So TonTon was barking like mad at the barn door. This is rare behaviour so something was amiss and I have learnt not to ignore him. I went outside the kitchen door and he ran to me his hackles up. Usually this means there is a sheep in the wrong place or Daisy has picked another lock! I said show me and much to my surprise (this is not a command I have taught him) he ran back to the barn door and woofed at it. Then he ran back to me and escorted me in, and across to the cows pen and in there was a tiny tiny peeping chick hopping about in the hay, and then TonTon gently moved his nose sideways and showed me another one. Can I have it? Can I? Can I? (pant, pant) Finders keepers?
I looked up and sure enough there was a hole in ceiling – which is the barn loft floor. We store all the hay up there. So taking these two wee peeping chicks I climbed the ladder and went in search of their mother.
Directly above the cows pen, in the hay, I find Houdini. So named because she will NOT be shut in with the Common Flock over in the chook house. She would rather live in the barn with that other escape artist- Daisy the Naughtiest Pregnant Cow in the World. She looks like she is hiding something, so I poked her (as you would) with a long stick because this chook will take your arm off and not apologise. And more little chicks came tumbling out from under her. They refused to stand still in this low light.
Well they could not stay up here, even as I watched them two quite silently disappeared through the tiny hole in the floor and set up the screaming peeping from below. Causing TonTon to jump the gate and go in search of them, presumably to hold off the cats who were definitely lurking. So I risked life and limb, put on some really huge gloves and glasses to protect my eyes and caught The Fury who was Houdini. I popped her over the side before she ripped my face off, then very quickly bundled all of the other chicks into a pillow case and down the ladder we went. They are now relocated in the straw, along with their lost sisters,at least I hope they are sisters.. more roosters I do not need! Now they can fall no further. TonTon guarded them until the mother chicken found them, chased him off and gathered her little brood back together.
And guess what! Altogether there are 16 of them.. YES.. 16!.. Hmm!
John decided to take an interest.
What is that dance thing?
That is the haka. Best not to describe it as a dance thing though, it is meant to terrify the opponents. All very serious that is. Personally, I think it is the best bit.
And so John would watch some more. I would stand in the corner with a tea towel and think about staying for a minute.
So how much are they worth? John asks.
Worth? They are not professional. And you don’t buy people in New Zealand. There are other ways of keeping them but they don’t buy and sell rugby players. They all have real jobs.
You have got to be kidding. He said. They must get paid. Who would do this if they didn’t get paid. The boys on the tele drop into a scrum. Thump. You mean they train after work? What are they doing now? (see apology to john at the end of this piece)
Oh, I know this bit. A scrum is all about weight. The backs are in there heaving that is why they have some really big fellas in there. They are called backs because they have very heavy backs and stand up the back. Or maybe those are the forwards. Whoever they are they get down and try to push the other team closer to their goal and the other team heaves them away and they call each other names and kick the ball about with their boots and try to get it out to their guy who grabs it runs with it under the goal posts. He has to press it into the ground though for it to be a goal. You can’t just run and dance around under there.
Oh the rules. Well. I was never very good with rules.
Well he kicked, says John, why did he kick, there seems no reason for him to kick and then he chased it, what is going on here and why does the ref keep blowing the damn whistle.
I think you are onto it now, honey, I think you are meant to blame the ref. It seems to me that you are supposed to jump up off the couch, point to a corner of the TV screen and then scream: Ref, Ref, are you blind? How could you have missed that? What are you doing out there?! Are you an idiot?! Then call him all kinds of filthy words and say mean things about his relationship with his mother. It pretty much is always the refs fault, I think.
I still can’t believe they don’t get paid. What if they are injured?
Well, they fix you for free in NZ, especially for injuries. And the clubs would help out I guess. I suppose they would have medical insurance so they can go to a posh hospital. Not many people have medical insurance at home. You don’t have to. We have big free hospitals. And remember they don’t always play for the All Blacks that is just for the international games. They all come from different regions and late in the season they are chosen for the All Blacks. It all has something to do with socks. Each region has different socks but the same shorts. No pockets in their shorts though, that is not allowed. It seems to me that their shorts used to be shorter. Oh dear, look at that fellow with all his hair. You would think someone would pull it.
It goes like this: school teams, club teams, regional teams and then the All Blacks. Then they all go back to their clubs afterwards I think. Though I am not completely sure. I didn’t know there was going to be a test!
Well, why aren’t they wearing helmets? No shoulder pads, nothing.
It’s the All Blacks, John. Their shoulders are wide enough without padding. They wear mouth guards, tiny thin shin pads that are hardly worth the effort and a box for their .. you know, ghoulies. Oh, there is a guy with a little soft helmet. How sensible. I think that is because they don’t want cauliflower ears. At least they don’t tuck barmaids towels into their pants.
They only play together for a short time and then they go back to work as brickies or chippies or scarfies. Some of them go to uni, but I do wonder. They have to take time off from work to play. Oh look he almost clothes-lined him. Ref! That guy is mean, look at his eyes they are way too close together. Well, I don’t like him at all.
I don’t think you are helping, says John.
Oh. Maybe we should call senior son, he can tell you. Or maybe eldest son. You know. I sit down, warming to the subject. John sighs. After the game they all go back to the club house and have a cup of tea. After they have swapped their jerseys. Though I think they only swap jerseys so that they can show their bodies to the girls in the stands. Seems to me they walk about with their shirts off for bit long! And it is winter remember. Cold.
Well, maybe that is cricket. You are right, Rugby is beer. After a club game, both teams shower in their separate changing rooms, dress in their Number Ones, spray on their smellies and they all meet in the clubhouse for a drink and a feed. All clubs have a club house. The Mums from the home team cook huge amounts of food and everyone eats together. You always feed the other team before they get back on the bus. It would be rude not to. Can’t send them away hungry and sober. Every club has a bar. It is mandatory.
