Hello again!

Each new flower is like a discovery, yet my photos of a year ago, four years ago, six years ago show that the same sudden appearances have surprised me each spring. Today, it was the first rose.

Chinensis mutabilis

The kowhai trees are flowering enthusiastically – better than before, surely?

The apple tree seems to have been encouraged by pruning.

Each new blooming is superseded by another: Camellias then lilacs, magnolia stellata then forsythia, violets then forget-me-nots, aquilegias and Solomon’s seal, bluebells then hebe, lavender and bay, rosemary then banksia, and the beginnings of fox gloves, cabbage tree flowers, and karo.

The blueberry is flowering profusely and the first flowers are appearing on the strawberry plants in a hanging basket, with promise of summer fruit.

And, on the beach on Sunday, eight inflatable rescue boats on exercises meant the surf patrollers (my nephew included) are gearing up for the summer season.

At the chicken lounge and dust spa

A bale of straw with a tarpaulin roof gave the chooks an extra outdoor space to scratch about and sun-bathe. It became a favourite spot and for a while they laid their eggs in a nest behind the bale.

This week, an added straw bale upgraded their lounge to ‘deluxe’ and, with their dust bathing spot nearby, they have a ‘chicken lounge and dust spa’.

After all the dust-bathing and preening, Dora admires herself with a selfie before showing off her fluffed tail feathers.

Vera and Betty visit the self-help health bar, with carpeted foot treadle, for a snack. Hmmm…Vera is in need of a pedicure…

Bliss

Knots

The only proper knot I know how to tie is a reef knot, which I learnt at Girl Guides: left over right and right over left, it never fails. I learnt the bowline once in my yachting days, but forget exactly how it goes when I’m on the spot so I just use the loop and slip knot I “designed” myself for tying garden twine to stakes. Sometimes I just use the old granny knot and then several more to make sure it holds, so I was chuffed to hear a television DIYer say, “If you don’t know knots, tie lots of knots” (Dick Strawbridge on Escape to the Chateau).

My clothes line runs from a tree to the house and this terrible looking knot, or series of knots, has held it up for several years.

While tidying my book shelves during lockdown I rediscovered a book of knots I’d bought years ago but never used. I found some pieces of cord in my sewing stuff and had a go. I enjoyed the process and the results – although I’ll have to practise over and over to remember how to do them without looking at the instructions.

The book gives the history of each knot. It claims that in Neolithic times knots were used to tie a stone to a stick, build shelters and make bridges. Apparently gorillas use knots – both Granny and Reef knots have been identified in their nests. Birds have been observed using knots in their nest-making too.

If a knot becomes misshapen it is said to have “capsized”. This must originate from the association of knots with sailors who invented and named many of the knots we use. A marlinespike or marlingspike is a metal instrument with a pointed end used to separate rope strands. Here, I made the nautical connection with Captain Haddock’s ancestral home in the Tintin comics: Marlinspike Hall.

Following this lockdown past-time, I turned to sorting out my diaries and associated paraphernalia, and came across my 1966 diary. Perhaps the 15 February was when I learned to tie the Reef Knot for the first time.

This was a short-lived diary – it finishes on the next page, unsurprisingly. Parents of ten year olds: be reassured that even if your child is writing with random use of capital letters, no full stops, incomplete sentences and misspellings, they might grow up to tie knots – or even earn a degree or two and become an English teacher!

Grumpy

Occasionally, I have a grumpy day. It’s quite enjoyable. More than being just irritable, it’s got an energy to it which gets me moving through the day, thinking amusing grumpy thoughts and clomping about the house and garden.

A friend tells me she doesn’t think she ever gets grumpy. She suggests being grateful for things as a cure – but I don’t want a cure, I want to make the most of it. I’m grateful for being grumpy.

The word “grumpy” even suits the mood. Sure enough, when I looked it up to see where it originated, my dictionary said “imit. origin” – meaning that the word is a sort of onomatopoeia, the sound of it imitating the mood.

A quick bit of research suggests that grumpiness can be caused by a variety of things: lack of sleep, stress, hormones, underlying illness. Stereotyping makes grumpiness an affliction of older men. My dad was pretty grumpy as he got older, but I think that could be put down to most of those symptoms listed above. In my case, it’s like a wind change – awesome.*

Not long after a grumpy day a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the chooks were in a marauding mood very like grumpiness. I was dashing after them protecting plants from being scratched up. They even broke into my green house, trampling the beans and eating the miner’s lettuce. I had put a pot of parsley by the garage door as they hadn’t shown any interest in parsley before. Well, that changed. Before I could put netting around the plant it was mostly bare stalks. What could account for that mood change? Afflicting all of them at once!

