Books

Posted on Sep 20, 2017 | 0 comments

I’m always getting asked what I’m reading so here’s  a few from my bedside table.

Today I was given three books.  For someone who loves reading this is riches indeed.   Eye of the Songbird,  first book by NZ writer, musician, Michael Munro.  I know Michael because I mentored him over the writing of this novel.

Eye of the Songbird is about the conflict between environmentalist activism and state-politics – sound familiar?  Ranging from Antarctica to London to Hong Kong to Istanbul and here in NZ, the book opens in Antarctica.  The blurb says…

She’s the target.  The scientist he’s been told to bring down and here she is, swinging helpless in a crevasse in Antarctica.  What should KirkBarnby, secret service agent do?  Cut the rope?

When you work on a book with someone you and they get used to seeing it on the screen or on white A4 paper and then suddenly, it seems, after all this hard work from the writer, there’s the book.   Eye of the Songbird will be on sale in selected bookshops very soon.  Ask for it.

The next book is Toughen up, Andrew!  by Anne Manchester and its about a Pekinese.   Mary, who gave it to me, knows I used to always have a Pekinese dog or two around and that I love the breed so she thought I’d enjoy the book.   I love Pekinese because of their courage.  Its written for younger readers but Andrew’s just the kind of Peke who appeals to any age.   Published by Makaro Press.  You’d love it and once you’ve read it you can pass it on to nearest kid and pretend you bought it for them all along.

Talk of Treasure has the most wonderful cover, designed by Makaro Press – a woman walking along reading.  Jane Carswell, who wrote it, began her working life at Pegasus Press shortly after its audacious publication of Janet Frame;s novel, Owls Do Cry.  Here we have a book about the private world of reading and the noisy exterior work of publication. There’s only one thing better than reading and that’s reading about reading.

A Moral Truth, Ed: James Hollings, is about 150 years of investigative journalism in New Zealand.  It begins in 1863, with an excerpt, The First Shots, from NZ’s first independent Maori newspaper and traverses all the well-know and not so well-known investigations by journalists since then.  I read or re-read I suppose, the investigation into the Crew murders and was struck all over again by the dogged and determined seeking out of the truth by Pat Booth.  You will know some of the cases in this book but like me, you’ll find lots you didn’t know so much if indeed anything about.  Published by Massey University Press.

Unquiet Time by Colin James, published by Fraser Books,  is about Aotearoa New Zealand in a fast changing world.  Colin James describes a world in disorder as it rebalances politically, economically and demographically.  It looks at how technology is changing our world.  Colin James is a journalist and he writes a weekly newspaper column which he then sends out to his many readers of whom I am one.  Colin James is a senior associate of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, has an honorary doctorate from Victoria University,  is a life member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and a life member of E Tu Union.  Pretty good mix there, don’t you think?

Hagseed by Margaret Atwood. Need I say more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Old Story

Posted on Sep 13, 2017 | 0 comments

Old Story

 

I was having my first – you’d been on duty all night, but

there you are, dressing gown, long snake of dark plait,

ghosting up and down until my son is born.  Eight pounds,

healthy, you say approvingly.  Boys are good.

 

Nurses straighten their back when you walk by and I,

playing guitar past Plunket bedtime, singing Blue Smoke

when you walk in – quick quick – guitar gone, baby in cot,

strong tea and home-made ginger biscuits out.

 

You marry, live in a flat out back of his parent’s house.

No bathroom.  Mother, good Anglican, won’t have you inside,

your dark skin might contaminate her bathroom.

You shower at a friend’s place.  It will be all right, you say.

 

You are pregnant.  You are happy.  Everything will be all right.

You go into labour.  After twenty-four hours they ring.

The specialist is playing golf – won’t come till he’s won.

Finally, with an impatient thrust of forceps, you have a daughter.

 

I go with you to the doctor to find out why no more babies.

You need a son, if you have a son it will be all right, you say.

The doctor says you will never conceive again.  We walk away.

It will be all right, you say, it will be all right.

 

Now from the wall, your eyes watch as your daughter

drinks wine and says how much she loves you.  She cries.

I think of that mother and that doctor, wonder if they

took a long time to die and if anyone held their hand.

 

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Voting

Posted on Sep 6, 2017 | 1 comment

Advance voting starts next Monday, 11th, September.  Perhaps you know how you’re going to vote – perhaps you’re leaving it a bit longer to decide?

Do you ever think of those women who walked around the country asking forsupport for their call for a woman’s right to vote to be granted by Parliament?  If you do, great, if you haven’t until now, welcome to the company.

We all stand on the shoulders of these women  who got jeered at for their pains, called all sorts of names but heroically kept on with their demands.  Finally our right to vote was granted on September 19, 1893.

This year September 19 falls on a Tuesday.  Tuesday two weeks away.  September 19, 1893 was a Tuesday too.

Wouldn’t it be a great thing if every woman in Aotearoa New Zealand voted on that Tuesday in 2017?  All you have to do is find out where the advance voting is and go along on September 19 and cast your vote.

