Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Kray Legend

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 cafĂ© 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

New Zealand Life & Long Weekends 45 Years Ago

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

Accountants & Their Unsmiling Staff

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

The Interesting Case of The Touchscreen Kindle

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

Banana Cakes & Sacher Tortes.......and Misbehaving Kitchen Appliances!

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

Final Farewells & Vexatious Valedictories

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.