I’m back to my placid self, as are the chooks – no, hold the phone, I’ve just heard cries of alarm: they’re in the planter again despite my defensive efforts with netting and bricks. Sigh.

Marauding chooks

That this doesn’t make me grumpy, just resigned to chicken nature, suggests that there’s something mysterious which causes my occasional grumpy days. I look forward to the next one.

*I’m reminded of the lightning-charged beginning chapters of Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked this way Comes.

Digging Deeper

The main wastewater pipes in our street date back to the 1870s and an archaeologist is on site while they are excavated and replaced.

The lateral pipes (leading into each house) are more recent. The one into my house is dated at around 1920. The cap on it was replaced yesterday with a PVC one.

A neighbour who had problems with his pipes, was very relieved (excuse that dreadful pun) to have his 1940s pipe replaced, as it turned out to be broken – probably in the earthquakes.

The street which was repaired before ours (Ranfurly Street) yielded a stash of French champagne bottles which, the worker I spoke to believed, had been used (recycled) for home brew. They were found on the former site of a 16 hectare farm of which only the house remains.

This is fascinating stuff. It reminds me of the broken ancient (well, old) glass and crockery which has emerged from a corner of the garden near the street since new fences were built. It still comes up to the surface mysteriously from time to time. This is the most interesting of the crockery:

Someone must have been upset when this was broken.

A recent exhibition at Tūranga, the main library, featured excavated items from the shops which used to line Gloucester Street. The post-earthquake rebuild of the central city and, lately, the construction of Te Pae, the convention centre, have kept archaeologists busy. China and glass fragments have been pieced together to give an insight into the past – what you might have seen if you had looked through the shop window.

The work on our street is only going as far as the intersection adjacent to our house. If they find original brick wastewater structures it will take longer to replace. So we may be in for more entertainment yet!

Besieged!

From my window I can see a large yellow digger, a port-a-loo, temporary fencing, and colourful bunting warning of overhead wires. There are men – and an occasional woman – in hi-vis jackets, hard hats and ear muffs. Our street is closed for wastewater drainage replacement.

Since mid-June, the work has moved up the street towards our house. My car must remain in the garage until the work moves past us and the fences are removed. There are some heart-stopping moments when the digger arm touches the bunting as the driver negotiates our narrow street.

However, the site is carefully managed, efficient and tidy. Yesterday, the power pole outside our gate was secured by a huge concrete block at the base and a hook and chain at the top.

This morning, they have dug up the footpath and part of our berm. A huge vacuum truck made a lot of noise right outside our window for a while. See how they have carefully dug under the kerb and under the lawn edging. I wonder if they’ve saved the piece of turf to put back afterwards.

I couldn’t resist taking this photo three days ago when it occurred to me that this event might be worth recording. The process is quite fascinating. From the tin lid, it looks as if a sealer is being applied. Nearby, another worker was cutting lengths of pipe.

What do they see down there?

It’s all here

I had the most delicious hot chocolate in town yesterday. I won’t need any more chocolate for at least a year, I thought afterwards. (A short-lived resolution.) It occurred to me today that it was better than Angelina’s in Paris which is famous for its hot chocolate.

Yes, that is chocolate around the rim of the glass. And a square of chocolate beside the spoon. It’s a good idea to check your face for smudges of chocolate before you leave the cafe!

Because we live in a country which is so far from the rest of the world, New Zealanders love to travel. It’s part of growing up to ‘do your OE’ (Overseas Experience) which I did in 1981 for most of the year: South America, Europe, Canada. Subsequently I travelled to various Pacific islands, and to Australia, Japan, the US and China. I have been back to the UK and Europe a few times. I finished my last “must sees” in 2018, travelling to Scandinavia and Portugal. Thank goodness I did, since it hasn’t been possible to travel much at all since 2020. It is my intention to see more of New Zealand rather than travel overseas again.

I enjoyed learning about different cultures, art and architecture, and seeing different ways of living as we did first-hand when we were backpacking and naively taking all sorts of risks in 1981 when we were in our twenties. It was exciting, while middle-aged travel is more sedate somehow. I never travelled for the shopping as people used to when they hankered after things we didn’t have here. Now you can get whatever you might want anywhere in the world.

In Bon Marche, Paris, I liked this sculpture of ragged people juxtaposed with a Prada display and gesturing wildly as if to say, ‘Get me out of here!’

After that hot chocolate, I realised we are producing our own unbeatable delights. It helped that I was sitting under a delightful chandelier and I could see into the kitchen where the chocolatiers were at their craft.

The copper filaments inside the bulbs are different shapes.

