Banty the Bantam Rooster

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.

A little Jack

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.

Here is a little Jack Frost this morning.

and here. 

The corn is still hanging in there.

The rooster above is illustrating for Katherine, who is going out to celebrate her birthday on Saturday, what not to do,  while wearing high heels and carrying a cocktail glass. 

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.


being bad: that bad

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.

That BAD.



Celi Diet – Colourful food: Eat Pretty

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.

  • No flour
  • No sugar
  • No rice
  • No roots
  • No cheating
This will quickly knock off some of that excess fat that has gathered around your internal organs. As this drops off you will start to feel more energetic and more excited about eating good food.  I start every day with a lot of water.  A lot of room temperature water.  Before I even brush my teeth, I drink glasses of it.  It gives my body a shower on the inside. 
Eat Colourful food. In our first few weeks make yourself lovely food. In fact ALWAYS make your self lovely food. Food is wonderful.  Food is not your enemy.  Set the table, even when you are eating alone. And eat whilst thinking, chatting, reading, listening to music or writing. Mindless stuffing of food into your mouth while sitting on the couch watching the Giggle Box is banned.  Banned.  BANNED.  I say!! CHEW your food  and eat slowly at the table or in your favourite chair or at the breakfast bar or under a tree or IN the tree for that matter. 
Here are a few perfect meals I found for you to help you cook simple healthy food that matches
the Celi Diet.
This is a great example of a  Celi Diet meal,  a lovely ancient recipe for chicken by Ang Sarap. 
This is another lovely simple yet gorgeous meal by Cookinginsens. In fact quite a few of the recipes on her beautiful site are perfect for us. 
Here is a delicious omelette  breakfast from Gluten Free Zen. 
How about a gorgeous  salad from  Couscous and Consciousness!.
And an exotic  Japanese savory egg custard that I just adore from The Chef and The Steward.
Plus this divine   salmon meal from Midnite Chef.  
AND just when you thought it was safe, how about a wee drinky while you are thinking about what to cook for the Body Beautiful tonight. The honey version of course!! This is from Cook Eat Live Vegetarian. 
And that was my lunch you watched go by. It is ideal for the working person to take to work. I put it in a plastic tub with a lid and take a fork and eat it all day.  I bring it up to the loft and have a munch as I write. (Right now actually,  can you hear me? chomp, chomp, chomp!) You will make your own variation of it as you design your own lifetime diet. 
The optional dressing is 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 3/4 cup olive oil, a little garlic, 1/2 tsp whole grain mustard, dash of lemon, pepper and salt, and whatever green or dried herbs you have at hand.  I put that all in a little mason jar and shake it up. 
Eat well, have fun
ps. This post is my thank you to the lovely award givers. Thank you. I am not good at awards but I LOVE to introduce people!

Moving Day.. from my Summer Study to the Winter Studio in the Loft

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 another laugh for you. Yes, I did indeed have an afro when I was 16. Here I am pictured with the fellow I was to marry 25 years later

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?


Monday Morning Farm

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.

The Celi Diet is rocking along.  I LOVE it when I make myself eat good food. I have so much more energy. My jeans are fitting much better thank you very much. 

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.


So, one day we put on a play

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.


Celi Diet: growing good food in subzero temperatures

Yes, yes I know what you are about to say.  Just last week I would not even admit that autumn/fall was on its way, let alone begin to talk about winter.  Now I am heralding  the plummet, discussing sub zero temperatures, when only yesterday I was talking about a gypsy summer. What is she like. I can hear you say. Yes I heard that too!

Well, I am distracted. I am writing you a wee story and it is not ready. So I am popping this wee very important post in between. I will send your story into your little boxes tomorrow. It is another one of those little memories. It has been shuffling about in the front of my brain, peering down into my eyes, lifting my eyelids with its naughty little fingers and getting in the way of my REAL writing: that embryo Book. So out it must come. You may all thank yourselves that I have begun my true writing of The Book, at last. It is because of the  constant washing in encouragement  from my blog family that I have taken that shuddery breath and  finally started the Real Work. 

So today we are going to look at one of the best winter vegetables that you can grow at home when it is howling with winter outside. Winter makes me shudder. I am not built for the cold. Not the cold that we face out here on the plains anyway.  In the winter I will be sending you photographs of Daisy with her eyelashes covered in sparkling ice. Blinking and clinking.

So to Beansprouts.  We can all grow them. Just get a lid with holes in it.  And a nice clean jar. Pour some organic dry sprouting beans  into the bottom of the jar, usually I use the blue Ball Jars but the beans do not photograph as well through the blue! I love to eat Mung Beans but almost any seed will sprout, just ensure that they are specifically packaged as food. Cover with water and leave overnight. Drain.

I sit my jar on the kitchen bench with a TeaTowel draped over it. Rinse the beans  two or three times a day, leaving them to drain upside down in between. No sitting them in standing water except for the first night.

You can start munching on them once they sprout. You choose how long you will let them grow. Then into the fridge.  Beansprouts are live food so eat them soonest rather than latest. I usually have two jars going in succession. Once they have sprouted they really need to be consumed or refrigerated soon after. 