Don’t they fight each other?
In the club house? Good God No, well at least not ’til after they have had a few more drinks and maybe moved to another bar. If things are uncomfortable, if they won I mean, the Away Team will eat quietly at the Away Team tables, then shake everyones hand and say they have a long bus ride home. No, they only hate the ref. The ref only stays for one short drink then scarpers. If he turns up at all. Everyone hates the ref. They don’t hate each other. Half of them have played together one way or the other. It is a tiny country. It is just a game you know. Though I have been told not to say that in company.
Well, back to the dishes. Sing out darling, if you have any more questions!!
editors note: apparently (senior son just called) the All Blacks DO make pots of money running about the paddock wreaking havoc. So apologies John. When you get home from work I shall burst the bubble! I thought they just did it because they loved it! What was I thinking? In fact they all get paid! I am appalled! c
OK It is possible that in the far away or near future, you may take it upon yourself to go to New Zealand to visit. Mainly because we have the best rugby team in the WORLD! In that case you are going to need to know some things to avoid doing embarrassing stuff.
First you need to know about NZ greetings. No need for language. We get along very well with grunts and nods. To say hullo in passing you straighten your forehead and lift your chin ever so slightly, this is done with just a twinge of the eyebrows, any more than a whisper of eyebrow movement and you will be taken for an imposter. Less is best.
When introduced: MEN should shake hands, on the second and subsequent meetings you shake hands and wack your new friend good and hard a couple of times on their back. Saying Good to see ya, mate. And it is perfectly acceptable (even encouraged ) to kiss the girls. Especially after giving her boyfriend a good hard bone crushing handshake and then knocking the wind out him. Then shake the hand of the girl and kiss her lightly on the cheek with a long upside down V shape of air between your bodies! WOMEN can shake hands and or kiss just about everyone on any occassion. Only one kiss on the cheek mind you. One.
Now lets look at a couple of casual dining options!
If you are invited to a Barbie please remember that a Barbie has nothing to do with dolls. When arriving at your new friends house for the Barbie (barbeque) take a 6 pack of beer, or a bottle of wine, some sausages or a salad and a warmie. You will be outside the whole time. Sausages are called snarlers, or sausies. (IN american we call them brats) These will be grilled along with the steak and it will be served on real plates along with piles of salads. If they try to serve you on paper plates be very careful as someone is playing a trick. If you don’t like salads do not visit NZ. In fact if you are invited to anyones home at anytime for any dinner – take a salad and a bottle. If they say bring a plate this is what it means. Not a plate to eat off. A bowl of salad. Oh dear so much to learn. If they say no, that is fine, don’t bring anything, take a Dessert and a bottle of something nice. Ice-cream bought from the dairy on the way is perfectly acceptable for a single man as long as it is vanilla or hokey pokey. Never ever go to someones house to eat with one arm as long as the other. You will not be invited back. NZers are pretty mean like that!
Now a Barbie is not to be confused with a sausage sizzle. A sausage sizzle is often held in really nasty weather, outside a supermarket, to raise money for a netball team or a school camp or some other worthy cause that could use the cash. One very lonely frozen small person will be grilling sausages and onions in the carpark. You will give him a dollar coin and he will give you a sausage and a sliver of onion, if you want onion (this question will be directed at you with a point of the spatula and a raise of the eyebrow. Be observant. If you miss this imperceptible request you will miss out on the onion and he will only give you one of the little endy sausies.) The sausie will be wrapped in buttered bread drenched in tomato sauce (otherwise known as Martie Sauce not ketchup), with a paper towel loosely wrapped around the outside to save your onion from falling to the ground and your sausage from sliding out through the folded bread. Beware: the sausage will be VERY HOT. And with the butter melting it is now very slippery. This is how the cold little man entertains himself, watching hungry people trying to get bites of hot sliding dripping sausages in a cold car park, while juggling their groceries. It is a little like watching a dog try to catch a bee.
They have sausage sizzles at rugby games too, just so’s you know to take your dollar.
A dairy cow is called a cow and a cow for meat is called a beast. Though generally at the table we do not say pass the beast.
It is OK to wear your jandals to a barbie at someones house. Jandals are very thin rubber sandally things with a slim prong of rubber that slides between the big toe and its adjacent toe and a Y of thin rubber that comes up and over the top of your foot. One has to grip slightly with the tips of your toes to keep them on. To be an authentic jandal (or shandal if you want to pronounce it correctly) you must be able to feel the road through the sole of the rubber. They are very very thin and drag and slap slightly as you walk. And when they sit quietly and smellily outside the door they will curl up a little. This is good.
Never wear your shoes into a NZ house. There are a lot of dogs in NZ and very few little plastic dog poo baggies.
If you don’t eat salads go home. NZers eat a lot of salads.
NZ Fish and Chips are the best take aways in the world. You must go to a Fish ‘n Chip shop. When we are away from NZ we dream of fish and chips, steak and cheese pies or marmite. Though Fish and Chip Shops are a mine field for the uninitiated. You will order your food and then sit on a plastic chair, looking at magazines that have been rejected by the doctors, waiting while it is cooked. If you order the fish you will get shark. You should look up at the list on the wall and order the fish from there. Then you will get the nice fresh fish. You will order chips with that, they come in scoops. Chips are potatoes sliced into long thick finger shaped .. um.. chips. You almost never find an actual finger in there but it is best to be on the lookout, as these are real potatoes chopped up by real people with really big chip chopping machines. You may also order a pineapple ring, a potato cake, a hot dog, a paua fritter, deep fried moro bar or a spring roll. Be careful here. You will be judged by your order.
