Welcome back

It was with wonder and excitement that I realised I was taking from my letterbox a fresh, new copy of New Zealand Listener. Suddenly it was as if the mad, crazy world had righted itself. Today, the next issue arrived and it is beginning to feel real.

The magazine is as substantial as ever, with familiar columnists giving all manner of perspectives and global updates, in-depth features, quips and quotes, caption competition, cartoons, extensive reviews, and my favourite back page about two journalists who have given up the city for the ‘good life’. Like dessert, that’s the article I save for last.

It was a blow when the news came early this year that Bauer Media, which owned the magazine, was to stop publishing it – along with a number of other magazines which were part of its stable. Usually I pass my copies on to a friend, but she accepted my reasoning when I explained I wanted to hold on to the last few copies in case they were the last ever!

I pined and wondered what was happening to the staff, and particularly to my rural pair. Then news came that the magazine had been bought by another media company and that the former editor was reinstated and gathering back her staff. It seems they are just fine at ‘Lush Places’ and my rural pair’s first column ended with the birth of a lamb which they and their neighbours welcomed to the world. The column ended simply, “Welcome back to ours”.

Clear the ducks!

Visiting mallard

We get lots of birds in the garden, particularly since we’ve had the bird feeder. Blackbirds, sparrows, chaffinches and wax-eyes look out for the hens’ food too, coming down for wheat and other treats on the lawn. The chooks don’t seem bothered and they all happily peck away together – although observing a kind of social distancing. Blackbirds and sparrows drink and have baths in the water trough. Some venture into the garage at times where the hens’ food dishes are put to discourage scavenging, and the chooks don’t turn a feather. However, when seagulls fly overhead the hens go still and tilt their heads upward, necks extended, on alert.

Perhaps the number of birds can be explained by the fact that spring is the season for lots of birds to be about. It’s hard to say, since I was away at work during the day last year – and we didn’t have chooks then. And we no longer have either a cat or a dog to make the birds nervous.

A couple of ducks landed on the roof with a huge thump a couple of weeks ago. One flew down onto the lawn and was quickly seen off by a very indignant Popcorn who fluffed herself up and raced at it at full speed.

This morning, a female mallard was on the lawn. She had attractive white scallop shapes on her brown feathers. Dora and Popcorn seemed unperturbed. However, when she walked along the deck, Dora hid behind me, pecking at the sheepskin on my slippers as if urging me to do something about this outrage. (This is all anthropomorphic interpretation, of course.)

The duck came closer.

Dora gave up trying to get me to do something, and advanced towards her, at which the duck turned and walked back along the deck, then down onto the lawn.

I tried a bit of clapping and shooing, half-heartedly, with no effect. It’s not easy to be taken seriously when you’re wearing pyjamas and fluffy slippers. (Or to take early morning photos without the phone cover getting in the way).

Popcorn seemed to be ignoring her.

Duck and Popcorn observing social distancing.

I began to think that they had developed a tolerance for all the birds who visit, including ducks. However, later I saw from inside the house that the duck had taken things a bit far by going towards a favourite part of the garden and both hens rushed it at once. The duck flew clumsily up, turned and landed on the garage roof where she walked up and down briefly before disappearing over the roof tops.

Not so good

The nor’wester wasn’t quite the cyclone bearing down on Miami, but it toppled the greenhouse. And it was enough to put the wind up Dora who rushed up behind me and, quite unprovoked, pecked me on the leg.

Those spooky looking hands at the top of the photo are my gardening gloves hanging on the line. They look for all the world like manifestations of the wind giving the glasshouse a casual push.

Fortunately, the tomato plants are fine. The seedlings are a bit battered but okay. The basil was fine too, until it got the second fright of its young life when Dora rushed in like a robber’s dog.

It must have been quite a sight: me struggling against the wind to put the inflating greenhouse up, reinserting the piping where it had popped out of its sockets, rescuing upturned plants, and fending off the chooks at the same time.

