Saturday, 27 February 2016


We joined Grey Power a year or so ago because not only did it seem to be the `right’ time but also there was the lure of cheaper power if we behaved well and paid our subscription on time. Well, that’s how I remember it anyhow. They are a militant group these New Zealand Grey Power folk; you wouldn’t want to cross them because apart from anything else they have Winston Peters on their side and he, as we all know, can be more than confrontational when he needs to be. Without Winston we wouldn’t have The Gold Card now would we so need I saw more? We have not heard a lot from Grey Power since we joined, in fact so little that I had almost forgotten we were members until I received the demand for the 2016 subscription the other day. Pleasingly it arrived with a nice plump newsletter, one of the very few I have seen. There appeared to be lots of news therein including mention of a number of very important and not to be missed meetings coming up soon. A list of them appeared just inside the front cover in a little highlighted box that did as it was meant to do, and caught my eye. The AGM is to be on 31st May but frustrating the time and place was harder to find though I managed to locate the information that it was to be in Christchurch on the next page, venue still not mentioned however. Not to worry, the Scams & Security meeting on 22nd March at 1pm sounded much more like my kind of thing if only I could find which city and which suburb it was to be held in. Not easy though on reading the message from the president’s desk I learned it was hopefully to be held at the Fickling Centre (if only I knew where that was). At one point the President bemoaned the fact that a recent meeting had not been well attended and I found myself giving my empty kitchen a wry nod. Oh well, at least I learned that the magazine is published quarterly (though I’m sure I’ve only seen one previous issue) and that the next edition will be in November 2015 – and the last date to receive articles is 10th April 2016. Despite fleeting feelings of disloyalty I cannot help a frisson of disappointment in Grey Power. They could certainly do a much better job with their quarterly newsletter especially if we are to receive it bi-annually.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Ticking Along on a Lower Echelon?

`I try hard to keep my social life ticking along,’ The Woman I Know said, handing me a glass of something sparkling and very cold and leading me to where her husband was watering pot plants on their rather smart balcony with the rather splendid view. I reflected that she did an admirable job with the ticking, always seemingly involved in exciting social events. Well she needed places to go and people to see for the wearing of her decidedly stylish wardrobe of which I must say I am from time to time, envious. Today she was resplendent in a pale linen ensemble that harboured the merest hint of pink. Her husband drew my attention to his own new linen shirt and said that it had been a birthday present from his wife. I wished him a happy birthday and thought he, too, looked impressive though he expressed doubt about pink even though it toned with the merest hint previously mentioned. He had never worn pink before he told me. `Doesn’t he look superb?’ his wife demanded, `It really is his colour don’t you think?’ She was giving him a kindly and approving glance and so I nodded enthusiastically because I am a coward. The Woman I Know is very social and has been so over years and years although it must be said that when we receive an invitation from her we are invariably the only guests. From time to time I probe a little and say, `What have you two been doing recently?’ and when I do so she clasps her glass in both hands, looks into the middle distance and says mysteriously, `Oh we do lots of lovely, lovely things with lovely, lovely friends…..we have such very special times with our friends,’ and apart from that it is hard to get her to elaborate. Though I have known her over many years, I have met very few of the lovely people of whom she speaks and am left wondering if perhaps they are rather more lovely than myself. Am I somehow of a lower echelon? Or are all these lovely people who have such fun together merely a figment of her imagination? It’s hard to decide.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

COURIER POST - yet another sad saga!

