Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Ernest Britten Page was an extraordinary man and looked exactly the way I have always imagined John The Baptist would look. I think I must have met him in the early 1960s in one of those all night coffee bars that flourished uneasily in the grubby streets of Soho and Covent Garden at the time. He was intentionally homeless and during the day slept in the reading room at the British Museum or on the Circle Line, which then did what Circle Lines are supposed to do, hour upon hour encircling central London. By eight each evening he emerged refreshed and ready for another night’s work casting horoscopes and interpreting astrological charts which in 1964 cost five shillings apiece. Ernest was no mere forecaster but rather a mystic of immense depth and intuition. His sensitivity to the human condition was unsurpassed and he was unique among the many misfits who frequented the night streets of the city claiming either to have found or to be searching for `answers’. He is said to have been a post office worker for the first twenty years of his working life, one of those who weighed parcels and issued postage stamps to orderly queues. One day whilst eating a cheese and pickle sandwich at lunchtime in Hammersmith he decided to give up his mundane job and from that moment the local postmaster never laid eyes on him again. Ernest walked into central London, grew his hair and a long white beard and did what he had always wanted to do, cast horoscopes. He was particularly adept at Horary Readings where the concerned client asked a question to which the possible answer was of enormous concern to them and Ernest constructed a chart by noting the exact time at which the question was asked. A number of young women like myself, suffering varying degrees of unrequited love, lined up on Friday and Saturday evenings to ask our strikingly similar questions. Ernest was consistent in his predictions for me – the man I adored did not adore me; he advised me to leave him but knew that I would not do so. He then told me precisely when I would leave, down to the very month – February 1968. My closest friend in those years had recently had a baby, a child who was to have significant health problems in years to come. Ernest accurately predicted a number of events that would occur in the child’s future, including some unexpectedly tempestuous and turbulent incidents. At the time we treated the matter light heartedly and I had almost forgotten it until reminded recently by the child herself, now a middle aged woman who still has the original reading that Ernest charted that night. Later in the sixties her mother and I came across Ernest again and were shocked when he said with no hint of trepidation that he would not be available for future astrological work as he expected that his life was soon to end. Within a week or so he was found dead in a deck chair in St. James Park, the sunny day enticing him away from the Reading Room and the depths of the London Underground system. It was an enormous shock to all who knew him. For one thing, despite the fact that his general appearance led his friends and acquaintances to assume that he was an elderly man, Ernest Page was in fact only in his early fifties. It has been both pleasing and satisfying to be once more reminded of him and more than thought provoking to attest to the precision of his predictions.
Monday, 21 December 2015
It would be true to say that I never feel full of the joys of Spring in the lead up to Christmas - never have, and even less so when the lead up features humid nights where sleep evades me, and choirs swelter in shopping malls belting out various versions of `The Little Drummer Boy'. The first Christmas I remember with any kind of clarity was when I was four years old and my mother bargained with the local butcher for the Red Cross Doll in his window display so that I could become its proud owner and name it Arabella. Toys were hard to find in wartime. The second one was with my father safely home from Italy, Greece, North Africa and wherever else the Eighth Army went. Despite our poverty I remember him staggering into my bedroom with a pillow case full of second hand books - Rupert Annuals and a long forgotten book character called Toby Twirl. Oh, and a red plastic tea set with which I played for years. Then of course there was the truly awful Christmas of 1951 when he suddenly died on the twelfth of December, struck down with a mysterious illness that turned him yellow, far too yellow and dispatched him within days even though he went to hospital. How odd that in those far off days we all believed in the magical powers of the local hospital. How guilty I felt, how responsible because he and I had been locked in ongoing battle since 1946 and I had so often fervently wished for his demise. After his death the poverty became more grinding and the Christmases more miserable than usual, undistinguished one from another. Then when I was seventeen a suddenly more exciting Christmas spent in London with new Australian flatmates whilst my poor mother and young brother sipped their festive whiskey tea in North Kent and told themselves I would surely put in an appearance on Boxing Day. Seven yuletides with Vidar my oh so controlling lover and the father of my first child, passed indifferently although I do remember him once giving me a tiny Steiff bear that I treasured for years and then lost. Suddenly the love of my life was in the past and I was once again alone, now with a baby that he assured me he never wanted to lay his eyes upon. He kept his word in that respect but those first festive seasons as a mother were delightful despite the fact that money had once again become an issue. To have happy Christmases you definitely need children around you, preferably your own. The happiest of all were then yet to come once securely married and within a few short years, mother of three. I recall working frantically to create my own little Dickensian world in this corner of the Pacific, complete with roast goose (hard to find I can tell you), and puddings made in November. When others headed for the beach with their glazed hams and fruit salads, we stayed firmly at home in Kohimarama mimicking the characters from `A Christmas Carol'. And of course it was most definitely worth all the hard work when two out of three of those children, now heading towards middle age, still get excited at the thought of Christmas Trees, carols and roasting chestnuts.