All of these are deep fried until explosively crispy and overdone then drained for a very short time, and wrapped in newsprint then newspaper. The paper is important as it soaks up all that delicious grease. (Actually you can call fish and chips- greasies or shark and taties, either works) You can ask for tartare sauce pronounced tartair but I wouldn’t as this is considered a bit girlie. Salt and vinegar is ok. But I don’t ask for vinegar either as it sometimes makes them too soggy and I hate soggy chips!
Now pay attention: eating the fish and chips. This is very important. If you are walking home with the newspaper wrapped package of shark and taties, tear a hole in the corner and just put your hand down into the steaming mess and pull out the first chip you come to and eat it fast. It is Ok to do this. When you get home you say. I only tore a hole in it to let the steam out so that they didn’t go soggy. Once you are home or on the beach, dump the package on the table or on a rock, grab the martie sauce, open the paper, all sit around and tuck in. NO-ONE ever uses a fork. Thank God I remembered to tell you that. Make big puddles of martie sauce or TF (I cannot tell you what that means unfortunately, but the T stands for Tucker and it rhymes) on the paper (never over the actual food- sharing remember) and just dip and gobble. No plates and no cutlery and no clean up! All good.
Tomorrow we are going to talk about the rugby and netball and dining OUT in NZ!
Did I tell you about my mother’s rock gardens? I think I did. At the big house on the beach. You will remember that Dad said he would place a rock once then shift it once, then he was done. My Mother loved rocks.
Well, the rock garden outside the backdoor had the special rocks in it. Mum was into texture and shape more than colour but got most excited about rocks that had holes in them. There was one such rock that had a mini well in it. A very deep hole in this rock. It curved into the stone so that when you filled it you poured a lot of water in, seeing nothing happening then suddenly it would be overflowing. And it had been placed just right -it was a perfect watering hole. Every morning Mum would top this well up with water and this is where the wild birds drank and most especially this is where wandering Bantams drank and more importantly this is where Banty the Bantam Rooster had his drinks. Yes I know Banty is not that original a name for a bantam but there you go.
We had chooks that lived down the backyard in the chook house of course, these were for eggs. But the bantams just wandered the section and worked on being pretty. They never went to the beach though, not that I remember. Banty the Bantam Rooster was blindingly colourful, each orange and red shiny glowing feather perfectly groomed, and settled into place. He held his head just so, his eye just there and he walked with all the strut of a Big Rooster. He also liked to ride on shoulders. This memory is so old that I am not even sure he was riding on my shoulder when the incident happened but I think he was.
Though I have to confess that my memory that far back is not reliable. I have to tell you that I really really was Tinkerbelle in our school Christmas play when I was eight. I was Tinkerbelle. I wore her brown leather Indian Girl costume and my hair was in plaits and I stood out there in front of the whole class facing the audience at our little school on the beach and I sung the Tinkerbelle song. Except that Tinkerbelle never wore an Indian costume, and her hair was not in braids. I was never Tinkerbelle. I must have been a little Indian Girl in the school play when I was eight. But my memory refuses to understand that. It will not succomb. I wanted to be Tink so bad that I have vivid and complete memories of being Tinkerbelle but with plaits singing the Tinkerbelle song.
Anyway there is a fairly good chance that Banty was riding on my shoulder because I know for sure that I used to get in trouble for having bird poop on the back of my cardi’s and I am confident that my over-imaginative memory would not have created that unromantic detail.
There was an elderly gentleman who used to live two houses down in one of the most beautiful houses I can remember as a child. It was a wide, long, low slung house, with green concrete paths that wove around gardens filled with cacti. Remember we were on a beach, there was no soil, so any garden was manufactured somehow. My mother used rocks. Mr Rangi used green concrete. Oh, how I envyed him his green concrete. The house had one enormous straight face at the front that was all dark glass. Looking straight out to sea. In the centre of these two walls of glass, was the front door. A big brown wood door. When you stepped through the door there was a small kitchen that had a saloon door. An incredibly exciting thing for a little girl that saloon door. Off to the right side of this central kitchen was a living area and off that living area to the back was a bedroom and bathroom. On the left side of the kitchen was another living area and through the back of there was another bedroom and bathroom. This is where Mr Rangi and Miss Pimm lived. Seperately. But together. Mr Rangi was a brilliant classical guitarist and rumour had it he had been invited to play for Kaiser Wilhelm on the eve of the First World War. He played for the Kaiser who was a very dignified cultural man overcome by circumstance. After the recital Mr Rangi was spirited back out of Germany in a plane and swapped his guitar for a gun and rejoined the Pioneer batallion later to be known as the formidable Maori battallion and the next day was officially at war against the Kaiser.
Mr Rangi was very very well dressed. Always. This man had every single item of clothing dry cleaned and his trousers were ironed to razer thin perfection. He always wore shoes that were very shiny with proper black socks. Right to the day he died his hair was sleek and dark with brylcreem.
Miss Watson who lived on the other side of the divide, was a sweet quiet little white lady. Her sister had been married to Mr Rangi back in the mists of time, there were no children and after the sister had died they had just drifted into this rather startling arrangement. This was in the sixties remember. My mother was convinced that this was the first ever mixed flat. Mixed in sex and race. This was immensely satisfying for Mum. In those days it was very brave to live with a man who was not your husband, especially platonically. But for a Maori man to live with a white woman. Well, if anyone said anything against them My Mother was swinging her handbag. Period.
