No rhyme or reason


I had a happy birthday

Thanks to all my friends and family and the sun and the dog and birds and people who inspire me, not to mention life itself. . .



Oil is spilling. Marchers are occupying. An egg is cooling.


After Steve

Yes, we too would be lost without our Apples.

By these means we have bitten into the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are changed.

The question’s being asked, who can take the place of Steve Jobs? I guess the answer has to be no one and everyone.

David Pogue says in his eulogy: “Suppose, by some miracle, that some kid in a garage somewhere at this moment possesses the marketing, invention, business and design skills of a Steve Jobs. What are the odds that that same person will be comfortable enough — or maybe uncomfortable enough — to swim upstream, against the currents of social, economic and technological norms, all in pursuit of an unshakable vision?

Zero. The odds are zero.”

In fact such multi-talented individuals aren’t uncommon; I know more than a handful. Uncommon is the person who develops and fulfils those talents and capacities and brings something of beauty into being; who brushes aside the extraneous, and flies quick and true toward the goal s/he has set for her/himself. Whether it be caring for children, setting up a business, creating a garden or tidying a bedroom, most of us sigh and prevaricate, look around and dabble instead of doing this One Thing Well.

There’s a groundswell these days, of talk, dreaming, experimenting and reaching for the concept of the ‘possible human’,  which is to say the apparently impossible human who leads a life of high endeavour. The concept might have replaced contentment as the ideal state. (Although, I like to think that contentment and aspiration can walk hand in hand.)

Hundreds of books have been written about this; thousands of websites offer methods and courses for ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, ‘quantum jumping’, ‘integrated enlightenment’, and most of us know that we’re here not to live by rote but to apply ourselves to discerning and following the impulses that arise uniquely in each of us. We do this not for our own sake alone.

There was only one Steve Jobs.

But there are millions of us. We each have at least one particular strength. Many have potent visions. Surely it’s best now if we look not for one person to save us, but find ways to put ourselves together; seek complementary components amongst our friends, colleagues and cyber-groups. Become the greatest human invention of all: a living web of affinities and abilities. Such is the vision that Steve Jobs and his kin have ushered, wittingly or not, into the realm of human imagination, and therefore of possibility.


Read it

I felt myself to be in skilled and steady hands with Laurence’s (6th or 7th?) novel. Boden Black is a young butcher who spends a formative few summer days in 1955 helping build a hut high on the flanks of Aoraki-Mt Cook. His consciousness is pierced by  events — the relentless narration by a conscientious objector of his imprisonment during WW2 (its cause and consequences) and Boden’s own climb of the mountain with Edmund Hilary and guide Harry Ayres. Poetry is also at work in him.

Boden broods, listens, writes poems (none of which, alas, we get to read), cuts meat, ponders and occasionally converses, and we witness over decades the gradual accretion of character and motive as he, without haste, processes his life — from his lonely, troubled Fairlie childhood, to a maturity in which he is making peace with his people and his past, and with his calling as a poet.

There’s restraint and a deep calm at the heart of The Hut Builder, which makes for quietly impressive reading.





I thought the tomato probably wanted to speak for itself. I brought it inside and had a look at it:

When it’s grown up, closer to Christmas, we’ll hang a few of these on it:



While in Australia I went out looking for wildflowers but it was too hot to snatch more than a couple. Well, that’s my excuse. All that foliage is a fiddle to draw. I chose simpletons.

I read only one book (and started another):

May Sarton writes in Journal of a Solitude: ‘ … we have to make myths of our lives, the point being that if we do, then every grief or inexplicable seizure by weather, woe or work can — if we discipline ourselves and think hard enough — be turned to account, be made to yield further insight into what it is to be alive, to be a human being, what the hazards are of a fairly usual, everyday kind.’

We were given tickets for a dress rehearsal at the Sydney Opera House:

Add a pair of black leather underpants; pop snugly into all four items Teddy Tahu-Rhodes and you have Don Giovanni, Sydney style. Splendido.

Bedside stool

That’s all.



We seem to be on a camera-free holiday ( is it a holiday? perhaps a 75 percenter) but have a few pics from when we were here last year in the Bouddi National Park. I didn’t make it quite as far along the rocks this time — I had bare feet; the stones were sharp, and big black ants were running over my feet, pausing only to bite them. But it’s the same crew (mate and brother):

plus Barbie who took the photo. R couldn’t walk as much as he’d have liked to because of a flaring toe infection that puffed his foot up and took up several hours’ waiting in emergency rooms and the advice of five doctors before he was sure it was under control. Today we came back to the Blue Mountains where a ferocious wind inflated the machinations of an arsonist 30 miles west of here. Tomorrow we’ll have another bush-smoke sunrise before R and I get whisked into the city to watch the dress rehearsal of Don Giovanni at the Opera House. Woohoo!