Saturday, 12 December 2015
I was recently exchanging a few words with a Facebook Friend as to how Auckland weather compares with that of London. I regaled her with the fact that when I arrived in New Zealand forty years ago I was considerably surprised by the novelty of winters where no heavy coat was needed and I could happily navigate my way from kindergarten drop-off to shopping trip with only a chunky Aran sweater to protect me from the elements – unless it rained of course. Then, unaccustomed to the kind of deluge Auckland could produce I not so happily became soaked from top to toe because it was a little while before I worked out that I needed to purchase an umbrella at the very least. I distinctly recall asking several people if it really was winter and them saying that July was usually the coldest month of the year. There again, this was Auckland and I had not yet experienced the rather different climate of the South Island. `It is so, so much colder in winter in London,’ I pronounced to anyone who seemed willing to listen and mostly they looked indifferent, which is unsurprising. It is safe to say that unless it was raining I was as warm as toast bustling around the streets doing house-wifely things. It was a different matter inside the apartment where the rather new husband and I were living. Number fifteen Karori Crescent was quite smart for its time; open plan living with wide windows dramatically overlooking the entrance to the harbour. I spent a great deal of time contemplating the view, observing the variety of vessels coming and going, and as the novelty of the new climate began to diminish, wishing I was on one of them – but that’s another story. It was inside that quite smart apartment that I first realized how fundamentally chilly New Zealand homes could be and how odd it was that the locals appeared to be immune to the fact and continued to explain that they did not own heaters because after all, Auckland had a semi tropical climate. As time went on I realized that our own draughty home was far from unusual and that the city’s splendid Art Nouveaux houses with their impressively high ceilings, ornate verandahs and lavish belvederes had been designed by an army of hopeful architects confidently expecting that this far flung outpost of the empire was yet another tropical paradise. A little bit of India in the Pacific perhaps. They rapidly came to the conclusion that they were mistaken and began to gaze enviously towards the rather more cozy and comfortable dwellings constructed by the local Maori who had no intention of putting up with chilly Julys. As time has progressed Aucklanders have become accustomed to the idea that perhaps a mistake was made all those years ago by the first settlers; possibly central heating is not a completely unreasonable idea. This sensible conclusion was much aided twenty years ago by the sudden influx into the country of groups of Russian musicians and trapeze artistes who immediately and significantly lifted both quality and performance of Orchestras and Circuses from Whangarei to Invercargill. Having an orchestral player in the family, from time to time we met these new immigrants, at parties organized to welcome them. Invariably they sat hunched and miserable and plainly shivering. One cellist romantically called Anastasia told me almost with tears in her eyes that she had never been as cold in her native Siberia and added, `There we have heaters of course.’ I met her again a week or so later at another welcome to Auckland event and this time I could not help but notice that she had taken the precaution of wearing a fur jacket. `That’s a lovely jacket,’ I told her shivering resentfully in my silk blouse. She simply looked smug.
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
So I’m revisiting what might be called a hoary old topic – the pitfalls of an afternoon’s shopping for something as ultimately mundane and commonplace as a white blouse. Yes, I know it’s tedious. I hate shopping and almost need to be topped up with a large gin before I can even contemplate the idea. It’s not that I hate entering shops (though they could turn the music down) or that I find clothes boring (I definitely do not!). No, what I hate with a vengeance is the third degree the customer is put through as they quietly traverse the rows of goods on view. Quiet contemplation of garments is impossible as one eager assistant after another wants to know if I am merely browsing. Then, thirty seconds later, if I am still happy to be merely browsing. Once reassured that I am happy indeed to continue the browsing option within a milli-moment I am asked if I am shopping for Christmas and if my day has been good so far. I am then of course tempted to say that the day was great until their inquisition began but I force myself to simply nod and smile. I begin to feel stalked as the breathlessly excited shop person then desperately needs to know if I have anything good planned for the weekend – followed by an urgent need to know what I am doing for Christmas. But by this time, if I have managed to control a furiously rude response…..I am exiting the place. Today both MAX and COUNTRY ROAD lost possible sales and I headed towards GLASSONS where the interrogations by staff are not usually as ferociously determined. The only problem being that most of the customers look about thirteen and after grabbing the nearest white blouse size twelve I hastily pay for it then slink away. Overall though, downtown GLASSONS was definitely the store of the day.
Saturday, 5 December 2015
I confess to finding the game of cricket tedious. I have never understood the rules and never wanted to. In England the best thing about it was that it was often played on village greens on balmy summer afternoons with onlookers (who clearly did not find it as monotonous as I did) spilling out of pubs with names like The Red Lion or The Black Bull, pints in hand to lazily observe the progress of the contest. The spotlessly white garments of the players were pleasing to the eye. I especially liked the way some of the more fashion conscious draped their v- necked sweaters around their shoulders as they ambled towards the pub as the sun went down. In New Zealand the absence of village greens and Red Lions rather sealed the fate of the game for me, however. I really didn’t like those coloured pajama type outfits the players began to wear a couple of decades ago. I have an aversion to the background noise of the game on television, hour after hour, day after dreary day as the husband remains glued to the screen with the volume just a little too high on account of his challenged hearing. I feel murderous when he suddenly reverts back to the cricket in the middle of Coronation Street - `Just for a second because I want to know the score’. Oh how my knitting needles want to leap from my homicidally inclined fingers at those moments and sink themselves into the back of his neck. If he knew how deadly my intent was he would refrain from score checking even though it is generally, as he is quick to point out, only during the commercial breaks. So you’ve got the picture I’m sure, I really do not enjoy the game of cricket. However, in recent weeks I am ashamed to say that a whisper of interest has been kindled via the trial of one unfortunate Chris Cairns. I followed the action with great attention. As former friends and colleagues lined up to tell the world what a disgraceful cheat he was, I was convinced beyond any doubt that the outcome could only be several years in prison for young Christopher though the first uncertainty set in when the Judge seemed to me at least to be directing the Jury to `find him not guilty or else…..’ He doesn’t really mean that I thought to myself. So it was with disappointment that I woke on that fateful day a couple of weeks back to a Chris Cairns telling the world how relieved he is and what an ordeal he has been through. The husband harked back to the lack of what he called hard evidence and went back to munching his muesli. That’s all very well but I could not help but feel disillusioned by the result – most particularly since Mr. Cairns seemed to me to be remarkably understanding and even forgiving of those who had turned against him, appearing at the proceedings merely to tell lies about him. I could almost hear him turning several cheeks whereas if I were in his position I would be planning revenge and retribution. Chris Cairns does not concern himself with the settling of scores. It only goes to show how capricious the game and its players are. As I said, I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm for it.
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
I made a lightning visit to Countdown on Quay Street this morning. I should explain that although I have the all important One Card and generally speaking I am a Countdown customer going back to the dark ages, I really HATE going to the Quay Street branch even though it is only a couple of minutes down the road and the parking is under cover and should be stress free. There is an unpleasant atmosphere in the car park which might or might not be simply to do with the poor lighting or more likely because of the Hitleresque Warden policing the area and making sure that no would-be customer stays over time or (heaven forbid) pops up the road for a cup of coffee. Deviating from the parking time limit rule results in a hefty and official looking fine designed to look as if it emanates from the local Council – which it does not. The keeper of the parking places although diligent in his duties did nothing to stop my neighbour’s bag being snatched a few months ago. If I go to Quay Street at all I try to get there early, before the beggars rise from their beds to patrol the pedestrian walkway by the stairs because as beggars go they are unusually menacing and though I have reported their presence on a number of occasions to the duty manager, nothing much is done to deter them. On one occasion I had to wait to lodge my complaint while an argument took place between staff as to WHO the duty manager actually was that day! Another frustration is the fact that having navigated the stairwell vagrants and actually entered the premises, there are often no trolleys to be seen. This is because they invariably pile up in long chains like a giant conger eels in the car park below. It would appear that most of the staff are reluctant to push them up the ramp so that they can be ready for customers above. It’s possible that they too are wary of the beggars. All in all it almost seems that the supermarket on Quay Street is not really a part of the Countdown chain at all, but a charlatan store of the kind you might come across in a disagreeable dream. So since I moved into the city, unless I am really pushed for time (like today) I much prefer to drive over to Mission Bay and supermarket shop in the more congenial atmosphere of New World, Eastridge.