Miss Watson had lost her leg somewhere along the line, which as a child I found endlessly fascinating if not a little careless. But kids do not ask questions about stuff like that. A plastic leg became ordinary. Her leg would be locked into place either straight or bent and to unlock it she would reach behind her knee and adjust a little lever. Sometimes it got stuck and I would help her. There must have been an extraordinary story behind this pair of old old souls who lived in this beautiful house. I visited her at least twice a week after school for years and years, more so as she got older. She would make boiled eggs and toast, click her leg and sit down. She would eat the eggs and I would eat the cold toast with lots of butter. I love cold toast.
Anyway My Rangi smoked long thin cigars all the time, if he was not playing his guitar he was smoking, his fingers were yellow with tar. Often he would walk down in the evening and yarn with my father while he had his evening smoke and they would watch the sea as the light faded.
This particular evening Mr Rangi was leaning on the fence smoking and talking to Dad, and us kids were gathered about staring and half listening as kids do. Banty was sitting on my shoulder. Hunched forward, watchful. His tiny feathered head, with its droopy red comb, right beside my eye. The discussion trailed off and we fell into that soft evening silence. That gentle absence of words that is a conversation in itself. Soon we realised that Banty had become mesmerised by the glow of Mr Rangi’s cigar. Every time Mr Rangi brought the cigar to his mouth and drew on it the little orb of fire glowed hot and bright red. As the sun went down the embers got brighter and the bantam’s head went to and fro, to and fro. Like watching a tennis match. Back and Forth. Up and Down. Soon we were all mesmerised by the rise and fall, the hiss and glow of the shrinking cigar. The bantam leaning closer and closer.
Then almost nonchalantly, the bantam just leant over and neatly pecked the glowing ember off the end of Mr Rangi’s cigar. He just pecked that hot drop of glowing ash right off. Peck. There was a terrible pause in the stillness. We all just stopped breathing. Mr Rangi with his fireless cigar held quite still in the air. Dads head turned to the Bantam, shaggy eyebrows raised. The bantam froze on my shoulder. Then poor Banty let out the most terrible shriek, flew clumsily off my shoulder to the drive and ran, flat out with that hilarious armless gait that chickens have. He ran squawking and screeching all the way up the drive to the back door. He made a bee line straight for the little rock full of cold water. He leapt, wings fluttering awkwardly, from rock to rock until he reached the top and without even properly perching or preparing himself just dunked his head straight into the water. Dunk, gargle, dunk, gargle, dunk, gargle, dunk. Poor Banty.
Years later after Mr Rangi had died, Miss Watson put herself into an old folks home. To my delight I got my first job straight out of school working her wing. At breakfast time she sweetly asked for extra toast, and winked at me as I piled her plate up. She would wait until the toast was the exact right temperature then smear it with plenty of butter and marmite from her tray. Then as I went back through the wards clearing the breakfast she would secretly feed me cold toast and tea. It was against the rules for nurses to eat on the wards of course. Miss Watson was delighted at our little bit of naughtiness each morning.
Oh and Banty recovered no worse for wear.
p.s. I am sorry there are no appropriate photographs today…. the sun has come up and I really must get outside and start mucking out the barn.
The Frost I meant. Jack Frost was here. Not the drink! Not in the morning, I am being good today! You guys!! Look: Cupboard Love -Chooks, hoping to ambush me.
These grapes were left so we can see what happens as the weather gets colder and the grape gets older. We are thinking about making ice wine one year!
Now I am going to go and write you a little story for tomorrow.
Have you ever woken up in the morning and thought. Today I am going to be BAD. That is IT! I am sick of being good. I have had quite enough of that! I want to be bad. I am going to be as bad as bad can be. I am going to be the baddest of all the bads.
I want to eat chocolate even though I don’t like it and have cake for breakfast and put brandy in my coffee. I will make lunch without using any kind of recipe, just pull stuff out of the fridge and fry it. Then scoff the lot and NOT SHARE!
I will take photos in the rain and not care about drops of water on the lens. In fact I won’t even care about focus or light or composition, I will close my eyes and just point the camera anywhere and keep pressing the buttons then see what happens. Not bad enough?
I will tell the next telemarketer that calls that Mrs G is dead, but yes I AM her. You see I am a ghost, left over from a bloody murder. I will tell her that I am only allowed to answer the phone when nobody is home and I know where she lives and can I speak to her superviser because I know where she lives too.
I will go a whole hour without recycling. I will throw a can into the trash. How bad is that?
I will give Hairy McLairy a manicure and paint his toe nails bright red. Then I will put a ribbon in his hair. Bad enough?
OK. I am going to just go out there onto the farm and open ALL the internal gates and all the animals can wander freely from paddock to paddock and to hell with intensive grazing and who is getting friendly with who and saving grass for a rainy day.
Maybe I won’t collect the eggs and I will tell any chickens that want to roost on their eggs, just go for it. Just hatch as many chickens as you like. Just sit there and turn your little belly heaters up and cluck. Just Have At It!
I might drive my mower with the flames painted on it straight out into the corn that seems will never be harvested. It will stand in my way and rattle its cobs at me but I will mow straight in and make big wide crop circles. Just drive around and around in wild arcs like a clock. In fact I will lie back in the mower seat and drive with my feet! And when they say who made that mess out there? I will say. Not me. Oh No, I have been sitting in this chair knitting stories all day. And they will say.. You can’t knit. Poo, I will say back to them. That bad!
I will eat all the worst food for dinner. I will eat fried chicken with my fingers and trifle all on the same plate. Piles of bad for me trifle made with STORE BOUGHT sponge with oodles of sherry and custard out of a packet! Drinking white wine out of a red wine glass.
I will call all my children, all over the world and forgedabout the toll bill. And just talk all evening long about NOTHING.
I will take the kitten to the barn and hold it up for Daisy and tell her it is a tomato so she will lick all over and when the kitty looks like he has a Mohawk I shall set him free.
I will make a roaring fire and burn all the good wood with the windows wide open then go out and feed piles of all the best hay to Daisy the Pregnant Cow. Then I will make a barn martini with the visitors vodka and maybe I will just lie down in the clean straw when Daisy lies down and just sleep there like a puppy or something. Not even caring about washing the dishes or doing my writing or anything.
Have you ever felt like that being that bad? Still not bad enough?
I once knew a woman who was a secondary school teacher. This was some time ago. And there was this silly rule that if you wore a dress or skirt you had to wear nylons on your legs. (Pantyhose or stockings). Well it was a really hot summer. And this day was hotter than ever. She had dressed in a summer dress and she was just so sick of wearing pantyhose that she just left them draped over the bedroom chair and went to work without them.
She did this for three days running. All free and cool. Summer dresses and bare legs. Her black leather teachers shoes with the smart little heel firmly attached to her bare feet.
On the fourth day the Deputy Principal in his flapping tie with his squeaky trousers and hot pink face came to sit beside her in the staff room. She was drinking her morning tea. He coughed a little bit, patting his arrow tie into place and she smiled at him.
Good Morning Mr Brown. She said.
Yes. Um. Good morning to you Miss Smith. Now. You do understand the code of dress for faculty, Miss Smith? He said. Sure that this would be enough said.
Yes. she said, calmly taking a sip of her cooling tea.
Oh. Well. Then you do know that you are supposed to wear .. um.. er.. nylons? He shuffled turning with intense concentration to the curtains across the room.
I am wearing nylons. She said calmly, taking another sip of her tea and recrossing her bare legs.
Ah, no you’re not. He said. Grimly smiling and nodding to a passing staff member.
Yes, I am Mr Brown. She said, leaning in closer and looking him straight in the eye. You are mistaken. I am wearing pantyhose. Look.
Poor man, he looked at her, he looked at her legs out of the corner of his blushing eye, she sat back all straight and prim. Knowing that the only test would be for him to touch her legs to feel that the nylons were not there. And this would never happen. Never. Never. Because a Deputy Principal touching a teachers leg would not DO. There was a pause.
She drank the last of her tea. She uncrossed her legs. Stood. Walked (well sauntered with a wee roll of her slim hips if the truth be known) to the staffroom kitchen. She rinsed her empty cup and placed it to drain on the bench and as the bell rang for the start of class she walked briskly and very professionally back through staff room, right past the defeated gentleman in question. She allowed herself a tiny smile as she left the staffroom.
I have wandered about some of the dieting sites a little more and oh dear some of them are grim. Dieters trying to yank and beat their bodies into weird shapes. And getting angry and miserable about it. All those beautiful bodies. Remember there is no failure in the Celi Diet. Because you are designing your own Food Program. There are a few more of you who have joined me on the Celi Diet which is great because the Celi Diet is all about Loving the Body remember. Watching the Body not the weight. Cutting out processed foods. Allowing your body to achieve its natural weight. And eating well.
AS you know there are a few rules for the first few weeks. No processed foods. Eat fresh.
Celia over on her lovely blog has this very sweet idea. She suggests that we post shots of our favourite things in our kitchens. I am going to do this again next month after I have had the autumn tidy up. But today I thought I would send a tiny challenge out to you all to show us one or two favourite things in your writing spaces. Maybe your writing space is the kitchen, or a corner, or in the sun on the verandah, the couch. Where do you sit when you write that blog we love to read?
Here are my writing spaces.
The Summer Study. This is a small shady cool room with only one little window. You will remember that I do not have air conditioning and the summer study is cool and dark. I can only show you a few corners as I have abandoned my summer space now that winter is coming.
Now I know you guys! You are all readers and you are all craning to see what books are in there – so let me tell you another terrible secret. I have only been living with John for a little over four years and now the house has books stacked in corners, falling off shelves, tripping over each other beside the bed, jammed into unlikely spaces like commuters in a cheap jet. And yes I DO often buy a book because I like its cover and it is on the sale table. I read them all. But I have a special bookshelf for the good books. The Twicers. The ones I will and do read more than once. So this dusty bookshelf is a mere glimpse.
And yes I deliberately took that shot in low light so it would be blurry!! I always look especially good when blurry. OK. You have had your laugh. Now let us go up the ladder to the Loft.
Here is a corner of my Winter Studio in the Loft. It is big, light and airy. And yes that phone is in working order. We don’t have electric phones. Too many lightening strikes. Weirder and weirder.
When I came back from Europe to live out here on the Plains, the first change that I made to the house was to add the big verandah where we eat all summer. This changed the entrances and exits and turned the kitchen around. After we had finished the kitchen ( mostly), I asked a very nice builder man to take out the ceiling in the big room and turn the attic into a loft. I had to draw pictures because he just looked at me as though I had offered him his own red work truck in a soup. Evidently this was one of those things that triggers the ‘You can’t do that!’ response.
One of the spaces this created was my Winter Studio. With three big skylights and huge windows to the North and the South this is a perfect warm, light, writing space for the winter. We used recycled timber for the floors and it is finished with copper from the gutters of an old roof and all the trim and shelves are either old barn timber or lovely maple that Johns brother milled. These book shelves are on wheels so when it all gets terrible I can pull the entire box of shelves out from the wall and go hide in behind them. Or use them as high benches.
We do not have central heating either so the house is heated with a big cast iron fire. We gather fallen trees all summer and heat ourselves with them all winter. We don’t cut down trees. You know those ambulance chasers? Well, we are tornado chasers. We take two trucks and the chainsaws and offer to help people clean up their fallen trees! We once had a guy drive up in his golf cart over to where we were working and call out ‘If you can find my cherry tree you can have it, I don’t know where that dang thing got blowed to.’ Later he came back and said he had found his tree behind the tavern.! Off we toddled.