Tomorrow morning will be 100 percent holiday.


Biddy, day two



Biddy’s deaf now. She can’t hear the cracked tones with which she asks for her dinner. Or the caught-a-mouse yowl that’s replaced her former mild enquiries. From being stand-offish and remote, she’s moved in close. Where I am, there Biddy wants to be. What could be nicer than a sunny table top with a lumpy pencil case?




There are so many deep and serious questions to ponder at present, in particular, which is also to say, in general, how to make the best response to each moment of life in this ravaged, beautiful world. However, I find that my drawing pen refuses sobriety. When it revels in absurdity, what can I do but abdicate responsibility and follow its lead?

It made me wonder how and why we’ve chosen particular physical traits to celebrate, covet, lust after, and even augment, and others to hide, banish, or reduce.

Why don’t we, for example, fixate on toes, and develop unguents for turning short stubbies into willowy beauties?

Why do we make a fetish of straight teeth, when elsewhere on the body curves and curls are far more interesting? With a little application we could turn them around, I’m sure.

And haven’t you ever felt bored by neat pink ears? Probably it would take only a sprinkling of this or that to cultivate  a pair of lovely cauliflowers.


It’s happening






A longish weekend

First, there was high tea at the high table in the Hippopotamus Room for the BNZ Literary Awards. (This article highlights Chiao Lin, the young writer I chose as winner of her section. Too typically, she is under-mentioned elsewhere.)

From Wellington, Kate and I hit the road. Pretty much the first thing I did was throw my whole, hot cup of coffee over the car floor. (Sorry, Kate!)

Nevertheless, Kate shared hers.

Craig drove us up the narrow Wanganui River road. The roadsides were studded with goats and pigs. We saw no one on the hour-and-a-half- trip in to Hiruharama — Jerusalem.

We were on the lookout for James K’s grave. Someone said he was buried on the riverbank somewhere. Kate got a bit close to the riverbank. We decided not to carry on over the old swing bridge with missing teeth. (Thanks for a lovely time, Kate!)

Trouser legs in case you can't tell.

Next day I tried to fly home and made it as far as Christchurch. The day after, I sat in the falling dark and stared at the little plane ready to fly me south.

I'm drawing from memory, okay? I know there are bits missing. But there was definitely something holding the tail together, and other bits tying the plane to earth.

My prayer for a cancellation was answered.

I flew home 24 hours later. Hardly a bump.

Today I was remembering Can Serrat as I blogged there about the link with Rosa Mira Books.

Garden statuary, Can Serrat, May 2005.

Domestic mandala


Small wonders

In the mail today:

Next week I will shuck off my slippers and therapeutic neckscarf, and scratch about for something that will pass as ‘business attire’, catch a plane to Wellington airport, and thence be professionally driven to the BNZ Literary Awards, where I will add my voice in praise of NZ writing, especially that of some very talented teens.

It’s an odd thing to contemplate from the quiet fastness of this Dunedin living room where I work.

Polly wrote on the footpath this morning.

                                                                                        How’s that for a neat dog?

Then I happened upon Helen Lehndorf‘s tantalising Pinterest page, where I spent a few minutes gleaning ‘sartorial inspiration’.  I was rather taken with the ‘naughty dog’ brooch, and created my own, dangling into it Pollly’s favourite scoffings.

In case you can't decipher them: tissue, Whiska, crust, apple core.


The reader

I  saw this small one on my way down to town at lunchtime. S/he (I couldn’t tell which) was tucked well away from the school playground, where the other children were zooming about. I couldn’t help thinking it looked like the kind of child who would be absorbed by the fiction of Joan de Hamel, who died last week.

From the NZSA newsletter: ‘Joan de Hamel was the award-winning writer of many wonderful books for children and teenagers. She was one of the first authors to write books specifically for teens that were set in New Zealand amongst our unique flora and fauna with X Marks the Spot in 1973. Take the Long Path won the Esther Glen Award in 1979 and her children’s picture book, Hemi’s Pet, won the A.W. Reed award in 1985. Her books brought the gift of adventure and of laughter to generations of young New Zealanders.

‘Joan will be remembered with great love and affection as a wonderful writer, supporter and friend, and as her family wrote in her death notice, “she died peacefully after a long and happy life.”  Joan’s cheerful and adventurous spirit and love of nature shines through in the plaque dedicated to her in the Dunedin Octagon Writer’s Walk which quotes her 1992 novel Hideaway: “What more could anyone want than their own land down to the shoreline and the whole Pacific Ocean as a boundary fence.”