Sunday, 29 November 2015
It is absolutely clear how highly regarded Jonah Lomu was, not only in New Zealand but all around the world – he’s in Madame Tussauds after all along with Princess Diana, Marlene Dietrich and Winston Churchill. And why not? It is more than evident that his sporting prowess brought a great deal of joy and happiness to thousands and he undoubtedly deserves his position there. Since his recent sad and untimely death there has been an outpouring of grief throughout New Zealand. The various memorial services in his honour have been overflowing with mourners and today the service at Eden Park was broadcast live by Radio New Zealand. I would not want to take any of that away from Jonah, his family and his numerous devoted fans. It does make me wonder afresh, however, about the manner in which we prioritise the significance of our home grown heroes. The passing of Jerry Collins earlier this year generated a similar turmoil of anguish and unbridled media frenzy where even the TV news anchors found it difficult to control their grief as they faced the camera and spoke in trembling voices of what he had meant to them. Such public displays of sorrow are not everyday events in this country. For instance no similar community lamentation was evident following the death of Captain Charles Upham (VC & Bar) when he died nearly twenty years ago. For those of you who might not have heard of him, Charles Upham was a New Zealand soldier who was twice awarded the Victoria Cross during the Second World War. In fact, he features among an astonishingly elite group there being only two others who have ever done so. He has been described as the most highly decorated Commonwealth soldier of that particular war. The Germans described him as `dangerous’ and when he was taken prisoner he was sent to Colditz Castle. I won’t bore you with a long list of his exploits and extraordinary gallantry but I will mention that it was King George VI who had invested Upham with his first Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace in May 1945 and when the recommendation was made for a second one the King couldn’t help noting that it was `very unusual indeed’ and then added, `Does he really deserve it?’ Major-General Kippenberger firmly replied, `In my respectful opinion Sir, Upham has won the VC several times over!’ So you could be forgiven for thinking that such a man might go down in local folklore as someone deserving of our joint esteem and approbation. Not so! Charles Upham died in November 1994 and his funeral in Christchurch Cathedral was conducted with full military honours. The BBC broadcast part of the service live though sadly Radio New Zealand did not. In fact his death, unlike Jonah’s and Jerry’s, was barely noticed in this country even though it was later marked by a memorial service in London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields Church and attended by representatives for the Royal Family. All these years later I still can’t help feeling that it’s a pity New Zealand could not have made a better effort to note his passing. He just wasn’t the right kind of hero I suppose.
Tuesday, 24 November 2015
I have to admit to being pedantic (well to be honest the husband calls it nit picking). I can get overly concerned with very minor matters (he says obsessed). Today it was something in the Herald’s Viva Magazine Supplement and simply concerned advertising – page 19 if we’re going to be totally precise about it. There was the half page of expensive advertising about underwear/lingerie that was available now so definitely no room for hesitation. It urged the reader to `spring-clean the lingerie and sleepwear draw’ in order to ensure that only the finest lace and silk should touch the skin. I stared at it for a full two minutes - `draw’? Really? Aha I thought to myself at last – they mean drawer of course. Of course they did. Silly old me to get so fixated about it. But unfortunately it was exactly the kind of minor slip (oops!) that is likely to keep me awake at night. Right up there with the TV newsreader talking about errant parents who not only half beat their kids to death but also fail to provide the necessaries of life. Necessaries? Could not that be better expressed as Necessities? Clearly not because even the best of them have now caught this particular word malaise. And while we are discussing expressions that grate upon the ear, I will add to the list those upmarket `high end’ downtown hotels who blatantly and embarrassingly advertise that they are now taking bookings for `High Tea’ - do they really not understand that there is nothing high and mighty about High Tea and that this particular repast is something eaten with great gusto between five and six pm by farm workers and coal miners in the motherland from whence it originated? My fourth form English teacher, Miss K Smith, I am certain, would feel just as incensed as I do.
Friday, 20 November 2015
Unusually alarming piece of driving witnessed in central Auckland today at 12.20pm when a grey Fiat Punto (Registration EEZ 492) hurtled through the decidedly red lights controlling the Lorne Street, Victoria Street East intersection as we were crossing the road – to then park neatly at the bus stop! Oh how I longed for several buses to arrive but of course none did. Neither the safety of pedestrians nor indeed other vehicles was uppermost in this extraordinarily errant driver’s mind, preoccupied as he was with leaping from his vehicle and careering through cars and bicycles in order to disappear into the depths of the Look Sharp Store opposite. I can only hope that his intended purchase was an urgent one and it may have been of course – but clearly he was having difficulty locating it because he was gone so long we got bored with waiting for his return. We were going to advise him of the road rules. For once you see even the husband was outraged and that doesn’t often happen.