Also in Johns work there is a lot of construction timber wasted, if it is chemical free he brings that home and into the fire it goes. So the fire makes lots of heat, and the heat rises straight into my Loft.
How do I get up into my loft, I hear you ask. Well I took the old attic ladder which is on an intensely gorgeous old pulley system and I had my guy fit it into the ceiling of an empty wardrobe. So it is hidden. I climb up the ladder to get up here. Which I need to tell you is quite a feat with a bowl of salad and a cup of coffee.I am on the look out for a real fire pole, which I will find, as they are closing fire stations as well as Post Offices. No, not for pole dancing! So I can slide down if I am in a hurry. Pick your mind up out of the gutter!!
Now imagine that you are sitting at my desk. Look to your left. You will be looking across a completely open space, you can look down into the lounge and the dining room (you won’t though because I would have to tidy up and I haven’t) and across the great divide to Esmeralda. She is a very old dressmakers dummy that I found when I was shopping in my MotherInLaw’s attic. (The attic and her barn are my favourite places to shop!) On the right you will see two of the three skylights I had the little man put in before he took the floor out. These light the big room below. Light and Space are important to me.
Now, if you feel like it and no pressure you understand. But. Do you have a shot of your space? Add a wee link to mine if you do, so that I can zoom over. Where do you write?
This is what I saw when I began the chores this morning. A cat sleeping in my shopping bags. You know the bags that you pause on the verandah. The plan being to stow them back in the car later. Then they never make it to the car, and you end up at the supermarket without your bags, wondering what happened to The Plan!
The leaves have begun to turn and fall here, we had a frost this morning. I am starting the search for the gloves put away last spring. The bird houses have been vacated. I have decided that I will not mow the lawn again THIS YEAR! What a joyful decision.
I know that autumn is a beautiful time, we store all our food for the winter, and this means the meat too. To carry extra animals through the winter creates overcrowding in the barn and makes no sense economically. This is a rather somber reminder of what we are all about. Growing our own food is not only about the freshest hand picked salads and glorious tomatoes, and satiny silverbeet. It is also about growing our own meat in a respectful, sustainable, old fashioned way.
The first reason we started to grow our own meat and vegetables was that we wanted to have control over our own food. The second reason is we are appalled by the cruel and heartless way animals were grown for the mass production of dubious protein. We want no part of that. We could not rail against it unless we did something about it. So we decided to grow our own fresh clean meat. Using sustainable methods and organic natural feeds. i.e. grass. Tomorrow morning the Murphys (we call all the sheep for the freezer Murphys) – the two wethers are leaving. And this is why the Paddy Wagon is parked right up against the barn doors. Tonight I will shoo them through the barn, (a feat in itself I think) and up into the stock trailer.
Tomorrow morning when we drive them away it will be tougher. But if I am going to feed my family, friends and extended family members good food, then I need to man up and get the job done. They have been well treated, well fed, and have spent their lives outside in the fresh country air with a pure green diet and plenty of room to run. We will take them to a small abbatoir that is clean and calm and well managed. Enough said.
All our lives we collect all these experiences and put them in our pockets. We polish them as we walk along, take them out and look at them, drop them back in our pockets and one day find another use for them. Every experience good or bad is useful.
Speaking of experiences: above is a shot of my book planning. In writers jargon (most of which is gibberish to me) this is now officially a Work In Progress (WIP). Writing a play is about a million times easier, my written language from years in film and stage is pared right down to dialogue and stage directions. I have to get used to having all this space to write in. And being able to let my characters fly. I have over 60 little scenes jotted down and arranged into Acts (can’t help myself) and then Chapters. I am designing the recipe for our book.
Soon I will begin cooking. Just too exciting.
The basketball hit the fluourescent light bulb the very moment I stepped through the classroom door, as the new drama teacher. Glass confetti tinkling to my feet. Slightly alarmed I stood my ground as two tall teenage rugby players rushed me, dodging at the very last minute to either side and blew straight past. They ran high, arms high, heads high, steps exaggeratedly huge, past and gone, out the door. I turned and watched them disappear then shut the door and turned back to the rest of the class.
I was a director in a little theatre, writing scripts in my spare time and running my own drama classes in an abandoned warehouse, when I was not working in the old folks home down the road. I had been asked to teach a few classes of drama at a local high school. The hours matched the hours my own children went to school so it was a good offer. I was a young thin tired solo mum. I had my head held just above the cold waters. I always wore black because it was easy to match when you got dressed in the dark and the thrift shops have lots of black.
This school would be known nowadays as a troubled school. These students were a trifle undisciplined. Well more than a trifle. Some kids slept in garages and cars or sold drugs for their Dads on the way to school because their Dads were in jail. They got drunk or watched dubious videos and TV or partied and roamed half the night, catching up on their sleep in class. Some kids had kind, desperately poor Mums. Or Dads without jobs who met them at the gate every day and walked them home in the rain. Some kids had no parent evident at all, sometimes they had aunts or grannies struggling to keep up. Sleeping here and sleeping there, mainly on couches or mattresses on the floor. Some seldom ate a cooked dinner. Some always did. Some bought lunch to school but ate it fast and privately before someone stole it off them. Some kids got beaten by their parents and some beat them straight back. I often had girls bring their babies to class, or leave entirely, unable to come to school because of the bruises they could never speak of. Some of the stories from this school would break your heart. But I shall not tell those stories. Walking into that room was like crossing a divide into another world.
From behind me I heard a scuffle and then both of the boys erupted back around a corner. I reopened the door and they hurled themselves back into the classroom. One dragging a vacuum cleaner with its wagging tail bouncing up the steps behind him. The other boy had a stolen fluorescent light bulb from an empty classroom. He was brandishing it above his head like an olympic flame, ducking to get through the door. And so we began. This particular class was a senior class so these boys and girls were between 17 and 19 years old. They were all sizes but all taller than I was. And very tough. Most of the boys were in the First 15 (rugby) that year. The girls were not to be trifled with. Altogether, there were about 30 of them. And this was just one class.
The other teachers took bets on how long I would last. This was told to me years later when I became a Dean. When I was offered the position of Head of the Faculty of the Arts a few years after that, they told me no-one bet on me lasting past 14 days. They were convinced that the kids would slay me. But I put on my highest heels every morning so I could look these kids and the teachers straight in the eye, and we worked hard. I threw out all the desks and lined the room with couches and comfy old chairs. And photographs of what they were doing. And bribed them with food. We did not sit down for long in drama. We needed space.
I got a reputation for being fearless, strict but fair, but that first year I was making it up as I went along. My classes were loud and organised. If you were late to class you had to sing a nursery rhyme. No-one got to fight when I was on duty during lunchtimes. I would march straight up to the boys or girls and scream as loudly as I could- NOT NOW. It was all about timing. I remember once walking straight into a fight that hadn’t really got underway, they were at the stage of feathering up and rising on their toes, eyeballing each other, chins pointing up, still fooling around. One of the boys stepped back and his elbow hit me in the face right below the eye. Now remember every fight has a ring of kids around it, and here I am in the middle of a circle of heaving, expectant students, in my heels, dressed in black, with wild hair, and this kid wacks me in the eye. I stumble and he turns ready to smack me again. Saw that it was me and was appalled. The look on his face. I will never forget it. He almost cried. The whole scene froze, both boys put their fists down and rushed to me. The fight instantly forgotton. One boy caught me as I reeled and everyone was like Oh Miss, oh Miss, we are sorry Miss , come here Miss, sit down. The girls taking over. Are you alright? Don’t tell, will you miss?! Don’t tell, he didn’t mean it!
Who was I going to tell? Myself? See they weren’t so bad.
The first year I decided to stage Antigone with the Seniors. It is a Greek Tragedy. I was never one for Greek Tragedies really, too many words, so I cut half the words out, (Sophocles would have understood) and wrote concise poetic bridging sections. The costuming would be cheap. Greeks just wore sheets didn’t they (did I mention that I had no budget during those first years) and I love the swirl of cloaks under lights on a stage. The rap that the kids listened to all day lent itself to the Ancient Rhythms and my students empathised with the glorious Greek madness. They completely understood people tipping off the edge, the swirl of fear and blood. Family, suicide, death, bodies and burials. Lost Mothers and murdered sisters. Everyone wanted a part. I loved that. I think everyone should take at least one turn across the stage. Applause is good for the soul. And applause was mandatory in my class. I would clap loudly -Woo hoo. Great fall. Clap, clap, clap! Are you alright?
I wrote a ton of extra parts, gave the speaking parts to the kids who would read, made the thugs spear carriers, some were very good spear carriers. Frightening actually. I roped in some younger students for some of the more physical parts, we erected two massive scaffolds on either side of the hall to delineate a stage space. And these kids were honestly magnificent. They poured through the doors. A rabble. A delicious hungry rabble.
There were rules. You cannot miss a rehearsal unless you are DEAD. If you have to babysit your sisters or brothers bring them AND their homework. If you are sick bring your blanket and tissues and STOP your moaning. If you are in hospital we will come and rehearse up there (and we did). If you have a problem with someone in this room you leave it outside the door. In fact any agro and the kid was instructed to pick the aggression up off the floor, lug it to the door and throw it out. All bad feeling – straight out the door and SLAM. If you miss rehearsals with no reason and no notice you lose your part. And anyway you can only miss a rehearsal if you are DEAD. Period.
Some of my old students will be reading this and having a chuckle about that! Here is my number call me, I said, if you do not have a ride I will pick you up. My own children had to come to the rehearsals as well, with their homework and sleeping bags, so I also bought the food. Food was very important. We were always hungry. And they worked. They worked very hard.
There were two boys who just could not get into the rhythm, they became a problem. They incited trouble and things went missing. One was quite a Big Boy, muscly, tall, he had a real presence and not in a good way. He was afraid, afraid to stand up, his fear made him dangerous. I went through each stage with them, trying to motivate them. But they lost interest and did not come back. Occasionally on the weekend they would sneak into the back of the hall if I forgot to lock the door, reeking of dope and beer, and watch. I let them sit. This was my mistake. I got so busy and being new to teaching I made an error and took my hand off them. My metaphorical hand. I should have kept them close and busy. But I had a huge cast who were working so hard and my own kids with their little white faces in that dark brown crowd. And I just took my hand off these two big boys. They stopped coming to class, then dropped out of school. They became night rumours.
Opening night came. I cannot tell you the energy in that room. We were all in the classroom getting ready. The noise was at fever pitch. I tatooed the spear carriers arms with a black vivid creating great swirling celtic sweeps. They had made their own spears in woodwork, some were beautifully carved. They wrapped themselves in the Pacific version of a toga that I had designed and painted. The cloaks, the sewing class had made, were twirled in the air. I had found a job-lot of black cotton and used it for most everything, we had painted the designs on the hems in gold and silver. Their waists were wrapped with borrowed golden ropes from the staff room curtains. Antigone and her sister in their white were startling. Antigones chains of familial loyalty on her wrists. Everyone had been draped with shiny new dog chain as bulky solid necklaces. The masks for the chorus ,the art students had made, were a triumph. I dumped out my make up bag and the girls drew big Cleopatra eyes. They were gorgeous.