Living in a gated city complex ensures ongoing problems with CourierPost. It is almost impossible to guarantee a delivery service that someone, somewhere has actually paid for. It doesn’t seem fair does it? The colourful CourierPost vehicle is instantly recognizable from my ground floor kitchen window. I can oh so easily see the driver sprinting towards the upper carpark entry with package in hand but strangely the entry bell is never pressed, and almost immediately he is to be seen sprinting back towards his waiting van, with the package, mysteriously still in hand. When I investigate I find a `Card To Call’ in my mail box with a tracking number telling me that sadly, I wasn’t at home when the driver called. There are helpful details on the card as to how I can pick up my parcel from the CourierPost Auckland City Depot inconveniently situated on the other side of town, between the hours of 8.30am to 6.00pm Monday to Friday and 8.00am to 12.00pm on Saturday. There is no telephone number for me to call and to locate one requires a determined internet search. Once I find the contact number I ring them and wait quite a long time for a helpful `Real Person’ keen to assist me. In fact I am told that the call is being recorded for the purposes of even better customer service and Ellie or Kylie or Milly are so very pleasant, so aghast when I tell them my tale of woe that I am further reassured. The package that someone, somewhere has paid to be delivered to me will undoubtedly turn up tomorrow. Except that it does not and more than a week and two more telephone calls later, I found myself still waiting. I tentatively suggest to The Husband that the service provided by CourierPost is so bad that it is almost a situation that might benefit from the help of The Commerce Commission. He does not entirely agree but I was keen to give the matter serious thought. The next time I rang to complain I confided in terribly pleasant Susie who took my call. She said she would order a special delivery and the package would arrive between six and eight pm that very evening! I was pathetically grateful – until nine o`clock when it became clear that her promise was a very empty one indeed. I was on the phone yet again at eight this morning and Tracey had it sorted by lunchtime with what she told me was an extra special `Pace’ delivery. It was not good enough she agreed and she could quite understand why I was now very cross indeed. Somehow though, receiving the package at long last seemed to dissipate the anger even though it turns out to be merely the Ethernet cable from Sky TV that I have absolutely no idea how to connect!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


In the London of the late 1960s bringing up a child alone was, at least in-so-far-as my then flat-mate and I understood, rather avant-garde. At the time solo parenting primarily applied only to women because in those distant times men did not go in for it.; in fact the father’s role in these sad sagas was generally largely ignored. So we, living in the then shabby suburb of Paddington saw ourselves as a part of the huge city’s innovative and ground-breaking group of women. Unashamed of our unmarried state, we were trend-setters, pioneers even and quite apart from all that we were simply superlative mothers. We did not want to ever appear to fall down on the job and consequently we took our mothering very seriously indeed. Our children - Sarah’s three year old daughter, Chloe and my son, Daniel, fresh from the Premature Baby Unit, were going to grow up enveloped in love, girdled with emotional security. We had not totally forgotten fathers of course and we discussed their role from time to time, in overly bright and cheerful voices, invariably coming to the rapid conclusion that as long as a child had a dedicated and devoted mother, one who kept herself fully acquainted with the modern trends of dietary and educational needs, they were probably superfluous, little more than sperm donors. Sarah paid the greatest attention to Chloe’s diet, and made copious notes in a spiral bound red notebook, from her pile of library books on health issues. One of the reasons for this was that Chloe, despite a diet top heavy with fresh fruit and vegetables and awash with protein, was clearly not thriving as she should. Later this turned out to be because she was suffering an autoimmune disorder caused by severe intolerance to gluten. I don’t think it ever crossed Sarah’s mind that this condition might have originated from the genes of the long dismissed father of her child. Although we had been very close friends since our teens and shared our innermost hopes and fears, we did not overly concern ourselves with those who fathered our greatly cherished children. The absence of Chloe’s father was not a problem; he had not even become a small elephant in a big room. We just regarded him as insignificant. His daughter did not need him because she had Sarah, and me and Daniel, and all she really knew about him as she got older was that his name was Tom and he was an artist. On the other hand we discussed Daniel’s father more frequently and this was because he had most determinedly made it clear that he had not wanted to have a child and in order to be able to preserve Daniel’s life, I had left him whilst pregnant in stressful circumstances that undoubtedly led to the baby’s extreme prematurity. He was furiously angry that his unwanted son had not been aborted and for the first year or two of the child’s life I lived somewhat anxiously, wondering if the man I had been so devoted to would actually carry out any of the more outrageous threats he had made against us. He did not and so after those first apprehensive years, he too could be relegated to a place closer to the missing Tom although he was never totally dismissed from my consciousness. As I have said, as mothers, Sarah and I were unrivalled and I have very fond memories of the pre-school trips to the library, the birthday parties, the afternoons in Kensington Gardens and the walks along the towpath to the zoo in Regents Park. It was a time that was idyllic. It was quite a while before the children began to ask questions about their fathers although Chloe was under three when she first demanded to know why she didn’t have one. I can still hear the slight edge to Sarah’s response in tones that were just a little too loud: `Of course you have a father – everyone has a father – it’s just that yours doesn’t live with us that’s all. Now, what do you want for tea?’ Later Daniel was given the same kind of reply to the same kind of question. It did not occur to us to question our own judgement, so utterly convinced were we of our ability to bring up our children alone. I now wonder how we two intelligent women could have harboured attitudes that were so blinkered. A few years later I left London and married a New Zealand doctor. Daniel was ecstatic at the thought of the huge adventure and all these years later, now a middle aged man, he still tells me that he was elated to find that he then acquired a father by default, not a `real’ one perhaps but a father nevertheless. Rather more unhappily though decades passed, he was never accepted by his biological father who died some years ago, still utterly determined to reject him totally. Over time Sarah was unable to provide her daughter with any tangible information about the father who once seemed so irrelevant. The pain of not knowing anything about one half of herself doesn’t really go away for Chloe. Neither does the distress of being so wholly rejected by his real father ever diminish for Daniel. Despite their superlative mothers the repercussions have been significant for these two children of the sixties and now I wonder if a peep into the future would have served any useful purpose. Probably not!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Any Empathy For Nazism.......?