Sunday, 15 November 2015
Radiographers in some parts of New Zealand, the husband had informed me, were dissatisfied with their working environment or maybe it was their pay rates. To be honest I paid little attention to this riveting piece of news because it is ten years since I relinquished my position as a practice manager in an after- hours, emergency medical facility and so I had long since also abandoned getting uptight and excited about `Contracts’ and `Conditions’. In fact I have even stopped shuddering at the thought of a call from the Nurses’ Union and they once struck terror into my heart. So, to get to the point, I thought making an appointment for my annual mammogram would be a non event. Ideally it should be made around Christmas time because that’s the way I remembered to do it. Usually the upmarket, efficient and caring facility just off Mountain Road that I have been visiting for thirty years works five or six weeks in advance so ringing up early in November was sensible. As it happened there had been a cancellation and I could have an appointment within days; excellent! I was unprepared for the lecture I received from the radiographer as she began to prepare me for the procedure and then suddenly decided it wasn’t a good idea. `Why not?’ I wanted to know and she said that my previous mammogram had been early in January and to repeat the procedure within a year just `was not good practice’ and I should return in January, a few weeks hence. I explained that having psyched myself up during the preceding evening there was very little chance of me taking that particular piece of advice. Could she elaborate on the contra-indications for doing the procedure today as planned? She repeated that it was `just not good practice’ and I told her persuasively that as I had a strong family history of breast cancer I appreciated her advice but I had quite made up my mind to go ahead. She asked if I had ever had any breast operation and when I told her that I had she searched for the scar and failing to find it, said she found it difficult to believe me. What was the name of my surgeon. When I told her she shrugged and said she had never heard of him. I admitted the surgery had been a long time ago, had proved the lump concerned was benign and in the interim the surgeon had died but at one time he had most definitely carried out breast operations. She clearly began to see me as a mammogram junkie and advised me that a surfeit of radiation of any kind was a bad thing and I think it was then that said again that my mind was made up and there was no chance of me taking her advice. It was at that point that she raised her hands to her head in a gesture of alarm and consternation and said she could no longer deal with me. Then she fled the room. It took a while to understand that I was now officially a `difficult patient’ because this particular radiographer was a woman I had seen a number of times over the years and she had always seemed to be a normal, helpful health professional. I had been attending the clinic for decades and had never previously been seen as anything other than a perfectly average patient. A second radiographer was sent to cope with me and she approached only a little fearfully before making a few jolly comments as the process was completed. Later on when relating this strange incident to the husband he again reminded me that some radiographers were in dispute with their employers and until their hourly rates improved there might emerge a whole procession of patients too difficult to deal with such as myself. Odd, isn’t it how contract negotiations can make some employees extraordinarily sensitive?
Saturday, 14 November 2015
That last post - `a little bit of Paris in Auckland' is suddenly so trite, unimportant and I wish I hadn't written it. We were in Paris recently, the husband, the daughter and I, sitting in the sunshine outside a slightly sleepy cafe, sipping on white wine and picking at a lunch platter. Paris in late September sunshine, a city at its best and even at the time we each of us agreed that it compared so very favourably with cloudy, rainy, chilly London where the coffee is distinctly variable and the lunch platters a sad sight to behold.
Friday, 6 November 2015
Well after an absence of each other’s company for months Philippa and I have now lunched together twice in one week, though Tuesday’s repast at The Lunchroom in Queen Street we both agreed we would not dwell upon unduly. Rarely had either of us experienced such unpalatable and leathery omelettes and over the years we had, between us, consumed a fair number of omelettes one way or another. However, enough of egg dishes because today we took off to Le Garde Manger at the top end of Queen Street – yes, that precipitous incline opposite Myers Park where the twenty four hour Chinese Takeaway outlets and Tattooists vie for recognition alongside massage parlours and mystics. There nestled amongst the faintly disreputable you will find Le Garde Manger looking strangely eccentric and a little like a meeting place for Resistance members in 1943. Because it was Saturday we decided to take the men which pleased the husband though Philippa’s Barrie, who is recovering from open heart surgery was less enthusiastic and, because he is afflicted with a similar hearing loss to the husband, wondered if he would be able to hear. We sat the aurally challenged pair down opposite each other and both became cheerful when the request for the background music to be turned down actually resulted in it being turned down immediately. They were able to discuss medicine to their hearts’ content, including their own current conditions as they worked their way through three courses (Duck Rilettes, Fish of the Day and a divine Lemon Meringue Concoction). Later on they even moved forward and discussed golf so Philippa’s interestingly swollen forearm barely got a glance and I decided, even though Barrie is a rheumatologist and I felt sure would be fascinated, against bringing up the topic of the pain in my right hip. Anyway, to get back to the point of this particular post, we all agreed that the menu at Le Garde Manger was definitely worth revisiting. Next time I might adopt a more Forties look with sunglasses, trenchcoat and an interesting scarf.
Sunday, 1 November 2015
I’m so glad the world cup is over. I’m so very definitely over rugby! The way this country becomes a seething mass of hysteria as far as sport (and rugby in particular) is concerned is actually embarrassing. Being something of an insomniac I have a radio on all night at low volume by my side of the bed because talkback stations can come up with some creditable discussion at three am when Bruce from Wanganui or Callum from Invercargill ring in. In recent days, however, I have been tuned firmly to the BBC world service because the nauseating dialogue about possible drop kicks was just too much to bear. Yesterday morning the post match frenzy was still bubbling away so I hastily refound the BBC – just in time to Helen Clark (ex prime minister of New Zealand for those in far flung places who might not know) give a twenty minute discourse on how ecstatic she was about the win. Well you can’t actually win can you?
Wednesday, 28 October 2015
We went to see Legend the other day. I had read some poor reviews of this movie but having been a one time acquaintance of the Kray Twins I had to see it whatever it turned out to be like. So we went, though the husband did so reluctantly it has to be admitted. He said he was looking forward to the `bit at the end’ and when I asked him what bit that might be he said, `When we have a bite or two in the café above French cheese place.’ I knew exactly where he meant because he’s been itching to try the place for months. `Maison Vauron in McColl Street?’ I queried and he nodded. But first you have to sit through the movie I thought to myself. I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it – yes, including all the violence. Tom Hardy made a rather fine Reggie Kray; almost flawlessly demonstrating his mannerisms. And he crafted a halfway decent, only marginally over the top Ronnie. It has to be said that the psychotic Ronnie would have been a much harder nut to crack artistically speaking yet Tom Hardy almost captured him, including his occasional and quite unexpected flashes of chilly philosophical reflection. There was a lot of violence in the movie but then the twins attracted violence. It must be pointed out though that when the violence erupted and plate glass mirrors began to shatter it would have been most unusual to find the groups of onlookers that seemed to fill Legend’s screen. Mostly those in the vicinity moved out of it as fast as they possibly could. `What did you think?’ I asked the husband as we made our way towards McColl Street. `Oh much better than I thought it would be,’ he said cheerfully.
