The small comfort of chocolate

Chocolate can be the gift we choose to give to say sorry or to offer comfort or thanks.

I chose it today for the staff on the checkout at the supermarket as – albeit small – compensation for the racist abuse they suffer from customers. Usually it is sneaky abuse, bullying in effect, as they know the staff member must remain polite or risk losing their job. ‘The customer is always right’. Except when they are not right.

Yesterday, as I packed my groceries, I was saddened to overhear a checkout operator quietly telling a supervisor that a customer had said to her, “You are not welcome here”. She seemed embarrassed to have to report the incident; her face was flushed above her mask.

How much worse it must feel not to be able to stand up for yourself when a deliberately hurtful lie is directed at you. Does reporting it make you feel better, or worse? What could the supervisor do anyway, after the event?

I wrote a letter to the management and staff of the supermarket to express my dismay and sympathy. I suggested a standard response to such attacks by customers could be used such as, “We are sorry you feel that way. We hope you will be kinder to our staff in the future.” This could be a polite way of showing that the whole work place is united in not tolerating racism (by using ‘we’) and would call out the customer for their bad behaviour (they had not been kind). It could help the staff member to feel that they had stood up to the bully without risking their job – and by being the better person.

If I had overheard the hurtful remark, I would have been less restrained, I imagine – but that would not change anything or be helpful. However, I bet the customer spoke for only the checkout operator to hear. (I picture the offending customer going home to listen to more of the talk-back radio which ‘justifies’ their cruelty, and never pausing to consider whether or not they are making a useful contribution to society.)

In the multi-cultural school where I worked (54 different countries of origin in one count), we valued cultural – and other – diversity and were as vigilant as we could be to ensure the work place was safe for staff and students. It was a somewhat more closed environment than a supermarket, however. It shocked me how our students regularly suffered racist abuse on the street.

There’s no amount of chocolate to comfort for that.

Cheeky visitor

We don’t have a cat anymore, but this one often visits as if he is staking out his territory. He makes the chooks nervous. They have chased off dogs much bigger than he is, but the cat has a tendency to sneak up on them in a teasing sort of way. They don’t much like being taken by surprise. In the photo he is sitting on the table they like to shelter under in wet weather. Psychological point-scoring, I’d say.

I used to shoo him away until I found he could be useful. We had another visitor.

This little chap darted out from under the deck to get the last of the chooks’ breakfast. This explained why I had often seen the cat sitting on the deck, peering over the side. So now, I’m quite happy to let the cat cruise through, past the compost bins and wood pile which are favourite haunts of rats, skirt around the garden and leave via the garage roof.

Today, the cat left traces of a detour into the house. I found muddy cat-prints in the bath, with a trail of paw prints going across the window sill where he seems to have departed through the open window.

I hope he won’t become so bold and familiar that he brings inside a rat he has caught. My sister’s family has two cats. Yesterday, she found a rat in their living room, alive and hiding under the curtains. Heroically, they did a ‘catch and release’.

My, how you’ve grown!

McLaren was a tiny puppy when my brother first met him.

Before long, McLaren had his first day at work – that is, as a companion dog in my brother’s office – and came to visit us in the evening.

He was playful, exploratory, and full of personality.

And very small.

Six weeks later, his ears are standing up, and he almost takes up the whole of the dog bed!

It looks as if he may turn out to be a dog who likes to watch tv.

Take the plunge

The Terraces, Central Christchurch – not a spot for swimming, unless you are an eel!

Today I read a blog post about ‘wild swimming’, which is swimming in the sea (or lake or river, I guess) at all times of the year. It is reportedly very good for well being, which reminded me of feeling an energetic glow after cold-water swimming when I was younger (much). Nowadays, I loll about in the hot pools at New Brighton, if anything.

I had a somewhat similar energetic glow after successfully biking to and from Addington on Tuesday. I have nominated Tuesday as my ‘adventure-exploration’ day. A day when I discover new parts of the city while getting lots of exercise.

My first Tuesday exploration (last week) was along the South Frame greenway from Montreal Street to High Street, passing through Kahikitea Common, Matai Common and Evolution Square. There were gardens, street art and interesting work and leisure places including, next to a car dealers, a tiny, hole-in-the-wall cafe called Parts and Labour: “From flat tyres to flat whites, we now have all of your needs covered.” I had delicious minestrone soup at the Bohemian Bakery, then walked homeward via Welles Street where I stopped in at GoodFor, Sustainable Pantry.

This Tuesday a friend suggested we explore Addington. There was a cafe filled with house plants which she was keen to visit. I hesitated because it is further away; would I have to take the car? But a map search showed I could get there on the new cycle lanes. My friend and I, approaching from different parts of town, each made it to our meeting place in 20 minutes.