There were overwhelming varieties of hot chocolate to choose from. At Angelina’s there was just one. It may have been Audrey Hepburn’s favourite cafe, but she hadn’t tried this! The place is She Universe. It’s at the Riverside Market, a hugely popular venue which reminds me of indoor markets I have visited in Ireland, Finland, Portugal and elsewhere – but with distinctive, hand-made New Zealand-designed products, and a multi-cultural and fresh vibrancy.

I also visited the Copenhagen Bakery this week for the first time. It’s a little piece of Denmark right here. What an excellent place to meet friends for a treat and great coffee.

Loss

A friend sent me a fantail for my birthday. One you assemble yourself. It sat in its box for a week or two, so I took it to my nephew. He and his siblings also assembled the nano lego I was given a few Christmases ago. Apologies to the gift givers – but I did enjoy watching them being assembled!

I have another fantail which was given to me long ago and which I’m pretty sure I assembled myself. Here are the two fantails and the book I’ve been reading.

The book is fascinating – with chapters on the senses and magnetic sense and emotions of birds. It is also sad. Here’s an excerpt:

I visited New Zealand while writing this book, and when I wasn’t chasing kiwi and kakapo I took a few days off to visit Fiordland on South Island. The weather was perfect and the scenery spectacular, but the most striking aspect of this area was its auditory desolation. I have rarely been anywhere so quiet. Peaceful, yes, but this was a melancholic silence. The birds that once inhabited the forests clothing the steep-sided valleys have all been killed by the predatory stoats and weasels that the early settlers foolishly introduced. Native birdsong is absent across mainland New Zealand and made me wonder whether the introduced dunnocks, blackbirds and thrushes sing more softly in New Zealand than in their native Europe due to the lack of competition.

Some years ago I was shocked to hear that even seagulls are threatened with extinction. And our loveable kea also. Somehow, against all reason, I have collected stuffed toys of our native birds. I’m quite interested in the psychology which goes with adults having stuffed toys, and I expect it shows some emotional need. Perhaps loss and grief.

I bought this little rooster at the Otago Museum after visiting a dear friend I knew I was soon to lose to cancer. Her family had a flock of beautiful hens outside the living room window where we sat together, and somehow buying the toy held that memory. I didn’t know then that I would have my own backyard chickens several years later.

The same friend would buy me owls. Her daughter once sent me a pop-up owl card. I’ve only seen owls – moreporks – twice in the wild, although I’ve heard them when bush walking. The actual sightings were at Anderson’s Park in Invercargill when I was a child, and once at Zealandia several years ago.

Here’s my line up of native bird toys. I suspect I bought them to hold onto something I knew was precarious. The kea (right) was purchased at Aoraki Mount Cook where I was fascinated by the kea perching on the hotel railing. I have seen little blue penguins (second from left) coming in to their burrows in Oamaru. Pukeko (left) can be seen every day as you pass through Travis wetland. I heard kiwi when I was on Rakiura Stewart Island many years ago, but have otherwise only seen them in captivity. Only the moa in this line up is extinct – so far.

Piwakawaka fantails seem less at risk – for now. They flit about my backyard most days, chirping high in the trees, then swooping low and fast, catching insects.

Time travel page turners

Somehow I discovered the books of Patricia Wentworth – on a list of recommended titles somewhere, perhaps. I found I could download the ebook of her first volume of Miss Silver mysteries from the library. From the first page of the first book I was transported to 1920s London.

I have enjoyed other books set in this time period: The Verity Kent mysteries, the Maisie Dobbs series. They are historical fiction and well-researched. Jill Paton Walsh continued Dorothy L. Sayers’ books, and Ben Schott has written very entertaining Jeeves and Wooster books imitating the style of P.G. Wodehouse. Patricia Wentworth was writing in and of her own time, however, and this makes every detail authentic and intriguing: house interiors, lighting, street scenes, shops, the thick London fog, clothing, language, and manners – as in the stories of Katherine Mansfield. Furthermore, the books are well-written, with interesting and complex characters who consider and question their positions in life. This is particularly so of the women characters. Hilary Carew in the second book is my favourite. She questions her engagement (and, in fact, has just broken it off, or ‘disengaged’ as she calls it) because she finds her fiance overbearing. Her courage, humour (she has a ‘poetic imp’ in her head which makes up rhyming couplets to describe her predicaments) and determination to pursue the mystery she wants to solve, leads her into danger which she meets bravely. She is also self-aware, and the author must have had her tongue in her cheek as she wrote about her. I liked her very much.