Tuesday, 27 October 2015
Ellie has been in the B&B business for over five years now and says she absolutely loves it. We finally caught up with her a week or two back after a drive along the Southern Motorway to Miranda Hot Springs. The journey should have been easy because I took the sensible precaution of getting directions from the computer in advance. My mistake was to choose the scenic route. I should have chosen the straightforward route because ultimately after a great deal of argument we spent a lot of time aimlessly trying to find the actual Hot Springs but eventually, courtesy of a mobile phone, were directed to Ellie’s door and the husband became re-acquainted with Ellie’s old friend Robyn, also visiting. We had lots to talk about because Ellie Vette was once married to Gordon who died this year and so we naturally spent a great deal of time on him before she launched into tales from her days as an Air New Zealand Hostess and had us all in stitches over our white wine and fish and chips. We soon agreed that there was most definitely a book lurking within the Air NZ yarns and Ellie said she had been told that more than once and had even written a chapter or two, though not being much of a typist, the job had so far been done in longhand. And when she said that both Robyn and I offered our services and we found that we were both doyens of not only the keyboard but also Pitman’s Shorthand experts. Not a lot of people know what Pitman's Shorthand is these days - one has to explain. `Not a lot of people can claim that kind of efficiency,’ said Robyn with some satisfaction and I had to agree with her and so we had a little side conversation about short forms and diphthongs and the vagaries of long gone Mr. Isaac Pitman and his shorthand writing course and how useful we still found this skill. But now darkness had well and truly fallen and we had to drag ourselves away with many promises to return. And so we will – and if any reader is looking for a B&B not too far from Auckland and close to the hot springs where apparently Godwits are in abundance then you can’t overlook Miranda Homestead at 397 Front Miranda Road where Ellie not only provides a splendid service, but will also tell you a tale or two about the Good Old Days at Air NZ given half a chance. Just don’t be tempted to take the scenic route.
Tuesday, 20 October 2015
When I first arrived in Auckland a very long time ago or in late 1972 if you really need to know, it was a strangely `different’ place, somewhat apart from cities of a similar size in other parts of the world; certainly very different from those I had lived in. At weekends the streets of the city were deserted because all the shops were closed and if you ran out of milk or bread you had to visit The Dairy because a Dairy could, it appeared, keep the hours it pleased. In the twenty four hours before long weekends such as Queen’s Birthday and Labour Weekends housewives seemed to amalgamate in thought and deed to make a terrifying unified assault on Four Squares and supermarkets so that those who left their weekly shop until after three on Friday afternoon invariably found the shelves completely bare. But as I have said, it was still possible to make a purchase or two at the corner Dairy if you were not too fussy as to what you purchased. It was never easy to come by a pint of milk any day of the week, never mind in the hours preceding a statutory holiday because first of all you had to arm yourself with an empty bottle. Yes, long story, very complicated and involving milk tokens and delivery boys – needless to say I was most relieved when the much talked about great day arrived and we were all at last permitted to buy milk in much the same way as the rest of the world. In the first few months of my residency supermarkets themselves were exotic places that were spoken of but rarely visited because very few existed, at least in the form that we know them today. On the plus side a visit to one could be turned into a thrilling day trip and planned in advance. Shopping in the long gone days I speak of also involved legs of lamb at amazingly low prices and milk at an astonishing four cents a pint, cream very little more. It was real cream too and not that whipped up oil concoction that I was accustomed to in London. Very few people in London could afford the luxury of proper cream originating from the cow. I had been told prior to my arrival that New Zealanders entertained a great deal because there were few restaurants even in large cities and so grand dining took place in the home and therefore New Zealand women were more than competent cooks. I was not alarmed because I had several years previously taken a Cordon Bleu cooking course. I would be more than a match for them I fondly imagined. I was wrong and totally unprepared for the range and scope of culinary expertise of these antipodean women. Lunch and dinner parties were formal affairs I rapidly learned, usually catering for between six and twelve guests and all the women wore long dresses. I wore a number of Marks & Spencer’s night-gowns and reassured myself that they were at least evening wear. I was totally taken aback by my first dinner party where the hostess, a busy mother of three young boys who also served on a number of community committees and ran an after school hobby club, looked dazzling in a pink and silver floor length tea gown as she served, with enormous aplomb Seared Scallops, Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska. On the way home I said to my new husband, `I cannot imagine I will ever be able to give a dinner party in this country.’ He suggested’ helpfully, `You might perhaps think of taking cooking classes.’ There did not seem to be any point in mentioning the Cordon Bleu course.
Monday, 19 October 2015
We have capitulated...bowed to pressure. Number One Son was very keen to celebrate Christmas 2015 with what he called `An Occasion' and the occasion revolved around hotel dining rooms. Now this might possibly have something to do with the overcooked and virtually inedible roast pheasant from last year. I thought a brace of pheasant was an exotic idea but to be fair the only exotic bit was purchasing the duo at an extraordinary price from the friendly (only) local butcher. So this year we are to eat at The Langham at the very upmarket and intimidating `Eight' restaurant. I am told by Those Who Know that Eight is one of the best dining experiences in the land and I am hoping this turns out to be correct. Their Christmas Day prices are definitely in a league that stops the would-be diner in his/her tracks.
Thursday, 15 October 2015
We have an accountant, the husband and I, who works in the central suburb by the sea where we were once residents before that momentous move three years ago. In fact I found that particular accountant alone and unaided, though it wasn’t difficult because he had a rather large sign or two advertising his services. I was anxious to rid myself of the considerably more expensive accountant with the smart office and several smiling receptionists on the other side of the city who urged me in genial unison to have a really lovely day each time I visited. The newly acquired seaside accountant assured me his bills would be a diminutive version of his predecessor and he was very charming. Of course after the first year or two he stopped being quite so charming, his bills began to grow and anyhow we rarely saw him because he re-assigned `our books’ to an underling called Marcos. I’m not really complaining too much about Marcos or his employer though it does take courage to pass by the tall Nikau palms, battle for a parking place and finally enter the premises by the sea because these accountancy experts seem to have hired the most ill-disposed and surly staff available in the Auckland labour market. Yesterday their senior receptionist, a large and formidable female safely ensconced behind and shielded by her imposing desk, glared towards us and demanded to know with no discernable effort at a welcoming smile, what we wanted. `We’ve come to pick up our books from Marcos,’ I said in a deliberately low and pleasant voice and with a beaming smile. `Did he ask you to come?’ she needed to know, `Have you received a telephone call from him?’ I maintained my beam, though it was difficult and assured her that he had emailed me. She then turned to her equally unwelcoming junior, who had clearly caught the hostility syndrome, and told her to `pop into his office and make sure that is so.’ We waited while the junior did her popping and when she returned bearing documents with our names on them I thanked them both profusely for their help and wished them a happy day though I wanted to suggest they book themselves in to a charm course. I thought I saw the older woman sneer but I wasn’t totally sure. To add insult to injury, when we finally got home we found that the annual bill for accountancy services had risen far above what one might deem reasonable considering the cost of living index. I wanted to know how it could be justified when I wasn’t actually earning anything. The husband pointed out that to be fair the seaside accountant had also attained a tax refund for me, and a somewhat smaller one for him. `So it works out OK in the end,’ he said gently, `If you did the work yourself you wouldn’t know how to get the refund.’ I tried to stop feeling so aggrieved but so far I have failed. I have not yet forgiven the man for last year when he tried to charge me for work I had specifically asked him by letter and by email not to do, so tolerance where he’s concerned is challenging. It might be marginally easier if he employed staff who knew how to smile occasionally.
