My Favourite Window

April 26, 2011

Festival of Hope

"If you are going to post your creative writing, couldn't you choose something less profane?" says Lady Mondegreen, arching an eyebrow.
"Do you think I should have chosen something sacred to fill my absence? My story about St Freidswide maybe?" Love. Compassion...
" A little decorum, that's all I ask. How was the Folk Festival?"

It nearly didn't happen this year,
but over an Indian- Summer Easter; amongst vineyards and olive groves; on the banks of the Waipara River,

the annual Canterbury Folk Festival, overcame post-Earthquake blues and financial doubt, to bloom again.

Pared down but not reduced to mediocrity: blessed with committed organisers from the Christchurch Folk Music Club , talented musicians, professional and amateur,

the festival celebrated local and international talent: from the feisty story-telling of Fiddlesticks
through gypsy-jazz duo La Petite Manouche
the roll-you-in-the-aisles humour of Iain Mitchell and sidekick, Danny,
to the tortured genius of Daniel Champagne 

But the strongest theme to emerge this year was that the youth of today will continue to carry music forward.  Diverse, talented, enquiring children and young adults stole the show throughout the weekend.

Easter. Anzac Day. Falling together this year:
A double dose of Remembrance for suffering and sacrifice.
And for me, my own memories welling to the surface with so many of the songs and tunes played this weekend:
Rights of Man
The Chastity Belt
The Waves of Tory
Lily the Pink
She Moved Through the Fair
Take Five
at this, my first folk festival without Elwin.

April 21, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...


“G’day mate”
Scott leans on the roof of the car that has just driven into his yard.
“How’s it going?  D’you like the new car?”  Roger, the visitor, grins up at Scott; cocky with a hint of provocation.  “VE Commodore.”
“Yeah – when do I get a ride in it?”
“Now if you like.”
Scott stands back, glances over at the workshop, considers work in progress.  They are wrecking out a Honda Prelude at the moment; buckets of shit they are, nothing fitting across models – except wheels.  Still, you had to have the parts on hand.  Then there was the Saab; typical – engine let go. Old guy touring the South Island and stuck in town till they could find him a replacement.
The new Holden is too tempting – boss’s perks to check out the latest automotive technology. 
“I’ll come, hang on a sec.”  Scott is already peeling off his overalls, calling to Mike; putting him in charge for a bit.  The phone rings and Scott takes it – appears outside, phone in hand; crunches across gravel, studded with windscreen chip, to check a stock rack.  “Eighty-two Datsun ute?  Rear windscreen?  Yeah mate, we got one...” 
Roger watches; amused.  He knows it is not a simple matter for Scott to walk out the door, and it might be quarter of an hour before they get away.  Tuesday morning; quiet; time to kill – but the thrill of the new car in his veins.

Then Scott is climbing into the passenger seat; time to go.  Roger slips into reverse, manoeuvres skilfully between the stacks of wretched car bodies, eases out into the street – gentrified villas down one side, industrial iron along the other; heads out of town.
“We’ll go up to the lime works eh.” 
It’s getting harder to find remote country roads.  There are so many lifestyle blocks now, taking the remoteness out of ‘rural’.  But up towards the limestone quarry is a stretch of road populated only by dreaming farm utes and, occasionally, logging trucks.
 “Your turn,” Roger grins at Scott as he pulls over onto the grass verge.  The two men exchange places, high-fiving as they cross in front of the bonnet.  Then Scott is driving; feeling the smoothness of the new, picking up speed.  Roger gives him the statistics: last year’s model, 700km on the clock, V6 engine, ABS brakes... Not as good as the V8, thinks Scott, but he keeps that to himself.  He doesn’t want to deflate the moment.  Roger wants Scott to feel the car – feel how good it is.
“D’you want to try a one-eighty?”
“Nah mate.”
“Come on, you’d have no trouble, just slow down a bit – back to around sixty kay.”
“Nah, I’m not on the race track.  I’d end up hitting a power pole or something.”  Roger didn’t push.  Scott was right. If you were going to about-face while driving at speed there was a lot to take into account: road width, surface, roadside obstructions, oncoming traffic...
          Scott slows when he hits gravel, just beyond the quarry.  They’ve left the lifestyle blocks behind.  The fencelines up here are tufted with elder and whiteywood.  They pass a massive old shearing shed with great peeling gums shading the sheep pens.  The road begins to climb and wind into foothills.  Gorse lines the road and rangiora flickers its leaves – white, green – in the morning sunlight.  Pines take over from farmland; commercial plantations on hill country. But in the crooks in the road where the land folds around streambeds – wet or dry – there are pockets of indigenous forest.  Roger points out the clematis flowering white amongst the black beech, and Scott thinks Donna would like it up here.  Maybe he could bring her up for a drive before the clematis finished flowering.  It wasn’t there all the time, according to Roger.