At her memorial service in Dunedin, one of her sons read from an essay she wrote after her initial poor prognosis was delivered (eighteen years ago). She was busy with the beloved donkeys and goats that she bred, and commented (sorry, I can’t quote directly) about life’s relentless drama — concerned, if not with birth, then with death.

I’d visited her a couple of years ago, wanting to be sure that the donkeys in Island were written accurately enough. I reworked this scene with Joan’s advice in mind:

“Martha put on a warm jerkin and took her dinner up to the vegetable garden. She had time enough to swallow half a plateful of half-warm mutton and kidney pudding before the impending foal forced its mother into the lee of the macrocarpa hedge. Martha dropped her plate on the grass and knelt up on the stile. Over in the dark cove, Merry’s hoofs were planted wide, her head low and facing away. Across the paddock her mate made bewildered forays along the fenceline, shaking his head at the injustice of being kept at bay.

This is why we have the boiling of water and the tearing of sheets at human births, Martha thought. To give the poor father occupation. But a jenny was an independent creature and neither Martha nor Joseph would be welcome at Merry’s side just now.

Merry’s flanks heaved, and her head hung low.

Watching her struggle, Martha thought of Captain Swathi struggling up at the hospital, each of them towards an opposite end. Or were they so opposite? An end that might be a kind of beginning, a beginning that led to an end. Anyway, this one was a fine distraction from the ward – if only it didn’t look so painful.

Martha picked up her plate again but found that the white-nubbed sac she could see emerging from Merry spoiled the cooling cubes of kidney on her fork.

As Merry’s knees gave beneath her, Martha stood up on the stile, half-inclined to run and offer help, while Joseph planted his feet on the first rung of the gate.

A squalling bray from Joseph brought Rose hurrying from the kitchen, as the jenny delivered herself of a shiny package. At once Merry knelt to lick away the wrapping from a pale nose . . . a dark head . . . a neatly folded donkey.

Joseph threw himself at the gate and broke the latch. He clambered through the open wedge and the vegetable garden, the new peas and the tepee erected for the climbing beans. Martha caught him around the neck but now he was stock-still, shocked rigid at the sight of the wet head wobbling on its neck as Merry, half-risen but still on her knees, licked her baby clean.

Martha surprised herself by sobbing. She hid her face in Joseph’s shoulder, and prayed no one come to witness this scene of dishevelment and joy.”


When it snowed


You may have noticed that the things I draw are simple and relatively small. For example, I don’t know how to draw acres, or even square inches, of snow. I was glad to see yesterday that the oaks on the edge of the golf course were holding it in modest handfuls.

Today I had to go a couple of km over the frozen snow so I cut up some old socks and pulled them on over my boots. They made walking possible on the glazed footpath. It was easier to stride along the gritted vehicle tracks.
There were only about six of us in the supermarket — three were staff. Everyone smiled as they passed on the street. We were all creeping, slipping, eyeing the ground ahead.

Long things I have used today:

I took the ski pole walking, just in case, but in fact the socks did the trick.

With the spade, I scraped up snow and tossed it over the deck railing. With the broom, I swept loosened snow into heaps.

With the axe I split medium sized logs into quarters that would actually burn.

The file is the fire poker.

The sock was a surprise. It came up to my knee while the one I know covers only the ankle. I wore both.

The glass holds a refreshing infusion of sage leaves — 5 or 6 young ones steeped in a cup or two of boiling water. Served with a squeeze of lemon juice.


Distracting myself.

I had to practise a bit to make a budgie that didn’t look like a sparrow or an Easter chick.

If nothing else, I think this one has the cheeky eye.

Noddy used to strut around the dinner table. While we children behaved ourselves and ate quietly, he shrieked and scraped butter straight off the serving dish.

Or he slid down and hung from our hair, to intercept.


Almost 28 years ago we brought our first baby home. Today the last baby is packing his bag to head north. We’ve always had one here with us. How strange the house will feel tonight.


How to put your dog to bed in winter

Find a nice big roll of polar fleece.

Ask them to snip you off a small piece. Take it home and measure your dog from stem to stern. Cut your coat according to your cur.

Cut four holes, two quite big and two very small. Sew on two buttons. Cotton calligraphy is optional. Call your dog. Button the coat into place. Alternatively, you can do up the buttons first, then pull it on like a jersey.

I forgot to draw the yellow button just behind the front leg

Let the dog out one last time while you clean your teeth.

Tell her to go to bed.

                                                                                  Tell her she’s a good girl.