Tuesday, 13 October 2015
Whilst I was extolling the virtues of the Kindle for the international traveler, oldest son on a brief visit from Panmure happened to comment that he too owned a Kindle, a touchscreen model he assured me, adding, ‘ It’s called a PaperWhite I think.’ He then said that it languished at the bottom of a drawer somewhere because he had abandoned any use of it. He wasn’t a Kindle person he explained and further commented that he was surprised to find that I was. `Surprised to find I was what?’ I demanded and he said patiently, `Surprised to find you turned out to be a Kindle person that’s all – they don’t suit everyone you know.’ Well there was something to be said for that because at times it surprised me. A Kindle no matter how thoroughly modern and cutting edge the model, is no substitute for a real book in my opinion. `Tell you what,’ he announced cheerfully as he stood up to leave, `I’ll give you my PaperWhite if you like because I’ll never use it again I’m sure of that.’ I told him I would love that, thanked him profusely and reflected that the promised PaperWhite was unlikely to ever end up in my eager hands because oldest son rarely did the things he said he would do, particularly those pledged with as much enthusiasm as the touchscreen Kindle. Imagine my surprise when checking the mailbox the following day I found the slim matt black device nestling among the dozen or so leaflets urging me to take up offers of garden clearance and window cleaning services at next to no cost for my miniscule city fringe home. He had forgotten to include the charger but never mind, undoubtedly the charger for my original steam driven model would suffice – and it did. An hour or two later, the hitherto abandoned PaperWhite was now firmly assigned to myself and even called by Those In The Ether, `Jean’s Second Kindle’ I had already purchased three new books (Mass Observation Diaries from WW2) and handed over Kindle Mark One to the husband with what I fondly imagined to be a benevolent flourish. `Thank you very much,’ he said uncertainly – then, `I’m not totally sure I’m a Kindle person……’ But then people always say that don't they?
Saturday, 10 October 2015
I had owned the Kenwood MultiPro FP905 food processor for several years, I knew that. In fact when we came to think about it, the husband and I, he distinctly remembered buying it for a Very Special Birthday. I had to be honest with myself, if not with anyone else – it had been in my possession for five years! And it had always been a pain in the proverbial, quite unlike its predecessor. In fact its predecessor had been a true paragon of virtue, lasting for thirty five years and only discarded when the plastic attachments began to wither and crumble because they didn’t like the dishwasher. Very possibly dishwashers were not standard kitchen appliances when the original Kenwood was born back in the late nineteen seventies. In any event I didn’t have one in my somewhat basic kitchen in Kohimarama where I whipped up one banana cake after another as well as home educating the children and patching the flat and leaky roof with odd bits of tarpaulin. So it was sad for several reasons when Kenwood Mark One passed on and had to be replaced. I consoled myself with the fact that in these more enlightened days Kenwood Mark Two could very possibly make phone calls and attend to cleaning the windows as well as whip up banana cakes. It would most certainly be resistant to the daily attentions of the dishwasher. So it was with some excitement that I carried it home on that Very Special Birthday, looking forward to its first Chocolate Truffle Cake. Imagine my dismay when I found that the Kenwood MultiPro FP905 demanded the attentions of two strong men in order to allow its lid to be prised from its high tech and innovative bowl. `It will get easier with wear,’ murmured a visiting son, glancing at his watch and remembering a rehearsal he had to attend. `Yes of course it will,’ I stoutly agreed thinking to myself that it more than likely would get worse. And it did get worse – much worse. But instead of returning it to Noel Leeming in Newmarket from whence it came, I simply returned it to the back of the cupboard and gave up making cakes. Well, not entirely because from time to time I ventured to bring forth a batch of muffins because then the offending lid and bowl would not be strictly necessary – its blender still worked beautifully, as did all its other futuristic attachments so it wasn’t an entirely lost cause. And so the sad saga of lost cake making was set aside until a few weeks ago when re-arranging my now more miniscule kitchen I rediscovered the unruly appliance sadly inactive in the furthest corner of the topmost shelf. I would make a cake! After all the Kenwood MultiPro FP905 must surely have decided to behave itself by now, in its new, downsized, city fringe environment. Thirty minutes later the husband, and the neighbor on our right who speaks no English were both struggling to twist the lid from the bowl. Contemplating the number of eggs trapped within I rang Noel Leeming in a minor fury and asked for their service agent’s details. A helpful young woman, clearly alarmed by this Friday afternoon ferocity immediately gave me the contact details for Sharpen Repair in Mt. Eden who were definitely going to be open on Saturday morning and were dedicated to the servicing of small household appliances – especially those manufactured by DeLongi. The Sharpen Repair Manager was briskly efficient. It was decidedly stuck he said. He would do his best. He would even contact DeLongi in Australia though there was the small problem of the lost receipt to consider – and the fact my particular processor had been sitting on a kitchen shelf for at least four years. It wasn’t going to be easy, he said. And it wasn’t of course even when I explained rather aggressively that naturally it had been sitting on a bloody shelf, it had been sitting there because I was waiting for it to improve. He looked at me strangely, exchanged glances with the husband who was lurking in the background and did not argue. `I bet he does absolutely nothing,’ I said angrily as we walked back to the car. `Well maybe you should have taken it back to Noel Leeming in the first place - when you first noticed……’ the husband began and then faltered into silence. I wondered how much a totally new, replacement one might be and he said probably too much so the matter was left at that. Imagine my amazement when some weeks later I got a call from Mr. Sharpen Repair to tell me that my replacement bowl for the MultiPro FP905 had arrived from DeLonghi in New South Wales. They had decided, he told me, to replace it as an act of kindness even though I had had it for a number of years and I had lost the receipt and in any event they had never, ever had a similar problem with their Kenwood MultiPro 905s. I was both surprised and delighted. Sharpen Repair had gone above and beyond the call of duty to be of assistance – and it has to be admitted, so had DeLongi! And I should add that as I write a Sacher Torte (yes, a Sacher Torte – why not?) cools on the kitchen bench and a banana cake rises in the oven.