Once again it’s upright – now inelegantly anchored with heavy paving stones (on newspaper so they don’t damage the plastic or the piping) and logs. Then, because the wind was catching the top of the structure I tied it to the fence. The knot is in the doorway so I can undo it easily. There was potting mix on the walls which I hosed off. Finally, I re-sowed the salad-mix lettuces.

Knot so good. The crazy stick-figure knot reminds me to improve my rope-tying technique. I have a book: Knots – An Illustrated Practical Guide to the Essential Knot Types and their Uses.

And the wind has died away, as if there is no more fun to be had.

So far so good

The next day, having ascertained that the greenhouse could be viable, I bought plants which I normally wouldn’t purchase for at least another month. Here is the greenhouse, complete with cover, and with two tomato plants in the ground. I have to wait a little longer for the “lunch-box” pepper plants I prefer to be available.

In pots on either side I’ve planted a “tumbling tom” tomato with which I have had success before, and basil. There is also a pot in which I sowed salad-mix seeds. Two containers of seedlings – sweet peas and lobelia – are safe on another shelf ready for planting outside. The terracotta-coloured pot has a chain attached and I’m considering planting something edible in this pot and hanging it from the ridge pole to make use of the upper space.

We had a frost the morning after I planted, so I was pleased to see that the plants seemed unaffected by the cold outside.

To take this photo, I had to wait for the condensation to clear. It was warm inside the greenhouse. When the sun is on it, I unzip the flap and put the piece of trellis (leaning on the left) lengthwise across the doorway to keep the hens out. If it is warm enough and the moisture on the plastic has evaporated, I roll up the door and secure it with the ties.

“Northwesterlies, gusty at times” are forecast. The greenhouse, although nestled into the fence, is not secured – so fingers crossed it stands its ground.

So far, so good…

Flat-pack: from fear to fun

Spring is here and I’m keen to get more plants in. Tomatoes and peppers would be good – but it’s still too early. Unless you have a green house.

I have a small garden, but it occurred to me that I could fit a tiny green house in a sunny spot by the back fence.

The chosen sunny spot

Expecting it to be an expensive purchase, I was thrilled to find an $80 flat-pack green house on the Mitre 10 website. As it was only available in the Ferrymead branch, I drove to the other side of town and then browsed in the garden section while my flat-pack item was unloaded from the Mainfreight truck. Then I headed home along the estuary and the river; the scenic route.

Perhaps I was subconsciously daunted by the assembly part of the venture. First I had lunch to get my strength up. Then I cleaned the bathroom. Then I cleaned my car. The chimney sweep came and cleaned the chimney. We chatted.

Finally, I unpacked the box and set out the contents.

There was a diagram by way of instructions, with numbers and letters. As I began to put it together I started to enjoy myself.

I worked methodically, pleased that there was no-one watching or commenting on progress and making ‘helpful’ suggestions. For a moment, I thought I had the dreaded ‘piece left over’, but it turned out to be the ridge pole, with which the structure was complete.

Time for a roof shout.

Next I had to clear the space. This involved trimming back the horrible ivy which showered me with grit and pollen. I moved the blueberry which is growing in an old copper with a metal stand. Orville’s Dream (garden sculpture) was moved as well. A couple of raspberry plants and an aquilegia were shifted.

Inspector Popcorn.

Then I walked the green house into position. I found some old pieces of treated timber to hold it off the ground.

Dora and Popcorn give their approval.

Now it is ready for the cover to be fitted and the shelves to be put in place. And the planting. But that’s for tomorrow.

A beach for all seasons

Once a week, all year round, my friend and I drive 20 minutes east to the beach. In winter, while others head west to go skiing, we enjoy the changing moods of the sea and sky. This week we paddled for the first time since autumn.

A little chilly, but refreshing.
August 2020

The sky was blue and clear so we had a clear view of the Port Hills and the Kaikoura mountains. Yet, just a week earlier, you could hardly see a thing!

The footprints told us others were out walking too.
August 2020

We’ve encountered all sorts of weather over years of winters, including stinging wind-blown sand and biting southerly winds. In August 2016, there was snow on the Port Hills, but a beautifully clear day.