New Zealand schools have classrooms dotted around gardens connected with outside corridors and verandahs. Even this poor school. So when we were ready and we had breathed and centred and hummed, and the word came that our audience was seated and overflowing, we silently streamed, giddy with excitement, down the darkened paths and dim outside corridors of the nighttime schoolgrounds. Without being seen our silent silhouettes paraded to the back of the hall, and funneled into a backstage created using black cotton curtains that lined the scaffold. I had taught them a kind of backstage sign language because we had no green room. They were completely silent. Everyone was within feet of the stage the whole performance. No room to move and no-one wanted to. Their eyes had the white of terrified horses, their faces glowing in the dark. Their teeth grinning. Remember, I had said: Have Fun. If you love what you do your audience will love you too. Be the best that you can be. Opening positions please, I signed. Counting them in with my fingers raised.
And as the music teacher began to draw song up from her students, quietening the audience. The lights came up, turning our little hall into a golden palace, lighting our opening players frozen in place, their costumes no longer black cotton but gleaming cloaks of quality. A sound behind me where there should have been no sound. The back stage door opened and two large dark shapes shoved in. They pushed straight through to the stage entrance and sat down on two of the back stage chairs. It was pitch black but I knew who they were and I felt the shuffle and fear of my other students as the Big Boy and his cohort sprawled out into the carefully choreographed darkness.
I waved my next players to me and we breathed together, focus I signed and with a touch – onto the stage they went. I had to put my face really close to the ears of the Big Boy. You cannot sit here, you are blocking my exits and entrances. They glared at me. Another student came up and whispered that they had all been ejected from the audience by another teacher. All? Where are the others. I whispered- His boys. I had heard about them. I swallowed. He motioned with his head, deadpan, lightening flashed on the stage. Low drums began. The rest of them were outside the door.
I stood back up, watching him and he sat and watched me back. Menace rolled off him. He tipped his head at his mate and the boy got up, pushing through the kids, leaving the back door to slam into the performance. I watched the Big Boy. I want to stay Miss, he said. He opened his hands on his knees. His eyes never left mine. He was out on a limb. He was vulnerable. We paused just the two of us. As I moved players onto and off the stage, adjusting costumes and retying hair, I tried to untangle the knot of this Big Boy. He waited. I nodded and bent close again. I want you to keep them out of here. I said. Can you do that? Will you do that for me? I pointed to the door, not a sound I signed. We watched each other a moment longer. He stood and went to the door. I raised my eyes at the light he was carelessly letting in. The door shut. Softly. Back he came. Sit there. I said to him. We have made a hole in the curtain. You can watch. I offered my hand, waiting. He took it, my small white hand, broken marriage rings flashing, enfolded completely into the shadow of his palm. Hot. He nodded. He sat at his peephole, quite still and watched the entire show, with my daughter laid under the scaffold beside him watching from her own peephole. He only watched one night then we did not see him again.
The play was a triumph. We played four nights. They bought the house down. The audience loved it. The heads of my students rose up to magnificent healing applause. My kids laughed and gave me flowers out on the stage on the last night. They threw a cloak over my black second hand wool dress and a special necklace of dog chains around my neck. Now we all matched. They were gleeful.
As we were walking back to the music room to change back into ordinary people, they were flying about in their cloaks, birds, sucking in the night and success . I heard a scuffle in the car park. Shouts and bangs, glass smashing. Grunts. Through the trees I saw the police were restraining a boy. They were being rough with him. He was trying to smash another car window as he screamed at them. They would hurt him. I called out. Hey, he is one of mine! What are you doing? Storming out of the dark I went running straight at the cops into the fight. I knew I could stop the kid my way. The cops were turning fast to meet me. Crouched. Not sure where I was.
My Big Boy came out of nowhere, reached out and caught me, his long arm around my waist, lifting my feet off the ground and pulling me back to the group. I was angry. He would not release me. They had all surrounded me. Don’t mess with the police Miss, he said. Face close. Sober. Watching me, his fury becoming worry. Waiting until I was still. They will hurt you too, Miss. Always run away when you see the police, Miss C. He said. I glared at him. We all stood. In tableaux. Waiting. We heard the doors slam on the police car and they pulled through the school parking lot. I turned to the Big Boy. Was that the one who came in with you the other night? He took a step back. Head down. Ae Miss. He stood in the dark, slightly apart from the others now, watching the police hit the tarmac and race off.
I want to see you at 8 in my classroom, Monday morning. In uniform. He turned back. Thought about it. Ae Miss. A small smile.
Now everyone there is cake in the drama room. Come. Change, and tidy everything away. I want 26 dog chain necklaces in my hands before we eat!
I will collect them for you? The Big Boy said. I tipped my head then nodded. Oh wait I called. They all froze, and turned, a giggle.
You, I said. Pointing my pen at him. The Big Boy, drew in his breath. No more picking up the teacher and carrying her around! They all shrieked. They became ravens and raced together through the darkness towards the pools of light at the door of the classroom.
I was engaged to work for three weeks and ended up staying 11 years. I founded and ran a hugely successful drama unit in that school. We continued to butcher and rewrite the Great Works then wrote, butchered and rewrote our own. We toured, won awards, became nationally recognised. My students were so good and so naughty. All grown now. In London, Sydney, Perth, Germany. All over. Some are reading bedtime Shakespeare to their babies and some working two jobs to make ends meet. Some are still living there in that dangerous suburb and studying when they can. Some are beauticians, some are designers, some write and some are in jail. You may have even seen a few of them in the movies and TV. I am very very proud of them.