Without her fiance to foot the bill for lunch, Hilary finds “she would have to go and have a glass of milk and a bun in a creamery with a lot of other women who were having buns and milk, or Bovril, or milk with a dash of coffee, or a nice cup of tea. It was a most frightfully depressing thought, because one bun was going to make very little impression on her hunger, and she certainly couldn’t afford any more…Hilary found her creamery and ate her bun – a peculiarly arid specimen. There were little black things in it which might once have been currants but were now definitely fossils. Not a good bun. Hilary’s imp chanted mournfully: How bitter when your only bun/Is not at all a recent one.”

Through such characters the author shows what life could be like for a wide range of women dependent on men for money and respectability. Hilary’s situation is a stark contrast to the parallel life of a character who lives in constant fear of her husband (no tongue in cheek here). All three books’ mysteries centre on money, or the lack of, and they all involve wills. A woman having to earn her own living found herself in harsh and compromised situations in her employment, housing and in society in general. The law relating to women is also brought into question. I notice that some sites refer to these books as ‘cozy mysteries’, just as more recent fiction books about the domestic lives of women have been labelled ‘Aga sagas’. Both labels deliberately denigrate palatable forms of fiction for and by women. Jane Austen’s work still gets similarly dismissive comments. My enjoyment of these books was enhanced by the less palatable reading I had done previously, yet I was keenly aware of the serious issues Wentworth explores. Come to think of it, two such unpalatable books, Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (see previous post Doomed) and The Silence by Don de Lillo are overbearing, like Hilary’s fiance, in that they speculate about possible futures of which we are all too well aware and they have a you-need-to-think-about-this tone – as if we haven’t – forcing it down your throat. Unpalatable.

What is unusual about these books is that Miss Silver is not the main character unlike the detective in all other crime fiction books I can recall. She is an elderly ‘enquiry agent’ who knits and takes notes as she listens to her clients who (at least in the first two books) are well into working on the mystery before she is brought in to help. A link is made with characters from the previous book who recommend her services (Miss Silver is knitting for Hilary’s baby in the third book). She offers advice, uncovers crucial evidence and becomes actively involved at times, but it is the other characters who work to solve the mystery and are central to the plot. Was the author influenced by Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple? It’s possible. Miss Marple first appeared in a short story in a magazine in December 1927, but the first novel featuring her was not published until 1932. The first Miss Silver book was published in 1928. There are 32 books in this series alone (I don’t imagine I’ll read them all) and the author wrote about 72 books in total.

The 1928 publication date astounded me. My 92 year old mother was born in 1929. Yet the book didn’t seem particularly dated in its characterisation or dialogue (unlike Mum who utters: “whacko!” and “corker” and other quaint expressions from time to time) – although, the last book in this set (published in 1939) ended with a monologue in a style which reminded me of old movies in which a man imparts wisdom. The author died in 1961, the same year her 32nd Miss Silver mystery was published. I was six years old then. I wonder if she ever imagined people would still be reading and enjoying her books so many years later – let alone reading them as ebooks with freshly designed covers. Older versions of the covers are like a journey through time in themselves.

The three books were absorbing fire-side reading over a few rainy days.

Chicken Nuggets

At a family gathering yesterday, I mentioned to my first cousin once removed that I was thinking of using this title for my next post. Her little boy (my first cousin twice removed) said solemnly, “I like chicken nuggets” – and there was the perfect intro.

While we enjoy chooks’ eggs and meat, sometimes their actions let us know that there are some nuggets of wisdom to be learnt from them. The following two nuggets don’t come from my own chooks. I’m struggling a bit to think what wisdom they offer, charming as they are. Perhaps, the early bird gets to wake Anne up demanding breakfast or look how much dirt you can move in just one day from here to there.

Nugget One: One of a friend’s hens suddenly had a brood of six chicks in tow. It turned out that the neighbour had acquired some fertilised eggs for her own broody hen. The hens continue to move freely between the two back yards and seem happy to share the raising of the little chickens.

There’s a lot to speculate about this story. How did the adoption of chicks occur? Did the broody hen lose interest? Did she hand over the incubation to the other hen just as they hatched so they imprinted on her?

Nugget Two: One of the contractors who came to my house to clean and check the solar panels on the roof last week said morosely that he used to have hens. “Oh! What happened?” I asked sympathetically. “The neighbour got a rooster,” he replied. His hens had promptly moved next door.

Who wouldn’t fall for this fine fellow?
Photo credit: This Chicken Life, p87. Photo by Ilana Rose

You could draw humorous conclusions from these two stories, but I like to think that they show the simplicity of mate, procreate, and cooperate instincts and, given events in the world today (take your pick) we can learn a lot from not-so-feather-brained birds.

Addendum: To give my chooks some credit, they also flock and cooperate – more than they compete – and they provide two households with eggs. The cooperation which develops between flock and farmer is perhaps the best zoonotic effect.