Saturday, 3 October 2015
I seem to attend rather more than my fair share of funerals these days and the husband maintains it’s an age thing and in any case at least we get a chance to catch up with old friends, at times those we haven’t seen for years. Well maybe and catching up with friends from the past can’t be overlooked of course. What I really take issue with about the modern funeral is the length of time it takes to say goodbye to the departed one. There was a time when a funeral service took a mere fifty minutes before it was time to cross to the hall to partake of either cups of tea and sponge cake, or, more lavishly, glasses of wine and bits of cheese on toothpicks. I always preferred the latter. Things have changed drastically in recent years and now the service itself can drag on for so long that elderly ladies and young children are forced to excuse themselves after ninety minutes and head for the lavatories. This is not on account of a plethora of extra prayers from the officiating minister you have to understand because today’s priests, vicars and celebrants stand back and listlessly stare ahead whilst friends and family form an ever lengthening queue, notes in hand, all anxious to speak for `a moment or two….’. And these valedictories become ever longer and more exasperating for a great proportion of the captive audience as one after another they begin. `I first met Tom at secondary school…..’ (bad enough because Form 3 was a very long time ago and this guy has many a tale to tell about the intervening years). Even worse is `You could say Tom and I were acquainted before we were born – our mothers were in adjacent beds at Nurse Newton’s Nursing Home….’ But infinitely worse was a more recent opening `word or two’ - `I will begin by telling you all a bit about Tom’s grandparents who left their home in Edinburgh to emigrate to New Zealand…..’ - and yes, he spoke for forty eight minutes; I was timing him. And there were still the members of the Probus Club, the Bridge Club, the Golf Club and a group of five anxious grandchildren awaiting their turn. Do these people actually not realise how utterly tedious and wearisome these speeches are? Do they care? If funerals get much longer the congregation will be entitled to an intermission for health and safety reasons. To add insult to injury on the most recent occasion, the longest funeral of all time, when we shuffled blinking into the daylight we were rewarded only with cups of tea and tiny sandwiches.
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
I have to say that the trip to France, organised by daughter Sinead (a very good organiser I have to admit) went extremely well. Her father has talked of nothing else since we returned. Nobody in the immediate neighbourhood is safe from extended descriptions of the Tapestry, the Food, the Chateaux.....and I have to say that he is gaining a moderate audience.
Tuesday, 22 September 2015
Just back a day or two ago from a month in London. Four glorious weeks bathing in late August/early September sunshine. Well, that was the plan but of course the weather was not exactly kind to us and the temperature in central London rarely rose above that of an Auckland winter accompanied by considerably more rain. And the London rain seems to have changed its nature somewhat. Years ago it was a steady drizzle that dampened hair, clothes and spirits but did not exactly drench. In those days you had to visit Auckland to be truly drenched in two minutes flat. No longer so! Today’s London downpours have adopted all the North Island characteristics we have come to know and love. London coffee was another disappointment. There was a time when a cup of coffee in that mighty metropolis was infinitely superior to anything that could be found in the fleshpots of Ponsonby or Parnell. No longer the case and the closest we came to a halfway reasonable example was in the local Canonbury Turkish café closely followed by the first floor cafeteria in Marks & Spencers at Marble Arch. M&S featured large over the four weeks because they still reliably offer their extraordinary dinner for two with side dish & dessert plus a bottle of wine for a mere ten pounds! A culinary bargain that could not on any account be overlooked. Talking of food, I have to say that Malaysia Airlines on our return journey provided the worst airline food we have ever experienced. I assume that the recent unfortunate incidents have resulted in massive cost cutting but even bearing that in mind a dinner dish comprising of cold pasta minus any kind of sauce is hard to justify. Their coffee, strangely enough was not too terrible and the service was pleasant enough it must be admitted. And finally, how pathetically grateful we were when we finally reached Auckland Airport after midnight last Saturday to find our previously booked QUICK SHUTTLE service waiting patiently to escort us home – most especially since we were more than twelve hours late all because the husband didn’t really believe in the twenty four hour clock. But I won’t go into that. Far too humiliating!
Friday, 14 August 2015
I’m proud to have been a friend of Gordon Vette. He was one of the first people I met when I came to New Zealand in the early nineteen seventies and to be honest at the time I thought he was what my mother would have called `a bit flash’ . For one thing he was way too good-looking, he had the kind of tan girls like me drooled over and he wore a lot of gold around his neck. At the time he seemed to be dallying between wives but there was a positive and personable woman in his life called Eleanor. Later we attended their wedding. I rapidly grew very fond of them both and together Eleanor and I investigated new -fangled supermarkets in suburbs with what seemed to me extraordinary names, and hurtled frequently into the depths of the countryside for ladies’ lunches given by one or other of her many friends. Today the husband and I went to Gordon Vette’s funeral at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell. Hours later I’m still shedding tears for the passing of a truly remarkable man. Not that he was devoid of faults of course. You’d only have to ask Eleanor and she’d gladly list them for you - and probably wife Charmain could also catalogue one or two. Those speaking at today’s celebration of his outstanding life naturally dwelt a great deal on the epic Erebus saga. He was a senior Air New Zealand captain in late 1979 when the accident occurred with the loss of two hundred and fifty seven lives. The speed with which the initial inquiry began to point to `pilot error’ seriously alarmed Gordon because he had total faith in the competence and capability of Captain Jim Collins. So he embarked upon a fact finding exercise that was ultimately to cost him a great deal financially including his career and many former friends. Impervious to pressure from all quarters of the establishment to abandon the fight, Gordon doggedly fought on. Due to his efforts and subsequent work in visual perception in sector white out, ground proximity warning systems have since been developed that make flying a great deal safer for all of us and he has received world -wide acclaim. We were close to Gordon during the crusade for truth and witnessed first- hand the effect it had upon his life and marveled that at no stage did he consider giving up. Gordon’s health eventually suffered and some years ago he had a stroke that robbed him of the power of speech and made his day to day world smaller. Gordon Vette the man, however, was in no way diminished by it and that came as no surprise to those close to him. Today, coming out from the cathedral into the sunlight, we witnessed the enormous regard with which this man is now held. Out of nowhere half a dozen silver triangles were suddenly there soaring above us, outlined between showers in an all at once azure sky, roaring their presence and issuing vapour trails. A significant fly past formation of planes worthy of that which might acknowledge a sovereign’s birthday. Their presence overhead brought a substantial lump to the throat. Yes, I’m definitely proud to have known Captain Vette.