Do it in memory of and with respect to all those women who marched, shouted, pleaded, struggled, sang, so that you and I can go freely to lodge our vote.  They wore purple, green and white ribbons.  Maybe we can wear some purple, white or green too?  So other people know and catch the meaning.

It’s important that you vote and equally important that you remember that until 1893 you weren’t allowed to vote.  Solely because of your gender.   You could be bright, hardworking, be an inventor, a scientist, a botanist, but you couldn’t vote.  You could be the breadwinner for a family of four and you couldn’t vote because you were female.  Whereas the male who’d deserted you and his kids in favour of the pub, was considered okay to vote because he was the right gender.

Obviously we haven’t got as far with equality as we’d like but this was the first step.  Everything else we’ve achieved, and we have achieved a lot, all began to be possible because women in 1893  (building on the hard work of previous years) made it possible for us to vote.

See you on Tuesday 19th.

 

 

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Blue Moon

Posted on Aug 30, 2017 | 1 comment

Napier Library is to close and I feel a little sad about that.  I borrowed lots of books from this library but that was years ago and its been a good few years since I was even on the premises but I still feel sorry and I assume I would at the thought of any library closing.

I’m wondering what young someone like me would do if there’s no library to go to in her lunch hour.

Libraries provide so much more than books on shelves. The books are the supreme draw of the place but there’s the possibility of sitting quietly and reading, of being able to browse around the shelves picking books up, looking at them, putting most of them back, but keeping a few to lug home.  And now you can rent a computer for a certain time.

Then there’s the Librarians.  I’ve been going to libraries for eighty-three years and only once have I ever got irritated with a librarian.   This was when she continued a conversation with a colleague and ignored the wee queue waiting to borrow books.  We were party to their conversation which was it seemed riveting to them but not that interesting to us.  In the end I got fed up and walked out.

But its not too bad a record for all that time.  Librarians, as well as being novel lovers, are only too pleased to answer questions, find books, to point you in the direction of a writer they think you might like.  Only a librarian would have received my request to just use the one name Renée on my card and on their computer.  I know of no-one else in the bureaucratic world or the technology world who would accept this.

So this week go into your nearest library and have a trawl around, say hello to the librarian, tell her how much you appreciate her work.  And be thankful that its stillopen.

 

 

 

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Mellow yellow…

Posted on Aug 23, 2017 | 1 comment

..is everywhere at the moment. Polyanthus, daffodils, jonquils, lachenalia, kowhai, forsythia, you look- it’s there.  Yellow is the colour of spring, it’s a lift of the heart, it makes the spirits rise.   Its interesting that in spite of these beauties, yellow is used as a pejorative term to mean cowardice.

Cowardice is usually only in the eye of the beholder.   A good number of conscientious objectors were labelled cowards simply because they wouldn’t fight.  Women (who didn’t have to fight) presented them with a white feather whenever they were brave enough to walk along a street.   They were crucified, imprisoned treated harshly, and I don’t need to repeat the full list of horrors that happened to anyone who spoke against the wars.

And there’s the lesbians and gays who’ve been badly treated, both physically, mentally  and verbally, and you know about the beaten women and kids whose lives are wrecked by someone who equates strength with brutality.  Whatareya?

No political parties wear yellow as their colour.   However, the Wellington Hurricanes wear yellow jerseys and they (the jerseys) look great.   Did they copy the the Wellington Weta which has yellow and black stripes and who gather together in little lines each one hugging the one above.  A group like this is called a gallery, so I’m told.  They used to hang around the back of the garden shed when I lived in Lower Hutt.  I’m not fond of creepy crawlies but I had to admire their outfits.

But whether you like it or hate it, or whatever it might signify to you, every time I see this colour in the spring it makes me hopeful.  Against all evidence in the world to the contrary, when I look at a yellow kowhai flower or some jonquils in a pot, clumps of polyanthus in the garden,  I feel happy and hopeful.

 

 

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Poetry Day, Otaki

Posted on Aug 16, 2017 | 0 comments

I don’t remember when I first started reading poetry for my own pleasure but at Greenmeadows School in Standard One I remember learning The Highwayman (Alfred Noyes) and another one with the first line …Do you remember an inn, Miranda?  When the entire standard one class said this line in unison and our voices went up at the end and ended in a series of little squeaks it was one of life’s truly hideous moments.  Like a knife being scraped across an enamel plate.

The teacher wanted us to ask it like a question so she encouraged our voices going up the scale but the reason I remember only that first line and yet – if pushed – I could probably remember all the seventeen verses of The Highwayman is because it had story and drama and those two ingredients always draw a response both from kids and adults.  Although when the whole class said it in unison the result was equally gruesome.

Then  when I was doing the first part of my degree, as an extra-mural Massey student I was introduced to John Donne, considered the greatest of the Metaphysical poets.  I remember that he got married to Ann More and was immediately put in jail and from there he wrote…

John Donne

Ann More

Undone.