Yet another former concentration camp guard faces the justice system, this time in Germany, for wrongs done to humanity more than seventy years ago. Despite possible howls of outrage from my Jewish friends (and maybe even The Husband who recently discovered his Jewishness) I have to question the good sense of putting another nonagenarian on trial. At ninety four years of age this particular offender would have been in his early twenties at the very most when the crimes he is accused of were committed. He claims in fact that he never worked in the area of the camp where the atrocities took place and he might well be telling the truth. And even if he is manipulating the facts to some extent, what could he have possibly done to prevent the slaughter? Do we have documented evidence of any single member of any staff in any camp actually defiantly refusing to carry out orders? Did any young guard suddenly report to a superior saying, `Sorry Sir but don’t expect any further help from me – I’m out of here…..’ Would the response have been an understanding, `Fair enough Fritz - bloody nasty business I agree.' Maybe but I think it most unlikely. And even if by some chance a youthful renegade with a flush of blood to the head took it upon himself to stand up against The Reich, how long would his resistance have been likely to last? And after the rebel had been dispatched by firing squad, how likely might it have been that the seed of doubt he had attempted to plant would have burgeoned into anything concrete enough to make Hitler stop and think? I’m not advocating empathy for Nazism and I’d be the first to agree that genocide has to be taken seriously. On the other hand what is there to be gained from these show trials of those in the very twilight of their lives? It all seems just a little bit sick to me.

Friday, 12 February 2016


I would be the first to agree that my memory these days is not quite as sharp as it once was. I often find myself striding purposefully into a room only to stand there wondering what household task was so imperative a minute or two before; and leaving the kitchen whilst boiling eggs is decidedly on the `not to do’ list. However, when I make an appointment with the dentist on a Friday lunchtime for the following Wednesday morning I definitely do not need several reminders. I have a dread of dental visits and in the past have needed an anesthetist present before I could face the traumatic idea of a simple filling. Even my last routine clean demanded the same kind of numbing gas as that which is usually offered to those giving birth to twins. All in all, forgetting a dental appointment is not very likely although I agree that he (the dentist) and his staff are not necessarily going to be aware of that. Mr Chang is new, it seems and replaces Mr Lawson who has now retired. The first surprise was that Mr Chang turned out to be female and charming and introduced herself as Maddy. Her charisma did little to dispel the irritating fact is that a mere hour or two after making the appointment I was telephoned by the cheerful receptionist with the first `routine reminder’. I thanked her but thought it was odd. It got even odder when forty eight hours later whilst sitting over a glass of Chardonnay downtown with the husband I received a text advising me that I must respond `YES’ at once `or Immediately Ring the Practice’ to confirm my upcoming dental appointment. I sent back a less than polite response which no doubt was dumped into a delete bin as it did not fit the general parameters of the simple `YES’ that was demanded. The husband was philosophical and said they were probably only trying to be helpful to which I replied `Cow Crap’ or something similar. I did so hope I could calm down enough before Wednesday not to be horrendously rude to all and sundry when I got there. And in fact the charming Maddy managed to bring out the best in me although I have to be honest and say that the appointment did not proceed exactly without pain.