We explored the historic Addington Cemetery (eventually finding Kate Sheppard’s grave), had lunch at the house-plant cafe, were kindly admitted (!) to Addington Jail (now a backpackers), and found the barely recognisable, restored, Wood’s Mill building.

The success of both adventure Tuesdays will give me the courage to dive in for more!

Morning meditations

Morning is my favourite time for browsing about the garden.

I get out of bed when the chooks are asking for breakfast at sunrise (just after 7 am at the moment). With a jersey zipped up over my pyjamas, and gumboots on my feet, I put out their mash and sprinkle some wheat before cleaning out their houses. Then I get the newspaper from the gate, and wander about the garden. It’s a lovely gentle way to start the day.

It’s autumn, but there’s plenty of new life despite that. The roses are clearly not done yet.

The New Zealand myrtle,rōhutu, is covered in berries.

Lophomyrtus obcordata

The blueberry is simultaneously fruiting – for a second time – and losing its leaves.

The autumn raspberries just keep on going.

I look at work I have done to tidy up the tired late-summer growth – bulbs and winter colour in pots – and note new growth on the tomatoes, a fox glove stubbornly emerging from the side of a barrel, and buds on the camellia (it is flowering on the other side).

The tomato plants in a hanging basket (another of the many strategies to protect plants from the chooks) are still producing flowers and fruit.

Chrysanthemums and broad beans among the rainbow chard are flowering. The bean plants popped up all by themselves when I followed advice to ‘chop and drop’ the old, finished plants. Another of many examples of plants in the garden with the will to flourish.

I hope for winter harvest of spinach, kale, pak choi, and salad greens from the plants in the green house and the vertical garden.

My morning meditations on the energy and beauty of living things helps get the day off to a good start. I have become tolerant of the ‘chaos’ of nature too, because we now know it’s meant to be. Even chooks’ dust baths in the ‘lawn’, giving more of a farmyard look than a manicured one, make me happy.

To top off this morning’s garden browsing, a bellbird, korimako, burst into song above me as I reached into the nesting box to retrieve a warm brown egg.

Thank you, bellbird. Thank you, Betty.


POST SCRIPT: Since we’re on the subject of new growth despite the time of year, here’s another example. This is my brother’s new little puppy visiting us last week.

Give those parents a medal!

What a week! But I had a hollow feeling as I drove away rather than the relief I might have expected to feel. I realised I’d taken on a state of alert and anxiety while in loco parentis. I’d had a taste of what parents must feel constantly, and enjoyed it.

With my sister and brother-in-law and their younger son due home any moment, I’d just taken Dom, the border collie, back to their house and done the last jobs: topped up the cats’ bowls, fed the fish, changed the bird’s water. And put away my nephew’s washing. Becoming familiar with where he keeps his undies and socks was not something I had anticipated.

His parents and brother were away on holiday and he was at home with a quiet week and lucrative work to look forward to. When he was unexpectedly admitted to hospital, I was suddenly doing the visiting and taking the dog home to my place.

An old infection had flared up again. Five nights in hospital and an operation followed. A lot of time for an active 18-year-old to be lying about. I took in his lap top and a couple of magazines and enjoyed my visits. The nursing staff were great, with back-and-forth banter, even as he endured the many changes of intravenous fluids.

Meantime, Dom kept guard at my gate and the chickens kept him in line if he ventured into their part of the garden – particularly after he ate their mash and one of their corn cobs. It’s funny to see a great border collie running away with chooks in indignant pursuit. Keeping him at the front of the house when he wasn’t inside seemed best, but meant I was always watching in case he squeezed through the fence or someone took a fancy to him. He’s a lovely, affectionate, well-trained dog, and a bit of a doofus.

Today, it’s just the aged mother and me and the chooks. I’ve collected up handfuls of dog fur from the carpet, washed the floors – and even cleaned the windows to use up the excess energy left from the adrenaline of being on alert. I can catch up on my reading. I can do whatever I feel like. But the hollow feeling was a surprise. It only lasted till the end of the street, but still.

Well done, parents!

Glowing and growing

The illuminating properties of light, literal and metaphorical, have always lifted people’s spirits. I can’t help but be cheered by tomatoes glowing in the sun on a windowsill where they have been put to ripen.

Soup made from freshly-picked tomatoes is also cheering – and warming, as autumn weather bites around the edges.

The autumn-fruiting raspberries are glowing so that, even in half-light, it is easy to distinguish which are the best to pick. I like that one branch has numerous fruit in various stages of development. It looks as if they will go on ripening for a while yet.