However, it all ended happily.  I can’t remember the first time I read a poem written by a New Zealand poet but it was some time earlier and it was probably Ursula Bethell.  She’s the one I remember anyway.  I lived in Hawke’s Bay when Jim Baxter and Lou Johnson held poetry readings in Hastings.  Louis Johnson worked as a journalist for the Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune.  I trundled over to hear them and a friend and I watched as Baxter chewed an apple all through Johnson’s reading.

Then the 70s and a lot of women’s poetry began to be published in Aotearoa.  Not before time.

A long time and a lot of poetry reading later I spent a year in Lynne Davidson’s poetry class at Whitireia, an experience I loved.  She’s a good poet and there were good ones in the class and poems were shared, read, while we looked at form and tried to write some poems for the collection we had to hand in at the end of the year.

But the rest of it is reading, listening, finding my way, not making hasty judgements, making hasty judgements, knowing that a line is perfect but its in the wrong poem.

How these experiences led to me and my courageous students in my current Poem-a Week Workshop into organising a session to celebrate National Poetry Day in Otaki is unclear but they did and we are.  So if you’re in Otaki on Friday August 25, between 5-7pm, come along to the Maoriland Hub on Main Street and read us a poem.

 

 

 

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Woman on a hill

Posted on Aug 9, 2017 | 0 comments

Woman on a hill

 

A road along  two blocks of kauri

pathway to somewhere I knew

night and the mountain are merging

black ice out there on the blue.

 

A track on the edge of the cliff top

like a wild cat leading me true

a rope on the gate of the old place

black ice out there on the blue.

 

no house with a bed, no sack in a shed

some fruit on a tree, a song going free.

 

A bar between river and ocean

a bridge of tears long overdue

soft sigh of shadows on water

black ice out there on the blue.

 

Renée

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Main Street

Posted on Aug 2, 2017 | 0 comments

Main street, Otaki, is bi-lingual?  Come on mate – it’s multi-lingual.  Certainly the primary languages are Te Reo Maori and English but many other languages are alive and well on Main Street.

There’s a woman sitting on a seat just before I cross over to Main Street.  She says,’What you reckon about this Jacinda?’    I shrug.  ‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘you’re right.’  Then she grins and raises a thumb and I have to grin back.  ‘We’ll see,’ I say.  And we both smile.  A whole chapter of a literary novel in these few words.

Up the street there are hoots, shouts, laughs, hugs, music, squeaky walkers (I’m referring to the frames), the drone of mobility scooters.  There are raised eyebrows, pursed mouths, nods, laughs, whispers.  Strangers smile good morning and friends walk past each other, their heads busy with what they need to remember at the supermarket or the butcher.  Some of us lug library books and complete strangers stop us, indicating the book with a flick. ‘Any good?’ their eyebrows ask.

A man walks alone, deep in thought, an expression that says, don’t mess with me.  Another man does a wide detour around him then stops as the first guy flicks his head.  The second man goes back his body expressing great reluctance.  There is a short low-voiced conversation.  Then each goes their separate way one looking relieved, the other impassive.

A young woman stands in front of a queue at an ATM and stares at the screen.  She is rigid with shock.  What has happened?  Is she all right?  Then speech returns.  ‘Mum,’ she yells, ‘Mum, it’s eaten my card.’  The queue members turn round, look at each.  Nod.  We’ll come back later.

Someone shouts from the play area.  We don’t know what they said (we’re thinking what to get at the supermarket etc etc) but we nod and smile and hope to God that’s the right answer and that they haven’t said I’m just off to rob the bank.

Eyes meet eyes, automatic responses to someone managing a walking stick.  ‘Poor thing,’ the eyes around him say to each other, ‘one of these days, it’ll be us.’

A young man, carrying a triumphant toddler, pushes an empty stroller, grins at comments from his mates.    A woman and man walk, one each end of a column of small children, maybe from Kohanga?  They are so cute and so intent as they hold hands and follow the leader.  None of us can stop smiling.

Outside an op shop someone says, ‘Mmn,’ studies something for a moment, then walks purposefully into the shop.  We all have a quick look to see what impressed her and either look considering, puzzled or approving.

Communication in action doesn’t really need words.  Frowns, eyebrows, hands, sniffs, pursed lips, smiles, do the job they are meant to do.  Like someone weaving a giant harakeke wall hanging, these threads meet, move in and out, weave up and down and around the two main languages adding drama. comedy, curiosity, and life to Main Street.

 

 

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Thanks for the memory…

Posted on Jul 26, 2017 | 0 comments

Recently I read that colour affects memory.  The brighter the colour, the more likely you are to remember the person who was wearing it.

Does that apply to what used to be called Purple prose or Purple passages?  These were the pages in a novel where two (or more) people had sex which seemed to take quite a few pages and involve alarmingly gymnastic feats which, over time took on more and more the tone of a sergeant major giving instructions on a how-to sex session.

Dowagers in Regency novels by Georgette Heyer, wore purple and it is often referred to as a royal colour.  Not meant for us mere mortals.  Then along came When I’m an old woman I will wear purple (Jenny Jones) and the novel, The Colour Purple (Alice Walker) and purple was in favour – well, among the literary types and those strident feminists who chose purple as their colour. But purple has never been as popular as red.

