, Grandma’s pinks are just starting to put out their spring leaf tips. If you could come back later in the season and see them in flower, you would be met by a wonderful fragrance. Grandma’s pinks have been with me since our girl was two years old. And speaking of our girl, there is the David Austin rose that shares her name. I chose it because it is just like her – the flowers are a warm deep pink with peach and gold tones at the centre and the scent is heady, rich and voluptuous.

Walk along a little further and you will come to a large bed filled with variegated flaxes, cabbage trees, kowhai and a blood-red rhododendron. This garden really was created with blood and sweat. It once housed three huge lawsoniana whose branches reached out so far that they almost touched the house. Higher that the roof at the two story end, the trees loomed and menaced, their cold shadows blocking all sun and light. The year after H. died, we felled them and the transformation to the backyard was instant.

I could walk you right through the rest of the garden, but I know that I’d lose my blaudience long before we got right around, so we’ll just stop one more time and that is in front of Mum’s kowhai. This is a very significant tree for me. It was grown from seed taken from the huge tree that grew in the backyard at Belmont, my last childhood home. That was a stately being, rising up in beautiful form beside the house. The Wahine storm took it, smashing it and splitting the trunk right down the centre. Mum collected seed from its felled branches and grew a bonsai which lived for years in a pot on the back porch. That bonsai was admired and coveted by many and when Mum died, I whipped it away to the farm and planted it. It has since grown into a beautiful tree. When it flowers in late spring, tui, bellbirds and kereru flock to it’s golden flowers, drinking the nectar and bickering among themselves over territory and mates. Last week, I collected seed from its branches. I plan to sow them in various safe places as we travel around, but I will keep some in reserve. One day there will be a new garden and I’ll sow that seed and maybe in the far off future our grandchildren will lie in the grass beneath a kowhai tree, looking up at tui feeding in the spring.

Great release leads to frantic activity.

August 21, 2007

Yeah – I know that it’s usually the other way round, but after two years of being on the market, the farm has finally sold. You may wonder why it took so long, so I’ll back the bus up a bit and explain.

Around twenty-three years ago, three families decided that they wanted to give co-operative living a shot. Not in hippie everyone-loves-everyone-but who-does-the-work style, but more of a co-living; a sharing of a commonly owned land and possessions. We searched for a year to find the land, and found a bare block of 116 acres/46 hectares in a beautiful spot not far from the capital city. This was purchased and as we very much wanted to retain our individual family identities, we designed a large house that comprised three completely separate living areas, each of which could access the others, but all under the same roof.

We lived a pretty basic life in on-site caravans for a few years while we built, this being done with our own blistered hands, mainly at weekends. Eighteen months into the building process, one of the families decided that they no longer wanted to be part of the co-operative and moved out, leaving the remaining two couples and their collective four children to complete the task.

Eventually the house was completed to the stage that first one, then later the other family could move in.

I won’t attempt to describe the dynamics of co-operative living here, except to say that it was an extremely challenging time, physically, financially, socially and personally. The challenges were only exacerbated by the cultural mix of differing Kiwi and German attitudes and expectations and by the complex and somewhat individualistic characters of the adults involved. Throw injury, illness and death into the mix and the challenges went through the roof.

The original intention had been that we would gradually expand the community, eventually building a self-sustaining mini-village system, where a wide range of ages would live co-operatively, providing a safe birth-to-death haven. We were young and very idealistic and not very realistic and the challenge never really got off the ground.

The years rolled on. One of us departed for the spiritual world, the kids began leaving home and eventually there were only three of us, knocking around in a vast ten bedroom, three living room, two kitchen house. We decided that we had to sell. Easy peasy, you might think.

But wait. There’s more. One of the remaining three has been told by a friend that the property is worth *$insert astronomical number.* In reality it is worth *$insert much less.* Emotional price has nothing to do with it. A property is, after all, only worth, in dollar terms, what the market will pay. It took two years to talk him down to a realistic view. The other factor in the long sale time is simply the size. Many came to see, most loved it and wanted it, few had a reason to buy such a huge place.

Eventually, someone came with an acceptable offer, although it was a close-run thing. Much fast talking was required on the part of yours truly and the Manpet to convince our partner that this really, really was the time to take the money and run.

And so – great release and much frantic activity – the time from going unconditional to settlement gives us only twenty-four days to pack up the detritus of twenty-one years of collective living and move out…….

Baby Day

June 29, 2007

Today is baby day – the long awaited moment when our new grand-daughter will be born. This day, although two and a half weeks preterm, has been chosen because of the previous loss.

Mothers who have had an early still-birth are known to stress increasingly once the comparitive time of the previous pregnancy is reached and these stresses can affect the foetus, so when this is likely to happen an early elective is often chosen, so long as the new baby is of reasonable size and development. Just to add to the mix, the new little one is still doing her internal flip-flops and changes position from breech to normal almost daily. Because of this, it won’t be known whether the elective will be natural or sugical until the very last minute.