You may now safely turn off the heater and go to bed yourself.


Under the cherry tree

We grew up in a cherry tree — the biggest we’ve ever seen. We knew it by heart, each shiny hand- or foothold on its banded, silver limbs. Its base was a receptacle for children. You pulled yourself up on the shallow stump always leaking amber gum. Then you climbed your chosen route, to the roof, the tyre swing, or simply up. In spring petals snowed over the lawn.


We waited until the cherries were densely freckled with pink before we ate them. They were best nibbled lying on a sunny bed with a roll of ten June and Schoolfriends from the church fair sorted into chronological order.

Before we and the birds had taken them all, our father climbed the tree with a handful of our mother’s stockings.

One evening a week or two later when the stockings had turned greenish, he harvested the cherries.

Talking of stockings, I made my first pony, Sandy Bay. Beige sock, two buttons, brown wool, and a bridle of bias binding.

As you can see, he lived. My heart gave a leap when I thought of him waiting for me in the corner of the bedroom.

Talking of socks, one hot day after school, Jillian and I filled the barrel with water and climbed in.

My brother and his French horn-playing friend John Maurice took away our clothes. John turned up on FB recently. His daughter Renee is a truly remarkable singer.


The inconsiderate sleeper

R tells me a man would not have this dream. I’m inclined to agree that it’s unlikely

There was a horse race, too, in my dreams, but horses are much harder to draw than sleeping bags, and besides, my horse and I came last. I didn’t really mind. I was just glad I’d managed to stay on.


The vitamin hunt

It’s said that none of us here in the south is getting enough vitamin D for optimum health. You have to spend almost two hours in the wintry sun to garner the daily dose. That’s with skin exposed and, presumably, without Chilean ash cloud subduing the sun’s rays. Thinking to take a good half dose today we set off for the beach. But …

… cloud was rolling up the harbour and out to sea.

So we went UP, instead. We drove into the fog and out the other side. We found a gravel road running south-north, with the sun upon it. We parked the car and walked.

What there was on the road/side:

dead pig x 3 or 4
a perfectly good portion of dashboard and a screwdriver, a little scuffed
a man with a headache

I took the last two home with me.

Polly goes without saying.



Up by the bootstraps

Relics from last week's walk


Been thinking about thoughts and feelings this weekend. How they feed one another and how much say we have in the direction they take us. Yesterday I woke with the blahs: what on earth am I doing with my days which seem to be running together like watercolours with a wet brush dragged through them? Where’s my enthusiasm for the direction I’ve chosen? Have I taken a wrong turn, and lost the path of Greater Altruism? What about the writing (where is it)? Do I actually like the people I live with? Are we dragging one another down? I mean, why get out of bed today?  …

You get my drift? Downwards. Muddy thoughts, murky feelings, running together.

I picked up the little book I pick up (when I remember) at times like this.

Stop it. That’s the basic message. Act. Do something, anything. Remind yourself of your capabilities, and that incapacity starts in the mind. And so does vast capacity. I guess that for someone else the best message would be opposite: go and wallow in a hot bath. Book a ticket to Hyderabad. Meditate and merge with the cosmos. Anyway. Acting works for me. Act by act.

Chopped wood. Dusted the innermost reaches of the bedroom. Said yes when a friend asked me out. Went out.

What I’ve taken for my current vocation took on its former glow of possibility. My housemates improved out of sight. Simple soul that I am, I got happy.


The vertical tug

We have to go outside to get to our bedroom, so at least once a night I’m looking up for stars and moon, which makes me wonder about, you know, the space between here and there and beyond, and what the true nature and substance of God and the planets and galaxies might be, whether we are God’s cells, for example, or are alone. Anyway, I find myself reaching up, thinking about higher purposes, and wanting to know what mine is, or yours, if there is such a thing. Wanting the best in me (and you) to shine forth. I want to be fully awake.

(Actually, I don’t look this glamorous at night, as if I’m wearing make-up, and in real life the dressing gown looks more like something I share with the dog.)

Then I get into bed and my thoughts join me down here. I want to be warm, free of aches, to be held (or not), for there to be no earthquakes in Christchurch (or here), for my children to be safe and happy, for there to be enough firewood and food for winter. I want to be lulled to sleep.




Things have been rather subdued today: I, the housemates, the air itself, which was filmy with ash from the Puyehue-Cordon-Caullevol volcano in Chile. Perhaps it’s autumn, now spent (‘having been used and unable to be used again’) and mutely awaiting the next scene …

… which began late this afternoon: darkening skies and clouds racing from the south-west, a keen-edged wind and the rattle of rain at the windows.

That feels more like it: proper winter.