I can’t imagine anyone singing Solidarity Forever and waving a fawn flag, can you?  Maybe you’ve never sung Solidarity Forever?  Believe me, the flag has to be red.  Maybe red reminds people shivering with cold, what its like to be warm?   The Salvation Army Founders, Evangeline and William Booth, evidently thought red was the right background colour for their flag when they proceeded to gather in and save poor, starving working class men and women for Jesus.  Took a century or maybe a little more for them to agree that the word ‘people’ also includes lesbians, gays and transgender people, but they eventually got there.  Their slogan is Blood and Fire so it was red all the way.  The New Zealand Red Cross supplies help in emergency situations, organises meals on wheels and other community services such as First Aid workshops.

But –  let’s never forget that The Soviet Union chose red and that ended very very badly indeed for millions of working class and literary stars.  So the colour has no value as such, its the people who choose it as an emblem and then go flat out to associate the colour with good or bad outcomes that influence how it is regarded.

How I loved, still love, Deep Purple, by Hoagy Carmichael.  The simplicity and tenderness of it still can make me stop what I’m doing and listen.  But I can’t say that’s actually seeing it.  Another force is at work here.

I’ve been thinking about what it is that attracts us to different colours – why for example do I like red, purple and yellow when someone sitting next to me in a meeting looksbeautiful in the pink and cream she obviously loves?

Am I really more likely to remember someone wearing  red, purple or yellow, than I am to remember someone wearing pink and fawn?  I’m not sure this is right.  I have always had a propensity to forget names (laziness, I suspect) but remember faces.   I know that I know this person and that is usually enough for the name to pop into my head after a minute or two and if not, I ask.   I’m more likely to remember what people say than what colour they might have been wearing.  If they made me laugh then they could have been wearing a grey dress covered with fawn dots, a pale taupe scarf and and a pink cameo brooch and  I’d still remember them with pleasure.

I did an unofficial survey of six people.   Would they be more likely to remember someone wearing bright colours than someone wearing pale colours?  Three said they thought they’d remember people in bright-coloured clothes, more than the ones in subdued colours, two said they didn’t think it made any difference, and the last one said the one she remembers most vividly and will never forget is the one she met on Bondi beach in Sydney twenty-five years ago, when neither of them were wearing anything at all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Slow Boat…

Posted on Jun 28, 2017 | 0 comments

I walked up Cuba Mall and then up onto Cuba and began to think I’d made a mistake.  I stopped a young woman who smiled and obligingly took off her earphones.  ‘Am I on the track for Slow Boat Records?’ I asked, ‘I’m beginning to think I might have walked past.’

She smiled.  ‘No, it’s up there, see the yellow sign?’  She saw I was relieved and then said, ‘If you’re looking for Slow Boat you must have good taste in music, I go in there all the time.’ And with a grin and a wave, she was off.

I wanted to ask Slow Boat if they had any sheet music of old songs eg Dylan, Kristofferson, Bette Midler (eg The Rose) and so on and so on. I know this is my son’s generation songs but no law that says they can’t be mine as well.

Anyway, I can now play a select number of chords (3 lots of 3) with my left hand and can (almost) tap out the melody of a song at the same time as playing the chords.  You very quickly learn to hear how vocal line notes go (eg sound better) with some chords rather than others. I also learned that a lot of lyricists only know (eg invent), the melody line and its their producer who gets some musicians in to do the left hand stuff.  That cheered me up.

The big thing I learned over the last four months is that its okay to play just for my own satisfaction.  If I make mistakes or fumble, that’s okay.  That if I don’t get pleasure out of something then I don’t have to make myself do it.  In fact there is no ‘have to’, there’s is only if it doesn’t make me smile then do something else.  That doesn’t mean I eschew practice, I am a fan of practice, am a long fan of rehearsal and its benefits.  So I will practise endlessly if I like what I’m trying to do.  I have two goals.  One is to play songs I like.  The other is to practise them until I can (more or less) get to the end without faltering.  And over all I have to get pleasure from it, feel a sense of achievement.  Smile.

So I entered Slow Boat and was fishing around the shelves in a hopeless kind of way when I was approached by a member of staff.  Smiling.  ‘Can I help?’ she said.

Out it poured.

‘Oh dear,’ she said, ‘I know exactly what you mean.  I had a pile of sheet music of old songs and took some along to the Salvation Army yesterday.  But, ‘ she said, before I could burst into loud sobs, ‘there’s still a pile in my boot.  Have you got email?’

I had email and a phone number.  I stretched out my hand, ‘Renée,’ I said, ‘thank you.’

‘Ondine,’ she said, taking my hand, ‘it’s a pleasure.  I’m pleased to give them to someone who really wants them.’

So I walked out of Slow Boat thinking, well go that river of Pop, Nick Bollinger wrote about.  He was right.  Somewhere in that river there’s a place for me.  And I think Slow Boat Records on Cuba might be the arrow pointing the way.