Monday, 10 August 2015
'It pays to be observant of family birthdays and that seems to become as important to the over seventies as it is to the under sevens. The husband had a birthday a day or two ago and was very anxious that it not be overlooked. Having made a slight blunder a few days earlier by presenting him with his Michelin guide to France in advance of the great day I found I had some groveling to do on the anniversary itself. He was delighted with the rather unique cards (two of them) from number one son, Patrick who strangely simply dropped them in the mailbox and didn’t even stop off for refreshment – pressure of work he said later. He was elated to receive emails from two out of three children and overjoyed with the gift box that arrived via daughter domiciled in London and through the good offices of `My Goodness – Express & Impress’ on the North Shore. Not only was the box itself a work of art, but treat after treat tumbled out of it – wine, birthday cake, chocolate and assorted gourmet snacks piled high on the kitchen bench. `I’m having the box,’ I pronounced just in case he was thinking of consigning it to the downstairs rubbish room where all kinds of things get consigned these days on account of the lack of space. He hadn’t heard me though and examined the wine label as he bit into the first Lime Zinger biscuit. Well he is very hard of hearing these days. As it neared one pm it became clearer than ever that he was expecting to be taken out to lunch and he kept mentioning Cibo because it’s at the end of the street. He told me that three times. In the end we compromised and I took him to La Cigale for a glass of wine and a Dijon Chicken Pie and salad. Well I’m not perfect. Later in the afternoon John the violinist dropped by to wish him a happy birthday and regale us with stories of playing at the recent coronation of the King of Tonga. All in all a very pleasant day and neither of us mentioned the glaring absence of any birthday greeting from number two son. I toyed with muttering something about him no doubt being extraordinarily busy and that in any case hadn’t there been a major typhoon in his part of the world. In the end though I thought it better to say nothing at all.
Friday, 7 August 2015
Downsizing from a family home that was on the large side to what is euphemistically termed `city fringe living’ can be challenging. Well, let’s say such a move brings with it a range of differing experiences. For me, one of them in recent months has been serving on the Residents’ Committee. New Zealand thrives on committees of all kinds and over the years I have played a part in a number of them, usually making enemies left, right and centre without even trying. However, I am proud to report that so far, with this particular group I have managed to make no obvious ones.
Working on a Residents’ Committee can be more time consuming than is at first imagined because all the minor tasks that keep a complex functioning smoothly can be individually onerous. Nevertheless someone has to be on hand to ensure the contractor who has been approached for the roof upgrade can actually access the roof at a time acceptable to him. Getting him to come in the first place has been a major triumph – courtesy of my fearless Committee Colleague from Unit F in Row One who courageously offered to `find an alternative quote’ when the initial, in fact the only quote so far appeared to be perhaps a little on the high side. So naturally, none of us are keen to upset potential contractor number two in any way if it can be avoided. If seven am on Sunday morning suits him then so be it.
Updating the Pet Register is another vital initiative that is essential to the smooth operation of this particular group, and I have recently discovered, to many other similar ones. There are Rules around owning pets, a fact that had completely escaped me as in more recent years we have ceased to fall into that particular category. When we were animal owners we sought approval from nobody except our own clamouring children. We simply acquired three cats, two rats, a tribe of mice and guinea pigs, two rabbits and several goats as and when we chose without care or concern for our neighbours. Looking back, some of those living around us certainly objected to the goats who regularly tore free from their tetherings and had feasts and fun in the gardens of others. Pet ownership works quite differently in a more confined community. Only unit owners may own animals. Tenants may not. The problem is that more than often tenants are unaware of this particular tenet and are most unwilling to part with a much loved pet and even – horror of horrors – disregard the Rule! Enter the Cavalry of the Residents’ Committee.
Short term parking is another bone of contention. Several P120 spaces have been made available specifically for ease of visiting tradespeople and the occasional elderly weekend lunch guest. They are most definitely not intended for those who simply can’t be bothered relocate their vehicle to its proper place overnight. Another problem for the Residents’ Committee, each of whom could now easily become in danger of turning neighbours into enemies.
Yes, all these seemingly trivial tribulations add up to sizeable snags to which somebody is charged with finding a solution. Time consuming to say the least and so when any random resident dares to raise their head and venture a Complaint about the manner in which the Committee is dealing with this day to day business they are often greeted with a degree of impatience and testiness they might not have quite expected.
Saturday, 1 August 2015
Have you ever found the habits of others not only odd, but at times almost stomach wrenching? There were times when I truly dreaded dinner invitations from a certain friend whose three cats were allowed to walk the kitchen benches without restraint, sampling the food as they did so.
Another had to me what was an abysmal habit of recycling paper table napkins if she thought they had a deserving design or their colour appealed to her. Oh the agony of evaluating last week’s splodges of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and yesterday’s spots of Tabasco.
Perhaps worst of all - does anyone recall the era of yesterday’s mothers whose uninhibited spitting on embroidered handkerchiefs to wipe the grubby faces of their offspring alarmed all under-fives within arm’s reach? How readily the half-forgotten but distinctive aroma of drying saliva on cotton springs from the deepest recesses of memory to once more repel and disgust.