The beach is different every visit. It depends on the tide, weather, and what has happened over the week, such as high tides or storms which wash up drifts of seaweed and shells, push the sand into banks against the sand dunes or wash the beach smooth and clean of debris.

One morning, we found a fishing boat had washed up overnight.

22 December 2019

Sometimes artists exhibit their work at the beach while other people find driftwood irresistible for creative expression.

This week I saw these two works by Russell Clark in the Christchurch Art Gallery. They celebrate the sea and its exhilarating effect on us, using light, perspective, shape and texture.

The painting on the left is View from the Pier. The sculpture is called Beach Figure. The texture of the garment reminds me of driftwood and sand shaped by the wind.

Nature does some interesting sculpting too.

We, and many others, find the atmosphere of sea, sky and fresh air uplifting. There are people out walking, running, cycling, surfing, and exercising their dogs and horses all year round.

Both sea and sky have changing moods.

May 2020

Often, we walk up the dunes to find a view from the top which takes our breath away.

Aug 2020
April 2015
April 2014

Getting Philosophical

There is one more session of Arguments, Fallacies and Trickery, the philosophy class I’m attending at the WEA. We have been looking at aspects of reasoning and how language can be used to manipulate our responses to issues and ideas.

The course has led me to dig out the books I have – some unread – about philosophy, thinking, and language used in argument.

I’ve been examining how I express – or fail to express – a point of view, and have found I often let my feelings get in the way. Edward de Bono‘s six thinking hats lets us acknowledge feelings (red hat). I often berate myself for not offering a view, particularly when someone makes an unsupported assertion in conversation. My reading is helping me to clarify my ideas and my thinking processes so that I can experiment with careful, considered responses. A friend uses the “commend, recommend, commend” technique which is a useful starting point and easy to remember when you are put on the spot. The “commend” part helps to see the other person’s point of view, which can help to quell the anger response which tends to result in a standoff, with polarised views. De Bono develops this in his chapters: “How to Agree”, “How to Disagree” and “How to Differ” in How to Have a Beautiful Mind (2004). The aim of his book is to encourage the readers to use their minds – beyond intelligence or knowledge – just as they might exercise the body.

We have become accustomed to a different, cooperative, collaborative style of leadership in Jacinda Ardern which emphasises kindness. Every achievement from gun control to environmental protection was sweeter for having been collaborative and responsive to events and needs. When asked if she found the coalition negotiations frustrating, Ardern said that, on the contrary, it was an aspect of leadership which she enjoyed. I am disappointed to see the old “oppositional” model being ramped up by the latest opposition leadership. Of course, the name “the opposition” sets up this style of discourse. It is calculated, of course, particularly with an election in October, because many people respond to it with relish, whichever “side” they are on.

Deborah Tannen in The Argument Culture (1998) begins the book by addressing “our tendency to engage in ritualized, knee-jerk opposition…our tendency…to approach public dialogue, and just about anything we need to accomplish, as if it were a fight.” It is a tendency of Western culture, she contends, which “has served us well in many ways but in recent years has become so exaggerated that it is getting in the way of solving our problems. Our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention – an argument culture.”

How much worse it is now with social media and the internet generally adding to this culture. How easy it seems to slip into old habits and “go on the attack” (war imagery pervades our language) instead of looking for positive ways of responding which enable common ground and agreed solutions. When the Dalai Lama was asked what is the secret to living a good life, he replied: “Be kind.” It is such a simple and obvious thing to do.

Edward de Bono says we should always be looking for alternatives – as in his lateral thinking for which he became famous in the 1970s. It is disturbing that this technique, and the thinking hats, might be dismissed as no longer fashionable – “old hat” – when we need them more than ever.

There was a pro-life rally in the central city in the weekend and I felt a surge of anger as I saw men in pro-life t-shirts. It was some time before my thinking led to common ground. Probably, pro-life and pro-choice both want a society in which it is safe for a woman to bear a child in most circumstances. When looking for alternatives to the currently polarised views, I wondered if both sides could direct the energy created by perceived injustice into making a society in which women are not degraded, fearful and intimately scrutinised. In which they are not held responsible for the crimes of others. In which bringing notice to themselves does not make them vulnerable or subject to the controlling actions of others. In which they have access to fair pay and resources. In which they have the support of law – begun, in part, by the recent legislation in which abortion is a health issue, not a criminal one. It could be a way to move forward.