 

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Just wondering…

Posted on Jun 21, 2017 | 1 comment

I’m thinking of the money that has been spent, is being spent and will be spent on the boat race in Florida, thinking of the money that’s being spent on the British Isles Rugby tour,  of the money for the flash lunch held by the Auckland City Council when most invitees would have been happy with a far more modest offering.

Then there’s the CEOs who will get their huge pay rises in a month or so, there’s the money spent on asking people to vote for a particular party in the next election, there’s all this hoohaa over the Christchurch Cathedral – like a plain wooden building wouldn’t be okay for this Christ person?

There’s District and City Councils, who, it appears, can’t be bothered organising  their own, so we have to pay for their meals.  What makes these councillors so special?  They get paid just like everyone else, the majority of whom organise their own lunches.

I’m thinking of the botch-up of a government department’s new online system which will now have to be done again – more money down the drain.  None of the people involved will have lost a cent of their wages. And another department mixes up who should get what amounts of money in the Health System but oh, don’t worry, you lot who got more than you should have, you can keep it.

Oh and yes, the payout the absent-minded National MP Todd Barclay made with help from the then PM.

Steam rising…is there one rule for the haves and one for the have-nots?  Better ask a police officer.

And then I think of the kid sleeping in a car, the five-year-old blind girl and her family who were sent away, the old woman who goes to bed at 6pm because she can’t afford electricity, the woman who does three jobs so she can get enough money to pay the rent and buy food for herself and her two kids.  I think of the men who labour on farms, for a pittance because, it is said, part of their wages is the pleasure of living in a cold unheated house miles from anywhere.  I think of the polluted rivers and the fees being paid to select boarding schools.

Then I get told there’s no class system in this country?  Give me a break…

 

 

 

 

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All anyone wants…

Posted on Jun 14, 2017 | Comments Off on All anyone wants…

is somewhere to live,

somewhere to work,

someone to love,

something to hope for.

Norman Kirk’s words echo like the faint sound of a bell heard in a dark room.  Not because he didn’t mean them, or because he wasn’t right, but because, at this moment in time, whether you’re for Labour, National, Green, NZ First, United, Act, or Opportunities Party, there is no-one saying these words because if they did they might have to do something about them.

Words get all dressed up in other clothes.  Any time the Minister for Education say, or Housing, or Environment, is asked a question, whatever the question, the answer is, ‘We’ve put in lots of millions of dollars and we have a plan,’ or ‘if you vote us in we will put umpteen million dollars into fixing this – or even that.’

We will fix up the health system, we will fix housing, we will fix education, is the cry but they never tell us how, just parrot, again, how much they have, or will, put into that area.

No-one from any party ever says,  all anyone wants is somewhere to live, somewhere to work, someone to love, something to hope for.  And we will see that they get it.

You know why they don’t say it?  Because the words are too simple (haven’t been written by a speech writer or vetted by one of the spin doctors) , too powerful (can’t be too upfront, have to be vague, have to waffle and talk about the money we’ve put in or will put in), too scary (we might lose our seat if we say things that anyone can understand at first hearing).  These are words a child could understand.  If we say such simple words the voters will think we’re stupid, we have to talk the talk, the fudge, the techno crap, that the people we pay high wages to, tell us we must because the polls say that what people want.  This is why they don’t say these words.

So I think we should say them.  We should front up.  Stand on street corners.  Stand up on the grass in front of parliament, on Queen Street, on every damn street corner in this country and say, very loudly, to everyone we meet…they might not  be able to supply someone to love but they can definitely do the rest.  All it takes is the will to do so.  And if they do the three then the fourth will follow.  So – all together now…

All we want is…

somewhere to live

somewhere to work

someone to love

something to hope for.

Seventeen words my friends, seventeen words in this year 2017, that’s all it will take.  Because if we don’t say them, who the hell will?

 

 

 

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Walk on in the sunshine sing a little sunshine song dah dah dah…

Posted on Jun 7, 2017 | 1 comment

I caught myself singing loudly along with something on the radio.  Not a song I knew the words to so la-la-la-ing was doing the trick.  I thought how good it is to be able to sing.  And even better, not to care whether one’s voice is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.  Just singing for the pleasure of it.

When we are kids we sing a lot,  We sing songs because we like to make the sounds, we sing lines we have made up between various object or toys, so a chair can sing to a table or a path can talk to a letter-box.  Sometimes our songs are quenched by the adults around us but they can’t take the urge away entirely.

We sneak little songs in, sometimes quietly in our heads, sometimes out loud.  At school, we sit at a desk or table, and we work, answer questions, sometimes talk, laugh, and sometimes inside we sing to keep out spirits up.

We discover other people’s songs, we start to grow likings for some songs over others.  It’s a mysterious process this and there’s no telling why we like one sound better than another but we do.   Or why our friends don’t happen to like the same sounds we do.  They’re probably asking the same thing about us.