“Better head back soon,” thinks Roger, and Scott agrees.
          “Floor it,” says Roger, when they are back on the seal. 
          “Yeah, why not,” grins Scott.  Easy past the quarry – no trucks turning?  Nah.  Scott accelerates: ...Eighty, ninety, a hundred... and on.  The needle on the speedo around to its limit; a hundred and eighty.  Exhilarating, thinks Scott as farmland melts past his field of vision, but I shouldn’t be doing this.
“There’s something up ahead.”  Roger keeps his voice calm.  “Brake ... Scott, brake.”  Urgency creeps in.
The distance is closing fast.  Fast enough to make out the logging truck.
“Where the fuck did that come from?”  Neither of them remembers seeing the truck on the way up, but they both know that there are logging routes and farm tracks all along this country road.  Careless to think no one else would be out on a sunny weekday morning.  Scott is braking, but the latest automotive technology is unfamiliar to him.  ABS brakes: he doesn’t know their response time for high speeds.  The car is slowing but the distance between it and the truck is closing too.  He pumps the brake instinctively, mentally handling the skidding that he expects. The Anti-skid Braking System is designed to take the skidding out of emergency braking.  Roger panics:
“Rip the brake on.  Rip it on.”  He means the handbrake now.
“Nah,” says Scott thinking of handling, he’s still going too fast to manage a one-eighty.  “I’m going to overtake.”
 Roger grimaces.  The road is wide enough for two vehicles but it’s the kind of width that has drivers move out on to the gravel for comfortable passing.  They’re close enough to count the logs now, if there weren’t other distractions.  Scott is judging the width of road beside the truck.  He doesn’t want to have to drive onto the gravel.  Roger leans forward carefully; reaches toward the dashboard...  Christ, what does he want to turn the radio on at a time like this for? thinks Scott.  He pulls to the right, preparing for a race track manoeuvre as Roger flicks a switch and eases back into his seat.  Ahead, the truck moves over, onto the gravel at the left; right over to the grass verge.  Scott can’t believe it.  He sails through the safe space, at about eighty.
“Don’t stop, keep going, speed up,” urges Roger.  “You can’t stop yet.”
“Whaat!”  Scott is shaking and drenched with sweat. 
“Get off this road.  Then you can stop.”
 There’s a fork in the road, back onto shingle.  Scott takes it. 
“Don’t let the truckie see us stop.”  Roger waves Scott on past a pine hedge before he’ll let him pull over.  Scott stumbles out of his door, staggers onto grass, drops to his knees and rolls onto his back.  On the roof of the Commodore the red and blue lights are still flashing.  Scott understands now why the truck pulled over, understands why Roger needed him to keep going.  His friend leans across the dashboard; flicks off the lights; sets his check banded cap on his head out of habit; comes to crouch beside Scott - Roger in his padded vest and his blue trousers.
“Well done mate.  You okay?”  He punches Scott in the shoulder.
“You bastard, but thanks.  Your turn to drive – straight home eh.”  And they both climb back into the car.

April 17, 2011

The Turn of the Year

A favourite walk beside the Avon in the centre of Christchurch; the horse chestnut leaves turning to butter and caramel.

But the serenity is an illusion. Turn and glance across the river at the unkempt municipal lawns and flower beds;  at Captain Scott's empty pedestal; at the boarded-up hotel windows and the wire security fencing...

The Cordon.
It is being reduced, allowing us access to the margins of the 
City centre.  But last night a 5.3 magnitude aftershock rattled the region and new vulnerability surfaces...

Complicating existing damage, hastening demise.