My re-thinking is a work in progress. (Double meanings intentional.)

Finding common ground? Ron Mueck, chicken/man, Christchurch Art Gallery. Less subtle is the power play in the painting on the right.

Missing August

When the school year was divided into three terms, instead of the current four terms, we looked forward to August holidays and the first signs of spring. The month is a changeable one. Yesterday was warm. Today I walked to philosophy class at the WEA feeling the cold bite of the “beastly easterly”. Our entertaining tutor and the rapt class did something to ease the chill, not to mention the sometimes heated discussions of logic and reasoning. The class is called Arguments, Fallacies, Trickery.

After class I dropped in at the Art Gallery to take a second look at the Louise Henderson exhibition. At the entrance is this quotation:

As a retired English teacher, I will never stop reading or thinking about what I read. The philosophy class has shown me how to rev the cogs up a notch and I’ve enjoyed the ‘homework’ I’ve set myself to discover more and to understand the jargon. I can apply what I’m learning to my reading.

I’m revelling in reading and missing no opportunity to read widely. The variety available at our fantastic libraries is impressive. I’ve just finished a book set on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia (Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips) and I’m now reading a book set in ancient Rome (The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis, in the time of Domitian who, incidentally, banned all philosophers from Rome) – both from the library. I was able to order a missing book in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s trilogy. It arrived very quickly, a brand new copy of The Book of Not, which follows on from Nervous Conditions. The last in the trilogy is This Mournable Body which is long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize. I have a copy in my latest pile from the library. The trilogy is the story of Tambudzai, a girl desperate for an education who moves from her rural village to a prestigious boarding school on a scholarship during the struggle for independence in Rhodesia-Zimbabwe. Will her education give her the life she hopes to have? At what cost? It revives memories of my students’ teenage angst and struggles with anxiety and identity and with their often harrowing home lives. Add a layer of war (continual gunfire in the distance and close-up violence) and discrimination (an overcrowded African dormitory and a bully for a matron) and this character’s pain becomes palpable to the reader. I will read on anxiously to discover how Dangarembga’s character survives as she grows up. Interestingly, she remains in Zimbabwe (so far) unlike the main character in NoViolet Bulawayo’s novel We Need New Names (shortlisted for the Booker the year Eleanor Catton won) who migrates to the US and experiences poverty and racism there. In a heart-breaking scene, she and her cousins try on clothes in a mall to picture themselves living lives they know they will never have. Dangarembga has remained in Zimbabwe where she is an award-winning film-maker, playwright and political activist in a country where, like many others, a pandemic is one more thing on top of many dangers. There is no feeling nostalgic for times past, I would suppose. Instead, all of these books to some extent show virtue is a source of happiness and suffering does not exclude the possibility of joy – as in the philosophy of the Stoics interpreted for today. I may change my mind about this conclusion when I’ve read the third book.

Back in the Art Gallery, August is missing from Louise Henderson’s panels featuring the months of the year.

In a tangential mind-drift during the philosophy class this omission seemed significant. I’m not sure why. It makes a good thinking point. What would it have been like? Would it have shown a half-way point between the dark July panel and the light September panel? Did it contain something which set the exuberance of the remaining panels in motion? Has it been lost? (The answer is in this link.) Or did its owner refuse to lend it for the exhibition? I’m pleased the curator left a gap for the visitor to contemplate.

August seems yellow to me so far, less than a week into the month. Perhaps because I have just pruned the lemon tree quite hard to remove branches resting on a brick wall. I collected a bucket full of lemons from the removed branches and am considering ways to use them – limoncello? preserved lemons? lemon meringue pie?

‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Sounds like Stoic philosophy to me.

Perhaps Popcorn will discover some answers inside the strawberry bucket.