We discover lyrics.  And we begin to realise how important they can be.  So we compare and contrast and love them or not.  We read them, think about them, even try to write them, or play them.

We listen to others singing but we forget to sing ourselves.  Life’s too busy, our voices are raspy, we don;t feel comfortable singing with others in case they think our voice is no good.  And gradually we forget to sing at all.  We listen to others but we forget that we can do it too.

I was out among a crowd of people the other night and a friend came up to me to say hello.  We talked about our current activities and she said she was in a choir. ‘I can’t sing now,’ she said, ‘and neither can the others, but we love singing so we get together and sing.’  I loved that.

I made a promise to myself,  that whatever I sound like (and I have a damaged vocal chord so you can imagine I don’t sound great), I will still sing.  If I hear a song on the radio I will sing along.  If I watch a singer or musician on youtube I will sing along.  And whether neither of these things happen I will still sing.

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In defence of bad piano players…

Posted on May 31, 2017 | 2 comments

How many times have you said or heard someone else say, ‘Why do they bother?’  You’ve just listened to an excruciating rendition of Mozart’s 65th Prelude in W Minor (or whatever and his sister probably wrote it anyway) simply because you happened to see a friend and stopped to talk (not gossip, heavens no) outside a house and inadvertently listened to some poor schmuck who thinks they’re David Dolan (or whoever).

To us bad players this attitude comes as no surprise.  The only surprise might be that we don’t care.  We’re trying to find a chord progression for God’s sake, then we’re trying to play a chord progression, make the damn thing flow like it was no problem, that it just rippled from our fingers like water rippling down a brook (yes we write bad similes too, okay?).

I tell you it’s not easy.  Even when we find a simple chord progression for the left hand we still have to think what the fuck we’re going to do with the right hand.  Knit?  Paint?  Perhaps bake a batch of biscuits?   No sense letting it lie idle, then you’ll really have something to grizzle about.

We are a happy breed though, us bad players.  Whether its guitar or piano, drums or cello, we bravely keep on.  Lost in our dream of one day, one day, playing a melody over a chord progression that actually works.  While it might sound like we’re in a dark wood palely loitering, we are actually improvising which good players do as well.   Improvisation is a word that covers a lot of fiddling about.  It can mean you’re going somewhere.   It can mean you are working something out.  Or it can mean I don’t know where the hell I’m going with this but I’m going to do it till I get somewhere even if its nowhere.

We might even write a song.  The notes we’re playing might very well be a song.  Not a good song.  I won’t go that far.   Doesn’t matter how long it takes to work it out.   Leonard Cohen took years to write his songs.  Probably improvised the hell out of the keys before he wrote Hallelujah, or You Want it Darker? And Robert Allen Zimmerman probably improvised like crazy before he became Bob Dylan and wrote When I paint my Masterpiece or The times they are a-changing.

Obviously they actually got somewhere with their improvising when they wrote these songs but look at it this way.  How many times did they improvise like Armageddon was coming tomorrow and come up with nothing?  How many times did Michelangelo paint the Sistine chapel before he got what he wanted?  Huh?

We bad players are simply following in the steps of the Great Improvisors.  True, we might stop before we get to their celestial heights or we might go on heroically playing the same damn chord progression forever.  So what?

Look at it this way.  There were, I have no doubt, lots of jeering comments when those poor buggers started carrying great bricks to build the pyramids.  Or naysayers saying nay when the equally poor buggers started trudging up and down with bags of cement to build the Pantheon.  Did the person who thought of these creations worry?  Let the jeers bother them?  Of course not.  Did Rosa Luxemberg,   Emma Goldman  or Helen Kelly ever stop their battling on behalf of the workers because people said unkind things about them?

All of these illustrious ones are examples of improvisations that finally got somewhere.  The pyramids were made, the pantheon met its target date.  We might have to wait a bit before Helen or Rosa or Emma and let’s not forget Sonja Davies’s dreams come true but there are other people improvising on their golden examples.

While I might have drawn what some might say are fairly tenuous links between these heroic ones and bad piano players the point is that none of them stopped what they were doing because they were called bad players did they?  No of course not. They just kept on improvising.

Go for it, that’s what I say.

 

 

 

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Do you know what it means to miss leafy greens…

Posted on May 10, 2017 | Comments Off on Do you know what it means to miss leafy greens…

I am missing being able to go out to the garden and just pick whatever I want for the pot.  All the seedlings I put in are growing and I could probably nick a few lettuce leaves but the spinach and silver beet will be a while yet.  Every year at this lull time I try silverbeet from the supermarket and every year after I’ve steamed it, I take a mouthful and then sit and look at the rest.   So with apologies to Eddie deLange & Louis Alter who wrote the song and to Louis Armstrong who made it so popular, here’s another version.

Do you know what it means to miss leafy greens

To look at your plate and sigh

I know that its wrong

But the feeling’s getting stronger

Everything seems awry

 

Been listening to blues

and wondering who

thought this silver beet was okay

Cost me a bomb and most of it is useless

And what is left tastes like glue

 

Lettuces and rocket,

parsley in my pocket

Wattie’s frozen – or canned?