Because of the circumstances surrounding the birth of the first child, everyone is in a high state of anxiety. Schmootle is a bundle of nerves and although her rational medical mind tells her that all will be well, her heart responds differently and as a result she has frequent and escalating emotional meltdowns. With her, everything is seen at the surface; what you see is what you get. Her man responds differently and although he has a double burden of grief for his lost children he hides this under a veneer of slightly irritable “Oh, for heaven’s sake, what now?!” The Manpet and I respond in our ways, too. Although I’m certain that the past will not be repeated, I’m most concerned for Schmootle’s mental state should anything go wrong. And birthing is always an anxious time anyway.

Coupled with this is the on-going stress of the property sale. We have recently listed with a new agent after two unsuccessful years of marketing, and while some would think that our previous agent was lax, this was not the case. He worked hard for us and spent a great deal of money on advertising and a huge investment of time in showing the property to a whole string of potential purchasers, but to no avail. The whole nature of the property means that it will appeal to a very small sector of the market and this naturally has its consequences. So we are re-tendering with new agents who will re-brand it and hopefully swing a deal our way.

The new tender process begins on Monday and the preparation time coincides directly with the baby’s arrival. You could argue that we should have waited, but in all honesty, we are getting near the end of our tether here. Some study has shown that the three most stressful events in our lives are the death of a close family member, separation and divorce, and selling a family home. Generally, selling a family home takes a maximum of three or four months, so our two years on the market puts us right up there among the experts in the field.

One of the main stresses of having the property on the market is having to constantly have the house and gardens in perfect condition. I never was a devoted housewife and dust balls have always been close acquaintances, so the constant dusting and vaccing and tidying away to invisibility of all extraneous personal possessions goes totally against my natural sloppiness. Same with the gardens; I would much rather give in to my inner eye that says “Hey… a wee garden here would look just wonderful!” than maintain those already here, so over the years, a great sprawling conglomeration of beds has sprung up all over the big house paddock.

When we first put the place up for sale, we worked like demons to get it all clean and tidy, spick and span, both inside and out and even managed to keep it that way for quite a time. But you can only do so much and still lead a nearly-normal life so over the two year time span, things have gone back a little, especially outside. In preparation for the latest tender-thing I’ve spent the past weeks in a frantic spring clean of the house and a very cold and wet re-vamp of the gardens, which are at their winter worst. I tore out yesterday and bought a whole lot of colour spot plants to whack into the bare patches. Petunias were the choice of the day and their wonderful colours glow brilliantly in the dull winter light. I’ll put them in the raised beds outside the kitchen and study windows where the plant-eating critters seldom intrude and hopefully they will still be there when the punters come to view.

And this post, rabbiting on as it does, is something of a distraction. If I put my mental energies in here, I won’t have to think about what is going on down the road.

It’s looking over your shoulder

June 15, 2007

Last night was one of those nights when the muse awoke me sometime in the wee, small hours with a demand to write. I lay there for a while, thinking over the proposition and struggling with my desire to capture the idea and the equally strong desire to stay snuggled beneath the duvet in the warm fug of the matrimonial bed.

In the end, warm fug won over cold writing. It’s winter here and the nights are cold and often clammy. We don’t tend to have central heating in our houses, being rather too close to our forefathers’ hardy pioneer spirit to consider such percieved wussiness as an essential, so the temperature in our houses is generally much colder than those of our European or North American counterparts. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how convienient it would be to be able to simply dictate the story direct from my mind to my computer, a silent flow of data travelling from the complexity of my brain to the binary of the PC. A kind of have my story and sleep on it too equivalent of cake and eating. But then I thought some more and decided that my computer and the vast tentacled array that it is coupled to through the Internet already knows a great deal more about the contents of my mind than I may be comfortable with.

Take Google options for instance. A very helpful place, with lots to do. Search, blog, upload your digipix to the net and much, much more.

If you have an enquiring mind, you possibly use the Google search engine every day. Possibly many times. It is a great idea – a vast, if somewhat random repository of much information that would otherwise be very hard, if not impossible in some cases, to access. It is easy once you get the hang of it – simply bang in your search terms, and kind Google rushes quickly to sort them into a generally relevant bunch of links for you to peruse. We can look up all sorts of things from the history of the USA to breeding lines for budgies, from the development of artificial intelligence to a recipe for biriani chicken. Of course sometimes you may be searching for information that you might not be happy about someone like your Aunt Cynthia knowing about. Or your mother or father. Or even your partner. But you are cunning. You know how to delete your History on the PC, so…no worries, mate.

But Google always remembers. Google remembers every single seach you have ever done. Google remembers which links you clicked and which images you viewed. Google knows when you search and remembers the day and the hour. If you have gmail, Google knows the contents of your mail and who you send them to and receive them from. Even if you delete your mails, Google has a h-u-g-e box that it keeps all the old mail in. As does your computer, by the way.