Saturday, 6 February 2016


What I really like about ECCO shoes is how surprisingly comfortable they are. You are enveloped in a snug little haven of security from the very first moment you slip them on. `Why oh why have I not discovered them before now?’ you ask yourself. The array of styles is thrilling (well almost) and the colours are divine. Don’t even think of arguing with me because I speak as one who has purchased ECCO shoes in places as far flung as Sydney, Munich and even from the flagship store on Oxford Street, London. You could say that I know what I’m talking about. I am such a fan of the ECCO brand that I have been known to buy them from the local Newmarket shop right here in Auckland when they are not on sale – and where to own a pair you almost have to consider taking out a second mortgage. I once, not so very long ago, owned seven pairs, similar in style, but each of different hue. What bliss! What unsurpassed comfort. Well that was until I discovered the downside of ECCO shoes, the fact that after a year or two of moderate wear the soles quite suddenly, unexpectedly and all of their own accord……are liable to begin to disintegrate and distribute crumbs of black granules from beneath your bewildered (but still cosy) feet. You might well think to yourself that a complaint to the ECCO company will somehow put things right – but you will find that ECCO is a company very demanding to deal with. You might then think that a quick trip back to the shop where they were purchased might do the trick – but you will be most disappointed if you happened to make your purchase here in Auckland because that will be the store where I was admonished by the manager for ` not exercising the shoes enough’. The fact that each pair was barely worn was the real problem, he explained, because this very special brand of footwear needs to be worn daily. When I suggested they should therefore come with specific instructions he was simply not amused. Overall, neither was I.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016


I taught all three of my children to touch type whilst they were still young enough to find the tedious exercises involved not only challenging but fun. I think the oldest was about ten and the youngest was so eager she had to be prevented from making a start until her seventh birthday when her hands were just about big enough to manipulate the Olivetti Portable. Touch typing easily slipped into our curriculum during our home schooling years and they each tapped away with growing expertise and efficiency. Home Schooling - now there’s a topic we’ve visited before and you might well wonder what is left to be said about it. But for the unversed reader I should explain that I educated my younger two children for ten years though their older brother always went to school. It transpired later that perhaps he was the one who might have benefited most from the experience but making errors of judgement is the domain of parenting as you will be aware. We did not set out on this alarmingly alternative path from a philosophical stance but simply because it was clear that our almost six year old son was failing massively to adjust to school and as a result, suffering greatly. Later his sister, two and a half years younger, was kept home to keep him company. This turned out to be another mistake as she was not only desperate to learn to type but also champing at the bit to get to the local primary school. After a shaky start, over the years we investigated a wide range of subjects from Greek Mythology to Russian History, from Astronomy to Comparative Religions. (see more in my book: PUTTING THE JOY BACK INTO EGYPT, An experiment in Education, Hodder & Stoughton 1982) We acquired a vast library of books and a growing assortment of pets (goats, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, mice and axolotls). The children learned to play musical instruments including violin, piano and trumpet and we budgeted carefully so that our son could make a trip to Greece with his father during his obsession with mythology. Over time I began to realise that children educated at home by a dedicated teacher-parent and a family prepared to make financial sacrifices would in all likelihood end up better educated than those who attended school. They were also immune to the bogey of Peer Pressure. That now all seems obvious of course. On the other hand it has to be said that even mediocre schools offered a necessary social curriculum that accustomed the student to structure, deadlines, expectations, seeing themselves within a group, etc. And that somewhat hidden curriculum, missing from our son’s educational experience seemed ultimately to defeat him, and has caused him a great deal of bitterness, whilst the lack of it seemed not to affect his sister in any protracted manner. They are now long since adults and hovering on middle age but from time to time people still ask what I think was the most important skill they acquired during those years at home. Was it the opportunity to study topics in depth? Was it the trips to the High Court to observe the Justice System in action? It’s a question I have generally found difficult to answer – until yesterday when the husband was acquainting me with the exhilarating contents of his current library book which concerns the early years of Adolf Hitler. He excitedly explained that I would love the book wherein various theories are postulated as to why Hitler became the person he was, and what his basic philosophy of life turned out to be, including some of his thoughts on education. Like Tony Blair, who came a long time after him of course, it seems that Hitler wanted all children to have the opportunity to embrace modern technology. Tony Blair is said to have announced in Brighton in 1995 that one of his aims for the future of the nation, was that all children should have access to a laptop computer; he would do his best to make that happen. Adolf Hitler, in the 1930s, is said to have voiced his firm belief that all German children should be taught to type and have access to a personal typewriter. And strangely, when I have asked any of my own children about their education and the ultimate usefulness of skills they absorbed, each one of them without hesitation replies: Learning to type properly – learning to touch type. Who would have thought that the routine and rather humdrum ability to use a typewriter appropriately would ultimately assume such significance for each of them and prove so useful in their chosen career paths? Perhaps it’s simply a case of Mother doing something right for once!