The cranberries are not only ripe but sweet-smelling as you brush past them on the path.

New plants are growing and seeds of last-chance salad greens have sprouted.

The news informs us, but it does not lift our spirits as a garden can.

My heart breaks for the people who have to flee their homes, their gardens, their animals, their life-time of effort, for an unimaginable future.


The roses, in their second flowering, press against the window.

You never know what to expect to find in the garden when you return from a week away. Will it have withered with neglect? Not so this time. The only misfortune was a fallen tomato plant which had crashed due to the weighty trusses of fruit.

It seems okay, and I’ll leave it where it is to prevent any damage. One truss of tomatoes broke off, however. Not surprising as it weighed one and a half kilos.

The tomatoes in the hanging basket were doing well.

Just out of chicken reach.

Some of the salad greens were bolting in the vertical planter.

Perhaps that’s why it’s called ‘rocket’; it always bolts first.

The beans, peas and chard were flourishing under their domes. Scarlet runner beans were heading skywards and flowering profusely. Meantime, the sweet peas (the ‘scramble’ to the right) were past their best and the artichokes ‘hats’ had faded from purple to brown.

The red salvia seemed to have doubled in size.

The Japanese anemones were crowding around the sapientia rose – and me, as I walked up the path.

All up, a great welcome home.

Doubtful Sound

This seven-hour trip involved a boat trip out of the Waiau River and across Lake Manapouri to a coach which took us over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. Here we embarked on a second boat which took us out through the winding fiord to the Tasman Sea.

It had rained, which meant there were rushing streams…

And lots of waterfalls.

Once more my school geography lessons on glaciation enabled me to identify features such as terminal and lateral moraine left by the retreating glacier.

I was reminded of fiords I’d seen in Norway, only this is wilder with its temperate rainforest thick along the slopes of the fiord. No switchback roads climb the mountainsides and the only sign of a hotel is a bit of a joke by local fishermen.

Blanket Bay ‘Hotel

No bottle-nosed dolphins appeared (others had seen them the day before at Milford Sound) but there was a lone seal (as far as we could tell) and, later, a colony of fur seals at the entrance to the sea.

It was easy to see why Captain Cook was reluctant to enter the fiord with its rocky shoals partly obscured by the choppy water. He decided against sailing in to what he dubbed ‘Doubtful Harbour’. There were floating logs yesterday as well, due to the rain. The skipper of our boat had a digital radar to warn him of obstacles.

At one point, back in the calmer water of the fiord, the skipper turned off the engines and we floated silently, enjoying the lapping of water, bird song and the beech forest.

There were flowering trees. I’m not sure what this is with its masses of white flowers – ribbon wood, perhaps?

The sky cleared to reveal this view as we reached the top of the Wilmot Pass on our return.

The boutique and the quirky

Small towns have to work hard to create appealing accommodation for the tourist looking for something a little different from the usual bland motel. La Riviera in Riverton was the first one I chose for my nostalgic trip south. There was nothing like this when I first holidayed at Riverton Rocks camping ground.

Our cabin at Riverton Rocks.

More of La Riviera.

The motel I stayed in at Te Anau was bland, but I chose it for its view.

Now, in Clyde in Central Otago, my accommodation, is more provincial museum or junk shop than boutique. Not entirely comfortable. Just as well there are beautiful stone walls and views of roses scrambling over a picket fence.

Provincial towns seem to attract the quirky and interesting as reflected in their businesses, such as second-hand shops.

In the Riverton shop I could see that many people had launched themselves enthusiastically into chicken motifs. It seemed they had all got over their obsession simultaneously.

Opposite the Invercargill City Council is this historic WEA building.

Invercargill clearly had ambitions in its past. (It still does, judging by the massive building project currently underway on Dee Street.) I don’t think I’ve seen another church like this one anywhere else in New Zealand. My brother and father used to sing in the choir here when we lived in Invercargill.

Bluff has its famous sign post. Clyde has one too…

An art gallery in Tuatapere is in a former BNZ building and has made a feature of the safe and telephone system.

Could a hoarder live in this Clyde house? Another front lawn here had a collection of cannon and gold sluicing gear.

This quirky, funny creativity puts the ostentatious display of the ‘money-papered landscape’ of Queenstown and, increasingly, Wanaka in the shade.

In Ranfurly, I visited the delightful Curiosity Shop which I had visited some years before. Now it’s on the owner’s property so she doesn’t have rent added to her running costs. I was intrigued by these glass panels made from old crystal dishes and vases and set into window frames.

In the Historic Precinct of Oamaru is a delightful design store. Many of the items for sale are designed and made by the owner. Her young daughter has contributed a collection of cards too.

Here’s the last word from La Riviera: