For the love of books

Is there room for more books? Books about books, books to read again, books yet to be read…

We knew it had to end one day. The demise of our book group as we know it has caused turmoil in the last few days. We knew our wonderful facilitator could not continue for ever, and the bookshop who hosted us has costs to consider.

We have begun emailing each other to keep in touch. Yesterday, one participant shared our reading list dating from 2002 when she joined the group (it has been running since the 1990s). Wow. All those books – the diversity in scope, genre, culture and style. They challenged us and widened our view of the world. They also opened discussion which deepened our understanding of ourselves and each other, particularly as we shared the reading we had been doing apart from the chosen book. Sometimes, authors came to our meetings and we attended book events and even movies based on books we had read.

Our meetings have been a steadfast point through earthquakes necessitating changes of venue, a pandemic which meant we communicated online, and the ups and downs of our own lives. We have welcomed new members and others have drifted away. We are a diverse group, with a shared love of books and reading.

So, the change is hard.

All is not lost, however. There is the new format to participate in if we choose. There will be the connection which books provide, a continuing curiosity about the world and how it is represented, and a love of reading to sustain us.

Confined to quarters

Felix on a hot day

At our first visit to the vet on 14 February, Felix was told to stay indoors until his vaccinations are complete. I had overlooked an important detail on his vaccination certificate: ‘Next vaccination due 23 January’. O0ps. It’s not the one-vaccination-a-year regime I remember, but the veterinary business in full swing. In the meantime, until his course of vaccinations is complete, Felix must stay in to prevent any infection which, I was warned, is worse than the canine parvovirus. I guess vets see the worst case scenarios.

How to entertain Felix in the house became an issue. Particularly since he’d had more than just a taste of freedom, he was climbing trees! And he is growing bigger.

Mum’s baking is interesting.

The daily news is riveting.

A shopping bag provides some fascination and a good sleeping spot.

There is always sleeping to be done.

And helping with the washing.

Exploring the cupboard and the flour bin was fun while I was baking this morning, until his reflection in the oven door and all those cats on the tea towel caught his attention.

There is, perhaps, an escape clause in the vet’s instructions, as he did suggest I could put Felix in a play pen on the back lawn. Catios are the way of the future, he reckoned.

Felix’s plaintive cries and attempts to climb the windows looking for a way out on Monday, when we were both outside, made me soften my resolve and I have been letting him out for short periods of supervised play.

This afternoon he had fun stalking Vera who was a good sport about it.

Meantime, the sparrows wait high up in the trees until it’s safe to come down to get Vera’s leftovers. They can see the point of a catio.


Illuminated manuscripts!

Colourful covers and the enticing titles make these books a delectable prospect.

The Unfolding is this month’s book group choice and our meeting is in just a few days. If I am to read it before then, I will have to put aside the wonderful Femina A New History of the Middle Ages, Through the Women Written Out of It. At least I will be able to anticipate getting back to it!

Then there is Claire Harman’s book about Katherine Mansfield to look forward to. It’s the centenary of Mansfield’s death this year. What she might have achieved had she lived longer than a mere 34 years is considered in an article entitled ‘Glowing with Life’ in the latest NZ Listener.

So, it’s time to open the first of the colourfully covered books and begin – and hope that anticipation was not the best part of it!

Felix the Fearless

Felix has progressed from merely dashing from deck to lawn. I discovered him peering down at me from a tree on Saturday. He mewed a bit, but I let him get down by himself which, of course, he managed perfectly well – with some entertaining acrobatics.

Today, I was surprised to find that the rustling very high up in the akeake tree was not Scruffy the blackbird, but fearless Felix heading higher than before. There are lots of little twigs in this tree and he was biting at them. I guess they impeded his progress.

I’m reminded of ‘Tiggers don’t climb trees’.

‘What do Jagulars do?’ asked Piglet, hoping that they wouldn’t.

‘They hide in the branches of trees, and drop on you as you go underneath,’ said Pooh. ‘Christopher Robin told me.’

A.A. Milne The House at Pooh Corner

A short walk

Instead of taking the car to pick up cat food at the vets, I decided to walk. It wasn’t far, it was a warm, pleasant afternoon, and I could cut through a park. It turned out to be delightful, beginning with this tribute on a neighbour’s gate:

I could hear children playing at the Montessori pre-school and at the park there were tiny children in hi-vis tunics playing football on tiny playing fields with tiny goals.

Opposite the primary school an interesting character house had a fresh coat of paint and looked cared for and lived in, with children’s bikes and scooters on the lawn.

The two walnut trees near the creek were huge and cool to walk under. I looked at the ground to see if there were walnuts, but they were not ready to drop yet.

There was a convenient pedestrian crossing on the busy road, and then I was at the vets – and home again within thirty minutes.

Even in a short walk there is delight in the details you would otherwise miss.

Back to work

It is my fourth year in retirement. This astounds me. I remember all too clearly what beginning another working year was like: a mix of excitement and dread! This cartoon in The Press got me thinking.

I thought of the strategies I’d devised to overcome the first-day-back frustrations and to get the year off to a good start. I knew I’d be part-paralysed with a kind of terror so, at the end of the previous year I prepared drafts of first term plans for each of my five English classes. With that done, I could decide how to place the desks in my classroom, what posters to have on the walls, begin my whiteboard configuration, make sure there were new and experimental aspects to keep me and my students inspired and motivated – or at least interested. I cultivated a demeanour of pleasantness and calm. Re-connecting with colleagues (and IT support staff) was important after the long summer break.

The cruelest thing is that summer is unfailingly hotter when school goes back. I feel sorry for the students swapping their t-shirts, shorts and jandals for school uniforms which include shoes and socks. The temperatures this week have been in the high 20s and into the 30s. Our classrooms were rarely air-conditioned. There’d be classes of 30 sweaty students and one sweaty teacher with all the windows and doors open.

Years ago I met a friend’s flatmate who had given up teaching after only a few months. He looked in amazement at people like me who had kept at it. “What about the SRDs?” he whispered hoarsely. This was what he called school-related dreams. I still have these occasionally. Dreams where you can’t find your classroom, or you’ve been tasked with some impossible project, or the students aren’t cooperating, or a colleague is critical of your efforts. A kind of PTSD perhaps! But I’m grateful for my (somewhat accidental) choice of career and I feel lucky for having had a difficult job which I ‘kept at’ for 40 years, and which frequently took me out of my comfort zone, challenged me and allowed me to be creative and to continue learning.

Now, I’m happy not to be starting a working year, but anticipating a year of reflection and of development in whatever direction my interests take me – work of a different sort.

And enjoying Felix, of course. Here he is after a hard day at his desk.

I have recently learnt that Felix is a silver tabby with mackerel markings. He shares with me a slight obsession with stationery.

Felix Finds his Feet

I dn==========] (Felix wrote that walking across my keyboard) don’t think he ever lost his feet, but my cousin commented that Felix has landed on his feet. Felix has been with us for just over two weeks. He weighs 3lb (1.36kg).

It’s nice to hear the pitter-patter of little feet around the house. Sometimes it becomes the galloping thunder of little feet. ‘He’s a mixed blessing,’ says Mum as she looks at the pulls in her skirt made by his claws or stands up from her chair to find the laces of her shoes are untied.

Here is Felix the Fearless exploring and playing.

Of course, there are many missed shots of Felix in mid-air, doing somersaults and star jumps, and those funny sideways jumps kittens do. You’ll have to imagine those.

The back of a dining chair helps Felix work on his balance, his poses and applause.

Then it’s time for a stretch on the chair cushion, displaying fangs Dracula would be proud to own.

Can a cat ever be cured of its enthusiasm to join in our meals? We have to shut him in his room at dinner time.

While Felix is mostly confined to the house for now, he has spotted one interesting neighbour – and one outdoor resident.

Felix has some hiding places and out-of-the-way retreats.

Felix in repose is perhaps when he is at his most endearing – even if he’s taken your chair (and the remote).

Hop in!

It’s funny what turns out to be a highlight of the day. I’d taken my 94 year old mother for her driving test. We’d arrived at the testing station in her old Suzuki Swift from which we’d hastily swept the cobwebs before setting out. When you’re sitting a test at 94 you do all you can to make a good impression. Our eyes were caught by this sleek, shiny car at the end of the queue. No cobwebs here.

I was interested by the ‘McLaren’ insignia on the car and asked the driver if I could take a photo. My brother is car-crazy and has a dog called McLaren (after NZ racing driver Bruce McLaren) and at that point that was all I was thinking – that he’d be entertained by a photo. The driver said, ‘Sure,’ then to my surprise hopped out inviting me to hop in. He kindly took a photo or two.

That’s a gull-wing door, my sister said. I found out lots more about this car before the day was much older, including the technical name for those doors: dihedral.

Turns out, only 50 of these cars have been made and two of them are in NZ. It’s a McLaren 720S Le Mans Coupe Limited Edition. And here’s a review.

The interior is very high spec, with top stitching, which reminded me of a friend’s new Peugeot which has lime green top stitching on the black upholstery – and matching lighting strips along the dashboard.

Top stitching in the Peugeot – a sure sign of quality

There’s no top-stitching in my new Suzuki Swift hybrid, but it has more than enough features to keep me busy.

Thinking about it now, it’s refreshing that the driver of the McLaren car was young-ish, tall and neatly dressed, supple enough to slide into the low-slung vehicle. More often you see old, grey or bald men, a bit dishevelled or time worn, driving sporty, often convertible, cars and think (with a bite of car envy), ‘What a waste!’ Like me in the photo: I don’t fit the picture. I hope he was the owner.

My brother’s response to the photo I sent him was, “Yes, but it is not a Ferrari”. Geesh!

Oh, and my mother passed her test. When you have old-lady charm the cobwebs don’t matter. And her older model Suzuki interior does have top-stitching!

Meet Felix

One of my nephews has been keen for a while to get his grandmother (my mum) a cat. I knew she would love that, but I’d been adamant that our pet-owning days were over (all that effort and heart-break) and had the dog and cat doors removed long ago. The arrival of the hens is another story altogether.

Eventually, my nephew got us in a weak moment to agree that Mum would love a cat to sit on her knee. It’s her 94th birthday this week, and he got his family organised to visit the SPCA. They sent photos of the kitten they had chosen, and I had to speak to an SPCA employee to make sure I approved the adoption – and to ‘pass the test’, I’m guessing. She sounded pleased that I’d rescued my last cat, Skipper, from a skip. Come to think of it, all my pets (now called ‘companion animals’) have been rescued. This little one was found on his own under a pallet. His birth date is 9 October, though I don’t understand how they can be so accurate!

He arrived at our house on Saturday afternoon. He was already neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. He had his own sheepskin blanket and a toy dog. The family added a sleeping igloo and plush catnip balls (which he loves) – and cat litter, box and scoop.

We spent a pleasant afternoon watching the kitten settle in and explore. Following the literature provided in his adoption pack, we have kept him to one room for now. Even with the doors open during the day, he shows little interest in going further – so far.

Mum was very quiet and we hoped that he would prove suitable for an elderly person who might be nervous of scratches to fragile skin or stockings. Fortunately, he seems (so far) to be gentle and quite timid. We asked if she would like to choose a name and she quickly decided on ‘Felix’. His SPCA name was ‘Raindrop’.

Felix spent his first night with the donkeys.

It seems miraculous that a creature so small knows how to take care of itself. He came toilet trained (thankfully – only one ‘accident’ overnight) and is good at his ablutions before settling to sleep.

Yesterday, Vera stepped in to take a look at the newcomer and spent a while studying him. Both kept their distance. Felix was becoming bolder, playing furiously, then sleeping. I bought him a scratching post – choosing a solid, NZ-made one, no assembly required. Last night Felix slept again with the donkeys.

This morning, Felix played, hunted a fly, luxuriated in the sunshine and then, in a break-through, settled on Mum’s lap. Job done, everyone!


Mabel was the chook who took over Dora’s role as look-out for the flock. She stood up to visiting dogs and put them firmly in their place (quivering inside the door).

Betty and Mabel tell McLaren who’s boss

When the new deck was being built, Vera inspected the work – even wandering in the open door and looking at the startled workers from inside the house.

It was, therefore, surprising that Mabel should suddenly go downhill. Perhaps she was grieving for Betty who had recently died, or grieving for her loss of freedom. Once the deck went down, Mabel and Vera were confined to their run and, extensive though it is, the run does not include their favourite haunts: the garage, the deck, the lawn and the raspberry patch.

Whatever the reason, she became more withdrawn, puffed up, eating little, and spending most of her time on the straw under the henhouse. Vera spent a lot of time with her.

She died on Christmas Eve. She has joined the illustrious company of Betty I, Dora and Popcorn under the lilac tree, with Betty II nearby under the roses.

Vera, who was the lowest in the pecking order before, is the sole survivor. Her appetite is good. She seems to enjoy sitting in the warm hay in the run, or under the henhouse (where I have placed a mirror to help her feel less alone).

In the last couple of days, I’ve let her out onto the lawn for a couple of hours as there is no grass or clover in the run. She enjoys sinking down into it gracefully like a lady in a crinoline and spreading her ‘petticoats’ in the sun.

Out in the world, there is a shortage of eggs as poultry farmers adjust to the new animal welfare rules and ‘battery’ farming is banned. I have no plans to replenish the flock, however.

This little flock, a Christmas gift, will do for now.

Harriet, Hester and Henrietta