Maybe rice?   Would make it nice?

Or pasta with cheese and ham?

 

Do you know what it means to miss leafy greens

To look at your plate and sigh

I know that its wrong

but the feeling’s getting stronger

Oh how I miss leafy greens – (out of the garden, oooh yes…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

 

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A landscape of shining leaves

Posted on May 3, 2017 | Comments Off on A landscape of shining leaves

I was thinking of autumn and remembered this poem by Elizabeth Smither.  I emailed her and asked if I could put it on my blog and she said yes, so here it is…

A landscape of shining leaves

All the way from the airport the autumn sun
touches leaves. They are the dominant feature,

one leaf, one tree. Then they are everywhere.
Little blazing shields, little stalwart soldiers.

Morals that are so pure they blaze
the sunlight back into the air

like a moment a child masters
a difficult piece on the flute or the piano

or a singer strikes like a bird call
an evasive blurry note. When

all the moral deeds of human beings
(in a new sub-species of science fiction)

are extracted from even the weariest bodies
and carried to become leaves on trees.

Elizabeth Smither

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Two Things

Posted on Apr 26, 2017 | Comments Off on Two Things

Why are the the spaces and lines on written music identified by different letters depending which stave they’re written on?   In the top one, the lines are egbdf and the spaces are face.  In the bottom one the lines are gbdfa and the spaces, aceg.  Why?  To make it harder?  To discourage people learning?   To keep reading music confined to a select few?

The scales, cdefgab are the same wherever you range on the piano.  If someone says play c and e and you play these two notes, you can choose any octave on the piano.  So why, when they’re written down between five lines and four spaces (and occasionally a ledger line) are the notes on  the top five lines and spaces identified by different letters from the bottom lines and spaces?

Some centuries ago, did some monk decree that reading music should be made harder so the the peasants couldn’t do it?  Or did he just wake up in a bad mood and think, ‘Right.  Here’s a way to drive logical thinking people crazy. And to keep the reading of music confined to a select few.’

I have tried and failed to think of a reason.  And while it’s not an insurmountable problem, not at all, a bit (or perhaps a little longer than that) of concentration and its done, but it’s illogical, unnecessary, and kids are completely put off.  They learn the top lot and are all set to play with two hands and then they’ve got to learn a different way of identifying the notes – and when they ask you why, you have to shrug and say, ‘Beats me.  It just is.’  Which is highly unsatisfactory for everyone.

And the second thing is more a cautionary note than a query.  There’s a lot of talk, discussion, re helping people who want to commit suicide.  I wonder if the same time and attention is given to those left to pick up the pieces?  When I wrote Wednesday To Come I didn’t expect that one of the outcomes would be that people felt that they now had someone who could identify with their feelings of loss, pain, anger, and shame.  Only those close to the person who kills him or herself know what its like to be ignored, whispered about, blamed, left to struggle on as best they can.  Among these people who approached and still approach me are those to whom it happened a couple of months ago, and those to whom it happened twenty years or more ago.  Time does not always heal.  The shadows that are cast are long and last  forever.

So just a cautionary note – in all the well-meaning and heartfelt attempts to care for those who are contemplating this act, among all the words extolling the beauty, virtue and kindness of those who committed this act, spare a thought and perhaps a word or a hug for those who are left.

 

 

 

 

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Gin and Coconut

Posted on Apr 12, 2017 | 1 comment

Theatre is a risky profession on all sorts of levels.  So many things can go wrong.  Listening to the report of the two boys who got their throats cut during a performance of Sweeney Todd, reminded me that when you step out on a stage you can never be sure what’s going to happen.

When the Catholic Church loaned us the little pedal organ they had stored in the loft of the church, we  promised to love, honour and obey it, forever.  We borrowed it because the play was Mervyn Thompson’s O Temperance and the old organ was perfect for the time and the temperance choruses.  Luckily, we had someone who had the physical stamina to pedal furiously while playing them.  At the party on the last night, later in the evening, after the organ-player had been drinking gin and dessiccated coconut (a Wairoa thing – don’t ask), decided to favour us with s dance.   If she’d just stuck to gin it would have been all right.  Or even gin and icing sugar which the props person was drinking.   Or the sherry and tonic, favoured by the oldest committee member.   There had been a craze for Vodka and Mint Sauce but that seemed to have died off.

She danced something purporting to be a flamenco dance.  Needless to say any relationship to real flamenco was only in the mind of the dancer.  Anyway during one of her Carmen Amaya spinning top turns she banged into the organ and naturally blamed the organ.  She bashed her glass on it and told it it shouldn’t have been standing in her way.  Then she slowly slid down the back of it and disappeared from sight.  The rest of us who had been watching (who wouldn’t?) in stunned disbelief from our first sight of the glass jar of dessiccated coconut, rushed to the organ and inspected it closely, patted it all over and someone even got a rug and cuddled it (end of run party – funny things happen, get a grip).  The organ was okay.  The woman came to eventually and said, ‘Something banged into me.  Where’s my glass?’  So she was okay.  But the jar of coconut had vanished.