Quite possibly the cleanest and best food you can eat.  They go with everything. Massively better for you than dried seeds. High in Vitamins C, K and Folate. Plus Protein and of course fiber.  On a personal note I would not buy sprouts in a supermarket. I grow them myself and  store them in the refrigerator for up to three days. It is safer.

See you tomorrow!


Celi Diet: Fall Coleslaw on a Gypsy Summer day

My other favourite snacky food to keep in the fridge, when I am on my self imposed “Watch the Body”(as opposed to watch your weight) Celi Diet, is the coleslaw. Little bowls of this is so good to snack on and sometimes I think that I could live on muesli and coleslaw quite comfortably if other members of the household did not desperately need variety.

Coleslaw by its very nature is made from calm cool CLEAN food. All fresh and clean. And sits comfortably with the mantra:

  • No Flour
  • No Sugar
  • No Rice
  • No Roots

We have lots of cabbages in the garden,  lovely crinkly green ones and the king of cabbages: the Mighty Red Cabbage.  You all know that cabbage is a super food. It is high in Vitamin C and Vitamin K which is the blood and bone vitamin. Cabbage is loaded with antioxidants (more than double in the red cabbage) and has fantastic detox properties. And there are these lovely rumours that it has fat burning abilities,  probably all the .. um.. flatulence.

As I walked about the gardens picking the greens for the coleslaw I saw all kinds of colour.  

The bees  are having the best time. Though there has been some robbing,  I witnessed a grueling bee fight yesterday evening, as one hive of bees attempted to eject the thieves and vagabonds who were out on a pillaging mission from a neighbouring hive. I guess their honey is better!


Now you all have your own favourite  coleslaw, I am sure.  So I shall merely list the ingredients in todays.  You will all know how much of what to put where. No carrots in this one this is the Celi Diet Version.

  • Green cabbage – finely shredded
  • Red cabbage- finely shredded
  • Red onion – sliced so it is transparent and roughly chopped
  • Nuts(or seeds)
  • Raisins
  • Homemade cheddar cheese- grated
  • Stalk of very finely sliced celery

The dressing has been adapted from my mothers recipe. (I am thinking of calling Mums recipes  The Retro Recipes, as they are all steeped in the sugary 70’s.)

Heat together:

  • 1/4 cup sugar (we are using 2 tablespoons of honey)
  • 1/2 cup  white vinegar (we will use cider)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Then add

  • 1/3 cup salad oil (Peanut oil )
  • herbs of choice we are using  1tsp fresh thyme, parsley and 1 tsp fresh celeriac finely chopped

Whisk cool oil into hot vinegar and pour over coleslaw while still warm, toss and serve when chilled.

Mum usually made a big batch because she swore that this dressing made it last longer in the fridge. However this theory was never tested because we were massive eaters of coleslaw as kids.

We are still having the most gorgeous evenings and as the light is fading I have brought the candles out.

I took this shot yesterday because that Borage is such a good Do-er. It flowers early and just keeps on going.  The lavender is starting to flower again too.  The bees are having a blast with all of these flowers. 


Celi Diet: Meatballs on Silverbeet.

I am very lucky to have grass fed, grain free beef  from my own paddocks in my own freezer. Grass fed beef is naturally lower in fat. GE/GM free. Carries up to 400 times more Vitamin A and E. It has two to four times more of that heart healthy Omega 3.  It is disease and chemical free. What more could you ask for?

Today I made meatballs with a fresh tomato sauce, served on a bed of sauteed silverbeet. This entire meal is from the kitchensgarden and fields. So it is very fresh and the nutrients and especially Vitamin C are at their peak.  To absorb the iron from the silverbeet and the beef you need to have some Vitamin C in your meal as well.


Chop finely in food processer

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 handful cilantro
  • 1 handful basil
  • 1 small chilli
  • 1 capsicum
  • Add this to 2 pounds of ground beef with 2 small eggs. Mix together well.  Scoop up small portions of meat mixture, shape and roll in flax seed flour.  
  • Oven bake in a little olive oil or butter until browned and cooked, turning once.

Tomato Sauce

Meanwhile cut up  and cook together with a little olive oil

  • 6 peeled and chopped tomatoes,
  • a sliced onion,
  • a fennel bulb,
  • fresh herbs and seasoning
  • While this cooks: scorch  the last big shiny eggplant from the garden over a flame until the skin is crackly and the inside is soft and mushy.
  •  Once the tomato mixture is cooked down enough, (about 30-40 minutes) mix in the peeled eggplant then blend in batches creating a lovely fresh thickened sauce. Pour over meatballs and cook for about 10 minutes. 


Wash silverbeet, spinach or swiss chard and roll up like an enormous cigar. Then cut into thin strips. 
Heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil and a little chilli in a wok. When oil is smoking add all the silverbeet carefully. With two forks toss freqently until reduced.  Not soggy though. Add a handful of toasted sunflower seeds during the last few minutes.
Serve outside on the long barn door table as the sun is setting.  And absorb that wonderful quality of autumnal stillness that accompanies the sweet rustle of dried corn, and falling leaves.  Just feel that peace seeping across the still warm fields.
Have fun.