If you have a Google account of any sort, a gmail or Picasa for your on-line photos, you can test this for yourself.

Go to Google. You are most likely already logged on to your account. Click on the “My Account” button which you will find at the top right-hand side of the screen – many people don’t even notice it sitting up there- and when the secreen re-loads, click “Web History”. If you are not logged on, you can sign in. Spend some time there – click around in the various options presented to you and you may well be astounded at just how much you have searched. Stuff you have long forgotten about. Some you may be happy to see again and some may make you look over your shoulder.

If you know about all this already, you probably fall into one of two camps. You will either be completely unconcerned or you will be searching using a proxy of some sort, such as Scroogle.

And if you are completely unconcerned, maybe you should ask yourself one question: Why do they want to know?

Sunshine Again.

June 7, 2007

“She’s turned!” Her eyes are alive and alight.

“She did it on Sunday afternoon. Then she turned back and yesterday she turned again and hasn’t moved since.”

And indeed, Schmoo’s mummy-tummy is looking a lot more comfortable. Instead of a hard, high mound beneath her breasts, there is a gentle sloping bulge that falls gracefully away. We are both relieved at the change and although it is still early days, if thirty-four weeks gestation can be described as early, this is the first sign that the baby is getting ready to be born head first.
Today is scan day. I’ve been invited, partly as support person and partly because I’m the grandmother-to-be. We are usshered swiftly into the small, darkened room by a technican as stick-slender as Scmoo is rounded.
On with the goop and there she is, the wee moko, curled and tucked close under her Mum’s heart. The image is grey and a little grainy. It’s kind of hard to see what you are supposed to be seeing. I stare hard at the monitor.

“There’s the skull,” says the technican as she measures. “Size at the top of the range. That’s good..” She slides the scanner. “And there’s the heart. Good and steady.” And indeed, there it is, its little auicles and ventricles pumping away, opening and closing silently and rhythmically like odd little mouths.
“And here’s a thigh,” she says again, “a little shorter than standard.”
“Short? Did you say she’s got short legs?” snaps the daughter, truly her mother’s child.
“No, no, not short as in short. She’s still well within the normal range.”

Eventually she removes the scanner. She hands over a rumpled bundle of paper towels.
“The results will be through in a few moments,” she says “Just sit in the waiting room.”

In all honesty, scans make me feel a little uneasy. I am not wussy in this way in general. I don’t swoon at the sight of blood. Seeing (minor) bits of human separated from the main body doesn’t make me scream or throw up. I can kill, skin and gut an animal if there is a need to do so. Flyblown sheep are my friends. But this stuff disturbs me somewhat. Maybe it’s the sight of all that stuff that should never be seen, all that mysterious inner world. I don’t know. But a good bowl of organs would do me anyday, whereas this…

Soon, the pictures are ready. We go outside and stand in the weak winter sunlight, holding them up and peering closely.
“Short thighs, eh?” I mutter. “Well, she’s her grandmothers grandchild then, isn’t she.” We giggle together. And it’s true. My Father’s side has bestowed a genetic marvel on the females of the family in that we are almost universally direct inverses of Barbie. Piano legs are the rule. Even though I’m only a little over average height, if my legs were directly proportional to my body, I’d be around five feet ten. But I’m tall when I’m sitting down and that will have to do.

We embrace closely, warmed by more than the sunshine.
“Have you got a name yet?”
“Yes. But we’re not telling.”

Ah – secrets.

A Short One Act Play

April 19, 2007

The Scene: A street in very small-town Foxton, New Zealand. A hedge separates the footpath from a backyard.

The Characters: In the backyard, two adults. On the footpath, two early teenage boys dawdle, one on a bicycle, one on a skateboard.

Curtain rises.

Skateboard boy: We can go back if you like.
Bicycle boy: Unnnh…
Skateboard boy: You could talk to her.
Bicycle boy: Mmmm…
Skateboard boy: You like her, don’t you?
Bicycle boy: Yeah, but…
Skateboard boy: So why don’t we go back and you can talk to her.
Bicycle boy: I dunno what to say to her.
Skateboard boy: Just say “Hi.” Ask her how she is.
Bicycle boy: I’m too scared. She might not like me.
Skateboard boy: She does. She’s been watching you all week!
Bicycle boy: You think so?
Skateboard boy: Yeah! She does! I’ll come with you.
Bicycle boy: Well, mmm, I might, then.
Me: (from behind hedge) Go on! Go back and talk to her! You know you want to!
Bicycle boy: Arrrgh!!!
Skateboard boy: Shit!
Bicycle boy: Who was that? (Pokes head around hedge)
Bicycle boy: Old people!
Skateboard boy: Old people? What would they know?
Bicycle boy: Yeah, what would they know. I’m going home.
Skateboard boy: Me too! Play Station?
Bicycle boy: Yeah! Come on!

As curtain falls, two “old people” grin at each other.