When Zeno lost his merchandise in a shipwreck, he turned to discussions under a Stoa, or porch, hence the name Stoic. He is the founder of Stoic philosophy which seems to be based on not letting misfortune defeat you, but using it to discover new possibilities. These rescued hens have suffered misfortune, but don’t appear to be dwelling on it.

Here’s a nice thought to finish:

“Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only they truly live. Not satisfied to merely keep good watch over their own days, they annex every age to their own. All the harvest of the past is added to their store. ” — Seneca

Winter delights

Wee Jock, in the best fire-side chair, visited for 4 days.

Our winters are not severe, although they are tough for many people and we all look forward to warmer days. Where most of us live here, we’re not knee-deep in snow or suffering through long dark days and months, as in Scandinavia where they suffer consequent mental health issues – perhaps why Sweden hesitated to impose an early lockdown when spring had just begun.

Today there is a frost but, as the pattern goes, it is followed by warm sun. There is something to appreciate, even on a dull day. Yesterday was cloudy and cold, so we lit the fire earlier than usual, ate kumara soup and read our books. Outside the weather went from cloudy to stormy to rain with a bit of ice in it, to clear and even a bit of watery sun in the late afternoon.

I appreciate the warmth of thick woollen clothing which I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing in summer. My wool duvet, wool pillows and wool mattress cover are fabulous in winter – and summer (with one less layer of duvet). I am able to wash and hang my woolly socks and merino tops outside on the line – especially on a day like today.

Thank goodness that we are able to socialise (let’s hope it lasts). Meals out, card games and walks are great to keep my spirits up and keep me connected with friends. And between-times there’s blogging, emails, texts and phone calls – and, maybe, delightful news. Speaking of news, there’s always something thought-provoking in the daily newspaper I collect from the gate each morning.

Our Christchurch City Libraries are perhaps the best thing about our city. They are a connection point for everyone and a warm place in winter. There’s something magical about coming home with a pile of books. Walking home from the library last week, I was delighted to see the Town Hall fountain working again. I sat and enjoyed it for a while.

The Ferrier Fountain lifts the winter blues.

Over the last couple of months I have found myself taking the odd photo of something cheering. Here are some creative delights I’m enjoying this winter.

The garden is a changing source of delight.

Winter delights show me that there’s always something cheering in the cold, dark and dreariness, particularly as I have the luxury of time to appreciate it.

In the late afternoon, there’s the possibility of a contemplative winter cocktail and The Panel on National Radio.

A ‘wobbly knee’ (whisky, green ginger wine and lemon) and RNZ National.

Fewer, but fine

It’s hard to say if the remaining two hens miss their mate. I was reading all sorts of reactions into their behaviour over the next couple of days, but who knows? They have continued to lay eggs as usual. Dora excelled herself with a whopper on Tuesday. I expected the hens to go off the lay in winter, but it doesn’t seem to be the case with these chooks.

They stick together a lot, as usual. When the sun is out, they find a dry spot for a dust bath by the wheelbarrow, where I keep pea straw.

I feel sorry for them in this cold weather and give them plenty to eat and treats such as sunflower seeds. They tolerate the blackbirds, sparrows and wax-eyes which fly down for left-overs from the feed trough and bowls. When I am in the garden, they like to inspect what I am doing, pulling apart raked up leaves to look for insects, and just being companionable. They like to perch on garden furniture to groom themselves or, in Dora’s case, to do her job as sentinel. Popcorn retains her position as head hen.

They can move mountains of earth, earning them the nicknames Fulton and Hogan, after the earth-moving and road construction company. The soil becomes so aerated that it has risen considerably above the level of the paving stones by the wood pile.

I’ve heard that some people turn their chickens out onto the vegetable garden before they plant. One of my chooks’ well-tilled spots looked so good that I was delighted when I found a small dome at The Warehouse. Popcorn and Dora were keen to help, of course. I distracted them with silver beet and kale leaves while I quickly planted some vegetables and secured the protective cover.

They say that people come to resemble their pets. I’m amused to see that my shorter hair cut has unleashed my natural wave into wings, giving me the look of a startled chicken!