Once I was props for a production where at some stage in the play, one of the characters had to throw a little clay figure onto the floor and break it. (Note:  I think the play was The Caretaker).   So I got to and made umpteen clay figures.  Blobs with rolls really.  I was very pleased with myself.  Should I make some extras for rehearsals?

‘No need,’ the director said, ‘he’s so clumsy, only has to look at a thing and it breaks.  He broke one of the stained glass windows in the Anglican church a week ago when he was taking a photograph of it’.

I put a little note on my props table, Clean and Sweep up Blob, as a nightly reminder.  The first night the guy picked up the blob with rolls and threw it at the floor.  It made a noise like the SAS was storming the theatre but it didn’t break.  The actor said, Fuck me.’  But Pinter wasn’t in the audience so that was all right.  I understand he didn’t take kindly to any changes made to his lines.  Over the three week season none of the blobs with rolls broke.  I think it must be some sort of record.  I can’t remember what I did with the two cartons of blobs but they’re not in the garage so I must have got rid of them somewhere.

Then there was the famous (in Wairoa) incident during the first night of Noel Cowards’s Blithe Spirit.  Time has mercifully blotted out my fury, but at one stage Madame Arcati (the medium) was doing her stuff when a figure in a long grey dress walked from one side of the set to the other.  To say Madame Arcati was put off her stride is like saying that someone is upset when their house is flooded.   It barely touches on the range of emotion suffered.

‘Jesus Christ,’ she yelled, ‘Holy Mother,’ and, crossing herself vigorously, picked up the crystal ball and  rushed off stage, leaving the other actors staring at each other until one of them with more presence of mind but less brainpower, said brightly, ‘It’s been a rather surprising day.  A  pig walked round the corner of my house when I was out in the garden.  I got a shock I can tell you.’

The audience, thinking this was part of the play, roared with laughter, and if Noel Coward had been in the audience, I hope he would have too.   By this time I was backstage hissing instructions at Madame Arcati, along the lines of, ‘I don’t give a fuck how many fucking ghosts there are, just get out there and finish the bloody scene.’

So Madame Arcati came back on and said, ‘There’s no-one there,’ sat down and continued the scene.

And no, we never found the woman in the long grey dress.  A bit odd.  But that’s theatre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Take the leap…

Posted on Apr 5, 2017 | Comments Off on Take the leap…

One day a woman who’d been wanting to paint for years, who, because of circumstances  had not had any  training, who led a very busy life, woke up and thought, yes.  She got up, had a shower, turned the washing machine on, made breakfast for her husband and herself, washed the dishes, hung out the washing, sat at the table, drank a cup of coffee.  Smiled.

Then she grabbed her bag, got into the car, drove up town to the paint shop, bought brushes and acrylic paint, then back home where she fished around in the shed and found a couple of pieces of hardboard.  She propped the pieces of hardboard up against the wall, opened the tins of paint, stirred them, then picked up a brush, began painting a picture, began the journey

Around about the same time another woman saw a woman running past her place.  She’d seen her before because she ran past most mornings.  The woman watching supposed she was in training for something.  Or did she run for the fun and the freedom of it?   As she went off to work, the woman wondered what it was like, that freedom.  One day she saw a pair of track shoes in an op shop.  $5.  She tried them on.  They fitted and were in good nick.  She handed over the money and took them home where they sat in the bedroom for a couple of days.  Then one morning she woke up, thought, okay.  Okay.

But it wasn’t until the next night that she set the alarm for a bit earlier, got up, pulled on some scraggy old trackpants, found some socks, put on the track shoes, crept through the quiet house, locked the door behind her, opened the gate, went out on the footpath and began to run.  The first time was awkward and she felt a fool but she liked how she felt after, and even though her muscles  grizzled a bit,  that feeling was there for the rest of the day.  Every day for a month she went out and the runs got longer and less awkward and one day she passed that first woman who yelled, ‘The park, Saturday, ten o’clock, see you there.’  She smiled, nodded, stopped feeling foolish and started feeling free.

So the message is clear darlings, just do it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Linear One

Posted on Mar 29, 2017 | 1 comment

I began writing this poem some years ago after my first duet with cancer.  I have played around with it over the years, as one does, and here is its current incarnation.  I wrote it for my granddaughter, Abbie Marie, who works in this area, and I dedicate it to everyone who has/is having this experience…

Linear One

(For Abbie Marie)

Sing, girl, sing – over there is a smiling mask
for sad days, a solemn one for happy nights.
Wear them for all occasions, wear them for fun.

Sing of the large dome, its measured descent, hands
stretched to grasp yours, of voices – soft, the light
of the shadow that lingers at the far end of the room.

Sing about death and faith and blood and the pathway
along which the full moon will come soft-slippered,
sip red-lipped wine from a bowl of thin glass.

Sing as you contemplate the masks that come and go
one for this, one for that. Give someone a mask and
they’ll tell the truth? In this room, songs will do.

Renée

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