Guard posts around the cordon are housed in Korean relief tents, this one marking The Bridge of Remembrance.The monumental arch appears strong and undamaged.  While I was photographing this afternoon, I stepped aside for a stream of police officers: they, laughing, bantering with me and my camera, running through the rain to scramble onto a waiting bus. "You look like you are on an outing to the beach," I laughed. "We are," replied tail-end Charlie wryly.   Yes: to a new round of liquefaction and broken water mains and despair.                                     

The city's skyline is dominated by the Hotel Grand Chancellor, the stricken building, which so threatened rescue workers immediately following the February earthquake. This photo does not show its sickening lean, "Like it's had a stroke," says Bryony. Her school, Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti, sits at the foot and to the left of the hexagonal Westpac building to the left of the photo. 

Horse chestnut, Buckeye  Aesculus hippocastanum

April 16, 2011

Rainy Day Blues

It's been a while, hasn't it, since I have dipped into the Skudder House's treasure chest, yet I know that many of my readers enjoy a glimpse into Lady Mondegreen's pattern book, and since the weather has been wet and dreary, I've chosen some dress fabrics from my mother's collection - mostly blue ones...

Pink sateen: utterly sumptuous and decidedly sensual.  Cotton sateen makes a good lining material for coats
and jackets, but I would love a rich evening dress in this gorgeous stuff.  Failing that, just to be able to pocess and handle this fabric is gratification in itself.

Exuberance of a different kind and another object of desire.
I am surprised to find these abstract graphics amongst my mother's fabrics, because she has always seemed unresponsive - critical even of 'modern art'Maybe the fact that this light cotton is a fabric sample, sold off cheaply from a furnishing department, made it too good to pass up.  I love the depth of colour and the bravura of the design. 

This is a more conventional piece of cotton, not quite a dress length (3 yards) now, but it speaks to me of summer days by sparkling seas and I imagine myself wearing it as capri pants on the deck of a yacht; indolent.

I've noticed this type of floral pattern has come back into fashion recently, and because I remember the look from late 70s conservatism the current fashion feels ageing to me.
Usually I am not drawn to synthetic fabrics,
but there is something about the silky quality of this remnant that gives it an allure.  There is nothing harsh in its softness or drape.

April 13, 2011


 The last week of term: time for a family day at Unlimited Secondary School's new site.  The Halswell Residential School is set in acres of parkland, right next to the Hospital of St John of God.  The chapel wears it's timber, earthquake
props for all to see. 

But our students, use these expansive grounds and buildings, sharing them with their companion primary school, Discovery 1.
In this setting, in such glorious weather, the day had the feel of a music festival.

The highlight of the day for us was the hangi lunch.  We didn't help at all, in digging the pit or preparing the food or laying it down at 5 o'clock this morning.
But how I love that super-saturated smokey flavour, which always takes me back to my very first hangi dug in the Ashley School playing field.  Meat that falls from the bone, cabbage and onion that dissolve in the mouth, potato firm but succulent, kumara, pumpkin, carrot...

Tania serves meat from
big baskets
and Rena is served vegetables  that had steamed in mutton cloth parcels.

But: to return to the beginning - the beginning of the Day. Here is a rare view of the mill-steam rising straight up.  This factory produces Medium Density Fibreboard, sold as Customwood, and it's twin steam plumes usually drift sideways according to the wind direction. 

April 11, 2011


Mmm, figs. 
They are
ripening now
in the Secret
nor truly syrupy, but sweet enough and luscious for the knowing that here, we are at the climatic margin of fruitfulnesss. Most summers are too dry to produce juicy figs and the waxeyes pick them over before we even spot the ripe ones. But we have had regular rainfall this year, and can it be true that the Earthquakes have frightened away the waxeyes?  This variety, Brown Turkey, is recommended for cooler climates and although it does set its second flush of figs, these smaller fruit surrounding the large ripe ones, will not see our frosty winter through.  On my walks back and forth to the Skudder House, I pluck the ripe fruit as they appear and eat them on the hoof: greedily, and sticky with the latex that oozes from the broken stems.

Edible fig  Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey'

April 7, 2011


Lunch on the steps,
of my house
framed by the willow,
as I return from
the Skudder House
with my camera in hand.
The Earthquake Commission
is painting my house.

Well, to be accurate, the EQC team are painting the walls. Just the walls. Gordon is painting the joinery and ancillary trimmings. There are a lot of ancillary trimmings on an Edwardian villa.  Together, the painters add a joyful, busy humanity to the place.  And colour is their business.  Tony points out that the turquoise-blue falling from door and window frames was not used on the walls. He reads the colours of the past,
just as he guides my choices for the future.

April 6, 2011


Looking at Sam's Life as Art website this morning, set me thinking about portraits.  The photo of young Lionel in my last post is hardly a portrait, but family snapshot that it is, it is also the only photo we have of that enigmatic relative. The little boy is so like me at the same age, glower and all, that the poor photograph (possibly as a result of a jammed shutter in the camera) is now a treasure to me.  It tells me that we are truly connected.

Many of Sam's drawings and paintings, as well as capturing likeness and soul, have an old masters quality about them.  This feel comes through in photographic images he creates for friends too.  Here is a photograph Sam took of Elwin, to celebrate Elwin's 60th birthday. The sitting was a birthday secret and contrived between family and photographer to appear like a random dropping in of folk around afternoon tea-time, one week before his birth date.  Elwin, a little non-plussed maybe, posed for Sam's apparently spontaneous photo-shoot, fetching his handmade Tudor shirt and woollen gown to wear, and making room for his four daughters as Sam artfully drew them in to compose a series of lively and loving images.  Sam used a 35mm SLR, and my digital photograph of his framed film print is taken through glass.  
Sam has absolutely captured the man I loved in this image.

I used to work with my father developing, printing and enlarging photographs in our darkened kitchen.  I remember the thrill of anticipation as the images, rippling in the developing tray, grew on the paper.  Now at the touch of a key on my computer I can turn a blurred digital photo into a worthy memory. The coloured pencil effect in my Picture It programme seemed just the right touch to enhance this truimphant finale to my Shepherd's Hey jig, which Andy captured with my unfamiliar camera during Rosewood Morris Dancers' Foxton Fallabout.

And I framed him amongst the red hot cat tails and mother-in-law's tongues 
during a wander through 
the Wellington Botanic Gardens hothouse last month. Andy is a quiet talent and has an eye for form and atmosphere.  He also takes superb landscape and sky photos (he took the  Driftwood at Makara Beach photo).

From the formal to the hastily snatched all our photographs tell a story and those that we choose to keep, acquire with time, a sense of reverence for the secrets they hold and their glimpses into the past.

Red hot cat tails, Chenille plant  Acalypha hispida
Mother-in-law's tongue  Sansevieria trifasciata

April 3, 2011

The Lost Uncle

Back to work in the Skudder House. There's a cupboard my sister and I are clearing out, though cleaning is a stronger word for the operation.  Like many other repositories in the house some of the contents date back to the time my family first moved in - 1962.  My father's presence is still strong in this cupboard even though he died over twenty years ago.  There are car manuals and management text books; there are cameras and model aeroplanes: there are neatly folded newspaper recipes for jam and chappatis; there are land deeds and maps; Antarctic publications and a book of Dylan Thomas' poetry.  There is a sheaf of letters from a lost brother.  I have
heard the story often enough: of Uncle Lionel sailing to NZ many years ago, but my father not being able to make the trip to Lionel's port of call.  And then Lionel seems to have disappeared from the Family's awareness.  I would have liked to have met him.  He writes a good letter, filling in Derrick on missing years and open-heartedly talking of re-establishing brotherhood: he was only a child when his eldest brother left home. One of the letters finishes with a 'kiss for the Kids.'  This personal connection pricks the back of my eyes, but when I Google Lionel Hobby all I can find is references to model trains!

April 1, 2011


One year's seeding,
Seven year's weeding.

There it is, in my new wheelbarrow: that great weedy dock that grew greedily amongst the roses, thriving as they have, on  their spring dressing of sheep manure.
I have discovered that I don't need to fret about the rooty persistence of docks. I allow them free reign in some wild places, but when I am ready to dispense with them, I dig out the younger ones, then commit to removing all foliage, from the deeper rooted ones as it appears. It takes about three months of this treatment to kill a dock (and incidentally a pampas clump or willow stump).
Joining the dock in my barrow is shepherd's purse and puha.
All of these plants have their own distinctive qualities, medicinal and vegetable, but it was time to take them out of the rose bed.

Dock  Rumex obtusifolius
Shepherd's Purse  Capsella bursa-pastoris
Puha, Sow thistle  Sonchus spp (possibly asper)